When I think of that word, there’s a longing. The “O” is long, almost tremulous. And for the last two weeks, I have longed for home.
We went on vacation. And it was a good vacation. We visited friends we haven’t seen in years. We visited family we haven’t seen in years. We visited my parents. I got to play violin with my dad for worship. And the time spent with each person was far, far too short. I did not want to part with any of them.
But home beckoned.
I longed to be back home. Back where I belong. Back with my family in my house, in my town, with my congregation, and sleeping again in my own bed. I was ready to get back to directly serving rather than “just” recharging. And as we began the return voyage on Monday, my heart tore. I wanted to see my parents more. But oh, the call of home was so great. And I longed to return.
When we finally entered the front door of our house last night, it was indeed a homecoming. No one waited to throw us a party. No one had prettied it up while we were gone (though the woman we arranged to take care of our lawn did indeed do a fantastic job). It was nothing special… beyond being the place where we belong.
Where we belong. (more…)
It’s one of those days when I am hungering for something More. I’m done here.
The causes don’t matter except that they are more and more symptoms of this broken world. My heart aches for the battle to end, for the sky to roll up, for the stars to fall, for the Throne to stand before me, to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And even as my heart aches for it, it fears.
I have not done well. (more…)
A funeral on Tuesday. She was baptized in this congregation when it was six years old; on Sunday we mark our centennial. I remember holding her hand, her smile, and her sorrow at leaving her home when her health made it necessary for her to move into an assisted living facility.
On Tuesday, I tell the family the good news: Yes, she was a sinner. Yes, the wages of her sin was death. And yet, Jesus loved her enough to die for her. Despite what you see in the casket, she is rejoicing in heaven. In other words, I preach Gospel in the face of death itself, clinging to Jesus’s promises. I’ll see this old woman again. I’ll hold her hand again. And even more, we’ll do it while rejoicing around the Throne in heaven.
Tuesday evening. I’m about to teach teen Bible study when I get a phone call from my mother-in-law’s number. I figure it’s either something fairly quick and frivolous – “Hey, I’m shopping. Do you have this movie yet?” – or it’s something serious. I decide to answer.
It’s my brother-in-law on the other side. “Hey. Um, dad’s dead.”
I think he’s joking.
He’s not. (more…)
I debated whether or not to go to worship. I mean, I’m visiting a college campus, and not for my own good. I brought a teen member of my congregation to tour my churches “college of ministry” to see if she might want to be a teacher. I personally think she’d excel as a teacher, especially in a mission setting. These two days “away” from ministry will be well worth it for her. However, it means I’m just sort of hanging around campus. I’m getting some work done on my laptop, but most of my work this week will end up being face-to-face.
So, it was time for chapel. All right. Let’s go.
And as I sit down, I see that it’s one of my favorite professors, Prof. Lange, giving the chapel. Excellent.
The hymn begins. And… oh my. (more…)
I prayed for his death. Out loud. In his hearing.
This is not the kind of thing a pastor usually engages in. It’s considered uncouth at best. Really, it’s a big insult.
The man thanked me.
He is “well and full of years.” Simply put, he is dying. The man entertains no thoughts of suicide; he knows that his times are in God’s hands. Yet, every time I visit, he tells me, “Pastor, I’m ready. Every day I pray, ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus.’” The man longs for the bright skies of heaven. His confidence rests in Jesus; he has repented of his sins. “I’ve been such a rascal, Pastor!” He rejoices in forgiveness, looks forward to the Sacrament, and always begins our conversations with, “Pastor, I was reading the Bible. I was wondering…”
When I visit, his conversation always rests on grace. This is not a “religious” man who’s focusing on right and wrong and on how terrible the world is, though he recognizes the state of sin that our world relishes. No; he focuses on the miracle of forgiveness he has received.
And this man longs to go home. And so when I visited him this week, I prayed that Jesus would come and take him home soon. And he thanked me. (more…)
I made the women cry.
Several weeks ago I asked our teen group if they’d be interested in singing a song for Saints Triumphant Sunday – which was today. Many said yes. As we practiced, it became clear that really only a few meant it. But as we practiced the song, parents joined in… then another random family… and then another… and we suddenly had an ad hoc choir made up of people that aren’t normally in our church choir.
And today, for the sermon, we took a tour of heaven. We started in Eden, actually, and saw the tree of life… and then saw Adam and Eve choose a different tree. We saw the curse that God put on them. And we felt the weight of that curse. We explored the history of this world, the history of our own lives, and found the burden of the curse very real. And we saw that yes, we ourselves had earned that curse.
We saw that at the end, when everything looks destroyed, Jesus returns. And he gives us a tour of heaven. We see the stream of the water of life… but it doesn’t come from us. It comes from outside us… it flows from the Throne of God and of the Lamb. We saw that tree of life back – back again! And we pluck the fruit from its branches and we take a bite, the juice dribbling down our chins… and Jesus is the one who brought us that tree. And Revelation says that “there is no more curse.”
And we saw that Jesus came… and that he is the one who has taken the curse away. He was the only one good enough to earn the right to eat from the tree of life… but he chose a different tree. Unlike Adam and Eve who chose a different tree out of rebellion, Jesus chose a tree out of love. He chose the tree of the cross. He felt the burden of that curse. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. And he became the curse for us… and gave us forgiveness.
We saw that Jesus isn’t just the door into heaven, but the direct source of everything good there. (more…)
They were married seventy years and two weeks the day he died. She told me today, about a month later, that she was convinced she should be over it by now.
…getting over seventy years of marriage in a month? Mourning a lifetime in just a few weeks? Seriously?
Her children don’t want her sad. They want her to be happy. They’re convinced that the best way to do that is to hurry up the mourning process. Oh, and make sure she’s taken care of. Physically, she’s probably not been better off in quite a while. But mentally… emotionally…
I told her it was ok to cry. I was the first person to tell her that. I told her about Jesus… Jesus knew he was going to see his friend Lazarus again in just a few minutes. He’d told his disciples he was going to “wake Lazarus up.” But when he saw the tomb… he wept. And if it’s ok for Jesus to cry over the death of a loved one, it’s ok for you to cry. It is true we do not mourn like those who have no hope, but that doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. Jesus knew he would see Lazarus again, and soon, but he still wept. You know you will see your husband again… but you still miss him. You have been stung by sin’s greatest weapon. It’s ok to cry. (more…)
You’d think a Bible study on heaven would just be plain refreshing — if done right.
Sometimes the people that are supposed to be smart are the dumbest of all.
Now, I understand that that’s really harsh. It’s also true.
We had our men’s monthly Bible study this past weekend. I had taken a request and we studied heaven and hell. I started by doing a comparison of what other cultures believe about the afterlife and asked why nearly every culture and belief system has some version of heaven and hell. It afforded a nice discussion on the natural knowledge of God, which then opened us up to asking, “Well, if that’s what they believe, what does the Bible say?”
It was meant to be a fairly simple Bible study: Here’s what the Bible says. That’s all – nothing huge. In between hell and heaven, I made the point of saying that according to the Bible we belong in hell. So how do we get out? “Therefore there is no longer any condemnation for those that believe!” So we also got a strong dose of justification in there.
Except… toward the beginning of the section on hell…
“Pastor, the Old Testament doesn’t have hell.” (more…)
That’s right: if this were a perfect earth, would this man have hair? Are we willing to accept a world where Sir Patrick Stewart has hair?
A congregation member asked me today: “Is baldness an effect of sin?”
(Effect of Sin: A symptom of the fallen world, sin in general affecting our lives, such as sickness — sickness is not a sin, but hits us because the world itself is fallen.)
I didn’t know what to answer him. Will there be bald people in heaven, or when we’re given our perfect bodies, will baldness magically be cured? What do you say?
Today I visited a member of the congregation. It was the anniversary of his wife’s death. He ached to be with her again. And as we talked, he told me that he wasn’t allowed to go where he wanted anymore. He longed to be somewhere that no one had ever been before. He told me about exploring as a boy and how he wished he could be victorious again.
I told him how he was more than a conqueror through Christ. I shared with him the battle that had been won. He was victorious.
But that’s not what he wanted to hear.
I turned to something else. We talked about heaven.
I told him, “Benny, heaven’s so big that you’ll be able to explore a place that no one’s ever been before — every day. At the end of the day, you’ll come home, and your wife will be waiting.”
His eyes lit up. Suddenly heaven was something worth looking forward to.
Heaven is not sitting around plucking harps. Yes, in heaven we will praise God in all we do. Yes, we will be sinless. Yes, we will be in our physical bodies made perfect. But there will be more. We will serve God. We will finally fully be what God created us to be.
And men were made to have adventures.
What adventures await us in heaven? God knows. And I can’t wait to see what he’s got lined up.