Posts Tagged ‘Second Coming’

Part 1 of 3: What the Church Needs to be Doing. Now.

Been thinking about church. I do that a lot for some reason. It's not like I have anything else to do with my time. (/sarcasm). The truth is, I'm fairly heavily involved with my local church through helping lead worship (singing, playing guitar, reading Scripture), teaching a Bible school class, and teaching at a small, local Bible College. I also do pulpit supply whenever I can, wherever I can. I wish every day was Sunday, sometimes.

I have a love/hate relationship with the church. I have spent my entire life married to the church. It has seen my best days (baptism, wedding) and my worst days (termination, heartbreak). I am almost 46 and the church has never not been a part of my life in some way, some shape, or other. So this post isn't about any church in particular, it's about the church in general. It's a short sermon sans a pulpit.

Anyhow.

Here's the first of three things the church ought to consider when the church considers its appearance and mission to the world. All three will be drawn from Mark's Gospel, chapter 1.

First, preparing the way. The last thing faithful Israelites heard from the prophets before a what must have been a dreadfully long 400 year silence, was this: "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me…I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 3:1, 4:5). There's a lot more to Malachi's thoughts, but this is where Mark's Gospel begins. That is, he begins by telling his readers that this is what the prophet(s) said, and this is what happened, "And so John the baptist appeared in the wilderness" (Mark 1:4a).

I doubt seriously this is what people had in mind. Maybe they expected some flashbang or shock and awe. Maybe they thought about fire from heaven or miracles galore. Maybe they thought and end to the Roman occupation with a giant military coup. Yet there was John. Preaching a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." So, it seems, what Mark is telling us is this: the way John prepared the way for the Lord's arrival, the way he prepared people for the appearance of the Lord in his temple, was this: Take personal inventory of your sin and repent. Imagine that such a task–preparing the way of the Lord–could be accomplished with such an unflashy medium. Preaching: repentance.

This is decidedly not how we prepare the way of the Lord in the church. Instead we draw them in with fidgets and gadgets and gimmicks. And all churches do it. To an extent, some churches even make repentance a gimmick. John did nothing fancy. He simply went out and preached that people needed to repent. Interestingly enough, when Jesus took up the mantle of gospeling after John was put in prison, he did the same thing: "The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). John didn't even draw people in with supernatural power. He went as far away from them as he could in fact–the wilderness. He didn't hang out at all the swank places eating rich fair–he simply at locusts. He didn't look particularly fashionable–he wore scratchy camel hair and a belt. Yet people went to him. And listened. And were baptized by him.

Maybe there is something to what John was doing? Maybe the Lord knew what he was doing? Maybe we need to imitate John? Maybe part of our preaching objectives ought to be calling people to repentance from their sin?

How is it that such a simple message was able to prepare a generation of people for the arrival of the Lord in his temple? And why don't we do more of this in our churches? I mean, isn't the Lord going to return someday to claim his bride? Maybe the best message that the church can preach to the world and to the church is that they and we need to repent.

I've been thinking about it. There's a lot to do in the church in America, here in the last days. Maybe it is time for the church to stop pushing a gospel of America and to start preaching repentance again. It's just a thought. Maybe it is time for the church to abandon all the tricks and gimmicks and all the sermon series' about How a Good American Can Have a Happy Outlook on Life.

Maybe it's time for real power in our pulpits again.

I saw the other day in my Twitter feed where someone quoted a certain political candidate as saying if he is elected to the presidency Christians will have power in this country. Everyone knows that such statements are merely populist in nature, but if it has even a thread of truth in it, the church ought to be afraid. The church doesn't need power (and I'll demonstrate this in a future post). The church needs prophets. The power will come, but not from politicians. This is all another post. In the second post, I'll write about preaching the Kingdom.

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Old Blackberry Pics 2008 2009 113Some parts of life are full of happiness. Other parts of life are full of sorrows. Life is kind of philosophical like that–never content with stasis it is always turning us this way and that, lifting us up and putting us down, patting us on the back one minute and shrugging its shoulders the next.

Life is so often full of so much noise and yelling  and chatter. Life is a cacophony of brutality, violence, and destruction. How can we find any sort of peace in the midst of so much noise? How can we find solace in the presence of so much savagery? Where on this volcanic surface can we find solid ground, a calm and stormless sanctuary?

Today's Daily Office readings are found in Psalm 20; Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Romans 10:14-21; Matthew 24:36-51. I will offer thoughts on a couple of them.

Psalm 20 I'm going to be honest: I crave attention. I like it when people talk to me or pay attention to me. In fact, there have been times when I was so starved for attention that my behavior would become reckless and fueled by ego in an attempt to attract the sort of attention I desired. Maybe this was why I so enjoyed preaching? I liked that everyone was looking and listening to me for 30 minutes. I'm making confession. I have repented and continue to repent daily that in so many ways I have sought attention from other people–attempting to be noticed, loved, or honored. Social media is a hangman's noose for such reckless behavior. Psalm 20 redirects those of us who suffer the malady of inattention. So look what he does when he repeats over and over again, "may the Lord…": answer you, protect you, send you help, grant you support, remember your sacrifices, accept your offerings, give you your desires, make your plans succeed, grant all your requests. Sowhat's he doing? He's saying give your attention to God and God will give his attention to you. I think what James says is that we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:1-3). In fact, I think James' thoughts here are apropos to this entire Psalm: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity with God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God."

So this Psalm gives me pause. "Some trust in Chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the lord our God." Who am I trusting? Whose attention am I seeking? Whose victory do I want? I am all loaded up on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter. I do what I can to get my name out there because that's what the world says I have to do if I am to get ahead: fatten up the resume, fatten up the bank account, fatten up my investments. And the world says that it is imperative that we put our friendship and trust in these things if we are to be successful and prosperous and get all the attention we crave. Attention seeking behaviors will eventually pay dividends but they may also come at a price. But the Psalm says differently. Now I'm not suggesting that we seek God because we want success or anything of that sort. On the contrary, seeking God is the reward in itself. That's the whole point. We seek God, we give God our attention–when no one listens, God will; when no one protects, God will; when no one helps, God will; when people forget, God won't; when the world fails us, God will not.

All I am saying is that this Psalm presents us with two pictures. On the one hand we can seek the attention of the world which will invariably fail us and bring us to our knees. Or we can seek God's attention by giving him ours and we will 'rise up and stand firm.' It's a daily choice. I'm trying to get better at making the right choice.

Deuteronomy 34 The other day one of my sons said to Renee and me, "When I die, I don't want to be buried, I want to be melted." I'm not sure what that means, but it struck us as kind of amusing at the time. I've thought about it too–the whole death and dying thing. I've thought about it a lot more since my grandmother died last year and the buffer zone between the generations shrunk just a bit. Moses didn't have a chance. God said you are going to die. It's time. Take one last look. Then die. Then God buried him. Worse, Moses died outside of Promised Land. Moses was mighty in word and deed, so much so that no one had risen up in Israel like him–ever. The part that has always struck me as interesting is the part where the author wrote, "He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is" (34:6). So Moses' epitaph is that he was, more or less, forgotten. There's this grave in Paris at the Pere Lachaise cemetery where a man named Jim Morrison has been buried since his death in 1971. People flock to it and have made it a shrine where they have their picture taken and sit in vigil. I think the whole point of Moses' forgotten burial is found just there: God knew the hearts of people and kept the burial place of Moses a secret precisely so that it would not become a snare or a shrine. The last thing Moses heard from God was, "You will not…" Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it, what the last thing is that God will say to us.

Matthew 24:36-51 The short and long of this passage of Scripture is very simple: Be ready. We never know when Jesus is going to return. When you are going about your life, your day, be ready. When you are eating and drinking, be ready. When you are least expecting it, be ready. At all times, be ready–whatever you are doing, wherever you are doing it, do it with a heart of expectation.

In the Romans passage he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." I think God is for us. I think he wants us to give our attention to him and to seek attention from him. I think all day long he pleads and weeps for us to trust him. I've learned a few things from these passages today.

Psalm, when we give our attention to God, he gives his to us. Deuteronomy, be willing to be forgotten in order that God may be remembered. Matthew, always be thinking about Jesus in whatever you do. Romans, receive what God is offering you with open hands. I close today with a prayer from the Committal Service found in the Book of Common Prayer:

"In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend ourselves to Almighty God and we commit our body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust. The Lord bless us and keep us, the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious to us, the Lord life up his countenance upon us and give us peace. Amen."

Old Blackberry Pics 2008 2009 227It's been a few days since I have written about the Daily Office. That kind of bums me out a little bit because it means I haven't been truly engaged in the Scripture as I want to be. I suppose all of us at some level have these ideas about what we should be doing and what we are actually doing. Key, I believe, is not even balance because that implies, in one way or another, that all things are equal or equally important. I need un-balance. Or maybe the correct word is imbalance. Either way, we get caught up in life, family, the affairs of today, the regrets of yesterday, and the dreams of tomorrow and it tends to crowd out those things that matter more.

So I'm generally distrusting of people who tell me that their lives are balanced. It generally means they have no priorities. This was not something I easily learned–the struggles of the last several years demonstrate adequately that all the while I was seeking balance–professionally, personally, spiritually–God was in the business of throwing me off course and challenging my notions of what it really means to live, move, and have being.

On then to today's readings.

Psalm 16, 17 What is interesting about these two Psalms is not that the New Testament writers took verses 9-10 of Psalm 16 and filled up its meaning with the Resurrection of Jesus. That is powerful reading, to be sure, but not what I find most compelling. Too often we see such prophecies fulfilled in Jesus (a good thing) and we forget that there are other verses to read as well (a bad thing). Psalm 16 & 17 both begin in sort of the same way: Lord, I am in deep trouble. Keep me safe. Hear my cry. What else is interesting is that they both seem to end the same way too. At the end of 16, the Psalmist is clearly in the grave and counting on the Lord's intervention, and 17 ends with the Psalmist waking up happy to see God's face. In both cases, and at some level, the Psalmist has died. Not terribly optimistic until you remember that in both Psalms the writer has thrown caution to the wind and is reminding God that He is the only hope and vindication he can count upon for survival.

And if we read carefully through the Psalms, we see there is no end to the dangers faced by the righteous in this lifetime. The righteous are always on the backside of those who 'run after other gods.' We see in Psalm 16 that even though the 'boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places' and even though 'with Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken' the Psalmist still finds himself six feet under by the time we reach verses 9-11. I wonder if it is fair to assume that some how or other this death was brought about by those who 'run after other gods'?

Then we arrive at Psalm 17 and we find that the stakes have been raised even higher and the threats against the righteous have grown even more demanding: bribery and violence (4);  seeking destruction of the righteous (9); callous hearts and arrogant mouths (10); hunting parties ( those who 'run after other gods' also form hunting parties to 'track us down' 16:4 & 17:11); physical abuse (11b); and in general wickedness (14). And another interesting note: those who 'run after other gods' in Psalm 16 are 'like a lion hungry for prey, like a fierce lion crouching in cover' (12). I know where I have heard that before: "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Maybe those who 'run after other gods' are equally adept at doing the work of the enemy, the devil. One thing is for certain: the righteous can fully expect that those who 'run after other gods' in this lifetime are going to get what is coming to them, what they desire–their bellies will be full and there will be leftovers beside (17:14). They will have their rewards here, now, in this life. And the righteous should not be envious.

So what I'm thinking about is this. What am I doing with my life? What am I chasing? Am I running after other gods hoping to get my fill of this life? Or will I take refuge in God (16:1 & 17:7)? I guess it depends upon what we want. Do we want a life filled now? Or do we want hope of a life perfectly satisfied forever? In some ways I really believe it is an either/or proposition. Do we take refuge in God and have hope now and later? Or do we do the devil's bidding and be forever unsatisfied? Are we happy to find hope in Resurrection with Jesus? Or are we busily living the unsatisfied life of the devil? Interestingly enough, Psalm 16 reminds us that those who 'run after other gods' are the ones who will 'suffer more and more' (16:4). So it kind of makes me wonder if I have put all my suffering into its proper perspective so that even when I am surrounded on all sides by an enemy who wishes nothing better than my discontent, death, and my utter destruction I can say, with the chorus of the righteous: I will not be shaken because the Lord is at my right hand.

Imagine that: The Lord at your right hand.

Matthew 24:1-35 Over the years, as I have read this complex and perplexing passage of Scripture–set within Matthew's overt Kingdom story–I have grown fonder and fonder of it not, I think, because it tells of signs and wonders and so-called apocalyptic things, but because at the heart of it it tells the story of Jesus. It's like when we read the book of The Revelation. I think if we read the book of Revelation hoping to find anything there but Jesus then we are reading the story in the wrong way or with the wrong intent. The story in the Revelation is about Jesus: first to last, alpha to omega, beginning to end. John encounters a suffering church–7 of them to be exact–and what does he do? He gives them a vision of Jesus (see chapter 1 of Revelation for more insight). So when we read Matthew 24 I believe the intent is the same. You and me we look around and we see all sorts of calamity and persecution and suffering and death and destruction–much like the Psalmist did in Psalm 16-17–and we may grow to despair this life. We may grow to wonder what is happening and where it's all going. And Jesus recognized this so look what he does. He tells us: Yes, there are going to be times when life absolutely sucks. Life is going to get so bad that people won't even respect religious buildings or the righteous who gather there. I like that Jesus is sitting on top of a mountain, looking down on the world like a King on a throne. So again, what does he do? He warns us that there is only one Jesus.

There will be false messiahs, but don't listen. There will be wars, but don't be alarmed. Wickedness will increase, but this Kingdom Gospel will be preached. Religious persecution will grow, but stand firm. False messiahs and prophets will perform great signs and wonders, but don't be deceived. Don't grow cold in your love if everyone around you does. Don't be attached to this life when everyone else is running back inside for a cloak. Don't believe what people tell you when they point to false hope but remember Jesus' words. What does Jesus do? He tells us this: You will know me when you see me and I will not look like or be like what the world tells you I look like and act like. I might come and do no miracles or signs like the world does so don't look for signs and wonders; I might not relieve all your troubles at once as the world does so don't look for comfort or convenience; I might not come to the world's acclaim so don't look in the direction the world points. Instead, listen for a trumpet, watch for the lightning, follow the vultures, pray for peace, and pay attention–not to what the world says to pay attention to–but to the Words of Jesus (35). In other words, if you are paying attention, you will not miss Jesus when he returns. Remain steadfast. Stick with love. Pay attention to his words. He has not abandoned this place or his people. He will not abandon us to the grave any more than his Father abandoned him to the grave. When the world around you goes to the pot, keep looking for Jesus, keep listening to his words, and keep busy in his kingdom.

When you see all these things, pay attention. Things are near. But don't put too much stock in them because it's easy to get caught up in these things and miss out on what we truly hope for: the return of Jesus. And if we are looking, hoping, and waiting upon Jesus we will not miss him. Ask yourself, is it Jesus you are looking for?

That's all I have for today and I hope it is helpful. Be blessed. Grace and Peace to you in Jesus' Name.

Friends,

There are several new posts at Pastor’s Prayer Thoughts. Stop by and check them out for good devotional thoughts and prayer thoughts.

My own newest addition is here: A Few Thoughts on Matthew 24-25. Here’s a glimpse:

The disciples had specifically asked: What will be the signs of the end of the age? I assume it is fair to suggest that they were referring, first and foremost, to the age in which they lived. Thus Jesus’ words would make a lot more sense to them then they would say to us. But this does not mean that these words have no meaning to us or value to us or message to us. Part of what makes Scripture scripture is that it has meaning and is revelatory to every generation that reads it and accepts it as God’s Word to humanity. That’s not all that makes it Scripture, but that is part. So these words must mean something to us too: “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” (24:35) said Jesus. At minimum this must mean something like, “Things will never change and my prophecy about man will always be true regardless of which generation hears it.”

Stop by and give it read. Share with your friends. There’s much more available for you to read at A Pastor’s Prayer Journal. Grace and Peace.

jerry

John 7:32-36

32The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him. 33Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. 34You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 35The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

DA Carson wrote in his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul and His Prayers, the following words of wisdom concerning John 7:

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior” (109)

The Pharisees heard that people were whispering such things like, “Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ?” So, in an effort to stave off such ridiculous ideas, such trivial scuttlebutt, they sent in the troops to do what others had been unable to do: arrest him (recall in verse 30 others tried to lay hands on him but he escaped them). I don’t suppose that the Pharisees’ guards would have any better success than any others had; still they try.

But the Pharisees also heard people saying things like, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?” So, in their attempt to forestall such frivolous conversations the Pharisees did what they did best: They sent someone else to deal with Jesus. Oh, they wouldn’t dare go and try to arrest him themselves (remember later that Jesus’ trials were conducted at night, in secrecy). These Pharisees had no intentions whatsoever of letter people even have the hint of a hint that Jesus might actually be who he claimed to be. But it was not yet his time.

For me, it is Jesus’ response that is most intriguing. “I am only with you a short time, and then I go to the One who sent me.” It’s a response to those who were coming to arrest him. I wonder if he is saying something like, “Look, leave me be and I’ll be gone soon enough. I’m not planning on being here long enough for you to be making all this fuss. Let it be, let me be, and then I’ll be out of your way and you will have me to contend with no longer.” He could have been saying something like that. Then he adds a second phrase, “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” Where I Am?? What did he mean by that: Where I am?

But they glossed over all that too. They were more concerned about where he was going than about where he was. They knew where he was from, supposedly, but they did not know where he was going. They could go to where he was from, but they would not find him when he left. This conversation leaves one gasping for air. At some level Jesus was saying this: There will come a day when I will be gone, not as easily accessible as I am right now when you want to arrest me. On that day you will look for me, you will want me, you will need me, but I will not be found. He makes it clear: You will look for me. I have a suspicion that they will be looking for him for reasons other than to arrest him. I have a suspicion that there will be a little more fear of God in their eyes then than there was that day when they wanted to arrest him.

There is, to be sure, a time limit. We don’t happen to be privy to it. God has not, in his wisdom, decided that this is information that we happen to require while accomplishing his work. But there is a time limit. We don’t know when the thief will come in the night or when the Bridegroom will return. We don’t know when the archangel will sound the last trumpet and the Son of Man will descend with the clouds. We are sort of in the dark on this one. Jesus said there is a time limit: “I am only with you a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am you cannot come.”

Later Jesus will say: “Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Those who walk in the dark do not know where they are going. 36 Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them” (John 12:35-36). Clearly, there is a time limit. And yet still people refuse to come to Jesus to have life. It’s not a joke. It’s not a risk worth taking. If we don’t seek him while we can there will come a time when seeking will not be an option. Are you seeking him? What are you waiting for?

Their response demonstrates their ignorance and hubris: “What does he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me and not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?” Translation: We can find anyone we want—you can go as far as the Greeks and we’ll find you. You can’t escape us, you mere human (“Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him?”). Who do you think you are? Are you magic? Are you a traveler? At least they were concerned about what his words meant—although, John provides us with no answer to their questions. They did not perceive that there might come a day when they would be cut-off from access to Jesus. Oh, humans are so flush with confidence! Scarcely a day goes by, nary a minute ticks away when some human, some place, does not boast of their ability to conquer any obstacle. Jesus was saying, if I read correctly, here’s one obstacle you cannot conquer because the only way to conquer it is through me and you reject me! Of course those who reject Jesus will not find him: Truthfully speaking, they won’t want to.

Be Blessed and a Blessing!

Soli Deo Gloria!