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Like Stars

nebulas
 
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe… Philippians 2:14-15 
 
One has to appreciate the language and choice of words employed by Paul in Philippians 2.  Some of our translations say that we “shine like lights.”  Others put it more poetically, saying that we “shine like stars” in this crooked and depraved generation.  How are we as the people of God like stars?

For one thing, there are a lot of us.  While we sometimes get discouraged at what seems to be a decline of Christianity in our society, make no mistake about it, Christianity is growing and growing vibrantly throughout the world.  And so, a wonderful consolation that we can have is that we are part of a body that is vast and expanding, by the grace of God.

We are like stars because, frankly, some of us shine brighter than others.  That’s not to say that some are better than others or that some are dim while others are vivid.  It’s a reality.  There are those who are among us who don’t say much, or don’t really make a point of pointing to Christ in words or actions.  But there are others whose connection with Christ cannot be mistaken by anyone looking at them.  Which are you?

We are like stars because one can’t always see all of us.  You know how this is.  Depending upon where you are, maybe when you look up, you only see a few stars.  Then you get out into the countryside and it’s like the heavens are full of them.  The fact is, we have brothers and sisters all over the world.  And one of the most rewarding things is to run into a fellow Christian, a person you’d never met, and realize after only a few moments that this is your brother or sister.

It is God who has made us like stars in the senses we’ve been talking about.  He is the one who has called us into His family, equips us to serve Him, and allows us the joy of being in fellowship with one another, through the salvation of Jesus Christ.  May we continually shine like stars.

Prayer: O Lord God, we thank you that we are in your family, able to demonstrate whose we are, rejoicing in the fellowship of believers.  In Jesus’ name we thank you.  Amen.

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Are You Ready?

white cross under blue sky during daytime
 
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamp and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.  Matt. 25:1–13
 
Are you ready? For what? For the end of time and the return of Christ!
 
All of our readings this week help prepare us for that day. On Monday, the prophet Amos warned us through God’s word to Israel not to be self-confident. For those who rely on their own righteousness, Jesus’ return will not be a good day for them. Only when we depend on Christ alone can we look forward to His return.
 
On Wednesday, Paul reminded us that even if we die before Jesus returns, we have the promise of the resurrection. Because Christ is indeed risen from the dead and lives, we too shall be raised and live eternally with Him. Alleluia!
 
But when? When will be that final day? When will Christ return with the sound of trumpets and all of His glorious angels? When?
 
As Jesus tells us in this parable, we don’t know and He is not about to tell us either. His message to us is simple; be ready. Be ready for the time could come at any moment. It could come before you finish reading this sentence.
 
If you’re still reading, it might be a sign that Christ has not yet returned. And because He has delayed His coming, it is easy to become complacent like the virgins in the parable who were not ready when the bridegroom finally arrived. And then it was too late for them.
 
So, what does being ready look like? The best that we can do is to spend our time where God promises to be, namely, in His word, in prayer, in worship, receiving His gifts in the Lord’s Supper. He will make and keep us ready so that when He returns, it will be a day of great joy for all of His people, a day of joy for you.
 
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank You for the gift of Your Son. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, draw me ever closer to You so that when Jesus returns, I am ready to celebrate around His throne forever and ever. It’s in His name I pray. Amen.

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The Best is Yet to Come

white cross under blue sky during daytime
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.   I Peter 1:3-7 (ESV)

Have you ever had one of those days where it’s just tough to find something to be happy about?  The boss is crabby.  The sink is clogged.  Your child forgot his homework.  The dog had an accident on the carpet.  The battery in the car died.

Just one unfortunate episode leaves us frustrated.  Just one unexpected mishap moves us to anger.  Just one unpredictable problem proves exasperating.

All to often one of these annoyances sucks the joy out of us and leaves us unable to even think about praise.

St. Peter must have experienced this.  He begins our reading articulating the treasures we have in the gracious work of our Savior, Jesus.  Heaven!  We are on our way to heaven!

In the meantime, we understand that imperfect things happen in this imperfect world to us imperfect people.  We become disappointed and dejected—but we never despair.  Even in the midst of this world’s frustrations and failures, we praise God for what He has in store for us in heaven.  No more sickness or sorrow.  No more pains or problems.  No more disasters or death.  We will only experience joy and peace, as we will be in the presence of the perfect Jesus who loves us!

So, on those days when things aren’t going your way, remember—the best is yet to come!

Lord Jesus, we praise You for taking our failures to the cross and defeating the guilt of our sin.  We thank You for restoring us to the Father of all mercy and grace.  We thank You for the faith that allows us to rise above the disappointments of this life and reminds us of the life eternal to come in heaven.  Keep us strong in faith until that Great Day.  Amen.   

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Death

grayscale photo of people walking on street
 
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”  1 Thess. 4:13–14
 
As we continue our focus this week on the end of the church year, our thoughts must also include reflecting on our own end, the day when Christ will call us home to His eternal presence.
 
Do you fear death? I’ll admit that when people declare that they have no fear because they know that they are going to be with Jesus, I wonder if they are being fully honest with themselves. I don’t doubt that they have confidence in the promises of God and that they will be Jesus in heaven, but that is a far different matter than the fear of death. Being with Jesus is wonderful and eternal. But death is an event. Death is something that we will all pass through unless Jesus returns before that day. Since none of us have ever died before, it is an entirely new experience and having some level of anxiety, even fear, is completely natural, even for a Christian. We simply don’t know what the experience will be like. We know what’s on the other side, and that brings joy, but getting there is another question. Death happens, but the process of dying is long, in fact, each of us is dying everyday as we get closer to that day.
 
This is not meant to discourage us nor to make us fearful. Rather, recognizing death for what it is, the final enemy, should draw us even closer to the One who by His death and resurrection concurred death and the grave. We must pass through death, but our life thereafter is a glory that we cannot begin to comprehend in this world. Knowing that we will be with Jesus is our sure and certain hope. His resurrection is the solid rock and foundation of our faith.
 
If you have a few extra moments today, please consider reading again 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of Paul. Though death will come, we need not fear, for our Savior is with us now and will take us to be with Him forever. To Him be the glory forever and ever.
 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we have done nothing to deserve Your love and forgiveness. What we deserve is that death should be the just end for us all. But by Your grace, You have given us forgiveness of sins and the promise of life eternally with You. Accept our heartfelt thanks as we await the day when we will join You and those who have gone before us in faith. Amen.

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Praiseworthy Things

brown cross on mountain
 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

In Paul’s closing chapter to his fellow Christians in the City of Philippi, he provides direction and encouragement.  He points them to set their minds on spiritual things.  In closing this verse he reminds his listeners to think about things that are “worthy of praise.”

So what are those things that are worthy of praise?

Things that are worthy of praise are the things of God.  Among these praiseworthy things are:

  • Holding the faith and living and sharing it each day
  • Forgiving others as God forgives us
  • Being generous with the gifts that God gives to us
  • Providing care to the least of our brothers and sisters

This list is not exhaustive at all, but they are among the praiseworthy things we should constantly ponder.  This means we should consciously be alert to opportunities to live out these praiseworthy deeds.

As God’s people we are privileged to be recipients of God’s grace and for this we praise Him.  One of the great ways we praise the Lord is by living out praiseworthy things.

Father of all mercy and grace, I thank You for the many blessings I have simply because You are both gracious and merciful.  For this I praise You.  Grant me Your Holy Spirit that my praise may be lived out in my daily relationships with others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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