Thursday, December 19, 2019

Advent 13

Psalm 77
Ezekiel 34:11-16

     Just as David longs for a sense of God's presence, so too do we.  Oftentimes we fail to realize His presence in our midst.  We walk along the street oblivious to what is happening around us until we run smack dab into a friend who has been waving and calling our name as we approached.  We apologize by saying we were lost in thought or some other excuse.

     God is like that, calling our name, waving hands and arms to attract our attention, even as we focus on praying, and doing the right thing, lost in worry that He is not present, perhaps that He doesn't hear us.  He may be warning us to some danger, or bidding us to turn aside, yet we go on with our prayers and our work wondering why he doesn't act on our behalf.  Instead of stopping and listening and looking, we carry on with the same repetitious activity.  It may not be until we stumble and fall into His arms in some tragedy of our own making that we recognize Him.  It may not be until a quirk of circumstance, which could easily have been avoided, befalls us, that we realize how far we have gone astray.  And even then we may not recognize it is His own arms into which we have fallen.

     Ezekiel talks of a day when we will be shepherded on the mountain heights of Israel, when He has gathered in His own people, to be their shepherd.  The birth of Christ is a sign of God's gracious goodness, an indication of the depth of His love, and attempt to get our attention.  The Day is coming when we shall be gathered from the countries to which we have been scattered.  We will be fed on good pasture.  We shall lie down in good grazing land.  He will bind up those of us who are injured and He will strengthen the weak.

     We are reminded yet again that the world's idea of justice is not that of the Lord.  That the day is coming when justice, true justice, shall rain down.

     So if we find ourselves wandering this Advent/Christmas season, looking for Jesus, wondering what all these lights and decorations, all the busyness and financial expenditures have to do with the true heart of Christmas, we need to stop!  We need to be still and rest in the confidence that even now He is near, whether or not we recognize Him, AND that the Day is coming when we shall be drawn into His presence and His care in an even more concrete way.

Psalm 46 reminds us:

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    He lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.






Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Advent 12

Psalm 77
Isaiah 40:1-11; 28-31


     As David's psalm denotes a shift from the despair of a soul which "refuses to be comforted" to a consideration of "the days of old" and a spirit which would make a "deliberate search," so too must we shift our attention from any problem at hand to the  One who has delivered us in the past and who alone is able to deliver us from any current circumstance.

     In a similar vein of thought, Isaiah is directed to speak a word of hope, a promise of deliverance:
  • in the wilderness;
  • in the desert;
  • in the valley;
  • through the mountains;
  • on uneven ground; and
  • in the rough places.
A highway - a broad and smooth, a fast moving, even pathway is to be made for our God.  We are to prepare...    

     Isaiah makes it clear that even though we are but grass or the flowers of the field which, as the breath of the Lord blows on us, will wither and fade, the Word, the very Breath of God, will endure forever. The Lord is the everlasting God who neither faints nor grows weary. And -

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
 
     In this season of Advent, of beginnings, of preparation to celebrate His birth and His coming again, let us hold fast to His promises.  In the words of Psalm 32:24 -

Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait on the Lord!

 
AMEN!


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Advent 11

Psalm 77
Matthew 1:18-25


     Christmas can be a depressing time for some.  Reflections on those who have passed, relationships lost or broken, friends and family absent from the festivities for any number of reasons, regrets, even misunderstandings as to what our Christmas "celebrations" should entail can create anxiety and depression. 

     In this morning's psalm, David cries out to the Lord, confident that he will hear. He recalls happier days, when he remembers the Lord's favor being upon him. And he asks "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?"

     Even Joseph seems to lament his situation with Mary.  They are engaged and she is pregnant.  They had not been intimate and he decides to break off the engagement...until the Lord intervenes.

     A wealthy, heroic man names Charles de Foucauld, Viscount of Foucauld, born in 1858, descended from nobility, a calvary officer by training, eventually rejected his faith and lived a life of debauchery, made possible by an inheritance from his grandfather who had raised him.  An exceptionally bright young man, he took to exploration and writing, becoming one of the great culture explorers of northern Africa. Although he was well-respected by the scientific community, his life was empty and at the age 28 he returned to Paris to live with his family.  On January 15 1890, he took a decisive step of faith and joined  the Trappists, eventually becoming one of the great, but perhaps lesser known Hermits. 


     In "Meditations of a Hermit" de Foucauld writes:

Let us thank God a thousand times if in the sadness which invades us it seems as we are rejected by the world.  The depression and suffering, the bitterness with which we seem sometimes to be soaked, were the lot of Our Lord on earth.  Are we not fortunate to share them?  We should pity the happy people. Pity those whose happiness, even though it be quite legitimate and innocent, keeps them attached to the world. God is good that he has so despoiled us of everything, that we can draw breath only by turning our heads towards him.  How great is his mercy, how divine his goodness, for he has torn everything from us in order that we may be more completely his.  So the sufferers are the happy ones though the goodness of God.  In suffering I give thanks.  May these days of Christmas festival bring you, in your suffering, I do not say consolation, but the blessing God intends for you.  The Child Jesus will perhaps not give you any sweetness, - reserves that for the weak ones, - but his hands will none the less be spread to bless you in these days of Christmastide, and whether you feel it or no, he will pour abundant grace into your soul.

    This  Christ child whose birth we celebrate would make the following statement which flow down through the years reminded us again of the value of true faith:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

     If in this season of Advent and Christmastide you find yourself feeling low, depressed, forsaken, neglected, and or forgotten, challenge yourself to remember the words of the saints who have gone before us, even those in Holy Scripture.  We are blessed.  The greatest gift ever was given to us and will be fufilled when He comes again in the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Advent 10: What's in a name?

Psalm 77
Isaiah 7:10-17
 
Ukashov's "Emanuel" 
    עמנואל
   The sign of Immanuel (God with us) is given to King Ahaz. As the kings of Israel and Syria are conspiring to attack Judah, Isaiah ("God is salvation") and his son, Shear-jashub ("a remnant shall return") are called to go to King Ahaz in Jerusalem (Is. 7:3).

     A country is divided and has been for some time - Israel and Judah, one faithful (Judah) and one apostate (Israel).  Israel has aligned itself against the remnant of God's people and the man named God is salvatioin is sent with his son named "a remnant shall return" to ensure that the next sign of God's favor "God with us" is received. Ahaz has refused to seek a sign from God, but in comes in spite of his refusal.  "Emmanuel" - God's promise of hope, of assurance, of steadfast presence with His people, in spite of the circumstances.

     Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Israel, Syria...each in their own time and way serve to threaten God's remnant people...a constant source of conflict for God's children, those who hold out faithfulness, who stand firm...And Judah, a part of what was once a great and united kingdom, will eventually be taken into captivity.

     This prophecy, which to our great disservice, we seem to only lift up at Christmas, is timeless.  It is once and forever true, the definitive sign of God's presence with us.  Though the enemies of God may have their way, for a time and a season, God is always with His people. He will never be without a remnant.

     In this, and any trying time, as the enemies of God conspire, approach, attack, and even seem victorious, we need to remember and to reflect on this prophecy, so that we might have the confidence of God's promise of Immanuel.  That is the eternal gift of Christmas, not a season, not a day, but an eternal gift of hope.  God IS with us. Amen!


 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Advent 9


2 Timothy 4:1-5

 
"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. 
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them 
a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

     When we have access to the very Word of God, definitive, decisive, clear, and consistent, why is it that  our ears itch for something else, our eyes look to other gods, our hearts long for self affirmation?

     What better affirmation is there than that God Himself loved us so much that He died for us?  And yet the truth is, that with technological advancement, economic prosperity, and religious freedom we have become lazy, complacent, entitled individuals.  We "have traded the truth of God for a lie, and and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator."  We love the world we have created for ourselves.  It easy to navigate and asks little in the way of adjustment.It gives us what we want.

     The illustration I like to use is a reflection on what often takes place on Christmas morning.  There is a rush to the Christmas tree, cluttered with gifts.  Emotions run high and expectations even higher.  The packages are opened and expressions of gratitude are exchanged, but deep within, there is sometimes a great love for the gift that seem to surmount the love for the giver. Mom and dad may be thanked, while the gift is embraced. And we are left longing for the receiver to run to our open arms and embrace us and be embraced by us.  So too, conversely, there is sometimes, a deep disappointment in both the gift and the giver for not coming through on something someone REALLY wanted.  (I'm sure this never happens in your household!)  A half-hearted "thank you for the socks", which may have been needed more than desired, or the funny looking tie we may never be able to bring ourselves to wear, irrespective of the love in which it was given.

     The Lord God of the universe, Creator of all, comes to save us from our sin, from ourselves, not to affirm our sinfulness, not to stroke us and tell us we're fine just the way we are. Not to give us what we think we want and/or need but exactly what we need and therefore what we should be wanting.  He comes to change us, to redeem us from the mess we have made of our lives.  And that is disappointing to those who have fallen in love with themselves, who have so often been awarded and rewarded for their waywardness,who think they know best what they need and therefor what they have set their hearts on.

     The Truth of God is hard to hear for those who are content in our comfortableness precisely because it calls us to a "work."  It calls us to hard work - to do the good work which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10); to work out our salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).  The gift of salvation, when properly received, includes the decision to make Christ Lord of all aspects of our lives.

     Salvation is a difficult thing to deal with.  It is the greatest gift ever given, for the greatest work ever to be done.  But it is not for sissies or snowflakes.  With the gift of salvation (being saved) comes a tremendous burden (making Him Lord).  Enslaving ourselves to the Lordship of Christ our Redeemer is counter to our natural selves, to our sinful, selfish, comfortable lives.  But then again nothing easily accomplished produced anything of true value.

    May the Lord bless each of us this Advent season with renewed hope that we can let go of self and pick up the task of becoming perfect as He is perfect, of becoming Holy as He is Holy, of doing the hard work of really listening, of really looking, or really sacrificing all for the One through whom we can do all things.

     May our ears be unblocked and our eyes opened to hear the "truth that hurts than heals."

     Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Advent 8

Psalm 8
Mark 1:1-8


     Reading the introductory verses to Mark reminds me of both the amazing authenticity of scripture in general and the gospels in particular, and of the stunning nature of the divine inspiration of those writings.

     Matthew and John were both clearly written by the disciples themselves.  This is apparent by the internal witness of the respective gospels and the early and well-attested affirmation of many external commentators. 

     Clear evidence of John Mark's authorship of the second gospel is equally evident. A close follower of the disciples, though not an immediate part of the twelve, Mark brings an onlookers witness of the events.  And his writing so impressed Matthew and Luke that they both quote Mark's gospel, almost in in its fullness, in their own. 

     Finally, Luke, not even an eye witness to the events, but an obviously well-educated and well practiced researcher adds yet another aspect to the glorious witness of the gospels.

     Such a cloud of witnesses, and yet, even more importantly, men driven along by the Holy Spirit of God writing exactly what the Lord  wanted to have recorded. 

     "Theopneustos" the Greek word for God-breathed, has its only use in 2 Timothy 3:16 where we read "All Scripture is God-breathed."  And 2 Peter adds to this with:"For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." So while they were able to bring their own experiences and perspectives to the table, God, by the Holy Spirit, breathed into them, the words He intended for them to write.  What the good Lord Himself wanted us to know.  The essentials.

     Reformed theologians talk about perspicuity,  that is that God, by His Holy Spirit, has clearly communicate through scripture.  We do not need a Biblical scholar to explain it, though that scholar might add information that would lead us into a fuller appreciation of it.  God, the ultimate author of scripture, spoke through these men, His truth and, by His Holy Spirit, enables believers to comprehend it. The perspicuity of the Word of God.

 

     Oh that we would more fully appreciate what we have before us.  Oh that we would read it more intentionally, more consistently, and more searchingly.  All we need to know about the Lord Jesus Christ, about the Father and the Holy Spirit, about our salvation and our calling, is there.

     In this season of Advent, as we prepare for Jesus' coming again, let us renew our commitment to knowing Him as scripture alone can clearly, authoritatively, and factually make Him known. For scripture intentionally seeks to make Him known to all who truly seek Him.  

     How can you do what Jesus would do, if you don't know that which He did, if you don't know who He is. For Jesus cannot be known outside of the scriptural witness.

     Solus Christus (1 Timothy 2:5); Sola Scriptura (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Amen

Monday, December 9, 2019

Advent 7: A Confession and Prayer

Psalm 138

     This morning's psalm reminds me of an experience I had in Weidman, MI in January of 1981.  It took place in a single wide trailer, without running water, as I ran wild in the spiritual wilderness of self-indulgence, self-reliance, self-care, and self-wonder... The evening began, as just another evening in the bleak midwinter, but ended in a glorious resurrection.

On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased...
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. 
[Psalm 138:3, 8]



     For years I wandered.  I was raised in the church. I believed "in God." I went through "confirmation class" and made the profession of faith with my lips that was expected of those who stood before the Session and then the congregation.  I was joined to the "Church."  I confessed my sins, when I was caught.  And I gave thanks to my god when I had avoided being found out.  My life went on but slowly and surely denigrated in this bartering style relationship with the god I thought I knew.

     Then, one fateful evening, when all seemed lost, when my soul had grown weary of the constant bargaining, the endless beseeching of this moralistic, far off, unknown god ( a god apparently unable to save me from myself), I opened the scriptures and the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and earth, leapt from the page and spoke to me directly, personally, in such a powerful and cleansing way that I could not help but respond to that irresistible grace with a "here I am Lord."

     My life has never been the same.  In that instant I was redeemed, transformed, my salvation was made secure.  My knowledge of the Holy One of Israel embedded itself in such a way that I knew the Shepherd's voice and it has never lead me astray.  It was the beginning of new relationships, the loss of old relationships, the shunning of some opportunities, and the embracing of others which would be sacrificial beyond my wildest expectations.  It became a lifetime of responding to the question, "Do you love me more than these?"  

     It is difficult to talk to people, about faith, who have not had the experience of that intimate introduction to the God of the universe, those who know only the language of churchianity but not the love of the Savior, those who willingly receive the concept of a God who would save them, but who are unwilling to accept His Lordship of their lives, those still wandering in the wilderness or intellectual understanding, academic pursuit, theological maneuvering, but spiritual lostness.

     It is my prayer that you, who only know the idea of the new birth would be brought to your knees in humble submission, even as I was; that through turmoil, trouble, through sorrow and sadness your brokenness would lead you to the One, the only One who can fix all things, for eternity, who can bring absolute, true and lasting joy, joy unspeakable into your lives.  I pray that the scales would fall from your eyes, the blockages from your ears, that your hardened heart would be broken to pieces, crushed and torn asunder, that you may be made whole in Jesus Christ, Lord God Almighty.

     I prayed for years, literally, for years that, if this God that I had heard about in church was real, He would reveal himself to me.  While I won't say that it was my persistence that saved me, or that it convinced God to finally reveal himself to me, I will put forth the reality that the desire to be saved plays a role.

     I love the story of the man who, though the pastor knew him to be unrepentant and non-believing, so persisted in his request to be baptized, that the pastor finally acceded to his wish and set the date for baptism.  The Sunday came and pastor lowered the man into the baptismal waters, and held him there.  The man became anxious and began to rise, wherein the pastor held him down more firmly.  It got to the point where the man seeking the baptism was thrashing and fighting for his very life, wherein the pastor raised him by the collar and proclaimed, as the man gasped for breath, "when you want salvation as much as you wanted air, come see me again!"

     When we finally come to the point where we realize that there is nothing we can do to procure our well-being, our safety, our health, our happiness, our salvation, when we are ultimately honest with ourselves about who we are and what we truly need, it is at that point that we fall to our knees, in humble submission to the One by whose grace and in whose image we were created - the One to Whom belongs, all glory, all laud, and honor.  And it is at that point that we can submit ourselves to His Lordship.

     More than anything else, I pray that you might find that present of honest self-assessment, underneath your tree and in your heart, this Christmas because THAT is why He came..

Amen!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Advent 6


Christmas celebrations in sub-tropical, majority Buddhist countries may vary a bit, but if it celebrates the birth of Christ, it's Christmas! 
 
Zach, Jaina and Fiona


Fiona's Pre School Christmas program...

 
Here's Fiona near the Christmas Tree! 



 One of the ways in which we can prepare to celebrate the birthday of our Lord is to remind ourselves He is Lord of all, everyone, everywhere, to those who receive Him, near or far...










Saturday, December 7, 2019

Advent 5





Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods…
…Today, if only you would hear his voice,
Do not harden your hearts…
(from Psalm 95)


[I’ve been thinking a lot about my “friend” and their practice of wicca see Friday, Nov 22 - Coming out of the Closet post.  The following is simply a reflection of my thoughts as I attempt to figure out how to relate to this person and how to process this heartbreaking reality.]

Wicca is a hodgepodge, eclectic collection of new age mysticism, witchcraft, spiritism, and nature worship. Credit as to its "invention" is given to Gerald Garner, who claimed to have been initiated into a cult in 1939, although many of its adherents claim roots in the many varied tradition in which it stands.  Less than 0.3-0.4% of Americans claim to practice wicca but it is reported to be growing in younger generations who have largely rejected any form of "institutionalized religion."  Of basic concern to me, however is that it is, by definition, a practice clearly condemned by scripture (whether in paganism, witchcraft, sorcery, spiritism, naturalism, animism or any other form).


Because this friend is someone who, at one time, embraced the Lordship of Jesus Christ (or at least claimed to have) I find it necessary to go to scripture to examine how we are directed to handle these situations.

Paul talks about church members, those who have once claimed the faith, who have wandered from the way, even stooping to blasphemy while claiming to be persons of faith, and those who have rejected the faith in practice.


...hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:5


“Destruction" here indicates “ruin” and “of the flesh” refers to sinful desires, so Paul making it possible for this person to experience the consequences of sin so that they might be restored to the faith.  There is an end game.


And again in discussing leadership issues with Timothy, Paul refers to how he has treated other such people:


“...Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy 1:19-20 

Paul disciplined those, inside the church, who claimed to be believers but whose behavior clearly indicated they were not. He “handed them over to Satan” casting them out of the church into the world which is Satan’s domain. He did not pray for their death or their condemnation so much as he prayed for the removal of God's blessings and the hedge of protection God places upon His people, so that Hymenaeus and Alexander might know the privileged place believers hold in God’s Kingdom and seek His protection and provision again.


In If God Knows My Needs, Why Should I Pray? Kent Crockett puts it this way:


Some people only learn the hard way. They have to hit bottom like the prodigal son before they will come to their senses, which explains why we need to pray they will become miserable. As you continue to pray, the rebellious person comes to the point he cannot standwhat he is doing. He becomes so miserable that it’s easier for him to surrender to the Lord than to continue in rebellion. God won’t take away his free will, but your prayers of intercession can strongly influence the person to repent.


Warren Wiersbe adds:


While Christians are not to judge one another’s motives or ministries, 
we are certainly expected to be honest about each other’s conduct.


Identifying the sinful actions of believers is a part of the role of the church, the body of believers. We are to encourage one another in good works and to admonish one another in sin. This is not a contradiction of Jesus command not to judge people. Jjuedgement refers to motivation for the action. We are told that we will know false prophets “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). We know sin when we see it, and realize that it is something which is condemned by God is scripture as unfitting for the life of the believer.  This is why we have  such strong leanings toward confession, repentance, and restitution.  Lacking that conviction, or refusing to repent leaves one outside of the grace of God.


John McArthur in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary clearly draws these two passages together in the following manner:


To put the professed believer out of their fellowship, to excommunicate him, would be to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. Satan is the ruler of this world, and turning a believer over to Satan, therefore, thrusts the believer back into the world on his own, apart from the care and support of Christian fellowship. That person has forfeited his right to participation in the church of Jesus Christ, which He intends to keep pure at all costs. The word deliver (paradidomi) is a strong term indicating the judicial act of sentencing, of handing over for punishment. The sentence passed on a sinning believer is to be given to Satan. Paul excommunicated  Hymenaeus and Alexander because of their continued and unrepented blasphemy.  They were pastors with a false gospel; he “delivered [them] over to Satan  that they may be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20).


And so, while it may seem callous, uncaring and/or unloving I need to give my friend over to Satan, praying that such a harvest of confusion and loss of protections would be reaped, that my friend would return once again to the faith once and forever delivered to the saints.

What does all this have to do with Advent?  It should serve as a reminder that God himself gave up his glory in heaven to win our salvation. God himself came to earth to show he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him!

It should also serve as a reminder that giving up our own selfish wishes, our own desired comforts,our own self constructed beliefs, are part of the price that is to be paid. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God, that which is the Lord's


Soli Deo Gloria!

n.b. a few Bible verses specifically about witchcraft as a reminder:

Leviticus 19:31
Leviticus 20:6
Leviticus 20:27
Deuteronomy 18:10-14
1 Samuel 15:23
1 Samuel 22:23
1 Chronicles 10:13
2 Chronicles 33:6
Isaiah 8:19-22
Isaiah 19:1-4
Isaiah 47:8-14
Micah 5:10-12
Galatians 5:19-21
Acts 8:9-13
Acts 19:17-20
Revelation 18:23
Revelation 21:8

Friday, December 6, 2019

Advent 4

Psalm 95
Hebrews 10:11-25

"Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope, without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful." [Hebrews 10:23]

     "He who promised is faithful" is the reason that we are able to hold fast to our confession of hope.  We don't hope we are right. We don't hope we will be found faithful.  Our hope is in Jesus Christ's having accomplished our salvation BECAUSE his was and is faithful.  Our hope is not wishful thinking. Our hope is not something that may or may not come about for us.  Our hope is in the certainty of our salvation, to be brought to fullness on the Day of the Lord, on the day of his return.

     "Hope" here is the Greek word elpis {ἐλπίς}meaning an expectation of something that is absolutely certain.  It is a looking forward with anticipation to something that will come about without any chance of failure whatsoever.  This is to be distinguished from the English word hope which refers to a feeling or an expectation of something.  The English word lacks the intensity of the Greek certainty.  Few things in this world quality properly as something that can be hoped for.  Most things are simply wishful or desirous thinking.  It is often said"there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes." But with the right legal maneuvering one can avoid taxes.

    Death, in the physical sense, is certain for each and everyone of us, but so too is resurrection.  We can be certain of this because Jesus has proven it. It simply cannot fail. There is no power on earth, above the earth, or below the earth that can change that reality, not even death itself has that power.

     This is the reason that Advent is a hope-filled season. It is a looking forward to Jesus' return. It is an absolute certainty.  Our hope is not in something as precarious as life, or a friend's loyalty, or a family member's affections.  All of those fail at times.  Rather it is in the infallibility of the Lord God himself.  To question this hope of salvation, our hope of redemption, is to question the very character of God Almighty - both his ability and his desire to provide.

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

So "let us hold fast  to the confession of our hope, without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."

     Confidence in the hope of our salvation is not a source of personal pride.  It in fact, if genuine, will produce humility. Rather it is confidence in God himself who, in Jesus Christ, has once and forever demonstrated, proven, affected our salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria, Amen!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Advent 3

Revelation 3:20                                                            In Memory of Mrs. Connie E.


"Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If any man hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me." 

     Every time I hear, or read, or recall this verse I am reminded of a Christmas present I received when I was but 10 years old.  It was a gift that planted a seed.  It was born out of the evangelistic fervor and love of a Den Mother, a far reaching kindness beyond my ability to comprehend at the time.  She gave each of us boys a framed print of Christ at Heart's Door by Warner Sallman.  It was the same year we had each made our own manger to place under the tree.
 

     It was a farewell gift, the week before Christmas, as she was stepping down from her responsibilities as Den Mother.  None of us knew why and it really tore at our hearts because there was an obvious sadness in her voice. She had written Rev. 3:20 on the back of the photo and signed her name.  She verbally expressed hope that each of us would open that door of our hearts to Christ and she prayed.  The strength of her witness was in part due to the sadness that seemed to permeate her spirit.

     That picture was a constant companion until I came to faith myself. And then one day I could no longer find it.  It had been a part of my "treasure box" - that one box that seems to find its way through all the transitions in life, the one that serves as a reminder of things, usually the best things of life. I wasn't a believer when I received it, but the thought of an Almighty God knocking on the door of my life was compelling. 

     My Den Mother's kindness was also a part of that treasure box and a part of the reason I kept the picture.  It was a simpler time of my life, a time before, just before the struggles began.  In fact it was right after receiving this gift that I began to experience the challenges, the attacks of the evil one, the influences that would occupy such a significant part of my life for the next almost twenty years, struggles that still haunt me.

     I struggle to recall her full name, but that act of kindness, that witness, her words of encouragement to profess faith, to open the door, to extend the trust and to put my life in the hands of the only One who can save, to sup with Him and to have Him sup with me, that evangelistic act on her behalf, will be reckoned unto her as righteousness, an act of faith, and will be shouted from the mountain tops on the Day of the Lord, the day to which we look forward, with great anticipation, in this Advent season.  And I so look forward to greeting her and sharing with her the tremendous gift she gave me in that one small act...

     None of us know what seeming small act of evangelistic kindness, driven by our faith, our trust in Him to provide, and our need to witness, will plant such a seed.

     Certainly my mother's prayers, those of my grandmothers, and other people's words, prayers, and witness played a role in nurturing that seed until it finally sprouted that fateful night in a single-wide trailer deep in the woods, but the seed HAD BEEN PLANTED.

     I pray that this Advent season, this season of preparation, both to celebrate His birth, and to prepare for His coming again, will find you demonstrating the faith and the hope that we find in Christ in some small act of evangelistic kindness that will endure, that will become a part of someone's treasure box, that will be counted unto you as righteousness on that Day!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Advent 2

Psalm 3
Colossians 1:9-23

     The Psalmist offers the people of God an alternative to the ways of their "fathers" who put Him to the test.  Instead of hardened hearts he calls them:

to make a joyful noise to the rock of their salvation;
to come into His presence with thanksgiving;
to worship and bow down; and
to kneel before the Lord their maker.

     It is a call incumbent upon all who are called according to His purpose. A choice is to be made in response to God's actions, in response to the various circumstances with which we are faced, in response to the enemy we face, irrespective of whether those situations fit into our expectations of what should or should not be.

     We tend to want to argue with God, to contend with the Almighty, the One who has delivered us, as if we know better than Him, that which is in our best interest and even more so that which is in the best interest of the Kingdom.

     Paul reminds the Colossians that they were once alienated and hostile toward God in mind and evil in deeds, but that they have been reconciled to Him (in Jesus Christ).  So too he makes it clear that  this was done for them so that they may be presented as holy, as blameless, as above reproach, IF they continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel...which has been proclaimed in all creation.

     In these days of waiting for Christ's return, we experience the reality of life, of friends, loved ones, family and church members seemingly shifting from the "hope of the gospel which they have heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation" even as my friend, who has turned to Wicca, rejecting the faith in which they were raised, perhaps like your friend who "can't believe in a god who would send someone to hell..." or "who would allow such suffering..."

     Paul states clearly that they (he, Timothy, Tychius, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphrus, and likely others) have not ceased praying for the Colossians, that they might be presented holy when Jesus returns.

     So, in line with the Psalmist, in accordance with God's clearly expressed will in scripture, and as Paul and company show us, even as we hold fast to the faith ourselves, we must be praying for those whose faith is so fragile, who may forget the depth from which they have risen, who may think that they know better that the Lord Himself what is in their best interest, and who even may wish to contend with Him. And so do I pray for you, who are reading this right now.

     Rather:

Let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation!
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise.
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all Gods.

Soli Deo Gloria!  Amen!!!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Advent 1

Psalm 95
Matthew 3

The Psalmist recalls God's "loathing" of His people.  They had seen His prowess.  They had personally experienced His provision. They had participated in His deliverance. And yet they had hardened their hearts.

We are admonished to not put Him to the test lest we too become loathed by our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; lest we be seen as a people who have gone astray, who do not know His ways.

The Church (not church) has, in so many ways, abandon the faith, compromised the truth, and danced with the devil.  We tolerate that Jezebel.  We have become lukewarm. We have abandoned the love we had at first. We tolerate those who hold to the teachings of Balaam and that of the Nicolatians. We have the reputation of being alive, though we are dead.

We look to a righteousness defined by a world set on self affirmation, self indulgence, and self aggrandizement; a world which mocks true purity and holiness. We listen to music which elevates debauchery and we idolize the stars of fame and fortune.

And the words of John the Baptizer echo across the centuries and cultures, pausing at the blocked ears of so many who consider themselves to be believers, just not "that kind of believer" -

"You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruit in keeping with repentance."

In this season of Advent, as we await the celebration of the One who came to save us from our sin, let us also prepare for His coming again to judge, to separate, and to fulfill redemption's plan, by bearing "fruit in keeping with repentance."

Let us cast off the sin which so easily entangles, the desire which, when conceived, gives birth to sin, and pursue the holiness expected of one who would dare to call himself a Christ follower, a true believer, a born again child of God.  Let us sacrifice the interests we have created for ourselves, born of selfish desires, and pursue those which truly honor and glorify God, having counted the very significant cost of such behavior, counting it all joy, to the glory of God.

In Jesus name, Amen!


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