Christ our Coming King: Part I

pexel chickenThere have been many end of the world predictions over the years.  But possibly the most interesting of all doomsday predictions came from a chicken.  Apparently there was a hen in Leeds, England back in 1806 that became known as the prophet hen of Leeds when she began laying eggs with the words “Christ is coming” written on them.  People traveled from far and wide to visit this prophetic hen.  However the whole thing was uncovered as a hoax when it was found out that the owner of the hen was using corrosive ink to write on the eggs and then reinserting them back into the hen, to be laid later.

Many people are interested in talking about the end times.  There are actually many passages in Scripture that deal with this topic.  Acts 1:6-11 is a very familiar passage that contains Christ’s ascension to Heaven and a challenge to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.  However, this well-known passage actually begins with a question about the end times.

In Acts 1:6 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b, ESV)  Typically when we look at this passage we tend to gloss over verse 6, but when we recognize this starting question it takes us deeper into the context of what Jesus is saying.

Remember, the disciples had an unclear idea of what exactly the Messiah had come to do.  They had grown up hearing these prophecies of the coming Messiah and the interpretations that suggested that he would be a conquering hero or a political or military leader who would return the kingdom of Israel to prominence.  They then saw firsthand the miracles he was capable of and they gave up their lives to follow him.  But then he was crucified and died and they were probably pretty confused, until he rose again and displayed authority over death.  When you combine what they had seen of Jesus with what they expected of the Messiah, it is easy to see how they might have expected him to establish his kingdom right away now that he had risen.  But they were still missing pieces to the puzzle.

In verse 7 Jesus basically answers their question by telling them that the timing of his kingdom is really none of their business.  That is not what they were supposed to be focused on.  And that is not what we are supposed to focus on either.  Many times we are in such a hurry to get to verse 8 that we miss this important answer.  But this helps provide good context for verse 8, because while Jesus says the timing is not our business, he does tell us what is supposed to be our business.  In verse 8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, ESV)

Our understanding of verses 6 and 7 doesn’t drastically change our understanding of verse 8, but it does add an extra emphasis.  We may not know when the end is going to come, but we do know what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime.  This is a pivotal verse in the Bible.  It is kind of like an outline for the rest of the book of Acts as we see the disciples basically living out these words in the rest of the book as the Gospel spreads to the world.

After saying these things Jesus then ascended to Heaven and the disciples were left standing there watching him go.  Then all of a sudden a couple of messengers showed up and asked the guys why they were just standing there gazing at heaven.  And then they tell them that Christ is coming back.  It’s like they were implying that the disciples should stop standing around and get busy doing what he had told them to do.

It may seem weird to take a passage that focuses on Christ’s ascension into Heaven and use it to talk about Christ our Coming King, but the context is clear.  Christ’s is coming again.  Ever since he left, we have been living with his imminent return.  We don’t know when he will return, but we do know that he is coming.  We see that stated right here in this passage as well as in many other places in Scripture.

Christ did not just come to earth, live a good life, do all those miracles, die for the sins of mankind, rise again and then just ride off into the sunset at the end of the story.  He left with a plan to return.  He is coming again.  The story is not finished yet.  And when he comes he will be ushering in his kingdom.  So Christ is not only our Savior, and our Sanctifier and our Healer, he is also our Coming King.  We can look forward to his return and to spending eternity with him, but talking about his return should not focus us on standing around watching for him to return, or arguing about when the end of the world is going to come, it should spur us on to do what he wants us to do while he is gone.  All of this provides context for verse 8.  So let’s let the fact that Christ is coming again, spur us on to be his witnesses to a world that desperately needs him.

River City Days

leonJoin us Friday and Saturday, July 29-30 at City Square Park in downtown Chaska for River City Days.  Every year we have a booth where we hand out FREE balloon animals and connect with the community.  Last year we went through 1,300 balloons and connected with some great people.  It is a lot of fun to see the faces of the kids who love our balloons.  Each year we hear from parents who tell us that their kids remember us from the year before.  If you are in the area, come on by and say, “Hi!”

Ordination and Mission

odell ordinationThis past Sunday we were blessed to host the ordination service for Chris O’Dell at The River.  Chris and his wife Jamie were part of The River in the early days and then left for ministry in Taiwan.  They serve at a coffee shop/church called The Aroma.  You can find out more about their ministry and how to partner with them on The Aroma Website.  Chris and Jamie and their boys continue to be part of The River extended family and we partner with them as they are ministering in Taipei.  It is a great partnership considering our similar kind of ministry focus at Dunn Bros. here in Chaska.  This is a way for us to be fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission for us in Matthew 28:19-20 where he says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We are in the process of making disciples here in Chaska, MN and at the same time we are partnering with them in making disciples among people we may never meet this side of Heaven as we partner with Chris and Jamie in Taiwan.  Please join us in supporting them.  Check out The Aroma Website for more information.

Does God Contradict Himself?

pexel gravesI was recently asked the question, “why does God contradict himself?”  This person was focusing on how God says, “thou shalt not kill,” but then there were lots of times in the Old Testament where he called for whole cities to be wiped out, which seems a lot like genocide.  Have you ever struggled to put together something you believe about God with the way you see him act in Scripture?

Before I consider the specific example, I think it is important to take a look at the big picture.  In 2 Timothy 2 Paul is challenging and encouraging his young apprentice in his pastoral role, and he wraps up the passage with an interesting quote in verses 11-13: 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

So Paul seems to be quoting something here, but it is not Scripture.  Some scholars believe it was a saying or possibly even a hymn within the early church.  We don’t know.  It seems to connect with the previous two verses where Paul talked about his own personal suffering in prison.

The first half of this statement connects with the hope of resurrection that awaits us as Christians.  Those who believe in Jesus, have had their sins forgiven, are brought back to a right relationship with God and can look forward to eternal life in Heaven.

The quote then moves on to those who have denied Christ.  This word is sometimes translated disown and suggests a deliberate choice to not follow Jesus as Lord.  So Paul is saying that if we deny Christ, that he will deny us.  If we don’t accept him, he won’t accept us.  Now that sounds harsh, but God has offered his free gift of salvation to the whole world, and those who deny him or turn their backs on that free gift will also be denied.  Those who accept Christ will be accepted, but if you want nothing to do with him, then that is your choice.

But then Paul’s quote moves on to one final point that I think brings out an important characteristic about God that is good for us to consider regarding our question for today.

Paul talks about being faithless.  That doesn’t mean to not have faith, it means to be unworthy of faith.  It means not doing what would be considered faithful.  We are faithless a lot.  We mess up and don’t keep our end of our covenant with God.  We go our own way, do our own thing, and faithlessly fail to live out what we say we believe.

But notice that this quote says that even though we are faithless God remains faithful.  That means he always keeps up his side of the covenant.  And Paul points out that God remains faithful because he cannot deny himself.

This means that God is who he is, all the time.  We talk about how God can do anything, but one thing he can’t do is something that is contrary to his nature.  Who God is, is who God is.  He will always act in a way that is true to his nature.

So what does that have to do with our question for today?  It means that God doesn’t contradict himself.  So we need to take what we know to be true about God and let that influence how we understand the things that don’t make sense.

Now, I understand that actions need to back up words.  I don’t like hypocrites any more than you do.  Sometimes people say one thing and do the opposite and so we tend to judge people more by what they do, than by who they tell us they are.  That is understandable, but it is also not entirely informed. Sometimes we might see someone do something and misconstrue what is really going on.

We see this all the time in situation comedies on television.  They are great at creating circumstances where someone sees someone else doing something but only gets part of the story and it leads to a whole bunch of funny outcomes.

Allowing someone’s actions to dictate what we believe about them is ok, but it is not complete, because we may not really understand what is going on.  If we know their character and we see something that doesn’t fit with that character, we are probably going to give them the benefit of the doubt, because we know them.  We should do the same with God.

I believe that if we hold on to what God says about who he is in Scripture, it is okay to wrestle with the things that don’t make sense.  But we have to do that while maintaining a firm grasp on what God has already revealed to us about himself.

So how about we start with what we see here in 2 Timothy that God does not deny himself.  He will always act in a way that is consistent with his nature.  We also know from James 1 that God is the same, yesterday, today and forever and does not change like shifting shadows.  And in Numbers we are reminded that God does not lie.  So if we believe all of that, then we can hold on to those truths and wrestle with any apparent contradictions we think we see.

So let’s apply that to our earlier example of the apparent genocide we see God commanding in the Old Testament compared to the command to not kill in the 10 commandments.

There is not some simple, easy answer, but let me first point out that technically speaking, the Hebrew word in the 10 commandments could be translated either as kill or murder.  And there is a difference.  Killing in a war or executing a person for crimes he has committed or killing someone while defending yourself from someone are very different than murdering someone in cold blood.  On the flip side, we could look at the word murder referring to unlawful killing.  With that in mind, even if we are against all forms of killing we would recognize the difference between killing and murder.  So comparing what we see God commanding the armies of Israel to do in a war is not the same thing as committing murder which is probably what the 10 commandments are referring to.

But when God has the Israelites wipe out an entire town, what do we do that?  Is God really commanding genocide?  That is a tougher question, but if I hold on to what I know to be true about God I can wrestle with that question as well.

In Exodus 34 God declared to Moses who he is and he said this about himself, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

In that description I see a God who is loving, merciful and gracious, and yet also holy and just and aggressive in his dealings with sin.  Those are both facets of his character.  I think sometimes we only want to think about God as being loving, merciful and gracious.  But that is not a complete picture of God.  It is only in light of his holiness and justness that we can real understand his love and mercy.

God could have wiped us all off the face of this world because of our stubborn refusal to obey him and he would have been totally justified.  What should amaze us more is not when he chooses to show wrath, but when he chooses to show mercy, because we all deserve death.

Now I know that is a very imperfect explanation, but I think we also need to consider that the Old Testament was a long time ago and it was a very different time in the life of man, that we do not understand.   Things have changed a lot over the history of man, through the dark ages and medieval times and then on to where we are today.  And while God doesn’t change, man does and therefore God’s dealings with man, while coming from the same character, look different depending on our viewpoint.  So ultimately I believe God is who he says he is and that he will not contradict himself, and I continue to trust in him even if there are some of the things that I do not understand.

 

Kiss One Another

pexel kissDid you know that there are about 59 one another statements in the New Testament that specifically deal with how we are to be in relationship with each other?

Some of the verses overlap so that there are more than one verse about the same instruction.  15 of the 59 verses specifically talk about how we are to love one another.  That is the most talked about one another topic.  The next two most referenced one another instructions are tied with 4 each.  One of them is to encourage one another and the other is the instruction is to kiss one another.

In 2 Corinthians 13 we read: 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (2 Cor. 13:11-14 ESV)

In these verses Paul instructs the church to greet one another with a holy kiss.  That instruction is mentioned four separate times in the New Testament making it one of the top three most talked about instructions among the one another passages.  We find it mentioned in Romans 16, I Corinthians 16, and I Peter 5 as well as here.

Paul actually gives us several instructions in this passage about how we are to relate to one another.   He is probably summing up what he has said in this letter with a few perfunctory statements about how they were to live.

He tells them to rejoice, to be restored, to comfort one another, to agree with one another and to live in peace.  Overall there seems to be a common theme of unity that is to exemplify the way they treat one another.

And then he tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss.  Apparently the early church used that method to greet one another.  In the ancient world this was not uncommon and actually today in many societies it continues to be a tradition.  However, in the early church it appears that the kiss was meant to signify the special union that they had with one another in Christ as part of one family.  Notice it is a holy kiss.  It was not meant in a sexual way at all.  It is devoid of that kind of emotional desire or intent.  It is a different kind of kiss that symbolizes the unity and intimacy that they have with one another in the Lord.

So is this something we should do?  I am not suggesting that we should start this practice, but when I read this and picture the early church greeting one another the image I have is of a church that was excited and happy to see one another.  I picture a church that was so invested in one another’s lives that they were like family.  I picture a church that had gone deeper into an intimate relationship with one another than we would typically consider with the church in our society today.  I picture a church that truly loved and cared for each other.  I picture a church that had authentic, real relationships with one another.

So while I might not be that interested in beginning a tradition of kissing one another, I do like that intimate family like picture of the church.  I like the depth of intimacy I see in this passage.  And I would love to see that at The River.  That is my challenge for us as a church family.

Neither Hot Nor Cold – Sermon Notes

pexel lukewarmIn Revelation 3:15-16, we find some strong words from Jesus Christ to the church in Laodicea,

‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” – Rev 15-16

The fact that this is a letter to the church in Laodicea suggests that this is for followers of Christ. But it seems that at some point they have lost the passion they once had for Christ and have become complacent and apathetic in their faith.

The other problem is that they apparently don’t even realize that there is anything wrong.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” – Rev 17

This seems to be describing people who thought they were spiritual millionaires, but who were actually living in spiritual poverty. It is a warning or a wake-up call for people who didn’t even realize that they needed to be woken up. For whatever reason at some point their passion for Christ was gone and they had become lukewarm even though they thought they were doing just fine.

And then Christ gives them some counsel about what to do in verses 18-19:

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.   19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” – Rev 18

They need to recognize that Christ is everything for them. Only he can wash them clean and clothe them in righteousness. Only he can open their eyes that they can see. And what he gives, he gives for free. They don’t earn it, or deserve it. They need to remember the treasure that is Christ and how much they need him.

And then we arrive at a very well-known verse:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” – Rev. 20

This verse points out the relational aspect of Christianity. It speaks of fellowship with the Lord. He is not a travelling salesman who knocks on our door to sell us something and then goes on his way, but rather one who comes in and establishes residence with us. Christianity is a relationship with Christ.

This is a wonderful passage. But it should cause us to pause and consider ourselves. This is a wakeup call for the church in Laodicea. Let’s ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Is this a wakeup call for us?
  • If we were to get a letter written to us, from Christ, what might it say?
  • Do we find ourselves reflected in this rebuke?
  • Have we grown complacent in our relationship with Christ?
  • Are we lukewarm? And if so, what are we going to do about it?

Unstoppable

Back in 2010 there was a movie called “Unstoppable” which featured Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.  The story was about a runaway freight train that needed to be stopped to prevent a catastrophe.   The movie built to a climax as the characters tried  to get the train to stop, but to no avail.  I don’t want to give away the ending, but as you can probably guess: the train was actually stoppable after all. The heroes just had to come up with the right plan about how to stop it.

This Sunday we are going to be reminded of the unstoppable power of God.  And unlike this movie, God literally cannot be stopped.  Right now we are in a series called “Acting Up” where we are looking at the Acts of the Apostles, and throughout this book we are reminded again and again that God cannot be stopped.  The church faced serious persecution in the book of Acts, but God was never stopped.  And two thousand years later, His Gospel continues to spread!

Come on out to The River this Sunday to hear about the unstoppable power of God as we take a look at Acts 5.

We’re Moving!

For the last 2 years we have been meeting on Sunday mornings at The Rex Cinema in downtown Chaska.  That is about to change.  Sunday, September 25 will be our final Sunday morning at that location.  Beginning Sunday, October 2, we will be meeting at 2510 Chaska Blvd.

We have enjoyed our time at The Rex Cinema, but we are looking forward to this new opportunity as we will be sharing space with an Hispanic congregation from our community.  A couple of months ago Noe Lara, the pastor of Ebenezer Christian Church approached The River about the possibility of sharing space with them on Sunday mornings.  We will have use of the facility on Sunday mornings for our worship service at 9:30 and then they will meet at 11:30.  That will enable us to have a little overlap in between our two services, so that our two congregations can connect together.

We are still committed to being a church without walls.  Our midweek events and meetings will still take place in people’s homes and in the community, and Pastor Rob will still be using Dunn Bros. as an office location.  But this new location will give us more flexibility and the opportunity to have more of a presence in the community.  It is a space where we can put up a sign; and where we can meet during the week when needed.

The best advantage to this new space, is the opportunity to partner with Ebenezer.  In John 17 we find Jesus, a little while before his crucifixion, praying for us.  He was praying for all those who would eventually believe in Him down through the ages.  In other words, He was praying for those of us who would eventually make up the Church.  And He prayed specifically that we would all be one.  His desire is to see us come together in unity, and I believe that this connection with Ebenezer would be pleasing in His sight.

We will be in the new facility at 2510 Chaska Blvd., beginning on Sunday, October 2.  Feel free to come and join us!

Why?

Tonight I will be doing a funeral for an 18 year old girl who died tragically last week.  Her name was Bridgette and she worked at the local Dunn Bros. coffee shop.  Since we don’t have an office, I spend most of my afternoons over at Dunn Bros. working from one of the comfortable chairs near the roaster.  And it was there that I got to know Bridgette.  She often would come and talk with me in between customers.  She had been through many struggles, but was really putting her life back together.  She was getting ready to leave the following morning for college.  Her car was already packed with all of her belongings.  She had goals, dreams, and plans that she was about to pursue.

My reaction to her death has been all over the place.  From shock, to sadness, to a refusal to accept it, with maybe even a little bit of anger thrown in for good measure.  I will miss Bridgette.  And it doesn’t seem fair.  Why her?  Why now?

Actually, it is only natural for a tragedy like this to bring up all sorts of questions.  At a time like this, many people question the meaning of life, or what happens to us when we die, or what in the world God is doing?  And that is understandable.  Right now many people are hurting, or confused, or angry, or frustrated, or depressed over what happened to Bridgette.

And it is at times like this that I am reminded how nice it is that I believe in a God who is bigger than all my questions.  I believe in a God who can handle my anger and frustration, and who understands my confusion and depression.  He is a God of Hope.  A God of Truth.  A God of Love.  He is faithful, even when I am struggling with making sense of what is going on.

For those of you who may also be struggling with questions, I encourage you to find your answer in God.  Check out some of the other blogs in this website to find out more about this God that I am talking about.  I particularly recommend the blog, called “A Glimmer of Hope.”  It talks about a man who was able to have hope in the midst of a terrible time.

I also want to invite you to share your questions and thoughts with me.  You can typically find me on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoons over at Dunn Bros. (corner of 2nd street and HWY 41, downtown Chaska) sitting in one of the big comfy chairs by the window and the roaster.  Feel free to come over and join me.  I would love to talk with you more about hope.  You can also feel free to send an email or give me a call, or even consider stopping by some Sunday for church.  The River is a great place to come if you have some questions about who God is.

Special Event on October 31

We have a special Sunday event coming up on October 31.  “Revealing The Fingerprints of God” with Dr. Don Bierle, FaithSearch International.  Dr. Bierle will use evidence from nature, history and personal experience to answer the question, “Is the existence of God only imagination or wishful thinking?”  Come and join us on October 31, 9:30 a.m. at The Rex Cinema.

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