Anticipating Advent: I Heard a Whisper

Advent is a word that I know of in only one context and will tell it now.

I was 18, had moved out, running a full time job, had a place, at that point was two years into injecting high powered drugs, had purchased a high powered Hi-Fi system and speakers — Advent loud speakers! Christmas was always just a date on the calendar, only a holiday so the birth of Christ became merely a whisper.

“I heard a whisper”

In the solitude of my prison walls, I have built a kingdom.  Despair and loneliness are my subjects, they move with ease within, relentless…

I am a captive by my own design.  Satan sneers and laughs with glee and dances about casting shadows of doubt — the end draws near.  I’m lost in my own kingdom, without a key.

Then I hear it, a most wonderful sound: a whisper…a whisper…
How did it reach me in my kingdom of one?
I heard your whisper soft and true. I listen for the beat of your soul.
I embrace the echo of your heart.
I am no longer just one!

“Eye of the storm”

In the depth of every storm, there is a silence to be heard.  The storm can not penetrate, dark and destructive by its nature, the nature of sin.   It seeks a weak point of entry to consume all in its path.  Rest awaits in the eye…in the cross!

“Embraced”

After the cool spring rains fall upon the parched desert floor, flowers bloom in a splendid radiance of color.  The air is filled with a fragrance of sweetness that envelops the spirit of life, a feast for the senses — for the soul.

Joy…Joy…Joy… in abundance.

The birth came in a whisper, the cross was for the lost, and His return will come with loudspeakers never heard before!

Amen!!

~Lance Crumley

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Anticipating Advent: White as Snow

Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
from Isaiah 1

In Isaiah’s vision given by the Lord we are given a picture of Israel’s rebellion and corruption right from the beginning which brings God’s judgment, declaring that his people were like Sodom and Gomorrah.  All the sacrifices and religious ritual were empty practices.

Then God’s mercy is revealed. Lets talk about this , says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow, if you are willing and obedient.

Scarlet is a very vibrant color.  As an artist, I very seldom use this color for that reason.
In Ohio, where I was born and raised, we had a great deal of fog.  Driving in the fog was very difficult.  One time I just followed the scarlet tail lights of a semi.  They were visible through the fog.  Israel’s sins were clearly visible to God through their attempt to fog God off with their pious practices.
God is a God of mercy and love and grace: I will make your sins as white as snow.  God didn’t reveal how this would happen until it is declared in the vision in Isaiah 53.  There we see one who is stricken by God, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.  The punishment that brought us the white snow of peace was upon him.
This vision is, of course, of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
~Pastor Jack Matheis

 

Anticipating Advent – From the Beginning

GENESIS 3: 1-15

This chapter is perhaps as sad a story as any we have in the Bible. In the forgoing chapters we have had the pleasant view of the holiness and happiness of our first parents. All was very good; but here the scene is altered. We have here an account of the sin and misery of our first parents, the wrath of God and the curse against them. We have here the fall of mankind and all creation.

OUR HEARTS NEED TO BE DEEPLY AFFECTED AS WE READ THIS ACCOUNT!

We are all concerned in it. In this account we have [Romans 5:12] “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.”
Satan here draws our first parents to sin, and so separates them and us from God.

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit [and we continue to do so] as the devil continues to cause us to question God’s divine law as uncertain or unreasonable. We desire what is forbidden. As did our parents and the wages of that sin is death. That sentence of death take us captive and brings a gulf of separation from God that we cannot span.

Then the gracious words of Genesis 3:15. Our ADVENT text:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her SEED; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise HIS heel.”

Oh the wonder of God’s mercy and grace. He converts the death sentence that sin had brought to Adam and Eve to Himself.

The fruit of this enmity is a continual conflict between grace and sin in the hearts of God’s people. Satan continues to attack us and seeks to devour us. There is also a continual struggle between the wicked and the godly in this world. Here we have the gracious promise of Christ the deliverer of fallen man from the power of Satan. What here was said was addressed to the serpent, yet in the hearing of our first parents, who took the hints of grace and saw a door opened to them. A door of hope from death. This text, the promise of Advent, is the dawning of the Gospel Day. By faith in this promise our first parents were justified and saved.

Here we have three things concerning Christ.

  1. In the incarnation God honors the woman to call Christ her Seed, beguiled by Satan and blamed by Adam; God herein magnifies His grace. Galatians 4:4 “But when the fullness of the time had come. God sent forth His Son, born of a woman born under the law, to redeem us.” Promise fulfilled! The Seed of the woman was made sin and a curse for us.
  2. His sufferings and death pointed at in Satan’s bruising his heel. Satan tried to destroy the Savior, to ruin salvation’s plan, but on the contrary it was by death that Christ destroyed him that had the power of death. Christ’s heel was bruised when his feet were pierced and nailed to the cross.
  3. His victory over Satan. His death and resurrection. Christ was raised in the fullness of time, the seed of the woman trampled upon Satan, lead him captive, and triumphed over him. Christ rejected Satan’s temptations and rescued souls from Satan’s hands, by his death the sin offering of our redemption. Christ gave a fatal blow to the devil’s kingdom a wound to the head of this beast, that can never be healed.

SING, MY TONGUE, THE GLORIOUS BATTLE

  1. Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle; tell the triumph far and wide; tell aloud the wondrous story of the cross, the crucified; tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, vanquished death the day He died.
  2. God in mercy saw us fallen, sunk in shame and misery, felled to death in Eden’s garden, where in pride we claimed the tree; then another tree was chosen, which the world from death would free.
  3. Tell how, when at length the fullness of the appointed time was come, Christ, the Word, was born of women, left for us a heavenly home, blazed the path of true obedience, shone a light amidst the gloom.
  4. Thirty years among us dwelling, Jesus went from Nazareth, destined, dedicated, willing, did his work and met his death; like a lamb he humbly yielded on the cross his dying breath.
  5. Faithful cross, true sign of triumph, be for all the noblest tree; none in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit your equal be; symbol of the world’s redemption, for your burden makes us free.

FORTUNATUS VENANTIUS HONORIOUS CLEMENTIANUS. About 530 A.

“Christ is a tree to be desired to make one wise. Col.2:3 I Cor.1:30. Let us, by faith, feed upon him, that we may be wise to salvation.”
~Matthew Henry

PRAISE THE SAVIOUR! Have a blessed Advent season.
~Nick & Diana Laninga

Living in the Land of the Dying

For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
Isaiah 53:8b

During the recent Ebola scare people became very aware of how easily one could become infected with a disease that could kill you. As a consequence anyone who had that disease was quarantined, separated from society, alone but for people in space suits who still risked infection to care for them. I am reminded of those with leprosy in Jesus’ day who were banished from society, cut off from the people of God, living out their days in walking death. They cried out to Jesus who touched them, made them clean, and enabled them to once again live among the people of God. They were no longer cut off. All of that is but a picture of the real problem, the problem from which all disease and decay flows from — the problem of our rebellion against God. In short, our sin. It is our sin that separates us from God and separates us from one another.

The words “cut off” first appear in the Bible after the Flood. God promises to never again cut off all flesh from the earth. (God had cut off all flesh from the earth because of man’s great wickedness and sin.) As we continue on through God’s law we see time and again a law given and immediately after the command to cut off the person who breaks this law. We hear Christ telling us that if our hand or our foot should cause us to sin we should cut it off for it is better to enter life maimed than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

In each case it is the person or the thing that has sinned that is cut off, but in Isaiah 53:8 it is not so. We find a break from the pattern. Here we see the one spoken of by Isaiah cut off from the land of the living, not for his own sins, but for the sins of his people.

Jesus knew what it was to live in the land of the living more truly than we have ever known. He knew perfect fellowship with his father. He knew perfect peace in his inner being, with no sin to shame him. He had no regrets. His will towards those around him was only ever good and perfect. Jesus knew the land of the living, but he came here to the land of the dying, as Pastor Jack reminded us a few weeks ago. He came to the land of the dying and at the end of it was cut off for our transgressions. Because of this we will never be cut off and will one day enter forever that perfect land of the living. He loved us and gave himself for us. How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

~Nate Lovegren

Search for a Comforter

Your rebuke has broken my heart;
and I am full of heaviness:
and I looked for some to take pity,
but there was none; and for comforters,
but I found none. Psalm 69:20
 

As humans, we all have, and all will experience moments that bring us face to face with our sinful condition.  Perhaps we will have done something that directly hurts others; perhaps we will have committed a sin in our hearts, invisible to others, but plain to God.  Perhaps we will have failed to live up to our own personal standards of thought, word or deed.

These are uncomfortable moments, as they remind us how weak and desperate we really are.  Such moments can be incredibly isolating: we strain under the weight of our burden and want nothing more than for our friends or family to justify us, somehow.  We long to hear that we were right in our wrongdoing; we long to hear that we were the victim and not the perpetrator; we long to hear that we are still loved regardless of what we have done.
The facts:
-Sin can only ever be called sin.  To call sin anything else is to negate the Holiness and Goodness of God.
-Sin’s grip is vice-like, but “the devil made me do it” is a lame excuse.
AND…
-We are loved, regardless of our sin, and beyond our human reckoning.
We cannot hope to find the assurance of this infinite and unconditional love with our friends and family.  After all, they struggle under the weight of sin just as we do, and their love can no more cover our sins than our love can cover theirs.
Ah, but we need not lose hope!
In Jesus Christ, we find true justification: not the type that dismisses our sins as trivial, but the type that carries them to the cross that we might be made blameless.
In Jesus Christ, we find true freedom: sin’s arm is broken and our hearts are prepared for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus Christ, we find unconditional love: a love whose heights exceed the depths of our wickedness.
David’s despairing search for a comforter in this passage can be discouraging to read out of context, but through the lens of Christ, we become aware of an amazing truth:
It is in these uncomfortable moments of heaviness, weighed down by our sin, that we can truly appreciate the vastness of God’s love for us.
When we are tempted to despair at our own brokenness, let us instead rejoice at the boundless love of our Savior!
~Nate Gibson

The Eclipse of Temptation

“When tempted, no one should say ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.”
– James 1:13-16

I’m sure I never realized as clearly as I do <in prison> what the Bible and Luther mean by “temptation.”  Quite suddenly, and for no apparent physical or psychological reason, the peace and composure that were supporting one are jarred… It feels like an invasion from outside, as if by evil powers trying to rob one of what is most vital.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As Bonhoeffer sat in prison, he felt the depth and intensity of sin and temptation more than ever before. Similarly, it was in the wilderness that Christ was approached by the devil. As the distractions of the world are pulled away like a curtain, it reveals a window to the pain and brokenness of the human life. The desert fathers and countless monastics recognized this truth, the nature of the broken world is to draw us into love of many things that cloud how truly alienated we are from God in our sin. We see clearly in James that the desire springs up in my heart and is given space in my actions. Isolation accentuates the loneliness of sin. The season of Lent leads us to this desert land, in which we must grapple with our own sins and decisions.

The isolation of Christ, of Bonhoeffer, and of so many others leads us to a matching truth, however. Humans are meant for fellowship. Whereas we are given a clear vision of our own brokenness in our isolation, we begin to receive a vision of shalom and fulfillment in Christian fellowship. Lent was not just a season of naming temptations, but a season of forgiveness and repentance in preparing for ecclesia. New believers were prepared for baptism and separated brethren were restored from their egregious sins. Lent reminds us that our guilt and sin is not the end of the story, it is a reminder of how much more is offered in forgiveness and reconciliation with God and others.

While Bonhoeffer was brought to the depth of his own sins in prison, he was simultaneously brought to a deep recognition of what life together looks like:
“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”

Our sin is real, but the reality given by forgiveness and reconciliation eclipses that dark night of isolation and sin.
~Ben Gibson

Weak and Wounded Sinner, Take Heart!

 “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”
Romans 7: 15 – 17

Do you grow weary in your struggle with sin?

Take heart.

The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul here instructs us that the struggle against sin in which the believer must and will engage is, even in our failure, both our affirmation of the goodness of God’s law and a powerful signal of the life of the Spirit within us.  That life within us that fights against the temptation to yield to sin is the new life that God has given us and that now constitutes our true identity.

Do not accept the lie that your true identity lies in giving up the battle and embracing the sin against which you have fought.  Accept and be encouraged by the bracing reality that our life here on this side of heaven is a battle with sin and that to fight the battle is to declare the truth that we are new persons in Christ, in whom we have the victory for which we strive.
~Daniel Gibson