Sunday, November 29

Jim King

The Day of the Lord Will Come

2 Peter 3:1-10

Could we all just stop a moment and take a collective deep breath? The holiday season is about to thrust us into the busiest, most frenetic, most over-scheduled season of the year and before it claims far too much of our energy, time, and resources we would do well to pause at least long enough to remember that this is also the beginning of the Holy Season of Advent and, while we may often confuse the two, one has little to do with the other.

At its best (and it is seldom at its best) the holiday season makes a passing nod at what God did in and through the historical Jesus of Nazareth at the time of the first Advent, setting into motion the events that would most eloquently demonstrate that God is love. While the churches of Christendom strive mightily at Christmas to keep the focus on God being revealed in Christ, the symbols of this story – Wise Men and shepherds, angels and a peasant couple – are co-opted by merchants to shill for the latest must-have merchandise.

But the Second Advent, the return of Christ for the Church that we as Christians seek to keep at the forefront of our consciousness for the next four weeks, now that’s something that we pretty much have to ourselves. The world wants neither to remind nor be reminded that this world and all that it holds will one day come to an end. That is, quite literally, too sobering a thought.

And after all, Christmases have come and gone, over two thousand of them, and to the human eye little seems to have changed. There is no tangible evidence, no dramatic, empirical proof that God is even alive, much less present among us. Why should we think that things will be different for us this year?

However, I have one reminder for us and the author of the Second Letter of Peter has another. Mine is the one I and all ministers must always hold before our people: At one time or another God comes for us all. We can think of the Second Coming as some dramatic, apocalyptic event that brings all of human history to a close, and certainly that will occur one day, but the fact remains that when we draw our final breath the Second Coming has, in fact, happened to us.

The reminder of the author of 2 Peter is closely tied to mine: If God seems slow in coming it is only because God is patient, and wants you to come to the point of repentance and faith. You may think that you have all the time in the world, but in the descriptive language of our text, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (verse 10). More often than not the coming of the Lord takes us by surprise.

So before you get caught up in all those things that seem so necessary during this time of the year, pause to take that breath, and ask yourself one question, “Are you ready for the Lord to come for you?”

Monday, November 30

Paul Knowlton

Active Waiting

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Advent is a time of waiting, expecting, and hoping. The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin word that means ‘coming’. So the ritual of the Advent Season serves as an annual reminder of the Christ child at Christmas, which helps sustain us as we wait for the coming return of God’s Son.

The Apostle Paul, speaking to the church at Thessalonica, praised them for becoming imitators of Christ and the apostles, always looking forward to the coming return of God’s Son from heaven. As I reflect on this text, I wonder exactly what kind of behavior the Apostle was praising. The ritual of Advent was not yet known at the time this text was written. Unable to fully resolve that question, I turn to wondering what a constant posture of waiting, expecting, and hoping might look like.  I’m not positive what that posture looked like to our early church fathers and mothers, but I suspect I know what it looks like for contemporary Christians like me. Perhaps these are one in the same.

I know that daily I look for opportunities to demonstrate my love to those I interact with, and hope they are able to demonstrate their love of me. Daily, I seek joy in my life and hope to see the joy in the lives of others. Daily, I work for peace and hope to read of peace in the news. Daily, I try to exercise patience and hope to see others do the same. Daily, I try to surprise others with random acts of kindness and my hope is encouraged when I’m the recipient of others’ kindness. Hoping for love…joy…peace…patience…kindness…, followed by hoping for goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s right, the fruits of the Spirit.

Might a constant posture of waiting, expecting, and hoping for the coming return of God’s Son from heaven look like a conscious posture of exercising the fruits of the Spirit? None of us, least of all me, gets it perfectly right every day. Working toward those behaviors, however, doesn’t that look a lot like working toward ushering in the Kingdom of God? Doesn’t that look a lot like being an imitator of Christ and the apostles? Might that look like the behavior for which the Apostle Paul was praising our fathers and mothers at Thessalonica?

Today, I pray to God, inviting our heavenly parent to lead me in this season of Advent by showing me how to wait for the coming return of God’s Son. But this year, this Advent Season, I pray God shows my willing heart how to wait actively and not passively. To show me how to actively usher in the Kingdom of God, to actively reflect Christ in the world, and to actively strengthen my hope by allowing me to actively and fully display the fruits of the Spirit. In this way others may become imitators of Christ and the apostles, and share with me the Season of Advent.

Tuesday, December 1

Jodie Samp

 Over Used Accelerators

Isaiah 1:21-31

I enjoy watching Mythbusters for many reasons, but gleaning spiritual insights is usually not one of them.  However, an episode sticks in my mind and provides an interesting illustration of chasing after rewards in our own power.  It is one where they test whether drafting behind an 18- wheeler truly improves gas mileage.  As they gather data that concludes drafting works, they decrease the distance behind the truck to a point where they are focused so intently on staying at a precise relative position their driving becomes awkward.  They stress, sweat, doubt themselves, and doubt the driver of the truck;  in doing so, they overuse the accelerator, destroying what gas mileage they saved by following the truck.  Obviously, it is not an illustration where everything translates, but so often in our attempts to chase after something in life, we concentrate on the supposed goal and overuse our accelerators.  We strive in our own power to seek a self-set goal, and without the Peace that surpasses all understanding, the toll is heavy.  The rise of stress-induced illnesses gives an indication of the direction many are headed.  There is a time for striving and a time for peace, but in our short-sighted vision, or when we rely on human “wisdom,” are we able to tell which is which?

The path to the fallen city described in Isaiah is demonstrated when we focus on our own desires.  The list of  its problems strikes a chord with current events.  Culture today says, “Do what you want as long as no one gets hurt.”  Scripture tells us all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial (I Cor. 10:23).  Can we take time out of our overly busy schedules this season to pull out those self-set goals and place them before Jesus and let the Lord God of Hosts, the Mighty One of Israel smelt away our dross?  Dross, impurities in metals, is anything that prevents us from living life to the fullest.  Those dregs are not the blessings Jesus desires for us.  He came to give us life and that we might have it in abundance (John 10:10). So often we have to filter out the good for the great.  Even in these days with our wealth of choices, we need to filter the great for the Divine.   Knowing what our assignment from God is frees us up to “draft” behind Him—using His power, not our own—to find the sweet spot reserved for us.

Wednesday, December 2

Libby Allen

 Rendering to God What Is God’s

Luke 20:19-26

It is good to pause at this very busy time of year, or really any time of year, to think about the ways in which Christ comes into each of our lives.  The opportunities to receive Christ abound if we only use the “good senses” God gave us.  Do we use our eyes, ears, heart and mind to recognize Christ in our midst, giving us gifts to share in love and service to others and sometimes for us to use for ourselves?

God has given us Jesus Christ to show us how to live this unique gift of life given to each and every one of us.  We belong to God with every breath we take.  We live in this world which is another great gift from God, but we do not belong to the world and especially not the world of Caesar.  We are made in the image of God, but do we sometimes begin to look more like the image of Caesar or whoever is pictured on the money in our pockets?

My brother Jim was always kind and generous but had been consumed with providing financially for his family before he became ill.  Over the past two years, he was very consumed with staying alive so that he could understand how he was made in the image of God.  The way in which he gave love to others took on a different expression during that time.

If I stop to glance back over the last year, month, week or day, I have been doing a lot more rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s than to God what is God’s.  Are we so ruled by our secular calendars and demands that we forget about our spiritual rhythms of life? If we have invited Christ into our life, then we belong to God and are called to render all of ourselves to God.

Breathe gently knowing to whom you belong.

Prayer

Lord, please help us every moment to live in your being.

Thursday, December 3

Wesley Stewart

 God of the Living

Luke 20:27-40

During Jesus’ life on earth, religious leaders are constantly questioning Jesus’ authority. Although the Pharisees believe in the resurrection of the body, the Sadducees do not. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees are not looking forward to a coming Messiah. Like many other people, Sadducees believe in making the most of life in the here and now. The Sadducees, like many people who have enough money to live comfortably, see no reason for concern about the resurrection of the body or the hope for a coming Messiah. From their perspective, it serves no immediate practical purpose to take a belief in afterlife seriously.

As a relatively small group of wealthy priests and aristocrats, Sadducees seek political collaboration with the Roman government. Why would they have any interest in another government, God’s kingdom? They have no interest in another life or a Messiah to save them.  When we focus on political or social influence on others, on our business or professional success, or on the acquisition of the things that this life has to offer, are we so different from the Sadducees?

In their efforts to discredit Jesus, a group of Sadducees appeal to the biblical law of Levirate marriage in which a man is required to marry the wife of his dead brother (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The Sadducees ask who would be the husband of a woman married to seven different brothers as a result of multiple sequential deaths. From their perspective, this question makes the resurrection seem ridiculous. Would Jesus reject the idea of resurrection, or would Jesus advocate marital infidelities in the afterlife? Neither. Jesus answers that the “children of this age” or people living before the resurrection will marry and have kids, following the divine mandate to populate the earth (Genesis 1:28). But those worthy of the resurrection, the “children of the resurrection,” are like angels. There is no need for repopulation in the afterlife.

 Jesus shows the Sadducees that even the Scriptures that they accept confirm the resurrection. At the burning bush, Moses heard God say, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:1-6). Jesus says that God would not describe Himself as the God of Moses’ ancestors if they were dead at the time that God spoke to Moses. Since Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive, the dead are raised! The scribes, experts of the law, confirm Jesus’ scriptural exposition in favor of the resurrection of the body, but what can we “take home” from this incident in Jesus’ life?

Many of the values, customs, and concerns that hold our interest in our temporal existence are not as important or even relevant for the resurrection life. War, sorrow, and tears of disappointment and sadness are replaced with peace, joy, and laughter! Thanks to God, the resurrection life is already present whenever we experience God’s love, peace, and joy in our hearts and in our community. The Kingdom of God is near. Come, Lord Jesus, Messiah, come!

 Friday, December 4

Don Mitchell

 A Great Thing Has Happened

Isaiah 3: 8-15

The prophet Isaiah describes a very troubled time for God’s chosen people in this third chapter.  They have been defeated by a superior military force and driven into exile.  A few have begun to return to Jerusalem only to find total devastation.  They likely questioned whether God had forgotten them.

Isaiah was chosen by God to tell the people how they had strayed from God’s laws.  They had followed wicked rulers and did not try to hide their sinful actions.  God is portrayed as one who stands up in court to accuse the wrongdoers and then acts as a judge to sentence them to the misery that they must endure.  How do these bleak words of Isaiah relate to our lives?

As we begin the Season of Advent, we prepare again for the coming of Christ into our lives.  We see in the early Scriptures that, time and again, mankind has failed to follow God’s will and then must endure hardship and suffering.  But a great thing has happened!  Christ was sent to live among us and to die for our sins.  We have a relationship with God that was not possible for the people of old.  We must only accept the forgiveness that is offered to each of us, and allow the Holy Spirit to enter our lives through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. What a wonderful change from the dark times of old.

The Book of Hebrews tells us that “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a).  We look to a future time when people will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  This was told to us by an ancient prophet speaking in difficult times.  Then the living Word came and lived among us and will one day – “in days to come” – take us to that holy mountain where we will live with God forever.  What a glorious thought!

 Saturday, December 5

Kristy Engel

Stand Firm!

Luke 21:5-19

There is little doubt, as we look around us, that turmoil often rules our world. It seems that the news is full of destruction, war, disease, disaster and tragedy day after day with little space for joy or hope.  It would be easy for anyone to believe that the end of the world is coming soon and with that, Christ’s return. Unfortunately, even some evangelists will play on this fear to solicit your support (usually financial) by predicting the exact day when Jesus will return and make you feel that if you don’t do just what they say, you won’t go to heaven.

So how should we respond to the events around us when our first instinct is to be afraid and find ways to protect our loved ones and ourselves?  The Bible says in Luke 21:9, “And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic.”  Jesus’ instructions to those asking him about the end-times was to trust God and rest in the knowledge that he would care for us…as he always has.  It is really easy to get caught up in the panic of the crowd and those crying destruction or the end of the world, but we must remember that our hope is NOT in the things of this world but beyond this world.  Our hope is in God and his plan for our lives.

The verses in Luke continue on to say, “not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.” This is Jesus’ instruction to those questioning him on what to do with talk about the end of the world – “Stand firm!  Be assured that I’ve got this covered and you will not perish!”  Oh, that we only believed this with our whole heart and could live our lives out each day under the peace and calm of this passage.  This is what God wants for us and desires for our lives.

Jesus didn’t sugar-coat the reality of what life would be like just before his return.  There would be persecution for believers. There would be family members turning against each other. There would be war and famines and earthquakes and plagues.  Life would not be easy. But in the midst of this, there would be an opportunity. Jesus said in verse 13 what is so important in this passage: “This will be your opportunity to tell them about me.”

Are you ready? Do you know what you would say? If not, take this moment to think about what you would say if someone asked you to tell them who Jesus was and what he means to you…today.