Advent: A Time to Refocus

Last Sunday I was assigned to preach God’s Word at Evergreen Community CRC in Fort McMurray, AB.  These classical appointments are a blessing, as they give me a chance to meet new people and experience a different worship service.  But what I found especially enjoyable were the various conversations I had with people.  On the way to “Fort Mac” I sat with a young mechanic.  The trip took an hour by plane, which gave us enough time to connect about many things.  He’s a Millennial student (born between 1983 and 2000).  I enjoy working with Millennials.  They’re generally open and engaging.  As we talked I noticed that he continued to use his cell phone throughout our conversation.  So I said, “You’re pretty good with that thing!” In response he said, “Yeah, I can text in my sleep. . . . I tried to set my phone aside for a couple of days once, and it just about killed me.  I’m can’t live without this thing.”  We went on to talk about his heavy cell-phone use and his view of his (social media) community.  Happily, along the way I was able to bring God into the conversation and even share the gospel as it related to his life.  But his comments regarding heavy smartphone use caught my attention.  He basically named that his phone was an idol (“I can’t live without this thing!”).  It reminds me that we’re all susceptible to idolatry.  We all trust in people or things to fulfill us.  We all have deep inner longings that need to be fulfilled.  How are you trying to fulfill yours? . . .  The season of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) is a time to refocus.  A time to pull back a bit and reflect.  A time to renew our sights on the coming Savior.  Accordingly, we’re invited to set aside the idols of our lives and worship the Lord.  In practical terms this may mean setting aside items like smartphones for a time, if we find them distracting.  But whatever else Advent is, it’s certainly a time of worship as we prepare our hearts for the coming of the newborn King.  This year we’ll focus on the songs of Christmas from Luke’s gospel in our Advent worship services.  I look forward to singing praises to God as we hear his praises sung through these gospel stories.  Advent.  Come and worship.  Come and rest.  Come and refocus.

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“Taking Sabbath”

This Sunday I’ll be concluding a sermon series that I’ve been doing at my local church this fall called, “Back to Basics.”  With that theme in mind, I wanted to talk about a “basic” that has been on my mind a lot these days: taking Sabbath.  By that I mean the practice of setting aside one day to worship, rest and play.  This fall I have felt called to learn more about taking Sabbath, and to be more intentional about my own Sabbath-keeping.  So I’ve sought help from Pastor Don Postema, who wrote a study guide called Catch Your Breath: God’s Invitation to Sabbath Rest.  So every Monday morning for six weeks I read a chapter on the topic.  Postema addresses Sabbath as: mindfulness, rest, refreshment, receptivity, release and refocusing.  In addition to discussing these various aspects of Sabbath, he led me through various Sabbath practices, including: solitude and silence, Scripture readings, songs and prayers.  Doing this study on my Day of Rest really allowed me to take Sabbath—thanks be to God!  Now I want to encourage you to also take Sabbath.  Perhaps you do.  That’s great!  What works for you?  How do you rest and renew in the Lord’s presence?  One of my mentors in writing, Pastor Eugene Peterson, describes the Sabbath as a day to “pray and play.”  That’s a good way to think about Sabbath!  However you take Sabbath, I encourage you to do it, as it is not only a command (Fourth of the Ten Commandments), but also God’s gracious invitation to be with him.  I often notice as I preach that many of my people are tired.  Perhaps you are too.  Happily, Jesus invites you to take Sabbath.  He says, “Come to me, all you who weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  How will you respond to Jesus’s gracious invitation?

The Importance of Remembering

As Remembrance Day approaches, we’re called to remember the sacrifice of our veterans (past and present).  They fought for our freedom.  May we never forget!  The Bible is also big on remembering—remembering God and all he’s done. The Israelites were called to remember God and how he saved them from slavery in Egypt.  Israel remained faithful to God when they remembered his mighty deeds, but they got into trouble when they forgot about God and his mighty acts.  So a significant part of discipleship is helping people remember God and all he has done for them.  As the Apostle Paul says to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. . . . Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. Keep reminding God’s people of these things.” (2 Timothy 2:8-9, 11-14a)  So on Remembrance Day (Nov. 11), let’s remember the sacrifice of our service men and women.  And then let us remember the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for our freedom.  May we never forget!