He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Jesus is coming soon.  In the face of 2000 years of Him NOT coming, hope is all we have to bring us through.  And so we have to keep reading these passages again and again, because they are our hope.

When Jesus comes, he will judge, but for us that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.  For us, that judgement will be a cleansing and a refining, two processes that do not punish but purify.  Both of these processes remove the parts of us that we hate, that are not of God, that make us less than what we are supposed to be.  These processes remove our sin.  And this is the promise of God for us.

And it is coming soon.  So we need to understand the urgency of our evangelism and our mission.  Time is short to tell others about the goodness of God, and there is nobody to do it but us.  So here at the end of the year, at the end of the book, do you hear the hopeful message?  And hearing it, do you believe it?  If not, then I pray that it will sit with you until you do.  If so, then you cannot sit with it without sharing it.

This world needs, more than anything else, this message of Hope.  You’ve read it all year.  Now it’s time to do something about it.  Every month, find someone else to tell this amazing story of hope.  It it’s the same person every month for 12 months, keep telling it until they believe.

Jesus says, “I am coming soon,” and we pray it is so.  But until then, tell the world.  That is all we have to do.

Maranatha.  “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Amen.

With just two days left in the year, we come to the end.  If you’re still reading, congratulations!  It is no small task to read the entire bible, let alone doing it in a year!  I’d love to hear how reading the bible in a year has helped, changed, or grown you.  Just add a comment to this post and we can share it together.

The last two days are going to be focused, as they should, on the end, the “end of the world” you might say.  Zechariah’s report is a bit more difficult than that of Revelation.  It includes in these two chapters the story told again and again by the prophets and Jesus Himself.  There will be dark times ahead, hard times for God’s people.  They will pay for the sins they have committed, but God’s grace is such that this payment will not last forever.  After it is finished, God will stand once again with His people against the nations of the world and be victorious.  Then Israel will reign in peace at last.

Revelation has spent much of the book sharing the pain and suffering sin brings, and today is solely focused on the grace and mercy at the end of the process.  And no matter who shares the story, no matter what metaphor they bring, no matter how long it takes (a chapter or a whole book), the end is always the same.  We will live in peace “with God”.  The ending is not just constant happiness.  It is not getting everything we want.  It is not pleasure forever.  It is consistently declared to be peace, “shalom”, With God.  In Revelation, the temple is gone because, as the representation of God’s presence, it is unnecessary, for God lives among us “out in the open”.  There is no sun because God is with us and gives all the light we need.  There is no sin, for God lives among us and sin flees from His presence.

What does it look like for you to know that your future is secure, is “shalom”, and is With God?  That longing of your heart is met, the empty part, the bitterness, the wounds, the addictions, the fear… these are all gone because God is With Us and brings His Shalom.  Take some time today to just sit in that reality: you will experience this in the not-too-distant-future.  If, that is, you are a follower of Jesus now… more on that tomorrow.

When Jesus proclaims Himself “The Good Shepherd”, He is tapping a deep well of Jewish theological identity.  It was during the celebration of Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, that Jesus uttered these words.  During this feast, texts from the OT were regularly read, texts decrying the “bad shepherds” or “false shepherds” that had led to Israel’s ruin time and time again.  They spoke against the temple leaders who had given in to their oppressors rather than stand against them (and likely die).  They spoke of those who had used their leadership for their own gain.  They spoke of those who had failed Israel.  Like today’s reading from Zechariah 9-12, they spoke of these failed leaders as “bad shepherds” who had sold or even eaten their own sheep rather than protect, care for, and feed them.

Into the middle of these public readings, Jesus stood and proclaimed that He was “The Good Shepherd” because He would lay down His life for His sheep.  In opposition to the other leaders who would use their sheep for their own benefit, Jesus would give Himself to them for their benefit.  Jesus proclaimed Himself “The Good Shepherd” and then went on to prove it time and time again.

Who is your shepherd?  Who are you following?  And no, the answer is never “nobody” or “myself”.  We all follow someone.  For our fashion choices, our political alliances, our news consumption, and our theological life, we all follow someone.  Today, think about these leaders and compare them to Jesus.  Are they “Good Shepherds” in the same way that Jesus was, willing to lay down their lives, careers, and reputations for your good?  Or are they like the leaders of Jesus day, using you for their own ends?

Whatever your answers to these questions, none of your chosen leaders will compare with Jesus.  So why not follow Him, the only shepherd who has proven Himself to be completely “for You” and lived to tell?

Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?

Why do we do what we do?  This question takes on a renewed seriousness when it comes to our devotional life.  Why do we do what we do “for God”?  Like the people of Zechariah’s day, we do a lot in the name of God or the Church.  We pray every day, we read our bibles, we help the poor, we give to the church, we may fast or reflect or any number of spiritual practices.  We attend worship on Sunday mornings and Bible studies or Small Groups during the week.  We sing in the choir or sit on a Team, we serve dinner or decorate the sanctuary.  We play music or sing music or organize or perfect the music.  We do a lot in the name of God or the Church.  But why?

If we are courageous enough to truly dig deeply into our motives, we may find that they are not quite as Godly as we like to believe, or at least pretend.  Often we do things for God out of fear that if we do not, He will think less of us.  Sometimes it’s to curry His favor, or earn His rewards.  Sometimes it’s because we grew up that way and are still trying to please our parents, and sometimes it’s to assuage some guilt of our past.  Sometimes we are just lonely and find companionship there, and sometimes we simply don’t take the time to examine why we do it.

For Zechariah’s audience, the they had been fasting “for God”, but not really.  They had been doing it for themselves in one way or another and Zechariah calls them out for it.  Then he makes the point that if we truly follow God, it wouldn’t just be our fasting that we do for Him, but also our feasting.  When we follow Jesus, everything we do is for Him.

So the next time you go to do something “for God”, take the time to examine your true motives honestly and see if there isn’t really a little selfishness to it.  Then repent of that, make it completely for God, and do it joyfully!

Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?

Why do we do what we do?  This question takes on a renewed seriousness when it comes to our devotional life.  Why do we do what we do “for God”?  Like the people of Zechariah’s day, we do a lot in the name of God or the Church.  We pray every day, we read our bibles, we help the poor, we give to the church, we may fast or reflect or any number of spiritual practices.  We attend worship on Sunday mornings and Bible studies or Small Groups during the week.  We sing in the choir or sit on a Team, we serve dinner or decorate the sanctuary.  We play music or sing music or organize or perfect the music.  We do a lot in the name of God or the Church.  But why?

If we are courageous enough to truly dig deeply into our motives, we may find that they are not quite as Godly as we like to believe, or at least pretend.  Often we do things for God out of fear that if we do not, He will think less of us.  Sometimes it’s to curry His favor, or earn His rewards.  Sometimes it’s because we grew up that way and are still trying to please our parents, and sometimes it’s to assuage some guilt of our past.  Sometimes we are just lonely and find companionship there, and sometimes we simply don’t take the time to examine why we do it.

For Zechariah’s audience, the they had been fasting “for God”, but not really.  They had been doing it for themselves in one way or another and Zechariah calls them out for it.  Then he makes the point that if we truly follow God, it wouldn’t just be our fasting that we do for Him, but also our feasting.  When we follow Jesus, everything we do is for Him.

So the next time you go to do something “for God”, take the time to examine your true motives honestly and see if there isn’t really a little selfishness to it.  Then repent of that, make it completely for God, and do it joyfully!

The final downfall of Babylon the Great is spread across numerous chapters of the Revelation of John.  This is fitting because Babylon has been the metaphorical and literal enemy of God’s people for hundreds of years.  Babylon was the source of the greatest exile the Kingdom of Judah ever knew.  When it swept in and conquered an area, it not only defeated their military, it deported the brightest and the best of its people, absorbing them into its culture, and then replaced these people with foreigners, diluting and eventually destroying the very cultural foundation of the defeated nation.  In this way, Babylon not only defeated the nation, it destroyed it forever.

Israel survived because of God’s hand in returning a pure remnant from the exiles deported to Babylon.  This remnant returned and reinstated Jewish culture.  But not before Babylon was labeled the Great Harlot, the Great Enemy.  And so as we approach the end of the bible, it is fitting that we should see a protracted look at the end of Babylon the Great.

But not only was Babylon the literal enemy of Israel, it became the metaphorical enemy of everything Yahweh in the world.  This passage from Revelation about the downfall of Babylon is not just about the fall of the Empire, but the fall of all things “not-Yahweh”.  Satan, the final battle, all humans standing opposed to God’s ways, all are part of Babylon the Great, and all fall before the coming of Yahweh.

This is what we have to look forward to.  This is the future, folks.  If you don’t believe it, then you don’t believe scripture and you have to ask, “on what am I basing any of my beliefs?”  If you do believe it, then take heart for this is the fall of all we stand against in this world.  This is the fall of hatred and bigotry, of lies and gossip, of murder and slavery, of torture and abuse, of selfish motives and egocentric thinking.  This is the end of anything that is not Shalom, not “the way it’s supposed to be,” the way of Yahweh.

Haggai reminds us that all success and failure, wealth and poverty, rise and decline is God’s.  It is not a universal fact that if we gain wealth it is because we have pleased God, nor if we lose wealth is it a sign that God is angry with us.  For far too many millennia people have taken success, theirs or that of others, as a sign of God’s favor, but defined success apart from God’s will.  This is an oxymoron that has caused no end of grief.  And it seems to be encouraged by passages such as this.  But that is not the case.

It is true that God watches over His people, and it is true that He will bless those who follow Him most closely.  But that blessing does not mean wealth, or power, or health.  These things can just as easily be a curse as a blessing, depending on our perspective.  And our perspective is not God’s perspective.  Let me give you an example: how many stories are there of people winning a huge lottery jackpot only to proclaim that it ruined their lives?  I have heard this scenario far more often than the opposite, that the lottery made their life worthwhile.

God’s blessings are those things that draw us closer in our relationship with Him.  Often that means a suffering of some kind rather than what we consider blessings.  When we are “blessed” in the human sense, we usually assume that we are better than others, that we are capable of helping ourselves, or that we no longer need others.  Never is our prayer life, the core of our relationship with God, stronger than when we are in deep need.

Haggai says that to refuse the calling of God is to curry His disfavor.  But I think rather when we obey God’s calling, He will bless us with more and more need to rely on Him, growing our relationship with Him.  But do we dare test this?  Do we dare follow if it leads not to wealth and happiness but to failure and helplessness, even if that will bring us closer to our goal of a relationship with God?

Well, it’s here.  Christmas Day is here.  It’s a day of stables and mangers, of shepherds and angels, of carols and celebration.  On the actual Christmas Day, there was no celebration of Jesus’ birth.  There was little food, no presents (no, the wise men didn’t come until later), and no decorations.  But we’ve been making up for it ever since!  Our celebration today is just a small part of the full party that God has thrown for thousands of years, and we get to be a part of it!

Jesus’ birth was so momentous that it split time in half, BC and AD.  In this tiny baby, God changed everything.  Gone was the legalism of the OT law.  Gone was the hopelessness of trying to live the perfect life and failing again and again requiring yet another sacrifice to pay for those sins.  Gone was the fact that we couldn’t see God lest we die.  Gone was the old..

And in came the new!  Now we could not only see God and live but we could touch Him, and listen to Him, and laugh with Him.  Now we could live with purpose and mission, with direction and hope.  Now we could literally follow Him and do what He did.  And when we failed, we found grace and forgiveness.  Now Jesus was here and life would never be the same again.

So as we celebrate today, remember that we are just a small part of the celebration, but an important part at that.  Like one fan at a football game, we are just one, but we are part of the whole.  And our celebration today added to all the celebrations happening around the world, and then those added to all the celebrations happening across the years… and we’ve got ourselves a Party!!  One worthy of celebrating all that happened that first Christmas day.

So Merry Christmas, everyone.  May your celebration be a big as you can make it, remembering that it is so much bigger than just us.

Well, it’s here.  Christmas Day is here.  It’s a day of stables and mangers, of shepherds and angels, of carols and celebration.  On the actual Christmas Day, there was no celebration of Jesus’ birth.  There was little food, no presents (no, the wise men didn’t come until later), and no decorations.  But we’ve been making up for it ever since!  Our celebration today is just a small part of the full party that God has thrown for thousands of years, and we get to be a part of it!

Jesus’ birth was so momentous that it split time in half, BC and AD.  In this tiny baby, God changed everything.  Gone was the legalism of the OT law.  Gone was the hopelessness of trying to live the perfect life and failing again and again requiring yet another sacrifice to pay for those sins.  Gone was the fact that we couldn’t see God lest we die.  Gone was the old..

And in came the new!  Now we could not only see God and live but we could touch Him, and listen to Him, and laugh with Him.  Now we could live with purpose and mission, with direction and hope.  Now we could literally follow Him and do what He did.  And when we failed, we found grace and forgiveness.  Now Jesus was here and life would never be the same again.

So as we celebrate today, remember that we are just a small part of the celebration, but an important part at that.  Like one fan at a football game, we are just one, but we are part of the whole.  And our celebration today added to all the celebrations happening around the world, and then those added to all the celebrations happening across the years… and we’ve got ourselves a Party!!  One worthy of celebrating all that happened that first Christmas day.

So Merry Christmas, everyone.  May your celebration be a big as you can make it, remembering that it is so much bigger than just us.

The decorations are up, the tree is fully trimmed, the presents are wrapped and the family is gathered.  Everything is ready and we all kind of mill around, not doing anything in particular because we are anticipating all that is to come.  For the Larson family that means a worship service with our friends at LCC, then our annual Christmas Eve fondue followed by unwrapping the gifts from each other and the California family.  Then it’s back to church for the later service which is just different enough to be a new service.  It’s one of the most fun and anticipated days of our family year.  But with everything ready to go, we pass the morning uneasily, checking and rechecking on things, passing the time, and just waiting.

I wonder if this is part of the feeling I get sometimes about life and the church.  Sometimes it feels like we’re just milling around, trying to see what else we have to accomplish before the Big Day.  Not finding much, we take on individual tasks and ministries, but really we’re all just waiting.  We’re all waiting for the day that Jesus returns.

Today is the last day of Advent, our season of waiting.  I think it’s fitting that we begin the liturgical year with Advent, with waiting.  Jesus is coming, and so we wait for it.  And while Advent is about waiting for Christmas, it’s also about waiting for Jesus to come again.

I hope this unease we feel with the world around us is about that.  We’re ready for Jesus to come, and so we just have to wait.  And waiting is uneasy work.  What if we forgot something?  What if it doesn’t go as planned?  What if…  So it’s good to know that we await a God of grace and mercy, of joy and hope, of purity and unity.  And when He comes, the unease and waiting will be over and Real Life will begin.  I can’t wait!