Sunday, December 22, 2013

Shine on Us; Psalm 80, II Corinthians 4:6-10

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sing for Joy; Luke 1:46-55, Psalm 146, Isaiah 35

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Prince of Peace; Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 72, Romans 15:1-13

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Get Ready--The King is Coming!; Psalm 25, Luke 21:25-36, Isaiah 1:1-9, II Peter 3:8-17

Last week we celebrated Christ the King Sunday. We emphasized that Jesus IS King, present tense, but we also recognize that Jesus is returning. Advent is the time that we remember that the King is coming and all creation will be redeemed. We look forward to Christmas, when we celebrate Christ’s 1st coming in the incarnation, but in Advent, we also focus on the second coming. It is a time of waiting, but not just idle waiting, it is a time that focus on being prepared for Christ’s coming. Just as you are preparing for Christmas, we need to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming. We prepare ourselves by staying alert and standing ready. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back, but He tells us to be prepared. His coming is sure. In our II Peter passage, Peter warns us that people will always doubt the reign of the King. Scoffing scoffers will always say, “Where is the evidence of His appearing? Aren’t things just like they have always been? I don’t see anything different.” But we are not to doubt the promise. Rev. Wayne Brouwer says, “Advent is that date on our calendars penned in by God, not us, indicating a promised encounter we might often doubt, but which cannot be erased from the pages of time.” He compares it to his own life: “We once promised one of our daughters that we would be making a visit to see her, over 5,000 miles away from where we live, at a certain date in the future. She counted on our arrival, made plans to greet us, house us, feed us, and show us around her world. How could she be so certain that we would be there when we promised? Because she knows our character. She has learned to trust us and trust in us. She was confident we would be there. She arranged her life by that promise.” How much more should we expect God to keep promises? In the spare evidence of these days, when we are roiled by circumstances and challenged by materialistic denials of any First Cause, religious trust seems foolish. Except… Except that God made a promise. And we have seen God's character in Creation and in the divine affairs with Israel and in the testimony of Jesus. So we wait....” Though God hasn’t given us the date of the King’s return, it is just as sure as a date on our calendars. Like the daughter waiting the arrival of her parents, we are to be preparing for the Lord’s return. In our gospel lesson Jesus tells us to lift up our heads. Pastor Dean Feldmeyer gives us an illustration of what it means to lift up our heads. “In the television program The Mentalist, Australian actor Simon Baker plays the part of Patrick Jane, a former con-man, carnival trickster, and "mentalist" who now works as a consultant for the investigative branch of the state police. In his former life Jane used his keen powers of observation to make people believe he was a psychic, but now he uses them to solve crimes. In one episode a woman remembers him from his past, and asks him why the police have a psychic on the payroll. When Jane tells her that he isn't a psychic, she asks how he could possibly know the things he does without having special psychic powers. He replies, "I'm not a psychic. There is no such thing as a psychic. I just pay attention." This line has been used on The Mentalist in various forms so many times that it is now the tag line in the show's promotional advertisements: "He isn't a psychic. He's just paying attention." In the lectionary gospel text for the First Sunday in Advent, Jesus calls his followers to pay attention -- to him, to the world, to their own lives -- or risk missing the important things that are coming our way.” To lift up our heads is to pay attention. We are to expect the unexpected. Jesus tells us to watch, to stay awake. We are to stay alert. We must pay enough attention not to get swayed by false teachers, but to be able to recognize them. We must not get sidetracked by the scoffers who deny the presence of Christ already at work in the world. Though life is tough and sometimes scary, Jesus is coming. God is sovereign and in control, not the nations, not the wicked, not enemies of any kind. On this Sunday of hope, we are reminded that our hope is sure. God’s promise of hope is that He will answer our cries in ways that surpass our understanding. This is the hope of David in Psalm 25. David is waiting for God. He is waiting, as Bernhard Anderson says, “for the time when the certainty of God’s presence and the sovereignty of God’s purpose in the world will once again become clear.” Martin Buber has described time as the “eclipse of God.” God is still here. Christ is King, though we do not see it. Christ’s return is the end of time. Time will no longer obscure our vision, the day we will no longer “see in a glass darkly, but face to face.” Trusting God is a sign of staying alert. We are to live in dependence on God alone, recognizing that God is the only necessity of life. Without God we cannot even breathe; our hearts would not beat. Many things constantly vie for our attention. What are the things that vie for you attention? In what do you place your security? What if they were taken away? I am humbled by the faith of those for whom those sources of security have been taken away—those who must rely on God for daily bread, for shelter, for work, those who have lost their families for the sake of Christ, those who have lost their freedom. They claim to lack nothing. They truly live as if Christ is enough. They have proved it. Will we follow? Will we do the same? We are also to stand ready. One way we stand ready is through confession of sin and repentance. Our Isaiah passage reminds us that we need a Redeemer. As Ray Ortlund says, “What we need is not more self-esteem, but Christ-esteem.” Awareness of our sin is a good thing because it reminds us we need God. We cannot get to the end of Isaiah, which talks about the new heaven and new earth—the wonderful reality that we will live when Christ returns, unless we first realize that there is something terribly wrong with this reality. Part of what is wrong with this one is us. We are rebellious children. We resist God’s claim upon our lives. We are self-satisfied, but self-preservation is really self-imprisonment. We value God as a last resort instead of the source of all things. In his book Desiring God, John Piper says, “The scenery, poetry, and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach in the back of the refrigerator. Isaiah 1:5-6 tells us that our whole head is sick, our whole heart is faint and our wounds have not been tended. The King James version gives a more graphic picture of these wounds. They are translated as “putrefying sores”. And we have not put any band-aids or Neosporin on them. Confession is the cure. Our II Peter passage says that one of the reasons that God’s promise seems slow in coming to fulfillment is because God is waiting that all should come to repentance. Obviously every day goes by and people die without turning to God, but is not God’s fault that they do not believe. Everyone is given multiple opportunities to believe. God is not idly standing by. People choose to reject God. When Christ returns, that is judgment day. Evil will be destroyed and everyone will be laid bare to open exposure. How will we be found? If we regularly confess and repent, we will be found with no shame. We do not know when the day is coming, so we must live in a state of repentance—turning from self and sin, and turning to God. In Psalm 25, David asks the Lord forgiveness. Peter hopes that we may be found spotless and blameless. To do so, we must rely on the finished work of Christ. We offer ourselves as those living sacrifices. A second way we stand ready is through prayer. Prayer is essential to maintaining our relationship with God. In prayer we ask God to teach us. Again in Psalm 25, David prays that the Lord will teach him. Prayer is a means of which we can grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer helps us to stay alert and stand ready. A third way we stand ready is to live, as Peter says, in “holy conduct and godliness.” Holy is being set apart for God’s purposes. Godliness is right thinking or right conduct—living the way that God instructs us to live. If we would actually do that, we could, as Peter says, hasten the day of the Lord. God is waiting for God’s people to be obedient. The Mishnah says that if God’s people actually kept the 10 Commandments, the world would end. Jesus is the only one who kept them perfectly, but God is still waiting for people to repent. Peter also says we ought to be found in peace. As the hymn says, “When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, spotless to stand before the throne.” Be alert! Get ready! Be prepared to receive your Lord, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Deliverance is near at hand, the burden will be lifted, the healing will come -- if you will let God come into your life, in the Person of the Lord Jesus -- both in your joys, and in your sorrows.