Our Joy This Christmas

Isaiah 7.10-17

Immanuel…God with us. Comfort and joy for those who have trusted in Jesus or, as in the case of Ahaz, certain judgment for those who refuse to trust in God, but instead are trusting in themselves or in anyone or in anything else. Like Matthew 2, the gospel is good news of great joy for all people…but only those who trust in Jesus will experience that joy. For those who refuse…God’s promise is judgment. And God does what He says He will do.

Our world is not so different from Ahaz’s world. The threat of war and rumors of war abound. Fear is on the rise, and wickedness reigns throughout the land. If we are honest with ourselves, we too are tempted to make alliances…compromises to ensure our well-being. We put our trust in jobs or bank accounts or status or retirement plans or followers or people or fill-in-the-blank to save us…anything other than the Lord. And being overwhelmed by the circumstances of life, we forget that Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.

Inevitably God brings us into crisis…illness, death of a loved one, loss of a job, broken relationships, dashed hopes, forgotten dreams. Sooner or later we have to answer the question: If I put my trust in God, will He save me? Does He really love me, and does He really care about me and my circumstances? Our answer is either a confident “yes” or a wavering “I’m not sure.” And just as folks in Isaiah’s day found out…when God’s people don’t trust Him as they should, they pay a price for it. But God’s grace always has the last word—His grace triumphs over our failure. God is present in our crises. If we will trust Him, He will save us. If we refuse Him, He will discipline us. But He would rather save us.

What alliances or compromises are you making to secure salvation for yourself? If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all (cf. Isaiah 7.9b). Your level of worry/fear/discontentment vs. contentment/joy/rest is a good indicator. Are you trusting God? The more we trust in Him, the more the fruits of the Spirit, of which joy is one, will abound. The more we trust ourselves…not so much. If you trusting in God, are you doing what He says? The secret to joy is resting in God, trusting in His love for us at the most fundamental level of our being, believing that He has not only saved us from condemnation, but that He is with us to save us in and through our current circumstances. Jesus says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” The secret to experiencing joy is not just believing that God really loves us, but also doing what He says so that we can experience life and fullness of joy as He intended for us to.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear…Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. The music to this carol is written in a minor key…or so they tell me. Can joy be found in a minor key? Can there be joy in difficult circumstances? The answer is a resounding “yes” if we remember that God is with us and is for us, and if we remember that He has an eternal home waiting for us.

Even though Ahaz is a wicked king, God graciously invites him to trust in Him. If you have not yet trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then God offers the same gracious invitation to you. He wants you to trust Him, then you too can experience the joy that only Jesus can bring, knowing that He is with you always. But don’t wait. The time is short. Just as God is with those of us who have trusted in Him for salvation, so He is also with those who refuse Him for judgment.

There is no place like home. There is no home like heaven. There is no king like Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

“May we experience the joy of the Christmas season, knowing that God is with us and trusting Him fully in all of life’s circumstances.”

This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series, Home for Christmas. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Abomination of Desolation

Daniel 11

History and prophecy. This passage gives us hope for the future. Understanding how God fulfilled the now historical aspects of Daniel’s vision in the past gives us confidence…it strengthens our faith and hope that He will do the same with those aspects that are yet future. God is sovereign over, and is actively involved in, the events on the world stage…past, present and future; and He’s also sovereign over, and actively involved in, the events of our lives as well. Don’t give up, don’t give in, God wins.

The description of the political and military intrigue of this passage is a kind of blueprint of history…folks fighting back and forth, trying to expand their kingdoms by any means necessary, whether by deceit or treachery or outright war. It’s true of both nations and individuals. As Solomon famously said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” But even more fascinating is the battle that has raged for millennia over this one piece of real estate…Israel. We see it even today. And no doubt that current events are playing somehow into Daniel’s vision of the future.

We are reminded once again that evil will not ultimately triumph. Good overcomes evil. The Seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent. God wins in the end. Jesus defeated Satan at the cross, but we await the final working out of his defeat. In the meantime, we live under the dominion of the beasts, where evil is called and good is called evil. We should expect this to be a time of suffering and opposition from the enemy, as we are called to follow God and to oppose wickedness. And like the martyrs under the altar in Revelation 6, we may wonder, “How long, O Lord…?”

Though “evil does not reign supreme, neither will it ever cease altogether until God reigns supreme.” The road is not an easy one, and our determination to follow the Lord will be tested again and again. Sadly, many of the Jews living at the time of Antiochus IV gave up on the faith of their fathers and gave in to the culture. But there were those who refused to give up or give in…those who had insight, who relied on their God, gave understanding to the many. The answer to “how long?” is, “not forever.” And the good news is…we are not alone in the struggle. Jesus promises never to leave us or forsake us. He’s also placed us in a body of believers so that we can bear one another’s burdens and take up arms for the spiritual battle together. We look forward to the day when God, who has rescued us from sin and death through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, will one day bring us into His glorious kingdom. Our hope is resurrection…Daniel 12. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. God wins.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

The Restoration Process Part 2

Daniel 9.20-27

What was the essence of God’s message to Daniel? God has a plan for history…a plan to vanquish sin and its consequences once and for all and to usher in His eternal kingdom. A return to the garden. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Recreation. This would be accomplished through Messiah the Prince who would be cut off and have nothing…Genesis 3.15 “He will crush your head and you will crush His heel.” It will look like losing along the way…to the end war, desolations are determined…but victory is assured. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. God wins.

But if this vision relates to Daniel’s people, why do we care? God’s promise to Abraham…through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. We know that the promise is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus…but Jesus is a very Jewish Messiah. His sacrifice will be for the whole world, but He came first for the Jews. We care because, as Paul tells us in Romans, we are grafted into the root. If God doesn’t keep His promises to Israel, why do we think He will keep His promises to us? Well, we might say, “But they were disobedient. They followed after false gods. They worshiped idols.” Have we been any different? So we should be Israel’s greatest cheerleaders. God’s plan has always been for the nations…Nebuchadnezzar and Darius are microcosms of that in Daniel… Salvation is not a birthright, but a gracious gift; and Israel His chosen people.

We know that Jesus defeated sin and death at the cross, that in Him is eternal righteousness, the fulfillment of prophecy and God’s presence with us. All that was accomplished in the spiritual realm at His death and resurrection. But we don’t see the full working out of that yet, as the author of Hebrews tells us. We are still awaiting the time when faith becomes sight, when heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical come crashing together once again, when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s sovereignty is unchallenged in the heavenly realm. The battle is for planet earth. Romans 8…creation groaning awaiting freedom from corruption.

I love the fact that Gabriel tells Daniel that he is highly esteemed (Hebrew “precious”). If you are a follower of Jesus, the same is true of you. We are living in the time between the 69th and 70th weeks, a time of persecution and suffering for the people of God. God has not forgotten us. His Spirit dwells within us, He will neither leave us nor forsake us. So don’t give up. Don’t give in. God wins.

If you are not a follower of Jesus, know that a primary purpose of prophecy is to warn folks of impending judgment. The desolater is desolated. The outcome is already determined. Those who side with God are citizens of the eternal kingdom, but those who oppose Him are citizens of earthly kingdoms that are doomed to destruction. The time is short. Don’t wait.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

Reclaiming the Kingdom Part 2

Daniel 7.19-28

Why does God give Daniel this revelation? Although he lives through the first beast (Babylon) and into the time of the second beast (Medo-Persia), he would not be around to see the fulfillment of the majority of the prophecy. How would an ancient Israelite have received it? Remember that Daniel is writing during a time when Israel is under the rule of foreign powers. Folks have started to return to Jerusalem. The walls and the temple will soon be rebuilt, but they will still be under the rule of the nations. They would not know the world that their fathers had known. They would not see Israel fulfilling her Abrahamic destiny of being the blesser of the nations. Instead they would only know life under foreign occupation and rule. And Daniel writes somehow to encourage them…to encourage them not to give up or to give in because God wins.

But how would this be an encouragement to folks who had no hope of life returning to “normal”? Daniel gives us two perspectives of reality in this chapter: one earthly and one heavenly. From the earthly perspective, there is apparent chaos as the sea (picture of the nations) is stirred up and one kingdom after another arises only to be conquered by the next successive kingdom. And each kingdom will be opposed to God, so if you are one of the saints, it will look like you are on the losing side, especially during the time of the fourth beast. In Genesis 3.15 God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed…”

From the heavenly perspective, God is in complete control. The Ancient of Days is seated on His fiery throne. His sovereignty is unquestioned. The beasts may roam the earth, but they are subject to God. Their dominion is a delegated dominion. And there’s coming a time when heaven and earth will once again be reunited, the kingdoms of this world will be judged and an eternal kingdom will be set up. In the end, the saints’ victory will be manifest. History is moving toward a climax in which good triumphs over evil. And the book ends with the hope of the resurrection (12.13).

The hope of the ancient Israelite was resurrection (12.2-3). It wasn’t a comfortable family-life. It wasn’t a good job. It wasn’t even a return to Jerusalem. It was the resurrection where they would receive their share in the eternal kingdom, where they would walk its streets and serve its King. Daniel’s encouragement was to live life today as citizens of the eternal kingdom. If they focused on their present circumstances, it sure wouldn’t have looked like they were on the winning side. But if they looked beyond their circumstances, Daniel gave them glimpses of God winning – seeing Him praised and His sovereignty acknowledged by the most powerful men in the world (Nebuchadnezzar and Darius); and the boys’ willingness to face death in the fiery furnace and the lions’ den rather then compromise their faith.

Today we find ourselves under the dominion of the fourth beast. We are living in a world that devours and tramples, that overpowers and wears down the saints. We are living in a world that is venomously hostile not only toward God, but also toward His followers. A world in which violence is king…just look at the top rated video games, the top grossing movies, the sporting events we pay extra to see. Not unlike Ancient Rome. In Genesis 6, it was because of the violence of man that had greatly increased on the earth that God finally said, “Enough is enough” and sent the flood. Each successive kingdom has been more violent than the one before, and so we should expect to experience the trampling down and the devouring. We should expect to be attacked and persecuted.

Daniel’s encouragement to us is not to place our hope in the things of this world, the present earthly kingdom in which we find ourselves. Our hope is not in a better job with better benefits, or reconciled relationships, or the right education for my kids. It’s not the American Dream. Our hope is in the resurrection…where we will walk the streets of the eternal kingdom, where we will serve our King. Daniel’s encouragement to us is the same as was his encouragement to the ancient Israelites: live your life as a citizen of the eternal kingdom. Influence others by our uncompromising faith in God. To often we want to claim dual citizenship…living in both the earthly and heavenly kingdoms, hoping to enjoy the benefits of both. But we can only live in one of them…only one can claim our allegiance. Jesus said something about that… “No man can serve two masters for he will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” James writes, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…” Be prepared to suffer. Persevere until the end. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. God wins.

I love the scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where our heroes, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come to the aid of King Theoden to defend Helm’s Deep. They’ve received word that a large army of Urai-hai, a beastly army created by the wicked wizard Saruman, is on the march. With a small band of defenders, the only hope of winning, maybe better, surviving, is the mighty fortifications of the fortress itself. Then the elves show up, and it seems that our heroes might have a fighting chance. But then the enemy pours into the valley and covers it like blanket. The battle begins and our heroes seem to be holding their own until the wall is breached by an unnatural explosion. The bad guys pour in. The good guys are overwhelmed. The hope they had placed in the wall and the elves was misplaced.

Theoden, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are in the last fortified chamber with the Urai-hai crashing the door. Theoden, tempted to give up, remarks, “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” I love Aragorn’s answer, “Ride out with me. Ride out with me and meet them.” Theoden, “For death and glory…” Then Gimli says, “The sun is rising…” “Foul deeds awake. Now for wrath. Now for ruin. Now for the red dawn.” The band rides out through the sea of Urai-hai just in time to see Gandolph and the riders of Rohan coming up over the ridge. They overwhelm the bad guys below and the day is saved.

Living life in the fourth kingdom many times feels like we are on the losing side, especially as Jesus followers. It feels like the enemy is crashing the door down looking to devour us. We are often tempted to give up or give in. But remember the earthly kingdoms are temporary. They are given dominion for a short period of time. The Son of man is coming to set up an eternal kingdom that will never fail or fade. The enemy has already been defeated, though we don’t see it fully yet. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Jesus wins.

If you are not a part of His eternal kingdom today, please don’t wait. Each kingdom fell in a moment of time. This one will too. And when that moment comes, it will be too late. You can become a citizen of the eternal kingdom by trusting in its King. By believing that Jesus came and lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death and was raised again to life conquering both sin and death, the Bible says that you can become a citizen of the eternal kingdom. A son or daughter of the King. That you too would not have to give up or give in because Jesus wins!

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

Mysteries Revealed

Daniel 2

This story is about a mystery…a dream that was imperceptible to the dreamer, a dream that was unknowable by all the wise men of his kingdom, a mystery that he feared would remain unsolved. Little did Nebuchadnezzar know that the God of heaven was beginning to reveal Himself to him through his dreams.

When all hope of discovery seemed to be lost, along comes Daniel, one of the refugees from Jerusalem. Daniel, whose character has already been demonstrated in his commitment to his God, once again trusts God and intercedes on behalf of the king.

The mystery…the future of planet earth. It will definitely continue to get darker before the dawn. But ultimate victory is certain…don’t give up, don’t give in, God wins…He will rescue the faithful.

We, like Daniel, live in this time of earthly kingdoms. We, like Daniel, are called to be faithful, available to the God of heaven who wants to use us to reveal His wisdom and His power. We see it with Nebuchadnezzar, but what about the wise men?

Hundreds of years later a group of magi from the east will follow a star looking for a King…wise men looking for Daniel’s Messiah, the Rock cut without hands, the One who would set up His eternal kingdom. What impact will you have on the folks God has placed around you, your 8-15, those He’s reaching out to?

Maybe you are like Nebuchadnezzar today…desperately looking for answers to life’s most important question, what is the meaning of life? If so, there is a God in heaven, the Revealer of mysteries…He wants to reveal Himself to you today.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

Weekend Passage – March 7

Genesis 49

Israel’s Prophecy concerning His Sons

49 Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come.

“Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob;
And listen to Israel your father.

“Reuben, you are my firstborn;
My might and the beginning of my strength,
Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
“Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence,
Because you went up to your father’s bed;
Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Their swords are implements of violence.
“Let my soul not enter into their council;
Let not my glory be united with their assembly;
Because in their anger they slew men,
And in their self-will they lamed oxen.
“Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
And their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will disperse them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
“Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 “He ties his foal to the vine,
And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
He washes his garments in wine,
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 “His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk.

13 “Zebulun will dwell at the seashore;
And he shall be a haven for ships,
And his flank shall be toward Sidon.

14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
Lying down between the sheepfolds.
15 “When he saw that a resting place was good
And that the land was pleasant,
He bowed his shoulder to bear burdens,
And became a slave at forced labor.

16 “Dan shall judge his people,
As one of the tribes of Israel.
17 “Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
A horned snake in the path,
That bites the horse’s heels,
So that his rider falls backward.
18 “For Your salvation I wait, O Lord.

19 “As for Gad, raiders shall raid him,
But he will raid at their heels.

20 “As for Asher, his food shall be rich,
And he will yield royal dainties.

21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose,
He gives beautiful words.

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough,
A fruitful bough by a spring;
Its branches run over a wall.
23 “The archers bitterly attacked him,
And shot at him and harassed him;
24 But his bow remained firm,
And his arms were agile,
From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
(From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25 From the God of your father who helps you,
And by the Almighty who blesses you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 “The blessings of your father
Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors
Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills;
May they be on the head of Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
In the morning he devours the prey,
And in the evening he divides the spoil.”

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him. 29 Then he charged them and said to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. 31 There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.” 33 When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation (www.lockman.org)

Jesus Wins

Thoughts About What We’re Reading!

This Advent season we are studying the book of Revelation.

Advent (meaning coming, or arrival) celebrates that Jesus came once to save us and is coming again someday to reign and rule over the earth. We live after the time when Christ came to suffer for our sins, and we wait for His 2nd advent, when He will return in glory and power.

In our previous blogs we learned that Revelation is the final chapter in God’s great story. One day, King Jesus will institute justice on earth through judgment on this evil world system and the creation of an eternal paradise. These judgments happen in the context of a great conflict, which reminds the reader of the Serpent and the evil city of Babel from Genesis, who stand in opposition to the savior Jesus. God’s Kingdom and Satan’s earthly kingdom are at war, but there is a clear and definite victor at the end of the battle.

For those of us who live “between the times” of Christ’s first advent and his future return, we rejoice in the hope that one day every wrong will be set right.

As you finish the book this week, it is important for you to note three very important events.

1. The Return of Christ (Revelation 19)

In language that invokes the promise of the son of man from Daniel 7, and Jesus’ promise that “the son of man will come on the clouds of glory” we see that a King will ride a horse from the skies to defeat the armies which oppose God and to throw a victory banquet. Some see this as a recapitulation of the battles described in the preceding chapters, others see it as a distinct battle which begins the millennial reign of Christ, and others equate it to the final battle described in Revelation 20:7-10.

2. The Thousand Year Reign of Christ (Revelation 20:1-6)

The fulfillment of the promise of Christ’s Kingdom is described here. Some (called pre-millennialists) view this as a future, literal kingdom on earth to occur after the return of Christ. This view says that the culmination of the tribulation will be the return of Jesus to literally reign on earth for 1,000 years before the final judgment. Others (called amillennialists) interpret it to symbolically refer to the current reign of God’s Spirit over believers’ hearts in the midst of conflict with the world. This view variously interprets Revelation 6-19’s times of judgment as past events, on-going, or yet to come. Others (called post-millenialists) believe a time is coming of a glorious symbolic reign of Christ in people’s hearts that will manifest itself through a world and society that is radically transformed to Christ-likeness as people everywhere increasingly bow to Jesus as Lord, culminating in his return.

In light of these various views, it is wise to remember what one theologian said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Though the pre-millennial view is the view you will most often hear preached in this church, we acknowledge that there are wise and godly believers who hold to other views. These views have different perceptions of the timing of Christ’s return and the nature of this millennial reign, but all can agree with the essential Christian doctrine that an ultimate and final judgment still awaits.

3. The Great White Throne Judgment and the Eternal State (Revelation 20:11-22:5)

One day, every human who has ever lived will be raised from the dead to a new physical body and will stand before the Lord. Those who rejected Christ will live in eternal, physical torment in the lake of fire. Those who put their faith in Christ will enter into a new earth and live in a perfect world, with a perfect body, experiencing perfect relationships in the presence of God, forever. This will be the final restoration of God’s good design. This will be a return to Eden, when God said that all things in creation were “very good.” This is the eternal rest we all look forward to, and is the hope that even if we die on this earth, we will live forever.

Resources for Further Study

– Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

– Three Views on the Millenium and Beyond by Darrell Bock

– Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul

 

Andrew