Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Stand Firm in the Lord - February 21, 2016 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Philippians 3:17-4:1
A few years ago, alright, a lot of years ago, I was invited to Camp Lone Star to try out their new “team challenge” course. The “team challenge” course is a course of obstacles that must be overcome by a team. There are low obstacles, about a foot off the ground, and there are high obstacles, about thirty feet in the air. Over the course of a couple of days the ten members of our team covered a lot of obstacles. I also found out that there are many companies, big businesses, that will send their employees to these courses and video tape their going through the challenges to see how they operate, that is how the individuals work as individuals and how they work and cooperate together as a team. The theory is that the way each individual reacts and interacts on the course is the way they will react and interact while working for the company. At any given obstacle people come forward as leaders, as motivators, or as just followers. Thus, how people react and interact on the course is most like they will react and interact to challenges in the “real” world and so they are assigned jobs in the company accordingly.
There was one challenge in particular that made an impress on me, especially in the sense of its life application. The one challenge that I want to describe is the one that helped a person to understand how and where one must focus their attention, and in a human or business way, we might say to focus one’s attention in order to be successful. The challenge looked simple. There was a large log hanging horizontal above the ground about a foot or so. It was hanging from two trees, one on each end, by a cable attached to each end, so that the log was able to swing and move between the two trees. The object of the obstacle was to jump up on the log at one end and walk to the other end. The difficulty was that the log was free to swing, so in the process of jumping on the log it would swing to knock you off. Some participants jumped on the log only to immediately fall off. Some participants were able to jump onto the log, but after only a few steps fell off. Others were able to jump up onto the log and walk the distance of the log and then jump off. The solution to the challenge was in one’s focus. Where do you focus your attention? You could either focus your attention on the log or something else. The participants who focused on the log always fell off. The solution was to focus on something that was not moving, like a tree in front of you. The life “lesson,” or life “application,” of the challenge was that when we have struggles in life if we focus on the struggles, the swinging log, we do not get very far, but if we focus on a solid firm foundation, like the sturdy tree, and as Christians we would say, like Jesus Christ, then we can make it through the struggles. This morning Paul talks to us about our focus. Where is our focus? Is it on the things of this world, or is it on the things of our eternal life in heaven?
Paul begins by putting himself up as an example for the people. He does not do so as a braggart, that is he is not bragging about himself, saying look at how wonderful I am. He simply says to imitate himself and others. We are to see the good in his example as well as the good in the example in others and imitate that good.
Paul suggests that we imitate him. Well, we might first be reminded that Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was a persecutor of the church, even putting Christians to death. Obviously this is not the parts of Paul’s life he wants us to imitate. Certainly, then, to be encouraged to imitate Paul would be to forgive his sins and faults and to look to follow his good example. Paul’s words remind me that I am to live in such a way as to be an example to you, the members of this congregation, as well as to others, and I try to do that with the help of God. Certainly, I, too, am a sinful human being and I am not a perfect example, but I know I am forgiven and by God’s grace and with the help of the Lord I strive to set a good example. I think Paul’s words remind all of us that we are all to be examples and particularly, the stronger Christian is to be an example for the weaker brother or sister.
The difficulty in following the example of others is the fact that there are not many good examples left in our world today. It would seem that there are more bad examples than good examples and as sinful human being we tend to move more to follow the bad examples rather than the good examples. That is just our nature, as God reminds us, every intention of our heart is evil all the time and this has been the way it has been since the fall into sin. This does not give us an excuse to sin, simply a warning to be watchful and alert.
Paul cites as particular bad examples the enemies of the cross. Who are the enemies of the cross? Anyone who says that the cross was not efficacious is an enemy of the cross. In other words, it is not the person who denies that Jesus died on the cross, but the person who denies that it was worth anything, the persons who says that Jesus’ death did not earn our forgiveness or salvation. Thus, an enemy of the cross is anyone who states or even implies that Jesus’ death was not enough to earn our forgiveness and so we must do something to help pay for our sins, as if we could do anything.
The enemies of the cross are those who desire to continue to live life in this world more than to live life in heaven. I would suggest that this would apply to many of us at times. How often to we find ourselves thinking more of our lives in this world, planning what we will be doing now and then with no thought of our life in heaven? We often forget the story of the rich man who built bigger and better barns thinking, today I will eat drink and be merry and tomorrow I will concern myself with my spiritual needs. As you may remember the story, we are told that very night his soul was required of him, in other words, he died. We tend to live life as if we will live here on this earth forever and forget that we are all just one breath away from death and our final judgement.
The enemies of the cross are also those who try to lure us away from heaven. The devil, the world and our own sinful nature are constantly battling to seduce us into disbelief, despair, or other great shame or vice. And the devil, the world and our own sinful nature continue to win battle after battle as we are lead into sin, daily, in thought, word and deed, sins of omission and sins of commission. We are tempted to think that our lives are our own to live as we wish. We are tempted to believe what we have, the physical blessings of life are ours as if we have somehow earned the blessings God has given. We are tempted to believe that the commandments are simply suggestions. We are tempted and indeed we constantly act out the putting ourselves before God, absenting ourselves from His gifts, taking His gifts for granted, refusing to acknowledge Him as the gift giver and indeed outright refusing and rejecting His gifts and then wonder why He does not bless us more. Indeed, left to ourselves we would be lost.
Thanks be to God that we are not left to ourselves. Paul’s remedy is to move our focus heavenward. We are to eagerly await for heaven. But really we do not wait for heaven, because heaven is a present reality, it is ours now. We may have to wait to move in, but heaven is ours now. As Paul says, our citizenship is in heaven. We are merely visitors here on this earth. As we can see, our citizenship is one with privileges and responsibilities. We have the privilege of knowing that our fellowship with the Father in heaven has been restored by Jesus, but we also have the responsibility, as we have been talking about, of being good examples for others.
We do eagerly await for heaven because we know that heaven is where we will be perfect. Everyone and everything in heaven will be like the world before the fall into sin, perfect. We will live in perfect fellowship with each other and with Jesus. There will be no more pain and suffering, no more sorrow or tears, no more temptation or sin. Only perfection, only holiness, only joy.
And heaven, like hell, is eternal. When the Lord returns or when we pass on, that is die the physical death we will all die, unless the Lord returns first, and leave this earth we will go to only one place or the other, either heaven or hell. There will be no movement from one place or the other. Upon one’s judgement we will either live in hell for eternity, remaining absent from God and His love. Or we will live in heaven for eternity, remaining in Jesus’ presence and love forever.
As we await our entrance into the Lord’s kingdom in heaven we continue to prepare ourselves for that entrance. We prepare ourselves by making use of the means of grace, by reading our Bibles, by remembering our Baptism, by confessing our sins and hearing those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and by making use of the Lord’s Supper, partaking of His body and blood and thus participating in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We prepare ourselves by continuing to focus our attention on the important things, the cross of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion. As we are reminded, there can be no glory without the cross. The Holy Spirit continues to work through the means of grace to point us to the cross of Christ so that we might be assured of our forgiveness and strengthened in our faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
As we await our entrance into the Lord’s kingdom in heaven we also continue to prepare ourselves for that entrance by looking at and following the example of Paul and all the saints who have gone on before us. Notice I did not say that we are to worship or pray to Paul and all the saints that have gone on before us, but we are to set their lives up as examples for us to follow. Besides, it would do no good to pray to them or to worship them because they would not be able to hear us anyway. Heaven is a place of perfection and it would not be perfection if all those in heaven could hear how things were here on earth. Only God can hear our prayers and our worship.
And finally, as we await our entrance into the Lord’s kingdom in heaven we also prepare ourselves for that entrance by, with the help of the Holy Spirit, being examples for others. Certainly we realize that we are not perfect, we are still sinful human beings, yet, with the help of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace He does help us to be the good examples that He wants us to be, as we live our lives with our focus heavenward and to His glory. We are imperfect humans, yet good examples as we exemplify God’s love and forgiveness in our lives such that others know that although we fail, although we sin much we are forgiven as God’s grace abounds in our lives.
One last reminder. I have said it before and I will say it again, our actions do speak louder than our words and our action often betray us. Our actions show if our life focus is heavenward or earthward. Our actions show if our life focus is on the things of God or on the things of this world. I would exhort you to remember that your citizenship is in heaven, that heaven is where will live our real lives, for eternity, not just the short sixty, eighty or hundred years on this earth, and that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir in your heart to keep your focus heavenward as you make use of the means of grace. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.