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We Wait

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13 (TLB)

On Sunday, churches all over the world began the season of Advent by lighting the first candle in an Advent wreath. It is called the candle of hope. Nothing could be more timely for us. Because, one of the pervasive characteristics of this age is hopelessness. It is not new but it certainly hangs like a cloud over our world. Robert Heilbroner, one social critic, says that we are suffering from “civilization malaise,” or a dread of the future.  He thinks there is good reason for that—“We must resign ourselves to the bearing of an intolerable burden.  Human beings are like helpless chips driven hither and thither.”  Heilbroner asks the question, “Is there hope…?” and concludes there is not.

And in the midst of all this is the gospel message of hope. Let’s be clear, hope as it’s so often used, means “I wish,” or “I desire.” Which is little more than wishful thinking. But the hope projected in the Bible carries the sense of expectancy, anticipation, certainty, get ready for it. It is based on what God has promised. It is eye-opening when you think about how much of Scripture rests on promise. Recently in our small group, the task was given to share a promise from the Bible. Now that was intended to introduce a lesson on hope. However, we never got past that. For over an hour, we thought and talked about God’s promises, many of which have been fulfilled in history and our personal lives.

The New Testament word about hope is that it is central to the Christian life. As we were reminded by someone in our Saturday Men’s group, it makes up part of the triangle of the work of God’s grace in our life. Faith, hope and love interact with each other to make us more like Jesus. And though it is future oriented, much of it is still to come, it is certain because it is based on what God has done in Christ Jesus.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,… -Titus 2:11-13 (NIV)

It Will All Fit Together

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who…[will] bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. -Ephesians 1:3, 10 (NIV)

E pluribus unum – Latin for “Out of many, one” That phrase on the Great Seal of the United States was, for most of our history, considered the unofficial motto of our country. Eventually in 1956, Congress adopted “In God we trust” as our national motto. But unity has, in theory, always been considered the foundation of this country. How naive that seems today when we are so divided.

Yet unity, according to this text, is what God has planned for all creation (“to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”) The problem is that what most people mean when they talk of unity is uniformity. But the unity which God plans is unity through diversity. A body is the image  used in the Scripture. It is a complimentary unity not unity of likeness. Is about diverse and even unique parts, which when joined together form a perfect whole. As a puzzle has a unity formed by unique pieces so will God do with all creation.

What an amazing and wonderful thing God has planned. And we are offered the opportunity to play an important roll by becoming the person God created us to be through Jesus. The song writer had it right: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord…And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.” That prayer will be answered.

Praise the Lord!

The Purpose of It All

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. -Philippians 1:9

Surprised? Love is not just how you feel. It is easy to think that. We all need to be reminded—love is what we do also. Ok. Most of us get that. But how often do we think about love being about knowledge and insight? And the reason that is important is so we may discern what is best, be pure and blameless, and filled with righteousness. Wow! What an amazing prayer!

But wait, there’s more. The reason for all this brings us back to the reason for all our actions—the glory and praise to God. What do people think about God as a result of our actions? Do we keep that always as our motivation? Do we live for God’s glory and praise?

I pray that I do, and you too.

 

Be Good…

Acts 5:13b the people spoke highly of [the believers].

 Years ago I read an article in a Christian publication which said that good Christians often make poor neighbors. As many such things, the writer had a very valid point. It is possible to be doing so many things in the Church—committees, meetings, etc.—we never have time to live in the world. This raises a very important question. How can we be effective witnesses?

            We can be GOOD NEIGHBORS. This has always been God’s plan for His people. When the Israelites were going into exile in Babylon, God told them:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters….Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  (Jer. 29:5-7)

It is the other half of a disciple’s duty. Jesus said to “love God”and “love your neighbor.” In the book of Acts we are told of the early Christians, “the people held them in high honor.”

            The article mentioned above told the story of Fern Nichols. She was concerned about her two boys who were about to enter public junior high school. She prayed that God would lead her to just one other Christian mother who would pray with her for an hour a week.

            The result was a ministry the enlists mothers to pray together for their children and schools. Initially called “Moms-In-Touch,” “Moms in Prayer” as it is now called has made a difference in schools all over the world. Thousands of groups of moms in the United States and 140 other countries are used by God in schools and in their children. https://momsinprayer.org/who-we-are/history/

We can be GOOD CHURCH PEOPLE. The Christian life is not to be lived in the Church but in the world.

             A wonderful invention, which we take for granted, is rechargable batteries. We plug in everything from screwdrivers to electric cars, unplug them and they do all kinds of jobs. Christians are “plugged in” church to live in the world.

            It enables us to avoid seduction, the world changing us. Instead, we can change the world. It lets us know we are not alone. And as Tony Compolo said, “We remind each other that it’s the world that is crazy and not the values we find in the Word of God.”

But we can’t forget that the church is not just a means to an end. It is a worthy enterprise in and of itself. It is the home of Jesus on Earth (John 14:23) and, as such, is a model of true community.

Thanksgiving During a Pandemic

This morning as I was thinking about Thanksgiving, I knew I ought to post something on this site. It has been months since I have done that. I won’t even try to list the reasons (excuses? My mother used to say “An excuse is a skin of a reason, stuffed with a lie.”).

Then, I did what I usually do when I post. I looked at past posts and sermons or other things I have written on the topic. As I looked at the post for a year ago, I read what I think fits our present circumstances. So, I hope you find meaning for this time as I post it again, with a few editorial changes.

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Today in countless homes, in all kinds of places people will think about and tell about things for which they are thankful. The list is long for most of us and most of us realize there are even more things than we are aware of.

However, the most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving. Half their number was dead, they were without a country, life was difficult, but still there was thanksgiving to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that led Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of national civil war, when the “butcher’s list of casualties” seemed to have no end and the very nation  struggled for survival.

It is exactly the type of situation referred to in the Bible: give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18) Our list of “fors” might be short. Perhaps in your own life, right now, there is intense hardship. Try following the directions of the Psalmist: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth… Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalms 100:1a, 4 (NIV)

Praising God, giving thanks won’t change your circumstances but it will change you. True thanksgiving is accompanied by joy. Through grace it is God’s gift to you.

Have a joyful Thanksgiving Day!

P.S. A personal story: Today I started my day with this song that I had not thought about for a long time and I experienced the results of praising God.
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The Cross: God Forbid!

The Cross: God Forbid!

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You. -Matthew 16:22

Up to his point, the life of Jesus is a story of success and popularity. Healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, feeding the hungry, teaching about lilies of the field, blessing the little children, even raising the dead, he has attracted a tremendous following.

Jesus now begins to show his disciples what his life is really all about. Peter’s great confession–“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” has been affirmed by Him. He has given them the assurance of the future of his church. And Matthew says, “From that time on Jesus began to explain that he must…suffer…and…be killed. Whereas, Peter incredulous, exclaims, “God forbid it.” (“You’ve got to be kidding!”)

And Jesus answers, you’re not on God’s side but man’s. Not only must I go to the cross, but if you are to be my disciple you must come with me. And as time goes on and Jesus begins to make clear what that means and where it leads, he loses the crowds shouting hosannas to those shouting “crucify him.”

Someone has said, “A gospel which centers on a cross and finds victory in death makes no sense whatsoever,…A gospel which turns life upside down and demands that we make every human loyalty subsidiary to our allegiance to Jesus Christ flies in the face of everything that men naturally find acceptable.”

Those on the other side of the cross, looking ahead to it or standing before it on that fateful day, always were with Peter: “God forbid.” They did not know “Friday” and “Saturday” was followed by Sunday.

 

It’s “Christmas” Everywhere, But….

In C.S. Lewis’ children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, he describes a land where “it’s always winter but never Christmas.” It’s a dark, hopeless place ruled by an evil queen.

For us, it seems to me, we live in a land where it’s “Christmas” everywhere. And sometimes, it seems it’s always Christmas too. There’s “Christmas in July” sales, or Hallmark movies. Of course decorations even begin to show up before Halloween. And the movies on TV begin in earnest. And it’s not just Hallmark either. Lifetime shows them around the clock every day.

They are about family, romance, and happiness. There is a lot of talk about the magic of Christmas. Everybody is nice to everyone by the end. They certainly provide a little relief from the daily news punctuated by anger, bad temper, suffering and all the other negative things of the human existence.

However, most of this “Christmas” is not the Christmas of the good news. Even if, here and there, are references to a story of a baby and a manger, rarely, if ever, is it about the real story.

The angel’s word to Joseph puts it in perspective. “You shall call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” To the shepherds on the hillside it was “to you is born this day…a savior.”

You see what’s missing is Jesus, specifically a savior, the savior. It’s not just a temporary, feel good, escape from the bad news all around us. It is the good news of a cure for all this, for me personally and you, and for the whole world.

That’s truly “good news of great joy.” And it’s to be shared.

Merry Christmas!

God’s Determination—Our Expectation

The Lord Almighty is determined to do all this. -Isaiah 9:7 (GNT)
The people were on the tiptoe of expectation. -Luke 3:15 (NEB)

“God’s Determination—Our Expectation”

What do you expect as Christmas approaches?  Let me tell you what many people expect—stress, busyness, debt, dread.

One woman “wondered aloud whether it was worth celebrating anything anymore at that time of the year.  The way she put it was that along about Halloween she feels she’s stuck behind the wheel of a car she can’t control.  By Thanksgiving she’s going 40 miles-an-hour, by mid-December she’s racing along and 80 and on Christmas Day she always runs into the same brick wall.  “No matter what I do,” she says, “I wake up at the end of the holiday season feeling like I’ve been in a collision.  Our family is an emotional, physical, and financial wreck!” (Fred Rogers)

“The cruelest and loudest message of the season, shouted from millions of television sets, newspapers and magazines, seems to be: “To spend more is to love more…and to be more dearly loved.” (Rogers)

“The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants.” (John Haynes Holmes)

So the experience of many is “overworrying, overworking and overspending.”  One week during Advent I had a businessman express to me, what has become a common sentiment, “I’ll be glad when it’s over.”  My guess is that some of you have the same feeling whether you express it or not.  And you probably feel guilty because you know it shouldn’t be that way.  Can I confess to you that pastors are not immune to all this.  Or at least the one I know best.

One of the dangers of all this is that we lose our sense of expectancy, anticipation.  That is why a season of Advent is so important. It reminds us that the good news, the gospel calls us to anticipate, to expect.

Those people were in bad straits. But they had a promise. Some of you are struggling. But you have a promise. As Michael Card put it in this song The Promise “What more could God have given?” Because the “name of the promise was Jesus.”

Someone has said, “All we could ever imagine could ever hope for, He is….He is the Prince of Peace whose first coming has already transformed society but whose second coming will forever establish justice and righteousness.  All this and infinitely more, alive in an impoverished baby in a barn.” (source unknown)

What a powerful insistence that God is determined to do this.  We are to live in expectancy. The light of Jesus shines. The power of evil will be overcome and we will be part of God’s kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness.  Hallelujah!

Ephemeral Plant or Spiritual Redwood?

The yeErythronium americanum, Yellow trout-lilyllow trout lily is an ephemeral plant. The word ephemeral means transitory or quickly fading.¹ It is beautiful but it doesn’t last. Compare that to the giant redwood trees which live and thrive for hundreds of years.

Bill Easum and Tom Bandy have been involved in helping churches all over North America understand our times and themselves in relation to the mission that Jesus has given us—to make disciples. In a book, which they co-authored, called Growing Spiritual Redwoods they talk about some of the differences between “declining” and “thriving” congregations.

In these “thriving” congregations which they call “Spiritual Redwoods,” leadership is “all about letting go of control. The organization does not tell people what to do, but helps people discern their callings themselves, and then equips them to pursue those callings with excellence.” One thriving-church leader was asked, “How do you decide what ministries to begin?” She answered: “We tell people that if the Lord lays it on your heart today, you can do it tonight, and tell us about it tomorrow!”

That kind of environment, climate depends on some basic factors:

• A clear commitment to Jesus. Nothing matters except the
gospel. “The body of Christ will sacrifice anything and
everything—property, offices, financial security, traditional
music, familiar heritage—for the sake of the gospel.”
• A clear understanding of our mission (purpose)—to make
followers of Jesus (disciples). There is a passion for
transforming lives.
• Ministry is part of being a follower of Jesus.
• High expectation from each follower.
John 14:12- The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works,…

Messiah church—ephemeral plant or Spiritual Redwood? It’s up to us to decide.

¹Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
photo credit: flickr.com/

Thanksgiving

Today in countless homes, in all kinds of places people will think about and tell about things for which they are thankful. The list is long for most of us and most of us realize there are even more things than we are aware of.

However, the most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving. Half their number dead, men without a country, but still there was thanksgiving to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that led Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of national civil war, when the butcher’ s list of casualties seemed to have no end and the very nation  struggled for survival.

It is exactly the type of situation referred to in the Bible: give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thess 5:18) Our list of “fors” might be short. Perhaps in your own life, right now, there is intense hardship. Try following the directions of the Psalmist: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth… Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalms 100:1a, 4 (NIV)

Praising God, giving thanks won’t change your circumstances but it will change you. True thanksgiving is accompanied by joy. Through grace it is God’s gift to you.

Have a joyful Thanksgiving Day!

P.S. A personal story: Today I started my day with this song that I had not thought about for a long time and I experienced the results of praising God.