Tag Archives: waiting

How NOT to wait during hard times [First Sunday of Advent, part 4]

6 Dec
Photo by Maia Habeggar on Unsplash

We have been studying the concept of waiting during dark times in this series of posts on the Lectionary passages for the First Sunday of Advent.  In part 3, we introduced the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36, where Jesus prophesies his second coming.  Christians throughout the ages have been waiting for his return. That waiting can be difficult.  Jesus remarks that in the watching and waiting we should be on guard against the temptation toward dissipation, drunkenness and anxiety. 

Personally, I’ve had periods of hardship where I have actively felt and prayed, “Jesus, I am ready for you to comeback!”  But those have been far and few between.  As we age, though, or as we go through hard times, we are more apt to long for his return. 

But in a wealthy, privileged society, with so many opportunities available to us, I think the opposite happens.  We might not want him to return.

I remember thinking as a teen, “Lord, Please don’t come back until I get my driver’s license.”

And then as a college student, “Lord, please don’t come back until after I get married.”

And then as a young adult, “Lord please don’t come back until after we get to meet our kids.”

Have you had thoughts like this too?  There are so many reasons why we might not want Jesus to come back.  Reasons that have us focused on the opportunities of life, whether good or bad.

In verse 34, Jesus warns his disciples about losing focus on him and his return, and having their attention in life drawn to things that could potentially harm them, or worse, harm the mission of God’s Kingdom.  He refers to three dangers in particular: dissipation, drunkenness and anxieties of life.

We don’t use the word “dissipation” much.  I had to look it up. Actually I looked up the meaning of the Greek word that Jesus uses here, and I found that the word refers to the bad things people do when they are very drunk. (Louw & Nida)

So of course that relates to the next word Jesus uses, “drunkenness.” Drink too much alcohol, and you are no longer fully in control.  In the ancient world Jesus lived in, alcohol was pretty much the main drug.  In our day and age, we have so many options for losing control, don’t we? All kinds of substances.

With the words “dissipation and drunkenness,” we have a clear teaching from Jesus: do not overindulge in anything that takes you out of control of your life. Here’s the thing, though, when you are going through hard times, the temptation to escape the pain and get lost in a substance or an addiction is a powerful force in our lives that can lead to much evil. Jesus is right to warn us about it.

The third concept he cautions us about is, “anxieties of life.” And this one hits me square between the eyes.  I struggle with anxiety.  I wrote about my battle here. Jesus says be careful or you can be weighed down or burdened by it, and I know exactly what he means. Anxiety can become all-consuming.  It, too, is a powerful force that can be hard to battle. Jesus is right to warn us about this too. 

How about you?  In the times of darkness in your life, while you are waiting, have you struggled with dissipation and drunkenness?  How about anxiety?  Please know that you are not alone.  Many people battle as well, and there is hope!  What is that hope?  Check back in tomorrow for part 5 of this series, as Jesus has a very practical suggestion that can give us all hope.

Being faithful in the waiting [First Sunday of Advent, part 3]

5 Dec
Photo by Jonsung Lee on Unsplash

Thus far the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have begun with a prophecy from 600 BC that God would send a new king to Israel, and that the people needed to get ready for that king by practicing repentance.  We looked at Luke 1, which describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy.  As we move from the Old Testament readings to the two New Testament readings, we’re going to encounter more prophecy, once again looking to the future.  The next reading is Thessalonians 3:9-13.

From the time of David who wrote Psalm 25, which we studied in part 2, we’re moving forward in history 1000 years to 50 AD.  One of the earliest followers of Jesus is a guy named Paul, and he is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was the largest city in what was then called Macedonia.  It is still today a bustling town, a favorite of tourists, and in the middle of the city is an archaeological site with ancient ruins. Today it is called Thessaloniki, Greece. If you want, you can read about Paul’s first visit there in Acts 17.

At the time Paul visited, scholars estimate 200,000 people lived there, because Thessalonica was located in a favorable position on one of the main highways in the Empire, the Egnatian Way, and it was a port on the Aegean Sea.  Because of its large population and prime location, of course Paul would want to share the good news of Jesus there.  As was his practice, he went to a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica and preached about Jesus. Many people started believing in Jesus. That made the staunch Jews mad, and Paul and Silas had to flee, but a church was started.  Though Paul moved on, his thoughts and prayers were still with the church in Thessalonica, and in the following weeks and months, he wonders how they are getting along. 

We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 that his assistant, Timothy, visited Paul, reporting good news about the Thessalonian Christians’ steadfast faith and love, that they longed to see Paul again.  Paul knows he won’t be headed back to Thessalonica anytime soon, so instead of a visit, he writes them a letter, hoping to keep investing in their lives. 

In this section of that letter, Paul says he was encouraged by their faith, since they are standing firm in the Lord.  Paul is overflowing with thanks for them.  And in verse 12 he prays to God that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.  He prays that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  That’s a very similar prayer to what David prayed in Psalm 25!  Hmmm…maybe there is a reason these passages were selected to be read on the same day?

Then in verse 13, Paul mentions the return of Jesus.  Actually in this letter of 1st Thessalonians, you can scan through the end of each of the five chapters and you will notice that the return of Jesus is mentioned each time.  When Paul wrote, he didn’t include chapters and verses.  They were added       much later.  But by seeing this repeated mention of Jesus’ return, of Jesus’ coming again, we can see that it was a major theme for Paul.  Paul is asking the Christians in Thessalonica, and by extension he is asking us, “Will we be blameless when Jesus returns?”  Unlike the Davidic kings who turned away from the Lord, Paul calls Christians to remain faithful and blameless before the Lord while we are waiting for his return.  And when will Jesus return? 

That brings us to the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36.

Advent is a season when we remember Jesus’ first coming, his birth, so that we might prepare ourselves for his second coming.  But when will that happen?  Jesus talks about this in Luke 21:25. 

In this passage, Jesus is in his final days.  He has arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover to great fanfare.  On what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds wanted to make him king. Many Israelites saw Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jeremiah. But they were mistaken about Jesus’ Kingdom.  They wanted a ruler like David who would wage war against the enemy and give Israel independence.  But Jesus was not that kind of King.  His Kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world, though it would make a great impact on the world! 

And so here in Luke 21 Jesus and his disciples are at the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples are commenting about the beauty of the temple.  Their beloved church building.  The temple was the center of Jewish life and faith.  And Jesus says in verse 6, “you know, this temple is going to be destroyed.” 

The disciples are aghast.  What is he talking about?  When would this happen?  They want to know details!  How will they be able to tell?  Jesus goes on in verse 8-24, giving them two levels of prophetic teaching. 

First the near level.  In verses 12-19 he talks about the persecution the disciples will go through, and that actually took place only a few short months after Jesus said it.  You can read about it in Acts 3-4.

Then the medium range level.  I verses 8-10, and 20-24, he talks about a time when Jerusalem would once again be attacked, just as it was in Jeremiah’s day.  This time, not the Babylonians, but it was the Romans in 70AD who destroyed the city. Before we move too quickly past this, I think we need to just pause and think about how astounding this is. Jesus in 33 AD prophesies that the temple would be destroyed.  And it happened!  Let’s just pause and think about how amazing that is.  Jesus says that a major catastrophic event will happen, and he gives some fairly specific detail about how this event will occur, and 40 years later it happens?  That is Jesus.  He can tell the future like that. That means we can trust in him when he gives the next level of prophecy too.

Next Jesus says there will be third, future, level of prophecy.  That is what we are focusing on today.  Look at verses 25-36.

There will be various signs for sure, and then he will come again!  As he said many other times, we don’t know the day, time or hour.  His coming will be like a thief in the night, like a lightning strike, surprising.  So we should practice humility about signs.  We should be very guarded about our confidence in our ability to interpret signs of the times. What does it mean, then, to be ready for his return?  Jesus will teach us in the next post in the series, as we continue study Luke 21:25-36.

Would your family wait 500 years for God to fulfill his promise? (Surveying the history of Israel up to the time of Deuteronomy)

30 Aug

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500  years!  What if God made you a promise; a promise to you, your family and descendants?  How long do you think your family could stay faithful to God if it started to seem like his promise wasn’t coming through?  10 years?  50?  How long could they make it after you passed away?  What would you do to help prepare them to be faithful, even after you pass away?

That scenario is essentially the historical context of Deuteronomy.  This is a story of a family that is waiting a long, long time for God to bring his promise to fruition.  Let’s take a look:

In chapter 1, verse 8, we read God saying this:

“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Who are these guys?  The Lord calls them the fathers of the nation of Israel.  Let’s race through the history of Israel and see if we can place these guys.

First, there was Abraham.  If you want to read his story in detail, start at Genesis 12.  Here’s the gist of it: God promised Abraham that if he would leave his home in Haran and relocate to the land of Canaan, Abraham would be father to a great nation through whom God would bless the whole world, and his family/nation would be given that land.

So Abraham, his wife Sarah, and their household leave their home and travel to Canaan.  But here’s the kicker: they have no kids.  How are they going to be the parents of a great nation?  Time drags on, and they get really old, but still they have no kids.  It seems like this “great nation in a new land” promise is becoming a big sham.  So Abraham, with Sarah’s permission, has a baby with Sarah’s servant girl Hagar, a son named Ishmael.  Sarah becomes jealous and kicks Hagar and Ishmael out.  God intervenes and arranges for Hagar and Ishmael to return to Abraham’s family.  Ishmael himself would go on to become a great nation, the father of Arabia, but that is not the family/nation with whom God would keep his covenant promise to Abraham.  13 more years go by, and still Abraham and Sarah do not have an heir. They’re in their 90s now! God steps in, Sarah miraculously becomes pregnant in her old age, and they have a son, Isaac.

Isaac grows and marries Rebekah.  You can read Isaac’s story starting in Genesis 21.  They have twin sons, Esau the older and Jacob the younger.  Jacob is sneaky and steals the birthright inheritance traditionally given to the firstborn, Esau.  Esau, as you can imagine, is really upset, and Jacob has to flee the family.  He travels to relatives where he meets his wife, Rachel.

At this point in Jacob’s story we’re now in Genesis 27.  Jacob eventually starts to see the fulfillment of part of the promise God made to Abraham, to make his family into a great nation.  How so?  Well, Jacob has four wives who bear a total of 12 sons.  Baby boom!  God then gives Jacob a new name, Israel, and we’re at the point where the new family nation should be sounding familiar.  Israel had 12 sons.  The nation of Israel has 12 tribes. See where that is going?

Jacob/Israel eventually moves his 12 sons and their families to Egypt to avoid famine.  400+ years go by. During this time, Israel as a family nation grows exponentially, to the point where the Egyptian king, called the Pharaoh, feels threatened by them, so he enslaves them.  He uses them to build great works of architecture. In the process he treats them horribly. You can read all about it starting in Exodus 1.

The people of Israel are slaves, oppressed, forced into grueling labor, dealing with genocide (because the Pharaoh was afraid they were getting too numerous).  They cry out, and God sends a deliverer. This deliverer is a wild card, one of their own, Moses, who through a miracle grew up as a prince of Egypt.  If you continue reading in Exodus, you’ll see that it takes a while, including some amazing meetings with God, for Moses to agree to this new national savior role.  Eventually, though, he steps up.

Moses visits the Egyptian king Pharaoh, who he likely grew up with. Like the movies, some scholars believe Moses and Pharaoh would have considered themselves brothers or cousins.  Now many years had passed, and imagine the awkward family reunion when Moses says to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” If you are following along in Exodus, this story is found in Exodus 7.  The Pharaoh is not keen on letting his massive labor force go, and he says, “Not a chance.”  So God steps in again and sends plagues on the land, wrecking Egypt, and finally after the last plague results in the death of his firstborn son, the king bitterly sneers to Moses, “Get your people out of here.”  The entire nation of Israel, likely over a million strong at this point, leaves and heads out through the Red Sea and into the desert. But the reality is that they are following a God they probably barely knew, a leader they weren’t sure they could trust, to an unknown destination.

That destination? The Promised Land. Canaan.  They were headed back to the land God had promised their forefather Abraham about 500 years before.  Will God keep his promise?  Starting in Exodus 12:31 and continuing through Leviticus and Numbers, you can read how they follow God’s direction via a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, Moses leading them all the way.  They have many adventures, many missteps.  There is no way it should have taken 40 years.  God allowed their journey to the Promised Land to take that long because of the nation of Israel’s disobedience.

That is the historical context for Deuteronomy. The nation of Israel has arrived on the border of Canaan, the Promised Land.  The generation that left Egypt has given way to the next generation.  The new generation of Israelites will be the ones who actually enter the Promised Land.  Not even Moses will be joining them. Instead Moses sits down to remind this next generation of God’s promises and all the family nation has been through.  More on that tomorrow as we dig into the book of Deuteronomy.