Devotional Message

Our Understanding of Heaven Impacts Our Hope

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We know very little about heaven, but I once heard a theologian describe it as “an unknown region with a well-known inhabitant,” and there is not a better way to think of it than that.

Richard Baxter expresses the thought in these lines:

My knowledge of that life is small,

The eye of faith is dim,

But it’s enough that Christ knows all,

And I shall be with him.

To those who have learned to love and trust Jesus, the prospect of meeting him face to face and being with him forever is the hope that keeps us going, no matter what life may throw at us.

James Packer, Your Father Loves You,  Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.

Heaven is the New Jerusalem 

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city;
he sets up salvation
as walls and bulwarks.
2Open the gates,
that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
3You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
4Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God, is an everlasting rock. 
Isaiah 26:1-4

The prophet Isaiah is describing the new City of God, Jerusalem, in this section.  In doing so, he points out some key differences from other earthly cities.  Samaria fell to the Assyrians. Later, Jerusalem would fall at the hands of the Babylonians.  However, in this New Jerusalem, Heaven will be impregnable.

Another major difference is that this earthly city was often infested with all manner of sin and evil.  The New Jerusalem will no longer be the sinful city. Instead, it will be a righteous city set apart for a holy nation whose sins have been washed away.

“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” Zechariah 13:1

This will be a select citizenship, only those who have trusted Jesus Christ will enter the city; and because they believe, they have peace.

Heaven is an eternal relationship with the God of creation.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesians 2:10, he describes how God views us,  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The word translated here as workmanship is better translated, “masterpiece.”  We are the crowning Jewel of God’s creation.  What an amazing day it will be to stand before the artist God, who created us and behold this Creator face-to-face.  The masterpiece meets that Master Artisan. I shudder at the thought. What do you think you will do when you meet the Creator? Will you stand in awe and wonder?  Will you dance with joy?  I imagine I would just stand there with mouth wide open, in quiet reflection soaking in all the brilliance and wonder of the moment.  The Bible says you will behold him face to face and you will spend eternity in his presence.

Not even the finest writer will be able to put this scene into words.  No eye has seen, and no ear has heard the spectacles of what God has amassed for us in heaven. It is real. It is for real people. It is forever.

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/01/19/heaven-is-community-restored/

 

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Community Outreach

How to Connect with the Vulnerable Among​ Us

 

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When my ministry began in Milwaukee our Christian day school was just embarking on a new chapter in our educational adventure.  Seven years before my arrival on the scene the state of Wisconsin passed the school choice bill.  School choice was: “Pioneering educational freedom: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created in 1990 to provide educational freedom and choice to low-income parents in Milwaukee who did not have the financial means to send their children to private schools.  Grassroots growth: as the first school choice program in the nation, Milwaukee is a pioneer in educational reform. Beginning with seven schools and 300 students, the program reached its 15,000-student enrollment cap in 2005. Bipartisan legislation begun with a grassroots effort increased the enrollment cap to 22,500 and introduced standardized testing and accreditation requirements for schools.”[1]

 

Sounds like a great program, right?  Who would not want equal educational opportunities to all families? School choice was not without its detractors and even its abusers.  However, the greatest threat to our church was the attitude of the families whose kids attended the school before.  These were not bad people nor unchristian people.  The concern became one of safety.  All of a sudden, we were adding a foreign element into our once small, contained, safe school environment.  Our Lutheran trained teachers were not used to the kind of developmental issues we were suddenly facing, nor the discipline issues.  One by one we lost more and more tuition-paying customers replacing them with school voucher students.  We got all kinds of reasons for why they were pulling their kids out but, in the end, the culture and environment changed. It was no longer as safe.

The importance of a safe environment.

 

I covered this issue in a previous post but want to revisit the safety issue.  It is the number one issue for parents.  For those current parents and for future prospective ones as well.

The Barna research says,” A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and perspective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include “cultural safety,” such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect.[2]

 

With our new students, we struggled to regain our footing when it came to safety for our current parents.  For the prospective parents, our school was a huge upgrade over their previous public school situation.  But that issue of safety was one we continued to work on improving.

The Mission is coming to our Front door.

In August of 2017 Illinois made history with the passage of a Tax Credit Scholarship (TCS) program. This law which passed with both houses of the legislature under Democratic control has enacted an educational choice program. The law has the highest scholarship funding cap ($100 million) of any first-time TCS program.

Empower Illinois is based on a simple notion: every child has just one chance to get a great K-12 education; there are no do-overs. We seek to empower community members to assist parents to choose the best school for their child.

We support access to great public and private schools and educational opportunities. [3]

The question is how do we make use of the opportunity God has placed at the front doors of our churches engaged in Christian day school ministry?  One thing we need to do is overcome our fears.  Our fears can lead us to miss the opportunity to see these families as a threat to our need for safety vs seeing them as families who share a common goal, they too want to give their children every opportunity to grow and develop in a safe and loving environment.  Our schools offer that kind of safe, loving, and nurturing environment that after all is why we chose them.  Imagine seeing this as a mission opportunity to reach people and families that normally could never afford to take advantage of what you have worked so hard to build.  You have the opportunity to be salt and light those in need of grace and love.

This is our calling! 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).

A bit of context here. What does the phrase “least of these” mean? It is often mistranslated.  It does not mean that these poor souls are of less value than others.  Jesus is not promoting some hierarchy of worth as far as human values are concerned.  He does not lift the wealthy and self-sufficient to the top, while the poor or the materially and financially dependent are at the bottom of the totem pole.

The phrase “least of these” is better translated as “however humble” (New English Bible). The least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus are those persons who are vulnerable. They are the socially, psychologically, or economically disadvantaged, such as the sick, the poor, the mentally and physically disabled. Jesus cares about the needs of the poor. As God brings the poor, the parents in need to our doors, Jesus says, “Whatever you do the humble among you, do you it for me.”  How you will make use of the opportunities God is placing at the doorsteps of your school?

 

[1] https://www.chooseyourschoolwi.org/history/

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/parents-look-christian-schools/

[3] http://nidlcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Empower-Illinois-Overview.pdf

Devotional Message, Sermon Prompts

How the Resurrection Impacts Our Grief

Empty tomb
Empty tomb with three crosses on a hillside.

 

There are some chapters in the Bible that have no rival for the level of importance they play.  John 3 is one.  In that chapter, we have what many have called the message of salvation in a nutshell. In John 3:16, 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Another critical chapter is 1 Corinthians 15. Paul defends the truth of the resurrection in this chapter.  There were some in Corinth that questioned the validity of Christ rising from the dead.  So, Paul now is charged with dealing with the subject of the resurrection of the dead.  In doing so, Paul builds the foundation for what the theological point he is going to explain in detail. His underlying defense is clear.   The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the gospel and at the heart of our faith.

There are two essential elements in Paul’s argument.

  1. If Jesus Christ did not rise that casts doubt on the truth of God’s word and His promises especially as we deal with the death of loved ones.

 

Never is this more evident when the eternal fate of the one we love is in question.  This doubt is apparent in this story. As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.  – Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p. 26.

It is at the grave that the reality of the resurrection has its most significant hold on us or provides us with its greatest comfort.  This widow felt the full weight of this truth as she said her final goodbyes.  What is the more profound question of “is the resurrection real?”  Underlining that questions for Christians are what the fate of our loved ones is?  Can we have a confident hope that those who have died and gone before us are safe and sound in heaven? If they are then our mourning is tempered and temporary.    This is the deep theological dive Paul is plunging into in I Corinthians 15.  Without Jesus’ resurrection, the witness of the apostles is both useless and false.  For the believer our faith futile.  And the entire world is lost because of our unforgiven sins.  As we say our final goodbyes, we must weep like everyone else because our Christian dead lost.  And the cruelest trick of all is that we are all left without hope if the resurrection is not real,  then Christianity is a farce and none of this matters if Christ has not risen from the dead.  Our life, our faith, our hope is worthless.

Yet, in Jesus’s own words He refutes the claims that the resurrection is something made up by men to calm the masses.  Jesus tells Mary at the tomb of Lazarus as that family is dealing with unmeasurable grief.   25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 

  1. The Resurrection is Real!

Paul points out that just the opposite is true that indeed the resurrection is true.  And to prove his point Paul points out that this is not some new, fangled idea.  But that this was God’s plan from the beginning.

 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. 22 In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection is the pledge of that of believers, and an essential part of God’s plan to reverse the consequences of Adam’s sin. Due to one mans sin the entire world was plunged into darkness, through the sacrifice of the next Adam, Jesus Christ the entire world is redeemed and rescued.  The word at the beginning of v. 20 indicates that this redemption is happening ‘now, at this very moment’!

The world needed a savior.  We needed someone to take upon themselves the weight of sin and be our substitute, and Jesus was that Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins.  Isaiah describes this so poetically.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. Isa. 53:5-6

There is a Time for Weeping

So, there is a time and a place for mourning and sadness.

A psychotherapist tells about one of her patients who had been taught not to cry. The patient said, “My intellect tells me it is healthy to cry, but I have been brought up to be ashamed of my own tears. I feel weak, out of control and unstable when others see me cry, and I sometimes give in to depression if I allow tears to come.”[1]

That is a sad statement. But as a man, I have been guilty of buying into this philosophy and even at times teaching my boys that.  I was taught if you fall down and hurt yourself don’t you dare cry to get up rub some dirt on it and move on.  Today, God gives us permission to weep.  The Almighty says it is ok to mourn.  When we live our lives without mourning and sadness, we are hindering healing and help our souls need. We are meant to cry. Without grieving, we can’t get to joy.

No doubt Charles Dickens was right when he had Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist say this about crying: “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes and softens the temper. So, cry away.”[2]

You may experience pain that is greater than any joy you have experienced in the past. It is possible you are holding in grief now.  Let it go. Know that one day you will be comforted.  The pain will be replaced with rejoicing. 

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so 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 died. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.  Hope for us Christians is grounded in the belief in the resurrection.  This is why the resurrection matters.   Mourning like the widow in the earlier illustration can only be replaced by hope if the person dies, dies in the Lord, with their eyes looking forward toward the resurrection of all flesh.

[1] “Why Do We Cry?” by Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr., Reader’s Digest, February 1987, 141.

 

[2] Schreiner, 144.