By Randy Blanton
I am often puzzled by those who misuse human suffering as a litmus test to question the reality of God’s love. “If God is love,” some would query, “then why does he permit suffering in the world?” As I have pondered the difficulties encountered in 2016, a more appropriate question appeared to be, “How does God respond to human suffering?”
Ancient Israel encountered its fair share of human sufferings. Some of which were attributable to ill-advised choices that led to a defining moment in their future! The armies of Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, breached the city wall, pillaged the city, and destroyed the temple. Thousands of survivors were carried off in captivity to the Babylonian capitol of Nineveh.
Although the life they had previously known in Jerusalem had ended, life itself was far from over. The God of their fathers had plans that far exceeded the limitations of and isolation in captivity. But, until those plans materialized, Jeremiah instructed them to grow their families, celebrate the marriages of their children, plant gardens, enjoy the fruits of their labors, and seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon.
Jeremiah’s instructions also included an exhortation for praying to and seeking God, for he listened and would be found. To listen and be found implies presence! Our weeping prophet declared God’s response to the Judean’s suffering was the gift of presence! In their captivity, God was present. When they felt they could not worship, God was present. As I consider the prophet’s instruction in the context of Advent, I am reminded that this season epitomizes the gift of presence. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” God was present in Christ and such restored us to him! Through the gift of God’s presence, may you find purpose in this Advent season!
By Barbara Higdon
“All day I’ve faced a barren waste/Without a taste of water,” sang the Sons of the Pioneers. “Old Dan and I with throats burnt dry/And souls that cry for water. Cool, clear water.”
Those of us who live in South Texas know well the thirst-provoking landscape that Bob Nolan’s lyrics describe. The psalmist who wrote today’s reading understood that thirst and the deeper thirst of the soul when he wrote, “I seek you, my soul thirsts for you…in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Mirages beckon, but they fail to deliver. We long for rest, but continue to seek false promises of relief.
“Keep a-movin‘ Dan, don’t you listen to him, Dan/He’s a devil, not a man, and he spreads the burning sand with water.”
How often the false relief promised by a shimmering pool of water on the sand distracts us. We rush towards mirages in hope that we’ll find relief, only to be disappointed. Like the desert dwellers of old, we stumble about dismayed that we’ve been beguiled by lies again.
At the well, Jesus promised the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14).
What a promise.
May our hope rest upon the Keeper of the well that never runs dry. May we drink deeply from the spring of water that gushes up to eternal life.
Father, forgive us when we are sometimes distracted by the sparkling promises of the world. Help us gratefully drink the living water you offer to satisfy our souls and quench the thirst within us. Amen.
By Erica Hanchey
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 NIV
Isaiah’s words to Ahaz, King of Judah, prophesy the conception and birth of Immanuel, God with us, as a sign of Hope for the king and his kingdom. Long before the birth of Jesus, this Hope was upon the Earth. God brought Hope through a prophet to a king and a kingdom. Through a gentle, virgin mother, God made Isaiah’s prophecy a reality. He brought Hope to Mary and to Joseph, even when they doubted or feared.
As a mother, the fullness of Hope that I experienced in pregnancy, childbirth and now experience in childrearing is a gift only God can bring through the Holy Spirit. While marked at times with fear, anxiety and doubt, it is a Hope that is filled with anticipation and promise. I can only imagine what Mary’s mind and heart were feeling as she carried and raised the Hope of the World. And yet, I need not imagine the Hope that God brings me each day for it is ever present with us. When we fall weary, we need only to speak the name of Jesus, Immanuel, or to look around at the great Hope He brought through His life and sacrifice.
My Hope this Advent is in the members of Woodland, who will build each other up as a community of faith and as a source of Hope in our communities and ministries.
My Hope is not in kings and leaders, but in the children who will seek and be shown goodness so that they may shine and become generations of light to the World.
My Hope is in a baby born to be my Savior, and whose prophetic birth was itself a sign of Hope, a promise from God.
My Hope is in Immanuel, always with us, raised to serve and risen to save.
On the leading edge of the modern missionary movement, Baptists have been forming together, making disciples of all nations through long-term presence and commitment to serve the most forgotten and forsaken people around the world. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship engages in three primary contexts: Global Poverty, Global Migration, and the Global Church, spreading the love of Christ in 30 countries across the globe. Through the work of CBF field personnel and Together for Hope, CBF’s rural poverty initiative, Cooperative Baptists are bringing renewal to God’s world through ministries that transform lives and extend the hope of Christ.
The CBF Offering for Global Missions is the primary source of support ensuring the long-term presence of field personnel around the world — funding salaries, benefits, housing costs and children’s educational needs. The Offering engages churches and individuals in faith and action through giving, Bible Study, prayer, mission projects and celebration.
Here at Woodland, we support The Offering by providing envelopes of different amounts so each person who attends Woodland can participate. Children can take a $1 (or more) envelope and participate. Students can take mid-range amounts. And adults can take the larger amounts. Our goal is not only $40,000 but also for every person at Woodland to participate. What will your investment in CBF mission efforts around the world be?
Woodland also supports three families serving with CBF and one serving with SIM USA. Our support for each family includes prayer, financial gifts of $350 per month and possibly a visit. Find out more about the Offering for Global Missions at woodlandbc.org/ogm.
Pray for our Missionaries and Field Personnel
Erik & Amanda Hansen and their four children serve in Kijabe, Kenya, through SIM USA. They are involved in the training of doctors who serve the people of Africa. Amanda is the daughter of Bill & Becky Miller, long time members of WBC. In 2008, Erik and Amanda felt God calling them to Africa. God led them to Kijabe Hospital where the Bethany Kids Pediatric Surgery program provides surgical care to newborns through adolescents. Erik is training African pediatric surgeons, in an African context, so that the work of caring for the surgical needs of children in East Africa can be multiplied. uncommonroad.blogspot.com
By Garrett Vickrey
If you were to put the book of Isaiah to a musical score there would be a whole rest between chapters 39 and 40. If this sacred book were a piece of music. There would be a gaping silence as the work moved between these chapters. The lament of the brass instruments would fade into silence as the minor riff gave way to the nothingness of rest.
The silence of the rest would house the anxiety of the people in exile. The silence would give voice to their uncertainty as to what would happen to them.
Isaiah 40 would begin with a sustained note. A note of hope coming from nowhere. Middle C surprises. A hopeful note. Add in the 4th and the 5th and now a joyful chord returns to our ears. The anxious rest is broken by harmonic hope.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
Out of silence and brokenness, perceived chaos, God is speaking. God is creating again out of nothing.
A way appears in the wilderness. A straight path home. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain made low.
The glory of God is being revealed. All this from rest.
From quiet. From nothing.
In that rest are the seeds of the next measure. Without silence music is indistinguishable. Time and tone team together to draw us into melody and harmony. Even in rest there is a dynamic at work we cannot fully understand until the next moment. But, if we trust the composer we have hope that the beauty of the score will be revealed. And it’s the anticipation of that revelation that is almost as exciting as the revelation itself.
Frederick Buechner writes, “The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”
For now we wait. And in the terrible hope of our joyous anxiety we wait knowing that the end of this season redefines the contour and even the chaos of the present.
By Ellen Di Giosia
During the course of this election season, the airwaves have been filled with divisive rhetoric, accusations of illegal and immoral behavior, and a shocking coarsening of political discourse. At times, it has felt like America has completely abandoned civility. If you like to peruse Facebook for cute pictures of babies and puppies, you also have to dodge auto-playing videos of crude and hateful speech. And having a fruitful discussion in the comments section? Well, we all know how that goes.
Early voting is underway, and on Tuesday, November 8, the election will finally come to a conclusion. Some of my Woodland friends will vote for Republicans, some for Democrats. Some may vote for Libertarian, Independent, or Green Party candidates. We disagree on many things – the role of government, tax policy, foreign affairs. But Woodland Baptist Church is full of good people, people I admire and love and trust. There is no reason to let political differences poison our fellowship. And the most fitting way for us to demonstrate our unity is to gather around the table that matters most, the communion table.
Woodland is joining a movement of 300 churches around the nation in observing Election Day Communion. We do not come to the table of Jesus because we cease to be Democrats or Republicans there; we come to the table of Jesus because he is not Democrat or Republican. Our allegiance is first and foremost to the Kingdom of God, as revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Join us after the polls close on November 8, at 7:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary. Invite others to come and participate, too. If America feels fractured, let the Church be the place of wholeness and peace.