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Great Cloud of Witnesses

landscape shot of white cross during daytime
 
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
 
“Our churches teach that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling.”   Augsburg Confession Art. 21
 
While many Christian churches, including Lutheran churches, have such names as St. John, St. Luke, St. Paul, etc., it is not especially common for Lutherans to talk much about or consider the lives of the saints. Yet as the reformers of Luther’s day recognized, there is much we can learn from the saints in how they lived their lives. Many of them lived in cultures that were very hostile to the Christian message, not unlike our own.
 
In the opening pages of the Lutheran Service Book (the new hymnal) you can find a list of commemorations that include many saints. These men and women often gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel and now are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” described by the writer to the Hebrews.
 
Later this week is the commemoration of Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos. If you’ve read the book of Acts, the names are probably familiar to you. Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, worked with the apostle Paul in Corinth after fleeing persecution in Rome. Like Paul, they worked as tentmakers in the city. They became so committed to the faith that their lives were changed and they joined Paul on his missionary journey to Ephesus where they established a home that was welcoming to new Christians in the area and travelers through the region.
 
Apollos was also a student of the faith who served with Paul. He traveled to Corinth bearing witness to Christ. An eloquent man, filled with the Spirit, some have even speculated that perhaps Apollos might be the unnamed writer of the book of Hebrews. Whether he is or is not, his love for the Lord remains a shining example for us today.
 
Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, as well as the apostle Paul, were all sinners in need of a Savior, just like us. By God’s grace, they were called out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Gospel, just like us. May God grant us the boldness to share our faith with others, just like them.
 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the men and women who have gone before us in faith and have shown us what it is to fully dedicate our lives to you. Deepen our faith, increase our trust, and embolden us to give witness to your saving grace for the sake of Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.

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Lessons I’m Learning From Job (Part 3)

cross stand under purple and blue sky
 
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
 
Lesson number three:  Victory is assured!

Everybody, including Job, could agree on one thing—he was in a bad place in life.  He lost his fortune, his land, his animals, his servants and his children.  Then he lost his health in a most painful manner.  They disagreed on why Job was in such a terrible condition.  Those who came to comfort him actually caused him more pain as they accused him of some great wrong for which he was being punished.  They also disagreed as to the manner in which Job’s peril could be rectified.  Job’s friends told him to finally confess the sin that he must be keeping secret from the world, but is known to the Lord.  Job’s wife provides a more terminal answer to Job’s problems:  curse god and die!

In chapter 19, right in the middle of the Book of Job, the man who suffers physically, emotionally and spiritually proclaims the truth that will give him the ability to withstand the pains and the problems of this world.  “I know that my Redeemer lives,” says Job, “and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). 

Paul Harvey was a popular radio personality who, each day, provided news and commentary.  Often he would have a segment, which he called, “The Rest of the Story.”  He would speak about forgotten facts about historical events and personalities.  Then he would end with a surprise twist and concluded by saying, “And now you know . . . the rest of the story.”

Job knew the rest of the story.  In the midst of his suffering Job knew the rest of the story.  He knew that there was more to this life that our mortal existence.  Job knew that the perfect life we seek is coming.  Job knew the Lord would return to take His faithful followers to heaven where there will be no suffering or sorrow.

This knowledge—this faith—wasn’t a magic wand to make Job’s present problems disappear.  It was the Lord’s promise of life eternal that gave Job the patience to preserver.

This is the same promise given to you by the Lord who created you, who saved you through the cross, who rose from the grave to prepare a place for you in His eternal glory and who will come again to take you to heaven.  This is the peace that passes understanding in the midst of our earthly trials and troubles.  This is the comfort we have when life doesn’t seem fair.  This is the promise that raises us above the challenges of life and keeps our eyes fixed on Jesus, looking forward to His return and an eternal perfect life.  You know the rest of the story!
 
Prayer: O, Holy Spirit, so often the problems I encounter cause me to take my eyes off Jesus.  I can get discouraged, disappointed and dejected.  Keep me strong in faith.  I know the rest of the story and I look forward to Jesus’ return and an eternity spent with You, my God.  I pray in the name of Jesus’, my Savior.  Amen.

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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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