Easter At A Retirement Village

“Christ is risen!” Those were the words the women heard from the angel, and they are the words we greet you with on this Easter, 2005. It is a message that never grows old and is the foundation for every Christian’s life. It is the triumphant proclamation to the world.

It is the message that goes with you, wherever that might be. Where are you celebrating Easter this year? This will be a first for us. My wife and I moved into a retirement village seven weeks ago, and we are enjoying it very much. Let me assure you that it is not like retirement facilities of days gone by.

We have 1,350 square feet in our unit, which is called Windcove. They clean your unit and wash your sheets. They fix whatever needs to be fixed and provide entertainment. They check your blood pressure and other health concerns. To top it all off, they serve you a delicious dinner each evening.

I am learning not to call it “an old-people’s home.” That seems to be offensive to some people. It does not bother me because I am proud and thankful to be old. Look at the long, full life God has given me. If you are in your 70s, you are some of the new kids on the block, but we are not done living. Some of the men who live here have been ice fishing this winter, and now we are looking forward to the golfing season. It is one of the most upbeat places in the area. You can sit around and reminisce with old friends and tell how we of the “greatest generation” actually did all that was done in the last half of the twentieth century.

Now if you are about to shut me off and say, “I thought I would hear something about Easter and not about a retirement village,” please stay with me, for I am headed to the Easter message.

To live in this retirement village is an insight into the Golden Age, which is not always so golden no matter how comfortable your living quarters. For all of us who are here, death has become more of a reality every day. The obituaries in the newspaper and the empty spots wherever you go are a reminder that Pete and Mary are dead.

Two of my close friends have lost their wives within the last five months. They died unexpectedly. The tears flow freely as they try to explain what life is like without their spouse. “First, now, it is beginning to sink in that she is gone,” was the statement of one of these men over coffee. The other said, “I awaken in the middle of the night, and her place in the bed is empty. She’s not there.”

Both of these men believed that the wives would survive them. Now their plans are shattered, spirits crushed, hearts broken, dreams destroyed, and their nights are long. It is in this environment that people begin to wonder about life after death. Most people hope, and I believe they think, that there is a life after death. However, not all are sure where they are going to end up. Once they joked about eternity; now life after death is taken more seriously.

However, because of the Easter message, many know there is a heavenly home awaiting them, and there is a place reserved there for them. “How do you know?” you ask. God has spoken in His Word. Listen to the scriptures: “Now brothers (and sisters), I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you take your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word which I preached to you.”

Satan appears to be the victor in the Garden of Eden when our first parents sinned. Adam and Eve were thrown out of a personal relationship with God. Sin had entered this world, and a perfect creation was now broken. When sin came into this world, sickness and death came with it, and all of our heartache is because of the human’s fall into sin. What would God do? He set up a plan of redemption to bring us back into fellowship with Him. In the fullness of time, He sent His Son, Christ Jesus into the world to take upon Himself the sin of the world. This is what happened at the cross when Jesus was crucified. Once again the observer could say, “Satan is the victor once more.” Not so, for on the third day God raised His Son from the grave. Jesus was raised. He paid the price for the sins of the world, and God the Father had accepted the payment. Jesus Christ is the Victor.

What a glorious message, but notice again what Paul writes, “Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, and on which you have taken a stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word which I preached to you” (I Corinthians 15:1-2).

Through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we are saved if we receive Him. The Holy Spirit empowers us to receive Him, and Christ becomes the foundation for our lives. This is Easter.

Satan was soundly defeated when God raised Christ from the grave, and we can sing with St. Paul these words:

“Where, O death is your victory?

Where, O death is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God!

He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

(I Corinthians 15:55, 56)

Both of my friends who have lost their wives since Easter last year are committed believers in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. In this period of mourning, they cry and express their sorrows and frustrations, but they know this is only temporary. You visit with them, and they will clearly express their faith in Christ. They cling to the Word and these blessed promises.

These men met the Savior when they were both young. Both of them came from homes where the parents told them about Jesus, who was raised. Then this seed of faith grew for eighty years in their lives. Today He is their blessed hope.

So, for you who are living in a retirement village, or would qualify as far as your age is concerned, if Jesus is your Savior, keep right on walking with him. He is your lasting comfort, and He will not let you down. Soon He will come to receive you. But if Jesus is not your Savior, will you receive Him? He died and rose for you and wants to be your living Lord.

For you who are younger, if Jesus is your Savior, walk with Him. Trust Him. Even at twenty years of age, you are not that far from living in a retirement village. The years go past rapidly. But if you do not know him, my young friends, receive Him today as your Savior. Find a Christian to help you know him. Then it will be a glorious Easter.

A Burden for the Lost

What is your purpose in living?

Jesus had no trouble answering this question. He said, “I came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). On this Palm Sunday, as we enter the Holy Week, we witness what Jesus had to suffer if he was to offer salvation to the world.

A large crowd spread their coats on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The crowds sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But on Good Friday, only five days later, the chorus changed to a cruel demand: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

During the week, Judas betrayed Jesus. Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied him. Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin and was falsely accused. To appease the mob, Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified. A crown of thorns was placed on his head. He was mocked, spit upon, and beaten. Finally, as he was nailed to the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

When Jesus was declared dead, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two of Jesus’ followers, placed his body in the tomb. God the Father accepted his Son’s sacrifice as a full payment for the sins of the world and offered this salvation to all who would repent of their sins and trust Christ as their Savior and Lord. From that hour to this, if you trust Christ as your Savior, you are saved. This means that you, as a believer in Christ Jesus, are restored into fellowship with God for now and all eternity.

What a price! How much he loves us! What a concern for the lost!

The Bible teaches that it is only through Christ that we can be saved. There is no other way. No cultural teaching can erase this from the Christian proclamation.

This is the Gospel, which Jesus has commissioned his followers to proclaim throughout the world. This is the message that has been brought to humankind. The proclamation of this salvation started in Jerusalem where James was one of the pastors. As the Gospel was preached, many became believers.

James’ message has two parts: reach out with the Gospel and watch over the flock who have received Christ. Here the Bible teaches there were those who received Christ, but for one reason or another strayed away. This was of great concern to James, so he challenged his flock with these words: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will saved him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

James’ words Ð cover over Ð show that caring for the Christian congregation is serious business, and it should be of great concern to the church. Those of us who confessed our sins and placed our faith in Christ, can walk away from the faith. I think of the millions of people who were very sincere when on their confirmation day they confessed their faith in Christ and yet years later had no relationship with him. The same is true of those who answered an altar call and later walked away.

What happened?

As the Tempter created doubt in Eve’s heart, so he begins to create doubt in our hearts. Questions that confronts us, not only in the classroom, but also on the street is this: Is God’s Word the truth? How do you know that there is a life after death? No one has returned from death and assured us that this Christian teaching is true. Why don’t you forget worrying about life after death and enjoy this life? Follow your own instincts. There are parts of the Bible which are true, but other parts, like Jesus is the only way to heaven, which are ridiculous.

This is Satan at work in our day when we begin to doubt what we have learned.

An acquaintance of mine told me one Monday morning that he had listened to my sermon on the radio the day before. He smiled and said, “Once I used to believe what you were preaching, but then I grew up. Today I claim no allegiance to Jesus.” This is the person James talks about who “has wandered away.”

But then there are those who have wandered away in another sense of the word. They say, “We believe the Bible is a book that has to be interpreted in the light of the culture where it is being read. Culture should have something to say about its interpretation.” Makes sense, doesn’t it? Once we condemned divorce, cohabitation, and the practice of homosexuality as sin. Today, because our culture has accepted these lifestyles, there are those in the church who will say, “It is time to make some changes in these biblical passages that talk to people’s sexual behavior.”

“No, no,” the Word of God says. We cannot weaken God’s revelation to be in tune with secular teachings and win society’s favor. God’s Word is our authority. When this happens, we are not sure what we believe, nor what is right or wrong. To bring these wanderings from the truth back into the fold is the believer’s challenge, according to James’ inspired writing.

While there is a need for daily repentance, Holy Week is a special opportunity to examine ourselves in the light of God’s Word. Is Jesus our Savior and Lord? Do we share him with our friends and relatives who have never known him, or once knew him but have wandered away? God has a good word for us. Hear it once more: “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

Is This a Description of Your Church?

As people with emotions, which should not be ignored, we need a place to belong where people care about us and where we can be used to reach out to others. Is your church such a place? James gives some criteria in our t ext, which will help us to evaluate our congregations.

Is it a place where people are genuinely happy?

James writes, “Is anyone happy? Let him sing.”

There are many places in our society that offer us an evening of happiness. I enjoy a good movie, play, or athletic event, especially if they are preceded by a steak. I need those kinds of events in my life. However, I can’t build my happiness on them, because the evening comes to an end, and then it might be several days before there is something else to entertain me. Genuine happiness is with a person all the time. It is within us.

Genuine happiness is experienced when the soul is at peace with God, self and others. Though there may be sorrow in one’s life, the voice can still sing the doxology. How wonderful to sing the last stanza of A Mighty Fortress, even though the tears are rolling down your face and your heart is broken.

“What though they take this life,

Goods, honor, child, and wife.

Their hatred still is vain,

they have no lasting gain,

We still possess the Kingdom.”

That’s genuine happiness. You carry it with you to the fun times in your life, and you have it at the funeral of a loved one.

Does your church offer you this happiness? It does if it points you to the Lord Jesus, because he is the only one who can give us this kind of happiness.

Is your congregation concerned about the physical needs of people?

James writes, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (14). This was natural that James wrote this word to the congregation, because Jesus placed a great emphasis on healing those who were ill. The Church through the ages has played a strong leadership role in the hospital movement. Drive through your state and observe how many hospitals were started by the Church. Today the Church leads in building nursing homes. One of the exciting missions that the Church is involved in today is short-term visits by our medical people to countries that need help with medical care.

My wife and I accompanied several nurses and doctors to Jamaica on one of these missions and we were so excited about what we saw in the treatment of the sick that we talked to our daughter and her husband who are pediatricians about going on one of these missions. After two visits to Jamaica, they went on to Peru for a longer mission. Using the talents to assist those less fortunate brings peace and genuine joy to our hearts.

But the sick need more than doctors. They need brothers and sisters in Christ to come and bring comfort. We can share a word from the Lord and pray with them. We can listen to what is bothering them most. We just need to be there. All of this brings healing.

This passage is also interpreted literally. Pastors and leaders in the congregation anoint the sick person with oil and pray for them. These are healing service. In some of our churches there are formal liturgical services for such healing.

Healing and the will of God remain a mystery. Why are some healed and others are not? We await the final answer when we are with the Lord. But while we are here, it is important that our congregations have a real burden for those who are physically ill.

Is your congregation concerned about the spiritual needs of people?

James writes, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (16).

Not only the world, but also our congregations, is filled with people who are spiritually sick. From time to time I believe this applies to all of us. We carry anger, hatred, selfishness, and a host of other sins that are most displeasing to our Savior. Remember Jesus’ famous words, “Therefore, if you remember that your brother has something against you, go and be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:23). St. Paul counseled, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:6).

We need congregations where in love we are reminded of our sins. They are first to be forgiven through Christ, but then they are to be dealt with through spiritual care. We need to go to others and help them with their weaknesses, and we need to receive openly others to assist us with our sins.

For example, a member of the congregation has a marital problem. The husband and wife could be headed for the divorce court. Do you have some responsibility in this case, or do you rationalize that this is their business and you are not to become involved? If you have earned the right to speak personally to her, that is, if you are well enough acquainted with this person and you have a close relationship with the person, Scripture counsels you to become involved as long as you can be of help to the couple. How wonderful if God can use you and a marriage can be saved. Little children can grow up with a mommy and a daddy in the home. Could you expect such spiritual care to be given in your church?

Don’t you need a church like that? I am sure there is one in your neighborhood. Is this descriptive of your church? If you say, “No, our congregation does not want to get involved in the lives of their members,” are you sure? Have you given your church a chance? You might just be surprised if you would take the first step in seeing what your congregation does have to offer you. Have you taken the initiative to make your congregation one that reaches out to the hurting and introduces you to Christ who offers you genuine happiness?

Don’t run off to another church until you can honestly say, “I have tried to make this the kind of a congregation that I and many others like me need. If you can truly say that your congregation is not serving you spiritually with the Word of God, and it is not going to change, then it is time to look around for another congregation because you and I cannot grow spiritually without this care.

Patience! A Sign of Maturity

Pete is a great fellow to be with when all is going well. However, let something go wrong in his life and look out! Words will flow from his mouth that will be crushing, and you will witness a behavior that is most frightening.

When Pete returns to his old self, people make excuses for him. His wife, filled with embarrassment will say, “He has such strong convictions on this subject that he simply has to express them, and then he loses control of himself. He feels so terrible after it is all over.”

A good friend will say, “Yeah, that’s Pete. I grew up with him, and he hasn’t changed a bit. We just learn to accept him for what he is.”

A day or two after the explosion, Pete apologizes for his tantrum. “That’s the way I am. I have always been this way. I guess I will die this way.”

That last statement is not true if Pete is a Christian. God’s will is that Pete will grow up in his faith. This behavior is not pleasing to God, nor is it appropriate for those who confess Christ as their Savior. It is true that Pete might always have to fight this sin, but he cannot accept this pattern of behavior and settle down to make it his lifestyle.

This is what James is teaching us today as we continue with our series on Christian living. Note the words of our text: “Be patient, then brothers.” That word, brothers, tells us that James is talking to Christians. Patience is a sign of Christian maturity. The Scriptures are full of texts that deal with patience. Paul writes to the Romans, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). In his letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “Be patient with everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:14).

You might ask, “Isn’t that going a little too far? How can you be patient with those who live contrary to God’s Word?”

Patience is defined as self restraint. It does not hastily retaliate against a wrong. This does not mean that we are to overlook what is wrong, or make excuses for it. However, it does mean that we will deal with the subject in kindness seeking to help the person involved.

Impatience often reveals itself in anger and temper outbursts. It is interesting to see with whom we become impatient.

We often show a lot of impatience with God. The people in James’ congregation were growing impatient with God. He writes, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for autumn and spring rains. You, too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

The early Christians thought Jesus was going to return soon and take them to heaven. He didn’t come, and he didn’t return. Many of them were suffering great persecution because of their faith, and so in that impatient state of mind they simply asked, “Where is he? Why does he tell us he is coming soon, and then he does not show up?” James might have recalled that word from David, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

As Christians, we still grow impatient with God. We see how people suffer because of storms and wars, and we ask, “Why doesn’t God intervene?” We watch loved ones die, sometimes prematurely, and we ask impatiently, “Didn’t God give us a promise? ‘So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.'”

Then comes that question asked so impatiently: “Where is he when I need him the most?”

Or it may come from two concerned parents. Their children were raised in the Christian faith and have now strayed from Christ. What about God’s promise, “My word will not return void”? Why don’t they return to the faith in which they were raised where Christ is honored as Savior and Lord? Is that not what God said would happen?

James writes, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. We become impatient with others. “How can a Christian act that way?” is a common question, and we are impatient with them. I find it difficult sometimes to accept the behavior of a new Christian. It seems that they do not permit the Lord to change their lifestyles. In my impatient state I might think or even say, “Are they really Christian?”

I am always grateful when someone more mature than I at that moment will say, “Why do we not give them a chance to grow up in the faith and get to know the Lord better?”

We even get impatient with ourselves. “How dumb can I be?” is a question that some of us often ask. It is good for us to remember that God is not done with us yet. He is willing to forgive us and keep working with us. Why not let him? Satan wants us to be discouraged with our growth in the faith. Be patient with the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

How can I become more patient? I share with you two things that have helped me a great deal on my way to a more patient life, and I am still in the process of becoming.

First, when I am impatient with God, others, or myself, I look back and see how God has kept his promises, although his timetable does not have to be like mine. So I claim the promise that he is faithful and will walk with me. When I see how some new converts to Christ are growing, I stop being impatient and rejoice in the work he is doing in so many hearts. And when I look into my own heart, I see that it is only the Holy Spirit who could have brought me as far as I have come. I still have a long way to go, but His promises are sure. There is no need for me to be impatient with my spiritual progress, as long as I do not become comfortable with my spiritual growth and not be attentive to where He wants me to be.

Second, the patience of others who endure tragedy inspires me to also be patient with God. If my friend Pete’s impatience often leads him into temper tantrums that are unbecoming to a Christian, my friend Clayton’s patience with the Lord is an inspiration to me. I stood with him by the casket of his wife not long ago. She was sick for only seven hours, and then God took her home. In the closing moments of her life, I heard Clayton whisper into her ear, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” That is God working patience in us.

Stay with him. He not only saved you, but also wants you to be a mature Christian person.