Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas in Newtown

Christmas in Newtown, CT, is certainly far different than anyone in that town expected.  The tragedy there is horrible and we should remember to pray for the town and for those families who have many gifts under their tree that will never be opened.  And that tragedy, of course, underscores the countless tragedies which occur all over the world – and sadnesses that I know even are in some of our own homes because of losses – losses of dreams, losses of loved ones, losses that often don’t make sense.


These are not reasons to stop celebrating Christmas.  The need for Christmas is not ruined by such tragedies.  The need for Christmas is only made more obvious – even as the murder of innocent children under the wicked Herod seeking to kill the Christ made more obvious of the need for Christ to come.  We need Immanuel.  We need God with us.  We need God to come down and in some amazing way that only He understands, carefully balance his holy threat to bring justice to a disobedient people and at the same time fulfill His promise to save them from their utter disregard for Him.  As a nation, we mourn the senseless murders in Newtown.  As a nation, let us also mourn our utter disregard for Jesus.


And so we come to worship Him again – not because there are no troubles, but because trouble has been swallowed up in victory.  Death has been swallowed up in victory – for all who are in Christ Jesus.  Our worship of God instructs us in our doubts and difficulties, strengthening us through our trials that we might obtain the great prize of our sanctification full and complete in Jesus – and our worship declares our faith in the faithfulness of Another, One in Whom all things are put right and will be put right – and His declaration through His Word and through His messengers, His disciples and ambassadors to the world to come and find peace – true peace with God and with men.  This is the only way, but thank God there is a way, for He has made the way.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Celebration of Incarnation

Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation – and the Incarnation means that God took on flesh and dwelt with us.  After Jesus came, all foods became clean.  After Jesus came, all the earth became holy and not simply the little place called Israel.  After Jesus came, all peoples received the blessing of Abraham and not simply those who were of the line of Abraham by blood.  After Jesus came, the world was remade.


Among other applications, this means that God likes stuff – the stuff of the earth.  There is nothing unclean in what you put in your mouth, in the land that you live on, in the family line you come from.  There is nothing unclean if you have faith – faith in the One who has made all things new.  There is a false teaching that if you become a Christian you have to stop enjoying the things of this earth.  That is not true.  In fact, what you are to do is enjoy more than ever the things your God created, the things your God has made new, the things your God has given to you to enjoy to the glory of His name.  You may not make an idol of any of these things – they must all be hated in comparison to the love you have for the Savior – but with love for your Savior you are to love your Savior’s redeemed and reconciled earth.  In fact, it is another form of idolatry to try and be “spiritual only” as though you only were a spirit now.  You are not – and because of the resurrection – you will not be – forever and ever after the resurrection.


So practice here – practice now – learn to eat and drink, to dress and build, to decorate and repair, to build and restore, to invent and write and sing, to lie down in a wonderful bed, get up and take a hot shower, pour yourself a cup of hot coffee – look out your window and say – He made it all for me and for His glory – and Amen.  Go decorate a cookie to the glory of God!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Worship Through Trials

As we gather to worship our great and good God, we do so in the midst of many trials and difficulties, many confusions, many uncertainties.  Some of those trials are personal, individual – maybe there are some that no one else even knows about but you today.  Some are familial and relational, some are financial, some are health related.


Some of the trials are of a more corporate nature, and we certainly have a new one today.  Today is the day when Washington State will witness its first sanctioned, official and public wedding ceremonies of same-sex marriages.


What should we be doing?  What are we to do with all of these difficulties?  The answer is found here – in the Lord’s Day Worship of God’s people.  Here we come and confess our sins and the sins of our people.  Here we beseech the God of mercy for mercy, the God of healing for healing, the God of answers for answers.  Here, we gather to be flayed open by His Word, opened, re-arranged, examined, and cleansed, transformed, instructed, rehabilitated, restored.  Here we gather and are granted the wisdom of the Lord, in Word and in Bread and Wine.


This is the place to start everything.  That is why this is the place to start the New Week – for this is the Day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and – in the midst of every named trial – be glad in it.  Let Him meet you here for He has promised to do so – and as you humble yourself before Him, as we humble ourselves before Him – He promises to lift us up. 


Then we will know – then we will be sent – then we will be able to serve – and bring heaven to earth

Friday, December 28, 2012

Advent Opportunities

As we come into the season of Advent, our preparation for the coming of the Messiah, our preparation to celebrate the Incarnation, we must remember that this is not for us to remember simply as individuals.  You might look forward to your own personal times of reflections upon the birth of the Messiah, or the comfort He brings to you as his child – as well you should.

But we are the people of God and not simply the individual children of God with no relation to one another.  As soon as we begin the work of living out our faith we find that we must do so in the context of the one anothers.  Love one another, pray for one another, be kind to one another, defer to one another, consider one another more important than yourself, forgive one another.


We are the people of God and this means that our celebrations as well as our trials are to be embraced in community with one another.  How are you celebrating the season of Advent and Christmas?  Immediately OTHERS should come to your mind.  Whose lives will you brighten with hope in days of darkness?  Who will join you around your table with sweet communion and fellowship?  Who lives near you and has no idea what to do about the darkness in their own lives – and here, God has given you another opportunity, another Christmas – to give a word of hope – a word of LIGHT – to just such a situation as theirs.


Our worship here is a time of public confession and profession. We are unashamedly declaring the crown rights of King Jesus over everything – and as we leave here we should live out echoing the same declaration in our words and actions.  So you are summoned to now come and worship – but you are summoned with the intent to then change the way you live out there as soon as we are done in here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Welcomed to Your Father's House

Everything about our worship of God finds its center in Jesus Christ.  We are not allowed to come to God the Father and call Him Father because we are His children.  We are summoned to come to Him as our Father because He is the Father of His Son.  We are only coming to Him as Father because we are found in His Son, we are in Christ.  And we are only in Christ if we have died with Him and have been raised to new life in Him.  And we are only in that new life if we have faith – and that faith is His gift to us – His grace.


We declare this relationship as we confess the Creed – I believe in one God, the Father…  And this is true for us even though we are Gentiles.  Isaiah had promised salvation for the gentiles when He wrote, “Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name – Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:5).”  God has not brought you into His house, into His family, and sort of allowed you to be a part of all that is going on.  You are not simply a beggar who has been brought in for a meal; you are not simply a guest who has been invited to stay for a while.  You are family – you are kin – you are the sons and daughters of God – no – you are better than that of sons and daughters – you have been given an everlasting name and you shall not be cut off.


How is it that you cannot be cut off?  Are you in Christ?  Have you died with Christ?  Do you believe in Christ?  Have you risen with Christ?  Then, you will be kept in Christ and Christ does not lose those who are His.  And this means that you may come and worship God as Father and not as some distant deity, some powerful but impersonal ruler.  It means you come as a beloved son or daughter, known and well-known by the perfect Father, the Almighty Father, the personal Father.  To come and worship is to come to Your Father’s house and to know and be known again, to relive through remembering and to rekindle hope through hearing of His promises again.  Come and worship Your heavenly Father.

The Magician's Twin

Here is a well done video on C.S. Lewis's views on scientism.  Well worth watching.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

No Room For Him

(Homily Preached on Christmas Morning, 2012)


For centuries it had been foretold.  The prophets had promised that a Savior would come.  There had been righteous kings, elders, rulers and common people who knew, believed, hoped this would happen.  There were women and children who believed, waited, anticipated.  And yet, when the time came, when the very day came for this King to be born, there was no room for Him.  This would be the way of Jesus the Christ.


Luke makes this strange little note to us on the story of the birth of Jesus – “and she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  This has become a quaint, sentimental, serene verse describing the Nativity.  But cut through the sentiment and you will find that this is the way of Jesus, the way of the kingdom of God in, over, and through this world.


It was time for Jesus to be born, and there was no place for Him to be born – no place among humans, the very people for which the Incarnation was necessary.  We are not told what went on at the inn, how Joseph and Mary were unable to find any place for Mary to be given to have her Child, what the circumstances were when this Inn-keeper had to say “no, I’m sorry, there is no more room.”  But, whatever happened, Mary found herself giving birth to her firstborn Son, the One conceived by the Holy Spirit, in a cave or in some animal shelter of some sort.  There was no cradle – there was only a feeding trough.  HE WHO would be the Bread of Heaven slept at first in a food tray for animals.


But this was the way of Christ.  There was no way for Jesus to be conceived in the normal fashion for there was no room for a sinless Man to be brought into the world solely through the line of the first Adam.  And yet, He had to be from the line of the first Adam in order to be a Man.  And so, God made a way.  There was no human proclamation of His birth – no birth announcement by relatives, no social media to send pictures.  But God made a way – He sent angels to announce to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night – and the stars joined with the angels in proclaiming the birth of the Messiah.


When Mary first heard that she was going to be with child, there was no room for her to believe such a thing, but God sent the angel Gabriel to tell her.  Joseph as well, had no room to believe such a crazy story until in a dream, God made a way by confirming what Mary had told Joseph to be true.


There continued to be no room for Jesus.  Months later, when wise men arrived from the East and announced that a star had led them to Bethlehem, Herod refused to allow such a declared King to threaten his rule and all the male children two years old and younger were murdered.  But God had made a way, warning Joseph in a dream again and allowing the holy family to flee to Egypt in the night. 


Some thirty years later, when Jesus began His ministry, being baptized by John, He went and preached in His hometown of Nazareth.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me” He read from Isaiah and told all those in the synagogue that day that these words were fulfilled now and that He was the fulfillment.  There was no room in Nazareth at that point for Jesus – there was no room for such truth and so they sought to throw Him over a cliff – but God made a way and Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on His way.


There was no room for Jesus as He travelled along in His ministry – so much so, that one time when a certain scribe asked if he could follow Jesus, Jesus responded, “foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  In fact, you would think the scribes and the Pharisees, the “keepers of the law” would have recognized that the very embodiment of the Law, the Word-made-Flesh, Immanuel, was before them.  They had studied and studied God’s Word, and yet, Jesus would say to them – “you search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they that testify of Me.”  But there was no room in their theology for Jesus – there was no room in their self-righteousness for Christ – there was no room in their law-keeping for One who would Judge them for their well-hidden sin.


Jerusalem, the home of the Temple of Yahweh, the House Built for His name, should have had all of the room in the world for the very One that had made this city famous.  And yet, when Jesus went to Jerusalem, there was no room for Him.  Not only did they condemn Him to die – even His crucifixion took place outside the city – at the place of the Skull and right beside a city garbage dump.


This was Jesus, the Son of God, and there was no room for Him – no room for Him in the inn, no room for Him in Nazareth, no room for Him in Jerusalem – no room for Him in this world – anywhere.  And this was just the way God wanted it.  This was no thwarting of God’s plans, no victory over Christ’s ministry nor His purposes to become the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Rejecting Jesus never keeps Jesus away  in the end.  We are not celebrating the birth of a man who hoped to become King of Israel only to be tried in a kangaroo court and murdered by thugs dressed in priestly robes and Roman uniforms.  We are celebrating the birth of King who turned the world upside down, because that world was upside down – lost in its darkness, lost in its sin.


There was no room in the world for Jesus – which is exactly why Jesus came to remake the world.  There was no room in the sons and daughters of Adam for a Savior – which is exactly why Jesus came to regenerate these same sons and daughters, bringing forth objects of wrath and by the power of His resurrection, making them objects of His mercy and love, people of His delight and affection, brothers and sisters with Him before His holy Father in heaven.


Jesus was promised the world, all the nations – and in Pontius Pilate and the Jewish leaders, the world, all the nations, Jew and Gentile alike, rejected Him.  There was no room for Him.  But when He rose from the dead, when He ascended to His Father’s right hand, when He sent His Holy Spirit, He was declared to be the One who had created all things – all room – and had redeemed all things – all room – for Himself.


We see this same scenario played out over and over in the life of the church.  Wherever Jesus is faithfully proclaimed, we are told there is no room for Him.  Presently, in our country, we are told there is no room for Him in our public places, in our civic buildings, in our government schools – our fear of catching Jesus-cooties if we overhear His name or prayers to Him or the singing of His praise – is as silly as our fear of second-hand smoke drifting over the fence of some neighbor’s yard.  The world hates both – but the world particularly hates the name of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas.  It always has, it always will.  This is its curse, this is the consequence of its unbelief and rebellion – this is the state of things.  But this is why Jesus was born in a stable – this is why He was rejected of men – this is why He died on the cross – He has come and He has redeemed to Himself the nations of men.  There was no room for Him, but now there is all the room in the world for Him for He has redeemed the world.  He bought it.  He purchased it.  He owns it all.


And this is why we must still say “Merry Christmas” with all the trimmings.  This is why we must still proclaim “Jesus is Lord” even when we are told to shut up.  This is why we must pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God even when it is uncouth in the public eye.  When we hear that there is no room for Him, no room for this kind of thing, in such and such a place, it is the same sad story  and we must refuse to comply.  We must do so winsomely and with great faith – with our eyes to the life, death, and resurrection of the One for Whom there was never any room.  Because, we know, of course there was no room in the world – that is why He has remade the world – that He might bring salvation to that world.


Isaac Watts would pen these words –

Joy to the world, the Lord is come – let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare Him room – and heaven and nature sing.


No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground

He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.


He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.


O, but there is room.  For He has made room.  For He has remade all things.  He will have the nations – and this morning – He would have your heart, your devotion, your praise.  Some would ask you if there is room in your heart for Jesus – and it is commanded of you to make room – but you know there is no room – no room in your heart.  Some would invite you to make room for Jesus in your heart – they would say that He stands at the door of your heart and pleads to be allowed in.  Such talk is nonsense, you say – and you are right.  But it is nonsense for reasons you did not expect.  Jesus isn’t inviting.  Jesus already knows there is no room in your heart, your unconverted heart for Him.  That doesn’t stop Him from coming – it never has – it never will.  Jesus has come – and every knee will bow, every tongue confess.  Jesus has come and so every curse will be overturned.  Jesus has come and so all things are made new.  Jesus has come and He is not asking you to make Him Lord – He is declared to be Lord, even the son of God – not because you have said anything.  It didn’t have anything to do with you.  What then must you do?  Well, what do you do at Christmas when you are given a gift from a well-wisher, from someone who loves you – you have already received gifts this Christmas, you probably have more gifts waiting for you at home or at the relatives.  What will you do with that gift?  You can’t declare it to be a non-gift.  You have no power over it.  You might say you can refuse the gift – but refusing the gift doesn’t make it not a gift.  There it is.  There it remains.  The salvation of the world has come and it is outside of you – it has nothing to do with you – it will not respond to you saying that it has or hasn’t come.  It is joy to the world. 


And this gift is your new heart.  You don’t decide if you want a new heart – it is decided for you.  You didn’t decide if you wanted that old, unbelieving, stiff-necked heart – and you don’t get to decide if you want the new heart, the one that believes, loves, and responds to the gospel of grace.  Behold, you have a new heart.  Here – take it – receive it – or rather, realize that you have received it for it has been placed in you – by the work of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to make room for it.  God already did that.  God already took care of that.  God sent Jesus when there was no room for Him and God made the room.  For those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts that now believe – Merry Christmas!


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Short Homily for the Providence Christmas Concert

“For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the LORD.” –
This evening, we have the privilege as parents, relatives, and friends of these students of Providence, to hear the performance of a Christmas concert.  It is hardly unusual to have a concert this time of year in schools throughout our nation.  It is, however, becoming a rarer and rarer thing to actually have a concert which honors the birth of Jesus Christ and celebrates the season of Advent and Christmas.
But Providence is a Christian School and as such, we have the freedom to have a Christian concert and unashamedly proclaim the truth of the Savior of the nations.  That is wonderful – and for that we give great thanks.

And so we have wonderful music and a wonderful theme to enjoy.  But there is something else – something else which is very important.  As a parent at Providence for more than 13 years now, I can tell you that this is a different kind of Christian school – and one of those differences, a distinction – is that you will find that the staff and the students truly love the Lord Jesus Christ – it is apparent in our culture.  Now, I cannot peer into hearts and I certainly do not personally know each and every student here – but I can confidently say that, on the whole, you are listening to children who love Christ and who are growing in their love and knowledge of Him.
That said, here is the important extra to a concert like this at Providence.  These students are not simply performing for you – they are giving something to you.  This is a Christmas gift of sorts from them to you.  It is Christ the Lord.  It is the Babe who was born of a virgin and placed in a manger because there was no room for Him in the Inn.  It is the Man who, 33 years later, would suffer and die by means of crucifixion – the God-Man who, as the Head of the new Humanity, would suffer death for all who would put their faith in His death and die in Him – and bring resurrection life to all who would put their faith in His resurrection life and find new life in Him.
This is not simply a concert.  It is a gift.  It is a gift of forgiving love, of eternal hope, of the power of lives changed by the Person of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – the Spirit of Christmas.  As they are about to sing – consider these words – they really mean them – and they mean to proclaim them to you…

1. On Christmas Night all Christians sing,
to hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy news of great mirth,
news of our merciful King’s birth.
2. Then why should men on earth be so sad,
since our Redeemer made us glad
When from our sin He set us free,
all for to gain our liberty?

Welcome to Jesus Christ, and Merry Christmas