Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Prepare Him Room

This Sunday I want to begin our Advent Celebration with a message from Isaiah.  Here, the Prophet, some 700 years before Jesus' coming (Incarnation is the theological word) spoke of God who saw what people were going through and spoke of Hope.

Isaiah 40:1-11 (NIV)
1  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

2  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

3  A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.

4  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

5  And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

6  A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

7  The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.

8  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."

9  You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!"

10  See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.

11  He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

I'm spending some time this week thinking about this passage...as it relates to God;  as it relates to God's vision of our lives, the world;  and as it relates to people who are hurting...and more.

Think and pray with me, ok?

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room...


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Week - 2

God's word, according to Jesus, is "food" for us.  He was quoting the O.T. book of Deuteronomy when he said, "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God's own mouth." (my paraphrase).
Given the fact that we consume a couple of "ton" of calories (they say the average Thanksgiving meal is 4500 calories!), its quite reasonable to think of "eating" God's word at Thanksgiving!

Here's another thought from God's word on the theme of thanksgiving and just look at the ways in which he incorporates thanksgiving into these three sentences.

Colossians 3:15-17 (NIV)
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Thanksgiving is related to Christ's rule in our hearts, our fellowship with each other, and the way in which we receive the word of God, as well as all the things we do!

Hope you have a great Spiritual Thanksgiving with lots to eat, and God's word too!


Monday, November 19, 2012

A Week of Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving Week - a celebration without gifts to give, tinsel, or jingles.  It's a time to reflect on how grateful we can be because of the good that has happened...even when we're struggling in life's circumstances.
Here's Psalm 107...look at the times he says "give thanks", and the circumstances that surround them.

1Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
2Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
4Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.
5They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.
6Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
7He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.
8Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for humankind,
9for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
10Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most High.
12So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.
14He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains.
15Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for humankind,
16for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.
17Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death.
19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.
20He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
21Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for humankind.
22Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

We give thanks, not because all things are right and just, but because in all things, God is still there, and our lives are better with Him than on its own without him.

It's a week of Thanksgiving....


Monday, November 12, 2012

Coffee With Jesus

One of the more respected voices in the Evangelical movement that does not fit the status quo of typical Evangelicals is a pastor/theologian/writer by the name of Greg Boyd.
Greg has written a number of books, and one that I'm using at present in our Men's Fellowship is his very public letter exchange with his Father (who wasn't a believer at the time) entitled "Letters From A Skeptic".  What I love about the book is how highly personal it is, and yet how the biblical and theological reflections that Greg gives to his Father's questions are well thought out - regardless if you agree with every answer given.

Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV) 
15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 

One of my concerns as a Pastor is that the essence of the verse is largely ignored in our churches today.  

First, we have a great need for people of faith to "set apart Christ as Lord".  The quality of much church life these days seems to be (and I recognize my own judgment enters into this) to entertain; teach biblically and theologically "lite";  build bigger and better without addressing what it means for believers to be disciples also.  To "set apart Christ as Lord" means the priority above all other things for a Christ-Centered approach to life in the Church.  Is he the center of worship?  Is the center of teaching?  Is he the purpose of gathering?  Is Jesus Christ set forth as "Lord" - the one who defines our faith, our values, our purpose for living?

Secondly, we have a great need for people of faith to "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have."  One of the reasons - I believe - it's important to study, read, and think biblically and theologically is that we have to have substance and not just anecdote to speak about.  The things that Greg's Father wrestled with are the things that MANY people wrestle with.  It's the practical, everyday, and big-picture things that cause people to stumble in relation to a believing faith.  If we know anything at all about God, it is that he "so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son", so doesn't it seem reasonable to do all that we can to represent him truthfully and with knowledge?  

Thirdly, we have a great need for people of faith to "do this with gentleness and respect".  We are coming off a rather nasty political season (aren't all political seasons nasty?).  The language of politics is one of "power over" - the desire to paint the most undesirable picture of the opponent, without really ever addressing why "You" are the better alternative.  So also there is a lot of language in Christianity that seems more interested is asserting the "rightness" of biblical positions without regard for the qualities of humility and respect.  

What would it look like if we studied to become biblically and theologically literate - so that we would have substance to share with those who are seeking to find the truth;  AND an ability to publicly give reasonable, but faith-oriented, answers to those who attack Christ - but to do so with humility and respect...wouldn't it be great?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy All Saints Day

Yesterday I blogged about "Halloween" - which is actually "All Hallowed's Eve".  So if you haven't read that blog you might want to skip back a day and take a look at that before reading this one.

Today in the church's calendar year is the celebration of "All Saints Day"... that's You and Me too!
The word "saints" is used quite often in New Testament scripture.

It was used of those who arose from graves after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Matthew 27:52 (NASB) 
52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 

And in the book of Acts it appeared several times:  The first time it was spoken by Ananias whom God called to go give Saul's sight back to him after he was struck down on the road to Damascus.  
Acts 9:13 (NIV)
13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 

Of Peter shortly thereafter... Acts 9:32 (NIV) 
32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda.

But Paul was the one who used the word liberally in his epistles to talk of the believers in the churches he was writing to:
 Romans 1:7 (NIV) 
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
 Romans 8:26-27 (NASB) 
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  
Romans 15:30-31 (NASB)
30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,
31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints;
1 Corinthians 6:1 (NIV)
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?
2 Corinthians 1:1 (NIV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia: 
Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 
Ephesians 1:15-18 (NIV)
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,
16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  
Colossians 1:3-4 (NIV)
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints--
Altogether there the word "saints" is translated 104 times.  The greek word that is used is "hagios" and it means "one's set apart for a unique purpose".  In that sense all of us who know Christ Jesus are "saints".  We've been set apart for Christ's purpose.  We are citizens of His Kingdom and we are considered to be God's own possession.

How did "Saints" become special people and not all believers?  The answer lies in history and the institution of the Church - or as we know it - the early Catholic Church.  
Many believers in the early church went through great times of persecution.  Martyrdom was not an infrequent issue.  Many of those who were martyred were leaders...pastors, theologians, evangelists, teachers of the church.  The belief of Roman governors and leaders was that if they could destroy the leaders, they could stop the church from continuing on.  
With the coming of Constantine the early church gained a foothold in the empire.  Not as some teach that the church became the State church....it did not.  All that Constantine did was make being a Christian acceptable in the empire.  

The first "All Saints Day" was celebrated after Pope Boniface IV made the veneration (honoring) of those who were martyred to be celebrated on a common date - then it was in May of the year.
A century later another Pope expanded the celebration to include all saints...known and unknown and fixed the date to be Nov. 1st - quite possibly to counter a Pagan festival date, which I dealt with yesterday in the blog on "Halloween".

To say that we are saints is to say something much different than simply that we are people who believe, or are members of a church, or go to church.  
The word "Saints" applied to us means we are set apart for God's purposes.  
We are much more than believers...although we are believers....we are those who commit ourselves to learn from Jesus on how to live our lives as he would live our life.  
We are "saints" because we have made a commitment to have a life full of Jesus' life!
We are "saints" because our life is reflection of the holy quality of the new life of God's grace.

At least that's what we're suppose to be! 

Happy All Saint's Day!