WE DON’T KNOW WHEN – Advent

Sandhill Canes - Moraine Hills State Pk.When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. … So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. [Matthew 24:37-39,42 (NLT)]

The pleasant autumn, with temps in the 60s, suddenly took a sharp turn toward winter. The day’s high was 37° at 4:00 AM and, as the winds increased to over 25 mph, the temperature plummeted. Instead of enjoying the balmy weather of southwest Florida, we were visiting the Midwest and enduring an arctic blast. As we walked in the park that wintery December day, we observed hundreds of Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese in the marsh. In preparation for their seasonal migration, they gather in the wetlands here. The birds are usually gone by now but, because of the mild fall weather and still plentiful food, they’ve recklessly delayed their departure. Colder temperatures and snow are predicted; soon the marsh will freeze and food will be scarce, not just here, but all along their migration route. Are they like the people of Noah’s day or the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah—having a rollicking good time right up until the weather changes and disaster rains down on them? By the time they realized what was happening, it was too late!

Jesus compared His second coming to the surprise arrival of a thief in the night and unbelievers have good reason to fear that day. As with the flood and Sodom’s destruction, swift and sudden judgment will accompany Jesus’ return. Like unbelievers, Christians don’t know exactly when the thief will appear yet they have no reason to worry. To carry the thief metaphor further, believers aren’t afraid of the thief because they are well insured. Their acceptance of Jesus gives them assurance of salvation; their sins are mercifully forgiven and they have everlasting life. There is nothing to fear!

Seventeen years ago, my granddaughter made her entrance into the world nearly two months prematurely. Not anticipating the early arrival, her unprepared mother was visiting family 1600 miles away from home and her father was 450 miles away from them both on a business trip. On the other hand, when that grand’s father made his entrance thirty-one years earlier, he was more than two weeks later than expected. Although worried and weary of waiting, even I was surprised when he finally made his presence known. While both my daughter-in-law and I had faith that our babies would arrive, neither of us knew the precise time and both of us were taken aback by the unexpected dates. Christians have faith in Christ’s second coming but, like a pregnant woman, we’re not quite sure when. Just as pregnancy’s morning sickness, swollen feet and expanding belly tell a woman her delivery day is approaching, there will be clear signs that Christ’s return is near. The date of deliverance, however, remains unknown.

As we spend Advent preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, let’s also use this time to prepare for His promised return. Just because we don’t know the exact date doesn’t mean we should be surprised when that day arrives. Three days after our walk in the park, we returned to find the marsh frozen and the birds gone. They’d seen the signs and made the right decision; we should do the same.

For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. [1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 (NLT)]

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ARMLOADS OF GIFTS

O Israel, hope in the Lord; for he is loving and kind and comes to us with armloads of salvation. [Psalm 130:7 (TLB)]

dahliaMy arms were filled with precariously piled packages as I trudged through the mall parking lot. Thinking it was the perfect time to test the easy tailgate feature on our new SUV, I kicked my foot forward under the car’s rear bumper expecting it to magically open. Perhaps it was the trailer hitch or that my legs are too short, but the sensor didn’t work and the trunk lid remained closed. After trying several more times, it became clear that, in spite of the car’s promise, I was not going to open the tailgate while holding armloads of anything! It was when I tried to find the keys in my purse that my pile of holiday gifts tumbled every which way. On the plus side, my arms were finally free to lift the tailgate!

As God would have it, that morning’s Bible reading had taken me to Psalm 130 in the Living Bible translation: “He…comes to us with armloads of salvation.” While gathering up assorted packages in the parking lot and muttering a few bahs and humbugs, I wondered how God, with his armloads of salvation, would do with my tailgate. Then I pictured another, far nicer, scenario. It’s Christmas and someone’s at the door. As the host opens the door, he welcomes his visitor inside. The guest’s arms are overflowing with beautifully wrapped packages piled so high that you can’t even see his face. Everyone eagerly gathers around him with open hands to receive their gifts. The boxes, however, aren’t filled with shirts, purses, perfume, toys, books, and the latest electronics; they are filled with a never-ending supply of salvation, redemption, wisdom, forgiveness, joy, peace, faith and love. It may be His birthday, but it is Jesus who brought us armloads of gifts!

Since the Lord’s arms are filled with His gifts, we must open the door for Him. I couldn’t open the tailgate when my arms were filled with packages and we can’t open the door to our hearts if our arms are filled with the stuff and nonsense of this world. Although attachment to wealth and actual possessions can fill our arms, things like unforgiveness, fear, doubt, pride, anger, ingratitude, shame, and guilt also can leave us too encumbered to open the door or accept His gifts. God’s got an armload of good things for us but our arms must be free and our hands empty if we ever hope to get them.

Faith is two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord. [Alan Redpath]

Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me. [Revelation 3:20 (TLB)]

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ARE WE READY?

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken! [Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)]

christmas ornamentYesterday was the first Sunday in Advent – the church season leading up to Christmas. Advent, coming from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival,” is a time of preparation. Back in the 4th century in Spain and Gaul (Western Europe), Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians on Epiphany (January 6). On that day, they celebrated not just the gifts of the Magi, but also Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and His first miracle at Cana. The forty days leading up to Epiphany were to be spent in penance, prayer and fasting. By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the coming of Jesus — but to His promised second coming rather than His first. By the Middle Ages, however, Advent was tied to the celebration of Jesus’ first coming. Today, Advent is a time we both commemorate Christ’s first coming and anticipate His second. It’s a time of preparation both for Christmas, when Jesus came as a servant and a sacrifice, and for His return, when He will come as a conquering King.

Indeed, most of us use the four weeks of Advent as a time of preparation. But for what are we preparing? Rather than readying our hearts for Christ, we’re making lists and checking them twice, scouring flyers for the best sales, decorating our homes and yards, planning parties, cooking our favorite recipes, trimming the tree, wrapping packages, addressing Christmas cards, and shipping boxes, all of which have little or nothing to do with that first Christmas when God came into our chaotic world in the village of Bethlehem. Moreover, none of those activities have anything to do with anticipating His return.

We have four weeks to focus on Christ’s coming. During this time, let’s remember how the Jews longed for the promised Messiah and, recognizing mankind’s need for a savior, let’s focus on Jesus’s incarnation and answer to that prayer. May we also look forward to Christ’s second coming—a time when peace and justice will prevail and there will be neither sorrow nor tears. We must never allow our holiday preparations to keep us from preparing our hearts for the promises that Christ brings to our lives.

The question isn’t “Are we ready for Christmas?” The question is, “Are we ready for Christ?”

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:4 (NLT)]

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. [Isaiah 11:6 (NLT)]

An old abbot was fond of saying, “The devil is always the most active on the highest feast days.” … The supreme trick of Old Scratch is to have us so busy decorating, preparing food, practicing music and cleaning in preparation for the feast of Christmas that we actually miss the coming of Christ. Hurt feelings, anger, impatience, injured egos—the list of clouds that busyness creates to blind us to the birth can be long, but it is familiar to us all. [Edward Hays (A Pilgrim’s Almanac)]

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FOOD INSECURITY

The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” [Luke 3:10-11 (NLT)]

food pantry - feed the hungryYesterday, our nation celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday that revolves around food and unites our nation across lines of culture, race, religion, and politics in a way little else can. Regardless of what football team they support, where they live or from where they came, whether liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, my Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and unbelieving friends all celebrated around tables heavy laden with food. The menu and traditions varied—some had naan and others enjoyed cornbread or Parker House rolls. Some plates had ham alongside the turkey while others tofurkey and lentils or some of Grandma’s lasagna. Some cooks put pork sausage in their dressing and others kept kosher. There may have been glazed sweet potatoes and green beans at one house and mashed whites with gravy and corn casserole at another but, whatever was served, no one went away hungry and there were plenty of leftovers. Unfortunately, not everyone’s plate was piled with food and not everyone complained of feeling stuffed.

When I grew up, I was told there were starving children in Armenia so I should clean my plate. I once gave the smart-aleck retort that what I didn’t eat couldn’t be sent to those kids so what difference did it make! That was, of course, the wrong response and, most definitely, the wrong attitude. It wasn’t so much about cleaning my plate; my parents were trying to teach me appreciation and gratitude for the bounty at our table. They wanted me to understand that not everyone was so blessed. Unlike me, many children knew the real meaning of hunger.

The UN defines “food security” as always having physical, social and economic access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet one’s dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. Although there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, they estimate that some 815 million people in our world are “food insecure.” In our nation alone, some 41 million people (13 million of whom are children) are considered food insecure. It’s not just the Armenians or whoever else our parents mentioned that are hungry; it’s our neighbors!No one anywhere should go hungry but it’s disgraceful that anyone in our wealthy nation should be without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

As Christians, we must respond to food insecurity with compassion and action—prayer, advocacy, volunteering, and donating. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” let’s remember the bread with which we are blessed is meant to be shared. When Jesus shared a few loaves and fish, He managed to feed thousands; consider how many we could feed if we shared our resources! As you write up your Christmas gift list, perhaps you will include a Christian relief organization and help combat poverty and hunger. If you’re wondering what to get your pastor or child’s teacher, rather than a tie or mug, what about a flock of chicks, geese or ducks (only $20) from someplace like Heifer International? Your donation will provide both food and a source of income for a hungry family. These next few weeks, you’ll be making several trips to the grocery store. Every time you shop, consider taking advantage of the BOGO specials and giving that free item (better yet both of them) to the local food pantry. There are more than enough resources in our world so that everyone can eat well but we each must do our part.

Yesterday, we looked at our bountiful Thanksgiving feast and asked ourselves, “What will I eat?” Please remember that someone not that far from you may have said, “Is there anything for me to eat?”

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me! [Matthew 25:35-36,40 (NLT)]

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GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

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IN HONOR OF OUR VETERANS

Veterans of WW IIOur fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:12 (ERV)]

This morning, I quietly read my Bible, some Billy Graham, and prayed. Over coffee, I looked through the newspaper and watched the news. I laughed at a political cartoon, read editorials that both praised and criticized our president, and heard politicians from opposite sides of the aisle disagree about taxes and health care. Once at my computer, I checked my calendar (Bible study tonight) and read about Tuesday’s election. In my email, along with news from friends and Christian devotions, I got an action alert from a local conservation group asking me to contact my representative about a proposed bill. I also received several Veteran’s Day advertisements.

Veteran’s Day wasn’t meant to be another reason to go shopping. Originating in 1919 as Armistice Day, it celebrated the end of World War I — said to be the “war to end all wars” until WW II proved that wrong. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day — and a day to honor all military veterans for their service, patriotism, and willingness to sacrifice for the good of our nation.

Within the first two hours of my day, I’d experienced an incredible amount of freedom, in large part because of those veterans we’ll honor this weekend. We are comfortable and secure in our homes, able to speak openly, vote, run for political office, read without restrictions, gather together freely, and worship openly. We can even safely complain both about and to the government. We can do all that and much more because of the men and women who took a stand against evil—not just with their votes, voices, prayers, or money—but with their service. In many cases, they returned home with scars both visible and hidden. In some cases, they returned in body bags.

I came of age in an era of anti-war/anti-military sentiment and I continue to abhor the thought of weapons and warfare. Nevertheless, time has taught me that sometimes fighting evil means real soldiers and an actual battlefield. As the character Ransom learned in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra, when reasoning fails to defeat Satan, one may have to resort to actual combat. The struggle against the enemy is not always a spiritual one; sometimes it is physical and the hands God uses belong to real men and women. Until the day when our weapons can be turned into agricultural tools, we will continue to need people who will put their lives on the line to fight evil. While we continue to pray for peace, may we also pray for the members of our armed forces (both past and present) and thank God for their service. Let’s remember to express our deep and lasting gratitude to them, as well.

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. [Isaiah 2:4 (NLT)]

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