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Heaven Bound Journey

stack of assorted-color suit case lot
 
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20
 
I don’t like to check my bags at the airport. It’s not so much the money, though some airlines sure charge a lot. It’s the control. Where’s my bag and the things I really need for this trip? When I stuff the bag into the overhead bin, I know where it is. Baggage claim, waiting at the carousel, seeing everyone else get their bag and walk away?  All that makes me nervous.
 
Jesus’ advice in our text today sounds familiar to our worries about baggage. He says that some things can be stolen away, so carefully prepare for our heaven-bound journey.  In fact, that journey calls us to do three distinct things.
           
First, leave somethings behind. You can’t take everything on the plane even here. We certainly can’t take everything with us to heaven. Some things need to be left off already, such as our attempts to pay our way into heaven, or our resentment over what’s happened in the past. There is no overhead bin for anger, resentment, and bitterness in the heaven-bound flight.
 
Second, take with you only what you need. You put into your one carry-on piece the essentials. So with our heaven-bound journey, the one essential is faith in the promises that God has made. Trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection fits and allows us to pass through the narrow gate leading to eternal life.
 
Third, send ahead the things that we need for an eternal stay.  That sounds like it could be a lot of stuff!  But the essential treasures that we store up in heaven might simply be the promise of a resurrected body and God’s promise that we will be included with all the saints.  Psalm 23 promises that God will prepare a table before us and we can leave to Him the details of that lasting banquet

Our Heavenly Father, thank you that you have paid for our heaven-bound journey through your Son. And help us to pack well for the journey. Help us to let go of those things which have no place on the trip and to hold tightly to faith alone in you. Welcome us then into the lasting home you’ve prepared.  In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.

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Lessons I’m Learning from Job (Part 2)

two people sitting beside each other
 
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
 

Lesson number two:  Be a real friend.

Job went from the top of the world to the depths of despair.  He had possessions, wealth, status, servants and family.  Scripture identifies him as “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3).  It only takes a couple of chapters of reading to find how fast life can change.  Job lost everything—his wealth, his possession, his family and his health—in such a sudden manner.

Job couldn’t understand what was happening to him.  At first He provides a sincere proclamation, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  But it doesn’t take long for Job through his suffering to question.  “Why am I experiencing such pain?”  “Where is God in my suffering?”  “How can I escape this agony?” 

What Job needed was a friend or two.  He ends up with three.  They began by sitting with Job in silence for seven days and nights.  This would be the best care they would provide to this man of sorrows.  When they begin to share their counsel, they accuse Job of having committed some offensive sin toward God.  They try to drive the point that God would never have allowed such catastrophe if Job were an upstanding, righteous person.  They thought Job to be the model citizen, but now wonder if they really knew the man.  Jobs personal suffering, they say, is a strong indication that Job’s life of blameless behavior was a shame.  He must be hiding something.

Job becomes frustrated.  The more his friends speak, the less comforted he becomes.  Their conversations with Job actually move him to question the Lord’s motives, the Lord’s fairness, the Lord’s sense of right and wrong.  With friends like this, who needs enemies?

What Job needed was a real friend.  We are called to be friends of those who bear the burdens of a broken world.  We all know someone who is hurting mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually.  We are all called to be friends.  Here’s what friends do:
  • Friends are present.  Often, the most comfort we give is simply by being there. 
  • Friends listen before they speak.  A suffering person needs to be heard.
  • Friends pray for and with one who suffers, asking for God’s peace.
  • Friends give hope.  This is not some “pie in the sky” hollow proclamation that things could be worse or that things will get better soon.  Hope is knowing that the Lord hasn’t forgotten us, that He uses all things for good and that the perfect life we long to live is coming in heaven.

These are not four steps to alleviate pain and suffering.  This is simply what compassionate friends do.
 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are no stranger to pain and suffering.  You experienced the greatest agony by delivering us from the guilt of sin through Your work on the cross.  Even as You were a friend to the suffering while You walked the earth, so make us those friends to provide comfort and hope to those in need.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.


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Heaven Bound

white printer paper on macbook pro
 
“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14
 
You’ll never leave home if you wait for all your chores to be done. Planning a trip? You probably have a to-do list you need to get through before you go. There are things like stop the mail, get gas, check the car, let the neighbors know you’re going. All good things to do before you go. But what about the longer to-do list? Will you get that done before you go?
 
What’s on that longer list, the things you haven’t done though they’ve been on the list forever? Have you completely rid your lawn of dandelions and crab grass?  Have you repainted the window trim on that second story window?  Have you completely cleaned out the basement back closet? No? Well then, how can you think of going on your trip?

Of course, you go on the trip even though the back closet is still bulging and the crab grass is still plotting against you. Some things will never get done and if you wait for them, you’ll never leave.

Paul has some of that same understanding in our text.  He is heaven-bound, but he knows that he hasn’t yet fully achieved all that he could or should and he certainly hasn’t forgotten the terrible things he did before he was a Christian. Should he wait here on earth, work harder, and put off heaven until he gets all this done? If God gives him time, then he can keep on walking in faith. He can do the things most necessary for himself and others around him, like sharing the Gospel message and reminding himself and others of the forgiveness won by Christ.

Like Paul, we are heaven-bound by God’s mercy and call. We won’t ever get done with all the to-do list items we want to accomplish. But we can be sure of His call to us when we do the essentials of forgetting about trying to pay for our failures ourselves and trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus in our place. Then we are ready to travel as God calls us home.

Our Heavenly Father, thank you for calling us heaven-ward by your mercy. Remind us that we cannot and need not finish all our to-do lists but that you will call us home when you know best. Help us be like Paul and focus on your call and heaven to come more than remembering the failures of our lives. In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.

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Lessons I’m Learning from Job (Part 1)

brown wooden cross on yellow wall
 
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
 
Lesson number one:  Life is not fair (whatever fair is).
In the book of Job, there are a lot of “why” questions.  The biggest is, “If Job is such a wonderful person, why do so many painful things happen to him?”  This leads Job’s friends to accuse him of some gross sin, reasoning that God rewards good and God punishes bad.  If Job really was such a good and upright person, they explain, he wouldn’t have any troubles.

I hear that a lot today.  There are “prosperity preachers” who falsely teach that if we do the right things the right way at the right time, God will reward us with earthly pleasures and prevent us from having too many troubles in this world.  A friend of mine served as a hospital chaplain for a number of years.  He recalled a time when a college student was admitted to the hospital with a dire diagnosis.  Her friends took turns sitting at the foot of her bed praying.  They broke the 24 hours into shifts, making sure that they were able to offer continuous prayers.  This continued for a week.  The patient passed away.  The Christian friends blamed themselves.  Evidently they didn’t pray hard enough.  Or maybe they didn’t utter the right prayers.   Or maybe their faith wasn’t strong enough.

It is easy for us to fall into this type of thinking.  We have this sinful inclination causing us to believe we must follow some type of prescribed behavior for God to love us and care for us.  This really is the basis for every religion in the world—with the exception of Christianity.

A fact check proves that we are sinful people.  Our thoughts, words and actions prove that we don’t love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.  We don’t love others as we love ourselves.  The Good News is that God loves us anyway.  God’s love for us is not contingent on our love for Him.  Because He loves us, we love Him and one another.

We do live in a broken and fallen world.  We continue to live under the effects of a sin.  It just doesn’t seem fair when a young person is struck with cancer, or an elderly person is the victim of a drive-by shooting, or a pandemic separates families.  It wasn’t meant to be this way.  God created all things perfect.  It was sin that distorted perfection.

But ours is a God of love.  Because we cannot go to God, God comes to us.  Jesus lived the perfect life for us.  He took our sin to the cross and destroyed its power by showering us with forgiveness.  His resurrection is proof that the heavenly Father accepted His work on our behalf.  It sure doesn’t seem fair that Jesus would have to leave the glories of heaven and take on our flesh and suffer our punishment on the cross. 

Perhaps the proper “why” question is this:  “Why would Jesus do that for me?”  The answer:  Because He loves us.  He wants us to spend eternity with Him.  He did everything needful for that to happen.

Even though life doesn’t always seem fair, Jesus loves us.  He guides us through the difficult valleys of life and points us to the peaks of heaven’s perfection.
 
Prayer: Almighty Lord, thank You for Your never-ending love.  Though we in no way have earned Your love, You still love us.  Though we cannot save ourselves from sin and death, You came to rescue us.  Thank You for Your mercy and grace, which assures us of forgiveness, new life and life eternal with You in heaven.  Keep us strong in faith.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.

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Psalm 119 (Part 3)

brown opened book on black surface
 
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. [Psalm 119:176]
 
We finish with the last portion of Psalm 119 today. I encourage you to take some time to read the whole Psalm for yourself, but I hope this will help you in your devotional life, to see how God can speak through any letter, any word, any person. No matter if you feel like a lost sheep, there is power in God’s Word and a place for you in God’s kingdom.
 
ס
Sick, sinister, sinful people disgust me, and their intolerance for your Word makes me sad.
Sustain me, even though I am tempted to be like those people. You are my only source of life.
Seeing how you deal with sin scares me to death; I stand in awe of your sovereignty.
 
ע
I am your servant; help me to understand your command, so that I can carry it out.
I am doing my part, Lord. I am looking for you in all places and following your law.
It is time for you to act now, Lord. Punish the lawbreakers, and make my reward your Word.
 
פ
Pure light pours forth from the unfolding of your words.
Powerful waters permeate the dry desert where your words were lacking.
Please, Lord, place me in your presence, and let no sin rule over me.
 
צ
Tsunami-like zeal keeps me focused on your statutes.
Tsk, tsk, all you who ignore God’s Word! Oh, I’m getting tired of saying it.
Tsk, tsk, you who are distressed and displeased! God’s Word could be your delight!
 
ק
Quietly, in the night, even before the dawn, I meditate on your promises to save me.
Quell the restlessness within me, the fear I have from evil near me.
Quickly have I learned that you are near, O Lord, and your word is in my heart and my mouth.
 
ר
Redeem me Lord, buy me back, even the worst parts of me; I know you are compassionate.
Rescue me from persecution and pain. I know you use them for your purposes, but I am ready,
Ready and waiting for the fulfillment of your eternal promises. Preserve my life!
 
ש
Shudder at the power of people? Never. But I tremble when I hear the Lord speak a single word!
Seven times a day, your words bring me such joy, and I seek to obey them with all my heart.
Shalom, complete peace, comes to all of those who love your law, Lord, and keep your commands.
 
ת
The lips and tongue you gave me can do nothing but shout and sing, pray and praise your name!
These laws you left us sustain me in this place.
Though I wander like I’m lost, seek me out and find me, Lord. Make me yours.
 
Prayer: Lord God, we are Your creation, the work of Your hands. Never leave us nor forsake us. Never leave us without Your Word. Lead each of us, opening up our minds and hearts, spirits and bodies to your pleasing will. Bring us into Your eternal presence, in the name of Jesus, AMEN!

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