Decorated (Anticipating Advent)

Decorated

Decorated Psalm 8                      We began our church service this past Sunday unusually barren (undecorated).  

 Some people are like this inside. Cold, empty, barren.  Many of these even call themselves Christians!  One might assume that these were baptized in lemon juice rather than in the living water of God’s abundant life! (John 10:10)  As the apostle Paul said: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom!   (2 Corinthians 3:17) 

 I believe God loves decoration.  That is the artistic process of adorning something, but let’s be clear…God always creates and decorates with purpose. That purpose is to reveal Himself to His creation; to show us who He is. To reveal the great mystery of an all powerful God who graciously invites His creation to have a joyful relationship with Him.  He has decorated everything that we might marvel at the mystery of His greatness and say with the Psalmist: “How majestic is your name in all the earth!”

The word Mystery means secret or hidden.  For thousands of years God’s salvation in Christ was hidden in elaborate prophecies, sacred symbols, and miraculous happenings.  God used an artistic tabernacle to express His relationship to man, a golden ark to express His holiness, a temple to express His glory and a lamb’s blood to show His grace to Passover our sin and lead us out of bondage into “freedom!”

God’s mystery, hidden for ages is now revealed to His saints, that is those of us who follow Christ (Colossians 1:26).  God’s mystery is revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:2).  And that is what this advent season is all about. The word advent itself means “arrival” and God has fully decorated the arrival of Jesus through the miraculous story of His virgin birth, the star in the heavens, the kings of the earth, the shepherds in the field, and the songs of the angels.  God has carefully decorated this “arrival” for centuries.  For it is the greatest arrival of all. 

With the above introduction the congregation welcomed in this glorious Advent season by singing Hark The Herald  Angels Sing and Joy To The World as the church was beautifully decorated before their eyes:

Joy To The World 1 Corinthians 2:9-10                                                                                       Do you see the difference?  Do you feel the difference when something is beautifully decorated?  Is your heart more receptive to the message when you recognize that God has taken the time and effort to decorate His arrival for you?  And what He has prepared for his second advent is out of this world! (1 Corinthians 2:9). Understanding the songs and symbols of Christmas wake us up to receive and appreciate the gift of salvation that was born to us over 2000 years ago. We did this by describing some of the decorations in our own church and how they remind us of Jesus.  Perhaps you have some of these decorations as well:

Evergreens and the Christmas Tree: Ancient Romans used evergreens as an emblem of peace, joy and victory. Early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered their home. These greens   symbolize the unchanging nature of our God and the everlasting life that is ours in Christ. The first Christmas tree was brought into a church by Martin Luther and lit with candles.  He shared a story of how a strong wind and a starry sky pointed his way home in a snowstorm after he fell to his knees in prayer.  Some legalistic folks might try and scold you for having a     Christmas tree and quote Jeremiah 10:1-5 or Isaiah 40:19-20 to prove that the Bible forbids such a tree, but those verses clearly speak to carving an idol out of a tree for worship.  The Christmas tree has been a symbol of Christ in the church for years.

 Paraments, Advent Colors and Symbols: A parament is a covering.  Many artistic coverings have been used in the church throughout the ages to symbolize moods and meaning.  The mood that Christmas reflects is Joy!  Do you feel it here?  In this modern age lights and stage sets help set this mood. Poinsettias are born out of Mexico and Central America and symbolize  Bethlehem’s flaming star (“flower of the holy night”).  It was first introduced to America by an ambassador of Mexico named Dr. Robert Poinset (1828).  Luke 2:14 says when the angels saw that star they said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests”.  The Latin equivalent to that phrase is Gloria in excelsis Deo!  Which is in the song we sang: Angeles We Have Heard On High.

The Advent wreath: reminds us of the circular, everlasting power of God. The candles remind us of the four weeks leading to Christmas and Biblical events that led to the birth of Christ.  In the same way the empty manger reminds us of the Christ who was to come and how we must humble ourselves to know Him.  God made “A-Way in the Manger” for us to be saved.

Candles and Lights Matthew 5:14-16, Ephesians 2:6-10                                                      Lastly, Candles and lights remind us both of Jesus (“the Light of the world” John 8:12) and His teaching to us as His disciples to also be “lights of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  We are not to be cold, empty and barren.  We are to reflect the decorated joy of the Lord in our lives and shine our lights so that others may see the good works of God and glorify Him!

 I believe that God loves decoration!  He has purposely splashed the universe with galaxies and stars.  He has painted marvelous sunrises and sunsets and sculpted great mountains, lakes and rivers.  He has created wildlife, insects, and even the tiniest cells.  God has also made you and me.  He has taken our dead lives and decorated us with His Spirit.  He has set us free and has given us life to the full (John 10:10).  We are His workmanship created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).   God has raised us up and decorated us with the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in Christ!  We are His handiwork, created to decorate the lives of others with His love and mercy.  Tell someone…no, show someone —as He has shown you!

(Matthew 25:34-40).  Be decorated by allowing Christ to shine in your life and then go and decorate the world with His amazing love and grace!

 

The Gathering Church is located at 22427 Norwalk Blvd., Hawaiian Gardens 562.429.2397 facebook.com/thegatheringchurch1  It is a mission church of The Way Out Ministries thewayout.org  We welcome you to join us on Sundays! Services are at 9AM and 11AM.

 

A Thanksgiving Prayer for Sutherland Springs

SutherlandOf the many things I am thankful for, I am thankful for the Bible.  God’s word has been my strength, my comfort, my encouragement, my instruction and my wisdom…that is of course when I have applied it in my life.  As it says in Psalm 119:105: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Yes, I truly love the Bible and am so grateful for the words that God has spoken through it, but there are some books within it that I don’t read often.  Of those books Job is the one I like the least. 

Job is the story of a righteous man who truly loved God.  In Job 1:1 it reads:  In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil, but Job systematically lost everything, including his children. Job was a believer; he knew that God was on the throne and in total control, but he had no way of knowing why so many terrible tragedies were occurring in his life.  Job never lost his faith in God, even under the most heartbreaking circumstances that tested him to his core. Perhaps the hardest lesson we learn from the book of Job is that God does not have to answer to anyone for what He does or does not do. Job’s experience teaches us that we may never know the specific reason for suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign, holy, righteous God. His ways are perfect (Psalm 18:30).  As believers we can, of course, say this; however, how about when we are tested like Job?  When the Son of man comes will He still find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?

During its 11 a.m. worship service, 26 worshipers, ranging in ages from 5 to 72, were gunned down at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Another 20 worshipers were injured. The church’s weekly service drew about 50 attendees.  The pastor and his wife were out of town on that tragic Sunday, but their 14 year old daughter Annabelle was among the dead that day.  John Holcombe lost his pregnant wife and three of his other children that Sunday.  I cannot imagine if that were to happen at our church. Can you?  Would we be found with the faith of Job?  Could we sing that Matt Redman chorus:  “blessed be the name of the Lord, You give and take away, you give and take away, My heart will choose to say Lord, blessed be Your name?” 

As we give God praise for so many things this Thanksgiving may we remember those at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.  May we also remember countless others who look to God in confusion and grief as they choke out a prayer and grapple with trying not to lean on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).  May we remember that sometimes giving God thanks in everything   (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is anything but easy, but always the way to healing and wholeness.

Christ suffered and died at the hands of wicked men but we now rejoice in the forgiveness of our sin through that death.  Jesus was victorious over that death and as believers in Him we too are victorious over it too (John 11:25). Our brothers and sisters of grief can be thankful for the God of love who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5) and who promises that we will join our family of faith one day.  This then is real faith and real belief when we can thank God even in the midst of the most suffocating grief.  Pray this for the beloved at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Pray this for the church everywhere and pray it for yourself and your loved ones.  Dear God, may we all have faith like Job…like it or not.