Lord, in your mercy…

During this time of National Emergency we enter in to the ancient rhythm of prayer for the world. Now let us go to Lord together in prayer.

Father God, Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; * you are worthy of praise; glory to you. We thank you for family and friends, for food and laughter, and for all your rich blessings!

Lord in your mercy  – Hear our Prayer

Today we pray for the needs of the whole world; let us remember, in his name, the poor, the hungry, the helpless, and the oppressed, the lonely, and all who are at higher risk of illness; we pray for the sick and for all that mourn. We also pray for those who feel tested, or wearied, or overwhelmed.
Lord in your mercy – Hear our prayer

In this time of National Emergency we pray for all medical staff and first responders, for those serving in humanitarian outreaches, kitchens and shelters. We pray for all needs nationally, around the world, and in our own community.

Lord in your mercy – Hear our prayer

Now take a moment of silence to lift up our own prayers and intercessions…

Now as Jesus taught us, we pray together:
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.

The Lord My Shepherd

One of the names given to God, this one by David, The Lord my Shepherd:

Consider what you can discover about the nature and character of God in these verses:

The Lord is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

he leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,

bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff

protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me

in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord

forever.

God is in the front row, smiling and proud:

Understanding “The Kingdom”

From the time of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people have been seizing it.

-Matthew 11:12

Remember when you first wanted to play guitar, or baseball, or when you got excited about a new hobby, exercise routine, course of study, etc? Once you get “turned on” to something new then you pursue it with great enthusiasm; so much more when you discover the “kingdom life” with Jesus. When we want something, when we are desperate for it, then we pursue it hard.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” – Luke 17:20-21

We’ve tried to “bring the kingdom” in many ways on our own. The Crusades tried to bring the kingdom by their own might and by their own power; but the anger of man doesn’t work the righteousness of God.

Even in our own day people look with “careful observation” and say Jesus will return on cinco de mayo 2020… possible, but not likely that we can accurately say “Here it is or There it is…”

Jesus clarifies “the kingdom of God is within you”

One thing we must remember when it comes to seeing God’s Kingdom;It’s His power, not ours:

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

– Zechariah 4:6

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

-2 Peter 1:21

To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

– Col 1:29 
These three scriptures reiterate a similar truth over and over:

It’s by God’s Spirit that we do:
we don’t do of our own power but by the Holy Spirit, it is God’s Spirit that works within us.
My friend Joshua Stump says “We are like kids in a ballet, and no matter how awkward we are, God is in the front row with a camera smiling & proud…”

So it has nothing to do with our power and has everything to do with God’s power, God’s anointing, and our being carried along by Him. He takes joy and pleasure in us. He has a purpose for everyone. He cheers us on as we follow Christ!

ADVENT

Can you imagine?
There was a time before cell phones?
There was a time before flat screen TVs
There was a time before laptops computers
There was a time before people even had computers in their homes
There was a time before microwaves
And a time before itunes…
A time when music was played on record players
And popcorn was cooked on top of a stove
100 years ago most people didn’t have a car
And many didn’t have electricity
10 years ago were the 1st iphones
10 years ago we didn’t have ipads
Just now are 3-d printers becoming affordable
Driverless cars
Babelfish earbuds? Have you heard? They translate in almost real time into your language…

We live in between the times, in between what has been and what will be. There was a time where the people of Israel waited and waited for the messiah to come.

The Prophets Foretold:

Genesis 12:3 specifically states that God intended to bless all on the earth through Abraham’s family. Specifically,the messiah would come through this family (Israel).

2 Samuel 7:11-16 the prophet states that God would, through the line of King David, raise up a king established forever; Christ the Lord.

Isaiah 9:2-7 is a favorite Advent passage and speaks of light coming to the people in darkness, joy, an end to wars, at the coming of the prince of peace.

He heals the blind and sets prisoners free. He says this redeemer, though despised by the rulers of nations, shall ultimately be honored, and his salvation will reach to the ends of the earth.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant made, to write His law on their hearts, to fulfill salvation, and to remember sin no more.

Micah 5:2 clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem.

Malachi 3:1 specifically speaks of the coming of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Moses even prophesied almost 1300 years before Christ was born-

Looking for the prophet
“The Lord your God will raise up for you
a prophet like me from among your
fellow Israelites, and you must listen to
that prophet.” 
-Deuteronomy 18:15 – 1260 B.C

So from this time on, this is one of the principles the Jewish people were looking for, The Coming Prophet. For hundreds and hundreds of years…. Then something very peculiar happened one night as a group of shepherds watched their flocks…

Luke says:
Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:  Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”  Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”

An army!
That’s really one of the best words to use here. and this army was announcing something amazing! Yes- they were announcing the birth of Jesus, a baby. But they were announcing what was the fulfillment of all those old testament prophesies…
Up until that time the shepherds had lived in the WHAT HAD BEEN
They were about to enter the WHAT WOULD BE

The gospels say Jesus came preaching The Kingdom of God. The Angels, that ARMY, was announcing a KING & a KINGDOM.

What does that mean?
It would be a different kind of Kingdom and HE would be a different kind of King…

Well what did Jesus do?
Blind see
People walk
Sick healed
Raised Lazarus from the dead
Fed thousands of people
Was kind…
He forgave people
He gave people hope…

The interesting thing is that we also live in between the times; in between what has been and what will be. The Kingdom has been initiated, but it has not fully come yet. That’s why things aren’t quite right, why things aren’t quite the way they are suppose to be, but he left his disciples, then the early church, throughout the centuries, and now us, to carry on the Kingdom of God in big and small ways…

But when Christ returns- all that is wrong will finally be dealt with and made right. Till then he has left us here to do the job. He told his disciples:
This is how you bring my Kingdom:
feed the hungry, clothe the cold, help the sick, visit the lonely,
show kindness to the stranger, we live a life of prayer,
humility, and generosity towards others.
And now it’s our time.

Revelation: The Church Who’d Forgotten Where They’d Come From

To Laodicea,

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’

And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.”

What you see with Laodicea is — when we forget where we’ve come from, when we forget our relationship with Jesus first, then we substitute something, anything in it’s place.

See what had happened here, They viewed themselves one way, but Jesus saw them differently. Sometimes we substitute our relationship with Jesus- with something else, anything else; Here they’d substituted prestige, power and wealth for a relationship with God.

When you’re going for prestige, power and wealth, you want to put forward this image, right?

  •  the black power suit
  • the power handshake
  • the successful ceo

Religion without relationship= indifference

When we forget where we’ve come from then friendships are reduced to business hierarchy and success is reduced to measurable results. When THE CHURCH forgets where she came from then the CHURCH is reduced to religion and not a relationship with Christ. Religion without relationship is an ugly thing indeed…

Take the relationship out of it and reduce it to a corporate model, a country club, or anything else that the church really is not, and all you are left with is indifference. Look at verse 19

“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. “

Relationship = Friendship with God

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”

Friends?

  • not some image you want to project
  • not a power trip or authority trip
  • not a self dillusion

…A relationship with him, nothing else will do…

Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

Laodicea had forgotten what real power looks like, it looks like Jesus who’d come in humility, taking on the form of a servant. We, individually and as the church must emulate him. They’d forgotten Thanksgiving, the doxology says “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”. We individually, and as the church are to be a doxology of thanksgiving before God. They’d forgotten where they’d come from, the state of every man: poor, wretched, naked, & blind. They’d forgotten the significance of Christ’s first advent, and also had lost sight of his second coming.

The message of the church today is the message that John the Baptist preached long ago “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a path for him! Every valley will be built up and every mountain will be brought low… and all people will see the salvation of God…”

To the wretched he gives hope!

To the the poor he sustains!

To the naked he clothes!

To the blind he heals and gives sight!

Revelation: The Church at Philadelphia

Philadelphia was known as a frontier city; “Gateway to the East”. Industry and agriculture was their bread and butter.They grew a lot of grapes, specifically,  so it’s no surprise that Dionysus was a primary deity worshipped there.

Not a Mega Church

The church in Philadelphia would seem insignificant to our standards today, and probably also to the standards of the first century. It was not a mega-church, no TV program or daily radio show, no big building, no fancy facility, no multi-book deals for the senior pastor, no “city-wide” influence… just a small insignificant church in a house, or perhaps a strip-mall… Yet there were no words of rebuke for this church.

Something had happened

Scripture doesn’t say exactly, but if you look at all the things said then you get the idea that the church in Philadelphia had been treated harshly by someone… read the first half of the letter before we go on.

The Message to the Church in Philadelphia

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.

This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open:”

“I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.”

What had happened?

The church began within the context of it’s Jewish roots (Jesus was a jew), it sounds like the church may have been “dis-owned” from the temple. The Jewish community may have been trying to put pressure on the church; refusing to acknowledge them, using manipulation to get them to forsake the church and return to the temple, or dis-associating with them, or kicking them out of the temple.

+ ever been fired by a boss with issues?

+ ever been ignored, kicked out, or otherwise dis-owned?

When He Returns injustices cannot stand

JESUS says of those he calls the “Synagogue of Satan” -“They will acknowledge you, they can’t ignore you and pretend you don’t exist, and they will acknowledge the fact that I love you…”

Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth…”

KEEP FROM is the same word as in LORD’s PRAYER = “deliver us from evil”, this is a promise Jesus makes to Philadelphia.

They had already had hardships, it’s not like they were going to live problem free, The GOSPELS and the Book of ACTS taught them “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” and this was their context for living, and their context as disciples, but Jesus made this promise of relief to them!

Then Jesus says

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.”

So, to the one’s who’d been pushes aside, ignored and treated as dead Jesus says “They cannot kick you out! I shut and nobody opens~ and I open and and nobody shuts… you will never be told to leave the temple of my God ever again!”

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

This sounds curiously like addressing something to be delivered.

WHEN HE RETURNS

God sees differently than men do, what seems insignificant and weak to us may be seen by God as very significant indeed. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Wake Up! On Revelation

The Church at Sardis

Think of things that didn’t live up to their reputation.

  • The Ford Edsel in the 1950’s was to be an innovation in cars- sucked…
  • New Coke in the 80s was to build on Coke’s reputation- it didn’t…
  • PS3 was great! -unless you got the three rings of death…
    There’s a difference between reputation & reality-

Jesus, dictating the letter to the church at Sardis to John says:

“You have a reputation that you live, but you are D E A D.”

They were living on reputation, they were living on past accomplishments, they were living in the glory days but had fallen asleep to living the life and doing the stuff of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

WAKE UP!

Jesus says “WAKE UP!!!”…living on past accomplishments just isn’t enough-

Any time we live in the past it is not a good thing, it robs us of today – good or bad. If you live in the past of the bad things that happen in life then you’ll never go forward, never heal, never explore and discover life now. But the same is true for the good things: starting a business, being a star athlete in school, whatever the accomplishment, to live in the past is DEATH.

Paul speaks clearly words that the church at Sardis needed to hear, and words relevant for us today, in Philippians 3:13 “This ONE thing I do- forget what is past & move forward”. Sardis needed to do this to live.

Let us begin again!

Saint Francis said something as he gathered the brothers around not long before his death- “let us begin again, for up to now we have done nothing!”. For Sardis, For the American church, and for us individually, these words ring true. It is a time for us to begin again. Jesus said “repent & return to what you have received and heard.”

In ancient culture, cities kept a book with the names of all it’s citizens, when someone moved or died they would scratch the persons name out. Look at the promise Jesus gave to Sardis:

“He who overcomes will be dressed in white…& I will never erase or blot out his name from the book of life…” -Rev 3:5

Let’s not live in the past, let us not fall asleep, but be awake! & let us begin again; letting go of the past & moving forward!

The Church at Thyatira: Hold on!

The message to the church in Thyatira-

“Hold on!… & get rid of Jezebel”

Working Man Town: Thyatira was a working man’s town, like Pittsburgh’s steel industry, or Chattanooga with textiles in the 60’s. There were unions called “guilds” which had a patron Roman god or goddess, along with the guilds came regular “dinners” and rites as a part of membership. One of the main temples was to the Emperor, who was considered a “son of Apollo” ie. A son of the god, Apollo.

Jesus opens this letter addressing himself as “The Son of God” – as in the one and only. He commends them for love, faith, service, perseverance, and making progress, as well as their good deeds.

Slippery Slope

The followers in this city faced some difficult decisions, if you were not a part of the guild then you could not function in your trade, meaning economically you were at a huge disadvantage. To participate meant to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to participate in the “rites” of the guild which often included sexual rites or prostitution. Beyond getting a disease, the follower participating would compromise the lifestyle he had chosen as a disciple of Jesus.

Put your hand on the TV, say “Amen”, and pick up the phone now $$$

Jesus refers to a particular self proclaimed “prophet” as Jezebel, probably not her real name, but He’s making a point; she was leading the people astray by preaching it was OK to participate in functions of idol worship and the sexual rites that went along with it. WHY? Not for sure, but money and power probably had a lot to do with it, and human nature excuses many things by saying “So & so said it was OK…”

A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall

Jesus speaks hard judgement to those in Thyatira who are unrepentant in their sin. No matter how we look at the harsh words given to some of the churches, at the core is a real desire that no one would die in sin but rather be reconciled to God and live! Here He says “I gave her a time to repent but she did not” therefore it’s a hard rain that’s going to fall. (quoting Bob Dylan)

Hold On, I’m Coming!!!

To everyone else who did not buy in to the lies and sin Jesus gave these words “I will put no other burden upon you, just hold on to what you have till I return.”

And return He will. When He does, He and His followers will break nations like clay pots with an iron rod. What does that mean?

Not sure entirely, let me just throw out one thought. If there were no government, nations, rivalry, competing for power, dominance, and fighting over resources then there would be no bloodshed, abuse, domination, war, or death. WHEN HE RETURNS He will put an end to all these things. That is good news! We say “Come! Lord Jesus!”

Hearing God – Elijah

What makes it difficult to hear God’s voice?

We get busy, distracted, overwhelmed, enamored, we find ourselves too tired, angry, lonely or hungry, we get depressed or disinterested…

In 1 Kings 19:3-12 we read a story about Elijah depressed, afraid and running- after experiencing a high, a victory, an undeniable experience… After seeing God clearly, Elijah experiences the anger and threats of Queen Jezebel and it’s like air out of a balloon. What goes up must come down; and he did, hard.

“I’ve had enough”

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, atown in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life…” – 1 Kings 19:3-4

Have you ever been there?

When was the last time you said “I’ve had enough” -How did you feel? Elijah was overwhelmed by fear, he was afraid. He also let himself get to hungry, too angry, too lonely & too tired.

Then he lay down and slept under the broom-tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.- 1 Kings 19:5-6

God sent an angel to minister to him. Basic needs were taken care of; Elijah slept, he ate, he drank. He was also encouraged by the kind words of the angel.

What does this tell us about the character of God?

God is concerned about Elijah’s basic needs. Those were first, then other things. We often think we are left alone, forsaken, but here’s a great example of God’s care. Like Jesus said “Don’t think about what you’ll eat or drink- your Father knows all your needs…”

So he got up and ate and drank, and that food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. – 1 Kings 19:8-9

Now catch what is said here: Elijah ate and drank and “that food gave him enough strength to travel 40 days” – This is no doubt one of those places that influenced Tolkien’s “elven bread” in the LOTR series. This was not just natural food for Elijah but spiritual food as well, supernatural food.

God finds us, feeds us, & brings us back to a place where we can hear Him!

Elijah had allowed himself to get in a place where he felt alone, cut off from God, unable to hear God’s voice. But God ministered to him where he was and gave him strength to get to where he needed to be- in the presence of God, to a place where he could hear God; Mount Sinai,where Moses heard the voice of God.

But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”- 1 Kings 19:9-10

We let other things keep us from hearing God

He felt alone, abandoned, he was disheartened at all he saw before him- a nation gone astray from their God. He’d seen many friends and contemporaries put to death under an evil king and queen. Often we feel God is far away and wonder why He doesn’t speak or show up. But the problem is we often let our circumstances, our fear & our condition speak louder and drown us from hearing.

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. (V 11-12)

Sometimes we think God will speak to us in some big way but that was not Elijah’s experience.

…And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper, a still small voice. (V 12)

What does Elijah’s story tell us about hearing God?

When do we find it difficult to hear God? When is it more easy?

Once God had refreshed Elijah, he sought to be in God’s presence, to be connected to God by going to a place where His presence could be found, in this case Mount Sinai. Still, quiet, listening for God and seeking His presence- Elijah was able to hear; Unafraid, at peace, at home with God.