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Thy Kingdom Come … Now!

It’s Christmas Eve! At sundown, let the 12 Days begin!

But for these last hours of Advent, and for our final leg of the journey, read Amos 9:13-15 one more time.

hills“The time will come,” says the Lord, “when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested! Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine. I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine. I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.Amos 9:13-15, NLT

Two days ago, we saw that the “booth of David” would be rebuilt from the ruins. Yesterday, we were told that this Kingdom would be international in scope, possessing a remnant from “all the nations.” Today, we get a peek at what this rebuilt global community will look like.

A God-man cooperative! God will bring the people back, and God will plant them in the land. But it will be the people who will rebuild the cities, and plant the vineyards. Immanuel, “God with us”, will enfold us into a life of purpose, productivity, and celebration. (If any of you think heaven will be boring, don’t!).

wineAbundant prosperity! Our God, Who says “blessed are the poor”, has great riches in store for His people when He comes again. The imagery here is fantastic – enough to excite any commodities broker to buy low, and sell high! Production so abundant that the supply chain can’t even keep up? So much wine that it will look like the hills are dripping with it? (That doesn’t sound like Genesis 3:17-19, does it?) No more let thorns infest the ground … He comes to make His blessings FLOW far as the curse is found!


Abundant life!
I so love this picture. We’re not talking about a one-time feast (like many of our Christmas day celebrations). And we’re not talking about the consumerism-induced transience that has turned today’s believers into a bunch of frenetic church hoppers. And we’re not talking about “churches” that have become “as-long-as-the-front-door-is-bigger-than-the-back-door” retail franchises. No, God is going to “firmly plant them” in the land- what will now and forevermore be their land. Deep roots. No deracination. Never again will these aliens and strangers, these wanderers, these sojourners, have any cause or reason to leave. Home. Rest. Health. Peace.

Is all of this coming in the future, or do we get to experience it now?

Yes.

We celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th (the manger, the shepherds, the holy family). But the “thrill of hope”, why “the weary world rejoices”, is that the incarnation of Jesus on that first Christmas brought His Kingdom to bear on this world now! Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the divine cooperative has commenced. We can, now, experience abundant life, and usher others into the “foretaste of glory divine” that is life in His church! Hallowed by Thy name, now! Thy reign in the lives of your chosen people come, now! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, now!

– – – – – –

In conclusion, the short version of our Advent journey: We are a hell-bent people. We live for ourselves, and disregard others. And our worship of God is terminally infected by this condition. The Day of the Lord is near, and on that day, the plumb line will ultimately be dropped by God. He rules the world with truth and grace: Those who remain in their stubborn, selfish, godless ways will face a horrific judgment. Those whose hearts are pierced to repentance will get 9:13-15!

May your Christmastide be rich as you enter into the feast of abundance with your wonderful savior. He has come! … and is coming again! Maranatha!, and Merry Christmas.

– EO

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Christianity, Eschatology

 

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Last Minute Gift Idea

Read Amos 8:7-10

(As we get closer to Christmas day, all of our cultural cues are telling us to immerse ourselves in nice thoughts and cozy things. Thus, it gets harder for us to look squarely at the tough passages in Amos. Hang in there with me! It is always darkest toward the dawn. Keep your hope stretched, your longing strong, and remain an Advent disciple to the end. I truly believe it will enhance your celebration of the 12 Days of Christmastide.)

A reminder before we get started: The people of Israel at this time thought everything was fine! Sales were up, net worth was up, attendance at attractive church services was up … how odd that this Judean farm boy was saying these ridiculous things about our need to repent!…

Each week, during our church’s morning worship service, we begin with Confession and Absolution. We collectively obey the scriptures to together confess our sins, and then we receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness, according to His Word (e.g., 1 John 1:8-9). Each week, I walk through the shame of my personal valley of the shadow of death, and am taken to the green pastures of experienced grace. My soul depends on this. As the Psalmist says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). Instead, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 130:12).

That’s why verse 8:7 is so startling to my eyes and ears. According to God-through-Amos, not only was Israel in the wrong, but they had taken the LORD to the point of no return. “The Lord has sworn … ‘surely I will never forget any of their deeds!’” If God said that to me … to any of us … we would be lost forever. Our eternal separation from God and consignment to the horrors of Hell would be final.

And my grief would be relentless. As Amos puts it, days would be dark, feasts would be cancelled, songs would be muted … and then, most severe of all, God says “I will make it like the mourning for an only son” (8:10). At our church recently, a family experienced the death of their only son. He was only 11 years old. The sense of loss was truly overwhelming. They, and everyone who knew them, spent many days in incredible grief. It’s a pain that this family, and our whole church, hope to never have to experience again.

But, that pain is the trajectory for our unsaved, unrepentant world. They are on a crash-course for a forever separation from the God they choose to ignore today.

Our world, blind and deaf to God, doesn’t need a gift, a cookie, a cup of wassail, a carol and a snuggle. The gift they so badly need is the gift of repentance. They need not only the baby in the manger, but the piercing truth of His words, and the benefits of His cross.

Our Father God is truly “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3) He chose to experience the loss of His only Son, so that our collective grief can be replaced by joy to the world. Amos boldly called the people back to God. Will we do the same? And, by doing so, go beyond the cozy Christmas glaze, and introduce the lost to the only gift that matters?

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Evangelism

 

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God, Do You Hate Our Worship?

Read Amos 5:21-27

I have been a pastor for worship for several churches in my career. One thing that has always been true: When it comes to high holy days, we ramp up the arts. It seems obvious that the major festivals – especially Christmas and Easter – deserve our best, artistic offerings of worship. It’s as though we want to give God the biggest possible “thank you” for His actions connected to these important days. (Either that, or we want to impress and entice unbelievers.)

Today’s passage in Amos 5 makes me wonder if we’re really on the right track, especially during Advent.

Israel’s religion was strong. The faith-centers were well funded. The music being made was probably at a never-before experienced cultural apex.  Hey, if God is prospering us, attendance is great, and our arts expressions are excellent, surely God must be pleased, right?

A paraphrase of v.21-23 for our modern day has God saying through Amos … “I hate your big productions, as well as your pensive, ‘worshipful’ services. You’re taking big offerings, but they’re not for me, and I don’t want them. I choose to not even take notice. I prefer silence to your worship music, and I’m ignoring your massive bands and sound systems.” Is there any chance God feels this way about today’s contemporary, megachurch worship? Especially during the holidays, when so many of the people singing along don’t even believe?

But why, exactly, was God so against these services? Because the people were practicing injustice and unrighteousness (v.24). The familiar theme of Amos is repeated: The economics of the rich were oppressing the poor. In addition, their worship practices were filled with unholy influences. Sakkuth, Kaiwan, some images … very trendy, very inclusive, very fashion-forward, very worldly … and very much detested by the LORD. The next stop for these worshipers? Forced exile.

The heart of Advent is that we would prepare our hearts from the coming of Christ. If these Israelites had prepared themselves in light of Amos’ prophecies, they would have jettisoned their corrupted worship practices, and focused their attention on generously loving their neighbor as themselves. We ought to do the same thing. But it’s hard to focus on this kind of self-assessment and repentance when we crank up the Christmas music, go to special performances, gorge ourselves at parties and feasts, and spend hours in the temples built to the god Mammon (the malls).

My takeaway today? I need some silence this season. Time to truly consider the LORD, the call of His Word, and the needed preparations for His arrival. As the carol declares, “He makes the nations prove the glories of righteousness.” Before He does that by means of the nations, may He do that, by His Spirit, through His holy nation, the people of God. Might His righteousness roll like an ever-flowing stream from the lives of His church.

Then our songs shall truly be heard by the only audience that matters.

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Worship

 

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Surfeited, Sluggish and Lazy? Fourth Wednesday of Advent – 14.12.24

It’s here. Christmas Eve. And we find ourselves at the end of 1 Peter, where the Apostle gives a final exhortation:

Resist [the Devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:9-11)

Resisting temptation…it just never goes away, does it? C’mon…even on Christmas?!?!?

Here is Martin Luther’s commentary. He starts, interestingly enough, with the physical side of resisting temptation. “Sober you should be, and vigilant, but to the end that the body be kept in a proper frame. Yet with all this, the devil is not routed; this only suffices to afford the body less occasion to sin … if he can make you lazy, so that your body is unguarded and inclined to wantonness, then will he quickly wrench the sword from your grasp … if the body be surfeited, sluggish, and lazy, it is a certain sign that the soul before was drunken, that is, secure, weary and tired of the Word, and besides sleeps and snores.”

Unwrapped Christmas PresentsLuther makes me laugh…and cry at the same time! He nails me. During the holidays, I inevitably find myself sitting on the couch after eating an amazing meal, having had a couple of desserts, now nibbling on cookies, staring at a pile of un-needed gifts and used wrapping paper …you might as well hang a sign around my neck that says “surfeited, sluggish and lazy.” That’s what Christmas is all about, right?

Sleeping-after-Christmas-002But it’s not just Christmas…it’s holidays in general. The nation of Israel used to have holidays. They were all designed to celebrate and honor the mighty acts of God in the lives of His people (Passover, Feast of Booths, Hanukkah…). You gathered and worshiped as prescribed in the law, out of profound gratitude, for the pleasure of God. In the United States, some of our holidays had similar intentions – honoring the Revolution, memorializing and honoring veterans, honoring past leaders, even honoring the labor force. We celebrated something way bigger and more important than ourselves.

But any more, holidays are for self. They are days we are told we don’t have to work, and we can rather indulge ourselves on those days for our pleasure. Parties, sales, lots of alcohol, lot of, as Luther would say, “wantonness.” We’re the honorees…we wear the crowns.

george-cruikshank-swallow-at-christmas-satire-on-seasonal-gluttonySuch is the fate of Christmas, I’m afraid. I guess I shouldn’t expect a culture that struggles to honor anything to gather itself and honor a mostly-rejected spiritual leader’s birthday. I should expect people to celebrate, not Christ, but themselves. It’s really nothing personal, Jesus. It’s how we as a self-absorbed, carnal culture celebrate all holidays.

praying bibleBut, there will be some. I’m sure there are some every year. Some who will actually find joy in the word of God, even in the tough words of God, even on Christmas day. They’ll find it in themselves (through Spirit, prayer and Word) to remain a disciple, even on Jesus’ birthday. The joy of the Lord will trump the happiness of indulgence. And, with the Spirit unquenched, they will resist the Devil, and he will flee. They will enjoy the presence of the Lord on Christmas. To Him will be dominion, forever and ever … including even Christmas day.

Lord, forgive me. Might I be counted among the faithful this year. And throughout the upcoming 12 Days of Christmastide. And forevermore. Amen.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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Feeling the Need to (Ad)Vent: Fourth Tuesday of Advent – 14.12.23

“Only one more shopping day until Christmas.” I remember hearing that phrase as a kid – and needing to have it explained to me by my Mom. Even then, I thought it weird that the task of gift-buying was given such an up-front reference.

cb_13Maybe I was touchy about it because I grew up loving the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Since I I can remember, I have always considered Charlie Brown a kindred spirit, longing for the “true meaning of Christmas” in a world saturated in materialism. Toward the end of the show, Charlie Brown says in an aside, I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.” That’s right, CB! You tell ‘em! Let’s rise above it all, and turn this holy-day into a Jesus-focused, worship filled season!

47075-Xmas-Presents-Under-The-TreeThen, I make the list of Christmas presents I need to buy, hike to the mall, and engage in the ridiculous ritual of purchasing gifts that people don’t need, with money that I don’t have. Why? I confess…it’s not because I simply want to give gifts. And there is virtually no genuinely spiritual motivation – like imitating the Magi, or celebrating the tradition of St. Nicholas. Nope…for the most part, I buy things because I’ve been convinced that if I don’t, then I’m a Scrooge. And I have to make sure I spend enough on them to match how important they are to me. Oh, and it needs to be a wonderful, creative gift, or else it’s all for naught anyway.

uncle_san_i_want_you_to_spend_a_lotDoes anyone else see that we have been manipulated to make these purchases by a media-infested, capitalistic, greedy culture that cares absolutely nothing about Jesus? Don’t you hear them speak about whether or not this is a “good” Christmas based on “consumer confidence” and “holiday sales”? And isn’t it astonishing that Christian after Christian follows this cultural paradigm like lemmings to the sea, even though it runs counter to the teaching of the Word of God on multiple points? God says bless the poor – we bless those we like who are in our network. God says daily bread, food and shelter, is enough – but we line our homes, garages and mini-storages with piles of stuff. God says share the gospel – we table to gospel to keep the friction of unbelief away from our cozy gatherings. It’s as though we collectively lose our spiritual minds.

pagan ritualIt makes sense to me that Christians should observe the holy days very differently. But I, like so many others, feel the pull of the commercial holiday so profoundly that it seems there is no escaping it. At least not without being called a Grinch.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Our enemy is clever…and when we see Him on the prowl, he must be resisted!

And here is Martin Luther’s commentary: “So are we now on earth, where the prince is an evil spirit and has the hearts of men in his power, doing with them what he will. It is a fearful thought if we properly consider it. Therefore Peter warns us to … know the state of things here! … If we then are fools and regard him not, but go on and take no heed, then he has as good as seized us … it is so sad for us that we go about so heedlessly.”

I think that’s it for tonight. Praying that I, and hopefully a community of others, have not be irretrievably seized, and will have the boldness to observe Advent and Christmastide in increasingly godly ways.

E     *     O

 

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Cute Noah’s Ark? Third Friday of Advent – 14.12.19

noah's arkDoes anyone else connect Noah’s Ark with Christmas? I do…mostly because I remember giving a toy Noah’s Ark to our daughters for Christmas one year. And, each year that cute Noah’s Ark ornament finds its way to the family Christmas tree.

The fact that this portion of mankind’s history has become a sentimental children’s story is interesting. Somehow, lots of cuddly animals on a family boat trip, culminated by a rainbow … these tender images have pretty much trumped the specter of the global holocaust that was going on under the waters.

We have the tendency to do the same thing with the Second Coming of Christ. Do we long for it? Of course! But, in it’s tow will be devastation the likes of which the world has never seen. Personally, I don’t long for that.

Today’s text from 1 Peter references the flood.

“God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Sinful men, the patience of God, the covenant between God and His elect established, the impending judgment, and the salvation of the remnant. These are descriptors for both the days of Noah and these “last days” before the return of Christ. The season of Advent drives us into this connection, and to acknowledge the gravity of our times.

Triptych-Left-Panel-Philipp-Melanchthon-Performs-A-Baptism-Assisted-By-Martin-Luther-Centre-Panel-The-Last-Supper-With-Luther-Amongst-The-Apostles-Right-Panel-Luther-Makes-His-Confession-Luthers-Sermon-BelowMartin Luther’s words help here: “As it happened when Noah was preparing the ark, so it takes place at present … As he had regard to himself and was saved in the ark which swam upon the waters, so must you also be saved in baptism… we sail in the ark, which means the Lord Christ, or the Christian church, or the Gospel that Christ preached, or the body of Christ to which we cling by faith, and are saved as Noah was in the ark … where there are now those who cling to Christ, there is surely a Christian church.”

Not to get way off on baptism here – but Jesus commanded us to go into the world and baptize. This ancient initiation rite, infused with divine efficacy and depth of meaning by Jesus and his disciples, is an indispensable part of God’s gospel plan. It has always been understood as the official “embarkation” onto the ark – which Luther equates to Jesus/the Church/the Gospel all in one!

There is, however, a striking difference between Noah’s ark and today’s church: God has called today’s “Noah” to go into the highways and byways, and seek passengers for the ark of salvation before the deluge begins! Each day God’s patience delays the second coming means salvation for many (2 Pet. 3:9). But the flood waters are coming. Our advent focus should heighten our urgency to share the evangel-invitation to the world, that they, too, may be baptized onto the passenger list.

So, when you see a cute little Noah’s Ark this holiday season, think a bit about the underwater reality of that story, and let it motivate you to prepare for His coming!

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2014 in Advent 2014, Baptism

 

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1st Wednesday of Advent – 14.12.03

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things(1 Pet. 1:10-12)

Today’s text reminds us that longing for the Advent of Christ is a very ancient tradition, going back dozens of generations before Christ. As Martin Luther describes, “The beloved prophets had a longing in their hearts for the grace and salvation that was promised in Christ … they sighed for it with a deep longing of their hearts … with a delight and joy in the promises.”

Prophets-of-bible_472_354_80The Hebrew-Christian tradition has always been one of waiting, hoping, longing. Since the Garden of Eden, we’ve been awaiting the ultimate recapitulation of all things, whereby life in Eden could be experienced again. Melchizedek’s ministry, Abraham’s visions, Jacob’s wrestling, Joseph’s dreams, Moses deliverance, Joshua’s conquests, Samuel’s faithfulness, David’s glory, the return from Exile … all of these were tastes of redemption along the way, that whet the appetites of the prophets for the most fulfilling taste of all:

“[The prophets] were satisfied in that they saw and knew from afar the grace and salvation that should be experienced by the whole world through Christ, and they also comforted themselves with it.”

The prophets knew that all of God’s salvific, covenantal acts came to a crescendo in the coming of the Christ! Luther claims that, though they longed to see His coming, they were in the meantime satisfied and comforted in their hope.

Yes, Christ came. We beheld the glory of God in the face of His Son, and received the deposit on our eternal salvation, the promised Holy Spirit. But, Jesus left! And we are left once again in our hope – this time, for His second coming.

joyofeverylongingheartHere’s the Advent question. Can we, like the prophets of old, find hope fulfilling? Satisfying? Comforting?

“[The prophets] served they us by explaining and developing those promises more richly and fully. … they did it in service and love to us, in order that we might go to them to school and learn also the same lesson.”

I’ve got to admit it … I’m not a very good “hoper”. I don’t like to wait. I want what I want, and I want it now. As the proverb states, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). And who wants a sick heart? But the second half of that proverb tells us that “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” The heartache, the longing, the not-yet of our salvation – it’s all part of the package.

before-after-xmasA final thought. Christmases past. My memories are about presents under the tree…of peaking into the corners…of wondering, dreaming, and longing for Christmas Day, when we would get the thrill of having what we hoped for. I find it interesting that I remember the days before Christmas fondly. And the days after Christmas, well, kind of depressing. I do believe the days of hope were the richest of the season.

Maybe I’m closer to getting this whole hope thing than I thought.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2014 in Advent 2014, Hope

 

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