Tag Archives: prophecy

Mother Nature prompts apology

The last Sunday morning of 2017 and Mother Nature is getting our attention.  The churches in our area have canceled primarily because of the risk involved in getting the parishioners out.

I have one more sermon from the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  Christmas does not really conclude until Epiphany, January 6, therefore the last sermon will be on January 7.  I apology for the interruption, but Christ’s birthday is just the beginning.

My Sunday morning sometimes begins very early and I listen to Dr. Charles Stanlely, In Touch Ministries, and this morning he was speaking about Isaiah 64:4.  We are to wait on the Lord.  That is so difficult, and I needed to hear his words about waiting.

We live in such a state of immediate gratification for almost everything in our lives.  I opened up my Bible and read through the verse, and decided I needed to read the Christmas story again.  I read Luke 2, and then turned to Matthew also.  The references in my Life Application Bible kept noting how Jesus’ birth fulfilled the prophecies.

The prophets spokes at different times in different settings, but the message remained the same.  I am reminded how long the Jewish faithful waited for the Messiah and wonder why we think answers from God have to be on our terms.  We must place our faith in God and then wait for him.  The key, though, is to be open to his speaking or showing us what he wants for us–not from us.

Therefore, as 2017 ends and Mother Nature reminds us that we are just part of this world.  Maybe canceling church reminds us that we are subject to all of God’s creation.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May you find peace with God.

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Who is this?

given on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017–6th Sunday in Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness


Scripture connection:

Zechariah 9:9-10, NLT

Rejoice, O people of Zion!

Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!

Look, your king is coming to you.

He is righteous and victorious,

yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.

I will remove the battle chariots from Israel

and the warhorses from Jerusalem.

I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,

and your king will bring peace to the nations.

His realm will stretch from sea to sea

and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.


Matthew 21:1-11, NLT

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me.

If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

   This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,

‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

     Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

     And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Mark 11:1-11, NLT

     As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’”

     The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door.  As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.

     Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

     So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.


Luke 19:28-40, NLT

     After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

     So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

     And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

     As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

     But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

     He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”


John 12:12-19, NLT

     The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hail to the King of Israel!”

     Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.

Look, your King is coming,

riding on a donkey’s colt.”

     His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

     Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it.

     That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”


Weekly memory verse: Who is this? (Matthew 21:10, NLT)


Weekly challenge: Step outside and study a flower. Look at the buds and see the promise of the bloom. Look back at your life. See the promise and know how much God loves you.


Reflection: Who is this? How do you know?


Has not the rain and the sunshine transformed our world these past couple of weeks? Looking out the windows this morning is very different than just a week ago as the trees are leafing out, the lilacs are budding, and the spring flowers are opening up. The earth is celebrating new life.

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. The celebration starting today darkens as the week relives the final days of Jesus. Thursday is the day for Jesus’ final supper with his disciples. Friday is the darkest day as Jesus is nailed on the cross and dies. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, so the day is simply empty as no work could be done after sunset on Friday through sunset on Saturday.

The Passion Story unfolds as Christians review the Christ story from the joyful entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey through the events of his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. The week connects the generations of Christians throughout time and the world. The Passion Story connects us to our own belief and we should know the answer to the question: Who is this?

Can you answer that question with confidence? Can you walk into the sanctuary this morning and quickly identify the purpose of the palms and the procession of the kids around the room? Can you share the story with others who may not even know what Palm Sunday, Passion Week, or Easter is? Learning this one small verse, Matthew 21:10, becomes the key to mystery of faith which we share during communion: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. (198914)

The answer for the question “Who is this?” begins with the scripture from Zechariah. The prophet had said that the Messiah or the King of the Jews would arrive on a donkey. And that is what Jesus did by riding into Jerusalem for Passover on the back of the donkey. The procession was a message to all the people, including the Pharisees, that Jesus was indeed who people were saying he was. The public display was out of character for Jesus, but the method was a way to affirm the answer to the Jews that he was indeed the promised Messiah, the Savior, the king they had long anticipated.

Each of the gospels includes a version of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Each one includes the palms and the donkey, but only Matthew includes the question, “Who is this?” Why?

The key is remembering to whom the different gospels are written. Matthew with the question, was written specifically for the Jewish people. The question is asked to make a point that the readers would know how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Zachariah. Mark was written for Roman Christians, Luke was written to Theophilus and the Gentiles, while John was written to new Christians and those seeking to know more.

All the gospels describe the procession in basically the same manner. Palms were waved to show respect for high-ranking officials even throwing the palms and coats on the ground on which to walk. Even the donkey was chosen because of its significance. The donkey represents one coming in peace. If a horse had been chosen, that would have symbolized war or a military leader.

The gospel of Matthew included the description of the palm procession to make sure that the Jewish people could identify who Jesus was and that he fulfilled the prophecy that was almost 500 years old. The non-Jewish people in the Greco-Roman culture, though, also recognized the same symbolism. Mark, Luke and John all include a description of the procession with palms and the donkey. Everybody in the crowd would know the meaning, and the ensuing generations would also know that the man riding the donkey was Jesus, the man who was dramatically changing the belief system of so many in the area whether Jew or Gentile.

Why is this important today? Why are we waving palms here in our community 2,000 years later? Why do we need to answer the question “Who is this?”

God wants a personal relationship with us; and if we cannot answer who Jesus was, then we risk having no relationship with God. We can attend church every Sunday. We can read all we want about Jesus. Yet, to experience God in our life, we must be able to answer that we know Jesus. We must wave our palms and honor him, respect him, revere him, and yes, fear him. Experiencing God on a personal level comes by listening to God and obeying Him, said O.S. Hawkins (Hawkins 2015, 441).

Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to openly express our knowledge of who Jesus is. We have the palm branches, we can sing out our praises, and we can answer the question that Jesus is the son of Man and the son of God.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ final Passover (remember he was Jewish) as the human incarnation of God. Jesus announced to the ancient world that he was the Son of God by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with all his followers/disciples waving palms and shouts of acclamation. Palm Sunday is much like a flower popping up in the garden getting ready to bloom.

We anticipate the joy of Easter this morning, but first we must relive the full experience of Passover with the final days of Jesus and his disciples. We may be excited to extol (Hawkins word) or proclaim Jesus today, but we know the story continues through the horrors of a betrayal, a trial, and a crucifixion.

As we wait for the full bloom of the flower, we wait for Easter morning when Christ was resurrected. We know that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us was so important that he could no longer wait for us to figure it out on our own. Instead, he was born as a man in order to bring us into a real life experience with him.

We can answer the question “Who is this?” because we have the relationship with God. We see our lives unfold into a thing of beauty just like the spring flowers bursting forth around us. We have learned that God’s way of living in a loving relationship with one another is the very purpose God sent Jesus to walk with us in this life.

As Holy Week moves forward, keep the image of the flower opening from the bud to a full bloom present in your mind. You are a flower in God’s garden, and because you know God’s love and you have chosen to live according to his commandments, you will continue to bloom.

[Share the video of tulip opening.]

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,


We lift up our palms to you

Showing that we know you personally,

Because we experience your love

And believe in your promise.


We lift up our palms to you

Thanking you for sending Jesus

To teach us,

To heal us,

To forgive us

And to grant us eternal life.


We lift up our voices

Answering others who ask,

“Who is this?”

So we can share the story

Of our relationship with you,

God, the father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen



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Hearing Joel’s prophecy for today

given on Sunday, October 23, 2016

Scripture connection: Joel 1:6-7, 2”: 2-13, 32 [NLT] Joel provides hope to all faithful people, but also calls them/us to repentance.:

Opening scripture: Joel 1:6-7, NLT

1: 6A vast army of locusts[a] has invaded my land,
a terrible army too numerous to count.
Its teeth are like lions’ teeth,
its fangs like those of a lioness.
It has destroyed my grapevines
and ruined my fig trees,
stripping their bark and destroying it,
leaving the branches white and bare.

2:12 That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.

2:32But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the Lord has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the Lord has called.


Reflection: Hearing Joel’s prophecy today


The week certainly has been filled with news that can fill one’s psyche with fear. American troops are again fighting in the Mid East, road rage became deadly, shootings continue, strange cases of assault are reported, weird weather continues to cause flooding and record breaking, and on top of all that the oak mites are irritating all of us as we struggle to understand the political campaigns.

Pestilence: An Old Testament word used repeatedly to share all the life irritations that challenged the faithful. Seems that the word applies just as much today as it did during ancient times. The prophet Joel understood the challenge to the faithful that the plagues caused; yet his prophecy still applies to our lives in the 21st century.

Consider the size of Judah where the tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived and to whom Joel is prophesying: ancient Judah was approximately 2,270 square miles. Missouri is 69,704 square miles, and Johnson County is 823 square miles (Wikipedia). Joel’s prophecy is just as important to us almost 3,000 years later (believed to be written between 835 and 796 B.C., as it was to the ancient Jewish tribes of Judah. Why do we tend to ignore this prophecy? Or maybe we just have not heard it before.

The book of Joel opens with a description of the day of the locusts. The description is filled with images that create visual pictures in our own minds:

A vast army of locusts[a] has invaded my land,
a terrible army too numerous to count.
Its teeth are like lions’ teeth,
its fangs like those of a lioness.
It has destroyed my grapevines
and ruined my fig trees,
stripping their bark and destroying it,
leaving the branches white and bare.

After completing the plague’s description of the locusts’ destruction, Joel adds in the reactions of the people to such devastation. There results of the plague of locusts is described in verses 16-18:

16 Our food disappears before our very eyes.
No joyful celebrations are held in the house of our God.
17 The seeds die in the parched ground,
and the grain crops fail.
The barns stand empty,
and granaries are abandoned.
18 How the animals moan with hunger!
The herds of cattle wander about confused,
because they have no pasture.
The flocks of sheep and goats bleat in misery.

The graphic images Joel shares continues to tell the reader the faithful what happens as a result of the plague of locusts, but then he shifts to share what happens when God’s warnings are heard. He calls the people to repent in those verses from chapter 2:12-13:

12 That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.

Do we hear the same warning in these words? We should.

Today’s plague may not be actual locusts, but we all have plagues that cause us damage. Remember the definition of pestilence can be “something that is considered harmful, destructive, or evil.” There is always something that can be harmful, destructive or evil that detracts us from God. Joel’s ancient prophecy can provide his readers, including us today, encouragement and hope in the saving grace God promises:


This is what we read in the 32nd verse:

32But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the Lord has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the Lord has called.


This promise is incredible: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord”. That is a promise that has crossed through the millenniums and provides us hope right now, right here—October 23, 2016!

Yes, we are living in difficult times. The pestilence we are experiencing is a plague of words. We are inundated with negative news, tainted political ads, and violent actions in places of war but also in our own homes. We are under attack in ways that Joel would never have predicted. Yet, with God, we are able to defend ourselves from the pestilence.

As our children learn the basic foundations of faith from the Ten Commandments, to the Greatest Commandment, to verses like John 3:16, to the Apostles Creed, we are arming them with the tools to avoid pestilence in their lives. As we join together in Bible study and in worship, we review and continue to develop the skills needed to preserve our relationship with God. As we walk out the church doors, we walk directly into the path of possible attacks on our relationship with God.

Joel warned the ancient faithful, but his words can be read again and again reminding us that we, too, must protect ourselves from the plagues that attack us. In that second chapter, Joel describes how the locust invades the rural environment and destroys not only the crops and the cattle, but even march directly into our own homes. Yet, there is hope.

Joel calls all people to repent. The call is in that verse 12:  “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

We, too, are called to repent. God wants us to depend on him, to trust in him, and to do all that we can to serve one another in love.   Joel’s prophecy is for us, right now, right here, and for always.

The prophecy ends with one more promise (Joel 3:21):


I will pardon my people’s crimes,
which I have not yet pardoned;
and I, the Lord, will make my home
in Jerusalem[a] with my people.”


Joel’s words are guiding words for us today. If we do not invest time in reading the scriptures, we will not find such words of promise to assure us in the most challenging times of our lives. We are not protected from pestilence; we must learn how to live God-centered lives despite all the challenges. We must join in Christian fellowship to strengthen our defenses. And worshiping together, we encourage each other and reach out to others to share in the grace of God provided through belief in Jesus Christ who died for our sins.


Closing prayer:


Dear Heavenly Father,


You are God to Joel and you are God to us.

May we hear your words of promise

over the din of today’s plagues.


Let us find ways to defend ourselves

from the attacks on our faith

so we may continue as your disciples.


Let us share in study and in worship

so we may strengthen our faith

and to teach others to live God-centered lives.


Let us step out to serve others

in ways to strengthen our community

to become part of your kingdom.


Thank you for the gift of Joel’s prophecy

and from others throughout history

who share the good news of your grace.


May we be the tools of love

guided by the Holy Spirit

to provide others hope of eternal life

by belief in the life, the death

and the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

your son.


–In God’s name, through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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The Reality of Christmas: in history and yet today

This is the script with leading descriptors and scripture which was used during the annual Christmas Gathering.  No full essay/sermon, just thoughts to share and discuss supported by scripture.  By including the hymns, one can see connections to all elements of the service portion of the evening.

Share the “The Reality of Christmas”

  • Look at what God saw when the prophets began announcing the coming of the Messiah
  • Consider what the faithful believed would happen
  • How did time affect the faithful


The Words of the Prophet (NLT)

Psalm 2 (1,000 years before Christ was born)

Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans? . . .

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem,[a] on my holy mountain.”

The king proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.[b]
Today I have become your Father.[c] . . .

10 Now then, you kings, act wisely!
Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
11 Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Submit to God’s royal son,[e] or he will become angry,
and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
for his anger flares up in an instant.
But what joy for all who take refuge in him!

Isaiah (about 750 years before Christ was born)

7:13-56       13 Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? 14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[f] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). . . .

9: 1-2           . . . in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

Answers to the prophets found in the New Testament

Luke 2:4-6            So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,

Hymn 230           O Little Town of Bethlehem

Matthew 1:17       17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.

Luke 2:1-7           In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Hymn 217           Away in the Manger (with Kids leading in Chilhowee)


The Reality of Christmas is now:

  • Jesus, the baby, arrives and the present begins.
  • Time is a human determination, not God’s
  • Look at the world through God’s eyes and ask: Are we faithful? Why are the nations so angry (like in Psalms 2)? Have we exhausted God’s patience (like in Isaiah)?
  • The reality is that God did send his savior, a very real man who walked on the earth, who demonstrated the ideals God had for his children.
  • We carry the Word from generation to generation, from country to country, from one home to the next home . . . and the Word lives.


Hymn 242           Love Came Down at Christmas


New Testament shares the Word:

Luke 2:8-12          That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Hymn 238           Angels We Have Heard on High


The Reality of Christmas is now.

  • The wise men knew the story.
  • The prophecies are fulfilled.
  • We know the message to share.
  • We hold on to love and to justice.


The New Testament shares the Wise Men’s story

Matthew 2:1-6 and 10-12        Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

. . . 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The reality of Christmas is . . .

  • God never gives up on his children
  • What happened before Jesus’ birth is the past, but Jesus is the promise of now and forever.
  • As long as we live a life holding on to love for one another and to hold on to justice, the Word lives and Christmas continues day after day, year after year, and on into eternity.


Hymn 246           Joy to the World


Hymn 234           Silent Night


The Benediction

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The promises of Christmas: past, present and future

given on Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas is full of promises, but the promises most of us think about are what comes under the Christmas tree. With our kids clamoring about the house focused only on what they are hoping Santa brings, with the commercials promising all kinds of results, and who can forget the yummy promises of the kitchen—especially when the scents greet you as you get home and open the door to the aroma filling the house.

The promises we associate with Christmas are not the promises God made; they are the promises that we have created to our kids and even to ourselves as the season evolved into an entirely different event than what God promised in the Old Testament. The purpose of God’s promises was completely different than the promises we casually talk about today.

Consider the past, the ancient past: the people were living in the midst of pagan societies, the region was a key trading center, influences tended to feed on the very sins God warns us to avoid such as excessive alcohol, immoral sexual behaviors, unethical business practices, and the list grows well past the ones targeted with the Ten Commandments. Society was a mess.

The prophets kept warning the Israelites that they must stay faithful to God, to trust in Him. Yet, the earthly influences were real. The appeals attracted the faithful with promises, too, and they were real—you could touch them, see them, smell them, hear them, and taste them. Just imagine if we were to hear the prophet’s words today:

40 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.


Those are the words of hope. There is a promise in those verses that lifted spirits. The promises are even spelled out in the following verses:

10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,

holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.


The promises are there and when the faithful felt so lost, so alone, the words demonstrated God’s love for his chosen ones. Yet, these promises were written between 930 and 586 BC—hundreds of years before the birth of the Messiah. In fact, when Isaiah spoke, it was still 100 years before Jerusalem fell which led to the exile that took 70 more years.

By comparison, promises we make today tend to have a much shorter duration. Can you even imagine how a promise we might make today would ever get anybody’s attention if it exceeded past a few weeks, a few months, or even a year? Maybe the ancient promises were too vague to bring about an immediate change. Why maybe the ancient promises are still so vague to us that we do not hear their message, either.

That leads us to the present time. And just when did the present time begin? The year on our calendars say it is 2014, and that is certainly a long, long time since Isaiah’s prophecy was written. In fact it was a long span of years before Jesus was born, almost 750 years or more.

What promises does God make now that should be affecting our behaviors each day of our lives? Has there been any contemporary prophets speaking out so we can hear the prophecy above the noise of our everyday world?

Here is the problem: I think we are living in the present. We do not perceive the present as anything more than the moment. God may think the present is a span of time that began over 2000 years ago and will continue until a time when we will meet him.

The words written in Mark were for those early Christians in Rome sometime between 55 and 65 AD:

1 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.[a] It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.[b]
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’[c]” . . .


Even as we read these verses today, the time is now, the present. ‘Am sending’ is a present progressive verb. It tells the reader that the action began and is ongoing. The completion of God’s promise is ongoing. We are living in the present, not the past. Does our Christmas demonstrate that we are continuing to be present with God?

What is the future of Christmas? Are we living our lives in a manner that the promises found throughout the Bible will be fulfilled? Are we teaching our young people to love one another as God loved us?   Do we make promises to others based on the Christian principles we practice?

As we get closer to Christmas Day and the shopping carts get piled up, do we even think about the promises God makes to us now? 2 Peter was written after the gospel of Mark, yet the message echoes the warnings we hear clear back in Isaiah, almost a thousand years earlier.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.


The prophecy is there. The love is there. The gift of Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy as well as those of the other Old Testament prophets. And the words of the New Testament are written in the present for the future.

In fact, the God’s greatest promise continues to today as we share the bread and the cup. Jesus, shared God’s promise at the Last Supper with the Apostles (Mark 14):

22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”

23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant[a] between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Today, we share the bread and the cup to renew our covenant with God. We have heard the promises God has shared since the beginning of time:

  • God loves us.
  • God provides for our needs.
  • God is with us, always—past, present and future.

As we continue through Advent and have all the fun we do with our family and friends, remember God’s promise. The bread and the cup are the symbols of our promise to God, too. We are promising to love God and to love one another—not just today, but throughout God’s time whether the past, the present or the future.

Closing prayer

Dear Father of all Time,

We continue to hope for love and justice whether near or far.

We offer love to one another whether family, friend or foe.

Our world swirls around us with so many temptations we struggle

to maintain our covenant with you.

Joining together to worship and to share the bread and cup

renews our relationship with you and with one another.

Thank you for your unending love that extends beyond time.

Thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

We promise through the sharing of the bread and the cup

to renew our efforts to do all that we can for all we can,

now and forever. –Amen

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Breaking Sin’s Code

given on Sunday, February 17, the first Sunday of Lent.

         Have you ever tried the Cryptoquips in the newspaper?  This is one of the brainteasers or games that appears daily in the KC Star.  The point of it is to identify the statement that is coded in a mixed up pattern of letters that do not meet our personal language expectations.           These challenges are not easy for me, but I have worked with a couple of others who seem to know how to break the code.  They are able to take one small clue and work through the jumbled words and find the solution.  Following the process leads to a sense of exhilaration when the code is broken and the solution appears.

Cryptoquips lead me to thinking about how sin likes to hide in all the words of our lives.  God sent out messages over and over and over, but His children could not figure it out.  There must be a way to break sin’s code and make sure everybody knows the message.

What is needed to become cryptologists?  First we need the alphabet—or do we?  During World War II, language in two battle theaters ranged dramatically.  No common alphabet, no common language, no common ground for all the various messages being sent from one ally to another or one enemy to another.  Intercepting those messages meant finding solutions to the battles.

The necessity of communicating ideas is undeniable; it is essential if we live side by side with others.  Breaking sin’s code is key to living the Christian life that God so desires for His children.  The Garden of Eden is attainable if we can break sin’s code and live by God’s code.  We must make sure that we understand the message in order to arm ourselves for life in a world that challenges our beliefs.

With that as a starting point, the process begins.  God first told Adam and Eve that their needs were provided as long as they took care of creation.  Adam and Eve represent all humans regardless of race or gender.  We are all God’s children and we all must accept responsibility to preserve God’s law.

The Old Testament is one of our tools to breaking sin’s code.  Thousands of years separate us from creation and the Old Testament recorded humanity’s battles to preserve God’s law.  Unfortunately, sin seems to co-exist with human will.  The battle is on.

In the Cryptoquips, only one rule is provided:  I is A.  That is all the clue there is for the problem solver to work out the solution.  Of course if I replaces A and A replaces I in the message, then the foundation is there and all the other values must be discovered.

As 21st century Christians, we have a wealth of clues provided us but there is only one that we need to begin the process.  One          rule.  Adam and Eve were told simply do not eat from the tree of knowledge and all their needs would be met.  God gave them a garden filled with all the perfect solutions to their needs.

Time and time again, the people of God found themselves in a battle with sin.  God provided them a key to the solution; yet some did not listen, some did not follow the solution, and some chose to go in another direction.  Being given the rule for living a sin-free life is no guarantee that it is going to be easy to solve the battle with sin.

Consider this question:  What triggered God to send Jesus?  The first step in learning this answer is to unlock all the messages of the Old Testament, and one way to make that more clear is to consider the Bible in chronological form.

Included in today’s bulletin is an abbreviated reading plan that puts the Old and New Testament into a chronological format.  At first glance it does not seem so re-organized; but begin working with the plan and surprises develop.

As an example one of the first questions that sprung up in my mind is what triggered God to send Jesus.  The Old Testament covers a time span of almost 2,500 years and is filled with examples of God’s frustration with His creation mishandling sin.  His warnings go unheard.  His threats were delivered.  Sin still wins battles though.

Look at the chronological listings.  Find the first entry from the New Testament and then back up one—the final entry in the Old Testament.  It is Malachi, the record of the Prophet Malachi.

To place Malachi’s prophecy into a timeline, the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt over 100 years prior to Malachi’s warnings.  In a society, which places so much importance on the temple, especially the one in Jerusalem, one might expect the behaviors of the people to match that of the teachings.  But the behaviors did not.

Malachi, as God’s messenger, made one more effort to break sin’s code by explaining how God had reached a frustration level that action was needed and needed now!  The time:  430 BC.  Four hundred years before Christ was born, God sent one more message.

Malachi simply told the people that God had lost hope in His people.  He was angry with the priests.  He was angry with the people and He was coming.  Four major points are presented in this last Old Testament book.  Certainly Malachi expected God to appear any moment, but He did not.

Again, we are confronted with another mystery.  We learn that God is coming and yet in the middle of the fifth century BC, He does not appear.  What happened to the message?

Let’s review a few things.  Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and they did.  Then God delivered Moses just ten simple rules or commandments to follow.  Moses’ story is recorded in Exodus chapters 1-5,12-14 and 20, around 1450-1410 BC.  And Exodus is just the second book of the Old Testament.

Obviously God is not quick to temper, God is patient.  As the stories of the Old Testament continue to demonstrate how a small group of people works to carry God’s messages to the others, sin continues to win battles.  Sin is a force confronting humans daily.   There must be some secret to unlocking sin’s code.  There must be some simple rule that can lead God’s children in the battle against sin and winning life of the faithful.

After Adam ate the apple, sin won.  Sin started filling the story of humankind with conflict.  Good versus evil.  Evil wins.  Good versus evil.  Good wins.  A thousand years passed between creation and Moses’ delivery of the Ten Commandments.  God replaced one simple rule with ten more specific rules.

The next thousand years records the many examples of sin versus God.  The prophets are recorded.  The warnings were given.  The battles continued—some with sin winning, some with God winning.  One thing that is evident is God’s love and patience.  Why did humans fail to break the code?

Malachi told them.  He identified the problem in the first chapter, verse 6:

“A son honors his father. A servant honors his master. If I am a father, where is the honor I should have? If I am a master, where is the respect you should give me?” says the Lord who rules over all.  . . .

Malachi’s words sound familiar.  Have we not heard those words in our own homes in a context all too familiar yet today?  Malachi was breaking sin’s code.  In the tight-knit family units and the tribes, the analogy of a son honoring the father is a clue that was recognizable, and still is today.

Yet, so many still did not listen to the messengers.  Malachi continued his explanation to the people, but even his plain language did not unlock the code.  At the close of Malachi 4:4-5, a final warning, a final clue to what the future holds:

“Remember the law my servant Moses gave you. Remember the rules and laws I gave him at Mount Horeb. They were for the whole nation of Israel.

“I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will come before the day of the Lord arrives. It will be a great and terrifying day. Elijah will teach parents how to love their children. He will also teach children how to honor their parents. If that does not happen, I will come. And I will put a curse on the land.”

As Lent continues, consider the keys already provided for breaking sin’s code.  We are so familiar with the Old Testament and New Testament stories that one would think the code is broken.  But look around your corner of the world.  Is sin still lurking around?  While you listen to the news?  Is sin still winning?  Look at all the influences in our lives and evaluate them.  Is there a clue to sin’s code?

The Bible provides many clues, many examples, and many methods that should break sin’s code.  But here it is 2,000 years after God personally stepped in to break sin’s hold on His children.  Did it work?  Does it work?  Will it work in the future?

Lent continues and so will we continue to be cryptologists.  We have one key:  Love one another.  If we replace all sinful thoughts and actions with that one principle, will we break sin’s code?

Dear Forgiving and Loving God,

We fail to break sin’s code.

We cannot identify your message.

We follow the wrong paths,

     and make the wrong decisions.

Open our hearts so we may love one another.

Open our minds to identify sinful influences.

Open our hands to change this world

     by doing what we can to break sin’s hold.

Thank you for prophets of old and of today.

Thank you for your patience.

Thank you for loving us

      and forgiving us unconditionally.  –Amen


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