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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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The End is Near

photo of brown wooden cross at cliff
 
“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:18-20, 24
 
The end is near! Those four short words will carry different meanings for many who read them. Some will pray that “the end is near” for the pandemic. Others are grateful that “the end is near” (even here) for the current election cycle. But others, especially people of faith, will think of those words in the context of Judgement Day and the return of Christ.
 
Another way to understand those words is to recognize that we are quickly approaching the end of another church year. Immediately after Thanksgiving we begin the new church year with the start of Advent. During these final weeks of the church year, the assigned readings for the week point us toward the end of time as we currently know it.
 
In the Old Testament reading for this week, Amos paints a very bleak picture for Israel, the northern kingdom. They had become very comfortable with themselves and their focus on the God who brought them to the Promised Land had taken a backseat to the cares of life and worship of false gods. The words of Amos are meant to shake them out of their self-satisfaction and return them to a life pleasing to God, a life marked by justice for all and righteous living. We know though that his warning was not heeded, and that in 722 B.C., Israel was defeated, scattered, and never returned to anything like they had been.
 
It might be easy for us to look back to that time and think how foolish God’s people were. But can we say with a sincere heart that we are always better? Think about our nation. Think about how far we as a country have strayed from our Christian roots. Think about how many churches have caved in to the social pressures of our day and bowed down to worship the false humanism of our time. How much better are we, really?
 
Amos called the people of his day to not rely on themselves, but instead to return to the Lord, to repent, to trust in Him, to live lives that reflected the love and mercy of God. This same call should be heard by each of us today as the Day of the Lord draws ever closer.
 
Prayer: Lord, as Your beloved children, we thank You that we need not fear that last great day, that we need not fear standing before Your judgment seat based on our own goodness. We know that we will stand before You confidently clothed in the righteousness of Christ our Savior and that alone is our hope and salvation. Thank You for this precious gift of grace in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Uncertainty

book on top of table and body of water
 
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident….5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock…. 13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of  the Lord in the land of the living! 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:1-3, 5, 13-14)
 
I love Psalm 27.  It is a psalm of confidence in the midst of attack.  David writes about armies that attack him, knowing that the Lord will prevail, which is the cause for his confidence.

It seems like we are under attack these days.  Uncertainty concerning the outcome of our national election looms over us.  The uptick in the number of COVID cases and related deaths causes us to become anxious.  The stock market, which houses our retirement income, is fluctuating.  There is continued violence in the streets of many cities. Those are just the painful problems that inflict our world.  In addition to these we are confronted with our personal problems such as family strife, job uncertainty, health concerns, and the like.  Add it all up and it feels like an army encamps against us.

We stress over the future condition of our world, our nation, our community, our family and ourselves.  Anxious hearts are not healthy hearts.  So the Lord calls us to put our trust in Him. 

When it comes to the outcome of our election, I hear some say with angst, “What if Trump gets another four years!”  I hear some say with equal concern, “What if Biden gets into office!”  I hear the Lord say, It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes (Psalm 118:9).  When it comes to concerns over finances, health issues and personal relationships, I hear the Lord say, But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

I think Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., put it best when asked about the results of the presidential election.  “God will still be God,” was her reply.  In the midst of your problems, remember that God is still God.  He is still the God who not only gave you life, but redeemed your life through the cross and empty tomb.  He is still the God who promises to be with you always and to use all things in your life for good.  Above all, He is still the God who has prepared a place for you in His heavens.

In the meantime, take the psalmist’s advice and wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me patience in the midst of problems.  It is so easy for me to become anxious over the events of the world, especially when they aren’t going my way.  Provide my heart peace, by the renewing of your Holy Spirit.  Remind me that the perfect life I long to live is waiting for me in heaven.  I pray this in Your powerful and peaceful name.  Amen.

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Going Back

brown leather cover bible book
 
“’Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’  But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’”  Exodus 3:10-11
 
Going back is the hardest.  You said that you were done and you were never going back. Not to that job, to that school, to that house. You would go forward but never back.
 
And yet, God sometimes turns us back to the place or experience or people we put behind us.  He says, “You’re going back.” He certainly said that to Moses. Moses had left Egypt 40 years ago and he surely had no intention of returning. He tried to persuade God that he couldn’t and shouldn’t go back. He suggested his brother Aaron should go instead.  It boiled down to a simple request: Please don’t send me back.
 
And yet, God sent Moses back to Egypt and provided for him along the way. By the miracles of the plagues, God showed his power and protected Moses. Moses learned that his return to Egypt wasn’t as much for his benefit as it was for the thousands of Israelites who needed him to rescue them.
 
So also you might be serving by going back for the sake of someone else. You’ve found yourself teaching Sunday School again, or serving on a committee that you were sure you’d never see again. But you’re back for the sake of someone else and the work that perhaps only you can do.
 
So go back if and when you must. Don’t close doors behind you too tightly and don’t say, “I’m never doing this again” too loudly.  God might have other plans for you. But they are plans both for your good and for the good of those you serve.
 
Our heavenly Father, we like to close doors and vow we’re never going back. When you need to, take us back to those places and that work which we thought we’d never see again. Remind us that this is not a punishment, but that we’re going back for the good of others and we’re going back with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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