Home For Christmas

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Isaiah 52:7-10

Did you ever consider how hassle-free it is to be dead? You wouldn’t have to get up in the morning and shower or brush your teeth, or fight to get that last hair in place. Your suit would be neatly pressed for you and you wouldn’t have to worry about getting it stained or wrinkled by sticky fingered children who are climbing up in your lap after dinner. Everything would be nice and neat and orderly and . . . DEAD! Some homes are like that. You know the kind; there you are afraid to sit on the furniture. Churches can get like that too, nice and neat and dead! Personally, I prefer the controlled chaos of the alive Church. One that is often in disarray because of the life that is happening in it.

Where tattered cocoons lay here and there as evidence of a tremendous struggle, but where a butterfly emerges. I prefer a church home where lots of neighbors and their kids gather in an atmosphere of comfort saying you are welcome here in the name of the Savior who lives and understands life. Lastly, I prefer the Church where the excitement of each new day is to watch in wonder how God takes an impossible problem and resolves it to his glory and my growth. Yeah, I’ve considered the dead church, but it’s DEAD compared to LIFE!

Ever notice how the world comes alive at Christmas time? Victor Hugo once said, “A house is built of logs and stone, but a home is built of loving deeds and will stand a thousand years.” At Christmas one can almost feel the love in the air. It is the one time of the year that even those who are “tightwads” will open their purses and share.

Inter faith ministries has for many years been encouraging people to volunteer to work with people with AIDS in our community. For years I have always found a reason why I could not help. Just not enough time.
– It would be better for a lay person than a minister (we get preachy).
– But there was something inside that kept telling me that I was avoiding the
real issues.
– I don’t want to be around that environment.
– I don’t want to be around death and dying, I have done my time.
– It is preciously because you have walked the path that they need you.
– Death must be prepared for.
– People must be loved.
– God, we are talking AIDS here, and I don’t care whether it came from lifestyle
or drug use, I don’t want to be around it.
– You don’t want to minister to the lepers?
– The ones no one want to be around.
– The ones who’s familes are rejecting them.
– The ones that can’t get insurance or hold a job.
– You know, “the least of these.”

My first meeting with the young man (5 years difference) who had AIDS who I was to minister to was tense at first. It is never easy to learn about new people, especially ones with such great needs. I tried to be as incognito as possible, not telling him I was a minister. After about an hour of conversation he said, “You must be a minister.” “You strike me as a choir boy.” “In one hour you have been only kind and haven’t said a curse word yet.” But you know, my prejudices were there. At one point he told me he smoked. I caught myself saying, “Do you want to die of lung cancer?”

When the visit was over I got in my car and I had a Christian CD in the player.
It was Easter music. It had been a good visit but I was tired, emotionally drained, hurting for him because of his load and his loneliness. Somehow in that car with that music, I was home with God. I could have easily been that young man and made all of the wrong choices in life. But it was my relationship with God that had made the difference.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion,”Your God reigns!”

Learning To Pray: Personal Prayer

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John 17:1-5

Herb Miller wrote in Connecting with God: When a nightclub opened on Main Street, the only church in that small town organized an all-night prayer meeting. The members asked God to burn down the club. Within a few minutes, lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground. The owner sued the church, which denied responsibility. After hearing both sides, the judge said, “It seems that wherever the guilt may lie, the nightclub owner believes in prayer, while the church doesn’t.”

The Bible teaches us that there are four types of prayer. 1) Personal prayer
2) Intercessory prayer 3) Community prayer 4) And travailing prayer.

The 17th chapter of John is a key point in the life of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room has concluded. Jesus is in the garden and He knows what is about to happen. The Roman soldiers are on their way to arrest Him. The disciples that have gone with Him to the garden are tired and keep falling asleep. Jesus does something very important and very real, He prays.

The first five verses of chapter 17 are very personal words between Jesus and His father. We see the intimacy of a father and son relationship. We see the openness of one talking to God.

Prayer is nothing more than an open and honest conversation with God. Prayer is the only thing that “conquers” God. But Christ has willed that prayer never be used for evil. All the power He has conferred on prayer is for the cause of good. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. So prayer only knows how… to transform the weak, to restore the sick, to free the demon-possessed, to open prison doors and to untie the bonds that bind the innocent.

Furthermore, it washes away faults and repels temptations. It extinguishes persecutions. It consoles the low in spirit and cheers those in good spirits.
It escorts travelers, calms waves, and makes robbers stand aghast. It feeds the poor and governs the rich.

Personal prayer is worship! A lot of people look for a church where “they can get something” out of it. I have to come away “feeling good.” Soren Kierkegaard asked the question, “Who is supposed to get the benefit of worship?” He said that we view church as an audience and want to be entertained. The preacher, the readers, the choir, the soloist are all actors. “No,” Kierkegaard writes, “God is the audience and all of us are there to perform.” That is worship.

We come home and we say, “That special music sounded wonderful this morning.” Rather than, “I met God on His mountain today.” Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. That is the difference between entertainment and worship. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him

Our greatest handicap in prayer is that we view prayer as one-way when the reality is that prayer is a two-way street of communication. A Christian lady once dreamed that she died and went to heaven. As an angel was showing her around, she saw a stack of boxes in the corner of a room–and they had her name on them. She asked the angel what they were–and he told her to take a look in them. They were filled with many of the things she had prayed for during her lifetime, but hadn’t received. Seeing her perplexity, the angel explained: “When any of God’s children make requests of Him, preparations are made to give the answer. But we angels are told that if the petitioner is not waiting on the answer–if they give up too soon–we are to return with it and store it here.”

We often knock on the door like a mischievous boy knocks on a door and then runs away! Jesus said “Keep knocking.” He never promised to answer runaway knocks. We need to pray and wait, pray and wait. Have we learned to wait in patience and persistence, faithfully trusting God to answer in His time? I don’t mean just the everyday kind of waiting we all have to do: standing in line at the grocery checkout counter, being put on hold when we phone for information, facing another delay in an already backlogged day. What I’m talking about is the soul-searching, heartbreaking, my-future-hangs-in-the-balance kind of waiting that few of us escape during our lifetime. You see this kind of waiting on the face of the aging wife who wonders if maybe this time the doctor will give her good news about the baby they so desperately long for. You see this kind of waiting in the eyes of a father who searches the streets for his runaway daughter, hoping to find a clue to her whereabouts. You see this kind of waiting in the slumped shoulders of the man who’s spent months looking for a job that pays enough to support his family. Waiting hurts. It frustrates. It can drive people to do crazy things.

Take Abraham. Here was a true man of God who believed God’s promises.
By faith, he left his comfortable home and became a desert wanderer. He waited for years for God to give him a son. But he got tired of waiting. The result was a liaison with Hagar, the birth of Ishmael, and centuries of fighting between Ishmael’s descendants and the descendants of the rightful heir, Isaac.
Not waiting causes us problems. So why won’t we wait for God’s perfect timing? Because waiting doesn’t come naturally. Moreover, the nature of waiting is misunderstood. Waiting is not passive. Scripture says waiting should be active. To understand what this means, let’s look at the lives of saints who truly waited for the Lord.

Hannah is one example. How she longed to be able to have and hold her own baby! But she couldn’t. To make matters worse, she suffered the ridicule of her husband’s other wife who had borne him several children. Yet, throughout all this, Hannah continued in fellowship with God. She didn’t pretend that a baby didn’t matter and she never stopped petitioning the Lord. Her faith did not diminish, despite the delay. Finally, she received the promise through the birth of Samuel.

Another example is the prophetess Anna. She had been widowed soon after her marriage, and had spent most of her life in the temple, worshiping Jehovah, fasting, praying – and waiting, waiting for the promised Messiah.
How easy it would have been for her to despair wanting to see the one who would redeem Israel. Yet Luke tells us that, even at age 84, Anna was waiting for the Lord. And when Jesus was presented at the temple, Anna was there, giving thanks to God.

Nowhere in Scripture are we promised instant answers to our prayers or immediate gratification of our desires. Rather, God expects us to be patient, to wait, and to accept by faith those things that are as yet unseen. …but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Picture yourself unencumbered by fear, failure, and frustration. Waiting doesn’t have to be a downer. Waiting God’s way, through prayer, fasting, serving, studying, trusting Him, and preparing to receive His promises, can be liberating.

The Beatitudes: Peacemaking

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Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Teachers will appreciate this little story that I found. Then Jesus took his disciples up on the mountain, and when they had gathered around him he taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . Then, Simon Peter said, “Are we supposed to know this?” And Andrew said “Do we have to write this down?” And James said, “Will we have a test on this?” And Philip said, “I don’t have any paper.” And Bartholomew said, “Do we have to turn this in?” And John said, “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.” And Matthew said, “May I go to the rest room?” And Judas said, “What does this have to do with real life?” Then, one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plans and inquired of Jesus, “What is your terminal objective? Have you completed a task analysis? What about a diagnostic survey?” And Jesus wept.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. A peacemaker is one who strives to prevent contention, strife, and war. A peacemaker is one who uses their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent hostilities in families and neighborhoods. A peacemaker understands the importance of the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

At no time are we more like God than when we are an instrument of reconciliation. The Devil is the father of friction, discord and strife. The peacemaker is the enemy of the devil. “The beginning of strife,” says Solomon, “is like the letting out of water.” “An ounce of prevention,” says the English proverb, “is worth a pound of cure.”

One of the greatest peacemakers in scripture was Barnabas. Barnabas was gentle, companionable, a nice man. He was pastoral where Paul was militant.
Where Paul would carry a sword, in readiness for an adversary, Barnabas had oil and wine, in readiness for any traveler whom he might find robbed and beaten on the road. He was a peacemaker, and he was great in the ministry of reconciliation.

Barnabas was a native of Cyprus and a Levite by extraction. He was a wealthy man for he possessing land, that he generously disposed of it for the benefit of the Christian community and laid the money at the apostles’ feet . When Paul made his first appearance in Jerusalem, it is Barnabas who brought him to the apostles and attested to his sincerity . Following their First Missionary Journey they returned to Antioch, where they found the peace of the church disturbed by a certain sect from Judea, who insisted upon the Gentile converts being circumcised. Barnabas, with others, were sent to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles.

When preparing for a Second Missionary Journey, a dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas on account of John Mark. Barnabas was determined to take Mark with them. Barnabas is a peacemaker!

In that respect, Barnabas with like Jesus, for Jesus was a peacemaker. He was called the “Prince of Peace.” By His teachings, He taught us “to turn the other cheek.” In the Garden when the servant’s ear is cut off, Jesus restores the ear and tell everyone to put away their swords. But He also reminded us that His peace “passes all human understand.”

We need peacemakers! We need peacemakers in our world to bring an end to war. War is not the answer and never really provides a solution. Peacemakers help us to find compromise. They force us to find acceptance of others.

James, head of the Church in Jerusalem, writes from a hurting congregation.
Hurting because they are being persecuted by everyone. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

The Beatitudes: Spiritually Poor

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Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Some have observed that there may only be eight Beatitudes. Some would even argue that there are really only seven distinct features of character in the Beatitudes. It has been noticed by several critics, who by the sevenfold character thus set forth have rightly observed that a complete character is meant to be depicted in the Beatitudes. Seven means “complete” and by the sevenfold blessedness attached to it, a perfect blessedness is intended.

“Blessed” this word occur at least fifty-five times in the New Testament, it is important to understand its history, which is interesting because it is one of those numerous words which exhibit the influence of Christian association and usage in enlarging and dignifying their meaning. Its root is supposed to be a word meaning “great.” Its earlier meaning appears to be limited to outward prosperity; so that it is used at times as synonymous with rich. Nevertheless, even in its pagan use, the word was not altogether without a moral background. The word “blessed” is exactly represented in the story of Zechariah. In the story of Elizabeth we see the story of Zechariah. When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Here, the word has moved to mean more than great, it includes “happy” a “great happiness.”

It is opposed to pride, and vanity, and ambition. Such are happy! Other teachers had taught that happiness was to be found in honor, or riches, or splendor, or sensual pleasure.

Likewise the word “poor” is important to understand. The word expressing poverty is found in the New Testament 34 times. Luke (21:2-3), calls attention to the widow who bestowed her two mites on the poor. She now has nothing to live on! Luke also does a strange thing with the Beatitudes, Luke doesn’t say “poor in spirit” only “poor.” Nevertheless, there is a distinction, one who “earns a scanty pittance,” “to crouch or cringe,” and therefore conveys the idea of utter destitution, Such as one who lives by alms. Hence, it is applied to Lazarus and rendered “beggar.” The gospel by Jesus was preached to the poor. Those who were begging for more of God’s spirit.

This concept of “poor” was not difficult to understand. Riches produce pride, anxiety, and dangers, and not the least is the danger of losing heaven by them.
To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God; to be willing to be where God places us, to be willing to be in his hands, and to feel that we deserve no favor from him. The explanation of this lies in the fact that it is generally “the poor of this world” who are “rich in faith” and while it is often “the ungodly” who “prosper in the world”.

Thus this passage becomes very graphic, denoting the utter spiritual destitution, of the believer in the kingdom of God which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts. But only by the free mercy of God. The man who knows his sins is greater than one who raises a dead man by his prayer.

“The kingdom of heaven” here means the reign of God in the heart and life of God’s people. Once more, as “the kingdom of heaven,” which is the first and the last thing here promised, has two stages: 1) A present and a future, 2)An initial and a consummate stage. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit not only shall have the kingdom, they already have the kingdom.

So the poor in spirit are enriched with the fullness of Christ, which is the kingdom in substance. When He shall say to them from His great white throne, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you….” A closed hand cannot receive. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea writes: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Patience In An Impatient World

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Dr. Richard Halverson, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, spoke before a group of evangelicals who had expressed their anger about the Congress’ inactivity on the subject of school prayer. They were irritated that Congress had not acted with a strong initiative to restore prayer in schools. To those who were seeking greater initiative from the government, Dr. Halverson asked, “How many of you have prayed with your children this month, outside of church?” Nobody raised their hand. Spiritual initiative starts in the home, not Capitol Hill.

Happiness now-people seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. We have the phone moving to the video phone. We have overnight express and in some places same day express.
Computers, faxes, etc. have made everything instant. Waiting is interpreted as pain. People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so. The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God?

In the 1960’s researchers at Stanford University ran the “marshmallow test.” A researcher would tell a four-year old the following: “I am leaving for a few minutes to run an errand and you can have this marshmallow while I am gone, but if you wait until I return, you can have two marshmallows.” After a dozen years they restudied the same children and found that those who had grabbed the single marshmallow tended to be more troubled as adolescents. The kids who wolfed down one marshmallow instead of waiting for two, scored an average of 210 points less on SAT tests. There is real and documented value to controlling and disciplining our desires.

A principal part of faith is patience. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in A Twentieth Century Testimony: I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo-jumbo, as Aldous Huxley envisaged in Brave New World, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. Patience is that calm and unruffled temper with which the good man bears the evils of life, whether they proceed from persons or things. It also manifests itself in a sweet submission to the providential appointments of God and fortitude in the presence of the duties and conflicts of life. This grace saves one from discouragement in the face of evil, aids in the cultivation of godliness, aids the development of the entire Christian character, and continued till the end, will terminate in reward in the life to come.

When Leo Durocher was manager of the Dodgers, he was once booed for removing a popular pitcher in the eighth inning of a close baseball game. After the game, a reporter asked Durocher how he responded to such vocal criticism, and the manager replied, “You know, baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand.” That is often the case with criticism-it grows out of incomplete or inaccurate understanding of a situation.

Once Phillips Brooks was pacing back and forth in his study when a friend came by and asked what was wrong. “The problem is, I am in a hurry and God is not,” Brooks replied. “When God wants an important thing done in this world, or a wrong righted, He goes about it in a very singular way. He does not release His thunderbolts or stir up His earthquake. He simply has a tiny, helpless baby born, perhaps in an obscure home, perhaps of a very humble mother. Then He puts the idea or purpose into the mother’s heart, she puts it into the baby’s mind and then — God waits.”

God is a patient God. The challenge for the Christian in this process of growing spiritually is to learn the patience of God. God forced the children of Israel to live in the desert for 40 years to learn not only obedience but patience. They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

(1 Cor 13:4) Love is patient, love is kind, Paul said. (Dan 10:2-15) Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips;
and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Patience builds spiritual character. In March 1995, The New England Pipe Cleaning Company of Watertown, Connecticut, was digging twenty-five feet beneath the streets of Revere, Massachusetts, in order to clean a clogged 10-inch sewer line. In addition to the usual materials one might expect to find in a clogged sewer line, the three-man team found 61 rings, vintage coins, eyeglasses, and silverware, all of which they were allowed to keep. Whether it’s pipes or people, if you put up with some mess, sometimes you find real treasure.”

Does Purgatory Exist?

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I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue lagoon. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until, at length, she is only a ribbon of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There, she is gone!” Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. Her diminished size is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she is gone,” there are other voices glad to take up the shout, “There, she comes.”

The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight but opens upon the dawn. But we Christians have never understood this process we call “death.” And we have the tendency to fear that which we do not understand. The knowledge of going to Heaven and the paradise that is found there gives us hope, but the passage concerns us.

At the very moment of Jesus’ death on the cross some very odd things happened in Jerusalem. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matt 27:51)

The faithful believers who had died and were buried, came to life. I have to ask the question, “They haven’t already gone to Heaven?” Even Jesus said to the dying thief, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (John 11:1) When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Jesus, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” FOUR days and he wasn’t in Heaven?

One of the major differences between Protestant and Catholic understandings of the “last things” relates to the question of purgatory. Purgatory was an in between place, in between life and eternity. The Catholic’s view it more as an intermediate stage, in which those who have died in a state of grace are given an opportunity to purge themselves of the guilt of their sins before finally entering heaven. The Church developed a practice of praying for the dead.
1 Cor 15:29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?

Purgatory comes to us from a Jewish history. (1 Sam 28:8) So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done.
He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

It was believed that all who died were held until the “great resurrection.”
(John 11:23) Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

(Jude 8) But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Paul addresses a very real question that the Church has about those who have died. Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. What the Church is wanting to know, have things changed? We believe (the Church) that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Paul finds himself battling with what has been taught to him in his Jewish tradition and what he feels confident in his soul. Paul when speaking of his own death says, (Phil 1:21-22) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
While Paul’s theology seems to hint of a purgatory his heart was no where near that understanding.

John when writing Revelation even expresses the same feeling as Paul. (Rev 20:4) They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

When Jesus came, and especially following His resurrection, things radically changed. I believe that Paul uses the word “asleep” in our text today for a very important reason. He is trying to express a mystery that we do not completely understand. With God, time has no meaning. It has no confinement. Time is irrelevant. When we close our eyes in sleep at night, time is lost. What may only seem like five minutes has somehow become 8 hours.

One cannot be prayed in or out of what does not exist. The time of testing is over. No chance to repent of being bad. No opportunity to try to get it right.
No concern as to when the great resurrection will be, for time has no confinement. All that is important is that there will be a time when we will meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

What Will The New Millennium Bring?

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Revelation 21:1-5

One Sunday a pastor told his congregation that the church needed some extra money and asked the people to prayerfully consider giving a little extra in the offering plate. He said that whoever gave the most would be able to pick out three hymns. After the offering plates were passed, the pastor glanced down and noticed that someone had placed a $1,000 bill in offering. He was so excited that he immediately shared his joy with his congregation and said he’d like to personally thank the person who placed the money in the plate. A very quiet, elderly, saintly lady all the way in the back shyly raised her hand. The pastor asked her to come to the front. Slowly, she made her way to the pastor. He told her how wonderful it was that she gave so much and in thanksgiving, asked her to pick out three hymns. Her eyes brightened as she looked over the congregation, pointed to the three handsomest men in the building and said, “I’ll take him, and him, and him.”

William Barker relates the story of a bishop from the East Coast who many years ago paid a visit to a small, midwestern religious college. He stayed at the home of the college president, who also served as professor of physics and chemistry. After dinner, the bishop declared that the millennium couldn’t be far off, because just about everything about nature had been discovered and all inventions conceived. The young college president politely disagreed and said he felt there would be many more discoveries. When the angered bishop challenged the president to name just one such invention, the president replied he was certain that within fifty years men would be able to fly. “Nonsense!” sputtered the outraged bishop. “Only angels are intended to fly.” The bishop’s name was Wright, and he had two boys at home who would prove to have greater vision than their father. Their names: Orville and Wilbur.

Most of us lived through the year 2000. The year was a mile marker and the millennium held a lot of changes for all of us. We heard about the 2000 computer bug, but it amounted to nothing. Banks didn’t close and money didn’t get misplaced. Utilities were not interrupted. There wasn’t the panic and chaos that was predicted. The ball dropped in Times Square and everyone celebrated a new century.

The new millennium did not bring the “Second Coming” of Jesus? To that I can give you a definite positive. There were many who predicted that Jesus would return in 2,000. Jesus made it very clear that “no one except the Father knows the day or the hour” of Jesus’ return. The scripture teaches that time is already established. Whether it will be in the next millennium or beyond, only God knows. Every nation has not yet heard the word. The Temple is not in place in Jerusalem. Will these things be in place by the end of the new millennium?

I find it interesting that we always want to put a time frame for God. (Ps 90:4) For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (2 Peter 3:8) But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. When will we learn that God is not human and is not bound by time as we are bound?

The millennium, and the years since with advanced technology have forced our world to be smaller. The new millennium opened with 8 billion people inhabiting the world. The one instruction that God gave us that we have done and done well has been to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” It is a serious problem that the Church must address. Population increases and resources decrease. A population out of control causes other social ills: the polarization of those who have and those who have not. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This causes injustice and breaks down community harmony. The Church becomes hypocritical when it cries that injustice is wrong and yet is demanding a lack of birth control that feeds or causes the injustice. The Church must wake up to the reality that prevention is part of the cure.

We no longer can view ourselves as isolated from the rest of the world. What happens in another country directly affects us. We have in years past been very narrow minded. C. S. Lewis said, “God must like diversity because he made us all so different.”

The “pluralism” of our world will demand greater tolerance in the generations to come. This will be increasingly difficult for a people who are becoming more and more polarized in their thinking and views. For the Christian there will always be the struggle to be in the world but not of the world. What this means is that we will have to accept the fact that we live in a pagan world, that just happens to have a majority of people that call themselves Christian. We are in a time of “political religiosity.” The Moral Majority, now when have you ever known the majority to be moral? Matt 7:13-15 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Christianity is at its best when it is a minority.

Max Lucado tells a story from his days in Brazil. The small house was one room on a dusty street on the outskirts of a village. Gray walls and a dirt floor. An old calendar, crucifix and not much furnishings. Maria’s husband had died when Christina was an infant. Maria was a maid and couldn’t afford much. Now Christina was old enough to work. Christina had eyes on the city and left. There were few ways in the city for Christina to survive. None of them good. One day Maria took a bus to the city. She spent her savings to have pictures made for Christina. She made the rounds to the bars, flop houses and everywhere. A few weeks later Christina descended the hotel stairs. She was tired, her eyes no longer danced with youth but pain. Her dream had become a nightmare. She longed for home, but it was too far away. At the bottom of the stairs her eyes caught a familiar picture. On the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Her eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and took the photo. Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home. Let’s begin again.

This is our purpose in all of the millenniums ahead. Our task. Our heart. Our soul.