Monday, November 30, 2015

How to Use the Gift of Time

[This was shared this morning during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church.]

Luke 21:25-36
Today is the first Sunday of the first season of the Church Year, Advent. Advent means coming, as in “Christ came to us on Christmas day” and “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

When Christ comes back, He will finally and completely establish His kingdom with those of us who have, as the Bible says, “longed for His appearing” and have endured in faith in Him alone. Advent reminds us of this truth.

But when will Christ return? 

Under what circumstances? 

And what does it all have to do with you and me? 

Jesus addresses these questions in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 21:25-36. At the outset, Jesus says: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world...”

We read these words and, being clever, we figure that the end of this world and the return of Jesus must be close at hand. And that’s true. An old friend approached me recently and asked, "So, do you think we're getting closer to the day of Jesus' return?" I told him yes, that every day since Jesus spoke the words in our gospel lesson for today, we've been getting closer to Jesus' return.

But a careful reading of the lesson shows us that Jesus doesn’t describe the so-called “signs of the times” so that clever people like us can make predictions about the future. In Acts 1:7, Jesus tells us, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority”

By talking about the signs of His coming back to the world with His kingdom, Jesus was not really making predictions about the future at all.

Slip down to verse 32 in our Gospel lesson. There, Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Jesus is saying that all of the drama, killings, terrorist attacks, damaging earthquakes, and wars that He said must precede His return would all take place within the lifetimes of the first people to whom He spoke these words in the first-century AD.  

It’s because all of the signs of the end that Jesus spoke about with His disciples had already taken place twenty centuries ago that many early Christians began doubting Jesus and their faith in Him. “If Jesus hasn’t come back yet, despite the mess the world is in,” they reasoned, “maybe He never will come back. Maybe Jesus isn’t good for His word.”

Peter wrote to Christians dealing with these kinds of doubts and questions in 2 Peter 3:9, where he says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” “You Christians overcome by the hardships you undeniably endure in this life,” Peter was saying, “get over yourselves!” It's not bad advice for us either.

Today, on the authority of God’s Word, given through Peter, we know that Christ hasn’t come back to this world yet because He loves those who don’t know Him and need Him.

These people need time to hear the Gospel, the good news of new and everlasting life through Christ.

They need time to turn from sin, time to embrace the gift of faith in Christ. 

That group of people includes you and me, people who need to turn from the obsessions du jour and turn to Christ for grace and to ask Him to daily call the shots over our lives.

And here’s the key takeaway for you and me as Christians this morning: Christ has also delayed coming back in order to give you and me the time we need to share with our neighbors and world the message about Christ and the salvation that comes from having a relationship with Jesus Christ alone.

Our call as Christians is clear: By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we know that we've been "justified," counted guiltless for our sins despite our guilt. By grace through faith in Jesus, you and I are OK with God. So now, we’re to love our neighbors enough to help them to follow Christ and to be OK with God, too.

And how do we do that? By putting the faith we here confess into action seven days a week: 
  • sharing Jesus with those who have nothing to do with Him or His Church; 
  • inviting them to join us for worship or Sunday School or Bible study; 
  • showing mercy and forgiveness to people who have hurt us (just like Christ did for us on the cross and does for us); 
  • listening to the hurts of others and offering to pray with them and pray for them; 
  • serving others in the Name of Jesus; 
  • owning up to it when others confront us for the ways our words or actions or indifference have hurt them; 
  • giving food to the hungry; 
  • taking time each day to read God’s Word, offer prayer, and tell others about Christ;
  • and, if you're a parent, sharing a prayer with your child every night before they go to bed. (This is a powerful witness, I have learned.) 
These action items for life aren't requirements for those who want life with God; they're ways for people grateful for Christ, His cross, and His empty tomb to express thanks for the life with God that Jesus has already given to us as a free gift of grace.

Jesus tells us in verse 34 “be careful” of ourselves, to stay awake, to stay alert, to what Christ may be calling us to do in any given second.

He tells us this not only so that we can resist temptations that could leave us trapped in sin and death when Christ returns or when we see Him face to face as the judge over our lives.
Jesus also tells us to stay awake and alert so that, no matter what’s going on in our lives or in the world, we keep pursuing the commission He has given to us of making disciples of our unbelieving or spiritually-disconnected neighbors. To live as anything other than a disciple of Jesus in this troubling, challenging world is to follow a dead end street leading us to nowhere.

He was aimless and scattered, living on that dead end street. His only goals in life were to have fun and to be seen by others as the smartest guy in the room. A friend would tell him years later, “I worried about you. You just didn’t seem to have any focus, like any wind that came along would carry you to God-knows-where.”

By the grace of God, a wind did come along. It was the Holy Spirit Who carried that young man to a Lutheran church. 

There he found himself, inexplicably, being drawn to interact with a woman more than forty years his senior. 

She took this young man under her wing, put up with his immaturity and flippancy and self-regard, and taught him Who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him as your only God, King, and Savior. 

She taught him about the hope that belongs only to those who follow Christ. 

She taught him how to pray. 

By her words and her actions and her patience, she proclaimed Jesus to that young man. 

And to his amazement, he found that through the ministry of that nearly seventy year old woman and the other followers of Jesus he met in that Lutheran congregation, God had sparked the gift of faith in Jesus Christ within him.

That young man is not so young any more. 

And he’s still a sinner in daily need of the forgiveness and new life that comes to those who entrust themselves to Jesus Christ. 

He makes mistakes all the time. 

But my life has been changed forever. Like the prodigal son of Jesus’ story, I was dead and am alive again, was lost and have been found.

All because a group of Christ-forgiven sinners who made up Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Columbus, including Martha Schneider, grateful for the grace of God given in Jesus Christ to them, shared the Word in its purity and administered Holy Baptism and Holy Communion rightly. 

And this is how the Church, Christ's body in the world, people like you and me, are used by God to make disciples.

Who will you share Christ with this week? 

The clock is ticking. 

We don’t know when Christ will return. We don't know how much time each of us personally has on this earth. 

But we do know that, as surely baby Jesus once came upon a midnight clear, the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus will return.

This time, His coming won’t come on a silent night. There will be nothing quiet about His judging “the living and the dead,” not on the basis of their works, or church membership, or popularity, or wealth, or power, but solely on the basis of whether we have trusted Him with our lives and let Him cover everything that is sinful and dying about us with His forgiveness and grace. Jesus will come in glory and, when that happens, time for the world and time for you and me will have run out. There will be no more chance for anyone to repent and believe in Him.

Make it your daily aim to share Christ in some way with those who, absent a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, will stand naked in their sins when they meet Jesus, eternally distant from Christ’s grace and forgiveness, facing a Christ-less eternity.

If you had the cure for cancer, you wouldn’t keep it to yourself. As a follower of Jesus, you have something that even the merged pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan don’t have: the cure for sin and death and meaningless life. That cure is Jesus Christ. 

Trust in Him. 

And then, in as many ways as you can every single day, share Him! 

Time is running out.

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