The Apostle John was in exile on the island of Patmos because of his faith and his witnessing to Jesus Christ. He writes a letter to the churches that we now call the Book of Revelation. He begins by writing, “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus…”(1:9) He, as Paul and many others then and now, was suffering because of his faith in Christ. Suffering is a common lot in this broken and sin-filled world, but look at what he is saying. “I, John, your brother…” We endure many pains in this life, but we do not do it alone. We are part of a body. We are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Then he states two other pillars to this truth. We also share the Kingdom. That is, the truth of the love, care, and presence of the Living Lord with us now and always. In this we have patient endurance because our hope is set firmly in Jesus. We have no answers to the many “why” question of life, but we have a support, a strength, and a hope that goes far beyond all of our questions.
We’ve had a few day down with our daughter in Virginia Beach. This was the weekend of the air show at the Oceana Naval Air Station. The Navy Blue Angels and other aircraft were performing various demonstrations. At the center of the demonstrations were the capabilities of the F18 Super Hornet. This is an incredible machine. With 40,000 lbs. of thrust from two jet engines it performs fantastic maneuvers. It was a real demonstration of the kind of power man can create. The Apostle Paul talks about power also. In a letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul tells them he prays that God “may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”(3:16-17) He uses the same Greek word for power that engineers would use for the F18, but there is something very different working here. He is speaking of God working in the depth of the human life to change and guide that life. This is quite a contrast, but it brings out a vital point. The F18 is a great product of the power of the human mind creating a massive physically powerful machine. But unless God’s power is at work to change and guide the use of mind and machine no good can come of it. The air show was a lot of fun, but it should also cause us to ponder deeper things as well.
It is interesting sitting in a crowded airport or other location where lots of people are passing by. They come in such a variety, white, black Asian, middle eastern, tall, short, well dressed, sloppy, groomed hair and not so groomed, and on and on. We tend to look at people and make snap judgments about whether we would be comfortable talking with them or would rather avoid them. Maybe I should be honest and say I have made such snap judgments. The last time I was in such a crowd the Lord caught me up short, really with a mild rebuke. The thought came to mind, “These are all Mine, and I love each one of them. There is something a lot deeper in them than you see on the outside.” Well, I knew that! I preach it often enough. It is just that in my flesh, on a personal encounter, I’d rather people be of “my kind”. Maybe that rebuke needed to be not so mild! At any rate, I did take it to heart, and began to look at people differently. Not that I would ever be unkind to anyone, but I think my heart was changed a bit. I’m looking beyond the outside trapping with a desire and prayer that the love of God would touch each heart, and if I can be of some help in that, I will. It really does take a while for the Lord to get some lessons through my stubbornness.
Yesterday I ended my message by writing, “if we (lose our ability to be quiet and think), we also lose our ability to draw near to our Lord and find our strength in Him.” God is not just out there somewhere, a power we call on occasionally when we are in need. God is a rational person who desire that we learn to know Him. When Paul was speaking to the philosophers in Athens he said that God created mankind “so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”(Acts 17:27) This is an amazing truth that is stated throughout our Scriptures. Our sins have made a separation between us, but that has not changed God’s desire for us to know and draw near to Him. He has perfectly revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, who once said to Philip, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”(John 14:9) God has come to us in Jesus. He has done everything necessary for us to know and have a relationship with Him, but He will not force Himself on us. He invites us to come, to read His Word, to become quiet before Him, to think, and to pray. All of our questions and doubts will not be answered in this life, but we will learn that we are a part of a real Person who loves us deeply. We will find, as Paul told the Athenians, “in him we live and move and have our being.”(vs.28)
There is an article in the latest TIME magazine on the age of wearable technology, the internet on your wrist or in your glasses. The authors observe that “The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected mobile device, is that it makes reality feel just that little bit less real. One gets overconnected, to the point where one is apt to pay attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted.” What ever happened to “Be still, and know that I am God;…”(Psalm 46:10) or “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”(Isaiah 30:15)? When our kids were growing up I didn’t even want them to have a Walkman, those small cassette tape players with head phone. I said that it shut them out from us, and what was happening around them. Now, I’m not anti-electronics. I’m obviously using it, but we must not lose the ability to be alone, to be quiet, to be at rest, to meditate, and to think. For if we do, we also lose our ability to draw near to our Lord and find our strength in Him.
When one begins a project, whether it is a large building in the heart of a city, or a wood working project in a small shop, there are always a few unforeseen difficulties that crop up. The worker or workers must consider other way to solve the difficulty and complete the project. Such has been the case of God completing the purpose for which He created mankind. God had an intimate relationship with man and woman in the Garden, but their rebellion separated them and caused God begin His costly plan of redemption. At the Exodus God brought the people out of Egypt and could have led them to the Promised Land within six months, but they rebelled and God had to lead them through forty years in the wilderness. The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…(59:1-2) We can and do delay God’s good purpose for us by our sins, but the marvelous truth of God’s grace is that He will not let us go. His forgiveness and cleansing is always available. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”(1:6) Like any good builder, God will not stop work until His project is completed to perfection.
In our Lutheran theology we declare that our salvation is a free gift of God. We can do nothing to earn it. (Ephesians 2:8-9) We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Does that mean that we can do whatever we please and we always have this gift of our life with God? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Our salvation is not cheep. It cost our Lord His life. But then we are asked something. In all four Gospels Jesus is recorded saying, “whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” By virtue of our baptism into Jesus Christ we have died to our old life and been raised to a new life in Him.(Romans 6:3-4) Our justification, our righteousness before God, is an absolutely free gift by virtue of what Jesus did at the cross. Our debt of sin has been paid. Now we are called to live this new life daily by dying to our old sinful nature and being raised to our new nature in Christ. Because of the grace we have received in Jesus, our life now is seeking to give ourselves completely into His will. We still sin, but through daily repentance and receiving again God’s forgiveness (I John 1:9) we continue to live and grow in this new life that was gained for us at such a great cost by our Lord.