New - Week Four: New Hope

Today we are concluding the sermon series that we started three Sundays ago--a sermon series that took us all the way through the month of January.

The title of this series is "New" and it is centered on how we can begin the new year with a new focus, a new outlook and a new way of seeing ourselves and others.

Transformation is in our DNA--we were created to grow and to change, but the best kind of change leaves a mark.  And this is where our imagery of tattoos comes in...

So what do you do when you realize that the tattoo you got... isn't good at all? 

You get it remade--just like the people on the short-lived show on the Lifestyle network entitled "Bad Ink." 

It  ran for two seasons from 2013-2015, and it was glorious.  These two guys who were amazing tattoo artists in Vegas would actually go out and try to find people with really bad tattoos and would offer to make them over for them. 

Here are some great examples of tattoos that desperately needed to be re-done...

Photos of bad tattoos made good. 

Sometimes things happen--you make a wrong decision, you make a mistake, someone does something to you... And it leaves a mark. 

Maybe you made bad choices at some point and it feels like you are always paying for them.  Or maybe something happened to you that you couldn't help, and you can't shake the feeling that you are damaged goods.

Perhaps you feel like there is no way that God could ever really love you--because of the things you've done, mistakes you've made...

And for a lot you who are gathered here today, when a pastor gets up  in front of you and says something to you like, "It doesn't matter what you've done, who you've been, what's been done to you--you can be a new person if you follow Jesus," you feel like nothing could be further from the truth.

I get it.  I've been there.  I'm a master in the Art of Not Having It All Together.

Almost every day of my life, I do things that make me dissatisfied in myself.  I yell at my kids sometimes.  I get impatient when I am driving around slow people, when I'm waiting in line at Chipotle, when I can't do all of the things I need to in a day, with other people...  the list is pretty long. 

I can be overly critical at times, focusing on the negative rather than the positive aspects of life, the universe and everything.  I'm completely hard on myself when I make mistakes or stumble.  So yeah, I understand how it can be hard to hear the words, "You can be made new."

We've all been there, if we are being honest.

And what we tend to hear most of the time from other Christians is that we can get it all together, we can overcome our feelings of inadequacy by just being a better person, or reading that next Christian self-help book about 13 ways to be a better parent/wife/husband/child/church member/American... or going to church more often, being more religious, trying harder, keeping more rules...

But here's the thing.  Religious behavior can make you nice, but it won't make you new. 

You don't have to let this steal your hope, though.  In fact, God wants to make us new so that we can fully realize the hope that is within us--placed there by a loving God who wants the very best for us, and longs for us to be the people we long to be. 

We can be re-done.  We can be restored.   

Here's what I want us to remember today as we step into this together: 

We are made new when we begin to live in hope.  

Our conversation partner today is the prophet Isaiah.  This time we are reading from a part of Isaiah that is known as First Isaiah--written before the exile... Explain this. 

Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

2 The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,

    the rod of their oppressor.

This is a passage that is meant to be read during Epiphany--with it's talk of a great light shining, a new day dawning and liberation for people who have been living under oppression.  

Commentator Amy G. Oden writes of this passage: 

Epiphany is a time of the inbreaking of God once again in human history. The apparent powers of the world are unmasked, revealed to be a sham for all their bluster and posturing. During Epiphany, we recognize God's inbreaking in Jesus Christ, setting in stark relief the false, worldly powers that claim so much authority in our lives: success, productivity, dominance, self-reliance. They do not have the last word.

The back story is the long-standing domination of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali by foreign states. Because of their locations, both tribes were especially vulnerable to attack. As the northern and southern kingdoms played out their power struggles, both Zebulun and Naphtali had been more or less vassal states to a series of Assyrian kings. Both were eventually taken into captivity during the end of the kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, leaving them "in anguish" and "contempt."  As pawns of powerful states, their histories were ones of vulnerability, subjection, and oppression.

The prophet is connecting this prophecy to places and times within Israel's history that were defined by oppression, failure, darkness.  

The pivot comes when the light shines, and there is a declaration that there will be no more gloom for those in distress.  

Connects it to the story of Gideon during the oppression by the Midianites. 

The prophet is declaring that even though there will be times when failure is the only option--it won't be that way forever.  

God is in the restoration business, and God wants nothing more than for us to have all of the places in our lives where we've been marked up, scarred up and messed up to be re-done and restored.  

And when this happens we begin to live in hope.  We have hope that our tomorrows will be filled with 

So what can we do to begin to live in hope as a regular way of life?  

As I see it, there are three practices that we can turn into productive habits---habits that can enable us to step further into new-ness of life, to embrace the restoration that we've already received from God... 

God, who doesn't see our scars, messed-up-ness, our bad tattoos... 

God just sees opportunities for restoration, beauty in our woundedness, hope in our hopelessness and a future filled with possibilities.  

And here's how we can keep those images clear in our own minds and hearts:  

1.  Protect your inner monologue from trolls.  

Explain trolls

There will be people in your life who will judge you for your scars, the choices you made, the mistakes... Their voices stay in your head sometimes.  They don't belong there.  

I know these voices all too well.  

You need people in your life who will speak the truth in love to you... and you need to speak the truth in love to yourself.  

2.  Find something/someone every day to be hopeful about.  

This may require some effort, but it's a key to the way forward if you want to find restoration, and to live in hope.  

Talk about what this looks like. 

You may need to change your sources... your friends...  your circumstances... But when you do practice this, it changes things.  You begin to experience restoration. 

3. Choose to assume the best about people/situations---live heart forward.  

This is one of the most difficult things for us to do because of the exposure we feel.  It's frightening to put ourselves out there, to decide to believe the best, rather than the worst.  

Restoration happens when we finally decide to stop living behind our marks and scars, and live heart forward.  

You may get hurt from time to time.  You learn who not to give your heart to, who to listen to, who to be relationship with.  

And gradually over time, little by little you start to see the mistakes transformed, the scars covered up and re-done in beautiful ways.  You discover that you have been restored, made new, different, but new.  

We are made new when we begin to live in hope.  


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