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Great Expectations

The people were waiting expectantly… -Luke 3:15  

“Great Expectations”

I read about a man who left a relative $1 million.  In return, the relative thoroughly cursed the man.  The reason—the man was Andrew Carnegie and he left $365 million to public charities.
This was a problem of expectations—he expected more.

One day a father told his son,
“Don’t swim in that canal.”
“O.K. Dad”
That evening he came home caring a wet bathing suit.
“Where have you been?” demanded the father.
“Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy.
“Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” asked the father.
“Yes, sir.”
“Why did you?”
“Well, Dad,” he explained, “I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“Why did you take your bathing suit with you?”  he asked.
“So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted,”…

          To a great extent, our actions are determined by expectations.
So, our expectations affect our satisfaction with life and with people and how we act. Therefore it should not surprise us that expectations play a large role in our lives—spiritually. Notice the words of our text, “As the people were in expectation.”

It is no accident that promises play such a large role in God’s dealings with people and his  plan.  Every major event in the history of God’s redemptive action is preceded by a promise.  People were told over and over to expect certain actions on God’s part—at times against overwhelming odds.

God is THE God of Promise,
His People, THE people of Expectancy

The expectation often had bearing on the event.  Expectation has a close relationship to desire and is an element of faith.  How much do we want God?  What do we expect from him are important factors in our spiritual health.
It is of course  true that what happened was different from the details of what was expected—God’s surprises—but it was believing God would, as we say, “do God’s thing.”

As we have already seen, there are good and bad expectations—we might say holy and unholy ones.  The unholy ones when frustrated can cause bitterness, disappointment, frustration, and anger. Perhaps the most common form of unholy expectation is worry. Robert Frost once said, “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.”

But there are the holy ones—the real “Great Expectations” and they make   a profound difference in our lives. Here are some of the most basic for the believer:

EXPECT TO BE RID OF YOUR SINS. That is God’s ultimate goal for you. The angel said to Joseph, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
EXPECT RESISTANCE/OPPOSITION (In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33)
EXPECT TO GROW (Romans 5:3-5) God will take you to another stage in your journey.
EXPECT TO SEE GOD WORK. He promises daily renewal and final victory.

So in 2019, worship God with heart and mind, and spirit. Tell Him you love him. Praise His glory, His goodness.  Keep on singing, praying and listening. Do all of this with Great Expectations.

We Don’t Want You Here

Matthew 8:34  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Does that “jar” you? A whole town is stirred enough to go see Jesus. They break away from their jobs, their daily struggles, important activities, whatever occupies their time and go into Jesus’ presence. Not a surprise; but then they “pleaded” with him, not just asked him, to leave. “We don’t want you here.

I think we are inclined to attribute that to the immediately preceding story where Jesus casts out demons and sends them into a herd of pigs who then run into the sea and are drowned. (I know I am.) We think he’s threatening their lively hood. But I wonder.

There is nothing to indicate that they were angry or went with negative intent. In fact, on the surface it seems to indication there was an attraction to him. But “when they saw him” everything changed–“We don’t want you here.” It seems so different from common reactions to him or what we would expect. But it should “give us pause.” When people encounter Jesus, all reactions are not positive. And a short time later, Jesus puts it in perspective: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble [fall away] on account of me.” (11:6)

 

Don’t Forget. He Died for You

“They crucified him….Jesus said, “It is finished.” –John 19:18, 30

Strangely enough, many Christians will arrive next Sunday at Easter having missed any real talk about the cross/Jesus’ death. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in many churches that was the focus of the service. Unless, a special service on Thursday or Friday is attended (which for a majority of Christians is unlikely) little mention of the cross will be made. That is a major distortion of the Gospel message.

The New Testament is clear we are saved by Jesus’ death. Consider just a few examples:
— Jesus’ own words on the cross- “It is finished.”
— We are “reconciled by his death.”
— We are “baptized into his death.”
— In communion- “we proclaim the Lord’s death.”
— He “suffered for our sins.”

Easter may be more exciting and more appealing but the message is “he died for me and for you.” (Romans 5:8)

Of course, Easter, the resurrection, needs to be proclaimed and celebrated. In no way should it be minimized or diminished. However, without the cross, an essential element is missing. The early Christians did not disconnect the resurrection from the crucifixion. Without a real understanding of Jesus’ death Easter loses its meaning.

 

More Than I Ask For

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. -Ephesians 3:20

As I was thinking about Thanksgiving, I came across the following story:

“In A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Rev. John R. Ramsey tells how in one church a certain person provided him with a rose boutonniere for the lapel of his suit every Sunday. At first he really appreciated it but then it sort of became routine. Then one Sunday it became very special.  As he was leaving the Sunday Service a young boy walked up to him and said, “Sir, what are you going to do with your flower?”  At first the preacher didn’t know what the boy was talking about. When it sank in, he pointed to the rose on his lapel and asked the boy, “Do you mean this?”

The boy said, “Yes, sir. If you’re just going to throw it away, I would like it.”

The preacher smiled and told him he could have the flower and then casually asked what he was going to do with it. The boy, who was probably no more than 10 years old, looked up at the preacher and said, “Sir, I’m going to give it to my granny. My mother and father divorced last year. I was living with my mother, but she married again, and wanted me to live with my father.  I lived with him for a while, but he said I couldn’t stay, so he sent me to live with my grandmother. She is so good to me. She cooks for me and takes care of me. She has been so good to me that I wanted to give her that pretty flower for loving me.”

When the little boy finished, the preacher could hardly speak. His eyes filled with tears and he knew he had been touched by God. He reached up and unpinned the rose. With the flower in his hand, he looked at the boy and said, “Son, that is the nicest thing that I’ve ever heard but you can’t have this flower because it’s not enough. If you’ll look in front of the pulpit, you’ll see a big bouquet of flowers. Different families buy them for the Church each week. Please take those flowers to your granny because she deserves the very best.”

Then the boy made one last statement which Rev. Ramsey said he will always treasure. The boy said, “What a wonderful day! I asked for one flower but got a beautiful bouquet.”*

Isn’t it amazing that God gives us a bouquet when we ask for one flower, that is, more than we ask for? He not only gives us more than we ask for but more than we can even think about or imagine. Our ability to ask or imagine does not limit what God has in mind for us.

As we gather with family or friends and express gratitude for specific blessings, remember this. No matter how much we identify things for which we are grateful, they only scratch the surface of what God offers.


*John R. Ramsey, Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. 
Adapted by Billy D. Strayhorn, Sermon: "The Gratitude Attitude"

It’s a Covenant

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” -Hebrews 8:10b (NIV)

For more than 200 years many Christians have begun a new year with a worship time called a “Watch Night Service.” Influenced by a Moravian practice, in 1740 John Wesley held the first Watch Night Service. It was a time of reflection, testimonies, singing, and prayer. Later Wesley would call them “Covenant Renewal Services.”

In the book of Hebrews, the writer places this statement in the context of God’s dealing with His people in the Old Testament: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Hebrews 8:10)

Few concepts or terms are more basic to the Bible story than that of covenant.  It is not a concept unfamiliar to us either, though the term may not be as common as some others—contract, agreement, deal.  God’s relation to His people (from the Biblical perspective) is a covenant relationship.  It is about a relationship governed by promises, obligations.  God is the initiator and prime determiner but His people have a part to play.

The blessings of the covenant are more than part of a ceremony. They become reality in the life of His people.

The Bible makes clear that at the heart of the covenant is God’s love. You are important to God, more important than the whole world.  And that applies not just to the saints.  Whoever you are, whatever your past or present state, even your future, God loves you.

The Old Testament story shows a people who are hard-headed, unfaithful, ungrateful, unloving, and untrustworthy who repeatedly break their promises to God and break His heart.  The book of Hosea compared them to an unfaithful wife, an adulteress.  His book is 14 chapters of sins and shameful behavior.  In dramatic fashion, God compares his love to that of a husband to an unfaithful wife:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1 NIV)

What does God say about all that?  I love you.  I have chosen you. God’s love (graciousness) is prior to everything else—our sins, our faith, our righteousness and it lasts beyond all else, in spite of all else. Even if we have been a total disaster as a person, a church; no matter how long the list of charges against us might be; how far we have left God, He is pursuing us like the “hound of heaven.”  Should we ultimately make our bed in hell, it will be over the broken pieces of God’s heart for He will still love us.

In 2017, can we assume our part of the covenant and love God back with all our heart, soul, and mind? It is my prayer for you and for myself.

 

Thanks Giving-Why?

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)

A few years ago, I wrote a post (Thanks Giving Is What We Do) that was a reminder of the main reason we are to give thanks. It is the most basic Christian action.  Failure to give thanks is the basic charge against the “ungodly” and “wicked in the Bible.

But there is another reason for giving thanks. Giving thanks changes us.

It brings us joy. Grateful people get more out of life.  In a best selling book, “Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” author and researcher Dr. Robert Emmons argues that what gives life meaning is gratitude.

Emmons, a University of California, Davis professor, backs up his claim with eight years of intensive research on gratitude…. [He] found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” will experience multiple advantages. Gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and it can strengthen relationships and communities. “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” said Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.” (www.gratitudepower.net/science)

In the Biblical record thanks giving is joy. Grace, gratitude, and joy come from the same basic Greek word. Someone has said, “Joy is what you feel when you’re grateful….[It] is the subjective experience of gratitude.” Many lack joy because they are not grateful.

As I emphasized in that earlier post that it is not just about feeling grateful but actively “giving,” expressing thanks, verbally or by deeds motivated by gratitude. In fact expressing thanks makes us grateful. Actions often precede attitudes and feelings.

Of course for those who follow Jesus, the recipient of thanks is God. Words closely connected to it are praise and magnify. Some time ago I read this:

If you were to look at the words on this page through a magnifying glass, it would not change their size, shape, or meaning in any way. All that would change would be your perception, and the words would appear larger and clearer.  So it is when you praise or magnify God. He isn’t changed, but your perception of Him is – you see Him in a new light, from a new perspective, and more clearly.1

So don’t just feel it. Say it, express it. Thank you God!

1CrossWalk.com

Made Whole

Luke 17:19-Your faith has made you whole.

One day as Jesus travels he is encountered by ten men who are lepers. The horror of their predicament is illustrated by the fact that they cannot even approach Jesus but, from a distance, plead for his pity.

Jesus issues simple instructions to go show themselves to the priests; a requirement for anyone healed of leprosy to have it verified. And the text says, “as they went, they were cleansed.” Interesting—not “they were cleansed and went” but as they went. They obeyed and were healed.

Then one of them, only one, seeing he was healed returned to praise God and thank Jesus.

Does this incident surprise you?  It did Jesus!  I find it hard to say that and wondered if I could (I know the theological difficulty).  In one sense Jesus is never surprised.  He is God.  But, he is also human and in a human sense, he was surprised.  He was also apparently very disappointed.  It shows in his words: “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then Jesus adds the words that put a whole different light on this story.

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well [whole].” Did you notice? All were “cleansed” or “healed.” But only this man was said to be made whole. Or as the Message has it: “Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Physical healing is great but it is not salvation. Fixing some problem we have, helping us be a better person, giving us insight into a puzzling situation all are things for which to be grateful. But only our faith in Jesus provides salvation, makes us whole.

The point of it all is to be made whole.  To stop short of that is to accept a treatment that deals with the symptoms rather than radical surgery which produces a cure. God wants to make you whole.

The nine received a touch from God, and they probably went on to do what they were told, but they were not made whole. It made them better able to fit into the community, better citizens but it did not produce the indelible stamp of faith: gratitude. When God touches us, then our praise, gratitude takes precedence over everything else!

God, don’t let me settle for anything less than being made whole.