Lord, Awaken Us to the Seriousness of Christ’s Coming

This is the first of four Sundays in Advent. Advent is the season in the church year where we have an opportunity to be prepared to celebrate Christ’s coming to earth. We know that little happens in our lives unless there is good planning. So the planning begins in families where Christmas is a big event. I hear grandma asking, What’s on your Christmas list? and the grandchild replies, I don’t need anything. Then grandma says, Please help me. It’s so much easier to shop if I know what you want.

God knows far better than we do exactly what needs to happen in our lives this Christmas but suppose He asks, What’s on your Christmas list? What do you want to happen that will create or strengthen your relationship with Me?

Why don’t you prepare your list and be specific. Here is mine and I plan to prepare my sermons on these four themes. They are the first sentences in my Advent prayers.

“Lord, awaken us to the seriousness of Christ’s coming.” “Heavenly Father, direct our family in a spiritual inventory.” “Lord Jesus, help us with our emotions which are so evident at Christmas.” “Eternal God, convict us that You walked on planet earth.”

Today my theme is, “The Seriousness of Christ’s Coming.”

It was a gorgeous October day when I was called from the golf course to go immediately to the hospital. A very close friend of mine had been rushed there by ambulance. I could not imagine what had happened to him. He had dinner with us on Sunday and appeared well then, but one look at him in the emergency room told me he was a very sick man.

The doctor showed me the x-rays of his lungs, pointing out that they were filled with fungi. The pictures meant little to me, but I believed the doctor when he said, “This is serious. If something is not done immediately, he will die soon.” Since none of his family were present, I helped my friend make the decision to be put on a breathing machine. It helped for a few days, but finally he went home to be with the Lord.

I use this story to illustrate what God is telling us in the Scriptures. Our spiritual condition is serious and if something is not done about it, we will perish. As human beings we are eternal. We are not animals who live and die and that is it. There is an eternity before us. William Barclay writes, “We live in the shadow of eternity, and that is no reason for fearful expectation. It only tells us that we must be ready to meet Christ when He comes.”

In order that we might live in fellowship with God, He sent His Son into this world to be our Savior. The first coming took place in Bethlehem. Let it suffice this early in the Advent Season to say that a virgin named Mary gave birth to the Christ child. His name was Jesus and He lived on earth for 33 years and then died for the sins of the world. Three days later He was raised from the dead and forty days after his resurrection, ascended into heaven with the promise he would return to earth. Christ’s second coming will be different than the first. At that time He will come to judge the living and the dead. Paul writes, “Every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Jesus tells us in our text that “No one knows about that day or hour, net even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father.” But our Lord goes on to say, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” There is a sense of urgency to be ready to meet Christ when He returns. It’s something like the doctor talking to me in the emergency room about my friend’s lung condition. He was saying, “Do I have your attention? This is serious. Something has to be done or your friend will die.” That’s what our Lord is saying to the person who does not trust Christ as his/her Savior, This is serious. To die outside of Christ means that you die in your sin and God can have nothing to do with sin so you are lost forever.

When the doctor gave us this news, my friend and I accepted what he had to say and in only a few minutes he was resting on a breathing machine. This is not always the case when God speaks to us about receiving Christ. When His own people heard about Jesus being their Savior they rejected Him. “This is foolishness,” they said. “Isn’t he Joseph, the carpenter’s son? Why should we believe that he is the Savior of the world?” John, in his Gospel, says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God” (John 1:10-12).

In this Advent Season there are millions who have never heard the story of Christ’s coming. When I was a boy the percentage of people in the United States who didn’t know the story of Jesus’ birth and His promise that He would come again was far less than today. They might not have entered a church to hear about Jesus, but they received this message in school rooms, and other public places. Today this is not legal, for the courts have ruled against such practice. It could be compared to my friend not hearing about life supports that would prolong his life. This causes the Church to understand that its mission of evangelizing our nation is more important than ever, for if the people are going to hear of the Savior, the message will come from the lips of believers.

While millions living in our nation know little or nothing about Christ’s first and second coming, there are many who have heard the story but are not very excited about it, just kind of apathetic. To hear about the seriousness of sin and the need of a Savior, in their opinion, is not fitting for such a lovely time of the year as Advent. People are in a loving mood. Let’s just enjoy the holidays and not get too serious about what might be very disturbing to some when you begin to talk about sin and the need of a Savior. This is not the time to do it. This does not mean that many of these people will openly reject Christ. No, many of them will be found in the churches singing the great Christmas carols and enjoying the traditions related to the season, but letting it go at that.

It is in this state of apathy that my first Advent prayer is, “Lord, awaken us to understand that sin is so serious You had to send your Son to free us from its damning consequences. Only then will we appreciate your love for us. Only then will viewing the Christ child in the manger have true meaning for us. Only then will Christmas be what you intended it to be for us. Open our hearts to understand why Jesus had to come.”

Awaken us as individuals, as a Church and as a nation.

A Thankful Spirit

One of the offertories sung in our worship services are the words of Psalm 51. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free Spirit.” It is these words, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” that I turn your attention in this sermon prepared for Thanksgiving Day.

Fathers and mothers can teach their children to say thank you, but only our Heavenly Father can create in us a thankful spirit. We need to distinguish between a verbal thank you and a thankful spirit.

A few weeks ago the kids in our neighborhood came to the door for tricks and treats. We gave them some candy and off they went shouting and having a great time. Over the noise was a one high-pitched voice saying, “Thank you very much.” I had to laugh. This child had come from a home where he had been taught to say thank you, and this has become a way of life for him, even on Halloween night.

As we grow older we take many of our blessings for granted and soon forget to say thank you. Therefore, I believe it is right that our nation has sset aside a day to say thank you to God for His goodness to us. Why are we so blessed and others live in poverty? This remains a mystery. How often do we thank God for some of the finest medical centers in the world to treat our health problems besides fine facilities in our local communities to give us good medical care? People in other parts of the world have no medical resources to care for their physical needs. How often do we thank God for comfortable automobiles and the finest highways that bring us to our destination in comfort while our missionaries tell us that in parts of Africa it takes hours to go 50 miles because of poor roads and many people will never ride in an automobile, to say nothing about owning one.

Only our Heavenly Father can create in us a thankful spirit. King David understood this and so he prayed, “Create a new spirit within me.” Thankfulness is a part of that new spirit. The word create used in the psalm is the same word used in Genesis when God created the world. David is praying, God, start over with me. Make me totally new. Teach me not only to say thank you but give me a thankful spirit. If this is to happen we must understand that we are undeserving people.

We are often critical of people who display the attitude that someone owes them a living, but a careful observation of our behavior makes it clear that most of us carry this same spirit. How often do we ask, Why must I suffer like this? We assume that God owes us these gifts of health and happiness. Until this attitude is changed we can never have a thankful spirit. God owes us nothing. Only God can create this spirit within us.

Let’s try to apply this thought to our lives. God was under no obligation to give me 75 years free of serious illness and 47 years of married life until my wife’s stroke interrupted an almost illness-free marriage and yet I took this for granted. When God has broken through our sinful nature and shown us that we are undeserving people, He is beginning to create within us that spirit of thankfulness. Then the next step is to discover that all of our blessings are a manifestation of God’s grace to us.

During my years in the ministry it has been a joy to see how God has created that thankful spirit in many lives. The thought that God owes me these blessings I enjoy are no longer a part of the thinking. Let me tell you about Sonya who died when only 15 years of age. In my last visit with Sonya, and only a few hours before her death, I asked Sonya, “Sonya, do you ever get angry because this illness has come to you?”

Sonya replied with words like these, “No, because then I would have a bigger question to answer. Why did God give me such a wonderful family, parents, a brother and two sisters, my horse and a place to ride it on our family farm? This statement reveals a thankful spirit. Yes, God had blessed her with caring parents. They wanted their children to grow up and be well mannered. They taught them to be polite and say thank you but they were also Christian parents and they introduced Sonya and the other children to Christ and He was the One who gave her this thankful spirit.

Are we not blessed to have a Heavenly Father who loved us so much that He gave His Son for us? Through Him we have the forgiveness of our sins. He is the Father who wants to take us deeper in our relationship with Him and create within us a thankful spirit.

God alone can give us this thankful spirit.

I Write to You, Grandma & Grandpa

St. John in his first letter writes to different people. Here are his quotes:

¥ “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven.”

¥ “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him from the beginning.”

¥ “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.”

I would like to add another one: I write to you, grandma and grandpa, because our fear of what will happen tomorrow prevents us from enjoying today. God has showered our lives with great blessings. Many of us have been blessed with wonderful spouses. We have walked hand in hand through the years with those spouses. We laughed together and cried together. We worried when there was not enough money to pay all of the bills, and we rejoiced as our financial condition improved so that we not only had the necessities of life, but also many luxuries, like a nice home with appliances to make life easier and travel, which broadened our outlook on life. We could turn to our spouse to receive encouragement, counsel, and even rebuke when needed. We experienced what love was all about with our spouse.

From our marriages have come children. We laugh now when we think of the anxious times those children might have given us, like when it was two hours after their curfew and they weren’t home yet. They had some problems growing up, and at times you might have been concerned about their relationship with God. Now they are older and show their love and concern for you. When they were children, they amused you with their cute words and actions and made you proud with their accomplishments in school. Now they give you a sense of knowing that, when you need them, they will be there in a minute.

Our lives are enriched by friends. We travel to spend a weekend with friends who meant much to us in our growing-up years. Those college friends will always remain precious to us. There are those friends who live in our town and add a new dimension to our lives. How do you beat a friend like Virginia, who comes every morning for four years to walk her friend Eunice, who is disabled as the result of a stroke? We find friends who help us enjoy the weddings of our children and grieve with us when sadness breaks into our family.

Our daily work brought new challenges and joy to our years. Now we sit back and think of all the experiences related to our labor that have enriched our lives. We may have had some discouraging days, but we also experienced many success stories when we felt we were making a contribution to society. Now some of these blessings are being taken from us in our retirement.

Our spouse dies and we experience long, lonesome hours. How we wish we could have another chat. No one can take their place.

Our health weakens. The body is wearing out and the memory is not what it once was. Our children now live miles from us. Their phone calls are appreciated, and we see each other a couple of times a year, but it is not like when they were living in the same house, or even in the same town.

Our friends die. We read the obituary columns only to learn another person we have enjoyed through the years has passed away. We no longer go to work, and the retirement years that we looked forward to are not quite what we expected them to be. Yet we know we do not have physical strength to do the job that was once ours.

We look at our finances and wonder if we will have enough money to care for ourselves, especially if we have to move to a nursing home and face a bill of several thousand dollars each month.

Let’s face it, old age can be frightening. It was for the Psalmist, and so he prayed, “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Psalm 71:9).

God speaks to us in our fears. Hear His promise: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he who will sustain you. I have made you, and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). God is not telling us that frightening experiences will not come our way. But He is assuring us that he will be with us through all of them.

Often His blessings come to us directly. At other times he uses people to shower His blessings on us. I marvel at our health care centers. Once was a time when those nursing homes were not nice places to live. I recall visiting an elderly gentleman in one of these homes. It was about 4 p.m. as I sat beside him in his room, which had a strong odor of urine. A young person brought his supper. Not wanting to disturb his evening meal, I said it was time for me to leave. The old man pleaded with me to stay. “I would rather visit with you than eat this food. The toasted cheese sandwich is cold, and my milk is warm.” I didn’t enjoy my own dinner that evening as the old man kept popping up in my thoughts.

This is not the situation in many nursing homes today. I detect no odors, and the food is tasty and well served. I believe God has placed the need for care facilities on the hearts of His people, and the Church has done an excellent job in responding to these needs. One of my greatest satisfactions is to know that our congregation played a major role in building such a health care center where over 200 people are physically, mentally, and spiritually cared for on a daily basis.

While some of our family no longer live next door, and many of our friends have died, we still find many who come to us in times of need. God uses these people to put his everlasting arms around us and assure us that he has not forsaken us.

The great message is this: When our days on earth are over, there awaits a heavenly home where, together with our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus we will see our Savior face to face and live with Him forever.

The period of time before a major event in our lives can be a little frightening. The athlete, the musician, the speaker, and many others are just a bit tense before the game, concert, or service is to begin.

So it is with life. Our big event is leaving this world and, as one of my friends used to say, “crossing over to the other side.” What it will be like is a mystery. However, Jesus assures us that all is well, and as much as we are enjoying this life, it will be a day of victory to lay down our earthly possessions and enter God’s Kingdom forever. So God says, I write to you, grandma and grandpa. Cast all of your cares on me, for I care for you. Enjoy the day, for you are my child, and I hold you in the palm of my hand.

A Peek Into Heaven

A friend recently told me a story about a person meeting St. Peter at the pearly gates. When he finished the story I asked him if he believed in a life after death. “Of course I do,” he answered. “I am no unbeliever.” Our minds sometimes cause us to wonder what heaven and hell will be like. It’s a subject not easily erased from our minds. When a loved one dies, our emotions express themselves by trying to describe what mother and dad are doing there in heaven with all of their friends and family. If a child passes away, grieving parents seem to find relief in saying, “God needed her to be one of his angels.” Such statements are understandable in the midst of terrible grieving, but today let’s set aside our emotions and review what God has to say about eternity.

Jesus talked about heaven and hell. Preachers today do not often preach whole sermons on the subject of hell. As I review my sermon notes, I find I do not devote much time to the subject. If asked why this is true, my usual answer is, “I don’t believe you can frighten people into heaven.” Perhaps this is faulty reasoning and is only an excuse to cover up one of my many weaknesses in preaching. It is not that I do not believe in hell. I understand hell to be eternal separation from God and make this very clear in my pastoral care with people and my references to this eternal state in my sermons.

However, I do preach sermons on heaven and clearly state that this blessed eternal state is offered to all people but enjoyed only by those who trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Let’s take a peek into heaven as presented in our text.

1. The Biblical writer says, “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count…..” About 120 people were commissioned by Jesus to go and tell the good news of salvation which came through faith in Jesus Christ. As they bore witness of what Christ had done for them through His suffering, death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit worked and millions of people were saved. While Christians are a minority on earth, their numbers in heaven will be countless.

2. God’s Word continues by telling us there will be no segregation in heaven. “They came from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the Lamb and singing their praises to Christ, the Lamb of God.” All of the things which divide us on earth will no longer separate us in heaven. Dream about that point for a few minutes. The cultural differences, language, wealth, education, and social distinctions will leave us at the time we take our last breath on earth.

3. Perfection will replace tribulation. Life on this earth is described as the great tribulation. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation.” We sometimes wonder why such tragic things happen. Visit a nursing home and you will find yourself asking, Why do these people have to remain here on earth? There is little quality to their lives. Many of them do not hear, see, or recognize even their spouse of many years or children who once were the center of their lives.

At times we look with envy at a person. He apparently has few if any problems. He has plenty of money, travels to all parts of the world, has a family who brings him great pleasure and enjoys the finest health. Then you learn to know him better and his problems surface. One wonders if there is anyone who doesn’t live with some heartache. We live in a broken world and some of the imperfection clutters up our lives.

I recently was standing in line waiting to board an airplane. A flight attendant came with a boy probably 10 years of age. Walking behind them was a man well-dressed. As they came to the entrance of the corridor which led into the plane the father took the boy in his arms, embraced and kissed him. Then he gave him back to the flight attendant, wiped the tears away and left. This man had problems. He appeared to be a successful professsional or business man. Could it be that this boy was his son who was now going back to Minneapolis while he had to remain on the west coast? It is my assumption that the father and mother were divorced and they had joint custody of their son. The son had visited his father and now he had to return to his mother who lived 1500 miles away. Had you passŽd their automobile you could have had the impression that neither the lad nor his dad had a problem in the world. Little did we know what was going on in their minds and hearts as they lived in this broken world.

For many of us living is a great experience but it is too much to expect that we will not have many sorrowful hours for we live in a world described as “the great tribulation.” However, one day we will live in a place where all is perfect. All of our needs will be satisfied and “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

This is a peek into the heavenly home that Christ has prepared for us. Doesn’t it excite you? Does there not come a time in our lives when we are anxious to sign the living will and say, Let me go home to God. Shut off the life support.

4. Is this heavenly home for all people? Hear what God says, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” While salvation is offered to all, only those who have been cleansed through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ will enjoy the heavenly home. This is the day of grace. It is a time when we can be prepared to meet Christ in death and to enter the heavenly home.

When we think of the heavenly home, are there questions we cannot answer now? Yes, there are. Aren’t you glad there are mysteries which surround life in heaven. Surprises are fun. I am convinced that when we arrive at heaven’s gate it will not be at all as we thought it would be during our days on earth, but we will be at home with God forever. This is our comfort and strength as we appreciate the time God has given us now.