The Trials we Endure

ImageLast week we looked at the author of this book- James the Just.  We looked at his life, his ministry, the hope we gain from this book in the few short words of the first verse and also the topics you will be examining with me and the other preachers.  Today we are looking at a topic that is at the front of most people’s minds; trials and tribulations.  Why is this at the forefront of our minds?  Because we are a species that does endure hardships.  We talked about the straightforwardness of James last week and how simple his statements and instructions were and not that they were lacking or a “strawy epistle.”  James is not a figurative speaker in this text; he does not offer a lot of metaphors, anecdotes, or reflections.  For the first part of the text there is no real flowery edification or opening prayer.  He dives into the deep end-consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.  How many people do that?  I personally will endure a trial but I will moan and winge about it.  But we’re not called to just to endure it, or tolerate it well, or even be happy about it-we are told to consider it pure joy.  What do you think of when you think of pure joy?  I think of relaxing on the dock of a lake by a cabin early in the morning with a cup of coffee; I think of reading a good book about some Christian missionary in a far off land, people making fun of my religious beliefs where I work is not my idea of pure joy.  But that is the theme for this message why we should not only expect but also welcome trials-and we look at this in three parts.  The first being we know that our trials build up endurance in us, the second part is that trials bring completeness and maturity, and the third reason is that we should welcome trials because the value of the growth is worth more than benefits of being spared pain. 

 

We have all encountered trials in our lives.  I have not heard of anyone in history who had a perfect life.  Even Christ Himself had trials that would test anyone’s resolve.  However, our trials are never an example of God neglecting us or rejecting us.  Often times we go through trials and when something in the future happens we are thankful for our trials because they prepared and refined us in the fire for that moment.  The Lord never once promised us that our lives would be easy but He did say He would be there with us.  Warren Wiersbe said Life’s trials are not easy. But in God’s will, each has a purpose. Often He uses them to enlarge you.”  I once knew a man who was very successful actually; he owned a business, engineering, drove a very nice car, and had a beautiful wife and kids.  One day the market took a slight turn for the worse-we refer to this event as the global economic crisis.  When I asked “Ed” (not his real name) how he fared in the market, he informed me that he had to file for bankruptcy.  Just utterly shocked-I apologised, offered what I could do and was remorseful.  Ed brushed it off; evidently businesses declared bankruptcy all the time-truly Donald Trump has stated he has declared bankruptcy 9 times in his career.  When I asked Ed why he was so nonchalant about it.  He responded that financially it would all work out; he would be fine, his family would be ok and in the grand spectrum of eternity this really didn’t make a difference.  See Ed had grown up homeless on the streets; he lived with foster parents and was frequently abused.  He was beaten so much his eyes are permanently crossed now.  He lived on the streets until he was 24; then got into a half way house, got work, got a college education, and the rest is history.  Ed said to me that after eating out of a dumpster, cutting back on the frills wasn’t a big deal.  Even my experiences that have been horrible have prepared me to be a preacher, teacher, husband, and maybe one day a father. 

This brings me to my next point-that trials bring maturity and completeness thus we should be grateful for this.  The Holy Bible says that iron sharpens iron; something hard, sharp, and tough creates something strong, sharp, and tough.  In the Bible there are multiple verses that clearly link trials with Christian growth;   In Romans it says “In His gracious, sovereign oversight, God uses all aspects in believers’ lives—including great difficulties—to help them become more like Jesus.”  Isn’t that the whole point to become more like Christ?  We cannot get through life without trials-Christ never did but all these trials guided Him towards an event; the resurrection.  Christ told us to expect troubles; no servant is above their master but we should rejoice.  Rather than trying to fight the trials let us embrace them, the pain may be less when we don’t fight and we may actually be able to see the changes in us and the growth.  Christmas Evans once said that completeness in Christ will never be complete until we are with Christ.  We need to understand that this life is a fleeting moment, a blink of the eye and 17 000 years from now our trials will seem like a faded memory of a pinprick we felt running for the phone.  But trials seem more real to us because we want that maturity and that wholeness in Christ right away.  We feel that when we become Christians we should achieve this immediately but as I have been once; we will always have a little darkness in our souls but if it becomes less through Christ each and every day we are on the right track.  The same is true in how we respond to our trials.  This leads me to my third point, that the benefit we achieve from the trials outweigh the benefits of avoiding the trial all together.

 

Charles Finley once said that A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.”  See, knowing that the pain on earth will one day turn into the joys of heaven doesn’t take away the tears but it does give us hope.  There was once a young man I attended university with, his name was “Adam B”.  He was a nice guy-he was in third year; I was in first year.  Adam was one of our dorm advisors but he was also a heavy drinker, drug user, and womaniser.  One of my first memories was of Adam in a compromising position; truly he reminded me of the prodigal son.  One night, Adam got really drunk, he was smart enough not to drive home but not smart enough to follow the crosswalks.  Adam was hit by a car and spent several months in the hospital.  Afterwards he got his life back together and eventually even became a Christian.  Adam once spoke at our Christian fellowship group and emphasised how he was thankful for the accident.  He told me in a later conversation that when we get in our own way; God will use other methods to get our attention.  Adam thought about the way he had acted in the past and the joys that he got from that carnal life.  He equated it to a photo copy of a photo copy- a faint copy of joy.  In the Bible God promises that if we are faithful, if we keep the faith what we have waiting for us is greater than anything, truly greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world.  Since that is true, clearly the benefits of those trials we endure for Christ either directly, or indirectly are of a greater benefit to us than avoiding hardships.  The Bible says “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” The Bible promises that it will just be for a little while.  So why is James writing this at the start of his epistle?  Well clearly the messianic Christians were experiencing trials but James does not sugar coat it, suck it up, and be happy because we are experiencing these trials for a reason.  Bad things are going to happen whether you are a Christian or not-at least our trials will yield fruit and that is the promise of God.  We keep the faith, we bear the fruit, and we win the race.  Let’s pray.

 

Benediction:  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
(1 Peter 5:10-11 NRSV)

 

 

 

Advertisements

An Introduction to the Book of James the Just

images   The verse I have today may seem short to some but for me it is perfect!  James 1:1-James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:  Greetings.  Today we will be looking at this verse in three parts, first being who the author is, and what can we expect from this book, the second part is that very cryptic verse of the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, and the last part-probably the hardest one, greetings!

Martin Luther once called this epistle “a right strawy epistle.”  Some say it is a Jewish letter edited by inept Christian monks.  E.C.Blackman a former London University lecturer in an SCM commentary published 40 years ago, sums the letter of James up as “simple things for the ordinary church member who is not interested in theology, has no deep religious experience, and yet feels called to be faithful in that which is least; who ask for no spiritual banquet, but is content with a diet of straw.” I’m sorry but are we reading the same thing?

Before we get in any deeper let’s look at the author.  Who was James?  James is often believed to be James the Just; he calls himself a servant, or slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we know he was a bit more than that.  James the Just was above all else the brother of Jesus Christ.  Whether this was through Joseph and Mary later or another circumstance is not important it is clearly shown he is a brother; those who believe in the perpetual virginity believe he was a cousin since Jesus was an only child but in the original Greek James is put into the tense of a possessive noun, the same type of grammatical structure we would use for a mother or uncle.  He was also the bishop of the Jerusalem church.  Several men in the New Testament are called James, and some of them have no more information other than their names. Due to time limits the chances of it being the apostle James, the brother of John, since he was martyred around 40 A.D. There was another man called James, the son of Alpheus, another one of the apostles, who was literally one of the minor apostles.

Most likely the man who authored this epistle is the man whom we know to have been the half-brother of our Lord Jesus. James was most likely the oldest out of all Jesus’ brothers and sisters.  As Jesus’ closest brother James would have known our Lord intimately.  James initially had a Jewish view of the Messiah as a deliverer and conqueror, similar to Moses.  At times James even thinks Jesus goes too far and should dial it back; this stands out particularly to me when Jesus is teaching and James with the other siblings and Mary come to see Him and Jesus elevate those who are His followers above His own flesh and blood.  But in the end the resurrected Christ appears to James in Acts-a very special, holy, and ineffable experience.  But what was James like as a man?  James had always been highly intelligent. This second son of a carpenter, raised in the village of Nazareth, had an ear for language and picked up and spoke Greek with a flow.  James of Nazareth is a gifted writer. He grows in wisdom through his life. The apostle Paul calls James a pillar of the church (Gals.2:9). And James is one of the first brothers that Paul visits when he is first converted from Saul and in his last visit to Jerusalem visits him again. When Peter was rescued from prison he told his friends to tell James (Acts 12:17).  And above all this he was humble, he is a slave, a servant, he does not even let a whisper of his bloodline slip from his lips; for he was not only the brother of the Son of God but also a direct descended of the House of David.  James is eventually martyred in 62 A.D. by the Roman official Porcius Fetus.  The epistle that carries his name reflects his love for his brother and his God.  It was written by 49 A.D. before the Jerusalem Council and the destruction of the temple.  This book was written for first century Christians focussed at the Jewish Christians but also surpassed the cultural barriers of the gentile Christians.  It was meant to give practical advice to Christians in a world that put pressures on them to live in a way contradictory to God’s law.  Some of the themes we will examine in this book are faith through trials, avoidance of temptation, be cautious of how we act, and to give as Christ did.  It gives a very unique portrait of Christ’s message from a point of view we would have never seen before, from the point of view of a family member.  The Book focusses on exhortations to Christians on genuine faith, true faith is demonstrated in our actions, and true wisdom comes from God not from human beings.  In this series we will focus on the trials Christians will face in this life, followed by the wisdom of God.  Like James we will look at what is really riches and poverty in the grand spectrum of eternity, why it is important to hold our tongue, and why favouritism no longer exists under an equal God, we will look at the problems of faith when they do not have works to go along with them, and of course the importance of anointing prayer.  This book offers all of this and more.

The next verse speaks to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.  I love this verse!  Right off the bat we see James’ deep faith Judaic roots showing themselves.  This is an allusion to the twelve tribes of Israel, 10 of which went out into the world.  This verse is twofold; it not only references Jewish history but also shows that Jews and Christians are connected.  James’ line here tells us that the faith was on the move; Jewish Christians were spread far and wide preaching unto gentiles and pagans.  But James also does not limit his greeting to messianic Jews-to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations-he is speaking of God’s chosen people but not of those of the old law.  He puts the supremacy of Christ above the Old Law; but with the twelve tribes scattered among the nations he is telling these Messianic Christians that even though they are few and far between in strange lands they are still God’s Chosen people.  We are ambassadors of Christ, and no matter where we are in the world we have that connection still.  We can always find fellow pilgrims in this world.  James does not reference the names of the twelve tribes like they reference the names of the churches.  This is done intentionally because it shows that there are no real tribal names we are all under the banner of the tribe of Christ.  See even though we may not be messianic Jews we are descendent of Abraham.

Now for the last part of this verse; one word-Greetings!  Right away we see the tone is one of welcome.  James the leader of the Jewish church is reaching out to his brothers; when they are feeling isolated, alone.  They may be the only be one Christian in an entire nation, without linguistic, cultural, or familial connection this letter would bring tears to their eyes; when I put my feet in these early Christians shoes it brings tears to my eyes.  I am probably more excited by this one word than the rest of the verse.  I feel anticipation, I am excited-because in this word I sense that God’s Word will be unveiled and it was convict us, give us hope, and bring us closer to Christ.  So not to disagree with Martin Luther but I can think of many  books that may be considered a “righty strawy epistle” but to me the book of James gives us a glimpse into a very important world.  We see some of the instructions the messianic Christians were given; we are encouraged with messages of hope, fellowship, the importance of prayer and acting on our faith.    The topics we will follow will give us tools to be effective brothers and sisters in Christ ministering in very practical and real ways to a world in which we are all pilgrims and foreigners.  Let’s pray

BENEDICTION:  MAY THE GOD OF HOPE FILL YOU WITH ALL JOY AND PEACE IN BELIEVING THAT YE MAY ABOUND IN HOPE, THROUGH THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

The Immanence of God

Image

We are continuing on with our sermon series on the “Attributes of God” focussing on His immanence; last year before holidays we looked at His grace, holy nature, aseity and other avenues of His nature.  Immanence by definition is the opposite of transcendence.  It is the concept that God is very much involved in the material world and is ever present in His creation; this is the exact opposite view point of most Jews and Muslims which emphasises God’s transcendence and the inability of man to approach the Lord.  This is an accurate belief for Christians because of course our own faith has its seeds in Judaism but the difference is that we can achieve immanence because of Christ and this is evidence of God extending the olive branch.

 

God’s superiority above man is often mistaken as a detachment bordering on emotional coldness.  Some sects in the Abrahamic religions believe that it would be a sin for God to so be involved in this world and since the spiritual world came before the material that is His natural realm.  Many believe that transcendence and immanence cannot co-exist that they are in fact contradictory but there are many instances in the Holy Bible that they in fact can co-exist and we will be examining both in two separate sermons.  In Jeremiah 23:23-24 The Lord declares “Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”  It is this verse which will be our home base.  Paul writes of Christ that “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

 

                A common belief in orthodoxy is that the finite cannot understand the infinite.  His immanence is demonstrated in every rock, molecule, leaf, human breath, lion’s roar, and hymn.  God’s control can extend to all places and does extend to all places, and like His other attributes His immanence is inter-twined with the rest of them, able to analyse separately but never separate, distinct personality traits.  Often times we have a twisted view of God’s immanence, we believe that everything in nature is a part of God or is God Himself and thus He is His own creation.  Other theological perspectives include the ones that God created all this and then withdrew because of His disgust over it.  These views often muddy the waters of clarity and truth when it comes to the identity of God.  Some people say the fact that we say God is transcendent means he cannot be imminent.  But I disagree if God is everywhere He must be both near and far.  In the Bible it says we are all in Him, and we are all of the body of Christ; that is an example of his immanence.  I believe that God’s love for us is an example of His immanence.  While the Lord is distant, far, and transcendent He is also close.  In the Old Testament He came in forms of fire, cloud, and objects which reflected His glory and power and yet did those who witness it not feel the heat of the pillar of fire on their face? Or feel the gust of wind when God’s Spirit came to the tent of the tabernacle?   As I write this I am in the 3rd day of Lent.  And something that has been on my mind is how at times the concept of and being of God and Christ seems so far above me and yet there is always something that reminds me of how close He is. The entire Bible is proof of His immanence while it celebrates His transcendence.  Our entire being of our faith is to show the lost that there is a God who is here and who loves them and who is so involved with us that we are beloved among all creation.  The Bible is many things and it is a record of His close walk with us from the beginning of our planet to just under 2000 years ago. 

 

                Many other religions may ask where the proof that God is this close is.  Unlike other mysteries of the Bible where we may never know in this life the question of God’s immanence is answered, directly from God Himself.  In the New Testament when the Son of God is being announced one of His many names is Immanuel (meaning God is with us). 

What are some of the examples from the Bible of God’s immanence?  One that stands out to me is Isaiah 57:15-when people argue that the Lord cannot be both transcendent and immanent I like to reference this; “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”  I find the book of Isaiah a go to reference for the complexity and completeness of the Bible since it was found in several locations complete. 

 

                God’s immanence is not always in your face pillar of fire, as God tells the prophet Elijah “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:11-12 the discussions on God’s touch upon our lives are also meant to be deep in our souls, “God’s law penetrates our hearts with the light of His Word.”

 

                This brings me to the next biggest example of God’s immanent presence; His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as said before His name meant God with us.  Jesus reaches out as the flesh and blood immanent example of God’s love to the sick, sinners, and outcasts that the religious aristocracy prevented from reaching out to touch God’s fingertips.  In the Old Testament you could fall dead looking upon God’s face but the fact that Christ stripped Himself and came as man bridges a gap that was once transcendent.  But what are the benefits of this immanence through Christ?  First of all, we cut out the need for priests and temples even though Christ still honoured them.   Secondly we get a clearer picture of God.  Over hundreds of years, messages from prophets and priests are second hand information but when the Source comes down, it allows clearing up a lot of mix ups and mistaken theories.  And third Christ is able to physically show the love, tenderness, and all the personality traits that God exhibits in a way that man can understand. 

 

                The third example of third portion of God’s immanence I would like to analyse is His Holy Spirit.  See the evidence of God’s immanent nature is that of an inverted pyramid to us.  It begins with a God whom we cannot look upon by our own doing.  It was our sin that ripped us away from him and created this rift between us.  God’s transcendence still existed but because we were different beings we were still able to look upon Him.  Because of that His immanent nature was not fully revealed when we were in the Garden of Eden.  However after the fall we were very much separated from Him and we could not conceive His immanence.  Occasionally throughout the centuries and millennia He would gently tap on prophets and priests to speak to the people but to have a true encounter with God His immanence needed to be more self evident to poor humans.  Through the third portion of this inverted pyramid which is the Holy Spirit we have an indwelling of God in us and it is through the Spirit being inside of us, us being its temple that we have full completion of the Lord’s immanence and transcendence but I believe that we cannot fully understand nor appreciate it until we come before God. 

 

                Often people who only have a superficial understanding of God feel that His nature is often contradictory but when you strive to study and know God’s true nature is when you see that he is always in complete harmony, balance, and peace.  I thank God that even though I may not understand His nature His nature and His attributes are endless and unchanging.

Attributes of God-The Nature of His Holiness.

Image

Hello everyone I pray everyone had a restful and blessed Christmas, we are continuing our sermon series on the attributes of God we have looked at His wrath, His eternal nature, His grace, His aseitic nature, and now we are looking at His holiness. This will be my final sermon in this series until the new year. I will be back online in February 2013. So let’s pray: Holy and Everlasting God we thank you for Your Spirit which Christ said would be the counsellor and comforter. May your Spirit connect to ours and teach us new truths through Your Word, in Your Son’s name Christ Jesus, amen.

Today I will be taking for my inspiration Isaiah 6:1-8 which states: 6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

In my research I realised the attributes of God has been analysed many a times, and I would encourage you to read some of these sermons because each one adds something very different and very special. When people think of God they like to think of a loving Father, all forgiving. A recent study indicated that the two most unpopular concepts when analysing God is His wrath and His holiness. Yet we must know that above all God’s characteristics and how He is defined, He is holy. Walter Chantry said that in the Bible God’s holiness is referenced more than His love. This is true in fact, God’s holiness is mentioned over 613 times in the Bible. His love is mentioned only 314 times. It is clear that above all else God is holy and He expects us to be as well, to be set apart not just from the worldly values and practises but in our own thoughts and behaviours. Now there are many quotes about God’s holiness and clear instructions on holy living for Christians so let us look at the characteristics of God’s holiness, the images of it in the Bible and what we can do to fulfil that facet of holiness in our own lives.

The first image of holiness in God is His very Spirit the HOLY Spirit. There are many meanings of holy in the Bible, the Bible itself has been called holy since the Middle Ages stemming from a Jewish tradition of calling the Talmud and Tanakh were called sacred, and made synonymous with holy, the reasoning behind this is that anything touched by God has been sanctified by God and made holy. This is backed up 1 Peter 1:15 “Be holy for I AM holy.” God does not say try to be, there is no middle ground because like the Bible it cannot represent God and be a symbol of Christ unless it is perfect, in the same way we cannot enter God’s presence unless we are holy-it is not possible. God’s Spirit is first named as holy by David in the Psalms but earlier in the Old Testament its actions and presence characterise it as holy. In the New Testament alone there are some 261 passages which refer to the Holy Spirit. He is mentioned fifty-six times in the Gospels, fifty-seven times in the book of Acts, 112 times in the Pauline epistles, and thirty-six times in the remaining New Testament. But how can we become holy like these verses? The following are some of the New Testament verses on holiness whether it is God’s or our command to be holy:

A.) The Spirit of God. (I Cor. 3:16
B.) The Spirit of Christ. (Rom. 8:9
C.) The eternal Spirit. (Heb. 9:14
D.) The Spirit of truth (Jn. 16:13
E.) The Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29
F.) The Spirit of glory (I Pet. 4:14
G.) The Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2
H.) The Spirit of wisdom and revelation. (Eph. 1:17
I.) The Comforter (Jn. 14:26
J.) The Spirit of promise (Acts. 1:4, 5
K.) The Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15
L.) The Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4
M.) The Spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13
The Emblems of the Holy Spirit. Like the thirteen names and titles, his six designated emblems throw light upon both his nature and mission.
A.) The Dove: indicating purity, peace, and modesty. (Jn. 1:32, – Ps. 56:6,
B.) Water: indicating life and cleansing (Isa. 43:3 – Jn 7:37-39
C.) Oil: indicating light, healing, and anointing for service (LK. 4:18 – Acts. 10:38
D.) A Seal: indicating ownership, finished transaction, identification, security, genuine, value, and authority. (Eph. 1:13, 4:30, 2Cor 1:22
There are three important occasions in the Bible when a seal is used:
1.) As used by Darius to place Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:16, 17
2.) As used by Ahasuerus (upon the advice of wicked Haman) to plot
the wholesale murder of the Persian Jews. (Est. 3:8-12,
3.) As you by Pilate to seal the tomb of Jesus. (Mt 27:66
E.) Wind: indicating unseen power. (Acts. 2:1-2, Jn. 3:8
F.) Fire: indicating presence, approval, protection, purifying, gift, judgment. (Ex. 3:2, Lev. 9:24, Ex. 13:21, Isa. 6:1-8, Acts. 2:3, Heb.12:29

Applicable methods of being holy:

1) The Spirit must begin the work, we cannot initiated it, when we come to Christ God begins the process of sanctification and holiness. It begins in our heart of hearts and grows outwards, my senior pastor once said that it reduces the darkness of our souls a little bit each day and if we see no improvement in our conduct of holiness then we need to question if we have come to a full saving grace in Christ Jesus.

2) Once the Spirit has begun its work we need to identify the factors in our old life that kept us from knowing fullness in God; For example partying, gambling, profanity, sexual immorality, certain friends, and certain activities. Most if not virtually all new Christians are not strong and rooted enough to withstand these, they are like Christ says the plants that shoot up quickly but because their roots are not deep wither quickly. The Bible says be in the world but not of the world.

3) One of God’s characteristics of holiness is the all consuming fire. We saw in the burning bush, the greater light referred to in Genesis (literally the sun, metaphorically God). We must be allowed to be refined by a holy fire; 11 “I baptize you with[a] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire.” If we do not allow ourselves to be all consumed it means that portions of us are still tainted by sin. In Australia for thousands of years aborigines have done controlled burning of the outback because their plants pollinate that way. Even today the Australian government does it to pollinate and control wild fires because when they control burn it does not get out of control. In fact the entire country is set to burn to the ground and re-sprout and regrow almost immediately if you look at areas burned by wild fires they are nearly regrown within a few years. We are similar to this. It is only by this wild fire of a HOLY fire can we be remade a new.

4) Holiness cannot be replaced from when it was destroyed by Adam. When Adam and Eve sinned they initiated an event that had long lasting and eternal consequences that they could not have foreseen, they forfeited their own holiness and the perpetual holiness of all humankind for the rest of eternity. Since only One Being is holy He must be the one to extend the olive branch so that holiness can be restored unto us. And we see this in Jesus. I love the series of verses in Isaiah when the prophet comes before the Temple of the Most High; God extends His holiness so Isaiah can fulfil his commission.

5) We are meant to be Holy because God created us in His image. Our natural state was always meant to be pure and holy, we are called to be perfect and holy for that is what we were originally. We were meant for it and so as such it is only natural by pure logic to cling to the one Being who can help us return to our original natural state.

6) Part of the Great Commission includes the importance of preaching on the holiness of God. While the unsaved are often attracted to the love of God, the fellowship of community, or His forgiveness they must also be aware of His holiness and His wrath.

We are as a people both fascinated and frightened of a holy God, we are afraid to approach Him. In the Bible it was said if we were to see the face of God we would fall dead. When Moses came down the Children of Israel could not look upon him because his face shone with the residual traces of God’s glory and holiness. In the end it all comes down to one thing, the sacrifice of Christ. See because of our sin there is chasm that is so vast that it spans oceans of time and space. The sacrifice of Christ builds that bridge that we may go through, be purified, and enter into the holy of holies. How does the love and sacrifice of Christ achieve this?

1) God’s holiness and justice is always balanced He could not just say to Adam, Eve, or us “well all is forgiven and forgotten-don’t worry about it.” Every action has a consequence and there must be a payment, people say that is very cruel of God. Why is that cruel? Would we ever want someone who has wronged us when we have done nothing wrong to go unpunished?

2) We are human beings with a faulty, dying, and finite human brain. We could not comprehend the beginnings of God’s holiness without the work of Christ and the Spirit.

3) The first thing that is done when we are forgiven of our sins, whenever we confess whether it is the first or 400th we are made holy and pure.

In the Bible we see terms such as God is love, but we see repeated quotations of “holy holy holy Lord God Almighty who Was and Is and Is to come.” Rev 4:8.  There are many references to God’s holiness and I feel, no I know that I have done an insufficient job to portray that holiness.  Truly in this series I have done an insufficient job all around because there is no way a simple preacher, minister, priest, theologian could adequately portray an attribute of God.  But we do know His holiness is perfect, sanctified, humbly to us, it is all consuming, it reveals all.  His holiness makes everything holy when it comes into contact with unholy things.  But we must always remember that like anything to do with the Lord it is meant for our betterment and our salvation.  Praise be to God for His holy standards for us!

 

 

The importance of Christmas now more than ever.

am_93473_3681716_863070This is my first Christmas sermon and I have probably written and deleted the start of it several times. I am writing this in hopes it will reach those online Christians who perhaps cannot get to a church for Christmas or those who perhaps have no inclination to go to church and happen to stumble on this sermon by chance. We live in a day and age where mankind can connect to more people across the world at any other time in the history of our being and yet studies show we are so disconnected from each other that people feel more isolated and lonely now than at any other time in history. It is with that sense of detachment that I choose the topic for my first Christmas sermon, the importance of Christmas now more than ever. And it is in that spirit that I take not the traditional Scriptural texts for my inspiration but something from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

One of my favourite types of texts to read is historic biographies, specifically of prophets, ministers, missionaries, holy men, and chaplains. I could lose myself in the story of military chaplain’s for hours. I recently came across the story of a Christmas miracle that I would like to introduce this first Christmas sermon for me. It was Christmas 1969 and a young corporal in the U.S. military was spending his first Christmas away from home, in South Vietnam. To ring in the holidays he had been under constant gun fire, he had lost a large amount of his unit and his brother in law whom he had come over with was M.I.A. Now this corporal, we will call him “Charlie” was alone, he had not seen anyone from his company in days and truthfully he did not even know what day it was-he could only roughly guess it was close to Christmas. Now at this time guerrilla’s in the bush was quite common and so the threat of being captured or killed was very real. Charlie felt someone watching him, he was cold, wet, hungry, exhausted, and was sure he would be dead very soon. Then a jeep came up behind him, Charlie immediately went on the defensive ready to engage the enemy but he heard a voice in the headlights, “Corporal Charles is that you?”; Charlie was immediately taken aback, the voice was American, he crept forward slowly ever wary and fearful his mind was playing tricks on him. The driver approached and he immediately saw the signs of the cross, the American uniform, and the chaplain pins. This large man approached Charlie, he was rugged, large, and a mountain of a human being but Charlie would later describe him as having the most gentle of natures. The chaplain had received the remaining of Charlie’s unit including his brother in law and everyone was worried about Charlie and giving that it was the day before Christmas Eve the commanding officer had given special dispensation to go and do a search for this lost soldier. Charlie found himself amongst a very distraught unit with several other companies as well. They had been decimated, they had lost so many men and even though they were together somewhat they were away from home, not at the USO shows and were living off bare rations in a hollowed out Vietnamese church with candles. The priest had been working with the chaplain and they had tried to create a makeshift home for Christmas, some of the villagers had donated some meagre rations even. Morale was at an all time low and things like sing alongs, games, and storytelling raised spirits only minimally. The chaplain looked at these 70+ beaten boys sitting around the church, huddling by little make shift fires and lying on pews. He knew going up the pulpit for a rousing sermon may not end up working. These boys felt alone at Christmas and so they needed to be unified as a family. Chaplain went around and rounded up and had them sit around a larger campfire just outside the front door of the church, he sat amongst them, and he looked up at the sky, the stars were so beautiful and that text of God putting the stars into place and knowing them by name came into his mind, and it is with that inspiration he began his Christmas sermon, completely improv! Slowly boys started listening, they arose from their stupor and began to hang on his words, contemplating them, and if anyone was looking off into the distance it was not because of boredom or disagreement but because of reflection. The chaplain was not giving an eloquent sermon but just talking in the manner that someone would if they were praying by themselves or talking with a close friend. One soldier recounted that at that moment they did not feel lonely but almost at a spiritual retreat or a camp, they felt connected to each other, the chaplain, and the Being he was talking about. “Charlie” said that the sermon had given many of them hope and truly still does even decades later. Now this was a summary of an anonymous story I read in an article called “Christmas Miracles at the Front” and I am sure I did not do it justice but it sets the tone for the rest of the sermon on how God dispels loneliness particularly at Christmas.

In the Holy Bible we see images of darkness, evil, loneliness, and yet they are always balanced with light, good, comfort, and hope. The Bible is very realistic in the way the human condition is presented but it also presents God as the one who corrects it and brings salvation. I want to look at 3 groups of people who played a part in the Christmas story and the comfort they would have received in their times of loneliness, Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, and the wise men.

Let us look at Mary; Mary came from a peasant background, she was a descendent from the line of David as was Joseph but her father Joachim and Anna were relatively obscure and poor.  Nazareth would have been the equivalent of our low socio-economic areas in today’s society.  Mary being in a traditional Jewish family would have always been chaperoned by either her father, brothers, uncles, or other women.  She would have rarely been alone.  But then when the angel Gabriel came to her at the Annunciation the loneliness Mary felt must have been overwhelming.  This would have been for several reasons, 1)  She was still a child, 13 or 14 maximum she did not have the comprehension or understanding of what was being asked of her, all she had to go on was her faith but she had no concept on who to go for support in this at that moment.  She had to know that an unmarried woman with a child could be executed, and also these consequences would extend to her family as well.  Even if she claimed she had been raped by a Roman soldier the child would be killed and she would still be viewed as unclean so while it would save her life it would be a lie and still culturally stigmatised; Mary was a pious girl but she was in a no win situation if she tried to do anything but submit to God’s will.  But then Gabriel gives her hope that this is of God and the proof lies with Cousin Elizabeth.  We know the prophecy is true, Elizabeth is with child at an impossible age and even more this child reacts to the Spirit of God while in the womb informing Elizabeth of what Mary carries as a further reassurance to the Virgin.  See these moments of loneliness and fear for us in the grand spectrum of eternity do not make a difference because when these fears, negative anxieties, and whispers of the enemy are quickly in God’s time countered with reassurance in real and legitimate form.

But then there is another person in this equation, very much the forgotten player in the Holy family; Jesus’ foster father, Joseph.  Joseph would have been older than Mary, some scholars say as old as late 30’s; he would have been a distant relative of Mary because Jewish custom dictated that a potential husband should be someone relatively connected in lineage to the family.  Joseph  had just been told about what has happened, the feelings he must have experienced, the obvious one being betrayal, he must have felt isolated that this happened, because while he would not be punished he would have been isolated from the community and shunned for letting this happen.  He would have been living with Mary’s family but would have had to move out since the contract was null and void.  Truly he would have felt rejected and outside God’s favour for such a thing to happen.  Yet again the Lord comes swiftly with reassurance in the angel reassuring Joseph, not only is this all true but God wants you to raise the boy.  Joseph goes from shock, hurt, and despair at this time to reassurance, blessing, and honour.  So he takes Mary into his house they have just each other to rely on and God.  See ladies and gentlemen God often brings comfort to us in different ways, it often times is a friend, neighbour, or even a stranger to bring us Christmas cheer.  Other times it can be an email or note arriving to us at our lowest point.  See in the gospels of Luke and Matthew it gives us the facts but negates a person’s mental status and emotions at this time.  I believe this is a benefit for two reasons: 1) it allows us to empathise and relate to the characters and 2) the writer does not assume what someone like the Virgin Mary should be feeling, emotions and thoughts are often between you and God, God knows our desires, hopes, and dreams and only He can respond with exactly what we need.  Imagine Mary and Joseph leaving Nazareth towards Bethlehem, the whispers of scandal still swirling around about the pregnancy (later in the gospels Jesus is still identified as Joseph’s son so even then in Nazareth He was not recognised for what He was).  The Holy Family journeyed through one of the harshest environments on earth, we are not sure if they knew that out of Bethlehem the Saviour would be born and we are not sure where exactly Christ was born but we know there was no room in the inn, even then they felt rejected but there is one thing we must always remember brothers and sisters, when we feel the world is against us (and as Christians they may be) God is always for us and we cannot lose then!

I remember a story of a homeless teen in Montreal, Canada.  She had been abused by her foster parents, had been living with a much older boyfriend and had gotten into the drugs and alcohol.  She was in a particularly bad way one night; it was miserably cold, too cold for even snow and she was contemplating ending it all.  She decided to walk into the river, she did not take anything off, but suddenly she panicked and tried to get out, as the cold filled her body she started to feel hopelessness, she thought it was too late and fell into the depths of sadness and depression.  She sank below and it went black.  Time seemed to drag on in that black deep but then this teen awoke in a hospital.  It was two days after the suicide attempt.  She had no recollection of how she got there.  She called the nurse and inquired, evidently according to the nurse someone had been boating up the river, noticed the girl and jumped in to save her, warmed her, brought her to the shore and the girl was dipping in and out of consciousness.  An ambulance came along with police, they took the girl away, the police questioned the hero and he disappeared into the mist.  The girl never found out who her saviour was and the police could not locate his statement.  She took it as a gift from God, and got the hint, several years later she is a successful school teacher with a husband and foster kids.  She is now the saving grace that God sends to people who are like she once was.

This woman has been a wise guide to many.  Now I would like to move onto others who were wise; the wise men in the Bible or the Magi, specifically whose story is located in the Gospel of Matthew.  Historians and Biblical scholars agree they were most likely of Persian, Chinese, or Middle Eastern in some way.  Since they were tracking the Star of Bethlehem they were also most likely astrologers and since they had a sense of the Son of God being connected with the star and the prophecies behind it they were assumed to be holy men, possibly Zoroaster priests.  In the Gospel of Matthew they come sometime after the birth of Christ when He is a young child, most likely a toddler.  They followed the star and worshipped Him.  I think about the far trek they had to make, truly farther than the shepherds or the Holy Family.  I imagine them journeying through desert, jungle, forest, and hostile territory.  They may have had servants, and they did have each other but they were feeling a loneliness that the others did not, the loneliness of being away from ones home.  They would have been gone for months if not years and there is no guarantee they returned to their homes safely since the journey was so perilous.  Yet this was inconsequential for them because the star was so important for their knowledge and the Christ child was important for their knowledge, faith, spirits, and everything else.  Meeting Him and Mary was the pinnacle of this pilgrimage of theirs and it made up for the countless months of loneliness, isolation, and separation from all they knew.  In this day of easy travel people are often separated from their loved ones at Christmas and it can be a very hard; some people do not mind it, but most often that is from developing a thick skin from it happening multiple times over the years.  When I was in China for a year we did not have Christmas off and the employer warned us of this when we were hired and I did not think it would bother me.  Being in China many people travelled or went with friends, we saw many Christmas decorations but what stands out to me is being in my own hollowed out apartment in a grungy apartment building.  I was in my room with a small stand-up cross on a small desk with a small candle reading the Biblical Christmas stories and listening to carols and Christmas chants.  I had just finished a very nice dinner in a restaurant but it was by myself.  And I was going to watch some Christmas movies and Skype wit my parents and my then fiancée but as I was reading my Bible at that desk in my pathetic little apartment I was overcome with sadness and absolute emptiness, a sense of being so insignificant that I felt forgotten.  And yet I felt a connection, because in that communist country I shared this holy time with millions of underground Christians who many were alone in their own hollowed out hovels; we were connected by the Spirit.  I felt so reassured by that, I did not feel empty or cut off from the world I felt God’s hand of peace on me but it made me think about another group of people who would have felt isolated and empty and cut off from the world; the shepherds.

The Annunciation to the Shepherds is one of the most memorable stories in the Bible found in the Gospel of Matthew.  These shepherds often inherited their flocks ancestrally.  They often lived in caves in the wilderness and many of them lived by themselves for most of their lives.  These people were a culture unto themselves; they were not versed in religious or political matters, they were concerned with the seasons, the survival of their families, their flocks, and themselves (in that order most of the time).  They had their own oral traditions passed down from father to son, mother to daughter.  Truly the Bible is filled with countless references to shepherds and a nomadic lifestyle (Moses, Abraham, and many more).  Yet this class of people would have never expected to encounter anything that would have them recorded in the memory of the world for all time.  They were not aware of a coming Messiah and they maybe got to the temple or a synagogue occasionally having a rudimentary sense of God and a simple yet pure faith.  So when the angel of the Lord announced to them the birth of a Saviour they were the first to worship. They were chosen out of all of humanity.  The theme of Jesus’ life was of a Saviour coming for the lowest of the low, the sinner, the sick, not the priests and the rich.  It was a theme that began with the shepherds.  It was not necessarily that they were geographically close but that the most important event which happened to humanity was being reserved for them.  It must have been so overwhelming, a sense of loneliness, isolation, and emptiness that may have possibly occupied their lives replaced by self worth, awe, humility, a sense of God’s love and joy.  See people can empathise with the shepherds because they too are lonely and isolated by their lives, the situation they were born into, or their jobs.  I knew a woman once who was born the only girl in an all male Muslim family, truly even her mother was gone and so she had no one to guide her in the ways of womanhood, she was to serve her family until she was married in an arrangement organised by her father and then she would serve her husband.  This was a large amount of culture being enforced in the name of a religion.  Even the girl’s friends seemed to happily follow this and both them, the family, and even the girl could not understand why with every fibre of her body and soul she rejected this culture and teaching.  She felt like her fate was decided before she was born and she hoped for an event that would alter her destiny.  She encountered this in a born again Christian missionary who visited her village.  This nun was accepted into the village due to the Muslim respect for Mary and the clergy.  The nun enlisted the assistance of the Muslim girl in setting up community programs.  The father did not have an issue with it because it was keeping her away from the secular influence but she was not to go into the church.  Yet the wonderful thing about Christ ladies and gentlemen is that the Spirit works from the inside out and the seed was already planted.  One night, the girl gave her life to Christ and the plan began to smuggle her out of the village to a safe haven because the penalty for conversion was quite severe.  After years of hardship, danger, and abuse the girl escaped her former life and now resides in Europe working with aid agencies.  Her, like the shepherds felt this isolation and loneliness from birth and felt like it was beyond possibility to experience a miracle, and yet it was the greatest miracles that were reserved for the forgotten or untouchables of society.  The greatest miracles can be and are meant for the single mother raising 4 kids on her own, the senior citizen who is alone on Christmas, the international student who is separated from country and kin.

Mary and Joseph experienced loneliness and isolation from actions initiated by others.  The wise men experienced loneliness and isolation from country and home due to a call of God.  And the shepherds experienced these feelings from birth and the lives they were born into.  This Christmas you may be alone and dismayed by actions outside your control, those that you initiated, or those initiated by others.  What you need to know is that whatever your circumstance God loves you!  There are countless church services happening right now, there are outreach programs, and community programs to connect you to a spiritual family.  The baby Christ was born into poverty and an enslaved people and yet He had people there to support Him, including God the Father!  You have God there with you right now, and people are out there who want to make that connection with you this Christmas.  This is the central tenant of Christ’s message.  God loves you, Christ is here for you and you are never alone!  “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”Luke 2:10-15.  In this day and age when we can be connected to people more than at any time in human history we are disconnected more more than ever and yet God remains, He will never leave us nor forsake us, we are never alone, never really alone.  Merry Christmas, may the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ whose nativity we remember this day grant you the peace of God, the joy of salvation and the sense of belonging and fulfilment that only He can bring.

Keeping a Holy Advent

AdventI personally wish I had done an Advent sermon series every week this year, but we will save that for next year. This sermon is an interlude from the “Attributes of God” series that we have been plugging through. Often the early church missionaries, preachers, and pastors from churches all around Europe preached at length on the topic of Advent and Lent. They spoke about the importance of increased prayers, devotions, fasting, and true penance. In this day and age we take a very laid back attitude to these types of holy times thinking that they are from an antiquated time. That it is neither necessary nor acceptable. But as Paul says if a person is worshipping Christ we should not try to curtail their efforts or their forms of worship and devotion. Everyone I have spoken to speaks of how keeping a holy Advent and Lent gives them substance and a closer, more sacred experience leading up to Christmas. Jews and Muslims for centuries have been going through their own holy high holidays and have gained deeper, more meaningful experiences in their faith; why do we give up that same right? The point of this sermon today for our online parishioners and those who will be hearing it in an actual church is to give an overview of the Advent season, the meaning behind it, the journey through it, and the devotions it brings to the Nativity.

Most Christians know how December 25th was chosen as the universal day for Christmas, but not as many people know the story of Advent. An anglicanized version of the Latin “adventus” (coming) formal observances, fasting, and devotion began in the fourth century. The Eastern Orthodox churches have an Advent like time that begins in the middle of November and goes into January; it is focussed on fasting, prayer, repentance, and abstinence. As I said in the western church Advent began to be a formalised holy time around the 4th century. It is hard to assess where this formal time first emerged as a recognised portion in the church liturgal calendar but the earliest record we have of a formal observance is in France. It was originally meant as a preparation time for the Feast of the Epiphany where converts would be baptised. It began as only a few weeks but to mirror Lent in a parallelism was made 40 days. In 380 A.D., the local Council of Saragossa, Spain, established a three-week fast before Epiphany. It was inspired by the Lenten regulations, the local Council of Macon, France, in 581 designated that from Nov. 11 (the Feast of St. Martin of Tours) until Christmas fasting would be required on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Eventually, similar practices spread to England. In Rome, the Advent preparation did not appear until the sixth century, and was viewed as a preparation for Christmas.

The Church gradually formalized the celebration of Advent. Traditionalists attributed Pope Gelasius I (d. 496), to be the man that was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope Gregory I (d. 604) went further composing prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses. Pope Gregory VII later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.

But what are the Advent customs? Some of the more common customs I will touch upon (because the actual focus of this sermon is keeping a holy Advent). The first is being the Advent wreathe. This 4 candle wreath ornament came about in the 1500’s from German Lutherans (legend states that Martin Luther himself may have been the original creator of it). Each candle is meant for each week and each candle has a specific meaning. The wreathe is a circle, which has no beginning or end: So we call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of God’s plan of salvation and how we hope to share eternal life. The wreathe is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new life through His passion, death, and resurrection. Three candles are purple, symbolizing penance, preparation, and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudette Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished.

The light represents Christ, who entered this world to bring light to a dark room. The lighting of candles is meant to be a journey as so many journeyed to worship the Babe wrapped in swaddling and lying in a manger.   Let’s look at the devotion that each week holds, who are the players in it, what are the circumstances, and what is the reflection for that week. Some of the things that bother me with many advent devotions are that people often use random, glib, and shallow reflections for their advent devotions that have nothing to do with the preparation of Christ’s Nativity.  One devotion recently compared the coming of Christ to a Justin Bieber concert!  While all of the Bible is important Advent is a time of reflection, study, and devotion focussing on one specific event, Christ’s birth and while it is all leading up to Christ’s resurrection other things can get in the way, worldly noises that can drown out the glad tidings of great joy.

2081228827_545468587e_sWeek 1: In this first week traditionally Advent observers will begin either on the last day of November or the first of December, or roughly when the beginning of the 40 days counting back from Christmas begins. They light that first candle on a Sunday night, some let it burn all week and others light it every night after the evening meal. This parallels the Chanukah candles. We reflect on how that single light throws us back to 1000 years before Christ came.  To the time of the prophet Isaiah, that single light offering hope in a world of craze and darkness. It symbolises the longing and hope the people of Israel (as well as us for we are Abraham’s decedents) have for the coming of the Messiah and how long we have been waiting for Him. In the Advent devotions we begin with the texts of Isaiah. This was a book that was found 100% in tact at the Dead Sea and it is often called the book of prophecy since it deals largely more than any other Old Testament gospel with direct signs, histories, references, and prophecies of the coming Messiah. Even though it often speaks in metaphor and imagery Jewish and later Christian scholars could clearly see that it was referencing times that were being recorded through the eyes of the Prophet. In the book of Jeremiah the Lord proclaims that there is a time where someone will arise from the House of David, He shall save Judah and Jerusalem and make them secure and safe. In Isaiah we are shown how Israel has angered God consistently and has fallen away so many times that a plan will be revealed to save them from their bondage (granted they thought literal bondage, whether it was the Babylonians or the Romans) but it was their bondage that prevented them from living in a holy state before a just God. The first week emphasises to us the importance of being earnest in the same way we have made the mistake of turning away from God we are told that enough is enough just as the Israelites had been told. There is something coming that you will either accept and be saved, or reject and be lost. It is the last chance, prepare, be fearful but have hope. For He shall judge and those who are enslaved will be set free, the poor will be lifted up, and the persecuted will be vindicated. But also the haughty and proud will be thrown down; the wicked and vile will be cast out. Prepare; be vigilant and watch (Peter).

second_sunday_in_advent_and_two_candles_are_litWeek 2: In this second week as we light the second and then the first candle we are called to observe the closing of our exile outside God’s grace. We are given more hope, the Old Testament focuses on how the Messiah will save God’s people and how God will judge those who do not accept this generous gift.  However Isaiah and the other prophets make the coming of the Messiah so obvious and portray it as the greatest miracle of all time with such truth we cannot be afraid but excited. This week is a time of purification, sanctification, and cleansing. We are called to prepare our hearts, minds, souls, and make our paths straight. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Like Jews of the Old Testament who had to perform ritual preparation to enter the Temple we are to do the same for the coming King. We are so close to being freed. I recently read a journal account from a minister who was a former slave. This man was once an African prince who was transported to the Indies then England. He was a slave for many years, but through the grace of God he became educated, freed, and eventually a minister and activist. This man’s name was Gustavus Vassa or better known later as Olaudah Equiano. He worked with William Pitt, William Wilberforce, and others to bring about the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. In his still popular auto-biography he talks about the anticipation of his freedom when he knew he would be released from slavery. In his book he describes it almost like salivating over a great meal. You can almost taste it. And that is what we are called to focus on in the Advent season. In this materialistic culture we are excited for gifts, parties, and holidays yet we are to transport ourselves to ancient Palestine and relive the emotions of those people in awaiting Christ. It is when we can achieve that empathy that we become more intimate in our relationship with Christ. The Bible in the second week frequently references imagery of parched lands being rejuvenated with Living Water. This Utopia is coming, we have been told in this first week of what has gone wrong and been given a small hope, now it is more tangible like a mist appearing in front of us we can feel it.

untitledWeek 3: We are currently in week 3 of Advent. In my personal journals I often express my thoughts, vent my frustrations, record my travels, and reflect on my devotions. This Advent season I reflect on my Advent readings. In week 3 the Advent readings (which are sent out by church denominations-they are pretty much the same ones since the Bible is quite linear) focuses on the joy of the first coming. It is called Gaudete week. When a candle is lit in the third week it is often the rose candle. Yet certain denominations may do blue, or gold-it does not really matter. Gaudete literally means in Latin “rejoice.” This is the second part of Advent and we see the movement from the prophecies of old to the New Testament and the setting of the scene in Roman occupied Israel. Isaiah’s prophecies were laced with the Babylonian rule; the New Testament with Caesar’s but both dictatorships had something in common, the sin of Israel. See the children of God were not called to rejoice because a military leader was coming to overthrow a tyrannical king. Empires will always rise and fall so that was only a matter of time but the human disease of sin is constant and degenerative and the consequences were torture in the kingdom of darkness. That is why we should rejoice, we approach a time of remembrance when we were ripped from the shadows. Now it is not 100% rosy for those involved with Christ’s birth. We focus on the key players; first and for most- the Virgin Mary. Her first reaction to being told she would bear the Son of God was not a positive one, she was afraid and distressed by what she heard. We can imagine why, people would think she was immoral; they would think she was a liar, unfaithful to her betrothed, a blasphemer, truly she may even die. Joseph must have felt like he had been cheated on or that Mary had gone mad, or that he had gotten himself into something that he was unaware of. Yet when the angel came to Joseph in a dream how did Joseph feel after?  Was he ashamed that he did not believe Mary? Was he embarrassed that he did not trust or consult the Lord or a rabbi? And yet the relief and acceptance Mary must have felt once she was with Elisabeth and Zechariah! She must have been in a microcosm of safety where she could reflect and pray in peace. We hold onto that feeling this week and try to keep it in the times that the darkness seems overwhelming.

90_20_20_webWeek 4: We light candle number 4. This is traditionally a shorter advent week as we are within a breath of the Nativity. In this fourth week I think of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, a holy family, walking through sand storms, camping under palm trees, and going through rugged terrain. They were not the most popular people in their community because they followed God’s plan instead of cultural appropriate customs. All they had were each other, but still it was a lonely time. Christmas often is a lonely time for many; sadly it is one of the worse times in the year for depression and suicides. We can take a lesson from this, in this fourth week of advent let us take a lesson from the early Christian converts and seek out those who are alone. One of the most appealing facets of our faith is the sense of fellowship people feel-this should be emphasised and reinforced during Christmas tide. When I was a young teenager there was an older woman I knew. She was from what we would call “the other side of the tracks.” She was a larger woman who had a rough life. We will call her “Joan”. Joan was extremely poor and the community program I knew her through was her only chance to get a meal and a welcoming atmosphere. She had several children varying from different ages and fathers.  She had a boyfriend who was abusing her. Joan had mental health issues, was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and had no job. 4 days before Christmas Joan disappeared. We do know her boyfriend had left her and the doctors had changed her medication and had done it improperly. Though I was a young teen I remember that very few people treated Joan well even at the community outreach program. I hope and pray Joan is ok and has gotten her life together but I am reminded of the ways we could have reached out to her before she left.  Did the people of Nazareth treat Mary and Joseph like this? In the time they needed people the most they may have been abandoned. The Holy Bible commands us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, be kind for we never know who are angels hidden or even Christ Himself! For all of us, the story behind these days can draw us in, and invite us to bring our lives to the mystery of how Jesus came into this world and why. Our best preparation for the Holy Night ahead and the Joyful Morning to follow is for us to reflect upon how He came. He came in a time that was laced with strife, prejudice, and poverty. He came as the most helpless member of society; not the military leader as many thought. He was rejected before he was born. He was laid in a filthy feed trough in a stale, rank cave. He was declared an enemy of the state. He grew up with the whispers of His conception. He did not shun us even though we never gave him a chance. He embraced us, we crucified Him. And He desires to embrace us now. On Christmas Eve I love listening to “Silent Night Holy Night” and imagine a peaceful, quiet, and sombre night in Bethlehem, the world was hushed and I feel at peace. Yet Christ is comforting us and giving us that peace-pass it onto others and be Christ to them. If we accept the gift of Christ Jesus’ love we will find ourselves entering the sacred night and morning of Christmas “joyful and triumphant” as never before and we will truly understand the meaning of Christmas.

advent-wreathNow I do have some suggestions for keeping a Christ-focussed Christmas, because after all that is the whole point of Advent. First, keep the devotion and intimacy you found in Advent by keeping the “reason for the season” in mind and treating it not just as a family get together and presents but also a holy time. Mix your devotions with the gift of grace which was more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Look to what Christ was ultimately born for and be humbled by it, you will feel all the more grateful even for the smallest joys. The key to finding intimacy with God in the midst of this time of Christ’s mass (as it was once called) is to be aware of what it all means. With focus and a conscious attention to the Infant we go through our day in constant prayer and praise as the Bible calls us to do. I love church services on Christmas Eve and at midnight or dawn services. There is something in the air that I must say is what the Spirit tastes like because I have no word for it in any other language. Secondly, we are to keep the day for all year. In Charles Dickens a “Christmas Carol” Ebenezer Scrooge says that he will keep Christmas in his heart every day of the year and that is what we should remember to do, it is not a day, but a season that is to be an eternal one. I had a friend in university who loved listening to Christmas carols year round because he said they were the best kind of praise and worship songs and we missed out when we denied ourselves the other 364 days a year. Thirdly, use Christmas to spread the Gospel. This is our primary mission as Christians. Christmas is a tool we can use to do this. Replace the gifts Santa gives with the sacrifice of Christ. Take away the Christmas tree and supplement the star of Bethlehem. Offer with the stocking a Bible with the Christmas story highlighted! I have experienced such a deeper level of God’s love this season I am excited for my devotions during Christmas, Lent, and Easter but I do not need these holy times to have this level of devotion year round and that is how you keep a holy Advent, don’t keep it limited to Advent. Merry Christmas!

Attributes of God-his eternity

eternity

This is our third instalment on our sermon series focussing on the attributes of God.  Today we focus on his eternal nature.  Granted, this overlaps with his aseity, the wonderful nature of God is indivisible and wonderful but we can look at what it means to be eternal.  His aseity is more so that he is existent upon Himself and as such exists eternally in joint harmony with that aseity.  We will be looking at the two bodies of thought on God’s eternity, the first that God exists eternally outside of the time/space continuum.  That he exists outside the rules of past, present, and future.  The other body of thought we will examine is that God has existed in our linear time eternally, and yet exists at all times thus he exists constantly in the present because the past, present, and future are the same so one can say he exists only in the past, only the present, and only in the future yet all of them at the same time.  With that we have the possibility that God exists outside our concept of time but exists in ours to interact with us.

God’s eternity (or existence of time) is one of the hot topics in the Bible.  Literalists in the Bible believe that the world was created in literally 7 days, and other Christians believe that the concept of 7 days cannot be viewed by our current standards and with this debate comes the thought, “how does God view time?”  In the 1977  film “Oh God” our Creator is portrayed by the comedian George Burns, in an OT type story he comes down to inform Jerry Landers (John Denver) that he is to be a prophecy of God and Jerry suffers much, being sued, fired, and committed.  One of the key quotes I like to start of the sermon with is when Denver questions God at the beginning of the film asking him questions and when Burns tries to explain the concepts of time he says “when I woke up this morning Sigmund Freud was in medical school.” Time, as Einstein would have said, is relative.  An eternal being, by whatever name, saying “time is short” probably carries an entirely different meaning for you or I.  I once asked a child when I was teaching a Sunday school on an inner city mission trip what we know about God.  The child responded that He was old, that’s why His beard was always white but other than that it was a miracle He looked that good for His age.  And age is the question in the Bible; many literalists believe the world is 6000 years old based on the adding of the years backwards from when the last word in the Bible was recorded and summing up all the generations.  It is this modern concept of traditionalist time that we will start with, both the pros and pitfalls behind it.

Our modern Gregorian calendar has only been used for the last few millennia before that varying calendars were used and they varied even more around the world.  At the time the Bible was composed and over the thousands of years it was written concepts of days, time, and years varied.  The traditionalist view is very much under the realm of the young earth creationist theory.  These theologians believe the universe, Earth, and humans came into existence at maximum 10, 000 years ago.  The opposite types of believers are called historic critical Christians.  This view is not only held by Christians but also the other Abrahamic religions. The Seder Olam Rabbah, which was a reflective discourse and history of the world.  It was compiled by Jose ben Halafta in 160 AD.  He dates the creation of the world to 3751 BC while the later Seder Olam Zutta dates it around 4339 BC. The Hebrew Calendar (which is the calendar that 99% of the Old Testament is written in) has since the 4th century AD dated the creation to 3761 BC.  If this is the case then the fall of the Lucifer (Satan) and the 1/3 angels must have occurred a short time before that.  Needless to say ancient to medieval scholars date it roughly between the aforementioned 5000-10, 000 years ago.  Now you may be asking well this is ok to focus on our concept of time but how does this involve God’s eternal nature?  Well it comes down to how did the Lord view the timeline of creation and that is our focus.

St. Augustine once said that time exists only in this universe thus God is out of time; “In the eminence of thy ever-present eternity, thou precedest all times past, and extendest beyond all future times, for they are still to come — and when they have come, they will be past. But “Thou art always the Self-same and thy years shall have no end.” Thy years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come in order that all separate moments may come to pass. All thy years stand together as one, since they are abiding. Nor do thy years past exclude the years to come because thy years do not pass away. All these years of ours shall be with thee, when all of them shall have ceased to be. Thy years are but a day, and thy day is not recurrent, but always today. Thy “today” yields not to tomorrow and does not follow yesterday. Thy “today” is eternity.”  You see brothers and sisters in Christ, for thousands of years we have been debating and pondering such things as the Trinity, the timeline of God, and miracles.  We ponder at the awesomeness of all these things but to God they just are.  We debate how long God took to do things such as the freezing of the sun for Joshua yet, would that seem like a full day?  2nd Peter 3:8 says “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day with the Lord.”  Many theologians believe that this is the view of time from God’s perspective and have tried to date events on the Bible based on that theory but notice Peter uses the word “like” it is a simile.  He is saying that a day to God does not mean a day but some large number.  In Psalm 90: 1-4 the author says the same thing.  In Genesis Abraham planted a tree at Beersheba and called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.  In other world religions the God’s have some sense of being they are not aseitic but have a beginning and their ends are unclear.

This concept of the eternal nature of God being in the present, past and future summed up as I AM-meaning always a state of being is not a concept grounded in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ; the very reason why we do all of this he said in John 8:58 “Before Abraham was born I AM.”  God reveals himself by and in his Names. The ineffable name of Jehovah in this respect is very significant, for the inner meaning of Yahweh – “I am the One who is” – emphasises God’s dynamic and active self-existence. The name Yahweh is connected with the verb meaning “to be” (Exodus 3:14).Truly God’s eternal being is also evident in “His eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Eph 3:10-11)  So God never had an idea one day to just send Christ down as a solution He just came up with, his aseitic eternal nature always had this eternal purpose but if God’s concept of eternity is I AM thus He would not have viewed it as a long standing plan but like the air we breathe it just is.  In one of the rare instances this concept of an eternal nature is in sync between the Old and New Testaments; (Deut 33:27): “The eternal God is your refuge.” (1 Timothy 1:17):  “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  You see my friends eternity to God is an unchanging present, to us it is a succession of moments, an evolution of events leading to an inevitable effect, death.  When we come to Christ though we are partially removed from time here and partially put into God’s realm of time, we have one foot in and one foot out for we have had a beginning but we will have no end.  I believe this is why the human mind is incapable at this time to comprehend the concept of the eternal present because we have not experienced that.

The second point I would like to briefly touch upon is the difference between His eternal Being and when God uses the word eternal.  For example when God establishes an eternal covenant; like us, this covenant has a beginning but no end.  This is something we can easily comprehend.  Even angels themselves have a “conditional eternity.”  In the Bible it does not out rightly state that human spirits and souls have always existed.  Many Mormon churches hold to this tenant in their doctrine however unconditional essence of an eternal being is reserved for God alone.  I believe He does this intentionally; in Genesis when Adam and Eve eat from the fruit God says to the heavenly host and celestial bodies that “they have become like Us (meaning Jesus and the Spirit).  If Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of Life they would have been transformed into celestial, free thinking beings, similar to the fallen angels.  Aside from the glory of God being a reason for sole eternal nature I believe it was also meant as a safe guard for He knew what the consequences were.  Nothing can share equality with God is a reason we should be happy that we are not unconditionally eternal.

The last point I would like to discuss (there is much I can say on this topic but to avoid babbling I need to restrict myself) is the concept of God’s eternal nature in the span of being in our universe and the agreed upon truths.  Now in this sermon series I will most likely overlap as I have said before many times, but that just shows that God’s nature is often indivisible.  One of the reasons God has an eternal nature that is outside our space/time continuum is because He created matter, time, and space.  When something is created, its creator is often separate from its creation.  For example if we clone a biological organism we are not bound by the same properties as it for we are separate and the creator or at least the higher life form.   God is outside His creation of time, just as we are outside of a food we have created or a science experiment.   Since God is the creator, He is not bound by such realities of the laws of the universe. These came to be by His own sovereign will “in the beginning.” Before that, God was and still is Blessed in Himself, lacking nothing and completely self-sufficient (aseitic-see how it overlaps).  God is immanent in his universe. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God is also transcendent, beyond the realm we now experience, beyond time and space. He is “El-Olam,” the Everlasting God.  Going under this hypothesis, which is freely supported by Scripture, and then whatever was, is or will be is ever-present to God. Thus, Christ was historically crucified more than two thousand years ago (according to our modern calendar) and this is proven historically; but Scripture does not stop there. It says also that he “was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” Above that, we find: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

Though God has created out concept of time and the thought of the before, he does not bind himself to live in time just to relate to us better, we are privileged enough to close that gap via Christ Jesus. He is fully conscious of what time is, but God is beyond it. Time brings changes to such an extent that the philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can’t jump into the same river twice,” meaning that by the time you are ready to jump the second time the river has changed. ”  10 “He also says, In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,  and the heavens are the work of your hands.11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12).  Now what are the implications of this body of thought and what does it mean for us as Christians, because that is why we are here to understand the nature of God and the nature of His Son. “With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17; cf. Malachi 3:6).  But what does all this imply and what are the contesting theories or pitfalls of this difficult concept?

1. To begin with we must resist “Process Theology” of Clark Pinnock and others, these theories put forth the thesis that God changes according to man’s decisions and unfortunately because of our conflicting understanding of pre-destination and free will this is a common struggle amongst Christians. God’s independence must be kept in mind. From him and through him and unto him are all things; he is the source, the agent and the end of all existence.

2. We should continue using the traditional method of interpretation, in recognising the differing language in regard to God (for example God using the word eternity to describe something as opposed to the word eternity being used for Him). Though years are ascribed to God, yet they cannot be numbered or finished, since there is no proportion between the duration of God, and the years of men.

3. We cannot fully comprehend these topics until we are fully recreated before God.  God is eternity; it is not a separate concept-He is it.  Those who please God must believe that God “is” (Hebrews 11:6), the ever-present reality. God is not dead and irrelevant; he is not coming to become. He Is.

The ontological (study of the nature of existence, nature, and reality) argument in favour of the eternal existence of God argues from the premise that “we can conceive of a Most Perfect Being. But a most Perfect Being must exist and ever exist, otherwise he is not Perfect, for non-existence detracts from perfection.”  Therefore God must exist, and that from eternity. For God to be God “he must be from eternity; eternity is an integral attribute of God, not something appended or added to him.”

God’s eternity is fundamental:

1. If God were not eternal, then neither is He immutable (unchanging, we will discuss this in 3 sermons from now). He must be a changeable God, for better or for worse. If for better, then he is not perfect and therefore not God. If for worse, then he loses his perfection and therefore cannot be God. All of God’s attributes as said before are interconnected and indivisible and only can be partially analysed separately.

2. If God were not eternal, then he is not almighty. A being that can be traced to have a beginning cannot carry the title of totally omnipotent, for what had a beginning was once nothing. If he was nothing, then he could act, neither to a larger nor to a smaller extent. “Nothingness spells powerlessness.”

3. If God were not eternal, then he is not the Alpha and the Omega. Then the cause of all things must be somewhere else but since nothing could fill that possibility.  The issue with that is an ultimate cause must exist, while it can have a series of causations it cannot exist randomly, even the universe according to sceptics had a cause.

4. If God were not eternal, He would be robbed of His glory, as said before an unconditional eternal nature is a reason for glory to God and that can never be shared with man;, for though he would be greater than us, he would still be “one of us,” a being with a beginning, just like us and we “just like Him”-Gen 1

Let us sum up the points that you want to take from this and use the above information to support your beliefs about the eternal nature of God:

1)  The world has a beginning as does all matter, time, and energy.

2)  The world could not exist if God is not (remember eternal present) eternal because He would have a beginning as well.

3)  God was in being and present at the creation of the world.

4)  His being is everlasting to everlasting; in a circle; constant.

5)  This being known as God shall endure time and space.

6)  There is only one God that can claim I AM.

The prophets understood this truth and avoided that greatest sin of idolatry. “Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O king of nations?  But they are altogether brutish and foolish…But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God and an everlasting king” (Jer 10). Psalm 115 also shows the clear differences between gods of wood, stone, gold, and man’s imagination as opposed to an eternal God. A god that has a beginning is no god. Brothers and sisters I know I have thrown a lot at you today and truly there is so much more.  This seems like a deep discussion but it actually only touches on the foundations of theological and apologetic studies that have existed for thousands of years.  What I want you to take from this sermon, this entire series is to dig deeper so we can discuss, debate, and profess eloquently the deeper understanding of God to do honour to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Our next sermon will be an interlude to this 2 months series and will focus on something I could do a sermon on every day; the holy time of prayer, fasting, and devotion-the time of Advent.  Let’s pray.

I will now give the benediction:  I take this from the book of Psalms with the concept of the evermore; I take it from Psalm 21 verse 6:  “Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.”  God bless you have a great week!