First Sunday of Advent

6a00e550255d3c8833017d3e69afe8970c-320wiFirst Sunday of Advent (November 30, 2014)

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
    display your radiant glory
    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
    Come to rescue us!

Turn us again to yourself, O God.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved.
O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,
    how long will you be angry with our prayers?
You have fed us with sorrow
    and made us drink tears by the bucketful.
You have made us the scorn[a] of neighboring nations.
    Our enemies treat us as a joke.

Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved.

17 Strengthen the man you love,
    the son of your choice.
18 Then we will never abandon you again.
    Revive us so we can call on your name once more.

19 Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved.

It really is hard to believe that another church year has passed and we are on the cusp of another season of Advent.  This marks the eight time we have finished the course on this blog. This year we will be following Year B in the lectionary.  We started on year C in 2006.  For the next three years, we followed the readings from all the weekly readings and Pam or I wrote a devotional based on all three.  At the end of that cycle (a cycle being three years,) We looked at the Old Testament readings each week.  Then when we finished that cycle, we started our most recent trip looking at the Psalms.  When we are finished in 2015, we will have completed the Psalm cycle and will begin the Epistle cycle.

As you can tell, I love the seasonal nature of the church calendar.  I am looking forward to another journey through it.  I really want to try to blog more this year on the scriptures.  Over the last year I mainly just posted the scriptures, but hoping to get around to more devotionals this year and explanations of the church year.  I always start off well, but by Easter it all falls apart.

As I write this in the early morning hours – while much of the world is shopping for Black Friday deals – I am reminded what Advent is all about.  My body is recovering from a day of feasting that was Thanksgiving.  One of the most important things I want us to remember is that Advent is not Christmas.  Advent is a season of its own – it is a season of waiting – it is a season of preparation – in the past, it was a penitential season (the Christmas version of Lent) – a solemn time – meaning it was characterized by deep sincerity.  Don’t get me wrong. I love all the celebration of Christmas, We have even already been Christmas shopping…but it is so much more than a celebration….filled with lights…trees…presents.

Many years ago on this blog, I wrote about a Christmas party we had at church.  There would be a Christmas feast and then the congregation would share gifts with each other and with the pastoral family.   One of the teens who came as part of our van ministry showed up that night and was disappointed that she didn’t get anything – she said “I only came tonight for the presents.” Isn’t that the way that most of us approach Christmas?  We only do it for the presence and yet the great irony is that Christmas is all about the Incarnation – that God (in the person of Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us…as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message, “He put skin on and moved into the neighborhood.”  God desires to dwell among his people – it’s all about his presence and not about the presents.

I am determined more than ever this year to make sure it is more about the presence and not about the presents.  With that in mind, let’s take just a few moments to reflect on today’s passage from the Psalms.   Pam and I are preaching on Sunday, but will be using the Mark passage as the basis for our sermon.  We will also be reading from Isaiah during the Advent candle lighting.

The psalmist reminds us that we are sheep…it seems we are reminded about that quite a bit in the scriptures.  Then he asks the Shepherd to come save us…to show His mighty power.  We know that we are like sheep who have gone astray – this is a prayer for God to come rescue us.  As it applies to Advent – even now – we are longing for Jesus to come rescue us.  He asks us to be prepared for His coming.  How many were not prepared for His first coming?  Not many, but we do know of a few.  The very coming of God in the flesh was fulfilled in Jesus.  John reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.  The psalmist finishes this psalm with a call for God to shine His light on us.

We are in a world that needs light – a world that needs hope – we are a world that needs Jesus – and the world needs us to be Jesus to it.  Traditionally the first candle of Advent is the candle of hope – it is also the prophet candle – Isaiah the prophet foretells the coming of Jesus – the light of the world.  I love that Advent is symbolized by the candles that we light each week.  It reminds us that the Light of the World is coming again.

I want to encourage you this year to prepare your heart for his coming – for his advent – not only the celebration of his first advent in the celebration of Christmas, but make sure your heart is ready for his second advent.

The hymnwriter Isaac Watts wrote many years ago, “Let every heart prepare him room.”  Make room in your heart for Jesus.

A Day for Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving-HD-Desktop-Thanksgiving Day, USA (November 27, 2014)

  • First reading and Psalm
    • Deuteronomy 8:7-18
    • Psalm 65
  • Second reading
    • 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
  • Gospel
    • Luke 17:11-19

What mighty praise, O God,
    belongs to you in Zion.
We will fulfill our vows to you,
    for you answer our prayers.
    All of us must come to you.
Though we are overwhelmed by our sins,
    you forgive them all.
What joy for those you choose to bring near,
    those who live in your holy courts.
What festivities await us
    inside your holy Temple.

You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds,
    O God our savior.
You are the hope of everyone on earth,
    even those who sail on distant seas.
You formed the mountains by your power
    and armed yourself with mighty strength.
You quieted the raging oceans
    with their pounding waves
    and silenced the shouting of the nations.
Those who live at the ends of the earth
    stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
    you inspire shouts of joy.

You take care of the earth and water it,
    making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
    it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
    for you have ordered it so.
10 You drench the plowed ground with rain,
    melting the clods and leveling the ridges.
You soften the earth with showers
    and bless its abundant crops.
11 You crown the year with a bountiful harvest;
    even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture,
    and the hillsides blossom with joy.
13 The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep,
    and the valleys are carpeted with grain.
    They all shout and sing for joy!

While Thanksgiving Day shouldn’t be the only day we give thanks – it is great to take a break and give God the praise for what He has done for us and who He is.

Here in the US, Thanksgiving has traditionally been celebrated in November, but has a varied history as you can see by the following paragraph:

Thanksgiving in the United States was observed on various dates throughout history. From the time of the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln, the date Thanksgiving was observed varied from state to state. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century. Thanksgiving was first celebrated on the same date by all states in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. Influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday, Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states.[28] Because of the ongoing Civil War and the Confederate States of America‘s refusal to recognize Lincoln’s authority, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.

On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. Two years earlier, Roosevelt had used a presidential proclamation to try to achieve this change, reasoning that earlier celebration of the holiday would give the country an economic boost.

Lately, the way we go about starting our Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day has made me doubt Roosevelt’s motivations.  I encourage you to read through the above Psalm – perhaps right before your dinner tomorrow – and give God the thanks that he deserves.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Local Church Success

EvaluatingTheLocalChurch600Local Church Success – via David Santistevan

David writes a longer article – click on his name above to see the whole article.  All worship leaders from time to time get discouraged and he address that, but also he reminds us of what it takes to be successful in the local church context and here is what he shares.

Our ministry is to people, one at a time. We are worship leaders. We worship God, love God, pursue God. We also lead – effectively lead our congregations, not the inflation of our egos or simply the pursuit of more creativity.

We lead – pulling people by the hand, guiding, directing, spotlighting a glory outside ourselves.

I know it can be discouraging. Where you live not much encouragement, fame, or praise resides. You feel like the furthest thing from a superstar.

But what you’re doing week in and week out is changing lives. You’re creating an environment for people’s unanswered questions, unrelenting pain, and distracted hearts to find purpose.

You haven’t been called to make a difference from a distance. You’ve been summoned up close and personal – to lead God’s people, His children to pursue Him.

When you feel discouraged, know that influencing stadiums isn’t the only successful ministry. Influencing one life is just as celebrated in the halls of Heaven.

You, my friend, are a superstar in God’s eyes.

Keep loving. Keep serving. Keep doing the next right thing.

A Linchpin Parable

Today I received an education.  This city boy has never really been around farm equipment much.  My idea of power tools are a lawnmower, leafblower, and weed wacker.  I’ve spent some time around a drill and saw as well.  Last year our church acquired a snowblower to help clear the sidewalks and some of the long driveways and to help us get out when we had more than a few inches.  (Our van does not like the long hill coming up to the church.)  Last year I ran into some trouble with the snowblower.  As I was snowblowing, all of a sudden I lost traction.  I had power to one wheel but not the other.  I could also see that one of the wheels was trying to com off.  I tried to put a nail in the hole that was left, but to no avail, that nail broke with the pressure of the powered snowblower.  Some one else tried another tactic, but that is where we remained until today.

Staunton is currently under a Winter Storm Warning for tomorrow.  Depending on what weather site or channel you listen to we could have 1 to 3″ or 5 to 8″.  That’s a huge variable.  Needless to say, I want to make sure the snowblower is working.  I went out to the kitchen in our pavilion (where the snowblower is stored,) took the pin out (that was still working) and tried to figure out where to find a replacement.  I had looked around Lowe’s several times but couldn’t find what I was looking for in the snowblower parts.

pipe-linchpin-7993-2518467

Here is what a linchpin looks like.

I decided to try something else – we went to Tractor Supply Company.  It was a great little field trip.  We saw some great farm toys for our grandson.  We wandered around the store, not knowing where to look to find what we were looking for.  Finally there was someone in Customer Service.  I showed them the pin and they pointed me in the general direction.  Immediately I saw what I was looking for and it turns out what I had been looking for was a linchpin.  Apparently they are very common in the farming world.  It did turn out that they were out of stock of the particular size that I needed but were very helpful in suggesting that I go to the Augusta Farm Co-op.  That made two trips in one day to stores that I had never been in, but it was a fun adventure.  When we got to the co-op, we looked around and then a gentleman asked what we were looking for.  At least now I could answer with confidence, “I’m looking for a 1/4″ linchpin.”  He took us right to the spot.  Instead of buying just one, I bought three – two for spares.  The brass linchpin I believe will do the trick.

After purchasing the linchpins, we had to go to the bank, so while Pam was in the bank, I decided to Google what a linchpin was.

noun
  1. a pin passed through the end of an axle to keep a wheel in position.
  2. a person or thing vital to an enterprise or organization.

I had always heard the term linchpin, but never understood what it meant.  I knew it was important and now that I have two new linchpins installed on the church snowblower, I have a better understanding.  Several weeks ago, we sang the song God of the Ages, which is based on an early hymn of the church that we find in Colossians 1:15-20

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.[b]
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Check out verse 17 – 17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.

It came to me during our little adventure this morning that Jesus is the linchpin of creation, of humankind, and our lives.  This even got me to thinking a little more.  I though about the various jury-rigging, cobb jobs that we tried to fix the snowblower.  They didn’t fix it because they were not linchpins.  Only a linchpin could fix the problem and hold the wheel on the axle.

I think about how we as humans will look to everything but Jesus – we will try anything but Jesus, but it just doesn’t work.  Our lives are out of balance – just like the snowblower was when it didn’t have the linchpin in the axle.  I wasn’t able to get the job done.  The substitutes just kept on breaking.  It wasn’t until we got the real thing that the snowblower performed the way it should.

The same goes for our spiritual lives.  We try all kinds of things to “fix” our lives when really we need to look to the linchpin of Jesus.  He is the only one that can truly hold our lives together.