Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is God with Us?

The final Sunday in Advent 2010 reminds us that Immanuel - God is with us. This is something we find encouraging, but challenging as we struggle to understand what this means. Think of the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 3:8 God comes to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. In earlier Genesis passages we overhear regular discussion between God and Adam. Before sin entered the world the relationship between God and man was close and intimate.

Sin brought separation. Sin brought stress in the relationship between God and man. Sin causes man to wonder if God cares. Sin causes man to wonder if God is even there.

In Isaiah 8:8,10 the prophet tells us the Messiah will be called Immanuel and the people of Israel must have wondered what this would mean. They were far from God when this prophecy was delivered. Many of them had rejected God and pursued their own gods. They were all facing a time of suffering as a punishment for their disobedience. As foreign armies invaded their villages and took them captive they must have felt alone and isolated from God. We’ve all been there. We’ve felt depressed and cut off. To hear the prophet declare that God would be with them should have brought them hope. To some it did. To many, though, it did not. They were too far from God to care.

The 400 years from the close of the Old Testament to Jesus was an age where the Heavens were still. It wasn’t that God had nothing new to say. Instead, He was calling His people to remember the covenants, prophecies and writings that had brought them to this point in their relationship with Him. All the while He was preparing to fulfill His promises.

One fall night as shepherds were grazing their sheep on a hillside near Bethlehem angels appeared in overwhelming brilliance. It was time for the promise to be fully revealed. Immanuel was born. He was really here.

It was an unlikely birth. In an unlikely place. To unlikely people. Yet the promise was being fulfilled. Immanuel was a reality.

Throughout the Gospels, God was with us. He ate with us. Talked with us. Walked with us. Healed us. Taught us.

Then, one day He died for us. And three days later He rose for us.

There was another promise, though, that told us we weren’t to a place of permanent Immanuel. We read it in John 14. Though He left physically - for the time being - He promised He would still be with us. It was so important He repeated it moments before He ascended back in Heaven. Jesus says in Matthew 28 He will be with us always.

Immanuel is hard to grasp because Jesus is not taking lunch appointments today. He doesn’t have an office downtown with a lobby where we sit and wait to talk with Him. But still, He is Immanuel.

The Holy Spirit is our Immanuel. Praying with us. Teaching us. Disciplining us. Helping us.

The promise is very much still true. God is with us. Immanuel.

Though it may be hard to understand. It is reality. You can know Immanuel and feel the effects of this relationship. Through His word, His church and His Spirit - God is with us. Seek Him today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Great Healer

The third week of the 2010 Advent season is upon us. This week we are focusing on how Jesus heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk, and restores mobility to the lame. There are countless stories in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of Jesus restoring the health of those that were close to Him, those that He passed by along the road and those brought to Him while He was teaching. The healing ministry of Jesus Christ was a significant part of His earthly ministry.

It was important for two reasons. First, death, decay and sickness are all a part of the curse that rests on humanity because of our rebellion against God. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were escorted outside of God’s close presence because of their disobedience. But the Bible tells us that sin has even more effect on us that separation from God. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8 that all of creation is groaning to be free of this decay and deterioration. In addition, in that chapter Paul says the creation, which includes people, has been subjected to futility that leads to an ongoing cycle of decay in all of creation. Finally, in Romans 6 we learn that the wages of sin is death. When Jesus healed people He was showing His authority over sickness. Even more, He was showing that He has authority over sin and has ability to take away our sin.

The healing of Christ is also important because it shows His character. On more than one occasion we see Jesus very emotional when He was healing the sick or raising the dead. This matters because it shows us that Jesus cares about us. God loves the people of the world and desires to show sympathy to them. Through the healings Christ performed we learn about the love of God.

It was a combination of His power and His love that took Him to the cross. It was there Jesus died as a substitute for us. He took the consequence of our sin upon Himself at the cross as He suffered and died in our place. At the cross He accomplished more than just physical healing, He brought the healing needed to overcome the eternal consequence of sin.

Many people live as if cancer, heart disease or other illnesses are the end of the world. In one sense they can be as they may lead to death. And if this world is all you’re counting on then it will be the end of your world. But the Bible clearly teaches there is more than this life. In John 14 and 1 Corinthians 15 we clearly read that there will be a resurrection of the followers of Christ to be with Christ forever. The resurrection will be ultimate and eternal healing that we all long to receive.

As Christmas approaches, worship the Savior born in a manger that came to heal the sick. He heals the body and the soul.

Change Your Ways

This is the second week of the 2010 Advent season and this week we focus on the change that God has called us to make in our lives. It is a change from a life of sin to a life of love and dependence upon God. It is a change that only God can enable and, ultimately, only He can accomplish in our lives. Yet, we are called to join fully and wholeheartedly with Him in this change.

The Son of God was born in the manger to bring more than wisdom and moral teaching to the world. As good as those things are, Jesus brought something that is gloriously impossible for humans to accomplish. That is the changing of a human heart so that we live lives that are pleasing in God’s eyes.

When we think of our sin, as mentioned earlier, we need to think beyond just a list of do’s and don’ts. Too often people think of the Christian faith as simply trying to appease God by doing more things that they believe will make Him happy versus what they believe will anger Him. The Christian faith is about much more than this. It is about realizing that God is our Creator and He has made us for a purpose. That purpose is to be in relationship with Him and to find our greatest joy in knowing and loving Him. We confuse this when we simply treat God as if He is the great warden in the sky who will zap us when we disobey beyond His level of tolerance.

What is sin? Sin is placing anyone or anything in God’s place in our life. John Calvin said the heart is an idol factory and humans are experts at idol manufacturing. Idolatry is replacing God on the throne of your life and putting something else there. Perhaps you’ve put yourself there. Maybe you’ve put accomplishments or possessions there. You might have put a relationship in that place. What does your life ultimately rotate around? That is your ruler.

The Bible calls us to a right relationship with our Creator, which includes Him being the Lord of our lives. To come to this point we need to repent of our idol work. Repenting is more than saying we’re sorry, though. Repenting is seeking God’s forgiveness and turning away from our wrong attitudes or actions. We turn toward Christ. It is through faith and dependence upon Him that we are able to live a life that is pleasing to God. The Bible says God will punish our sins. Jesus took the punishment for those that will believe in Him when He was crucified and offers forgiveness to those who will receive it. He is the Savior and Redeemer for the world! When we trust in Christ’s work of forgiveness at the cross and empty tomb (Easter) we are able to see real change begin in our lives.

To continue this change God has given wonderful gifts in His Holy Spirit, His Word and the local church to come alongside us. This Christmas receive the gift of a changed life that God gives to show you grace and joy.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Preparing to Eat

This Sunday - the second Sunday of Advent 2010 - we are preparing to take the Lord's Supper together. It is a special and sacred time when we remember what the church has been remembering for nearly 2,000 years.

We will remember and rejoice in the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. We will remember our hope. There is a stern warning, though, as we approach the Lord's table. Paul passes it along in 1 Corinthians 11,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. [28] Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. [29] For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. [30] That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. [31] But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. [32] But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
(1 Corinthians 11:27-32 ESV)

As we prepare our hearts to take of the Lord's Supper may we pray as David did in Psalm 139,

[23] Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
[24] And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

As we search our hearts may we also have courage to take action. Such as David did in Psalm 51,

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
[2] Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

[3] For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
[4] Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
[5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
[6] Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

[7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
[8] Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
[9] Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
[10] Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
[11] Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
[12] Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

[13] Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
[14] Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
[15] O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
[16] For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
[17] The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

[18] Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
[19] then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(Psalm 51 ESV)

May we do the work of preparing our hearts as we approach the Lord's table this Lord's Day.