I have always loved the season of Advent. It wasn’t that I was so in tune with its’ Church year meaning. I just loved the season leading up to Christmas.
As a child, the anticipation of Christmas was a truly magical time. People seemed to be naturally filled with niceness and smiles. We would also plan into our days to watch as many of those Claymation Christmas shows as we possible. Remember when they were only available to view one time each year? I can still see downtown Anoka all lit up when we would go to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Then there was Dietrich’s Toy Store on Main Street filled with all the dreams any little boy could imagine – Lincoln Logs, Model Cars and all those new-fangled electronic toys.
Barb and I were just talking yesterday about this glorious childhood sense of excitement as we drove into our neighborhood and enjoyed the bright lights of the season. It truly wasn’t so much about receiving gifts as it was about an overall sense of joy and expectation. In other words, it was about Advent even though we didn’t know it!
The season of Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit," begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the Church year for many Christians. This year at Oak Hill we will be following the Church year too with seasonal themes beginning with Advent Epistle texts.
During Advent, we prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.
This year we are calling our Advent series Joy Unleashed. As we gather before Christmas our prayer is that you will be filled with hope, peace and the joy of Jesus. God desires, no matter our age, that we would be filled with a sense of amazement that the Savior has come. The Light of the World has come; He is able to shine brightly in our lives and our souls.
May Joy Be Unleashed in us and through us!
Here are few questions for you to consider today.
I can also easily see that my values and priorities through most of my twenties can simply be summed up in one word – ME! My life looked “positive and orderly”, but I have no doubt that God would not feel the same way. God’s Word and His ways were clearly on the back-burner. I was busy making a name for myself and enjoying the “good things” in life. I went to church on a somewhat regular basis to see some of my friends and to stay “connected” to my Christian identity claim. My life was easy, enjoyable, fun and just what I wanted. I was totally lukewarm toward God. He loved me too much to leave me there!
The Book of Haggai is written to confront the problems that come our way when God takes a backseat in our lives. The people of Israel had clearly put their own desires ahead of a desire to love, serve and worship God. They were brought back from the Babylonian captivity to their homeland through the declaration of the Persian King Cyrus. They were set free to celebrate God’s deliverance, but the Israelites decided there were a few things to do that were more important than worshiping God.
The Israelites would probably argue that they were just being practical and taking care of their families, etc.… but God clearly saw it differently as we can see as we read Haggai 1.
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways…”
Today God gives us the same mirror to consider our true motives and priorities. We are tempted to give God the leftovers, if we give Him anything at all. We are tempted to worship Him joyfully…well, if things go our way. Many of us are going after life without God’s perspective and then we wonder why we feel empty or stressed out. It seems a good idea to me, that if we want to know how life works best, we should check in with the one that created the whole thing in the first place.
My great-uncle, Rudy Stovner, drove an ancient car. I doubt if you’ve ever heard of it. He drove a 1937 Hudson Terraplane. Anybody remember the Terraplane? It had been around many years, plugging away on the rural roads near Wahpeton, ND.
Now my great-uncle had a theory about that car. He said he knew - despite its birth in the 1930’s, the reason his car had made it through the World War II, the 50’s and well into the 1960’s. Uncle Rudy said that the secret of his Terraplane was that he never drove it in high gear. Second gear was as far as he would go. My dad and uncles thought it was a riot to ride in Uncle Rudy’s Terraplane, the engine screaming but the speed maxing out at 25 mph. Somehow other drivers did not think it quite so funny. Uncle Rudy said with a proud grin, “I am saving the brakes. If you don’t go in high gear, and don’t move too fast, when you come to a stop sign or a red light, you can let the engine slow you down.”
Now I know this picture may be murky for some of you. If you have not had the privilege of driving a manual transmission, you may miss the point. If you’ve been spoiled with an automatic transmission, you may not understand. But some of us learned to drive by shifting gears, three gears usually: low, second, and high. You sat at traffic lights, waiting impatiently, and revved up the engine, letting out the clutch, engaging that low gear, so that you could get off the dime and move. You couldn’t go very fast that way, but it got you out of the gate.
As soon as possible, you shifted up into second gear, which was for acceleration. Second gear took your two tons of steel and got it going faster and faster. Second gear provided a rush, because you heard the engine whining as it turned faster. In second gear there was a feeling that you were ready to get moving.
And then, when the time was just right, when you realized you were about up to traveling speed, you shifted into high gear, using the engine’s power to keep the car moving smoothly toward its goal. It was in high gear that you stayed when you let your car do what it was supposed to do. High gear was what a car was designed to do.
But Uncle Rudy’s ancient Terraplane never got out of second gear. He was saving the brakes. It moved - slowly. It never achieved the potential the engineers had designed. Cautious, safe, a barrel of laughs, but not much of a ride.
Could this also be a description of our journey with our God? We are moving a bit in first gear – we attend some activities. Or maybe we have shifted into second gear and we commit a bit of our time to serve and we give some of our money to serving others, but we don’t want to get carried away. Third gear, what we were truly designed for, would grasp that all my time and stuff is a gift from God. Third gear would be the freedom of firing on all cylinders, holding on loosely and expecting a wild ride of an adventure with God. It would be living by faith!
This past Sunday was Reformation Sunday and with that in mind I would encourage you to live spiritually in third gear. It would be a life of reformation, revival and renewal. God wants to do this continual to you and our congregation. Pop that clutch and let the wind blow through your hair as God takes you on the ride of your life!
I have never been accused of having excess patience.
It is hard for me to just relax and see what happens. That has its’ place in life, but it can also cause lots of problems. I remember how ridiculously long it took for my butterfly to get out of its’ prison of a cocoon. Obviously, the thing for me to do as a 6-year-old was to get things moving and free it. That didn’t work so well as you can imagine. I felt good for a few hours until I was told that I basically killed my prized monarch due to my impatience. I cried and got over it but didn’t quite learn that lesson once and for all.
In high school I had a major knee reconstruction surgery. I was given very clear instructions on how to rehab my knee back into working order. I was in a cast up to my hip for two months, followed by crutches for at least a month and possibly two, then six months of very defined exercises. This would bring me back to “full activity” in approximately 9 months if all went well and I followed the doctor’s orders. I would have none of that! I had my own timetable that had me playing basketball in 4 months. That was a really bad decision that I am still paying for today.
Based on my reading of Scripture I would say that my tendency for wanting things “right now” is not just a Nick Problem. It appears that I am not alone and at least a few of you can relate to wanting things to happen a little quicker. I also have moments where I may struggle to see things the way God does due to my short attention span. Therefore, very often in the Bible God has a simple set of directions for His people – WAIT!
Therein lies the problem I have with God – I do not want to wait. I do believe that God is a promise keeping God, but I want evidence that He is keeping His promise right now! If I had my way, heaven would be progressively be growing in my immediate world. I don’t want to wait for it in times of brokenness or apparent darkness. I want all God’s good things which is ok, but it is not ok when I come close to demanding them on my timetable.
This Sunday we will be looking at Habakkuk’s prophecy. It is an amazing picture of God’s people being called to take God at His word. We are called to be people of faith that trust and worship God even when we are tempted to wonder if He even sees what is going on. We might be tempted to think He is sleeping but He is actually working in His perfect time. His sovereign decisions are not only right; they are also perfectly timed! That is why Habakkuk proclaims the following words in conclusion to his prophecy.
I will wait patiently…
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Waiting on God [Even patiently sometimes],
I like when people say nice things about me. I thoroughly enjoy being affirmed in what I am doing. The flip-side is also true. I don’t care much for being criticized or corrected. I would rather be told to “keep it up” than “get your act together.” I am confident that most of you quite naturally feel the same way I do. This doesn’t mean that I never need a correction or a recalibration. The fact is that I do need to be shaped, refined and even rebuked; especially by my God.
In Micah we read of the immoral state of the leaders and the prophets of Israel. They spoke words of comfort when there should have been words of correction in chapter 2 and we see in chapter 3 that their self-worship used people up while claiming to be on the Lord’s side. They were somehow blinded to the fact that they were choosing to oppose God with their lives.
Micah 2 6“Don’t say such things,”
the people respond.
“Don’t prophesy like that.
Such disasters will never come our way!”
Micah 3 9 Listen to me, you leaders of Israel!
You hate justice and twist all that is right.
10 You are building Jerusalem
on a foundation of murder and corruption.
11 You rulers make decisions based on bribes;
you priests teach God’s laws only for a price;
you prophets won’t prophesy unless you are paid.
Yet all of you claim to depend on the Lord.
“No harm can come to us,” you say,
“for the Lord is here among us.”
Micah is a book filled with hope and God’s good gifts, but to get there we need to be willing to come to grips with our own sinfulness. Our repentance, which sees things like God does, could be described as the spigot that opens heaven’s storehouses of grace, mercy and forgiveness. Our Father in Heaven does not shy away from making it clear that opposing Him is a very bad decision. But He is equally clear that He desires to claim us as His own children just because He can.
Micah was calling Israel to see the truth. God is always true! Jesus declared this very clearly as He came as our savior. In John 8:32 He said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
We may be confident that we are not as blatant as the ones Micah was speaking to that were “building a foundation of murder and corruption”, but what is our foundation? Most of us are tempted from time to time to put on false fronts. To act or say something to fit in or to appear better, stronger or more of “something” than we really are. Although this is harmful to our peace of mind and our sense of contentment; it isn’t the worst.
Micah points out the worst or the most dangerous – choosing to live opposed to God but claiming that He is ok with it. It is one thing to struggle with our sin – it is quite a different thing to be claiming God is fine with it. It is a wonderful thing to be amazed by grace and it is quite a shameful thing to take grace or mercy or forgiveness in Christ for granted.
The Truth of Micah and all of Scripture that God wants us to dwell in can be summarized by two statements.
Have a good one!
At approximately 3:20 on the morning of March 13, 1964, twenty-eight-year-old Kitty was returning to her home in a nice, middle-class area of Queens, NY, from her job as a restaurant manager. She parked her red Fiat in a nearby parking lot, turned-off the lights and started the walk to her second-floor apartment some 100 feet away. She got as far as a streetlight when a man grabbed her. She screamed. Lights went on in the 10-floor apartment building nearby. She yelled, “He stabbed me! Please help me!”
The man left and returned two additional times to stab her until she died before the police received their first call at 3:50. No one left their apartments to help. The many people that “watched” were asked why they did not help. The common response can simply be summarized as “We did not want to get involved!” Social Scientists have called this the bystander effect. In a nutshell, it states that an individual is less likely to help as the number of bystanders increases.
What it really boils down to is the question, “How much responsibility do I have for my neighbor?” It is not a new question. In the Old Testament, after Cain killed Abel, he asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, of course, is Yes. In the New Testament, when a lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told him the story of the Good Samaritan. The conclusion we are to draw is that my neighbor is anyone who is in need. There are no innocent bystanders.
Obadiah, our Minor Prophet for this Sunday hammers home the same point. Obadiah pronounces judgment on the country of Edom for standing by and even joining in with the oppression when God’s people needed them.
Followers of Jesus are to be people of action. We are to engage with our world to provide light, love, truth and grace. If we do not live in this way, we cannot claim to be living in a way that looks like Jesus. Our Savior did not live out His days removed from the pains and needs of people. He exposed the destructive nature of misplaced pride and fear. He stood up and acted against oppression and injustice.
Let’s notice, listen, act and build like Jesus,
Have you ever missed out on the benefit of something because it seemed either too difficult or insignificant? Maybe you think – “I have enough going on in my life, so I’m not going to put any time into that information, task or activity.” It clearly is beyond me, or maybe I view it as irrelevant. Tragically, this can often be the way Christians look at the prophetic books in general, but especially the last twelve prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures.
This Sunday we will be starting a new series entitled, The Other Twelve. We will be spending time looking into the Old Testament books that are often referred to as the Minor Prophets. They are not called minor because they are less significant, but because they are briefer than the letters from the other prophets. We will find out over the next three months that God has always used his prophets to speak needed truth to his people.
Time and time again through Scripture we see the patience, discipline and love of God. He doesn’t hide His truth from us, but we often need a refresher course in it. The prophets come to us time and again to bring us back and to recalibrate our perspective as God’s people. We tend to drift or downright rebel from what is right and we find ourselves attracted to the things that draw us away from God Almighty. The prophets are called by God to deliver a message of correction and redemption. It wasn’t always an easy message and the prophets were often rejected by the very people they came to bless because the people didn’t necessarily want to be corrected. Kind of like me!
This week we will look specifically at the prophet Joel. Technically the first minor prophet is Hosea, but we are going to jump over Hosea since Pastor Ben spoke on that book just a few weeks back. The prophet Joel was given the task of speaking the difficult word of a coming “plague of locusts” and the approaching “Day of the Lord” which is the final judgment. The primary reason he spoke this difficult message was that “even now” God will forgive as you repent. God was and is always calling us to turn from all that opposes His Kingdom to live in His loving care and truth in obedience.
We will also be looking at the exciting reality that when God speaks to us it will always be true. A prophet’s primary calling is to speak the necessary current truth for the day, but at times there is also a future component to the message. In Joel 2 we see the coming “pouring out of the spirit of God” that was fulfilled in Acts 2 as Peter spoke to the newly formed Church of Jesus Christ. Peter quotes Joel’s ancient message as being fulfilled as the message of Jesus was understood by people of all different languages and ethnic backgrounds.
Joel declared in 2.28-29 that all people can be proclaimers of God’s truth when he said,
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
Time flies when it is a summer of R&R – Rescue and Restoration.
I can’t believe it, but this is the last weekend of our summer series. If you remember we started in the Book of Galatians where we clearly see that we have been personally rescued and restored in Jesus. The first seven messages of our series focused on this work that has happened in all of God’s Children. It is a personal interaction with God. He comes for us and changes our hearts, minds and our identity.
The second section of the series has helped us to understand our roles as people that live in two kingdoms. Our primary allegiance and citizenship are in God’s Kingdom, but we are to operate in this world as His representatives bringing light and life. Each week we went to God’s Word seeking guidance on living fulling engaged in our immediate context but knowing we are “Not of this world…but sent into it” just like Jesus.
My goal for you as you read this little article is for you to understand there was a reason we called this series “Living in the Middle of Rescue and Restoration.” You never outgrow or move beyond this truth. All the days of your life will be about these two “R” words. We are to live out each day with a renewed sense of what God has done for us and then from there to look at the people around us as others that Jesus died on the cross to set free. This perspective will give our days purpose and joy!
This Sunday’s message is entitled “Living the Connection.” We will be considering the source of living our lives like this. We wake up each morning to a perpetual barrage of distractions and temptations to be people of mediocrity, selfishness and even despair. How can we stand up against the current that is trying to sweep us away? The first thing we need to know is that we were never created for neutrality or stagnancy. We are either growing, deepening and living or we are deteriorating and falling into a stupor. Yikes! That sounds a bit dramatic. Well, it’s still true.
The message on Sunday will lead us to the source of true life and “Living the Connection.” It is really quite simple and yet in many ways the most difficult thing to do. It can be summarized with a few simple words that God has spoken repeatedly in the pages of the Bible in many different ways.
“Come closer and follow me!”
From Genesis to Revelation God delivers this message of Rescue and Restoration. He does this because He wants to and because we desperately need what He alone can do for us. We are merely invited to respond in each and every area of our lives through all the days God gives us.
Living in the Middle of R&R,
I am currently reading the book “Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do.” It is not nearly as dull as it sounds. It is actually quite a fascinating and challenging read in many ways. The author, Tom Cable’s, primary objective is to reveal that humanity has a “Seeking System” that always wants to grow and create and expand. I couldn’t agree more even though he believes that this is a result of human evolution; whereas I believe that this is the design of God. The Seeking System is simply how God made us.
Herein lies a great division. On the one side, if we have humanistic tendencies we will be comfortable simply saying, I want a new idea or the opportunity for a creative expression at work. The philosophy of humanism will wrap it up tightly that this is the thing that has “improved” the human race over eons to become the animal we are today. This can ultimately be described as seeking everything but God.
On the other side of this divide would be an acknowledgment of this seeking system but the firm belief that it was planted in us by God, therefore instead of avoiding God - we look to seek everything through God! From this perspective we may see the same discovery as the humanist, but we see the God behind it and the God of it.
For instance, the deeper into the vast expanse of our universe we go or more we understand how the brain works we can either be impressed with our “brand new discovery” or we can be in awe of the Creator God that made us and knows our name. Wouldn’t it really be something if we could know God! Virtually everyone would agree with the previous statement regardless of their philosophical or religious perspective.
The reason for that bent is we were made to find our peace and our place in God Almighty. This is the truth whether we believe it or not. In Acts 17 Paul visits Athens and connects to the locals at their starting point; not where he thinks the starting point should be. Paul sees all their idols and he correctly identifies that they are seeking but not finding. He respectfully and humbly enters their context.
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
This Sunday we will be considering the fact that we are invited by our God to walk with people as they seek. They may be seeking with a “know it all attitude” or through fear or through a million other perspectives, but we ultimately have what they need in the message of Jesus. We can follow in Paul’s footsteps to be ready when the moment arises that they seek “the Unknown God” that we know. One other important component of this connection to others is to be honest enough to admit that even though we know God, we definitely do not know everything about God nor everything about the way He does things.
But we do know what matters most. Our God loves us and wants us to rest in living as His beloved children through grace and truth. What an adventure!
Seeking through God,
I have always had an appreciation for power. Some of the forms that drew my attention when I was a child were superheroes and tractors. As I got older I was still impressed by power, but it moved more in the direction of prestige, position and wealth. I like power tools, power boats and power naps but I dislike when I believe other people are using a power grab to fulfill their power-mongering tendencies. In a nutshell I like power when it works for me and not against me.
As I thought a bit more about my history of appreciating power I became aware of a couple side effects that always seem to be present in one way or another. Those two things are a personal discontentment and a desire to be superior somehow to others. I don’t necessarily mean in a blatantly evil way. Most of the time it manifests itself as simply missing out on the joy God intended for me in just being me or appreciating the many gifts God has given to me to enjoy in the moment. The pursuit of power always wants more!
The human problem with power is as old as time. On my own I will want to build my power base by “leading” and using people. Life becomes one big power play chasing more and more. It is very different in God’s Kingdom – our hearts are changed so that we want to lead others by serving and loving them. Even though the Church is to operate with this complete paradigm shift, it is important we acknowledge that we will often still struggle with a tendency to believe we should build God’s Kingdom through power methods, instead of God’s methods of grace, love and truth.
This Sunday we will be looking into God’s invitation for us to influence our world on His behalf. Each one of us are called by God to follow Jesus into a life of service and significance. There is a pervasive lie in our culture that significance doesn’t come through serving, but through being served. Jesus clearly disagreed with this through his words and His actions, but the dissenting voices of our world are often loud and appealing. Where will you turn for the answers of your heart cries? What voices will speak into your soul and guide your mind and actions? How will you view other people?
Consider the following quotes:
“He who dies with the most toys wins.”
“Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice.”
“Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”
“I have come to seek and to save the lost. I have come not to be served but to serve.”
The Church has been set apart by God to lead others to freedom. Leading by serving will also set us from discontentment and pointless pursuits of power.
Serving and leading with you,
Pastor Nick Mundis