The sanctuary looks beautiful. I am especially grateful for the hours of preparation given by Rich and Coni Hoolsema, Jan Bos and Nancy Zylstra. It is my prayer that God will be glorified in all that we do as we celebrate this season. I look forward to celebrating our tenth advent season with you. Today marks the first day of the Christian church calendar. All over the world today the Christian church is beginning their celebrations of one of the most central truths of the Christian faith, that astonishing miracle when God became a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Each advent season our worship planning team and I think and pray about a special theme to focus our thoughts in this season. This year our theme is Our Savior Comes. Advent is a great time to think about a Savior, after all advent is about our Savior coming into the world. There have been many great leaders in history who have done some great things. And some of those great leaders have taken for themselves some lofty titles. Alexander the Great and Herod the Great. Robert the Magnificent who was father of William the Conqueror. Richard the Lionhearted and Charles the Bold. But when the Son of God came to earth God said call Him Savior. His name shall be called Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. The name Jesus like its OT equivalent, Joshua, means the Lord saves. His name declares His mission on earth, His agenda. Jesus is the author of salvation.
Christianity Today once had an article entitled: “God Made Me to Laugh”. in it its author wrote: “Once upon a time many church goers suspected anything funny was subversive. Yesterday's pilgrim didn't dare to clown, & Plymouth squeezed itself into a poker-face. “Those old sober-sides really scrambled goodness with solemnity. The Calvinist was so afraid of fun's consequences, that they tried, at their frantic worst, to wipe off every smile, & turn off the organ music. They wouldn't let artists play with color on a canvass or in stain-glass windows, so that the apostles looked as dead as cigar-store Indians!” Well, you know, we are probably saying that were the Pilgrims & Puritans of yesteryear. yet isn't true that our Christianity can often seem so gloomy & depressing? isn't Christianity often made to be seen as something so frigid & formal because we see it as just a set of doctrines we must believe & religious rituals & rules we must routinely & regularly do? we can put such great emphasis on the fact that true faith is a correct knowledge of biblical truths that we give the impression Christianity is mostly of the head. Christianity then becomes just a collection of cold creeds & dull, dead doctrines. Somehow we forget & fail to equally emphasize that faith is also a matter of the heart. that it involves emotions too & a life of praise & thanksgiving to Lord with all our heads & hearts, all our feelings & will, all our words & works—the total person. & when someone gets emotional about Jesus & the Christian faith & life & expresses joy & love to Lord with “hallelujahs” & “amens’ & with raised hands, we get uncomfortable. o or we become suspicious about their sincerity & question the reality of their faith. o or we think they are little odd & that their Christianity is too superficial. Th'fore we often give impression Christianity is anything but joy. that to be real Christian we must always be sober & strait-faced except on rare occasions like Thanksgiving Day & Christmas & Easter. But, you see, that's not the Christianity of Bible. for Bible's message is in no way gloom & doom; its writers were anything but kill-joys. to be sure, Scriptures talk about very serious things & present profound, deep doctrines regarding God & Jesus Christ, sin & death & hell. Yet in no way does it teach them as mere, cold, intellectual facts. but it presents them as good news of great joy about the full & free salvation & eternal life God has accomplished in Jesus; about wonderful, eternal pardon & purification & peace we have in Him. & Bible presents these saving facts as living truths that must fill our daily lives with joy. Well then, there is 1 place in Scripture that surely indicates Christians aren't to be sober & straight-faced or so cold & gloomy, -- but we must be alive & filled with joy, & we must make our Christian faith a matter of our hearts & feelings, as well our heads & hands & will. & that place is Phil.4 where we are commanded to rejoice always. And we want consider that truth found in vs.4-9 about JUMPING FOR JOY as we have just celebrated another Thanksgiving & will soon celebrate Christmas. then our thanks to Lord will be sincere & really joy-filled. & not just once a year, but every day in everything. Now as we consider this we want to notice the following: 1st the when we must be joyful, 2nd the why we can be joy-filled. 3rd the way to be joyful, & 4th the result of being joy-filled.
Paul wrote 13 letters, 9 to churches and 4 to men who were pastors or elders in churches. Some of the letters have personal instructions and personal greetings and even what appear to be rather mundane practical matters of daily life. II Timothy 4:11-13, 21 Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 21 Do your best to come before winter. Titus 3:12-13 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. Philippians 4:2-3 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel Even financial matters are talked about. I Corinthians 16:1-4 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. Paul is addressing practical concerns in the life of the church, he is taking care of business. This morning I want to give a personal and practical word to the church at Lynden with an encouragement and call to do all things well. And to lay further groundwork for that exhortation, I begin with God.
We have all had dreams that start in one direction and then abruptly change course. We start in one familiar place which morphs into another familiar place. We begin with people we know in one time and end with people we know from another time. In the dream it all seems normal, but we wake up and think that was really strange. Daniel’s vision started with four scary beasts, and the last beast was in his words, “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong” (7:7). It had iron teeth and trampled everything in its path. We are bracing for even more terrible things to come. Against the backdrop of that fierce beast, against the constant noise of the voice speaking great things, pompous things, suddenly, without warning, the vision completely changes direction. “I looked” begins the three brief visions in this next part of Daniel’s dream. There are two main scenes with a minor scene sandwiched between them.
It is obvious a huge change has taken place in our reading through Daniel. As Dorothy would say, “We are not in Kansas anymore.” We have concluded the historical section of Daniel which fills the first six chapters. In those chapters we saw how God sovereignly and powerfully worked in a pagan country and through pagan kings to aid and benefit His captive people. God made clear to His people He alone is the Most High God who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17). As we turn the page to chapter 7 of Daniel we come to the pivotal chapter, the chapter that encompasses the whole of human history. We are stepping out of the history of the Jewish exile in Babylon to God’s greater purposes for all human history. The Jewish people were expecting a restored kingdom of Israel, but God has a greater kingdom purpose. In God’s agenda kingdoms will rise and fall, one kingdom after another after another and they will all be overthrown and superseded by a greater and better Kingdom of God. This book is a survival manual for the saints. It removes unrealistic expectations and gives realistic expectations. It takes away the element of surprise just as Jesus did for His disciples:
Do you know anyone who has ever said that their times of greatest spiritual growth and greatest fervency in prayer and intimacy with God have come in times of ease and comfort when everything is going great Do you know anyone who has ever said that those same experiences with God came in times of trial, trouble, suffering and hardship? In the past weeks I have reminded us of the sovereignty of God over our salvation and over our elections, and today I want to show how He is sovereign over His church, especially in times of persecution, and sovereign over us in our hard times. The first two Sunday’s of November are commonly marked by Christians and churches as an International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We are living in a time of unprecedented persecution of religious faiths in general and of Christians in particular. Christians are being killed (some estimate 300 a day), churches are being destroyed and pastors are being imprisoned. Entire Christian villages and towns are being decimated and Christians forced into refugee status.
Some of the politicians of the new Persian government conspired to get rid of Daniel. So they wrote a law making it illegal for 30 days to pray to any god without going through King Darius. The king naively signed it into law and Daniel didn’t even blink. As he had always done, he got down on his knees in an open window facing Jerusalem and prayed three times a day. The next scene is shameful. Here are the best Persia has to offer, the officials, the leaders, the respected members of society, sneaking around Daniel’s house, coming to hunt down an old man, a foreigner, on his knees offering prayer to his God. They don’t expose Daniel right away, they made sure to spring the trap first. They got Darius’ commitment to law and order first. One of the characteristics of the laws of the Medes and Persians was that once made they could not be revoked. No one had power to reverse them. No appeals, no petitions, no exceptions. It made justice much less complicated, if sometimes unfair.
Psalm 11:3 If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Twelve score years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, a nation unique among all nations. Until that time in history nearly every nation was ruled by monarchs, tyrants or dictators. 240 years ago these United States of America, no longer under a king but under a constitution, embarked on a grand experiment, giving to the people the inalienable right to choose their own leaders. Our forefathers under the influence of Biblical and Reformed doctrine knew well the hearts of man and the depravity of our souls. The constitution of this new nation carefully laid out a foundation made up of legislative, executive and judicial branches of government with checks and balances to hold accountable those in power.