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Kingdom

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24

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After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve began to feel shame, covering themselves with fig leaves, and hiding from God. God searched them out and asked them four questions – all of which he already knew the answers (see the text below).

  1. Where are you?
  2. Who told you that you were naked?
  3. Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?
  4. What is this you have done?

God asked these questions to help Adam and Eve own their sinful rebellion, and confess to him, looking to him for redemption and help. Alas, however, such was not to be the case: Adam and Eve both played the blame game, had no faith in God that he could undo their terrible deed, and got honest enough only to admit that they were ashamed of their nakedness.

God gave the first Gospel promise in v. 15 (speaking to the serpent):

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

There would come a descendant of the woman (Christ) who would crush the head of the serpent (Satan), but who would suffer a mortal wound in the process. It would cost Jesus his life to defeat the devil. But he would do so, and even then his death would be a mere bruised heel in the context of eternity, for as we know, Jesus rose from the dead and reigns on high at the right hand of God.

There is the curious conclusion to this chapter when God determines to keep Adam and Eve from taking the fruit of the tree of life from the garden and live forever. Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and angelic sentinels are posted to prevent them from attaining immortality while on this earth. 

God wanted man not to live eternally in this state of fallenness, as “poor miserable sinners.” This benefit would come to those who sought God’s reign in Christ and the salvation that he offers by grace, received by faith. 

You might wonder just how merciful such an action was. Wouldn’t it be better to live eternally here on earth? On a good day we might think so. But as we age, or see our parents aging and dealing with the onslaught of physical frailty, we might reconsider. What if you didn’t have the hope of a new heaven and new earth? What if truly even the best of life here and now was as good as it gets? 

The Preacher says, “he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words God has designed us so that there is a sense of transcendence and spiritual reality that is the faint echo of eternal glory. When we yearn for something better, for justice, truth and love, it is because though guarded, God has revealed the existence of such things. And though guarded from experiencing them fully on this earth, we have been promised this eternal glory in the life of the world to come.

Genesis 3:7-21

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

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!

Psalm 72:15-19

Long may he live;
    may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
    and blessings invoked for him all the day!
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
    like the grass of the field!
17 May his name endure forever,
    his fame continue as long as the sun!
May people be blessed in him,
    all nations call him blessed!

18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

Nativity (4 of 55)

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, Kailash Satyarthi, Tawakkol Karman, Liu Xiaobo, Muhammad Yunus, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Martti Ahtisaari, and Leymah Gbowee all have something in common: they have all been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As to their worthiness, I will leave you to decide. Many would wish them to be successful in their various ventures. Each has his or her enemies and detractors as well.

Solomon describes the glory, worship, and fame of Jesus Christ – some 1000 years before his birth. These effusive words of praise overflow in their delight and hopefulness. This one surely will be acknowledged as a worthy recipient of glory, honor, worship, and praise! We can even see the fulfillment of verse 15 in the gifts of the magi.

Sadly, however, Jesus does not receive the universal fame he deserves. Groups openly oppose public displays depicting his birth. People scoff at the idea that Jesus is the only Son of God, and our only hope for salvation. Jesus is rejected wholesale by worldly, wealthy, famous, and intellectual elites.

Be that as it may, Jesus is worthy of all our praises. His name will endure forever. He is the source of eternal joy, peace, hope, and salvation. People are blessed in him, and people from every tribe, nation, language, and class honor him as Lord. I cannot say it better than the psalmist:

Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

Isaiah 11:6-10

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

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Imagine a Christmas party where Hillary Clinton sits with Rand Paul, Donald Trump enjoys conversation with Bernie Sanders. Promoters of the Keystone Pipeline engage in congenial interaction with members of the Sierra Club, and American Civil Liberties Union members interact with National Rifle Association members. Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Libertarians, Socialists, and Anarchists no longer divided, accusing, condemning, or undercutting: That would be a miracle. That would be heaven. That would the the perfect rule and reign of God.

There is only one way that will ever happen, and it has nothing to do with political, economic, social, or legal solutions. It won’t be voted in. It won’t be won by a war to end all wars. It will be established when God chooses to end all the fighting, war, bloodshed, immorality, destruction, and sin on earth and reveal to all the triumph of his Son Jesus Christ.

On that day Christ shall stand as a signal for all peoples – all ethnic groups, nations, tribes, languages, peoples, and classes will see that the way of faith and fear and love for God is the only way to life. The root of Jesse – whom we know to be Jesus – will be our focus, joy, hope, salvation, and peace. That was promised 2750 years ago by Isaiah. It was seen for a while in the life and ministry of Jesus. It will be fully experienced on the Great Last Day and in the life of the world to come.

Come Lord Jesus!