In Season, Out of Season

 

The new year always brings in new hopes, new ideas, and new inspiration, and this is well and good. No good thing should be despised.

But since the point of aiming is to hit something, we should pick something achievable. By one measure only around 8% of people achieve their resolutions, so we should sets goals and resolutions that are simple, specific and achievable.

I want to encourage you to consider shaping at least one resolution in a slightly different way. George MacDonald said, “That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, “Thou art my refuge.”” Continue reading

Run the Race

On the first day in the new year of our Lord, 2017, we get to focus on what matters and prepare for the year. The epistle to the Hebrews was written (or preached) to a young church of Jewish Christians facing temptations to leave or compromise their faith. The author doesn’t tell them to hunker down and weather the storm, but to run the race set before them.

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Promise & Fulfillment

Many times God’s fulfillment seems like less than His foreshadowing. Jesus is the greater Moses, the prophet with all wisdom and true counsel for God’s people, and yet said nothing officially for three decades. He never write a book, and much of what He said was unintelligible at the time He said it to own His apostles. We don’t even know what His voice sounded like. This was the Word of God, the man who taught with true authority.

When the King of the Universe, the only-begotten and royal Son of God came into the world, He was born in an obscure place. The only pomp and circumstance was performed to shepherds keeping their flocks at night. They and a few wise men were most of few who found out. No red carpet, no room at the inn. This is the Son of David, the greater Solomon, the King of kings. Continue reading

The Cost of Christmas

Every true reading of the Christmas story includes the hardships endured. Jesus was not born with a heavenly force field protecting Him from pain and trouble. As the hymn Once in Royal David’s City puts it, “Tears and smiles like us He knew”.

What would you think of a pregnant couple who had no reservation at the hospital nor midwife available, so they had their baby in the equivalent of an abandoned trailer, and grabbed part of a chicken coop for the basinet? Behold, the holy family. That’s where the Son of God of was laid when there was no room at the inn.

Poor and unimportant at home, Joseph and Mary would soon flee for their lives to Egypt because their Son, though underprivileged, was hunted. Only their dreams would tell them when to come back to Israel, when Herod was done slaughtering the baby boys two years old and younger and the coast was clear. Continue reading

The Greatest Blessing Ever Enjoyed

 

“The celebration of the Lord’s Supper,” said Chrysostom, early church pastor in Constantinople, “is the commemoration of the greatest blessing that ever the world enjoyed” (quoted in Watson, The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper).

God meets in countless places with innumerable gifts and kindnesses. We have food, family, friends, work, rest, leisure, all the comforts of hearth and home, freedoms in our nation and opportunities more than we can count to love of the bless others. No gift is to be minimized or taken for granted.

But every week without fail God offers this gift of Himself. We remember Jesus’ body broken and his blood shed, what it cost Him to save us and therefore to be able to receive Him and all that means—abundant life—forevermore.

This is not a bare commemoration, but one that takes us further up and further in. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Jesus is reigning until every enemy is made His footstool, the last one being death, and so this proclamation, communing in the Lord’s Supper, is an invitation to believe and eat, believe and drink. So come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Advent is About Jesus

 

Now that Thanksgiving is over and this is the first Sunday of Advent, we are officially singing, thinking, talking and shopping for Christmas.

Some people have noticed that many retail establishments busted out the Christmas stuff back in October and lamented it the another example of commericialism at work. While this may be true, it’s also true that Christmas can’t be contained on December 25th or even in the 12 Days of Christmas. We only stop officially celebrating because you have to draw the line somewhere.

Many Christians are familiar with the spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible reading, giving, fasting and the like. The season of Advent and Christmas is a prime opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the fundamental biblical discipline of joy. There’s more than one reason to get the Christmas stuff out early.

You heard (or if you didn’t hear) our announcement about resources for making Advent significant and festive. We would never require anyone to observe this season, but this is a time when our culture still has a remnant of traditions driven by biblical truth. It’s lawful and we find it helpful. Observing Advent, celebrating in small ways to get in shape for Christmas, is not adding a burden to an already hectic season. It’s being thoughtful and intentional to remember and celebrate the rich truths of the incarnation of the eternal Word of God.

So consider for yourself and your family how you will incarnate the wonder of Jesus being born for sinners, for all the Bible gives us to ponder and enjoy. The singular focus of Advent is Jesus. Focusing on Him never allows us to ignore anything else that matters. He is the answer to all of our problems, born to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

Free to Love

 

The Lord’s Table is an oasis of love and freedom. God shows His love for us by feeding us body and soul. He assures our hearts that He will always do this, day after day with our daily bread. But we won’t just be sustained, our hearts will be made made glad by His wine.

This is also a token of our freedom because we’re free to drink. God sets the Table with dangerous stuff because He has sent the Spirit of self-control and wisdom into our hearts. Many Christians emphasize the freedom not to drink, and that is certainly wise in many contexts, but not every context. This freedom Jesus gives us equips us to live godly and mature lives, walking with the Spirit and defeating the flesh.

We’re sent from here to love the Lord and our neighbor the way we would be loved, the way God has just loved us. He feeds us in fellowship; He gives Himself to us to enjoy. Receive Him and give yourselves to others the same way.

Enduring Agnosticism

“They never rest, for they will having nothing to do with with an infallible revelation; and hence they are doomed to wander throughout time and eternity, and find no abiding city. For the moment they glory as if they were satisfied with their last new toy; but in a few months it is sport to them to break in pieces all the notions which they formerly prepared with care, and paraded with delight They go up a hill only to come down again. Indeed, they say that the pursuit of truth is better than truth itself. They like fishing better than the fish; which may well be true, since their fish are very small, and very full of bones. These men are as great at destroying their own theories as certain paupers are at tearing up their clothes. They be again de novo, times without number: their house is always having its foundation digged out. . . . These men are not even seeking certainty; their heaven lies in shunning all fixed truth, and following every will-0′-the-wisp of speculation: they are ever learning, but they never come to the truth.”

–Charles Spurgeon, The Greatest Fight in the World

A Day at a Time

 

One of the things God gives us is enough troubles of our own. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrrow because that is what tomorrow is for: “33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:33-34).

These should be the most liberating words to us. We’re not allowed to worry about what might come. This of course doesn’t forbid us from being prudent, buying insurance, and having a plan. But it does forbid us from worrying.

If Jesus forbids us from worrying about our own troubles, how much more should we not worry about the troubles of others? If we can’t see what’s ahead on our own path, how much less can we see what’s ahead of others? If we don’t even have enough information about ourselves, we certainly can’t plot a course for others.

When we follow Christ and discipline our thoughts and actions, the surprising result is that we are ready for what comes. When Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing but faith in God, they found out that God provided for them, and that was why He sent them out with nothing. God teaches us over and over that we are not in control of our own lives much less the lives of others, and when we embrace that truth, and cheerfully acknowledge that He is in control, we have peace and wisdom for what to do.

The Right Hand of Fellowship

From the very beginning of the church, Christians gathered on the Lord’s Day to celebrate Jesus’ victorious resurrection. Luke writes in Acts 2, “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (vv46-47).

One historian notes, “From that time, and throughout most of its history, the Christian church has seen in communion its normal and highest act of worship. . . . The most remarkable characteristic of those early communion services was that they were celebrations. The tone was one of joy and gratitude, rather than sorrow and repentance” (Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, p. 108).

We confess our sins early the in the service, God speaks to us through the preached Word, and He offers us the right hand of fellowship in a striking way in communion. We are His companions, literally the ones who have bread together, and the right hand means commitment, friendship, and solidarity. We are seated in heaven with Jesus permanently at God’s right hand where there are pleasures forevermore. We taste those pleasures now as we take His hand and offes ours back to Him and to one another.