Waiting on the World to Change – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the previous article.

To everything, there is a season (turn, turn, turn)

Human beings are “time-bound” creatures by Divine design. We naturally tend to organize our lives around rhythms that play out in time. Depending upon our vocation, different seasons bring different expectations and demands.

I come from a line of farmers on one side of my family and pastors on the other. I have observed that with pastors and farmers alike, the changing seasons determined much of the way we lived our lives.

Accountants have to deal with the tax season. Politicians and civil servants have election cycles. The semesters and breaks of the school year measure time for students and teachers. And sometimes our recreation, rather than our vocation, determines which seasons matter most: when we get to hunt or fish, which sports we get to follow, whether we’re able to get out the boat or the motorcycle or the snow skis.

Growing up as a pastor’s kid in the Church of the Nazarene, I didn’t rigorously follow the Christian year; but without fail, we did observe Advent. Every year, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving we would enter a sanctuary decorated for Christmas: trees and garland alongside nativities and the wreath of Advent candles, the popular traditions intermingled with the sacred. For each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, we lit the candles, usually punctuated by readings from Old Testament prophecy, and we sang songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

Sometimes we would lose the plot a bit, and sing “Away in a Manger” or “We Three Kings of Orient Are” during Advent. It’s hard to resist the urge to fast-forward to the climax of Christmas Day, just as it’s difficult during Holy Week to dwell in the despair of Good Friday and Holy Saturday when we know “Sunday’s coming!”

But Advent is about waiting.

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Patience and hope are oft-neglected virtues in our day and age, but this is precisely what Advent seeks to cultivate in us: patient, hopeful anticipation that our God is trustworthy and does not make empty promises.

Looking forward while looking back

During Advent, not only do we anticipate an event that has already taken place—Jesus’ first coming—but we also look forward to and anticipate His second coming! The next time you sing “Joy to the World,” pay attention to the explicit references to Christmas. Guess what? You won’t find any! Isaac Watts’ hymn actually looks forward to Christ’s second coming, made clear in the third stanza (which, ironically, is the verse most often omitted): “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

The reign of Christ over heaven and earth is inaugurated in His nativity, to be sure, but “Joy to the World” is a vision of its future fulfillment, the reversal of the Fall, and the restoration of all creation.

This Advent, as we prepare to welcome the God who comes to us, I wish us all a “Happy New Year,” and invite us to begin a journey through God’s salvation history as told through the rhythms of the Christian calendar. In so doing, we join with countless Christians across space and time who have ordered their lives and their worship according to this pattern, all to the glory of God.

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

Living Stones

By Ken Mitchell

The tour guide introduced herself at the entrance to Linville Caverns and immediately warned us not to touch any of the stones inside. She explained that these were living stones and that the acid from the human touch would cause them to stop growing.

It was Saturday afternoon and Janet and I and our two grandsons were on our annual outing. This year we had been gem mining and now were about to explore the inside of the mountain in Linville, North Carolina. I found the warning interesting, but the concept of living stones didn’t catch my full attention until the following Tuesday morning when I read 1 Peter 2. As I read verses 4 and 5, I was reminded of our Saturday tour. “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

I realized that if I am to be a living stone, I should know what a living stone is.

The Holy Spirit took me back to the tour guide. She had indicated that the stones were living because they were growing. As the mineral laden water flows over them it deposits additional minerals. These additional deposits cause slow growth. I believe she said they grow approximately 1 cubic inch every 100 years. This is slow growth to be sure, but it is growth. She defined “living stones” as “growing stones.”

We too must be growing stones if we are to meet the definition of living stones in 1 Peter 2:5.

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The stones in Linville Caverns are nourished by constantly flowing mineral water. I asked myself, How must I be nourished in order to grow and be a living stone?

I found the answer in verse 2: “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (NKJV). I was reminded of Elizabeth, our 7-month-old granddaughter. When she desires milk, everyone nearby knows about it. She will not calm down until her hunger is satisfied. What would happen if we fed Elizabeth only once a week on Sunday morning? Or 3 times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening? This would obviously not work. First, she would not give us any rest as she expressed her desire for milk, and second, she would not grow.

Is my “desire [for] the pure milk of the word” as strong as Elizabeth’s desire for milk for her stomach? Does my soul cry out for nourishment? This is a challenge to me. Elizabeth cannot feed herself or control her feeding times, but I can. As a mature adult I feed my physical body three times daily. How can I do less for my spiritual self? Thank you Lord for showing me how to become a “living stone”. May others read this and be challenged to, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that [they] may grow thereby.”

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

More Than Doing Without

By Charles W. Christian

Lent is the approximately forty day period leading up to Easter Sunday. It is meant to be a time of preparation and reflection that is patterned after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness at the beginning of His earthly ministry (Mark 1:12-13; Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). As we have entered this season of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday, many of us have joined Christians all over the world – both Catholics and Protestants – in fasting.

Like Jesus, many Christians have used this time to participate in fasting from food. Others fast from something more specific, like chocolate or coffee, or from certain activities like using social media or watching movies. While fasting has been a key spiritual discipline for Christians throughout history, it may be the most neglected spiritual discipline today. The Lenten season gives the Church an opportunity to return to this often neglected discipline.

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It is important to remember that fasting is meant to remind us of our biblical and historic identification with the poor and needy. Regardless of what we remove from our daily routine, we are reminded that we are intentionally giving up items that many give up without choice. This allows us to more deeply participate in compassion, which literally means “to suffer with another.”

While it is easy to focus on the ‘giving up’ aspect of fasting, there is a deeper meaning to the discipline. Fasting is not just about giving something up, but it is also about replacing.

For instance, time spent away from a favorite TV show could be set aside for more time in Scripture or more time in direct loving service to others. Time and money saved by not eating out may be spent directly on helping the poor and others without food. Time and resources given up can be intentionally put to good use in service to Christ’s Kingdom.

Finally, fasting is meant to draw attention to God and God’s ways, and not to our own sacrifices.  In order for fasting to be Biblical, any sacrifices we make during fasting are to be for deepening our relationship with God and for increasing our participation in the mission of God. Boasting about our fasting or making ourselves into a “spiritual superhero” is to be strictly avoided. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16, NIV).

During Lent, as we deepen our walk with God and increase our participation in His mission, we also find time for reflection and repentance. As God and His ways become clearer to us, flaws in our own ways also become clearer. Part of our preparation for resurrection involves allowing the Holy Spirit to move us into areas of growth, which often involves confession and repentance. It is important that we are especially sensitive to these opportunities for growth as we fast and focus.

As people who are living out and telling God’s story, may we make the most of seasons like Lent, allowing ourselves to become more and more like the risen Lord we serve!

Prayer for the week:

Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

Part of the Gift

By Charles W. Christian

One of my favorite Advent stories is about a missionary couple on the eastern coast of Africa. They were waiting to go back to the United States, their home country, after having served for over twenty years and impacting two generations of people in the village where they were assigned.

They were temporarily waiting in a location many miles inland from the coast until their arrangements were finalized for them to return to the U.S. for Christmas and for retirement.

One morning during the season of Advent, a few days before they were to fly out, there was a knock at the door.  A young man, the son of a family they had known during their entire time on the African coast, greeted them.  He was holding a small box that contained a gift that he told them could decorate their tree as a reminder of his family’s love for them.

“Did your family travel with you?” asked the missionary.  He knew they were one of the very few families in the small village that had a vehicle.  “No,” said the young man. “I walked.  I got rides when I could, but mostly I walked.  I left my village shortly after you took the train here a couple of weeks ago.”

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The couple was shocked.  “You didn’t have to walk all this way to give us this gift!” they said.  As much as we appreciate the ornament, we would have treasured it just as much if you had mailed it.”  The young man then replied, “The long journey is part of the gift!”

As we make the long journey through Advent toward the celebration of the birth of our Savior, we are reminded of an even longer journey: the journey of the Incarnation, when “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

May our hearts be filled with anticipation and gratitude as we walk together toward the Savior and the new kingdom He brings.

Prayer for the Week:

God of hope and promise, be with us throughout this Advent season, and draw us ever closer as we journey together toward the stable and the birth of your Son, our Savior. Amen. (From John Birch at Faith and Worship)

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today

The Reformation(s) of the Church

*During the month of October we will be focusing on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

By Charles W. Christian

Looking back on the Protestant Reformation reminds us of God’s continual desire to be in right relationship with His Church. 

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Reformation before Luther

Though the catalyst to the series of events known today as the Protestant Reformation was sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses to the church doors at Wittenburg, the Church had long before been engaged in the process of reformation. In fact, one could argue that ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God has been reforming. The Church continues its process of reformation today.

The coming of Jesus and the new Kingdom He embodied was a clarification of the reform that God had been attempting throughout the Old Testament. Even after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples felt the need for ongoing reform. The experience of Pentecost in Acts 2 assisted the Church in carrying out the admonition of Jesus (Matthew 28) to “go into all the world,” because the Kingdom of God defies societal limitations and borders.

The work of God among the Gentiles through the ministries of Peter and Paul added another dimension of reform, culminating in key agreements among early church leaders in Acts 15. Through the words of Paul and other writers, the rest of the New Testament demonstrates a variety of “mini-reforms” needed among a growing and changing constituency. God lovingly and consistently reforms the Church.

The “next generation” believers, commonly referred to as the Church Fathers and Mothers, experienced a myriad of reformation opportunities, the best known of which were the Ecumenical Councils and the formulation of creeds in the first eight centuries of the Church’s history. These steps toward reformation led to unity among several groups, but also resulted in schisms. Most notably, the Eastern and Western branches of the Church (the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic groups, respectively) experienced an official schism in 1054 A.D.

On Luther’s Doorstep and Beyond

Around the time of Martin Luther, the stage had been set for a particularly earth-shaking renewal. A century before Luther, for example, a Czech priest and professor named Jan Hus (1369-1415) had been put to death for writings and protests regarding the actions of key church leaders. In fact, after Luther posted his 95 theses, many began referring to Luther as a “modern Huss-ite.” Many factors surrounding Luther’s contribution to reformation in the early sixteenth century, such as his education, the invention of Gutenburg’s printing press, and Luther’s powerful friends, allowed Luther’s message to transcend the confines of his village and of Germany and become a key catalyst of reforms already taking place throughout the world. From there came other movements: Calvinists, Arminians, Anabaptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Wesleyans, just to name a few.

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today