Fractured Families

A couple of days ago I wrote about the blessings of family — and I meant that sincerely.  However, in case you are thinking that my family is perfect, and we have great relationships with everyone — well, think again.  We’re no different than any other family this side of heaven.

My father was not a great dad.  He was never abusive, and he loved us, but he was not a good provider, and he was pretty self absorbed and neglectful. We weren’t estranged, and I forgave him, but we never enjoyed the close relationship you would hope to have with your dad.

One of my brothers is an alcoholic.  This disease has warped his personality and his ability to get along with others  It’s difficult to understand the way he behaves and thinks.  Some family members don’t want to be around him at all.

There are extended family members I never took the time to know and appreciate.  At my Aunt Lois’s funeral ( see How Aunt Lois Spent Her Time), her pastor spoke about what a wonderful Christian woman she was.  Evidently she was quick to visit the sick and homebound in the congregation with food and treats, and she taught Sunday School for over thirty-five years.  Sadly, I was “too busy” with my own life and children to spend time with her (although she invited me).

I could go on, listing my own failings and the failings of my relatives.  For now, all of our families are fractured, and sometimes we heal imperfectly and sometimes we never heal at all.  The good news?  As Christians, we get a do-over.  In heaven:

‘He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

When we get there, we (God’s family) will all be everything He created us to be.  We will not even remember our sinful habits and desires;  our relationships will be restored; and we will have eternity to be with one another.  If family is a blessing in the here and now, imagine what it will be like then!

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Celebrating the Best Beginning

This song composed by David Ruis is a celebration of the best new beginning we will ever experience.  We sing it on Via de Cristo retreats.  Listening to it will cause you to long for that day when we dance with Christ on the streets that are golden!

“The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.”  Revelation 21:21

 

 

 

Hopeful Saints

This past Sunday I was on vacation visiting my younger daughter and her husband in South Carolina, so I got to attend a different church and hear a different pastor preach.  I always enjoy this — seeing what other saints are doing and how they are thinking.  The message was a good one, a reminder that as saints we can be hopeful.

Many people today are fearful — they are afraid of their own death, and they are afraid that the world will end through some man-created catastrophe — global warming, nuclear war, an unstoppable plague etc..  These fears have always been around, and so far it hasn’t happened.  The Bible actually tells us that although the world as we know it will come to an end, it’s not our job to predict or worry about how it will happen. When that day comes, it will be like a thief in the night — something we probably aren’t expecting at all.

The best news that as Christians, we know that the end of our life or even the end of  the world will actually be a blessing.  Why?  Well, when that happens all God’s saints will be:

  • Raised
  • Reunited
  • Restored
  • Rewarded

The Bible tells us that our bodies will be resurrected.  We will be ourselves, but without the aches and pains, the sinful desires, the anxiety and depression that we experience now.  We will be reunited, with Christian friends and family members who have gone before us.  We will get a chance to meet some of the great cloud of witnesses–saints of the Bible or from history that we admire.  What would you like to ask Martin Luther?  or Mother Teresa?  or the apostle Paul?  The world itself will be restored to it’s pre-fall condition.  I guess that means no disease, no destructive weather, no failed crops.  The most beautiful scenery we have ever seen will be surpassed by the beauty of God’s world in that day.  Finally, we’ll be rewarded by the continuing presence of our Lord.  What could be better than that?

As saints, we have nothing to fear.  We can be hopeful.  God will never leave us or forsake us.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4

 

 

I Want to Be in that Number

“Blessed are they who do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” -Revelation 22:14

The origins of this black spiritual are unclear, but it was popularized when Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1938.  In the New Orleans tradition of a “jazz funeral”  it is often used as a dirge to accompany the casket to the grave.  Our month on saints would not be complete without giving it a listen.  Imagine yourself entering God’s heavenly kingdom as one of company of saints!  Don’t you want to be in that number?

 

 

Churches Need to Repent, too

As part of our Fanning the Flame process, my husband, our Pastor, has asked the church council to do the exercise I described earlier:  pray and meditate, making a list of sins and repenting.  There’s a little twist for them as leaders, however.  In addition to their personal sins, they are to consider the sins we have committed as a church.

One of the council members told me she is having a hard time with this. ” I can easily think of things I’ve done wrong”, she said, “but what has the church done wrong over the years?”

If you read Chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation, you will find that Jesus rebukes the churches for things like this:

  • Losing their fervor for good works
  • Listening to false teachers
  • Putting a stumbling block in the way of some who might believe
  • Practicing or allowing sexual immorality among the members
  • Depending upon themselves instead of God
  • Doing good works for the wrong reasons
  • Being “lukewarm” instead of passionate about following Christ

In the same chapters, Christ commends these churches for many things, but he still tells them they need to repent (hmmm…. back to Luther’s first Thesis again.)  Hopefully this exercise will raise our consciousness as a congregation.  Have we been too preoccupied with ourselves?  Have we focused on maintenance instead of spreading the Gospel to those around us?  Have we given sacrificially?  Have we ignored bad behavior instead of lovingly correcting it?  Our church is made up of people, and people are sinful.  There’s no getting around it.  We need to repent and allow God to change us into the church he wants us to be.

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen;  repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.”  Revelation 2:5

The Song of Christian Unity

“God has prepared for Himself one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter the community of God join in this song. It is the song that the “morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” at the creation of the world. (Job 38:7). It is the victory song of the children of Israel after passing through the Red Sea, the Magnificat of Mary after the annunciation, the song of Paul and Silas in the night of prison, the song of the singers on the sea of glass after their rescue, the “song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3) It is the song of the heavenly fellowship.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

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Encouraging Words

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13

I just got home from a funeral.  Yes, the man was elderly.  Yes, he was suffering.  Still, he was a father and grandfather, he had family and friends.  People will grieve his death, and that’s okay.  The Bible doesn’t tell us not to grieve, but it does tell us that as Christians, we will grieve differently than the rest of the world. Because of the resurrection, we grieve the loss of our loved one now, but not without the hope that we will be with them in Christ at some point in the future.

When our daughter, Kate, was fifteen she went to Germany for a year as an exchange student.  To be separated from our child for a year seemed like a long time.  We were discouraged from making a lot of phone calls because she needed to adjust to her new environment.  It was hard.  I missed her.  However, I knew she was having an amazing experience and that in time, we would be reunited.  That took some of the “sting” out of our separation.

For Christians, death has lost it’s sting (1 Cor. 15:55) for some of the same reasons. Right now Art, the man who died is in the presence of God.  I know it’s a wonderful experience.  In the Book of Revelation the apostle John tell us:

“He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore because the former things have passed away.”

His Christian family and friends will see him again, and share in his joy. Because of the resurrection, our separation is not permanent. “… Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 15:56