Monday, December 30, 2013

The Keys To The Kingdom | galenamissions

The Keys To The Kingdom | galenamissions

Who is Jesus? This is the most important question we can answer according to Jesus. "Who do you say that I am?"
This sermon is in a series on church planting delivered by Pastor Chris Kopp to the Galena Bible Church, Sunday December 29th, 2013.

Friday, December 27, 2013

It's just different here

As I look out the window this cold December afternoon and gaze at the ice fog that -45F creates I cant help but be reminded that it's just different here.  Not different bad, not different good, just different from what was once normal. The week leading up to Christmas framed that well for me. Though the outcomes would have all been the same, the challenges and difficulties are just...well different.

Sunday of that week a friend asked me to come check out the plumbing situation at his home. To his and my chagrin we discovered that the boiler line that is supposed to keep the sewer tank from freezing was not working. This created a 4 foot by 3 foot by 6 foot block of...bush learning opportunity. There are a couple of things that are different here: First, who asks their pastor about plumbing problems? Outside the bush you call a plumber or boiler repairman. Second, who has a sewer tank in their home? Well most of Galena does. This has to be pumped out periodically by the city. We set up a heating system to thaw the pipes and tank and let it be to do it's work. It's just different.

The following day (Monday) I decided that I needed to go to the post office and stop by to check on our plumbing progress. I made a right hand turn but my van decided that it really wanted to move diagonally rather than follow the path that I was telling it to go. This resulted in me running into the drivers side corner of a community members truck. Mortified I got out, made sure he was OK, and assessed the damage to his rig. It was all surface damage to the bumper, fender, and door. Nothing mechanical, or structural. There are a couple of things different here: If I lived on the road system, we would exchange insurance, call a cop, and then call a tow company.  Higher insurance rates would come later, his truck would be fixed and that's the end of it. Here we have no cop, no insurance, no body shop, no wrecker company, nothing. So as I've committed to fixing his truck I'm still calling around to auto parts companies and dealing with the challenge of "we don't ship to Alaska". Once I locate parts I'll have to borrow someones garage and replace all the parts. It's just different.

The following day (Tuesday) I went to pick up our mail from the Post Office and when I put the van into reverse, the shifter on the steering column broke. It would go into Neutral, Drive, and Reverse, but not Park. No problem I'll just drive it over to the local auto shop and ... oh we don't have one of those. No problem I'll just stop by the auto parts place and pick up what I need to...oh we don't have one of those either. No, I'll order the part on Amazon and wait for it to arrive. A week later, the part has since arrived and the shifter has since broken further which has the van stuck in drive. The negative 40 temperatures outside have made it where I am not encouraged to work inside the van. (The repair involves me disassembling the steering column.)  It's just different.

The following Friday, our dog that we've had since we got married over 12 years ago decided to eat some uncooked bread dough that Shell had rising by the woodstove. She looked miserable when we found her, but we thought nothing of it since she's a dog and has been known to eat too much of things she wasn't supposed to. By Saturday morning she was unresponsive, and Sunday morning she died. Unbeknownst to us uncooked bread dough when ingested by dogs will let off Ethanol in sufficient volume to cause alcohol poisoning. If we lived where there was a vet we probably wouldn't have brought her in until it was too late anyway, but they would have made that discovery for us rather than us discovering it on our own. The outcome would have probably been the same, but the way it all happened was just different.

Two days later was Christmas Eve. We had a nice Christmas Eve service planned for the church body. However around 1pm I got a phone call from someone who stopped by church and told me that the thermostats were showing 40F. This is the lowest temp they display meaning it could be colder than that. I hurried over and found that the circulating pump on the boiler had seized up and wasn't heating the building. How many of you have a spare circulating pump sitting around? Galena Bible Church does! It's just different. After that was fixed and the heaters were working I left. When I returned at 5:30 to set up for the 6:30 service it had warmed up to a balmy 46F. In my experiences people would normally have said, "We should cancel church" or something like that. But these people kept their parkas on, drank coffee, sang beautiful Christmas Hymns of the joy in Christ's Advent, and observed the Lord's Supper. Never once a complaint, even from the kids warming their hands over the advent candles. It's different...and I love them.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.... Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.     James 1:2-4&12
The call to follow Jesus is just different. It's different from this world and it's different from how we normally think our lives should flow. We are always uncomfortable with different. I'm so glad that Jesus is not concerned with my comfort. Rather he is concerned with my joy in Him. He's just kinda different that way.

Things you can be praying for:
  • It would be great if we had a working vehicle again.
  • The Hornfischer family is still stuck in Germany awaiting the US Government to clear their religious workers Visas. Pray that they can return home soon.
  • Pray that the Lord would lead us to persons of peace in villages all across Alaska. 
  • There have been crisis reports up and down the river. Pray that the Lord would hold back the spiritual darkness that leads so many men to self harm.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Christmas?: The Wisemen and the fool

Earliest known depiction of the Magi, Mid 3rd Century fresco in the Catacomb of Priscilla

Does anyone else other than me judge the value and validity of a nativity set by how many wise-men it contains? We recently purchased a PlayMobile set and it came with one wise man. ONE! Haven't they read the Bible? I mean it says right here......hang on let me find it......I know it's here's right after the little drummer boy, right? Hey, there's no little drummer boy in my set either! I'm calling heresy!

All joking aside (I hope you were following that) the magi (or wise men) contain for us a mysterious element of the Christmas story. Who were they? From what nation did they come? How did they know that this star would lead them to the King born of the Jews? All questions that scripture does not answer. It just says:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."     Matthew 2:1-2
Most scholars and traditions understand what was said about them to mean that they were astrologers from Persia. Men who's daily responsibility was to "read" the heavens. How a star moved through the sky and in what constellation it appeared was understood as a sign or omen about events in their world. It's interesting to note that this practice was expressly forbidden in the law of Moses. Herod, who was a puppet king of Rome, was a madman. Paranoid and murderous Herod would kill even his own children if he felt they were a threat to his power. No wonder the response of Herod to these magi's declaration is one of suspicion and espionage.
 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him...Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying. "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I to may come and worship him."
Funny how the man who was to lead the Jews was ignorant of the Scriptures yet these pagan astrologers were willing to leave their home, their king, their gods and worship this baby born in the obscurity of Bethlehem. 
And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. They, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
The magi brought kingly gifts that were worthy of a royalty(Gold), worthy of a Divinity(Frankincense - incense for worship), and worthy of a mortal man  (Myrrh - used for embalming the dead). Valuable gifts that speak to what they believed about this newborn baby. They fell down and worshiped. Herod, more concerned about the security of his kingship, missed his King. The Magi, more concerned with worshiping Jesus, turned from idolatry. What can we learn from Herod and the Magi about Christ Worship (Christmas):

1. Worship is about submission: 
- Just as a wicked man sat on the throne at Jesus' birth, so too a wicked man sits on our thrown as well.
- Following Jesus means we give up our thrown to the only one worthy to occupy it.
- Herod thought he could thwart God's plan. That NEVER works.

2. Worship is about giving BECAUSE we've received. 
- Jesus is worthy of our worship because of who he is and what he has done. 
- Our worship is just our responding to who he is.
- The magi brought kingly gifts because God had given them a king.

3. Worship is about repentance:  
- Turning from idolatry to Jesus is about us exchanging what has no value to what holds greatest value.
- Repentance is not us being sorry for what we've done. It's about us turning from rebellion to submission.
- In the Magi's worship of Jesus they were acknowledging that what they had worshiped was not worthy of their worship. Our sin never leads us to great joy. 

It dawned on me that Herod did believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That's why he asked where he was to be born. He just didn't put his faith in him to follow him as the Magi did. Too many today do exactly as Herod did. They believe that Jesus is the Christ, Messiah, Savior of the world, but are unwilling to follow him by faith. Don't be a fool: follow and worship. Then one day maybe others would refer to us as wise men too.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Christmas?: When God interupts your night with favor.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby..."

Luke 2:8-20

Shepherds around the time of Jesus' birth were the modern equivalent in society of the garbage man: Someone that we know we really need, but not someone you generally think of as being "clean". This was the main problem for shepherds, they were unable to carry out the ceremonial washings that had made their way into Judaism. BUT they were the ones that made sure there were lambs available for temple worship and passover. Kind of a rock and a hard place. So it was that Shepherds provided their service on the edge of culture. They were brave, hardy men who lived in an open field and often were threatened by wild beasts and thieves who were trying to steal the sheep. 

It was to men like this that the greatest heavenly declaration was made: "Do not be afraid! I bring you good news (Gospel) of great joy (literally Mega-joy) that will be for all the peoples...a savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord." Then a great company of heavenly hosts appeared praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men on whom His favor rests."

In an instant the night was shattered with Good News and God's favor. What were these men to do with this? Settle back down to their job? Discuss the personal ramifications of this information? Just forget all about it? No. They didn't do these things. And neither would we. Confronted with the Good News and God's favor our response should be the same as the Shepherds: Grow in Faith, Share the Joy, Adore God.

1. Grow in Faith - In the last blog post we understood that Immanuel (God with us) calls us to faith in God. The Shepherds heard of the good news, and of God's favor, and said "let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." Faith is never simply mental assertion, it is always accompanied by action. When we see a chair we judge if it will hold us if we sit in it. But it is not until we attempt to sit in it that it proves faithful. And once we have sat in it our faith in the chair grows because it has proved itself faithful. Simple illustration of what went on with the Shepherds and what goes on with us. When we comprehend the Gospel, and understand God's favor towards us in giving us His son we can either intellectually agree or dis-agree with the information, but we do not have faith in it until we "go and see". God's faithfulness is never in question. Jesus was already born. He was already lying in a manger. He was already wrapped in cloths. God invited them into His faithfulness, the same as He does for us.

2. Share the Joy - The Greek for the declaration is amazing. "Megas (Great) Chara (Joy)". I wish we'd just leave the first part in Greek: Mega joy. When the shepherds heard and saw (grew in faith) they "told everyone what had been told them concerning this child." Here he is! The long awaited Messiah! What else could they do but tell people. He was not just A messiah, he was THEIR messiah, THEIR savior, THEIR Christ! Unspeakable, glorious, wondrous joy was theirs because "a savior has been born". Evangelism is not about the simple dissemination of information to people who just need to know the facts. Evangelism is the proclamation of MEGA joy! We have a savior. God is with us. You should see this! And these shepherds didn't know the full story of their deliverance. By God's favor we know the full story of just what Christ would save us from (sin, death, and the wrath of God) and whom he would save us to (himself as a covenant child of God). Can we not help but share the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or have we forgotten that joy.

3. Adore God - Vs 20 says "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." We praise what we enjoy. When the mega-joy of the Gospel is seen and heard, not only do we tell others what we've seen and heard, but we praise God who orchestrated it and gave it. The famous CS Lewis quote on this seems appropriate:
All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise...The world rings with praise - lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game...I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. (1)
 As we will see next week, we were made for worship. And with the "Good news of Great Joy" we cannot help but follow suit with the angels "Glory to God in the Highest" and the lowly shepherds "glorifying and praising" the One whom they now believed in. When God interrupts your night with His favor you will enter the dawn worshiping Christ the Lord.

(1) C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Orlando: Harcourt, 1986, 94-95

Monday, December 9, 2013

Why Christmas? - Give me faith like Joseph

I remember seeing this video a number of years ago that was the Nativity as if it was told through Facebook. It was cute and funny but the part that really gripped me was that it was told mostly through the lens of Joseph's story. There isn't much told to us about this man other than he was a carpenter, and he was "a righteous man" who didn't want to expose his wife to be to public shame or death because she was pregnant, engaged to him and the baby wasn't his. This aspect of the Advent story has gripped my heart every Christmas for the past several years. His reputation is at stake, let alone his marriage, and future family. When the angel appears to him in a dream he calls Joseph to remember his Bible, to the story of Isaiah's appeal and prophesy to Ahaz, King of Judah.

Isaiah 7 "(Vs 4)Say to him (the king), "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood (Syria, and Ephraim)...(Vs9b) If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all."

The prophet Isaiah had been called by God to deliver a message to the King of Judah who was facing a terrible situation. The leaders of Syria, and Ephraim had joined in opposition to Judah. The king had decided that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" and was trying to align himself with Assyria. Isaiah's message is that the Lord will destroy both opposing nations, and that the king need merely to have faith in the Lord. Apparently the king does not listen and "again" in verse 10 Isaiah brings a message to the king, this time to show the quality of the kings faith.  (Vs11) "Ask the LORD your God for a sign" but Ahaz does not want proof because he does not want to believe God. So he acts pious and says (vs 12) "I will not ask: I will not put the LORD to the test." Isaiah responds with what has become one of the most famous prophecies of the Old Testament:
Vs 14 "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."


God with Us

Fear, Uncertainty, and a reputation on the line. These were what Ahaz had when he was confronted with Immanuel, a fulfilled prophesy in his own day. This prophesy was what we can call a "now and not yet" prophesy: one that would see a literal fulfillment in the time of the original hearer and one that would not see its full fulfillment until some time later. Ahaz did not choose faith in the Lord. He rather chose faith in an Assyrian kingdom, which would ultimately lead to the destruction of his linage and kingdom.Oh and God did still destroy Syria and Ephraim as He said. He just didn't deliver Judah. As one author says,
 "So it always is. Evidence cannot create faith; it can only confirm it. Where there is not faith, evidence is merely unwelcome, something which needs to be explained away."(1)
 Joseph is gripped with much the same as king Ahaz: Fear, Uncertainty, and a reputation on the line. The messenger of the Lord appears to Joseph and says:
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:20b-21
A command and a sign (miracle), what does Joseph do?
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (1:24)
 Immanuel means "God with Us" the significance is that in our fear, uncertainty, and identity God calls to us and says, "I'm with you". In His declaration of love for us he does not merely have someone else tell us of the love for those made in His image. He comes down and says it himself. Jesus says "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."Mt28:20

I am with you

Jesus is still Immanuel and he still poses the same question as He did for Ahaz and Joseph: Where's your faith?

"Why Christmas?" is a question I'll be asking over the next couple of blog posts and preaching about at church. Immanuel teaches us that Christmas was in part about our faith in God. Do we believe that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do? Your choice this Christmas is when it comes to Immanuel, will you be like Ahaz or Joseph? Does Christmas evoke in you a deeper faith in the saving work of God through Christ? That God would show his salvation to us by being with us is one of the most glorious displays of grace that God gives to us. Let Christmas swell your heart in the assurance of your faith in Christ Jesus.

(1) - Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998. 203. Print.