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Showing posts with label Communion of Saints. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Communion of Saints. Show all posts

Monday, October 24, 2022

You Are Not Alone

Kids are scary.  Once, when my daughter was maybe two years old, I was sleeping peacefully when I was startled from my sleep in the middle of the night.  There, in the dark, just inches from my face, I saw two big blue eyes staring at me!  After just a moment of shock, it registered that this was the face of my blonde-haired, blue eyed daughter.  She'd woken from a dream and was scared in the dark, so she silently wandered into her parents' room for comfort.  We welcomed her into our bed, where she immediately curled up and fell back asleep.

For some reason, we often don’t want to be alone when we’re afraid.  When we’re afraid as kids, we run to our parents or someone strong who can protect us.  When we’re afraid because we’re facing uncertainty, we want the company of those who have faced our situation before.  Sometimes, we just want someone to be with us so we’re not alone.  

Today, I want to reassure you:  you are not alone in your fear.

Hebrews 11:1
Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see

It Starts with Faith
Faith is the key to so much in life because we can’t see what the future holds.  We don’t know what tomorrow may bring, let alone what will happen next week or next year.  We hope for something good and the Bible says God has good plans for us, but we can’t see the good that will come or the God who promises to give it to us.  

That’s where faith is the key.  Faith shows us the reality of what we hope for.  We hope that God is good, that God loves us, that God has the power to do good for us. That is our hope.  Faith shows us it is true.  Faith is the evidence.  

Through the lens of faith, we can see the love and power of God through all the events of life.  Where others who lack faith see nothing, we see the power and goodness of God.  Where others, who lack faith, see terror and tragedy and disappointment, we see God helping us, healing us, and even using bad things that He didn't want to happen for our good.  Faith in the lens that enables us to interpret events as the work of  good God.

The 11th chapter of Hebrews gives a long list of people whose faith helped them do amazing things.  Noah built the Ark and saved the animals and his family from the flood so the world could have a fresh start.  Abraham left his homeland and went to the Promised Land where God gave him so many descendants we can't even count them all.  His wife, Sarah, was able to have a child even though she was barren and too old.  By faith, Moses was saved from the Nile River and raised by Pharaoh's daughter.  Later, by faith, Moses delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  By faith, Joshua led the Israelites to conquer Jericho and all of Canaan.  By faith, Rahab, who was a Canaanite, was saved from destruction and became one of God’s chosen people—and ancestor of King David and later Jesus the Christ.  By faith, all these people did amazing things because they trusted God and He helped them.

But there are others mentioned too—people whose life story did not have a happy ending—at least, not by the world’s standards and not in this life.  Some were scorned, some were abused, tortured, or even murdered because of their faith in God.  But by faith, they understood they were not defeated because God vindicated them in the afterlife.  These faithful martyrs from the past faced persecution and death willingly because their faith helped them see it was better to honor God than keep their life.  They believed in God’s goodness and trusted Him even to the point of death.  As Hebrews 11:35 says, “They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.”  And so, now they have it.  We need not feel sorry for them.  We can even envy their eternal reward because they where special crown in eternity that honors their faithful witness in death.

Through faith, we can see that God didn’t abandon the world, even though our sin was terrible.  “For," John 3:16 says, "God loved the world so much, He sent His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

Faith is the key to so much in life.

Have Faith in Yourself
You have to have faith in yourself.  You have to believe you can succeed.  Of course you have to put in the effort to train and prepare for success.  But even if you full prepare for success and don't believe in yourself, you will fail.  You have to prepare and have faith that you will succeed or you have already defeated yourself.  So you have to believe you can do it or you can't.


Have Faith in Others
The truth is we can't fully succeed in life on our own.  We need other people.  That's the life works.  You need to be able to have faith in other people.  You need others to succeed.  That's why it's so important that you surround yourself with people you can count on--people who will tell you the truth, people who will help and encourage you, people who will help you be your best.  Otherwise, if you can't have faith in the people around you, they will pull you down.  (It's also important to say you should be the kind of person others can have faith in too.  They need you to help them also.)

Have Faith is God
We also need to have faith in something bigger than ourselves.  If we only having faith in ourselves and others, we will be very limited in what we can accomplish.  We may accomplish some good things, but greatness will elude us because we will be limited by our human abilities.  God has big plans for you, bigger than what you can do on your own (or even with the help of others).  If David (from the Bible) only trusted in his ability (or even the ability of the army of Israel), he never would have stepped forward to fight the giant, Goliath.  He was just a skinny kid who couldn't even wear armor or pick up a sword.  David trusted God was able to give him the victory and he went to battle based on his faith in God.  When we trust God, He enables us to do great things--greater than we can do on our own.  So we must have faith in God.

One of the great things God does for us is save us from our sin, through Christ, for eternal life.  Do you trust God?  Do you have faith in Him?  Will you let Christ be your Lord?

You Are Not Alone
In the Old Testament, God spoke to reassure His people in their time of distress in Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

You are not alone!  In the New Testament, Jesus reassured His followers in Matthew 28:20, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end

of the age.”  I'm sure the Twelve Disciples were afraid and overwhelmed by the prospect of going out into the whole world to make disciples for Jesus.  The "whole world" is a big, scary place!  So Jesus said they could be sure He was always with them.  And Jesus said He would be with His disciples to the end of the age.  "The Age" hasn't ended yet and we are Jesus' disciples if we call Him Lord.  So that means Jesus is with us too!  And it means we have a big job to do--to make disciples of all nations.

So we see that God is with us in the midst of everything we face in life.  Hebrews 12:1 gives even more encouragement to those who have faith.  You are not alone!  Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

You are not alone in your fear or in any of life’s struggles or victories.  All the famous heroes of the Bible are cheering you own!  Abraham, Moses, David, the Twelve Disciples are cheering for you!  Not only that, your friends and love ones who trusted Jesus and have died and gone to be with Him, they are cheering you on too!  You can think of many of the names of your Christian loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord.  They are cheering for you!  You are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses to the life of faith who are rooting for you!

So, DO NOT BE AFRAID!  God is with you!  His faithful people are with you too!

Closing Meditation
Imagine a great cloud of witnesses surrounding you.  Among them are Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets, and the Twelve Disciples.  Among them are the many Christian martyrs who gave their lives for the faith over the last 2,000 years.  Among them also are so many of the people you've loved who have died and gone to be with Jesus in Heaven.  

They are so proud of you.  They are cheering for you, encouraging you, rooting for you to succeed.  They understand the difficulties you face, because they faced them too and they made it through.  The know you are scared or overwhelmed, but they know you can make it through.  They are rooting for you!

I also want you to know that God, in Jesus, is with you too. He is not angry.  He is not disappointed.  He loves you.  He loves you so much He died for you.  Imagine Jesus calling out to you.  He says, “Come to me, you who are weary and carrying a heavy burden. Give it to me. I offer rest for your weary soul.  I have something better for you.  It isn’t hard to carry.  And you don’t have to carry it alone.  I will walk with you and help you.  And all these saints around you will be there too, cheering you on.  And there will be many Christians in this world who will help you too.  For in my Church, we are family—brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are not alone.  Don’t be afraid.  I am with you."

Let the reality of this scene wash over you.  You cannot see it with your physical eyes.  See it with the eyes of faith and believe,  Amen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Singing to God

I get it.  I know how you feel.  Worship online is just not the same as being in a congregation full of people singing praises to God with all their hearts.  Yet, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that's what many need to do in order to be safe and to keep others safe as well.  So, we sit on our couches and look at the computer screens and we watch church.

One of the hardest parts of online worship is the singing.  When you are at church with a group of people, the singing just feels more natural. Your voice blends with the chorus of everyone else.  Together, you are a congregation praising God and it doesn't matter so much how your individual voice sounds.  Unfortunately, when you are staring at a computer screen in your home for online worship, it just feels flat and awkward to sing.  You feel alone and exposed singing all by yourself--even if your family is in the room with you.  That's not easy for most people.

It's ok to feel a little awkward, but I encourage you to sing anyway.

Here's the thing.  You aren't singing alone.  Even if you are not physically present with other people, you are still worshipping with them.  Whether the other people are on the stage at your church leading worship or in the sanctuary congregation singing or even sitting on their own couch in their own home, you are still singing with them.  The act of worship binds our spirits together--even if we aren't in the same location.  This might seem awkward at first, but mainly because we aren't used to it.  

One of the sweetest memories from my early childhood was listening to my Grandma sing and hum church hymns as she cleaned or cooked in the kitchen.  Her voice wasn't exceptional and she wasn't singing for anyone else.  The hymns simply brought joy to her heart as she worked.  She didn't mind singing all by herself.  Why should I?

Many people enjoy singing in the shower or in their car while they are alone.  It's a great stress reliever.  However, when we sing as we worship God, we are not alone.  We are singing along with our brothers and sisters in Christ wherever they are.

The idea that our spirits are united through worship--even if we are not physically present together--has always been the belief of the Christian Church.  For example, when we recite the Apostles' Creed, we affirm, "I believe in... the communion of saints..."  The communion of saints is the fellowship of all Christian believers--both those who are still living in this world and those who have gone on to live with Christ in eternity.  

Hebrews 12:1 famously says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles."  That "great cloud of witnesses" is the gathered saints who have gone before us.  As we worship, they are gathered with us.  

I get it.  It still feels awkward to be in your living room by yourself singing to a computer screen in online worship.  But if we try, perhaps we can use our imagination to recognize a great spiritual truth.  You are not singing alone.  You are singing along with everyone else who is worshipping Jesus--regardless of where they are.  Furthermore, you are also singing with the saints in glory standing around the throne of God, lifting up their voices with the angels to the One who made us all.  

You are not singing to an image on a screen or even a minister on a stage.  You are singing to the One who died on a cross and rose from the grave to save you.  Your voice--yes even your voice--makes Him smile.  He loves the beautiful sound of your voice as you worship Him from a sincere heart in song!

So don't hold back.  Don't be ashamed.  Sing like no one is watching.  Sing with all your heart!  If you can sing in the shower or in your car, you can sing your heart out for the One who gave you a voice.  Sing (and even dance) like David as he unashamedly brought the Ark into Jerusalem, for you are singing to the only One who is worthy of our worship and praise.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What is a Saint?

            One of the most popular holidays in America is Halloween.  And why shouldn't it be?  It's great!  You get to dress up in costumes and have all kids of fun; and there's free candy!  What's not to like?
            What most people don't know is that we wouldn't have Halloween without a lesser known Christian holiday called All-Saint Day on November 1st.  Halloween (AKA All Hallows Eve) is the night before All Hallows Day (AKA All Saints Day), the day we honor and remember all the Christian saints who have gone to Heaven to be with the Lord.
            In my church, we often recite The Apostles' Creed to remind everyone what we believe.  There are two statements in the cred that are confuse people.  First we say, "We believe in the Holy Catholic Church."  However, we are not saying we believe in the Roman Catholic Church.  The word "Catholic" means universal.  We believe in the holy universal church that is made up of every person who calls Jesus Lord and Savior--regardless of which denomination they belong to or which local church they attend.  The Holy Catholic Church is the universal church of Christ that has existed throughout all time and we believe in that Church.
            A second statement in the Creed that is little understood is this:  "We believe in the communion of saints."  Many people struggle to know what that means.  What is the communion of saints?  Even more basic, what is a saint?  And the answer to that inquiry is the theme of this blog.  So let us start our investigation by going to the Word of God where Revelation describes a scene of the saints gathered for worship in Heaven. I will make some of my own comments (in italics) about the passage as we read through it.

Revelation 7:9-17
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
    and from the Lamb!”
            Notice the parallel here between this scene in Heaven and the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday a week before his crucifixion.  In both stories, there are palm branches.  In both stories, people are praising Jesus.  On Palm Sunday, the people had high hopes for what Jesus, the Messiah would do for them.  They believed Jesus would drive out the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom according to their worldly wishes.  When Jesus did not fulfill their expectations because his plans were different, the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus and crucified him.  But in this vision of Heaven in Revelation, the people know who Jesus really is and they submit to his plans as Lord rather than expecting him to conform to theirs.  They worship Jesus in spirit and in truth for who he really is.  He is the Lamb of God! 
            Notice also, that the saints are clothed in white robes.  They are innocent.  We will see as we continue to read that their innocence--their white robes--is not a result of their own holy character; it is possible because of what the Lamb has done.
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
    and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
    forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
             The Greek used for "great tribulation" could also be translated "great suffereing" or "great ordeal". This life is full of suffering--both in good times and in bad times. Of course we know there is suffering when we go through trials, when we face sickness or someone we love dies. But there is often suffering in good times as well, for prosperity often makes us lazy and apathetic and leads us away from God--and this is another kind of suffering, maybe even worse because it so sinisterly leads us astray from the source of true joy.
            We see here why the saints who have died and gone to Heaven are innocent and wear white robes.  It is possible because they have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, that was shed on the cross.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
    and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
    will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
    they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
    will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
    And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
            The saints worship and glorify Jesus because all the suffering is over.  True goodness has come.  The saints have the reward graciously given to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. 
A Saint Isn’t What You Might Think
            There is some confusion about saints, probably because of the way the Roman Catholic Church has put some saints on a pedestal.  The Roman Catholic Church has a whole process for determining who is a saint.  They base their decision on a rigorous investigation of a person's life.  Roman Catholics are venerated as a saint only if they lived a particularly virtuous life and have at least miracles associated with them.  If Roman Catholic authorities determine a person to be a saint, then people can pray to them and ask them to intercede for them with God.  So in the Roman Catholic tradition, for instance, people can pray to St. Mary or St. Teresa.
            There are serious problems with this way of thinking and practicing the Christian faith.  First of all, it is not biblical, for the Word of God clearly teaches that no one is good; all innocence is brought by God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."  Therefore, it is preposterous to consider any person a saint (or even more saintly) based on the virtuous life they've lived.  No one can be called a saint because of their own actions.  As Isaiah 64:6 says, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags."
            More important, why would we want to pray to a saint when we can pray directly God?  We do not need anyone--on earth or even in heaven--to intercede for us.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord of Lord, the King of Kings, our friend, our redeemer, our brother, our Savior himself interceded for us to God.  Who could possibly be better than him?  Hebrews 10:21-22 – "And since we have a great High Priest [Jesus Christ] who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him."  Why would we choose an inferior person to intercede for us when we already have Jesus? 

What, Then, Is a Saint?             Saint is the word the New Testament writers most often used to describe Christians—the people who believe in and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  In the King James Version, the word "Christian" is only used 3 times by New Testament writes to describe the people who follow Jesus.  Instead, they used the word "saint" 62 times.  Today, we call Jesus followers Christians, but in the New Testament they called them saints.  So, quite simply, a saint is a Christian.
            The Greek word for saint means set apart, separate, and holy.  As I have described in previous blogs (look here), holy means different and set apart for a special purpose.  Saints are chosen to think different, act different, look different, sound different, and be different from the world.

Communion of Saints
            In Revelation 7:9-17, we see the saints are gathered around the throne of God worshipping the Lamb.  When we gather on earth to worship, we join with them.  We call this worshipful gathering of all the saints--living here on earth and living in eternity--the communion of saints.  It's part of what we claim to believe when we recite the Apostles' Creed. 
            Isn't it a wonderful thought to reflect that we are one with the saints in glory--including the heroes of our faith and our loved ones who trusted in Christ and are know with him in heaven--as we worship God!  If there was ever motivation for regular Sunday worship, it is the idea that we gather together with our friends and loved ones and all the saints in glory to worship God each Sunday in the Holy Catholic Church.  Do you miss your loved one?  Then come to worship and know that they are with you in spirit.  You may not be able to see them or touch them in a physical sense, but they are living and worshipping God just as we are!  And there is even more...
            In Hebrews, the Word of God tells us the saints are cheering us on as we live our life for Christ in this world.  Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."  The crowd of witnesses cheering us on are the saints in glory.
            This past week, I had the privilege of cheering on one of my church members, Kate Roberts, as she competed in a high school cross country race.  We stood along the side of the race route and cheered for Kate and the other runners as they ran.  I hope our cheering offered encouragement to the runners as they pushed their bodies to the limit.
            Long distance running is as much a mental struggle as physical.  As you run, your muscles begin to complain to your mind, "What are you doing to us?  Why are you doing this?  This is hard!  Just stop!  Give up!"  And your brain is saying, "No!  I'm gonna keep going!  Don't give up!  I can do this!"  And since it is a long distance run, you have quite a lot of time to have this internal conflict between your brain and your body.  And it has always encouraged me, when my body starts to wear me down with it's unending complaining, when I pass a group of spectators on the side of the race route who are cheering and shouting things like, "You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  Don't give up!  You're almost there!"  It gives me the encouragement I need to keep going.
            It's a beautiful image for the life of faith for it is a long distance run, not a sprint.  And there are a lot of tough hills to climb in this life and a lot of time to contemplate the internal conflicts within your spirit.  One voice says, "This is too hard!  Why are you doing it?  What's the point?  Why don't you just give up?"  And you just keep going, trusting that you can make it, that it's important, that there is a point to all of this struggling and hard work.  Isn't it good to know that as we run this race, the saint--both living on earth and those in glory--are cheering us on saying, "Don't give up! You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  You're almost there!"  And isn't it wonderful encouragement to know in that crowd are heroes from the Bible like Noah who had to build and ark, and Abraham who had a son in his old age, and Joseph who overcame slavery, and Moses who was floated on the Nile river as a baby, and even Christians who were tortured or killed because they believed in Christ?  And doesn't it inspire awe to know even your loved ones whom you have lost from this life are there cheering you on saying, "You can do this!  I made and you can too! Don't give up!  Keep pushing!"  That is the communion of the saints. 

The Take Home
            Let me give you a few take homes as I close.  Number one, you are a saint if you trust in Jesus.  You don't have to be perfect.  You don't have to be someone like Mother Teresa.  You don't get one of those white robes because you are particularly virtuous. You are saint because Jesus shed his blood for you.  If you trust Him with your whole heart and follow Him as Lord, he washes you white as snow and you become one of his saints.
            Number two, always remember:  we are one congregation with the saints in glory worshiping God together.  Don't miss out on the chance to gather with the saints on a regular basis for weekly worship.  Do you miss your loved ones who have passed away from this life to the next?  Do you admire the saints that have gone before you?  Then gather with them each week in the communion of the saints as we worship the one who redeems us from our sins and unites us in the hope of eternal life.
            Number three:  the saints are cheering you on throughout your life; be encouraged.  When you feel down or discourage, when the great struggles of life make you want to quite, imagine the saints cheering you--the Christian heroes from the Bible and history, and even your loved ones.  Hear their voices encouraging you and don't give up.  You can do it!
            Lastly, I want to give you the invitation.  If you have not already done so, join the ranks of Jesus' saints today.  You don't need a church committee to investigate your life and approve of you.  All you need is to bow your head and pray: "Lord, forgive me of my sins.  Wash me clean with the blood you shed on the cross.  I give you my life.  I will follow you all my days.  Amen."  Pray this from your heart and let the Holy Spirit help you live it and Jesus will give a white robe and call you saint.