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.
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.
Some 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."
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!