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Archive for the ‘heaven’ Category

In my morning Newcomer Refugee class, I currently have a student from Burma, one of The Karen People, and some Yazidi students. They all came here as refugees seeking freedom and safety. Yesterday we talked about the 4th of July and what it means. They all understood the word Freedom.

For my Karen student, freedom means not worrying about the military dictatorship that took over Burma which caused her parents to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand. My student was born in the refugee camp and has never seen her native homeland.

For my Yazidi students, freedom means being safe from the murderous criminals who were committing genocide. It also means they are free to practice their religion without being oppressed or discriminated against.

Freedom is so precious and yet taken for granted by us Americans. We do not have to worry about government troops or police coming into our churches to arrest us, not yet anyway. We are free to practice our faith or to not practice any faith. We do not have people with weapons pointed at us telling us what we must be.

I appreciate my freedom here in America. There is another freedom I look forward to even more than the freedom I have here. It is the freedom from the effects of sin in this world. For now my citizenship is U.S. citizenship. The day will come that either I die or Jesus comes back for us that I will more fully realize what the bible says- “but our citizenship is in heaven.” Only by God’s grace, I have been granted citizenship in heaven. I do not deserve it.

As I help refugees and immigrants here in my hometown, I am constantly mindful that I have dual citizenship- U.S. and heavenly. My desire is to help my newcomer friends with their new lives here in America. My desire is to also show them the love of God, whether it be in ways such as joining them for a meal, listening to them, or teaching them English. I realize that each day I can help them in a much bigger way that is not seen. I can pray for them. I can pray for them because in God’s grace, I have been granted citizenship in heaven and with that comes the birth right to talk to God anytime.

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When I reflect on the resurrection of Jesus, Mary Magdalene always comes to mind. Though we do not know much about Mary Magdalene, the fact that the honor of being the first to see Jesus after His resurrection shows a lot about Jesus and us, about God and us.

There are various stories about Mary Magdalene. Some will say that she was a prostitute. The only thing that we know with certainty is that Jesus healed her of demonic possession. In Luke chapter 8 we see that Jesus delivered Mary of seven demons. We know that Mary Magdalene became a follower of Jesus after He healed her and that she was part of the group that was close to Jesus. She even spent time with Mary the Mother of Jesus.

We also know from John 19 that Mary Magdalene was one of the people who stood at the cross of Jesus and watched Him die. It was an intensely emotional time for her to see the man who rescued her and gave her a new life die on the cross. Then came the first Easter Sunday morning. She was emotionally distraught thinking that someone had moved the body of Jesus because when she came to the tomb, His body was gone, but His burial cloths were still there. She saw two angels who asked who she was looking for and after she tells them she is looking for her Lord’s body, she turns around. Jesus is standing in front of her and asks who she is looking for. Her eyes were filled with tears, she is distraught and can’t think straight. She doesn’t recognize Him at first and tells Him she is looking for her Lord’s body and to please tell her where it is. Then Jesus says her name. When Jesus says, “Mary”, the sound of His voice snaps her into the reality that the man she mistook for the gardener is Jesus. She cries out, “Rabonni” and hugs Him. He tells her He must ascend to the Father, but to go tell the group that He is risen.

It was no coincidence that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. There was never any coincidence in anything Jesus did while He was on earth. His every action and teaching had a purpose behind it. By appearing to Mary first, a woman who He had delivered of seven demons, a woman who was in the lowest part of society before she met Jesus, Jesus shows that God’s love is for all people no matter where they come from in life. God’s life changing power and forgiveness are for all people.

By telling Mary to got tell His followers, Jesus tells her to be a witness. He gives her an assignment that in that culture should have been for a man. Even today in some cultures the testimony of a woman in court does not count as much as a man’s. Jesus gives her an assignment to go tell, to go be His witness. This shows me that in Jesus all people are equally loved, valued, and that in Jesus all people are to be respected.

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Good Friday and Easter Sunday deservedly receive a lot of attention. They are the pivotal events in not only Christianity, but also in History. On Good Friday we remember His sacrificial death for us. On Easter Sunday we remember how He defeated death for us through His resurrection. But what about the day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? The day when Jesus’ body laid in the tomb. His followers were in despair. They had lost hope. They thought it was all over and done with and their beloved leader was gone forever.

I have been to the funerals of loved ones and friends. Looking into a casket is perhaps the most solemn experience we face in this life. That and watching a loved one die. I was with my father when he died. He died while I was reading from the bible to him. When my father died, I did not despair. That was because over a year before he died, I was with him while he made peace with God by trusting in Jesus. I had so much peace about where my father went to that I taught my class that evening, but I had the benefit of knowing the rest of the story which is that Jesus conquered death through His resurrection.

There are other moments in life that might we feel all hope is lost. We look at our life obstacles and wonder if there is anyway that we can find that job, get out of debt, experience our loved ones finally getting their life turned around, recover from an illness or any other of life’s seemingly unending problems. We at times are like the followers of Jesus on that Saturday between the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is as if we are on the outside of the tomb lost in despair.

I often wonder how His followers felt that Saturday. What it must have been like for those who washed His body and prepared His body for burial. They had forgotten about how Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead only days before Jesus entered Jerusalem. They had forgotten how Jesus had told them that He would die and that He would be raised from dead. They had lost hope. We do the same thing. We lose hope even though we have the rest of the story. We know that Jesus defeated death. His resurrection proves that He has power even over our worst enemy. When we face life’s difficulties, it is too easy for us to lose hope and not keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

On this Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, I would like to encourage you to think about your problems and then remember that He has all power. His resurrection is the proof that we too will one day enjoy the benefits of heaven, and also that He does have all power. He is more than able to help us to overcome our difficulties.

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One of the mysteries in the bible for me is what happened when Jesus came to visit His mother Mary. She is not listed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as being present during his visits after His resurrection. Surely He must have appeared to Mary His mother. She was there when He was crucified. She was there when He was buried. She had been with Him throughout His life as we see various times after His birth that she was with Him such as at the wedding in Cana. I wonder what happened when He came to her.

Think about her life for a moment. She was a young virgin when an angel appeared to her and said, “Hail Highly Favored One…..” and told her she had been chosen by God to give birth to the Savior of the world. She said yes to God’s plan. She gave birth to Him in a stable of animals and then had to flee to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus. She raised Him and cared for Him like no one else ever will. She saw His miracles and was even there for His first public miracle of turning water into wine. In fact she kind of instigated it. Then she is there during His passion and watches Him die on the cross before her eyes. She helped to prepare His body for burial. So why is there no mention of Mary the mother of Jesus during His visits after the resurrection.

While I would not make a claim to know for sure or teach this as a doctrine, it is my thought that Jesus’ first visit with His mother Mary was so highly personal and emotional for Mary that the Holy Spirit did not have it recorded. I have often heard it expressed that God is a gentleman meaning He is polite and considerate. While God does record the failings of Peter and the other disciples, there are certain things left unwritten such as the exact nature of Mary Magdaline’s life before Jesus healed her of demon possession. I believe that the moment Jesus first came to see His mother after His resurrection was so personal and emotional for her and out of respect for that moment it was kept private.

Let’s imagine how she must have felt though. She knew better than anyone why He had come into the world. She knew it from the start when the angel Gabriel told her. She saw Him die on the cross and heard Him give her care over to John. She saw Him buried and then she sees Him after His resurrection. She must have been so full of joy that she could not contain her emotions. Tears of joy that must have flowed from her eyes. Surely she embraced Him with a wonderful motherly hug and didn’t want to let go.

There is something in the bible that convinces me that Jesus must have visited Mary after His resurrection. Mary was with the disciples in the upper room when the promise of the Father came upon them. When the Holy Spirit was sent to those who were waiting, Mary was there with them.  In the bible she may fade from the scene as the focus of the story shifts to what the apostles did as they started the church, but she was there when the Holy Spirit came signaling that she still has a role. She is one person I look forward to meeting one day when Jesus calls me home. I would love to hear the story from her 🙂

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In the summers of 2009 and 2010 I was able to travel to Brillion Wisconsin for 4th of July family reunions. The summer of 2010 was also a time to celebrate my nephew’s graduation from high school. Family reunions can be a time of joy for those who are able to attend. It was good to see my brother and his family in Wisconsin, my brother from California, and my sister and brother who live in Lincoln. We had fun with fireworks, a lot of good food, and seeing places like Lake Michigan.

At Christmas time we celebrate Jesus coming as a human baby. We celebrate God the Son who is eternal stepping down from His throne in heaven to become a human baby. When I think about this, I realize it truly should be Joy to the World as the song goes. But what about Jesus? Was there joy involved for Him?

In Hebrews 12:2 it says about Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. Jesus came to die for us. There was joy for Him, not in being crucified on the cross, but something else set before Him. I have been pondering this because Jesus was seated at the right hand of the throne of God before He came as a baby. There seems to be something more in play here. Then when I consider Philippians 2 where it talks about how every knew will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord it seems to shed a little more light on the joy Jesus would feel because of enduring the cross. Jesus is not egotistic like we are, so the mere fact that all people will bow to Him does not seem to suffice as the sole reason for His joy. God gave us freewill, so the thought of Jesus taking joy in the fact that all people would bow to Him and many not out of choice, seems to not fit.

Then I think about how in Psalm 166 it says ” 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD  Is the death of His saints.” Our death is precious to Jesus? That could seem sadistic until we consider this fact. In this life we think of death as going away somewhere. In the eyes of Jesus our death means we come home to Him. The joy for Jesus was not just that He would be seated at the right hand of God. It was also that WE WOULD BE THERE WITH HIM. We can be home with Jesus forever. This causes great joy for Jesus. It makes His sacrifice worth all of the pain that we could be with Him forever in a place we cannot comprehend. We can only know that it is far better than this world.

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Several years ago I wrote a drama monologue from the perspective of the angel Gabriel and what he must have thought to see Jesus born as a baby. The piece began with Gabriel looking down at the manger and then coming down to check it out and being stunned by the scene. Think about the angels who had served Jesus since He created them. They had not only served Him over the centuries, but had also seen Jesus in His glory in heaven. They had seen Him as He really is in the fullness of His glory.

The bible says in I Peter 1:12 that the angels long to look into things pertaining to our salvation. They long to understand God’s love for us and to comprehend the plan of God. I think about how the angels must be amazed by God’s love for us especially since they have never sinned against God. How they must be in wonder over the love God has for us.

Then ponder the fact that the angels who had worshiped Jesus for countless eons, witnessed Him being born as a human baby. Jesus was sent by the Father because as the bible says in John 3;16, “For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” How they must have marveled at the sight of Jesus the Son of God laying in a manger which was a feeding trough for animals. One day Jesus was on His throne in heaven and nine months later He was a newborn human baby  in a stable surrounded by animals. It is incredible enough for us to ponder, but think about the angels who knew Him in all of His glory in heaven. No wonder the bible says they long to look into the things pertaining to our salvation.

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38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Five simple yet profound words from a young woman in response to the Angel Gabriel’s message to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus the Savior of the world. She first acknowledged who she is- the Lord’s servant. She understood her life was for God and not for herself. Her desire was to please God even in a way that would make life difficult for her. She then accepts her call to be the mother of Jesus by saying “May your word be fulfilled”.

Think about what that meant to Mary in her life. In that culture at that time for a woman to be caught having sex outside of marriage meant being stoned to death. Mary accepted God’s call knowing the possible risk she was taking. It also meant facing possible ridicule by her neighbors gossiping about her. She was engaged to Joseph and was a virgin. She had never had sex. She would have a miracle baby. She would be in a vulnerable position yet she trusted God to protect her and take care of her. She accepted the call of God which meant God would have to take care of her as she lived out what He asked her to do. She took the step of faith relying on God.

Mary is an example for us of what it means to follow God. We can at times be at risk for living as God wants us to live. We could risk being ridiculed, misunderstood, made fun of, and gossiped about. In some countries following Jesus means risking death or imprisonment. Accepting God’s call on our lives does not mean everything will be smooth sailing for us in this life. It does mean we trust God to take care of us no matter what the outcome is for us. We move forward relying on God. We take that step of faith and leave the results up to God knowing that in the final outcome He will bless us whether it is here in this life or in heaven. We remember that this life is only a vapor. This life is so short. Heaven is eternal. It lasts forever. I like this quote- He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to receive what he cannot lose. That was Mary’s attitude when she accepted God’s call. She gave up what her life was before that moment to do what God asked her to do while trusting that God would bless her in His timing.

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