Thursday, November 13, 2008

Boar's Head Festival Coming Soon

The Second Annual Boar's Head Festival is coming December 12 and 13. This is an incredible production that must be experienced to be fully appreciated. Is it a Christmas concert? The ultimate Christmas pageant? A living Nativity sermon? Yes, yes, and yes, and yet it is more.

Please click this link:

for more information.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Watching for Jesus

1"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9But the wise answered, saying, 'Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.' 10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' 13Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

Out of curiosity, I entered the phrase “End of the World” in an online search engine. Can you guess the number of results that came back? How about one billion, 860 million? Yes, it is safe to say that lots of us are keenly interested in, if not obsessed with, the end of the world. Just think of the disaster movie genre—if it’s not a volcano or flood, it’s a radioactive monster or alien invasion that threatens to destroy the world as we know it. Right now the hip end-times date is the year 2012. Because of a link to an ancient Mayan calendar, many of our new age friends are pointing to the year 2012 as, well, that’s when the accounts part ways: for some it’s when the flying saucers will descend, for others that’s when the mega-asteroid will slam into earth. Still others take a more soothing tack: they claim that is the year when humanity will take a huge evolutionary leap forward, all at once, I guess. I am not making this up. What I find amusing and ironic is that these type of books have a special shelf on which to sit at your local bookstore. These books are filed under the heading: Speculation. And that is precisely what they are. Speculation. Guesses. Daydreams in print. Human beings go a little bit nuts when their thoughts turn to this world coming to an end.
Now, that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. It will, without question. The master teacher Jesus tells us that it will. He doesn’t tell us this to scare us out of our wits, though. He wants us to be prepared. I even think he wants us to look forward to it a little, because of what will happen after this world’s end.
Jesus tells the story of the wise and foolish virgins in order to make the larger point, “Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day or the hour” when the end will come. Jesus wants his people to be watching and waiting for His return. But what does that mean? What does this watching consist of?
Well, one thing it does not consist of is speculation. Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus challenge his followers to unscramble the puzzle that reveals the secret date of the world’s end. That hasn’t stopped Christians from trying. In the first generation of the church, the Apostle Paul had to correct the Thessalonians on this very point. At the end of the first millennium there were those were convinced that Christ would return in the year 1000. In our day, there have been no shortage of those who have attempted to set a time for Jesus' return only to be put in a position of having to recalculate. As surely as our Lord came in flesh and blood to suffer and die for the sins of the world, so surely will He come again as Judge. But His consistent teaching is that we do not and will not know and we do not need to know the day or the hour. God calls us not to speculation but to preparation.
Jesus says, "Watch." What does this watching consist of? Let’s not imagine that it means gazing up at the sky day after day, or being paralyzed with fear that “today might be The Day.” Our watching is active and purposeful. Our watching consists of vigilant attention to the voice of our Good Shepherd as He speaks to us in His Word. We are living in that evil age which Paul spoke about when he said, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from the truth to wander into myths" (II Tim. 4:3). We are to watch wisely by focusing our attention on God's Word, hearing it, learning it, taking it to heart, and living it out while there is still time.
But have you and I been foolish? Have we fallen asleep on God? Are you procrastinating when it comes to paying attention to God’s Word? Do you think of God’s Word as something you’d like to get into “once things slow down a little bit”? If so, I plead with you to reconsider. The foolish virgins in our story believed that there would always be enough time to get the oil they needed. They were wrong. Imagine their shock seeing that closed door and hearing the voice from behind it saying, “I do not know you.” But they were part of the wedding party! They were dressed the same—had the same kind of lamps, probably. Going by appearances, they should’ve been let in too—but they were not ready. They were not prepared. They thought they had all the time they needed. They were busy and distracted and they missed it. May God’s Holy Spirit prevent us from making the same mistake--and may that same Spirit ignite an urgency in us—an urgency that causes us to take action—an urgency that causes us to obtain the spiritual fuel that we need—an urgency to break through the things that hold us back from serving Jesus.
We are living in the time when the oil is still available. In fact, there is more than enough oil. For the oil-- the forgiveness of sins purchased by Jesus through His death on the cross-- is for you and for the whole world. There is no shortage of supply, no decrease in production of His grace and mercy. This oil is distributed now in the preaching of the Gospel and the giving out of Jesus' body and blood in the Holy Supper. This oil is distributed now in the ongoing blessings of your baptism. This oil is distributed now through Christian people looking to make a difference in their families and churches and communities. The wise cannot get enough of these things for they always give us more of Jesus, and the more we get of Him, the more ready and eager we are to receive Him when He comes again in glory.
As we wait for our Bridegroom to come, we have time to tell all who would listen about how great He is. May that be the spirit in which we wait and watch for Jesus.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who Are These Saints?

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?"

Who are these clothed in white robes?

They are mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. They are Asian, American, European, African, and all points in between. Some were famous. Some were virtually unknown. Some were successful. Some were failures by the world’s standards. But all have one thing in common; one thing that connects them eternally: Jesus, the Lamb of God, is their Savior, Lord, and King. For this reason and this reason alone they are rightly called “saints.”

This section of the book of Revelation is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring in all of the Bible. Here is the result of Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and transforming resurrection. The result is a countless collection of people, made holy by God. They’re wearing the white robes he provided. They’re worshipping and serving God, and at the same time He is tenderly serving them. The wonderful fruit of Jesus’ labor is brought to harvest. His people live with Him in Paradise Restored.

So who are these clothed in white robes? The storytellers and opinion-sellers of our culture are divided on the matter. Some suggest that the saints are easy to spot. They are the exceedingly rare, Mother Teresa types. Their good deeds make it obvious. The message that is sent between the lines is that if you’re not doing something spectacular, you’re not a saint. Not even close.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have those who insist that everyone is a saint, if by the word “saint” you mean that you’ll go to heaven when you die. The assumption from this perspective is that just about everybody ends up in heaven, unless you were just a horrible, despicable, evil person. Then that’s different.

It’s all too easy to let toned-down versions of these cultural ideas bleed into our own. A friend of mine pointed out once that it is instructive to hear what people talk about at the funeral home, and especially what they say about the deceased, in particular during calling hours. It’s instructive to hear how much time is spent praising the good qualities of the deceased, in contrast to the time spent talking about Jesus; talking about how the departed person trusted in Jesus for salvation; talking about the difference the resurrection of Jesus makes. That observation reveals a lot about human nature. It brings to the surface some of the thoughts we have about life and death and heaven that may or may not square with what God has said in His Word.

So what does God have to say about saints? Well, one thing’s for sure. Being a saint is not a matter of achieving some spiritual standard of excellence. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be any. The picture the Bible paints of people like Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Paul is not flattering. Scripture unflinchingly puts their sins out there for the world to see. Imagine if your life was an open book in that same way.

On the other hand, Jesus claims, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He also says, “if you don’t believe, you are already condemned because you don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.” Heaven for everyone, regardless of faith, is an idea totally foreign to the teaching of Jesus.

So again, who are these saints? These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They have made it through the tragedies of this torn-up world, and they have been cleansed. They have been purified. Their robes have been soaked in the blood of Jesus, making them holy. Their whole lives have been soaked in the blood of Jesus, making them acceptable to God. Jesus’ holiness and perfection was wrapped around them at their baptism. It is the garment they wear into eternity. You see, a saint is someone who trusts in Jesus and Jesus alone for access to heaven. That’s it. A saint is someone who knows that sin has disqualified them from the prize—yet they believe that Jesus earned the prize and gives it away as a true gift. A saint is someone who knows that there would be no white robe or multitude or living water or wiping away of tears if it were not for Jesus.

Who are these saints? I believe you know many of them. There’s one who tried to talk God out of making him serve, then led his people out of slavery. There’s one who prayed to the Lord for a son, and true to her word, gave him back to the Lord for a life of service. There’s one who denied even knowing Jesus three times, who would go on to preach thousands of people to faith. There’s one who fought and worked to get the true gospel message back into the Church. There’s one who risked her life doing the work of a missionary. There’s one who taught Sunday School for hundreds of children through the years. There’s one who never got to serve in the way he wanted, but whose faithful example led his son and grandson to became pastors. There’s one whose loving guidance of her son was the only godly example and pure relationship he’d ever know. There’s one who had his life totally tuned around by the grace of God. There’s one who visited the sick and shut-in just because she wanted to. There’s one who liked to build and fix things as his service to the Lord, who could care less about recognition. There’s one whose business prospered, but not at the expense of his faith and family. What other saints do you see in that multitude? There aren’t any superheroes in that crowd—just real people. People like you and me. People who had struggles and hurts, flaws and quirks, strengths and gifts. People saved by Jesus. People pulled out of the devil’s hands by Christ, the champion.
Let’s not be in a hurry to push this vision of the white-robed multitude out of our minds. After all, it describes your future. By God’s choice, you are part of the “all” in All Saints. This is your Day, too, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.