1700) Advent (part two of three)

Definition of apocalypse:  a)  a class of Jewish or Christian writings that appeared from about 200 B.C. to 350 A. D., that were assumed to make revelation of the ultimate divine purpose.

b)  a prophetic revelation, especially concerning a cataclysm in which the forces of good permanently triumph over the forces of evil.     

The phrase “apocalyptic literature” is used to describe the use of symbols, images, and numbers to depict future events.

—————————–

     (continued…)  These kinds of passages are what Bible scholars call ‘apocalyptic literature,’ and you find this sort of thing throughout Scripture.  In the Old Testament, it is in Daniel and Ezekiel and some of the other prophets.  In the New Testament it is in passages like this from the Gospels about the end of the world, and then, it is especially found in that mysterious last book of the Bible, Revelation

     Apocalyptic language can be harsh and violent.  There is often talk of wars and famines and earthquakes and troubles galore.  But it is realistic.  The major themes of this type of literature read like the daily paper.  So these verses have always been most popular with those folks attempting to pin-point the end of the world—and, since the themes of the apocalypse always sound so much like the daily news, these predictors are always predicting the end of the world any day (and have been doing so for centuries).

     Apocalyptic literature is, by nature, negative, violent, and unpleasant– but real.  The message is that the world is coming apart at its seams, the heavens are turning ominous and dark, and you better be prepared to meet your Lord.  Negative and violent, yes, but it has the ring of truth and relevance.  Have you been keeping up with the news out of North Korea?  Or Iran?  Or ISIS?  The Biblical writers thought in terms of God bringing about a quick end to this earth.  They had no idea of the kind of apocalypse mankind itself would one day be able to unleash upon ourselves.

Image result for apocalypse images

     But even these apocalyptic passages in the Bible are not without “Good News.”  Jesus will sometimes refer to all those troubles as ‘birth pangs,’ that is to say, great pain, that is followed by great joy—good news (Mark 13:8, Matthew 24:8, and John 16:20-22) .  In Luke 21:28 Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Then Jesus he says, “When you see these things happening, you will know that the kingdom of God is at hand.”  More good news.  And even that strangest of all books, Revelation, contains also some of the most wonderful and promising imagery of heaven.  Still more good news.  But the bad news is always, also there, along with the clear message from Jesus that that is how it is going to be for a while– bad.  It’s going to be bad, and then it will get worse, he says.  Even the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

     The world as we know it, the security that we have worked for, the strength that we have– none of it will last very long.  The world, as we know it, is not what God had in mind, and it will one day be turned upside-down.  And that part is not good news to me.  I’ve worked my way into a little bit of stability and security, and I don’t care to get that all turned upside-down.  Not now anyway.  My wife and I like our house, our kids are doing fine, and retirement is within sight.  I am in a rut, and that is right where I want to be, and want to stay.  So the Bible’s apocalyptic literature is not my favorite Bible reading.  I’m looking forward to heaven when I die, and whenever God decides that should be, is fine with me.  But in the meantime, I don’t need anything getting turned upside-down.

     Methodist minister William Willimon was once asked to address the ladies’ group of his congregation on the question, “What does the book of Revelation have to say to us today?”  He was serving a well-to-do congregation out East and the meeting was to be held at the home of one of the congregation’s most well-to-do families.  The whole nation was doing well in those days.  There was peace, the economy was about as good as it gets, and his congregation was doing just fine; and he was doing great.  And it was a nice day, and they were meeting in the back yard of a two-million dollar home overlooking a beautiful river.  And there is nothing wrong with any of that, but he had to think long and hard about what he should say about such a dark and chaotic book, in such a serene and wonderful setting.

      Willimon decided to say this:  “What does the book of Revelation have to say to us here today?  Well, to put it simply, NOTHING—nothing we would want to hear, anyway.  This book was written for Christians in desperate times, threatening times, deadly times.  As for you, if you don’t have anyone in jail for their faith, if your world is not on fire and your life is not in danger and your day in not filled with endless turmoil; if all your hopes are not dashed, and your dreams in shambles, well, then, you might not get much out of this book.  Things are going pretty well around here,” Willimon said, pointing out the obvious, and then adding, “so it is going to be a bit of a reach for you to see as good news this message of Revelation that all hell is going to break loose one of these days, and the world as we know it is going to be upended.”

     “On the other hand,” he went on to say, “if you were on the run, hiding out in a cave in Nigeria, because Boko Haram terrorists just murdered your husband while you watched, and violated you, and burned down your village, and you still don’t know where half of your kids are; well then, you might be ready to hear, as a word of hope, this apocalyptic message from the last book of the Bible, that this present world is not what God had in mind; but, that God is not finished with it yet, and is right now on the move to break down what is, in order to one day build up something new.”

     What we see in apocalyptic literature, and how we hear it, all depends on where we are and how it is going for us here.  The situation in Nigeria is far closer than ours to the first century world of the New Testament.  (continued…)

Advertisements

1699) Advent (part one of three)

Mark 13:24-37  —  (Jesus said), “But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.  Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.  Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.   But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back— whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.   If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

*******************************

     The season of Advent anticipates the celebration of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth, born among the cattle and the straw in that Bethlehem stable.  The First Sunday in Advent usually speaks of Christ’s second coming, which will be at the end of time as we know it.  In the above reading, Jesus speaks of that time, saying, “In those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” 

     The world has changed a great deal since Jesus first spoke those words, but a few things have not changed at all.  The same sun has been burning brightly all those years.  The moon has, with great regularity, gone through its monthly cycle from new moon to full moon and back again to a new moon.  And, Jesus and the disciples looked out on the same stars in the night-time sky as we look out on.  But, says Jesus, make no mistake about it, even all of that will change when he comes again.  “At that time,” Jesus says in verse 26, “at that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” 

     Then, there will be no ‘silent night, holy night,’ with the wise men having to look all over for the baby Jesus.  And there will be no bewildered King Herod killing a whole village of little boys to get at the new king who he knew was born somewhere in the area, but could not be located.  No, the whole world will know then that Jesus has arrived.  You’ll know it, says Jesus, by the sun which will be darkened.  That is a clue that no one will be able to miss.  “The heavens and the earth will pass away,” said Jesus, which is to say, everything will change.  Only one thing will not be changed then, said Jesus, and that is that “my words will never pass away.”  And for those who had been listening, his words promised a new creation, and a place in that new creation for all who would believe in him.

     And so, says Jesus in the closing words of the text, “Watch, be on guard, be alert,” because no one knows when that time is coming.  And this is the sort of thing Jesus says every time he talks about these end times.  He says, ‘Watch,’ because it will happen suddenly; like a boss (Mark 13 above) who comes back unexpectedly and finds the work not done and everyone sloughing off.  Or in other parables, Jesus’ coming will be like a thief in the night, which no one ever expects; or like the bridegroom at a wedding feast who is late in arriving, and then finds half of the wedding party still not ready.  In all these parables, Jesus comes into the normal day to day routine of normal everyday people as a surprise, and many are not prepared to meet him.  So, Jesus says, “Watch, be on guard, and be alert.”  You might think your day to day lives and responsibilities and activities and investments are all that matters.  But all that will come to an end in an instant, suddenly, like the arrival of a thief in the night.  (continued…)

************************************

Related image

1698) The Biggest Interruption

Image result for 2012 movie images

—————————————-

     Jerry had a bad week.  There was some trouble at work, his car broke down on the highway costing him over a thousand dollars, and he had been worried about some tests at the doctor.  But then things settled down for Jerry.  The situation at work was resolved, the car was fixed, and the doctor said take some pills for a while and everything will be all right.  It was now Sunday afternoon, and Jerry was going to relax in front of the television and watch the Vikings game.  No sooner had he sat down and Jerry heard his wife’s frantic call from the basement– “Come quick.  Something is leaking and there is a foot of water down here.”

     Interruptions– don’t you just love them?  Actually, we kid ourselves if we expect that life will be made up of anything but interruptions.  “What is life?” pondered Mark Twain philosophically, before giving this profound definition: “Life is just one darn thing after another.”

     But isn’t that what keeps life interesting?  After all, what is it that makes a good story, a good book, or a good movie?  They all follow a similar format.  Things start out normal and pleasant, and then BOOM, something happens to interrupt the peace.  There is an accident or a conflict or a storm or some other ‘darn thing,’ and then for the rest of the story, the main characters are trying to pick up the pieces and put their lives back together again.  For example, consider the classic movie The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy’s normal, bland life on a lonely little farm in Kansas is interrupted by tornado, and Dorothy is carried off to a faraway magical land, filled with all kinds of dangers and interesting people.  For the rest of the movie she has many exciting adventures as she tries everything to get back to her boring life in Kansas.  So think about it:  would five generations of people have enjoyed that movie if all it consisted of was three hours Dorothy riding her bike back and forth to school and then doing her evening chores at home on the farm in Kansas?  Of course not.  The interruptions are indeed what makes movies, and life, interesting; not always pleasant, but interesting.

     The 2009 movie 2012 is about the biggest interruption of all– the end of the world.  The movie is great on special effects, but doesn’t have much else going for it.  The premise of the movie is that an ancient Mayan calendar predicted the world would end on December 21, 2012.  According to the movie’s marketing department and the History Channel, several other ancient prophecies pointed to the same date; so, we all should have been very worried.  According to the real experts on these things, not even the Mayan calendar really says this; and even if it did, so what?  What did they know about it?  Anyway, there are about 6 billion people killed off in this movie (which is even more than in the average Arnold Schwarzenegger movie), so the movie is about a very big interruption.

    I don’t think the Mayans knew anymore about the date of the end of the world than I do.  I am not even interested in Christian attempts at using the Bible to figure out the precise timing of the end.  But that this world will end is a scientific fact, and it is a clear Biblical doctrine.  The Bible, in fact, talks a great deal about the end of the world.  It says that the world will end when Christ returns.  

     Today is the first Sunday in Advent, that season of the Church year when we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ as a baby in the manger in Bethlehem.  But Advent always begins with the reminder that Christ will come again, and then the world as we know it will end.  When Christ came to earth the first time, he came in obscurity and only a handful of people knew about it.   But when Christ comes the second time, the whole world will know.  When Jesus came as a baby, many did not recognize him; but when he comes again, all will recognize and know him, both the good and the evil, both those who have believed in Him and those who have not believed.  When Jesus was here the first time, he allowed himself to be judged, but when he comes again, he will be the judge, — and we are often told in God’s Word to make sure we are prepared for that judgment.

     The problem with the movie 2012 is that it is all special effects and not much of a story.  Though the Bible’s account of the end of the world is short on details and comes with no special effects at all, it does something far more important.  The Bible places the world’s end in the context of a great story, the story of how all of God’s promises will be fulfilled, how Christ the Savior will return, and of how all those who died believing in him will rise from the dead to live with the Lord in heaven.

     The end of the world in the Bible is not by any means the end of the story.  It is, in fact, only the beginning of an even greater, more wonderful story.

*********************************************

Mark 13:8a…24-26  —  (Jesus said), “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines…”But in those days, following that distress, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

Mark 13:37  —  (Jesus said), “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Philippians 2:9-11  —  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

*********************************************

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed; and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

1697) Depression and the Grace of God

Related image

By Eric Metaxas, Novermber 30, 2017, at: http://www.breakpoint.org

     If you’re dealing with depression, you might as well know there are no quick fixes, but there is always God’s grace.

     Those who suffer from depression sometimes feel as if they’re all alone.  Take it from me—I felt that way because I have struggled with depression for years.

     According to the American Psychiatric Association, about one in fifteen adults experiences depression each year.  And one in six will be touched by the cold hand of depression at some point in life.  Women are more susceptible to depression than men, with one in three expected to have a major depressive episode in her lifetime.

     The APA calls depression “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. … Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.  It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”

     Even Christians get depressed, of course; as I mentioned, I’ve dealt with it.  It’s part of living in a broken and fallen world.  For a woman named Lily Burana, bouts of depression, anxiety, and insomnia began when she was a toddler, and being raised in a church did not make them go away.

     “My depression, still unnamed, deepened as I grew older,” she writes in a piece for Christianity Today.  “I became less interested in church, and by adolescence, depression, sarcasm, and cynicism had become my holy trinity, which might sound impressively edgy if it weren’t so miserable.”

     Eventually, Lily dropped out of school, and out of church, winding up in New York City’s East Village, where she hung out with an assortment of what she calls “freaks, losers, ragers, and least-of-these-ers.”  Lily says she began a journey that landed her somewhere between “spiritual but not religious” and “New Age dilettante,” as she tried paganism, yoga, and agnosticism.  But nothing satisfied her bright mind or tamed her gnawing depression.

     “But a few years ago,” Lily writes, “when a dangerously deep and rocky depressive spell had me in its grips, I teetered on the brink of suicide.  Even with the cosmetic appointments of a full and happy life—husband, family, health, career—I felt desperate, alone, scarred, stained, and worthless.”

     That’s when God broke through—not by miraculously erasing depression as if it were a stray pencil line, but by gently speaking to her heart.  Biblical teaching and fellowship reminded Lily that not only did God love her—He accepted her.  Dialing back the self-condemnation, she began a process of being “restored by grace.”  She’s on a journey of healing now, saying, “[I]t feels like comfort, acceptance, and resilience.  A place to retreat, to just sit, breathe, and be.”

     Lily still battles depression, and uses medication to help control the dark moods.  “But I can’t lay full credit for my wellbeing at the feet of Big Pharma,” Lily says, “for nothing has helped me recover more than receiving God’s grace.”

     Lily says that depression threw her into God’s arms, so let me ask you—has it thrown you into His arms?  Let’s stop with all the facades.  Depression is an unwelcome fact of life for many of us.  But being depressed doesn’t mean your faith in the Lord is defective.  It can be an invitation to present your pain as an offering to the One who understands that pain better than anyone.

     As Marshall Segal of desiringGod.org writes, “While many are lost to their depression—helplessly wandering in their own darkness—Christians have somewhere to turn, truths to rehearse until our hearts catch up with the faith in our minds.  Not only did Christ save and deliver the brokenhearted, but he experiences all the pains and temptations we face and more.”

     So if you’re depressed, please, please remember you are not alone.  It’s okay to show others your hurt.  And hear me: There is no shame in seeking professional help.  I certainly have.  And know that God sees and promises to meet you in your hurt with His love and grace.

—————-

See also:

A Punk Rock Rebel Returns to Church
Lily Burana| Christianity Today | October 20, 2017

***************************************************

Matthew 27:46  —  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Psalm 34:18  —  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 147:3  —  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

II Corinthians 1:8-10  —  We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.

***************************************************

PSALM 30:1a…2-3…5b…11-12:

I will exalt you, Lordfor you lifted me out of the depths…

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.  You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit…

Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning…

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.  Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

————————–

O Christ Jesus,
when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength.
Help us to trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power,
so that nothing may frighten or worry us,
for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand,
Your purpose, Your will through all things. Amen.

–Saint Ignatius of Loyola  (1491-1556)

1696) Amazing Church Growth

Image result for china bible  images

Posted November 30, 2017 athttp://www.opendoorsusa.org

     Eight men sat in a small dimly lit room in a rural Chinese village home.  Seven were preachers and their eyes were glued to the Bible held by the eighth man.  It was a leather-bound zippered Bible with gold-edged trim on the pages.

     The Western visitor suddenly became aware that the seven men were staring intently at his Bible.  One of them generated enough courage to say, “What a beautiful Bible.  May I look at it for a moment?”

     “Of course,” he replied.  The Bible was gently handed from person to person as though it was made of eggshells.  They asked how much it cost.  And their faces fell when they learned it was the equivalent of twenty dollars.

     Then the visitor received an inspiration.  He decided to make this a personal ministry project.  The qualification for receiving one of these Chinese Bibles should be so high that these leaders would be inspired to greater achievement.  Yet, at the same time ensure that he would not need to provide a great number.

     He told them, “If a person is mightily used by God, then I will bring him one of these Bibles.”

     “What do you mean mightily used of God?” the preachers queried eagerly.

     Thinking fast he replied, “Those who have led at least 10,000 people to the Lord and discipled another 10,000.”

     To his astonishment the preachers burst out laughing.  They said, “Oh, this is too easy.  There are five of us here who can now qualify for your zippered gold-edged Bible, and we know ten more.”

     After his trip the visitor chuckled, “I’m bankrupt.”  But more seriously he added, “I’ve been working in China with house church leaders for many years.  But one thing never changes… I am literally taken by surprise during each visit at how fast the church is growing.”

******************************************

Acts 2:41  —   Those who accepted his (Peter’s) message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Isaiah 5:26  —  (The Lord) lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth.  Here they come, swiftly and speedily.

II Peter 3:9  —  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

******************************************

Thank you Lord that Your church is continuing to grow quickly in China.

May that be a reality in my country as well. 

1694) Christ the King (part three of three)

Image result for god is love images

            (…continued)  Keller reminds his listeners that they grew up in a culture that has for centuries been grounded in and shaped by Christianity, and whether they know it or not, their idea of a God of love comes from the old, old story of Jesus and his love.  Such an idea is found nowhere else.  They may think they have rejected the Christian faith, even as they cling to its most basic precept: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  No one or no other book has ever told such a story.

            What is that story of God’s love?  It is the story of God himself, who left his perfect home in heaven, in order to join us in the messiness and sadness of life in this world, made wicked by our sin.  Jesus chose to be born in the most humble of circumstances, grow up as a normal child, and then for three years teach his message to the world.  Jesus spent his time with the poor and downtrodden and sinners of every kind.  Young and idealistic New Yorkers like that.  And then would get Jesus in trouble with the both the religious and political establishment.  They like that too.  But Jesus would not back down; they like that too.  And so Jesus went to the cross, and his first words from the cross were words of reconciliation and peace, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And Jesus turned to the repentant thief on the cross next to him, another outcast, and said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

          Jesus was inclusive of all, and welcoming to all.  And Keller’s 20-something New Yorkers like that too.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus was open to those of every age and race and nationality.  But to everyone he said, “Come to me.”  He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  He said, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in me should not perish but have everlasting life.”  And then Keller tells them how Jesus rose from the dead, and why they can believe that really happened, and how that validates everything Jesus said and did.  And he tells them that is why we should listen to everything Jesus says, whether we like it or not.  If Jesus is God, we should listen up; and they do.

          You are right, Keller says, God is love.  But we’ve heard that from Jesus and from no one else.  In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we see the suffering, sacrificing love of God.

          Forgiveness always has a cost.  There is always pain when someone must be forgiven.  You know that if you have ever had to forgive someone who has hurt you.  In the agony of Jesus on the cross we see made visible the suffering that is always in the heart of God over the unfaithfulness of the people he created.

          Keller invites his cynical, young New Yorkers to let him know if they can find such love of God anywhere else.  They can’t, and they come by the thousands to find and worship Jesus in that congregation that still proclaims that truth.

          Christ is the King, for all time and in all places, even in New York.  Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.

***************************************

I John 4:7-19  —  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.

Matthew 11:28  —  (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

John 14:6  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

Philippians 2:5b-11 —  Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

***************************************

Jesus loves me this I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

1693) Christ the King (part two of three)

Image result for timothy keller images

Timothy Keller  (1950- )

—————-

            (…continued)  Timothy Keller is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America, the more conservative of the two largest Presbyterian denominations.  In 1987, he moved to Manhattan to try and start a new church for a largely non-churchgoing population.  During the research phase of the new church start, he was told by almost everyone that it was a foolish attempt.  Keller was moderately conservative, New Yorkers were liberal and edgy.  Church meant traditional families, the city was filled with singles and ‘non-traditional’ families.  Church meant belief, but Manhattan was the land of skeptics, critics, and cynics.  The middle class, the usual market for the church, was fleeing the city because of rising costs.  That left the wealthy, the sophisticated, and the hip, most of whom just laughed at the idea of church.  The congregations that were in the city were dwindling, most barely able to even maintain their buildings.

            People also told Keller that the few congregations that were hanging on had done so by adapting their message to a more modern crowd.  He was told that he must not tell New Yorkers they have to believe in Jesus, because that is considered narrow-minded there.  Church consultants were convinced Keller was a fool when he told them he was going preach traditional, historic, orthodox Christianity.  He was going to teach the infallibility of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and the necessity of conversion to faith in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior—all doctrines considered hopelessly outdated by the majority of New Yorkers.  He was also told by the experts that he would need to liven up the worship service with a contemporary music and an informal order of service; and, a few dancing bears, magicians, strobe lights, and other gimmicks wouldn’t hurt.  Keller said he planned to do the traditional liturgy with organ music and old hymns.  New Yorkers said, “fuggedaboutit.”

            Nevertheless, Keller started Redeemer Presbyterian Church from scratch, and within 20 years it had grown to more than 5,000 attendees, along with spawning more than a dozen satellite congregations in the immediate metropolitan area.  The churches are multi-ethnic, diverse, young (average age 30), and two-thirds of the members are single.  The church in America is not dead, and that old-time religion can still speak and change hearts.

            One of the things Keller does is he engages in conversation with his young and cynical attenders.  He takes their questions seriously, and then he responds with questions of his own.  Let me give you an example relating to this morning’s theme.  Many young New Yorkers would consider offensive the very idea of Christ as King.  First of all, the image of a King is too authoritarian for them, too much like the establishment.  Second of all, it is too male-oriented; as is the rest of the Bible, they say, seeing no room for their strident feminism.  And why all this emphasis on Christ in the first place?  Sure, Jesus might have been a good guy, but what about all the other religious leaders?  They say Christians act like they are the only ones who have the truth.  And what about this dying on the cross business?  If God wanted to forgive everyone, why didn’t he just say, “Okay, you are off the hook,” and leave it at that?  And what does one man’s death on a cross 2,000 years ago have to do with me today?  Besides, there are too many rules in Christianity.  Why can’t it just be me and God?  I have God in my heart and God is love and isn’t that enough?  Oftentimes someone will say ‘God is Love,’ as if that settles it once and for all.

            Keller will commend them for their questions and their interest, and then continues the conversation with questions of his own.  He will ask, for example, “What makes you think God is a God of love?  Where have you heard that?  On what do you base that belief?”  Then the conversation slows down a bit.  Responses do not come as quickly as the questions, and the best he usually gets is something like, “Well, it’s just true, God is love—everyone knows that.”

            Keller will then say, “No, not everyone does know that or believes that at all.  What makes you think so?  Is it obvious from the world around you that God is love?  It doesn’t look that way to me– not without the Bible to explain a few things.  Should we trust what the ‘God in our heart?’ tells us?  The God in some people’s hearts tell them to kill other people.  In what religion of the world do you see a God of love?  Buddhism teaches a way of life, but not a god of love.  Hinduism says the universe is god and god is the universe, so again, no god of love.  Islam proclaims an all-powerful, all-knowing god that gives everything and determines everything, but definitely not a personal god of love.  Where do you get the idea that God is love?  Liberal New Yorkers might be all for that, but most people in the world don’t see God that way at all.

            And then Keller reminds his listeners that they grew up in a culture that has for centuries been grounded in and shaped by Christianity, and whether they know it or not, their idea of a God of love comes from the old, old story of Jesus and his love.  Such an idea is found nowhere else.  They may think they have rejected the Christian faith, even as they cling to its most basic precept: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  No one or no other book has ever told such a story. (continued…)

–Tim Keller tells the story of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in his 2008 book The Reason for God:  Belief in an Age of Skepticism.  His conversations about how we can know God is a God of love can be found in chapter five of that book.

1692) Christ the King (part one of three)

Christ the King Sunday sermon, November 26,2017.

—————————-

John 18:33-37  —  Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  …  “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” …  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”  …  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”  …  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.  In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

**************************

            In Matthew 20 there is this story: “The mother of Zebedee’s sons (James and John) came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling down, asked Jesus for a favor.  ‘What is it you want?’ Jesus asked.  She said, ‘Grant that my two sons may sit at your left and at your right when you come into your kingdom.’  (It was clear by then that Jesus was going to be a king of some sort, and she wanted her sons to be at the highest places of authority, in the seats right next to the king.)  And Jesus said, “You don’t know what you are asking.”

          Remember that line.  I will be coming back to it.

            From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, many people had high expectations of him.  It is not surprising that they looked for him to be some kind of earthly king.  They hated Roman rule, and they hated the cruel King Herod who the Romans had put over them.  They had heard about the glory days of good King David, and the prophets seemed to have foretold the return of such a kingdom of peace and justice, free from foreign rule.  And when Jesus arrived, the first thing he said was, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”  The people’s plans for Jesus are made clear in John 6:15 where it says, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  Jesus had something else in mind.

            Those words are near the beginning of John’s Gospel.  This morning’s text (above) is from near the end.  Pilate is questioning Jesus about this very thing.  The Jewish leaders, who want Jesus out of the way, accuse him of claiming to be a king.  That would be treason, and if guilty of that, Pilate would have to have him executed.  So Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king.  Jesus, unconcerned about the power this Roman governor has over his life, gives Pilate the run-around and never does give him a direct answer.  But what Jesus does say, and what was at the heart of his message, is in verse 36; “My kingdom is NOT of this world; my kingdom is from another place.”

            The conversation continues.  Pilate, the most powerful man in the region, seems weak and confused before Jesus, the handcuffed prisoner.  Pilate first declares Jesus innocent; but then caves into the pressure of the crowd and the religious leaders to have him killed.  And that very afternoon, Jesus is sent out to be executed by crucifixion, and, to be named the King of the Jews.  John 19:19 says Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross.  The notice read; “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” It was written in three languages so everyone could read it.  Today is Christ the King Sunday.  It was on the cross that Jesus was first declared king.

        Think back now to the words of Jesus to James and John, whose mother wanted them to be at Jesus right and left when he became king.  Jesus had said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Well, it is here that Jesus was proclaimed king.  The sign said so; that sign posted over his broken and bleeding body, hands and feet nailed to a cross.  And who was on the right and left of Jesus?  Not James and John, (lucky for them), but two thieves, also nailed to crosses, bloody and battered, with the life draining out of them.  I wonder if the brothers were then thinking back to their mother’s request, a request they were in full agreement with.  They might have thought it was a good idea at the time, but not anymore.

            We don’t know what prompted Pilate to put that sign over Jesus head, declaring him King of the Jews.  It was probably just to irritate the Jewish leaders.  They were irritated and asked Pilate to change it.  He refused.  Or perhaps it was just in scornful derision of the whole business, declaring a dying man king over a people he despised.  But then again, Pilate really did seem intrigued by Jesus, and perhaps putting up that sign was a statement of Pilate’s respect for this good and courageous and noble man, with whom he had one powerful conversation.

            But for whatever reason the sign was put there, it did proclaim the truth.  Jesus was, and still is, the king of the Jews– and the Romans, the Africans, the Americans, the Russians, the North Koreans, the Arabs, and everyone else has ever lived.  We now know what those at the cross that day did not yet know, that Jesus, though dying, was only beginning his rule, and would rise from the dead triumphant over death and over all creation.  And somehow, by that death on that cross, we are forgiven or our sins, made right with God, and promised eternal life in heaven; all, if only we will believe it.  The cross was not the end of the story, but only the beginning of all what it would mean that Christ is King.  I’ll get back to that.  (continued…)

Related image

1691) No More Chains

From:  http://www.opendoorsusa.org

     El Gasim, an African Muslim, saw the sign of the cross one day while praying the usual five times a day in the prison where he was incarcerated.  He changed positions but the cross wouldn’t go away.  This went on for seven days.  He had no explanation for it, except that Christ was calling him to give his life to Him.  A Christian pastor, also in that prison, explained that living for Christ would not be without suffering.  They prayed together.
 
     Other Muslim inmates saw El Gasim praying one day with another Christian prisoner and reported them to the authorities.  When summoned to the superintendent’s office, they openly declared their faith in Christ and received twenty-five lashes each.  The other prisoner denied his new faith, but El Gasim confessed Christ and said he would face the consequence, no matter what.  This enraged the authorities.  He was beaten, shackled in chains weighing over fifty pounds and put on death row to be hanged. 

     The imprisoned pastor had great compassion for El Gasim, knowing that if God did not intervene, he was surely staring death in the eye.  He told him the story of Paul and Silas in prison, reminding him that he wasn’t the first to be beaten and chained for the sake of Christ.  The important thing to remember was that Paul and Silas prayed and praised God, and their chains fell off and the prison doors opened.  The pastor confirmed that it could still happen today, because the power that worked then, was still at work today.  They prayed together, earnestly seeking God’s will.
 
     The pastor retired to his room and continued praying.  In the meantime, El Gasim, who then felt encouraged by the sharing, took a first step and to his surprise, the unexpected happened—the chain broke loose and fell from one of his legs.  Bystanders, whose attention were drawn by the sound of the falling chain, watched in amazement as he took the second step—the same thing happened.   A miracle had happened right before him and his other inmates.  El Gasim went to the warder and told him, “Your chains are in the chapel; go and collect them.”
 
     Trembling and confused the warder informed his superiors of this strange occurrence.  An emergency meeting was convened.  The incident could not be ignored or laughed off as nonsense.  There were too many witnesses.  They decided that it would be best to let El Gasim go free, because if he stayed he would certainly convert others to Christianity.  Sending him to another prison wouldn’t help either, because even there they couldn’t stop Christ from doing miracles.  

     El Gasim was released.

**********************************

Acts 16:22-34  —  The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.  After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.  When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Related image

**********************************

 PRAYER FOR PRISONERS:

Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal.  Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment.  Remember all prisoners and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future.  When any are held injustly, bring them release…  Remember those who work in these institutions;  protect them, keep them human and compassionate, and save them from becoming brutal or callous…  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978 (#186).

1690) Getting and Giving (part two of two)

Related image

   (…continued)  An hour later I sat in the sanctuary at the morning worship service.  I tried to concentrate, but my mind kept flashing back to the scene downstairs at senior breakfast.  What had happened on that cold, drizzly Sunday morning?

     Normally, I had to act as a kind of police force.  I watched for the street people who stuffed extra packets of sugar in their pockets and sneaked Styrofoam cups inside their coats.  I warned my kitchen volunteers not to leave anything unattended, as some of them had lost umbrellas, jackets, or purses.  I even patrolled the restrooms to make sure paper towels and toilet paper rolls were not stolen.

     The day of Charles’s visit was different.  Those same people, even the most indigent among them, were digging around in their purses and pockets for money to give away.  I saw their instincts reverse:  they emptied their pockets, instead of stuffing them full.  In the end, the senior citizens left the room much happier than when they had entered.  And so did I.

     As I mulled it over, I could come up with only one reason:  the joy of giving.  For once the seniors had an opportunity to give, not receive.  Are people somehow incomplete and unsatisfied unless they find a way to give to others?  Watching my seniors, I could not avoid that conclusion.  For most of them, living on small Social Security checks in public housing, society doesn’t offer much opportunity to give.  To live always on the receiving end must foster a peculiar kind of shame.  I saw before me the dramatic change that took place when they, too, had an opportunity to give.

     An intriguing verse in the book of Hebrews says, without much explanation, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Who knows, we might have entertained five angels in the basement of LaSalle Street Church that day.  They left with full stomachs, and smiles on their faces.  And they also helped 50 seniors learn about a joy they don’t get to experience much—the joy of giving.

Related image

***************************************

Hebrews 13:1-2  —  Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Acts 20:35  —  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Proverbs 22:9  —  The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

II Corinthians 9:6-7  —  Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Matthew 25:40  —  (Jesus said), “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

***************************************

Lord Jesus, who came not to be served by to serve, help us live useful lives.

Help us always to encourage, and never to discourage others; to be more ready to praise than to criticize; to sympathize rather than condemn.

Help us always to help, and never to hinder others.  Help us to make the work of others easier and not harder.  Help us to not find fault with the efforts of others unless it is our job to do so, or unless we are prepared to do the thing better ourselves.  Make us more ready to co-operate than object, and more ready to say yes than to say no when our help is needed.

Help us always to be a good example, and never a bad example.  Help us always to make it easier for others to do the right thing, and never make it easier for them to go wrong.  Help us always to take our stand beside anyone who is standing for the right.

Grant that our lives may be lights shining for you in this dark world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A Barclay Prayer Book, by William Barclay (1907-1978), page 244-245, (adapted).

Related image