Please Christmas Don’t Be Late!

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First, before you ready any further go to this link and watch this video: Please Christmas Don’t Be Late

This post will wait the 65 seconds it takes you.

Thanks. I appreciate that. Read along now…

 

“Please Christmas don’t be late.”

The thought of pretty much every kid about now. My own included. I remember feeling this way too, hoping and waiting for that extra big Lego set I asked for.

Waiting, being patient, it can weigh on us parents. So we keep our kids busy. Help the time go by faster. Only 6 more sleeps until Christmas! We simply can’t help but look forward to something positive and good.

It turns out neuroscience has backed this up. There is a link between our patience (or lack of it) and our expectations for a particular event. In 2012 a study of tens of millions of users watching internet videos (like the one above) showed that viewers can lose patience in as little as two seconds. And those with a faster internet speed are less patient than those with a slower speed.

It turns out the rapid pace of technology is rewiring us to be less and less patient. And in the midst of all this we see today’s passage, James 5:7-11 in the NIV:

7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Be patient!

In case you didn’t catch that. Some form of the word “patient” is used 4 times in five verses there.

Here specifically James is telling the readers of the letter to be patient in waiting for Christ’s return. It’s taking longer than they thought and they’re starting to wonder. Here we are in Advent, a season with dual meanings in his past incarnation and his future return. 2000 years later and we still don’t have patience perfected.

It’s also important to note what was going on before this in the letter. He’s talking about the rich people and those in power lording it over those who have not. There are abuses and it’s only natural for those being abused to call out for vindication. They are waiting for Christ’s return and for things to be set right. Any of this sound familiar for today’s world?

And yet James’ answer is to tell them to be patient in the face of such suffering! He draws the parallel of prophets and Job. Now I don’t know anyone overly eager to be compared to them. It often doesn’t end well (death, persecution, loss of family and/or property). But you see, what those people knew, what they had in mind, as well as the saints of the church for the past two millennia, is this:

They didn’t focus on “What is happening to me?” Instead they focused on “What is God forming in me?”

When we shift from the first question to the second, it helps us view our problems in a new way. All of a sudden instead of counting down the days or the minutes until our terrible situation is over, we can learn to be present in the moment and grow in ways we never thought possible.

In a way we realize that frenzy is the enemy of patience. We see the futility of frenzy.

One author said “You’re trying to squirm out of the present into the future: Good luck with that.” (Amy Gross)

It just doesn’t work. The only thing we can learn to do is to be patient. To wait. Just like the farmer James mentions.

Now the farmer doesn’t just sit and do nothing, but the farmer does what he can do, realizing not everything is in his control. He chooses to focus on what he can do. While the rains only come from the sky he still has to fertilize and weed the fields.

That is the challenge for us all. Today I know the cry many of us feel on our lips, especially in light of everything that has happened recently, personally and national/internationally, is, “Come Lord Jesus.”

We might even say, “Please Jesus don’t be late.”

But we need to wait. We need to wait actively, not passively. Just like all those kids waiting for Christmas. They were on to something. We can do something while we wait. Something that matters.

Figure out a way to wait actively this week. Whatever it might be in the particular situation that makes you say “Please Jesus don’t be late.” Maybe that’s reading your Bible, praying, meditating, becoming an activist, donating, calling, visiting, budgeting, or something else entirely.

Ask God for the wisdom to know what you can and can’t affect. Then focus on what you can. Leave the rest to God.

Instead of asking, “What is happening to me?”

Ask, “What is God forming in me?”

May you learn to wait well.

May you learn patience.

And, of course, “Please Jesus don’t be late.”

Go in grace and peace.

Pastor Matt

Saturday – 3 John – Encouragement & Confrontation

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Sometimes life is hard.

I know. Hardly a news flash.

But I imagine Gaius (to whom 3 John is addressed) was in the midst of a hard time when John wrote him this letter. And he receives it and opens it up and sees the warm, encouraging words from John. The first half of the letter must have lifted his spirits in a way nothing else could. Just think about the last time you got a nice email or card from someone “just because.”

Diotrephes, on the other hand, strikes me as a power-hungry jerk. You may know someone like him. You give that person a modicum of power and it somehow all goes to their head. Diotrephes is on a war path. Best case scenario, he thinks he is “keeping the faith” and is misguided. Worst case scenario, he’s simply remaking the church (and its members) to his liking, kicking out anyone who gets in his way.

That makes it all the more important what John says in verse 10:

“So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us.”

Boom. John is going to bring it all to light and call Diotrephes on everything. Maybe you read that (if you’re like me) and you even think “Alright! Go get ‘em John!” Because let’s be honest, right or not, part of us all likes to see the “bad guy” get his comeuppance.

Yes. I just used the word comeuppance.

The takeaway here is that there is a time and a place for confrontation. John realizes this is one of those times. He’s exhausted other measures like in verse 9:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes who loves to be first, will not welcome us.”

And now he has to confront this division head on. This Diotrephes is acting as an antichrist. Little a. He is sowing dissent and division within the body of Christ. He simply must be stopped.

As you go about your life today, this week, this month, this year, may you be filled with a holy courage like that of John’s. May you have the courage to call out evil and harm where you see it, no matter what. May you stand up for what is right at home, work, and church. I hope you can do all this by speaking the truth in love. May you not be afraid to confront when the time is right, when other measures have been exhausted. Finally, may you follow John’s advice in verse 11:

“Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”

Grace and peace.

Friday – 2 John – Antichrist?

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Here in 2 John we see a follow-up/reminder of John’s exhortations in his previous letter. If you’re anything like me, at this point you’re probably saying “Geez, I get it already! Love one another!” It begs the question, why is it so important to John to repeatedly emphasize this message? The answer comes to us in verses 7 & 8:

“I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.”

Antichrist? *whistles* I don’t know about you but where I come from them’s fightin’ words.

Kind of a strong reaction isn’t it? Except it isn’t. At this time in the church there are certain teachers going from town to town teaching gnostic heresy, saying Jesus wasn’t really God. He was just extra-filled with the Holy Spirit after his baptism. Before he actually died on the cross, the Spirit left him. God didn’t actually suffer or die on the cross.

Obviously this is a problem. With teachings like this it drives a wedge in the church leading to division and strife. Ultimately it rejects the reality of the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This is why it is anti-christ. It is against everything he lived and died for. Jesus came in order to teach us the command to love one another and emphasize unity (especially in John’s gospel!). However these teachers are sowing division that leads to hate and conflict.

Hence anti-christ. No capital A. Too often in church and popular theology we like to talk about THE Antichrist with a capital A. But in the process we miss the little antichrists. Those people in our lives that are harming the body of Christ not only with wrong teaching (because that can often be corrected) but a spirit of division and selfishness. When we encounter these people in our churches and in our lives we have to set boundaries in order to protect others and ourselves.

Sometimes this looks like the combative person at church. Maybe you’re thinking of one now. But it also means the relative that refuses to say anything nice but instead constantly tears down others. The “friend” that talks behind everyone’s back (you can be certain they’re talking about you too when you’re not around). Or someone else. Who ever or whatever that spreads conflict, misery, and division is an antichrist. And we have a duty to establish boundaries in order to protect unity, others, and ourselves.

So my prayer for you today is that you might do the hard work of establishing those boundaries in your church, your work, or your personal life. May you have the strength to explain your decision and stand by it. May you grow in God’s peace and shalom.

Grace and peace.

Thursday – 1 John 5 – Blood & Water

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Blood & water. You find these two words, these two ideas, swirling around a lot in 1 John 5. And John isn’t exactly clear on what they mean. Look at verses 6-8:

“This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”

Ok, you might say. But was does that mean? At least, that’s what I said after I read that. So much so that I went and got a commentary off my shelf. Then spent some time reading up on the passage. You know what it means?

Long story short: we don’t know. (Isn’t biblical research fun!)

There are several different ideas out there but two rise above all the others (in my humble opinion).

First is the idea that water and blood serve as bookends to Jesus’ earthly career and the practices left for the Christian church in its wake. Water reminds us of Jesus’ baptism and how we practice baptism today as a result. Blood represents Jesus’ death on the cross as well as the Last Supper in which Jesus taught his disciples that the cup of wine served as a symbol of his blood, blood of a new covenant. With this understanding we see that all of Jesus’ life is important, start to finish. He was born and he died. And the Spirit of God testifies to that reality.

Next, let’s look at the one other place where we see the elements of blood and water brought together, John 19:33-34 –

“But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”

This serves as proof of Jesus’ death. One author I read said something along the lines of “This passage serves to show that Jesus’ real death is what results in mankind’s real life.”

Either way you choose to understand “blood and water” you have to admit that the main point comes across: the incarnation of God matters. That is what John is getting at here as he is taking aim at the gnostic heresy that Jesus wasn’t a real man, that he just looked like one.

So as you walk away from this passage today and leave your Bible/quiet/God time I hope for two things for you. First, that the real-ness of God is made real to you. That you can participate in “real life” because of Christ’s “real death.” Not the mockery of life much of the world will try to push on you. And second, that you have a healthy respect for the role of mystery in our faith and our scriptures. That, try as we might, we still don’t have it all figured out.

Grace and peace.

Wednesday – 1 John 4 – Fear & Judgment

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Yikes. Look at that picture. For me growing up, that was evangelism in a nutshell. Coming to Jesus was surrounded with lots of fearful talk of hell and (some) hopeful talk of heaven. So it probably comes as no surprise that my absolute favorite verses from chapter 4 are verses 17 & 18:

“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

These verses, especially 18, really resonate with me because I first came to Jesus because of fear. Maybe like many of you. As a kid I didn’t want to go to hell. What kid does? However, I fixated on hell even after I was saved. Even after I “invited Jesus into my heart.” I couldn’t shake hell. I had a heavy understanding of sin and lived in a near-constant fear that I would lose my salvation. This all resulted in an over-active conscience that I struggled with for years.

My mom even says I’m one of the only kids she’s ever known to tattle on himself. That’s how scared I was.

And I struggled with this kind of fear for years. Well into my college days and beyond. It even today still rattles around in the back of my head. But it was a crucial time of study and meditation that really struck the death-blow to that spirit of fear that gripped me. Because if I truly believe that God is love (which I do) and I allow myself to be powered by His Spirit (which I do my best to) so that I am, over time, made to be like Jesus (as in verse 17) then I have no need to fear.

Do you hear that? If you are living in God’s love, his perfect love, then you have no need to fear him. No need to fear judgment (as even many good Christians do).

And what does it mean to live in God’s love? Well that is most of what chapter 4 is about. Boiled down to one simple idea, verse 17 says it means “In this world we are like Jesus.”

Simple. But it takes a lifetime of practice.

Today may you learn to leave behind any spirit of fear in your life. Instead, may you embrace the perfect love of God and “in this world…be like Jesus.”

Grace and peace.

Tuesday – 1 John 3 – Love, love, love…

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Notice a theme in chapter three? You have to admit, it is hard to miss. Its right there in verse 1:

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Children of God. Let that sink it. Carry that around with you today. Live into that reality. It is a big deal. It is what Paul was getting at in his writings when he says that we are co-heirs with Christ. We are part of the family of God.

Albeit, if you’re anything like me it certainly doesn’t always feel like it. There are plenty of times I mess up and do the wrong thing. Or say the wrong thing. Or don’t do the right thing. Or don’t say the right thing. Or…I think you get the picture.

But thankfully our reconciliation with God in Christ isn’t based on what we do or don’t do. It’s based on Christ. Grace freely given. John almost anticipates this when he says in verse 20:

“If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

It doesn’t always feel like we’re nailing the Christian life. And that is O.K. God is bigger than our feelings and our worries and our insecurities. In fact, the love John is speaking of is bigger than any of those things too. Because love isn’t just a feeling. It is more than that. It is action. Verses 17 and 18 say:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

True love moves us to act. It isn’t just a feeling or a thought or some words we say. It affects how we live in tangible ways.

My prayer for you today is that your love for God and others may move you to act on their behalf in the world. That your very life and actions today might be shaped by the love God has lavished on us, his children.

Grace and peace.

Monday – 1 John 2 – Darkness & Light

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When you read 1 John 2 you get some classic John-like phrases. Like “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (v. 23) At one point several of these phrases get repeated in such short order that it feels like he’s talking in circles. It can be hard to follow. Hard to let it really sink in.

So I want to focus on two verses. 1 John 2:7-8. It says:

“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

New command? Old command? Which is it? It is an old command that seems new in light of Jesus. The command to love God and love others, our neighbors. You’ll see that elaborated on in chapter three.

In Jesus we see the Old Testament command to love God and others fleshed out.

Literally.

That is the point of the incarnation. Jesus came into the world to show this truth, this reality, to mankind in a new unparalleled way. And that is exactly what he did. John phrases it as “the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

Look at “true light.” That phrases is only used one other time in the New Testament. And guess what. John wrote that verse too. John 1:9 – “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

And once it got here, he changed everything. He struck the death-blow to death itself. That is why  the first part of that phrases is true – “the darkness is passing.”

Really? The darkness is passing? I have to admit, in light of what’s going on in the world today, it doesn’t feel like it.

In light of terrorists running trucks into crowds of people only to open fire when they can go no further.

In light of fanatics shooting up clubs in order to strike a blow for ISIS.

In light of black men being gunned down week after week.

In light of fear-mongering and law-breaking in the campaign for the highest elected office in the free world.

The darkness is passing? It doesn’t feel true. But I choose to trust that it is true. That Jesus truly is the Alpha and Omega. That because he came and conquered death that death itself will, in fact, ultimately lose.

To quote one of Jesus’ early followers, the father of a boy sick beyond all help (or so he thought): I believe Lord! Help my unbelief!

May that be your prayer today. May you trust that the darkness truly is passing and it is indeed the light of Christ shining. May you believe. Lord help your unbelief.