Thursday, December 6, 2012

Running the Wrong Direction

I'm a believer in the local church and the community of support, fellowship and accountability it was created by Christ to offer.  In my personal and family life the church has been a rock during times of crisis and pain.  Often, when I minister to those outside of the church in times of great stress I wonder how they will survive without a community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
But, the church cannot be what it should be in times of need if that need is kept secret or if the ones needing help, because of pride or shame pull away from the body.  Over my more than three decades of pastoring I have seen this happen.  An individual, couple or family feels overwhelmed by a crisis, and rather than run to the church for support and love, they drop out.  That grieves me, especially when the church is ready and willing to show and give the support needed and without judgment.
A friend posted this today on Facebook, and I wanted to share it with others.  It is so true.  
"When you are suffering, you may sometimes tend to withdraw, pull back, and pull away," says Anne Graham Lotz. "I do think there is a time for that, and each day you should spend time alone with the Lord. But don't forsake other people, because other people can give you comfort and encouragement and help you keep your focus. Sometimes you can get so preoccupied with the problem that it consumes you. Other people can help give you a balance." 
God wants you to be truthful with yourself and with other people. He wants to free you from the debilitating effects of withdrawing and hiding your emotions. Jesus says in the book of John that "the truth will set you free."
Jesus also said, "You don't have because you don't ask".  Paul wrote to the Galatian churches that we should "bear one another's burdens".  If there is no asking; if there instead is denial or hiding or withdrawal and the church doesn't know, it can't do the thing it was created to do.  We should never be ashamed to seek out what the church can provide, which is the grace of God.  
Run to Christ's family, not away from them.  Let them be the hands and feet of the Lord in your time of need. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Celebrates His Coming… and His Coming

Thanksgiving "officially" kicked off the “holiday season”.    Black Friday (or was it Thursday, too?) and Cyber Monday are past and the credit card statements will soon be arriving with the bad news. 

Thanks to the retail world Thanksgiving has become the start up to the Christmas season.  Santa rides the last float of Macy’s parade, signaling his appearances at department stores everywhere.  And in every locale at least one FM station is now “your Christmas music home” for the next month.  ‘Tis the season!

Traditional Christianity refers to the weeks ahead leading up to Christmas as “Advent”.  Many churches feature advent candle lighting and lessons that are intended to prepare worshipers for the coming of Christ.  Anything that promotes Jesus and leads us to know and worship Him is a good thing.

The word “advent” is a transliterated word – turning a word from one language into another – from the Latin “adventus”, which means “coming”.  Interestingly, the Latin is a translation of the Greek word “parousia”.  Greek culture preceded the Roman, and the New Testament was originally penned in Greek.    And biblically, “parousia”, is typically used when speaking not of Christ’s incarnation at Christmas, but His second coming.

Of course, what was coming, perhaps I should say “Who” was coming was the awaited Messiah.  The Jewish people longed for the One who would arrive and inherit the throne of David, returning Israel to its ancient glory.  Christians believe that promise to Israel was realized when the angel instructed Joseph to name Mary’s son “Emmanuel”, a Hebrew name meaning “God with us”.  So, Christmas is a celebration of the arrival of the Messiah or, in the Greek, the “cristos” – again a word transliterated into English as “Christ”.

I’m a fan of Christmas.  I say, “Merry Christmas” without shame as my greeting of choice in December.  And certainly, the coming of the Christ is worthy of our remembrance, our preparation and our celebration.  In the life of Jesus and in the Christian faith, His birth in Bethlehem ranks up there with His passion and resurrection.  So let’s get ready to adore Him.

Celebrating Christmas is a time of looking back at this wonderful event that brought a multitude of angels within earshot of shepherds as they praised “God in the highest”.  It’s a remembrance of a most awesome event in the past.  But…let’s not lose sight of what’s ahead.

Many years ago my wife had a conversation with a neighbor and somehow the subject of Christ’s second coming – the “parousia” – came up.  She was pretty surprised that her friend, an avid churchgoer in a church that religiously celebrates advent, had no idea that there was such a thing as Christ’s future return.  Somehow what should be most important less of advent to the believer – what Jesus promised would happen and Paul referred to as the “blessed hope” of the saints - had been overlooked in her experience.

The truth is that Christ came.  The ongoing truth is that He will make a repeat visit.  But in His second coming He won’t be a baby in a manger, a miracle-working teacher or even a dying Savior.  His first advent was as the Lamb of God, making the way through His death and resurrection for us to know God.

His second advent, which is the advent we should really be preparing for, will be as the King of Kings.  “Thy kingdom come” we pray.  That’s all about advent, chapter 2.  Let’s be ready.  This is a great time to be prepared.