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Revival Realized: If Only?…? A sermon on Amos 5:18-24

Revival: Realized
If Only….   ????

† Jesus, Son, Savior †


May the grace and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus bring you such contentment in these times… that the idea of “if only” doesn’t come to mind!

What are you wishing for?

When I read the first verse of the Old Testament reading this week, my thought was simple.

“why didn’t I have Bob preach this week!”

Seriously, hear it again…

“What sorrow awaits you who say, “If only the day of the LORD were here!” You have no idea what you are wishing for.” Amos 5:18

And the passage gets harsher after that!

Why didn’t I have you preach on this one Bob?

I think, especially as we dealt with the trauma of an election, as we deal with the trauma of COVID, as we all deal with other hurts, other grieving, there is a necessity to look toward the second coming – never think I believe otherwise.

This passage doesn’t say that is wrong, but it addresses a major issue, one that we need to address.

And understanding that helps us see the revival that God is working in our midst.

If only… we didn’t say… “if only!”

If you are seeking “if only”… what is missing?

I want you to hear what it means to say, “if only”

That day will bring darkness, not light. 19  In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion— only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house— and he’s bitten by a snake.

Of course, there is the modern version. When you run from the political discussions, you end up running into another COVID scare, and when you escape that, and rest, you have to deal with a household of people with cabin fever!

The “if only” attitude creates a problem for us, simply because it shows where our faith is, in a weak and even dangerous place. We go looking for God to come back, simply because we want to escape our problems here and now.

I know that desire all to well, but it is so dangerous!  For it means that we have forgotten that God has promised everything, including these times, will work out for good, and that nothing can separate us from Him.

Which means sin is having and impact on us. Either the sin of the world weighing us down, or the damage our sin does, hiding the presence of God from our eyes. In fact, it is usually both, both.

Both because we usually don’t react to the sins of others without sinning ourselves. Be honest…. as all the stuff has been going on this week, how many of yousr thoughts were about God providing for you caring for you? How many thoughts, and how many words recognized that God was here, that you were being cared for by God?

And how many were doubting the future, and complaining about the present situations we are enduring?

Those thoughts, those sins, are all sin.

That is the problem with the “if only”! 

We are looking for an escape from our situation, that is the reason we want God to come back. Not to dwell in His presence, simply to get out of the problems we are dealing with here.

And that attitude is a lack of trust in God, and a desire to not depend on Him to deal with us. It is one thing to seek salvation from our sin, another to seek being rescued from situations beyond our control, but not beyond God’s.

So how do we learn to trust Him, to depend on His keeping His promises, in such a time as this?

The time for a flood

The answer is a flood….

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living. 
Amos 5:24

Going through the motions won’t do it.  We can sing loudly, we can memorize the entire liturgy, we can even receive communion every day… but what matters is Go’s justice, and God’s righteousness.

God’s justice, God’s righteousness needs to flood over us.

We need to see the world, and see God’s way of declaring people right with Him as the answer to our lives. We need to see His idea of justice come to be our reality.

The idea where sinners are justified, not faking it, but being justified by the blood of Christ.

To trust God, to know the power of the cross, to be drawn to receive the forgiveness of our sins. To live in the ministry of God reconciling us to Him, and cleansed of sin.

This is what it means for revival to happen in our lives.

We realize the presence of God in our lives, a presence so powerful that we can be righteous, we can look at the sin and realize God has the answer for it.

So instead of sin, we see God’s work, making all things work for good. He is our protection, so we can run to Him, we can bring others to Him.

This is the flood we need! To see that we dwell in God’s presence, no matter what… that this flood is the Holy Spirit coming into out lives, washing away every that is not holy, not pure.

This is revival. Right now, in this moment. This is why we are here… to see the Holy Spirit cleanse us, and so many others! For only He can bring the justice and righteousness we have.

This is a time to rejoice, and to desire God’s presence, now and for eternity.

Not because we want to escape… but because we are content, and at peace in His presence, and desire it more!

For in His presence, we know a peace that is beyond explanation… for Jesus rules our hearts and minds…even as we long to see Him face to face!

AMEN!

It doesn’t matter if this is the End Times… and here is why!

Not even death can separate you from God! So why worry?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

2 Our Lord, how long must I beg for your help before you listen? How long before you save us from all this violence? 3 Why do you make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere? 4 Laws cannot be enforced; justice is always the loser; criminals crowd out honest people and twist the laws around. Habakkuk 1:2–4 (CEV)

12 God’s people must learn to endure. They must also obey his commands and have faith in Jesus. 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Put this in writing. From now on, the Lord will bless everyone who has faith in him when they die.” The Spirit answered, “Yes, they will rest from their hard work, and they will be rewarded for what they have done.” Revelation 14:12-13 CEV

Again, Paul presents this in a most comforting manner when he points out that before the world began God ordained in his counsel through which specific cross and affliction he would conform each of his elect to “the image of his Son,” and that in each case the afflictions should and must “work together for good” since they are “called according to his purpose.” From this Paul draws the certain and indubitable conclusion that neither “tribulation nor anguish, neither death nor life, etc. can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:28, 29, 35, 38, 39).

The quote from the Prophet Habbabuk precedes prophecies that are extremely harsh toward sinners, toward those who do evil. But the prayer doesn’t recognize God’s work, it begs for His help because of violence being done, and a lack of any form of justice.

It would seem we are in those days again, where cruelty dominates more than mercy. Where neither side are innocent, but both are willing to sacrifice others. Where people are willing to be brutal, and narcissism is applauded and even envied.

I’ve heard to many people refer to this as the last days, that Biden or Trump is the anti-Christ, (and some think they work together!) I’ve heard people scared of the day, and spend their time warning people that they have to fear having their life and salvation stolen from them by some demonic deceit.

To believe that is to say that God has changed, that the God is less faithful to you and I than he was to the Old Testament prophets and those who depended on God. It also denies the prophecy of Revelation for the rest of those who trust in God, who live in Christ.

The early Lutherans understood this as well. That is why they were assured that God would use their suffering, even their deaths for good. They were facing death often, or imprisonment – and they were able to stay the course, because those who went before them God sustained – and they determined God would sustain them as well!

And that is why it doesn’t matter to a disciple if this is the last days. We look to Jesus, we see what He has promised for us, as He promised to every believer throughout time. He will keep those promises. And He guarantees nothing – no plan of Satan, no scam of mankind, nothing can separate us from God and his deliverance.

That isn’t my word, that is God’s promise. Whether these troubled times are the end of time, or whether we are just another group who struggle and are sustained by God, He is here, with you. And He has promised to guard your heart and mind, for you dwell in Christ Jesus. AMEN! (Phil. 4:7)

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 624.

This Place is Wonderful but….
Luke 21:5-28

 † I.H.S.

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ strengthen your faith, and help you endure until we get to our final destination.

Wow…. Look at all this!

I think I understand the disciples, and their awe standing in the midst of the Temple, the place they went, because God had put His name there.

When I walk around this place, there are memories and feelings that will always come to mind. The disciples had to show Jesus the stonework and the memorials, in awe of what God had done there, what He revealed here.  And though this church is not as impressive as Herod’s Temple, there are precious memories of God at work in His people here.

Memories of tears shed together, memories of laughter, some memories that combine the two in a twisted dance.

I cannot imagine Jesus walking with us here, and saying, ““The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

I wouldn’t want to hear it, I can’t imagine this altar rail here, or the baptismal font gone, or even the pulpit I hide behind, as I play my guitar as we sing. 

For just as the disciples looked at the Temple as the place, the place they could meet God, so too I can’t but see faces, present and past, as they met God in this place.

And so I understand their reaction of shock, as Jesus spoke… this place will be completely demolished..

When is it coming?  Uhm?

The disciples begin to recover from the words of Jesus, and then they make it worse, they ask, when is this coming?  What do we look for?

I wonder if they want to make sure they aren’t there, or what?

You see, the temple had been looted and destroyed before. Because of sin, it had been destroyed and abandoned.  I can’t imagine this happening to this place, but even so, there will be a day when this place doesn’t matter anymore.

Jesus looks at them, and knowing their hearts, it must have broken His to reveal what has to happen before the end comes..

Even so, He will answer them honestly and scare the heck out of them. He’s going to tell them about false prophets, wars, earthquakes, famine, plagues, terrifying moments, miracles, persecution, people charging you with false crimes and dragging you into court, betrayal by family members, and just about everyone hating you! All sorts of lovely things! 

Sounds like a normal week around here?

Seriously, all he is saying is between that time and the time when temples and churches will have fulfilled their role, life is going to be rough,  It is going to be impacted by the sins of billions of people, those in the past, and those presently alive.  Jesus tells the twelve that people will kill “some” of us! Paul describes this as the earth groaning under as if in childbirth! 

In the midst of the list there are a number other things,

Did you catch the part about miraculous signs from heaven?  Even more importantly, did you catch two very important words to hear…

DON”T PANIC!!!

In the midst of the grief, the pain, the anxiety as we hear about all these horrid things, and we see them happening, DON’T PANIC!

I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me there is nothing to panic over… I immediately look around to see what should cause me to panic!  Heck, if certain people were to tell me that, I would assume that panic is and underestimation of how I should react!

Why should I panic if God reminds me that there will be a day when this place is not longer here?  I can tell you why.  I look around and see what God has done.  I see the communion rail, and think of the kids that would not leave it, including a 50 year old named Chris, because this is where they experienced Jesus presence.  I think about the back seat, back by the sound board and I think of Warren giving me a thumbs up, Or Mando, Or Clyde, or the two original Concordia Deacons who challenged me to find something in this room that would show the gospel…

Churches and Temples matter because they are places where we regularly found God’s presence, and therefore could rest and find peace In these sanctuaries, in these places that are holy, because we know we encountered God here.

And though we know better, the concept of change, and even loss threw the disciples into a panic!

In the midst of the brokenness – look up… your Salvation is near!

What we have to remember, what we have to know, is that God isn’t tearing us away from what we love, to abandon us in the day of judgement. We aren’t going to stand there, wondering if we are going to heaven or hell. We don’t have to fear suffering His wrath, suffering and struggling more with sin and doubt. The ark of the covenant won’t be needed, as Jeremiah promised, neither will the font and the altar.

All these things are simply the shadows of the reality of Jesus.

That’s why he tells us “Don’t panic” and why angels say “don’t be afraid”, “don’t be anxious”

Jesus tells them why, just as He tells us, . 27 Then everyone will see the Son of Man* coming on a cloud with power and great glory. 28 So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

It is an interesting word, this word “salvation”. Not the usual word, but the word for destruction – specifically the destruction of all the constrains us, all that has bound us up, all that has stolen from us joy, all that has made life challenging. Everything is redeemed and restored.

We may lose the shadow – but we never lose our Lord!

There is our hope..

Don’t panic, don’t fear, look up and see your Lord, coming to set you free,

And until then, He keeps you safe… no matter what, and yours is the peace of God which passes all understanding.  AMEN!

Why I look forward to the end, and to judgment.

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the day:

20  He who gives his testimony to all this says, “Yes indeed! I am coming soon!” So be it. Come, Lord Jesus! 21  May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone. Revelation 22:20-21 (TEV)

8  And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day—and not only to me, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear. 2 Timothy 4:8 (TEV)

The believer has in essence already received God’s favorable verdict. Now, as at the future judgment, he or she stands clothed only in the righteousness of Christ and for his sake is assured of life. Thus, the fear of condemnation disappeared for Luther, and, instead of holding out the return of Christ as an object of terror, he could exhort his parishioners to pray for the speedy arrival of the lieben jungsten Tag, the dear last day, when the riches of divine grace, invisible to the eye and accessible only to faith in this world, would be revealed in the kingdom of God.

I grew up in the midst of a hysteria about the end times.  Even as the revival and renewal of the 60’s and 70’s guided people back into the church, part of that renewal was based on fear, and false teaching about the tribulation, the horrors of God’s wrath powered an evangelistic fever, and a desire to make sure our family, neighbors, and friends were safe.

End times, much like in the time of Luther, were pushed as something to drive people to God in fear of his wrath.

And salvation became a salvation from the extreme power of sin, and Satan, and the power of death.

Men like Tim LaHaye, Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey, and Jack Chick became experts in this presentation of end times, and of using what Freud called Thanatos to motivate people’s going to church, and buying books and tracts.

We all grew to fear the second coming, and what preceded it, we studied the news with as much emphasis as studying scripture, and eventually, many burnt out on this fear-of-the-end-driven religion, and many more turned off, as we tried to scare and shame them into our form of Christianity. (and we were often proud of our “evangelistic efforts” being rejected, as proof we were doing the right thing!)

And as the day delayed, the church lost its grasp on people, the fear diminished, as did the fervor to save them from something, for we forgot to teach them what they were saved into…

Luther had this going in his days as well, though instead of buying books and tracts, they bought indulgences.

As I was reading this morning, the passage above from a book on Luther’s Spirituality again helped me to see a different approach regarding the end.  One I’ve come to appreciate on its own but didn’t make the connection of it to Luther.

I want the end to come!  I pray that Christ will return

Sometimes for the wrong reasons, for the end to all the trauma, I see, especially in the church.  Sometimes so there is finally an end to the trauma and pain caused by our sin, that spiritual illness that we are powerless against.

But the real reason to desire the end, to desire the judgment is that we know what Luther knew.  Because of Jesus, we are already judged as righteous, as holy as able to walk into the presence of God, glorifying Him for doing the impossible.  For He has declared and made us as holy, as special as Jesus.

And that makes heaven a homecoming, that makes heaven an entry into something beyond our imagination, beyond our ken.  To see God in all of His glory, and to know we belong in His presence. To hear our welcome, to hear with delight (and still the attitude of “who? me?  really?  when Lord?”) the Lord welcoming us into His presence.  To have answered the prayer that my mornings begin, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, and this is what I seek.:  That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to seek HIm in HIs temple”

May we all learn to desire this, to pray for it, to realize how real that day is, and rejoice in the thought it is nearer than before. Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus!

strohl, J. E. (2007). General Introduction. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xxii). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Taken from https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/    (psalm 27:4

Te Missional Key To the Book of Revelation

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come, because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out: the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death.   Rev. 12:10-11 HCSB

223         Christ expects a lot from your work. But you will have to look for souls, as the Good Shepherd went after the hundredth sheep: without waiting to be called. Then make use of your friends to do good to others. Tell each one of them that nobody can feel at ease with a spiritual life which, after filling him, does not overflow with apostolic zeal.

As I am reading through Revelation, I am not surprised at how much verse 11 sticks out.  It does every time I read it, it is just so powerful, this testimony of the victory of the saints, of our victory.

And yet this time, it struck me that this verse is one of the keys to understanding the Book of Revelation, and indeed, the role of the church in these days.  If we understand this, the mission and the very existence of the church becomes clear.

We are sent, we have our apostolate. and we are freed to accomplish this work, assured that our victory over sin and Satan, and death is finally won. Satan has been conquered, and His ability to accuse us of sin is over.

That is where the word of our testimony is so powerful, for we witness to the love of Jesus, the incredible mercy that floods our lives, our hearts and souls cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.  That is our testimony, not of our work, but of the love of God which establishes us as His children, His Holy People.

And having that testimony, that knowledge that we are God’s forever, our priorities change.  NO longer are we concerned as much about our own pleasure, our own happiness?  What becomes more important is the 1 whom has wandered from the 99, the child of God who has forgotten their Creator, their Father.  Our hearts break for them, and their situation.

And drawing them back to Jesus, that becomes far more important than the latest toy, or that trip.  Their eternity becomes more a concern than riches or fame.  The foreigner who is lost, the woman in the hospital, the 20-something in jail, these are the priorities we gain over self-indulgence.

God with us, freeing us from all the fear of that which is to come, He is who we witness of, and that witness is what forms our life until He returns.

This is who we, the church, are called to be, a people full of joy as the love of God infects the world around us, drawing more an more people to Him, and into being part of His people.

We can only do that, knowing the victory of Satan is complete, and because of the blood of Jesus it is.  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1133-1136). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Are Your Ears Burning? They Should Be! A sermon on 1 Thes. 1:1-10

church at communion 2Are Your Ears Burning?  They Should Be!
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

In Jesus Name

May you realize the grace God our Father and the Lord Jesus have given you, and may that grace be so evident that those around you, and even far away speak of God’s work in your life!

 Is the word ringing out?

Did you ever walk into a room and suddenly everyone stopped talking?  Or walk by a group of people and they all started staring at you?  Or get back to the office and find out that 4 or 5 people needed to talk to you?

There is even an old question that asked if you notice this kind of behavior,

Are your ears burning?

Well, looking at the church in Thessalonica that Paul was writing too in our epistle reading this morning, their ears should have been burning.  People were talking to them, and it was a wonderful thing!

I pray that people are talking about us in the same way!

Here how Paul described it,

wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. 10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead!

Do people know that you’ve turned away from idols and false gods?  Do they know of you look forward to the second coming of Jesus?

Are they so in awe of God’s work in your life that they speak of your trust, your dependence, your faith in Him?

How did the people of Thessalonica end up with their ears burning… as they should have been….

And how can we see that happen in our lives?

How can our dependence on God become so strong that it is remarkable, that people talk about it?

I mean, that is a good thing, if I were to invite someone to come here, and the people already knew how strong our faith was, how we set aside ungodly rubbish in order to we look forward to eternity in the presence of God?

So let us investigate what else Paul said about these people!

We know God..

He says in verse 4, We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.”

It all starts there, and I know this to be true about you as well.

I said it last week this way,

The Lord …

Who loves you

Is with you!

For that is what it means to be chosen, to be called.  It is to dwell in the presence of God, to dwell in the glory of God.

God loves you, as He did the people in Thessalonica, He chose you to be His people.  We need to know this, not just with our minds, but deep, deep in our souls, in the places where we wonder how God could love us, and so traumatized by our past, we wonder why He loves us.

It is in those dark, anxious broken places, that God is there… even when we can’t see Him, can’t feel His presence.  When He is revealed there, we realize that He is willing to pick us up, no matter how many pieces there are, that life begins to be transformed.

Hear something else Paul says… and we understand that it is reality too.

So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.

with joy…..

despite the trials and tribulations, despite the pain that is endured as God heals us.  As God transforms us, as He did Paul, into the image of Jesus.

Imitation – reborn like Paul was reborn like Jesus (POWER)

But how?

That word behind “imitate” has another meaning.  It means to be born, to begin, completely new, completely different.  We talk about being baptized, being born again, that is the same concept here.  To die to our sin, our past, our self-centeredness. To die with Jesus, in order to be raised to this new life, this being born again, in Jesus.

Just like Paul did, and Peter, and so many millions who God has join to Jesus, and to His death and resurrection.

This is why the preaching of Jesus has power, as Paul said in verse 5,

For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true”

It is the power, not just to any old miracle, but the incredible miracle that is the reason that God our Father sent Jesus His son into our lives, to live among us, to die for us, and to share that death and the resurrection with us.

One pastor, Chris Gillette’s mentor, Robert Webber, calls this power the divine embrace.  It’s the prodigal’s dad, coming running to him, to smother him, so excited that the prodigal is finally home.

And it is the reason behind all of this…

For when God embraces us, that is the assurance we need. That is the power that is at work, making the love of God, not some intellectual exercise, not something to diagram or diagnose.

And as we rest in God’s arms, as we are welcomed by Him, into His family, as we know His presence, everything changes.  We become an example to others, some older in the faith, some younger.  The word goes out, for people know how much we abandoned to be with God.

And how much we look forward to the ultimate reunion, when Jesus returns, and brings us to the throne, to see for the first time, God our Father, face to face.

This is what it means for God to give you grace and peace, to belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

Ready, Are We? A Sermon on life as We Await Jesus’ Return

MarkJ AdventReady, Are We?

Matthew 24:36-44

I.H.S.

 As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!

2 A.M. Somewhere….

Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,

16  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)

We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.

But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning?  That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.

And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy.  Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant.   Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.

And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.

Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.

So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.

First – Do you care?

The first is challenging, well, they both are.  But here is the first question:

Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?

Is it on your radar at all?  Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day?   Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?

Do we even think about Jesus coming back?

Think about that for a moment.

second – why?

if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.

Why do you want Him to return?

Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes?  I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.

Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives?  Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships.  ( Great line from Skorpion  – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)

Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?

When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?

That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.

And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.

Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.

Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world!  Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.

It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..

And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…

Ready, Are we?

 

SO then, the questions change a little….

How do we get ready for Jesus to return?

We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…

12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,

This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read

14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness.  As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.

And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.

Advent?  TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…

And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.

AMEN!

The Attitude of Advent: Our dearest Friend is coming to be with us!

Devotional Thought to Prepare us for Advent….
15  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17  This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)

233         You spoke about the scenes in the life of Jesus which moved you most: when he met men suffering greatly… when he brought peace and health to those whose bodies and souls were racked with pain… You were inspired—you went on—seeing him cure leprosy, restore sight to the blind, heal the paralytic at the pool: the poor beggar forgotten by everybody. You are able to contemplate Him as He was, so profoundly human, so close at hand! Well… Jesus continues being the same as then. (2)

There is an attitude that negatively views contemporary worship (or that of 30-100 years ago) that treats Jesus to0 close, too intimate, too friendly.  They would rather perceive God from the perspective of great distance, and perhaps great fear.

Which would make sense if we were approach Christ’s advent, His coming, with the anticipation of judgment without the cross’s benefit.  To turn advent into a time of anticipating hell, fire, and brimstone, wrath and tribulation is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, we need Jesus to come back, perhaps even desperately so.  Life is too screwed up, we all need to be delivered from sin completely, we need to come home to God.  But that turns advent from anxiety about Jesus coming, to realizing we and anxiety is more caused because of the wait we endure until He returns.

If we have friends we haven’t seen in ages coming to dinner during the holiday; we look forward to it.  We anticipate it, we work hard, trying to get everything as perfect as possible.  It is the same for Jesus second coming, we desire to grow in faith, we desire to see people come to know Him, to come to trust in Him, because He is our friend, because He loves us so completely.

Those contemporary worship songs which treat Jesus as a friend, they aren’t as far off base.  They bring home that which we need to know, the attitude that Luther noted, makes the difference between one who knows God, and one who only knows of Him,

“For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.” (2)

If we don’t understand God’s desire for an intimate, deep friendship with the people He calls and makes His own, we truly only know a God whose presence evokes fear and brings to the front of our heart the condemnation of guilt and shame. We have to realize the intent of Christ’s incarnation, to head resolutely to the cross, to show us the depth of His love, to bring us healing and forgiveness.

Yes, we should be in awe of God’s presence, we are overwhelmed by His glory, but a glory that pours out grace, that delights in showering us with His Mercy, embracing us in the love, even as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The awe of realizing God, in all His glory, desires to be our friend.

Which makes the wait of Advent tense, as if we hear every passing car as if it is our long awaited Friend…

For He is coming!

May your patience and desire to see God sustain you, even as you anxiously await His return.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1170-1174). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther. The Apostles Creed: Explanation of the Third Article.

The Final Lesson: We are priestly companions of Jesus the King!

Companions of the Cross

The Final Lesson:

Priestly Companions of the King

† IHS †

May you know the grace and peace that is yours, the gift of the One who is, Who always was, and who is still to come!

The Vision/the Mission

While both the Old Testament and Epistle reading today are about the end of time, about looking toward the end of time, the gospel takes us back to thirty weeks ago, to the remembrance of what happens the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, It covers one of the events we remember during Holy Week.

The gospel covers the trial of Jesus, the moments before he is sentenced by mankind to die.  The moment that God our Father planned for, that Jesus was committed to before the foundations of the world were laid.

The trial, the cross, the critical moment in all of time, as eternity hung in the balance.

Your eternity, my eternity.

We need to look back, in order to see why Daniel and the Revelation of John can talk so positively of the of the end. Hearing that Christ has been the King, even at the cross, we understand our future, and can walk confidently in the present.

For we walk with a king, and we are His companions.   The very King of King and Lord of Lords who makes us a Kingdom of priests, ready to serve God our Father.  Ready to serve alongside Jesus.

Let me rephrase that, He makes us into the priests of His Kingdom.

That was His vision, His mission, and it is what He has accomplished on the cross, even as Pilate was condemning Jesus, enabling Him to shed His blood for us.

The Ordeal of Hope

When we are involved in planning something, there is a hope that everything will work out well. It doesn’t matter if the planning and preparation are for a game, or for an event like the women’s advent tea.

Hope can sometimes be an ordeal as our minds consider all the things that could destroy our hope.  For instance, for a football team, we could focus on a critical injury or just an accumulation of them.  For an event like the Advent Tea, it could be that the speaker cancels out at the last moment.  It could even be the week between finishing a course, and getting the grades!  Our minds can spin wildly out of control, conceiving of all the things that could go wrong.  It is no different for our lives, and for our eternity.  When we think of hope, it can be an ordeal as we wonder what will happen to mess up that which we hoped for so eagerly.

Which is why I think the readings work together so well today.  They lay out a pattern that assures us that our hope is not in vain, that there is nothing that can change what we hope for, what our trust in God leads us to expect.  If we didn’t have that assurance, the first verses in Daniel would be terrifying; hear them again.

  I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge.His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, 10 and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence.  Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him.  Then the court began its session, and the books were opened.

If we feel anxiety watching a football game, or waiting for the guests to arrive, of the report card to show, what kind of anxiety would we experience, knowing we had to stand before all of the missions of angels, and all of humanity, as God opened the story of our life and began to look at the details, examining our actions, our thoughts, our words?

We could try to dismiss the guilt and shame, but it still would haunt us.  We could try to rationalize it, we could argue that it isn’t fair for God to give us desires that cannot be eased without sin.

Before the throne, before a God that not only knows our thoughts but the hearts where those thoughts originate, such attempts at self-preservation do not matter.  If we are to have hope that Jesus is our salvation, that we will live in His Kingdom that has no end, we have to be serious about the fact we needed to be saved.

We sin.  Thoughts, words, deeds.

As we will say in Advent, it is our fault, we need to grieve over that fault, we need to seriously grieve over that sin.

If we are to know the grace and peace of God, we have to realize how radically different it is to know God’s grace and peace, compared to the brokeness of our lives.

Realizing the love of God
For then, understanding the depth of our despair, we find ourselves blown away by this word grace, by the peace that is ours when we should be weighed down by guilt and despair. We begin to understand how incredible these words written by the Apostle John are,

All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. 6 He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

It’s not just that Jesus has freed us from sin, and Satan, that He’s robbed death of the anxiety it can cause, that guilt and shame are wiped away.  It is that He’s made us like Him, He’s made us priests who serve the Father, He’s made us holy enough to be the very attendants of God the Father.

All of us, from the smallest to the largest, youngest to the oldest, we have been made companions of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

No wonder all of creation will bow before Him!  No wonder we will shout about the glory of God He has revealed to us.

He loves us!

He freed us from our sin, by shedding HIS BLOOD for us.

He has made us priest, …..

ALL GLORY TO HIM FOREVER AND EVER!  AMEN!!!

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