Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

First Sunday of Advent: Year B

Tear Open the Heavens and Come Down

We begin a new liturgical year this Sunday. We start with a new season – Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. Others may rush into Christmas with all the early shopping and decorating, but let us spend the time to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.

Are we in trouble as a nation today? The psalmist of old was aware that the nation of Israel needed God’s help. He prayed:

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.   (Psalm 80:1-3)

The Prophet Isaiah realized that Israel had forsaken their God. He prayed:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence —

as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil —

to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!   (Isaiah 64:1-3)

For Israel, God dwelled behind a curtain within the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Only the high priest could enter and that was once a year in order to make the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. The enlightened Prophet Isaiah knew there must be more. He wanted God to be strongly present all the time. His prayer was ultimately answered with the birth of Jesus. God did tear open the heavens and come down. God came in the flesh and dwelt among us. The Apostle John writes in the preamble of his Gospel:

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.   (John 1:14)

There was another tearing of the heavens when Jesus hung on the cross. God removed the requirement of the annual atoning sacrifice made by the high priest when Jesus became that atoning sacrifice once and for all. At the moment of his death the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. God opened the way for all of us to experience his presence. This was preface to God pouring out his Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

God wants intimate fellowship with us. He is waiting on us. Are we too busy? Are we too distracted by the things of this world. He did not go to such great lengths on our behalf only to have us sit idly by.

We are living in very dark times. Only Christ can break through the current darkness that surrounds us. Jesus warned his disciples that this such a time would come:

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.   (Mark 13:24-27)

How are we to prepare for the coming of Christ in glory. We need a spiritual revival in our churches, our nation, and in our own hearts. This must be our focus. This must be our prayer.

The Apostle Peter was on the Mount of Transfiguration when he saw a glimpse of Jesus in his glory. He writes:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.   (2 Peter 1:16-19)

Though we are living in dark times we are to keep the lamp of God shining in our hearts for the world to see. Advent is a time for us the fan the flames of this lamp. Let us echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Stir up your strength and come to help us.”

When God tears open the heavens and come down one more time, will we be ready?

 

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Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 27A

Track 1: Sincerity of Heart

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Through Joshua, God once again spoke to children of Israel concerning the covenant he made with Abraham:

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.   (Joshua 24:1-3a)

After God speaks, Joshua pleads with the Israelites to live by the covenant by obeying the commandments of God:

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”   (Joshua 24:14-15)

Ao often we make promises to God. We say that we will obey him. God has made promises to us and he keeps his promises. How well do we do at keeping ours? Israel said that they would obey God, but Joshua realized that they did not really grasp the significance of what God was asking nor did they understand the seriousness of failing to keep the covenant.

Thus Joshua challenged them:

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.   (Joshua 24:19-25)

Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with God made possible by the blood of Jesus. A relationship is something that is nurtured. It takes daily commitment. Otherwise, the danger is that the relationship may fade over time and ultimately dry up.

Jesus warned that this could happen by telling the parable of the ten virgins. They were waiting for the bridegroom to show up for the wedding feast. When he delayed the old in their lamps was running out. Five of them had a sufficient supply of oil in the their lamps and five did not. As the parable goes:

The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”   (Matthew 25:8-13)

How seriously do we take our commitment to God? The ten virgins represent the body of Christ. As members of his body, are we prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are we filled with the Holy Spirit of God? Our attitude towards God has everything to do with our preparedness. Our relationship with him in Christ is what keeps our lamps filled.

Friends, we are living in the end times. Jesus is coming soon to collect his bride, the faithful members of his body. He loves us all. He surrendered himself to the cross so that we might be raised up with him to newness of life. Do we love him in return? And do we fully commit ourselves to him?

We all fail, at times, at keeping our commitment to God. The children of Israel assured Joshua that they would obey God, but they did not follow through, What matters is the sincerity of our heart. Jesus will help us keep our lamps full of oil. All we must do is keep in fellowship with him.

Track 2: Readiness to Meet the Lord

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
or
Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20
or
Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In today’s Epistle reading the Apostle Paul writes about a special day when Jesus would return for his bride:

 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

In today’s Old Testament reading the Prophet Amos addresses another day:

Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear;

or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.

Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?   (Amos 5:18-20)

The Apostle Peter teaches on the day of the lord in his Second Epistle:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.   (2 Peter 3;10-13)

Peter was writing about God’s promiseThe promise to the Church was not about destruction, but about rescuing His people from destruction. The rapture of the Church and the Day of the Lord are two separate events.

Before the destruction by fire which Peter mentions the bride of Christ will be lifted up and out. There are theological debates about the rapture of the Church and when it will take place. Nonetheless, there can be little debate about the readiness of Christian believers to be received into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus told a parable illustrate the point of our need to be ready:

Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”   (Matthew 25:1-13)

Are all christians ready to meet the Lord? Not according to the parable which Jesus told. We do not know when we will be lifted out of this world. We do not know when we might die. What we can say for sure is that we must have oil in our lamps when these events occur.

The practice of worship is a large part of the Christian life. According to the Prophet the worship would be meaningless to God if it were not backed up by holy living:

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.   (Amos 5:23-24)

If we are to live holy lives then we need divine help. That is why Jesus had given us the Holy Spirit to direct and empower our lives. God has poured out his Holy Spirit upon those who receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. In John’s Gospel the Spirit is called living water.The overflowing stream which Amos talks about surely refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Are we standing in that stream? That is a choice which we have before us. It is a daily choice. It is an hourly choice. Today, once more, or for the first time, let us fill up our lamps and stand ready to meet the Lord Jesus when he comes.

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Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost Proper 26A

Track 1: Crossing the Jordan

Joshua 3:7-17
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

The story of the children of Israel is our story. God has made promises to us. We are to follow him as he leads us from bondage to a new life filled with promise. Often times we feel as though we are in a wilderness. Even when we are God is still leading us. Are we looking to him for guidance?

There are crucial moments in our lives. There are crucial moments in our Christian walk. We may not realize that the moment we are ready to take possession of what God has promised is perhaps the most crucial of all.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the children of Israel are about to cross the Jordan River and enter the promised land. They had been in the wilderness for a generation, but now they are ready. In Joshua we read:

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.   (Joshua 3:14-17)

God went before the children of Israel. The priests led with the ark of the covenant. Not only that, but the priests held the ark of the covenant in the middle of the Jordan so that everyone could safely cross.

For our own Jordan crossing we need the same. We must follow God, but we also need his continual presence in our lives. Jordan crossings are critical. They occur just before we receive a promise from God. The danger in these crossings is that we may be lulled into thinking that, because we have followed God, we can now receive the prize without his additional help. In our celebratory moment Satan is ready to steal our inheritance if we are not careful. God has proven himself. We should have nothing to prove by going it alone. Our goal should always be to put our trust in him.

People may come along side us at our crossings, even friends. Often times they can be unnecessary distractions at best. Some are there only to get us deliberately off course. Let the celebration occur on the other side of the Jordan. Let the glory go to God, We do not need to seek it for ourselves.

The ultimate Jordan crossing is passing from this life to the next. This may be by death or by the rapture. In either case, let us bathe in the presence of God.

The psalmist wrote:

Let God arise,
Let His enemies be scattered;
Let those also who hate Him flee before Him.
As smoke is driven away,
So drive them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
But let the righteous be glad;
Let them rejoice before God;
Yes, let them rejoice exceedingly.   (Psalm 68:1-3)

Track 2: Sitting on Moses’ Seat

Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

From the Gospel of John we read:

The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.   (John 1:17)

Nonetheless, the Law of Moses is still significant. Jesus spoke about those who interpret the Law:

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.   (Matthew 23:1-8)

The Apostle Paul was once a Pharisee. After his conversion to Christ he interpreted the law differently. From today’s Epistle reading:

You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.   (1 Thessalonians 2:9-13)

How we interpret the Law has very much to do with how we observe the Law in our daily lives. Paul set a good example for the believers. The Prophet Micah warned against those pervert justice and seek personal gain.

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
    and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
    and pervert all equity,
who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with wrong!
Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
    its priests teach for a price,
    its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
    “Surely the Lord is with us!
    No harm shall come upon us.”   (Micah 3:9-11)

Today, in America, we have many people sitting on Moses’ seat so to speak. Jesus said that in the last days there would be false prophets and false teachers. Some are saying that there should be a universal religion because we all serve the same God. This is a false teaching and a false peace. There is only one Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.   (Ephesians 4:1-6)

There are also those who impose their strict interpretation on scripture without the benefit of discernment given by the Holy Spirit. That is why we have so many denominations and non-denominations. This, too, is false.

Lastly, there are those who teach and preach just for their own financial gain. Their Gospel is often false because they need to twist scriptures in order to make their congregants give more than they should. Yes, we should be cheerful givers. But God does not want his people impoverished for the sake of a few spiritual elites. This was not the example of the Apostle Paul.

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