Advent Cleansing: Don’t Leave Us Alone

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51:11

The fourth Sunday of Advent rapidly approaches which means that Christmas Day is quickly arriving. We must not forget that Advent is a time of repentance: we give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to search our hearts for any attitude that would produce shame upon our Savior’s return. We need a heart change to be ready for Christ’s second coming and an interior cleansing for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. Repentance is the recognition that God is right and that we are wrong. We are wrong because we have broken God’s law, and as a result, our selfish actions have wounded God’s heart and hurt others. Repentance is a change of mind that by God’s grace leads to change of heart which creates a change in our behavior. Advent means character transformation.

Advent is a time when we ask, even plead with God not to leave us alone, for when God leaves us to our own choices and turns us over to our own ways, we are certain to drift from him . . . . If we would break away from a spiritual life growing cold and a Christ who is becoming distant, we must be attentive to our spiritual discipline and long for God to break in on us with new life. When we do this, we experience the true meaning of Advent spirituality.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 43, 53.

Advent Meaning: The Three Comings

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

1 John 3:2-3

The season of Advent celebrates three comings of Christ: one future, one past, and one present.

Advent prepares our hearts for the second coming of Christ as we express gratitude to Christ for his first coming. Our hearts must must be prepared and ready for his return. Advent is a season of repentance for we know that Christ comes again in holiness, power, and judgment.

Advent leads us into deeper repentance: Christ comes now into our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Advent is a season of joy for we are grateful for Christ’s coming in the manger: the incarnation made the way for our salvation. Advent can be summarized as life of repentance leading to a present joy-filled, fresh experience of the risen Christ.

In preparation for the coming church year, we yearn for the transformation of our hearts. Advent waiting is the prayerful longing to see Jesus face-to-face and experience afresh God’s Holy Spirit pouring upon us in love and grace.  Advent waiting is thankfulness for Christ’s first coming while eagerly expecting Christ’s second coming in glorious majesty. Advent waiting cleanses, converts and renews our hearts as we await Christ’s physical appearance in the skies.

In this present world, we endure while calmly trusting the Holy Spirit to be Christ in us in the midst of a fallen and decadent world. In hope, we look forward to seeing our blessed Savior face-to-face.

A summary of Robert Webber’s thoughts on Advent from his book, Ancient-Future Time:

Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

The Messiah’s coming is understood in three different senses: (1) His coming to earth in Bethlehem, (3) His second-coming at the consummation of God’s purposes and (3) His coming in the present moment into my life.

The coming of Messiah to me in this moment is predicated on repentance.

Repentance is not something we can take, but it must be granted us by God.

Isaiah is the prophet of Advent because in his life and prophetic word, he represented the hope of Advent.

John the Baptist and Mary, Jesus mother, reveal Advent spirituality: the former by his single-minded mission and self-giving love, the latter by her willingness to yield her life to God’s will.

Robert Webber, Ancient Future Faith: Forming Spirituality Through the Church Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

HT: Joel Willitts

 

What of Lent and Ash Wednesday?


Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Ps 51:10 KJV

Ash Wednesday is the service and Lent is the season for repentance from phony Christianity, pretend spirituality, and words without works Christian living. The Holy Spirit uses the Lenten focus as a tool to open our hearts which have grown calloused through selfishness and pride. Throughout the busy year, we become spiritually dull and unapologetically self-absorbed. Our attitudes and actions are insensitive to others’ needs and disobedient to God’s call to life and holiness.

Ash Wednesday stops us in our tracks and reminds us that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. Dust can’t demand, dust can’t argue, dust can’t exalt itself, and dust can’t boast. Dust needs God to have life and only in God can these “jars of clay” minister life (Gen. 2:7, Job 42:6, Eccles. 3:20, Ezekiel 37:4, 2 Cor. 4:7).  Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are nothing but dust, dirt, and mire without the crucified and risen Jesus.

We too easily forget our Maker and Redeemer; replacing God with things and ambition. Lent is the season that does something about this situation. It calls us back to God, back to the basics, back to the spiritual realities of life. It calls us to put to death the sin and the indifference we have in our hearts toward God and our fellow persons. And it beckons us to enter once again into the joy of the Lord–the joy of a new life born out of a death to the old life. That is what Ash Wednesday is all about–the fundamental change of life required of those who would die with Jesus and be raised to a new life in him.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 99.

Ash Wednesday is Feb. 22, 2012.

Eating and Drinking With God

The Covenant Meal

And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!

Ex. 24:11 NLT

Holy Eucharist is the act of giving thanks through the partaking of the Lord’s Supper: each believer commemorates the death of Christ by receiving the elements of bread and wine. At the table, the resurrected Christ meets the people of God as the heart of God makes known the love of God in bread and wine.

Christ is present in the bread and wine of Holy Eucharist, he is present in the congregation, and he is present in the faith of each believer. This meal of the Lord renews within us the power of the Cross, the security of the new covenant, and love for Christ and one another. Through prayer; we are nourished by His presence. Through faith; we are strengthened by His grace. Through receiving; our intimate relationship with God is renewed.

The Lord’s Supper is precious: an encounter with the living Christ. Grace is poured forth, faith renewed, spirit-encouraged, healing released, and hope restored at the table of the Lord. We eat and drink with the living resurrected Christ.

Eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table is an experience of God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ. It proclaims the Gospel through dramatization. It enacts the death and resurrection of Christ in such a way that the senses are engaged [as] the worshiper . . . sees, tastes, smells, and experiences the symbol of Christ’s death in the bread and wine. In this way, Christ is communicated to the whole person, bringing healing to body, soul, and spirit.

Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 79.

HT: Webber Quote of the Week

 

What Worship Does to Us

The Presence of God Changes Us

When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 NIV

Worship takes place when we acknowledge that we are not the Creator, we bow our hearts, and adore the eternal Lord. In worship, we recognize the infinite beauty of God, his unsurpassing love, and his omnipotent power as the God of the universe. In true worship, we submit our lives to his will, embrace his all-encompassing love, and trust his great goodness. Worship changes us: we are renewed by the Holy Spirit, our thinking is transformed by the truth, and our hearts are warmed by his love.

One of the greatest discoveries of my Christian pilgrimage has come with the realization that the primary importance in worship is not what I do but what God is doing. In worship, God is present, speaking to me, and acting upon me. It is in worship that God feeds, nourishes, and cares for me. And it is in worship that he gives me his grace, surrounds me with his love, lifts me up into his arms, affirms me as a member of his community, and sends me forth into the world with a fresh vision of his work and a new concern to live for him.

Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 66.

HT: Webber Quote of the Week

 

 

Ash Wednesday: “We Are But Dust”

The Meaning of the Lenten Season

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Ps 51:10 KJV

Ash Wednesday is the service and Lent is the season for repentance from phony Christianity, pretend spirituality, and words without works Christian living. The Holy Spirit uses the Lenten focus as a tool to open our hearts which have grown calloused through selfishness and pride. Throughout the busy year, we become spiritually dull and unapologetically self-absorbed. Our attitudes and actions are insensitive to others’ needs and disobedient to God’s call to life and holiness. Ash Wednesday stops us in our tracks and reminds us that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. Dust can’t demand, dust can’t argue, dust can’t exalt itself, and dust can’t boast. Dust needs God to have life and only in God can these “jars of clay” minister life (Gen. 1:7, Ezekiel 37:4 ).  Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are nothing but dust, dirt, and mire without the crucified and risen Jesus.

We too easily forget our Maker and Redeemer; replacing God with things and ambition. Lent is the season that does something about this situation. It calls us back to God, back to the basics, back to to the spiritual realities of life. It calls us to put to death the sin and the indifference we have in our hearts toward God and our fellow persons. And it beckons us to enter once again into the joy of the Lord–the joy of a new life born out of a death to the old life. That is what Ash Wednesday is all about–the fundamental change of life required of those who would die with Jesus and be raised to a new life in him.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 99.

Too Precious

Frequent Communion

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:26 NRSV

The Lord’s Supper is precious: an encounter with the living Christ. Grace is poured forth, faith renewed, spirit-encouraged, healing released, and hope restored at the table of the Lord. At the table, the resurrected Christ meets the people of God as the heart of God makes known the love of God in bread and wine.

We do not receive these things as common bread or common drink, but as Jesus Christ our Savior who became incarnate by God’s Word and took flesh and blood for our salvation.

Justin Martyr, Apology

It’s silly to think that at one time we thought that if we took communion on a weekly basis we would somehow take it for granted, and the experience would become routine, even mundane. Yet, the opposite occurred, the more we partook of the Body and Blood of Christ, the more we yearned for his intimate presence, the more precious the receiving became. At the Lord’s Supper, we met the living Christ who was never boring, but was always a grace-filled God encounter.

Like many others, I had grown up with the idea that bread and wine, Communion, taken too frequently would grow old and become a mere ritual. But personal experience has proven just the opposite. I have found the Table, like the Word, to be a satisfying means of nourishment and spiritual growth. Far from becoming routine, it has become like an intimate relationship.

Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 53.

HT: Robert Webber Quote of the Day

 

Flee to the Eucharist

Finding Rest and Peace in the Sacraments

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8 NLT

The Apostle Paul describes the Eucharistic meal as a koinonia (1 Cor. 10:16).The Greek word, koinonia, has a great depth of meaning: sharing, partaking, fellowship, communing, and unifying participation in the life of God. When we drink the Blood and eat the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ: we commune with Christ, we share in his resurrection, we partake of his grace, we fellowship with God and his saints, and we are brought into union with his heart and will. In short, we become partakers—people who share in the very life of God. Whenever we share in the life of God, we are encouraged to trust Christ, to love others, and to hope in God (1 Thess. 1:3).

I am continually comforted and ministered to by Christ at his Table. I often counsel students and friends who are facing difficult times in their lives to “flee to the Eucharist.” Bread and wine are God’s signs . . . of grace and love toward us. . . . [Those] who have taken this advice have talked to me later about the healing they experienced through these symbols of God’s ministry.

Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 11.

HT: Webber Quote of the Week

Christian or Secular Time?

The Church Calendar

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

The Church has a choice: live by Christian time or secular time. The Church can center its worship in the events of the life of Christ or it can celebrate every holiday that the Hallmark Card Company invents. From its earliest beginnings, the Church celebrated Jesus Christ: his birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and soon return. The annual cycle educated the Church in the gospel saturating believers in redemption history by grounding the saints in the life of Christ through worship, preaching, and the sacraments.

Advent is a time to wait. Christmas is a time to rejoice. Epiphany is a time to witness. Lent is a time for repentance and renewal. The Great Triduum is a time to enter death. Easter is a time to express the resurrected life. After Pentecost is a time to study and evangelize. Of course we are to do all of these Christian practices all of the time. But a rule of thumb is that a specific time set aside for each facilitates and empowers our Christian experience at all times.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 180.

You Are What You Eat (Updated)

jesus-eucharist-733676

Becoming Like Christ at the Table of the Lord

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.

John 6:47-51 (NLT)

The baby boomer generation was the first generation raised with a constant stream of television programming.  Programming that poured into our living rooms depicting perfect families and perfect lives. (Do you remember the advent of “Living Color”? ) The television world of sit-coms and dramas resolved all major relationship problems in thirty minutes to an hour. The perfect world of television idealized life for the Baby Boomer. This explains the Baby Boomer inability to cope with the dogged problems of living in a fallen world.

The Baby Boomer generation was the first generation to be fed a constant diet of fast food: MacDonalds, Taco Bell, and Dairy Queen for all. We were no longer a culture that prepared meals. We ate on the run to re-fuel. Meals were no longer for fellowship or a moment to thank God for his bountiful provision. We became a generation which no longer asked if we will eat, but only what and when we will eat. Many of us lived off hamburgers and french fries and now our coronary arteries display the results. Nutrition class in high school became nap time for many of us.

I can remember many a mom saying, “If you don’t stop eating all those hamburgers, you will just become one big hamburger.” In unison, the mothers around the country declared, “You will become what you eat.” Little did they know how true that warning was for our lives and society.

Indeed, the scriptures declare that, “we are what we eat.” When we partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Lord’s Supper, Christ is present (see Koinonia and the Lord’s Supper). As we partake of him by faith, he transforms us and the whole congregation.

Transformation of the bread and wine by the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Transformation of the Christ-follower by the work of the Holy Spirit into the image and likeness of Christ. Transformation of the congregation into the people of God bringing them into heavenly worship of our Triune God by the transporting work of the Holy Spirit.

We are are what we eat for during the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

What nourishes and transforms us at bread and wine is the disclosure of the whole story of God-creation, incarnation, re-creation-which takes up residence inside of us as we take and eat, take and drink. For in this symbol a reality is present-the divine action of God redeeming his world through Jesus Christ. . . . We become what we eat-living witnesses to Christ who lives in us.

Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 146.

HT: Webber Quote of the Week