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Kingdom

Daniel 2:44

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.

Revelation 12:10

John wrote: Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah.”

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Heaven is a glorious place, filled with wonder and praise. We will all together see our Savior’s face, and delight in eternal joy when we’re there. The bible pictures heaven as a city with gold-paved streets, a grand palace with many rooms, a garden of beauty and peace, or a grand gala celebration. Heaven is also a place where there will be no more tears, pain, sickness, or death.

There will be no need for bars or gates. The walls will be beautiful and symbolic of those through whom God revealed his will, word, promises, and call to repent and believe. It is eternal and yet to be fully experienced until the Great Last Day. Then we will delight together with all the redeemed in the glory of God and his gift of salvation.

Next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, consider this: We ask God to have his will done on earth – just as it is done in heaven. We seek God’s favor here and now as it will be fully experienced in heaven. We ask for a foretaste of the life of the world to come when we call on God to act in our behalf.

One day we’ll be there, stunned by God’s grace and majestic glory. Until then we embrace the rule and reign of God over all things by faith. That is a rule of grace and love for which we can thank and praise God even as we look forward to heaven.

Malachi 3:10

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

2 Corinthians 9:6

The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

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Not too long ago we toured the Vatican and other religious sites in Rome. Only upon reflection do I begin to see how the beauty of these cathedrals and church buildings too easily become museums and spectacles rather than storehouses of blessings for God’s people. The art is wonderful. The architecture is amazing. The scale is inspiring. But the purpose is lost on me. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy seeing these things. And I want to be careful not to judge too harshly. But there is something not quite right about turning a house of prayer into a museum for gawkers.

The Lord, through Malachi, speaks of bringing the whole tithe to the house of the Lord. He promises that then his storehouses will be filled with food. Surely it is God’s intent that this food do more than rot away in storage. The abundance of blessing is for the benefit of the people: the priests, the caretakers, and the poor.

There is a great blessing to be experienced when the church has sufficient funds to supply the needs of the poor. It is a delightful experience to provide help when it is urgently needed. A church with sufficient funds is not an end in itself. The bountiful sowing and reaping of financial blessing is to be a testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness, not an opportunity to hoard wealth or line the walls or pockets of the church and her servants.

Lest we become too smug in all this, let us be certain to give generously, sowing for abundant blessings to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbor.

Isaiah 5:21 (NIV)

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

1 Corinthians 13:2

If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

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Perhaps you know someone who thinks he hung the moon; someone who knows everything, understands every mystery, is able to see through all deception, and clearly is aware of his unique status. No one else is able to stand up to him. No one else has the wisdom he has. Perhaps you know someone like that. It’s unlikely that you are best buddies.

Maybe there is a political candidate who is like that. Perhaps he speaks for you. Maybe you aren’t best buds, but he is your best hope: someone who will straighten out all those yahoos in Washington, or someone who will stand up to all the special interest groups. He doesn’t so much say what you want to hear; he says what you want to say.

Danger! “Woe to those,”  Isaiah says “who are wise in their own eyes.” Too many times I have seen the champions of curmudgeonry rise to prominence only to see them taken down by those who put them there in the first place.

Whatever else you might say about the current political climate – especially and notably the Republican presidential candidate debate last night (2/25/16) – Dr. Ben Carson’s line was likely the line of the night. He said, “Would someone please attack me?!?” The most respectful, and probably the most intelligent, a man of high character, and strong Christian values will likely not be nominated for President. But based on what I see, and on what is told us in 1 Corinthians 13, he is not nothing (pardon the double negative).

Humility and love don’t win debates. But these attributes further the cause of the rule and reign of Christ; they give testimony to his rule and reign in our hearts whenever we display them.

Philippians 2:14-20

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

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I recall vividly an event that occurred almost 40 years ago. I was going to the mail box in our apartment in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We were early in our second year of seminary and facing some financial challenges that were nearly insurmountable. I had considered dropping out of school and getting a job, saving up for a return as soon as possible.

That morning, however, began a series of events that changed all those plans. It started with a plain white envelope in the mail with no return address and a type-written note wrapped around three $100 bills saying, “The Lord cares about everything.”Later that week we learned that anonymous donors were giving us gifts that made it possible to stay in the seminary and complete my second year in preparation for my vicarage (internship) and final year of school.

Fruit increased to people’s credit whom we will never know through this kindness. It was truly a fragrant offering. It was evidence of God’s promise to satisfy our every need according to his riches.

Note well, also, how Paul ties this to Jesus Christ, and focuses all the praise to “our God and Father.” I am convinced that gifts such as this are meant not only to relieve immediate needs and testify to God’s present goodness, but also to provide us with a foretaste of the complete provision of God’s salvation that is to come on the Great Last Day. This supply will last for all eternity – a supply of praise to God, joy for the saved, and glory unlike anything we have ever experienced in this life.

Somehow these gifts increase to the credit of those who give them. But ultimately all credit goes to God, with those who have received the gifts and those who have given them saying, To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen!

Philippians 2:25-30

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

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We have launched our second mission start since I have come to St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. The first, LifeBridge Church is led by Pastor Michael Meissner, and will soon be building on their site on Mueschke Road – just under 6 miles from St. John. The other is Cypress Chapel, which meets on St. John’s campus but is a separately functioning ministry, founded upon a missional community approach to mission. These are both unique ministries, led by incredible mission pastors, and spawned by significant kingdom investments of St. John.

The investments which have been made in these starts include not only money, but people. And in both cases the people investments have been significant: two talented and gifted pastors, plus a number of families in each case have gone on from our fellowship and are making up the core of these churches. I can understand how Paul and the people of Philippi must have felt in their mutual investment/reinvestment of Epaphroditus and Timothy, together with the financial support the Philippian church had given Paul for his continued mission efforts.

This Sunday Pastor Stephen DeMik will be back at St. John while Diane and I are away. The following Wednesday Pastor Michael Meissner will lead the midweek Lenten worship services in our absence. I am certain there will be great joy on the part of people who see and hear these faithful servants, as well as their joy in connecting with the people of God at St. John. I thank God for these brothers and urge people of St. John to receive them with great joy, honoring them for the work that they are doing for the Lord’s kingdom. I don’t think either of them has come even remotely close to death (unlike Epaphroditus!), but I do know that they and their families have made significant personal sacrifices to birth these missional ministries.

Sometimes kingdom investments pay dividends we could not have imagined. In one case very generous financial donors went with a mission start. Thanks be to God, however, he raised up others who have more than filled the gap. And as people have gone to these mission starts, God has allowed us to connect with other new folks in his mission at St. John. A kingdom investment is truly that: an investment. It is a delight

Psalm 136:3–4

O give thanks to the Lord of lords, who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Ephesians 3:20–21

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Sebastian & Co

When it comes to the New Year, I’m like many others: hope takes root in my being. I’m not really big on New Year’s Resolutions, but I am big on looking forward with anticipation to what the New Year will bring.

We have planned a major trip this summer, and I’m looking forward to that. We look forward to seeing our 9 grandchildren and their parents, as well as our single son over the coming months. I have registered for a one-day photography intensive to which I am also looking forward. We’ll host people in our home, enjoy some great friendships and other experiences.

We also anticipate welcoming a new associate pastor to St. John early this year. Together with the launch of Cypress Chapel, and the on-going mission of God at St. John, we anticipate many challenges and opportunities to see God’s faithfulness and favor at work in our lives.

All of these are blessings from God for which we will give thanks.

Truth be told, however, we have no idea of how the year will play out. There will surely be “crazy Ivans*” thrown our way along the path of 2016. Unexpected illnesses, a death or two, economic challenges, or personal struggles of one kind or another will surely come along.

That is why I keep in mind the foundation of life: the goodness and steadfast love of God. I also embrace a hope: God can accomplish abundantly far more than all we ask or imagine. These twin pillars of truth hold up a life of hope and confidence founded in God’s character and promises. For that reason I do give thanks to God for his past faithfulness, and give him the glory for his favor in Jesus Christ now, in the New Year, and forevermore!

  • A “crazy Ivan”is an unexpected turn of events, or an unexpected and radical change in direction, literally or metaphorically. The term came to my attention in the movie Hunt for Red October, where it refers to a sudden change in direction of a Soviet submarine in an effort to see if the sub was being followed. Thankfully God is never surprised by our sudden changes in direction – nor by those around us. He knows all things and is never surprised by any turn of events.

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

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Certainly thousands of people have gotten it wrong over the years about Jesus’ rule and reign. Some have made it about a particular political agenda or philosophy. Others have made it about a very narrow understanding of moral behavior. Still others have made the rule and reign of Jesus Christ all about certain theological formulas, churchly rites, or triumph of nations.

I believe Jesus’ rule and reign is all about his redemptive work taking hold in a person’s heart, and showing itself in the worship of God in truth and Spirit, love for brother and sister in Christ, and love for others that serves our neighbor’s earthly and eternal well being.

There are others who are committed to the demise of Christian thought and belief. Whether for selfish, political, religious, or social reasons, they see the rule and reign of Christ Jesus as an impediment to their agenda. They are driven by hatred, self-righteousness, willful defiance of God’s laws, or a supposed superior understanding of life and the world.

There are times and places where these are apparently winning the battle. Jesus’ followers have been murdered and persecuted. God’s ways are abandoned. Evil reigns unimpeded. Make no mistake: all is not perfectly in line with God’s will for his creatures and creation. For now.

But the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Some will do so under duress. Others will do so in joyful celebration of the consummation of Jesus’ redemption. I look forward to that day, and I’m ready for that Day!