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Eat Up, It’s Advent!

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Read Amos 8:11-14

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.”

The Apostle Peter compares our spiritual growth to a craving. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3). And what do we crave? Just like the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, we are spiritually dependent on the provision of God for our souls – His presence, His people, and most of all, His Word. Without it, our souls will die.

We live in the Information Age. Never before have we had so much access to words. I remember the days when I got my information from libraries, encyclopedias, newspapers, the radio, and the nightly TV news. In retrospect, I knew virtually nothing about what was happening on any given day! Now, we have instant access to the whole world. We can google anything. And, with smart phones having become permanent appendages at the end of our arms, we’re never at a loss for words, and the information they carry.

So it’s hard for me to picture a day when we’ll be at a loss for Bibles. But, as Matthew Henry says, “They shall have the written word, Bibles to read, but no ministers to explain and apply it to them, the water in the well, but nothing to draw with.”

I find myself wanting to ramble on the ramifications of this famine … about the incredible increases of people converting to Jesus all over the world, but the acknowledged lack of teachers to disciple them … or Amos’ reference to swearing “by the Guilt of Samaria” or “As your god lives, O Dan”, which is much like our secular world choosing to swear by the truth of the scientific academic academy.

But, keeping in the Advent spirit … Jesus is coming! He is the Word, made flesh, coming to dwell among us. Christmas means that God wants the Word among us. His Word is made real to us in the Spirit-filled hearing, reading and study of the scriptures.

But, are we experiencing our own personal famine of the Word? Are we spiritually anorexic? “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:3-4). We have all of this … are we digging into it?

We have five days until Christmas! Let’s prepare for His Word becoming flesh by celebrating and soaking in His revealed Word now. May you crave it, and may its truth prepare you for a glorious celebration of his birth.

– EO

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Posted by on December 20, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos

 

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“Just Sayin’?” Uh…no.

Read Amos 8:1-3

The Amos reading tonight reminds me of the advent verses in the first chapter of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:1, 14).

Jesus is the Word. Christians, like the Jews, have always been people of the book. We believe that a primary way that God has communicated to people is through words, through language.

The modern understanding of “objective truth” has driven many people, both believers and non, to a different type of relationship with words. We analyze everything. We treat our sentences and word choices like the matter in a physical science experiment. When we approach the Bible this way, we end up parsing, mincing and mining the texts – their history, grammar, authorship – in a pursuit of “the facts”. (So immersed our we in this brand of Bible reading that we cannot even see how unusual it is in the grand thousands-of-years history of the faith.)

When it comes to our Advent eschatology, we do the same. We rip into Daniel, Revelation, and all the other prophecies, trying to extract some sort of pre-history of upcoming events that is “valid”. Then we argue over our findings…

…As though this was the purpose of the prophets, and of the written words their revelations produced.

But … what does this have to do with Amos 8?

God has another word for Amos. As the book moves to its final chapters, the prophecies are getting all the more grim. God has more tragic news to share through His prophet … but His approach is very curious.

“This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,’ declares the Lord God. ‘So many dead bodies!’ ‘They are thrown everywhere!’ ‘Silence!’” (Amos 3:1-3).

We don’t get this in English … but in Hebrew, God is doing a play-on-words. The word for “fruit” in Hebrew is pronounced kay-EETS. The word for “end” is KEETS. Get it? It’s a basket of kay-EETS, Amos, but what it really is is a healthy serving of KEETS … “the end” … the destruction of Israel.

Seriously? This is God almighty, informing Amos of a catastrophe that will leave bodies strewn everywhere … and He’s presenting it with a clever double entendre? One might consider this, well, kind of inappropriate. At the very least, it’s interesting.

I find it wonderful, for a few reasons. First, God is good, all the time. He doesn’t have to shift from being at once creative, artistic and engaging, and then become somber, sterile and matter-of-fact. The same God who playfully carved out the Grand Canyon is, with complete joy and goodness, bringing about His judgment on His own faithless people. No apologies. No change in character.

Second, it affirms again how important the creative use of language is to God. The way God speaks to His prophets reinforces to me both the truth and the beauty of God, and His Word. And we, made in His image and likeness, are the only creatures on the planet who are also users of language. What we say, and how we say it, are of enormous importance! We don’t just deal in “truth”. We deal in divine-image communication, which should be handled with great care, and for the most noble purposes.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in[d] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God (Rev. 19:11-13). He is coming!

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Eschatology

 

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Truth, Action and Defying Gravity

Advent Thursday 1

Amos 2:4-5:  “Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept His statutes, but they have been led astray by the same lies after which their ancestors walked. So I will send a fire on Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.”

Before Amos gets to the primary target of his challenging prophecies (the northern nation of Israel), he has a word for his own land and people, the southern kingdom of Judah. His people believed themselves to be spiritually exceptional, the keepers the truest truths, the practitioners of the most correct ways of worship.

His brief word hits them right in their pride: You, Judah, have rejected the word of God, and have rejected its direction for your lives. So you, too, will suffer consequences for your faithlessness.

Image result for "bold preaching"This gets me. It hits close to home. Now, I know that everyone thinks their version of the truth is right. Otherwise, they wouldn’t believe it. I, too, think I believe in true things, especially when it comes to the things of faith. I describe my beliefs in rich terms like “historically orthodox,” “conservative,” and “historically/grammatically correct.” When comparing my theology to others, I refer to those guys as the ones who have slipped and strayed. How I’d hate to hear God say to me, “Bill, you’ve rejected my truth, and have not followed my precepts.” Ouch.

The first count: Judah’s belief has been corrupted. They’ve rejected God’s revealed laws, and have fallen for “the same lies” that mankind has bought for generations. Same old same old. As the proverb says, “There’s a way that seems right to a man, but that way leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Human, uninspired thinking always sinks from the gravitational pull of this “way that seems right”. Like Judah, we are all vulnerable to these well-worn lies … but we have to, in essence, defy gravity. To do this, we have to remain disciplined being taught and trained by the truth. Judah slipped. So do I.

The second count: Not only had Judah’s doctrine slipped, but their actions had, too. They believed wrongly, and therefore acted wrongly. Interesting … in our relativistic 21st century culture, we are charged to not only let people believe what they want, but to honor their beliefs. But the word tells us that not all beliefs are true, and that, if our world wants to live well, we need to believe well.Beliefs don’t stay put between our ears. Conduct necessarily follows. Led astray by lies, we then fail to keep statutes. We may want freedom of thought, but no one wants lawlessness.

Every Sunday at our church we are obliged by the liturgy to recite a classical creed – either the Apostle’s or the Nicene. These are ancient, brief summaries of our foundational beliefs. Sometimes the group readings seem perfunctory. Some find them awkward. But, especially during Advent, I find the exercise vital! I must be tethered to the truth! If I’m to do the scriptures, I have to believe them correctly. And when Jesus comes, I want Him to find me embracing His laws, and keeping them!

He’s coming. Revelation 19:13 says He will be “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” Do you believe this Word? Do you do this Word? Are you ready for this Word?

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2015 in Advent 2015, Uncategorized

 

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Our Love-Hate Relationship With Our Family Prophets

Stoning

The Apostle Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy…the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” Then again, Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 

Is it appropriate to make this correlation: That prophetic words…

a) are the most important gifts for the church,

b) are intended to take people from where they are to where they could be (e.g., change their lives), and

c) will be rejected by the family they intend to serve?

As I go spelunking into the caverns of church history, I have begun to notice an all-too-common theme. There are many men and women who seem to have had uniquely clear vision in their day to see their condition, and a path to its improvement. With 20-20 historical hindsight, we honor these people. But most, in their day, faced stern resistance, rejection, and even extermination.

The sad thing? So many of these simply wanted the best for the church. They died for having a grander vision of what the church family could be than the rest of them could see.

Luther preachingI’ve come to find out in my short time here on the planet this less-than-profound truth: People want to enjoy themselves. That goes for my church family, too. In our age and place, with so many church options to choose from, most will pick a place that they likeOf course. Why would you pick a place you don’t like?

The church, though, is not designed to cater to our wants. It is, by definition, a place of discipleship, therefore discipline. As the author of Hebrews says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all … God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-8, 10-11). When Jesus commanded the Apostles to make “disciples” of all nations (Matthew 28:19), he was charging them baptize people into communities of discipline all over the world. Melding these passages together, Jesus was calling these men to broadcast a call to a life of painful hardship that will train you to become righteous, holy, peaceful and good. Anything less is illegitimate.

Prophets – those gifted by God to see truth, and boldly proclaim it in the church family – are on the front lines of this disciplined life. Like that really hard teacher in high school, or the over-the-top aerobics instructor, or that drill sergeant from your military days, the prophet is the one who calls you out of your present, and into your future. As the contemporary adage says, “No pain, no gain.” When we look back on these disciplinarians, some – especially those who rejected their leadership – might see them as obnoxious. But many of us are now grateful for the vision that they had for our lives, and their persistent drive to see us change. Those who endured bear the fruit, and are thankful.

Cranmer

Despite this whatever belated appreciation we can muster, it is a spiritual axiom that those with prophetic giftings will face rejection from the very family they are trying to serve. They are also indispensable to the life of the family. Paul tells us be especially ardent in seeking this gift … but really, who wants it?

Most all of our most famous aunts and uncles of the faith faced bitter rejection at the hands of the churches they served. Like their leader, they also become “the stone the builders rejected.” Paul. Athanasius. Benedict. Wycliffe. Hus. More. Luther. Hubmaier. Cranmer. Edwards. And a cavalcade of saints in local churches from our modern world. We may not say it … we may not even realize it! … but we’re eternally thankful for your faithfulness.

-eo

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in church, leadership, Uncategorized

 

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A Visit to St. Mary’s

When just a child, one thing was always clear to me. “We’re not Catholic.” Then, when I became a Christian at the age of 14, in a small, fundamentalist church, the next layer was added: “Those Catholics are wrong.” 

I was told that I certainly wouldn’t want to go to one of their services. I was told they believe in works, not grace. I was told they are run by a dictatorship (i.e., the Pope), not as a good democracy (i.e., how good, American institutions, including churches, should be run). I was told that they worship Mary instead of Jesus. I was told they have to sit in a little wooden box and confess their sins to a priest in order to get forgiveness. I was told that they baptize babies, which is obviously wrong because babies don’t know that they’re saved. And, I was told that their services were really, really boring.

I grew up being told, in no uncertain terms, that Catholics are not a part of our family, the true family. I later learned that the watershed moment of this family split was called the Reformation. This was the time when there was a big ecclesiastical fork in the road, and the true Christians went right with the Protestants, and the false Christians continued left with the Catholics.

Since those days, I’ve visited many Catholic churches. I’ve read lots of Catholic literature, and some Evangelical literature with different slants on Catholicism. My conclusions? Well, I haven’t joined the Catholic church. But I do see them as family (I’m sure the Pope is relieved to hear this!).

So, I visited St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix recently. I thought I’d share my experience, from an orphan’s eyes.

Through the lens of my Protestant biases: Since it is “St. Mary’s”, there were an awful lot of Marys in there. Statues, paintings…it did seem to be Mary heavy, and Jesus light. There were also a lot of Francises, since this church is administered by Franciscan friars. It’s a beautiful building, which made me think of how much it cost for all the ornamentation and furnishings (and the sermon dealt specifically with inviting the poor to Jesus). The service was terrible theater — lots of long pauses, challenging acoustics, hard seats, unfocused lighting, no screens, no “normal” musical instruments. Hardly anyone acknowledged my visit (except during the “passing of the peace”).

But more to the point, right from the beginning of the service, the Word of God was central. They processed the Bible to the altar. The priest even kissed his copy of the text after reading the gospel passage in a show of veneration. The prayers and readings were thoroughly drenched in scriptural thought, especially during the set-up for the Eucharist. They read four, longer, rich passages of scripture. The message was pointed, attacking my pride, and calling me to genuine humility before God. I was led in prayer in ways that I wouldn’t have spontaneously prayed myself, which was great. I knelt. I stood. I sang. I sat in stillness.

Then, I looked at their bulletin. The ads on the back are always a bit strange to me (I guess that’s a Catholic thing…), but program announcements are compelling: a teaching article on the gospel reading, a call to those wanting a richer Monday-through-Saturday spiritual life, children’s classes, membership classes, and calls for people willing to care for the sick, work with the youth, help with the arts (!), prepare for worship, and to offer ongoing prayer support to others.

Not once during my visit was I confronted with the major points of discrepancy I have with Catholic doctrine. I was not put in a position where I was called to worship Mary. At no time did Papal authority come down on me in a negative way. Never once did the priest reference a Thomistic version of the transubstantiated host. I was never encouraged to place Biblical truth behind a man-made tradition. And in no way was I made to believe that I had to work my way to God’s favor. Instead, all was about Jesus, His headship, his presence, and His grace.

I also saw something else I don’t see very often. All kinds of people were worshiping together in this downtown gathering. Old and young, from many ethnic groups. Some seemed devout and moved, but not most. Some were obviously very poor. Some seemed totally disinterested. The great equalizer was seen in the queuing up to receive the Eucharist – all those people, regardless of who they have become, and all with different levels of mental ascent as to what was actually happening there … all streaming forward to receive Christ. What they all knew is that they needed this. And the church was there to hand them the tangible Gospel, as Jesus has told us to do. Really, simply, beautiful.

I sensed that I’m welcome here. And that this is not a dangerous place. I still don’t get everything about them, and I still have my theological questions. Like I said, I haven’t joined the Catholic church. But, I’m happy that they are a part of my family, and I think I have a lot to learn from them. We might have some insights for them, too – if we can ever get along long enough to have a nice conversation.

Thanks, St. Mary’s, for welcoming me, and inviting me to Christ.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Contemporary Experiences

 

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