Pastor's Blog

December 2018

A Voice of Comfort for Today

A number of years ago a teenage daughter made some mistakes. She went out with some friends her parents didn’t approve of. She stayed out past her curfew. And during a late night joy-ride, totaled a friend’s car and wound up in the emergency room with some pretty bad bumps and bruises. And while she lay there in that hospital bed, the only thought that kept coming back to her was what her father was going to do to her and how much she had disappointed him and mom.

Later that morning Dad came back—he had already visited her but she didn’t remember—and he sat down in the chair next to her bed. Her heart started to race. What would dad say? How angry would he be? She heard him open up a book, turn a few pages and then he started to speak, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” He closed his Bible, bent over his daughter and kissed her on the forehead and left. There would be more to talk about later, Dad knew that, but in that moment he wanted his daughter to know she was forgiven.

There is nothing more important that you need to know about God than that he cares for you and loves you with every fiber of his being. His entire essence is wrapped up in love for you. Like that father to his poor daughter, your heavenly Father wants you to hear the voice of comfort.

Jesus speaks tender words to you today. He speaks to your heart because that’s what’s so wrong in this world today. It’s what’s been wrong since Adam and Eve were chased out of Eden. And Jesus wants you to know that the hard service of sin is over. The punishment is done because he took it on the cross. That’s the victory he announced to Satan when he descended into hell. That’s the triumph that shouts from an empty tomb! Sin has been defeated. Comfort.

That voice of comfort has to mean something to you, right? And if it does, then put it into practice in your life. Fill in the valleys with the comfort of forgiveness. Tear down the hills with the power of that comfort. Leave your sin behind. Don’t wait for the divorce papers to deal with your problem of addiction. Don’t wait for the next argument to deal with your problem of anger. Don’t want for sin to get a hold of you, put it away today. Look at what Christ has done for you, look at the comfort he has earned for you and then welcome his arrival with hearts that have been comforted through repentance.

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It's Time to Be Done With Fear

There is a powerful and malevolent force that is sweeping through our lives taking away our freedom, our morality, justice, happiness and peace. It whips into our homes like an icy wind sucking away the warmth of joy. It is fear. Right now, somewhere in this world a person is contemplating ending their own life. Right now, somewhere in this city, a person contemplates leaving everything—home, family—in the dead of night to start over somewhere else. And perhaps even in our own midst there is a person whose life is spent dodging one fearsome event after another.

Fear is a gripping and choking power. It causes people to find relief in what is temporary, to find escape if only for a moment, to envy the paper-thin happiness of others. Fear makes us put on a happy exterior, even though our souls are crushed. Fear is a cruel master who forces us to only look inside, to only look to ourselves, to isolate ourselves, in short, to worship ourselves. And it is a cruel and unhappy worship. It is a worship whose hymns are strains of guilt and remorse, a worship of self-pity. It is an idolatrous and godless worship that never delivers the happiness and peace we crave, but only the damned eternity reserved for those whose faith is smothered by fear.

Our hearts crave something better. Our hearts crave eternal relief. Our hearts crave joy. Not the external joy of unbelief’s so-called happy people. Our hearts crave joy that goes beyond the smile and down to the soul. Our hearts crave the kind of joy that causes a sister who mourns the death of her brother to hold her head up high in hope. We crave the kind of joy that causes a family in the midst of disaster to move beyond the loss and difficulty.

And this joy is not far away, it is not something we must come up with on our own, it is the free gift from God, given to us in his Anointed One. Fear can be done with in your life. Its choke-hold can be broken by the joy-gift of God. Fear gives way, it must, because the Lord’s Anointed was sent to destroy fear’s source and to replace fear with his presence. Now is the time for joy. Now is the time for singing. Now is the time to shout aloud. Sing, shout aloud, be glad and rejoice, sin is gone, your Lord is near.

Zephaniah 3:14-15, "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm."

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Your Advent Decorations

It’s always fun at our house getting all of the Advent decorations ready. We get out the big box with the word “Advent” written on it. My wife pulls out all the porcelain Advent figurines and puts out the Advent candles. Then it’s time to bake all of our favorite Advent recipes: like Advent cookies, and even Advent candies. Then we dig further into the box and get out our Advent lights and plug them in to make sure they all work and then we hang them on the house. We’ve got our Advent wreaths, and Advent pictures, and Advent streamers. Of course you’ve probably already had your Advent decorations up a lot sooner than we did; we always seem to get behind this time of year.

Why do you look so confused?

Do you not have any Advent decorations?

You don’t have Advent wreaths? No Advent candles? No Advent cookies or Advent figurines or Advent streamers and pictures? So I guess no Advent lights on the outside of the house, either.

Well, actually neither do we. We’ve got lots of Christmas decorations. That’s true. But right now it's Advent. So why can’t we go to Target and get Advent decorations?

That’s because Advent happens within, inside, our heart of faith. Advent is a season to prepare our souls for the coming of Jesus Christ. And the best preparation, the best way to decorate our homes for Advent, is to repent of our sins, to come clean about our sinfulness and seek forgiveness. Sure it doesn’t seem like much fun; maybe we would rather just have some Advent decorations. And a lot of people would agree with you: repentance doesn’t sound like much fun. But repentance is a beautiful and happy thing. Repentance brings along with it blessings that make Christmas, that make the rest of the church year, that make our Christian lives better. Seize the blessings of repentance.

Luke 3:4, "Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him."

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The Passing of a President

I remember sitting in the cafeteria, watching on TV the memorial service for President Ronald Reagan. At the time I was working for a church during the summer months as a "summer vicar," a kind of pastoral assistant, so to speak. And I remember tearing up as Margaret Thatcher, herself old and showing the signs of her age, gave a very fond eulogy. It touched me, the love, respect, admiration that people had for "Ronny." I felt it, too, which is odd because I was only maybe 5 years old when President Reagan was in office. In fact, my only real rememberance of him was his own farewell address as he spoke so eloquently about that shining city on a hill. As a youngster something about the way he spoke made me feel very connected to him, like he was someone special.

Today, the United States is remembering President George H. W. Bush, who died last Friday. My remembrance of him was the Gulf War and how my uncle was sent into the desert to fight "the bad guys." And the now infamous "read my lips" speech.

Why do leaders connect with us so much? Why does a nation mourn when a leader dies? King David mourned the death of Saul (his political enemy!) and Saul's son Jonathan, writing them a funeral song in 2 Samuel 1, and even commissioning it to be taught to the men of Judah.

Perhaps part of the reason we mourn the death of leaders is because of the tremendous responsibility they have been given. Whether that leader knows it or not, they have been put there by God. Scripture declares, "The authorities that exist have been established by God," (Romans 13:1). Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he would have had no authority except that which God had given him (John 19:11).

That should make every leader--whether principals, pastors, presidents or patriarchs--stop cold in their tracks. If God has put them there, then God demands an accounting for the way they conduct themselves. It serves as a reminder to us all that when we pray, we must keep our leaders in mind, even if we don't agree with them, even if they are cruel leaders (Pilate was no great ruler and his counterpart Herod was terrible). Our prayer should often be that leaders would fear God and make decisions knowing God holds them accountable. We should pray for leaders and seek to find leaders who fear God and know him not as "the man upstairs" but as their Savior-God, who sent his son to save mankind and even them from their sin.

Today is a good day to say prayers for the family and freinds of George H. W. Bush. It is a good day to pray for our nation and the nations of the world.

Our leaders are important. God has put them there. Let's remember that.

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The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? ~ PSALM 27:1