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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.

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Unbelievable?

“they did not believe the women, because their words seemed…like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Those are some of the most telling words in the New Testament concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Forever they should dispel the notion that Easter was created by the wishful thinking of gullible, unlearned, poor fishermen and such. The first reports that Jesus was alive did not seem credible to them.

These people had to be convinced that what seemed impossible to them was really true. Only when they saw him with their own eyes did they believe it. And this Jesus, once dead but now alive for ever, changed their lives and the world. He has changed me and he can change you too. Because he lives, he offers life to anyone willing to follow him.

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

His Eye Is on the Sparrow

With some slight changes this was originally posted in 2010. I though it worth repeating in light of what’s happening in the Gulf Coast region.

In the midst of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath we have heard (and will hear) so many words–sorrow, anger, courage, hero, fear, weary, shock, miracle, unbelievable.  We have heard explanations, promises, assurances, warnings.  Some of them have been wise, some foolish, some sinful and evil.  In these words there have the words from God, but also from fallible humans, and some straight out of the mouth of Satan himself.  Sometimes it is hard to know which are which.

The Bible helps us put things in perspective.

First, we are reminded that we cannot rid the world of suffering.  Someone has said, “This is a world where robins die, and sparrows, and people: the ones we love, the ones Jesus loves.”  The Peanuts characters put it this way:

Charlie Brown: “I have a new philosophy…’Life is like a golf course.’
Snoopy: “And ‘a sand trap runs through it.'”

The Biblical view says that God’s original creation has been damaged.  It is defaced, messed up. Hurricanes and floods happen.  We can endlessly debate the philosophical and theological issues here, but the reality is clear.  This is a world where people, innocent people, get hurt.

However, in the midst of this, God is paying attention.  God listens, God sees, but most importantly God cares.  In the Old Testament God promises Soloman and the people just that–My eyes and my heart will always be here. (II Chron 7:16b-NLT)  Jesus says that even the fate of sparrows is not lost on God (Matt. 10:29).  And in the defining text of the Bible He says, For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only son. (John 3:16)

God is not just an observer, but, in fact, is in the midst of all this—in the Salvation Army relief worker, World Vision, UMCOR and scores of other Christian groups and individuals.  But, also in secular groups—the Red Cross, Chinese disaster teams, American military units—any one there with the will to help is doing God’s work whether they know it or not.

Finally, hope is intrinsic to the Christian message.  Along with faith and love, hope makes up the triangle of the Christian’s attitude.  A pastor dying of cancer took a leave from his church.  He was able to return and in a sermon he said, “We want to worship God in this church, and for our worship to be real, it doesn’t have to be fun, and it doesn’t have to be guilt-ridden.  But it does have to be honest, and it does have to hope in God.”

Hope is the future tense of faith.  Though we cannot deny what God has done and is doing, we must keep our perspective.  In our lives and those around us, much of  the Gospel is promise of what is yet to be.  But God is here, God is at work and is preparing a better place for us.  It is called heaven and without it, disasters/tragedies cannot be reconciled with a loving God.

Sisters, brothers keep the faith.

“Things To Come”

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. -Jeremiah 29:11-NRSV

These days we hear a lot about living in the present—“go with the flow,” “seize the day,” “enjoy the moment,” “have it now.” And while, in the right context, these ideas have merit, they also can muddy our efforts to live full lives.

It is not without significance that when God reveals his plan for our life, an inescapable characteristic is that much of it is about the future. It is promise. So, much of the experience is anticipation. Anticipation is a powerful thing. Looking ahead to some desired event, a trip, a family get together can bring as much or more pleasure than the actual event. Negative anticipation can create dread, fear that is worse than what we actually encounter.

God has done a lot to help us have a holy anticipation. And if we don’t pay attention, we can really get in trouble with false assumptions and expectations about what God is doing in our lives and the world.

Joel Barker in his book, Future Edge tells about a man driving on a curvey, dangerous mountain road. As he comes around a curve, he sees this red convertible, careening back and forth across the road. The driver is a pretty, young, blond woman.
He slams on the brakes, and heads for the shoulder to avoid her. At the last minute she swerves and narrowly misses him. As she passes, the woman driver screams at him, PIG!
His face red with anger, he yells back at her, WENCH!” Muttering to himself he steps on the accelerator hits the curve at full speed and crashes into the biggest pig he has ever seen standing in the middle of the road. (as told by Maxi Dunnam)

Anticipation lets us risk as we break out of such assumptions to see a new vision of the world and the future. It will enable us to see beyond ourselves and beyond the obstacles.

God’s word to us warns us that things are not always what they seem to be. Looking around us doesn’t give us a whole lot of evidence for what we are told the final outcome will be.

In Birmingham, England, there is a store called Louis’. It’s a great chain store in one of the main streets, and it wanted to expand. But a little chapel of Quakers, a Friends Meeting House stood in the way. The store sent a letter to the leaders of this Friends Meeting house:

“Dear Sirs,
We wish to extend our premises. We see that your building is right in the way. We wish therefore to buy your building and demolish it so that we might expand our store. We will pay you any price you care to name. If you will name a price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible.
Yours, Sincerely.

They got this letter back:

Dear Sirs:
We in the Friends Meeting House note the desire of Louis’ to extend. We observe that our building is right in your way. We would point out, however, that we have been on our site longer than you’ve been on yours, and we are so determined to stay where we are that we will happily buy Louis’. If therefore you would like to name a suitable price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible. –by Donald English

Can you imagine how the person from Lewis who read that letter must have been laughing? A little Quaker Meeting House will buy Lewis’! All of that would change when they saw, “Signed, Cadbury.”

Yep. Cadbury, as in England’s Cadbury chocolate candy. They are Quakers. Who signs the letter makes all the difference.

The promise of heaven, eternal life is signed by God.

Jesus Could Not

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. -Mark 6:5, 6a (NIV)

“He can do anything, anything.” Those words, applied to Jesus, were the words of a song in one of the most powerful children’s musicals I remember from my years as a pastor. It is a sentiment you’ve probably heard repeated many times if you’ve been around Christians for any length of time. I would guess you’ve probably expressed it yourself or at least thought it. I know I have.

The only trouble with that is, the Bible says differently. In a text, that “stops me in my tracks,” whenever I read it, we are told, “He [Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except” heal a few sick people. “Could not” is not a phrase we connect to Jesus/God. It took a while for that to register.

My initial reaction to that text was focused on the “except” heal a few sick people. That’s not an absence of miracles. It is a powerful expression of God’s power. And it was done in spite of opposition and lack of faith. How we would rejoice to see that. Only after thinking about that for years did I begin to hear “could not.”

The implications of that are sobering to say the least. I don’t understand all it means. But for sure, in some important way, human beings who resist Jesus, who lack faith, hinder His work. Of course I believe that God is sovereign and that His ultimate plan will be fulfilled. However, it surely means some things God wants to do are limited by people just like you and me. And that probably explains why it took so long for that text to really sink in. I am responsible for preventing some of what God wants to do for me and through me. I don’t really want to hear that.

But the good news—you, I can make a difference, in the church, in the community, in the world by cooperating with and trusting Jesus.

What does God want to do where you are?

He Promised

Matthew 28:6b- he has risen, just as he said.

A one time popular Christian TV personality once told a TV audience: “The Christian life is just so great that I think I would become a Christian even if it wasn’t true!”1 Tim Keller says, “As a young Christian, I had come up through mainline churches, I was a religion major at a secular university. The common message he got about the stories of the resurrection was that they “were literalistic, symbolic representations of these higher spiritual truths.”

And then I read what the Apostle Paul wrote: “If Christ is not risen…your faith is useless.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is greatest event in human history. It is in fact the hinge; it is the pillar on which our faith stands. Continue reading

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

In the two weeks since the earthquake in Haiti we have heard so many words–sorrow, anger, courage, hero, fear, weary, shock, miracle, unbelievable.  We have heard explanations, promises, assurances, warnings.  Some of them have been wise, some foolish, some sinful and evil.  In these words there have the words from God, but also from fallible humans, and some straight out of the mouth of Satan himself.  Sometimes it is hard to know which are which.

The Bible helps us put things in perspective.

First, we are reminded that we cannot rid the world of suffering.  Someone has said, “This is a world where robins die, and sparrows, and people: the ones we love, the ones Jesus loves.”  The Peanuts characters put it this way:

Charlie Brown: “I have a new philosophy…’Life is like a golf course.’
Snoopy: “And ‘a sand trap runs through it.'”

The Biblical view says that God’s original creation has been damaged.  It is defaced, messed up. And earthquakes happen.  We can endlessly debate the philosophical and theological issues here, but the reality is clear.  This is a world where people, innocent people, get hurt.

However, in the midst of this, God is paying attention.  God listens, God sees, but most importantly God cares.  In the Old Testament God promises Soloman and the people just that–My eyes and my heart will always be here. (II Chron 7:16b-NLT)  Jesus says that even the fate of sparrows is not lost on God (Matt. 10:29).  And in the defining text of the Bible He says, For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only son. (John 3:16)

God is not just an observer, but, in fact, is in the midst of all this—in the Salvation Army relief worker, World Vision, UMCOR and scores of other Christian groups and individuals.  But, also in secular groups—the Red Cross, Chinese disaster teams, American military units—any one there with the will to help is doing God’s work whether they know it or not.

Finally, hope is intrinsic to the Christian message.  Along with faith and love, hope makes up the triangle of the Christian’s attitude.  A pastor dying of cancer took a leave from his church.  He was able to return and in a sermon he said, “We want to worship God in this church, and for our worship to be real, it doesn’t have to be fun, and it doesn’t have to be guilt-ridden.  But it does have to be honest, and it does have to hope in God.”

Hope is the future tense of faith.  Though we cannot deny what God has done and is doing, we must keep our perspective.  In our lives and those around us, much of  the Gospel is promise of what is yet to be.  But God is here, God is at work and is preparing a better place for us.  It is called heaven and without it, disasters/tragedies cannot be reconciled with a loving God.

Sisters, brothers keep the faith.