What to do With the Rest of Your Life

In just a few weeks it is going to be Super Bowl time. The two best NFL teams will be playing for the championship. At the end of the game, someone is going to be interviewed on a Disney commercial and asked, “You’ve just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?” He will respond, “I’m going to Disney World!”, the idea being that when something significant has happened in your life, of course you should head to Disney World.

“What are you going to do now?” is a question people are asked after they have experienced a significant life change, such as retirement. “You’re retired, what are you going to do now with your time? Any plans?”

I want to share with you a story from the Old Testament about a man who had a significant thing occur in his life and how it affected the way he lived out the rest of his days.

The man’s name was Naaman and his story is found in II Kings, chapter 5. Please take out your Bible and read along as we explore this narrative.

“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.”

We learn a few things about Naaman in this first verse. First, he was a great man in his community. He was highly valued by the king for his military successes. We also read that God was already at work in his life giving him victories. It is interesting to see where God shows up in life, isn’t it? Finally we learn that Naaman had an incurable disease called leprosy that was making his life miserable and hopeless.

But one day Naaman heard of a possible cure for his leprosy.

“Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ÔIf only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.'”

“Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. ÔBy all means, go,’ the king of Aram replied. ÔI will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing.”

It must have been an exciting time for Naaman, thinking of the possibility of healing. It also must have been heartwarming to hear the king show such support to help him out. Off he went with a smile on his face and hopes high, but things didn’t go quite as he expected.

“The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ÔWith this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.'”

“As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ÔAm I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!'”

Not exactly the reception that Naaman was anticipating! The king of Israel had a bit of a tantrum. He tore his clothes in anxiety and declared that this was just a way for the king of Aram to pick a fight with Israel and beat up on them again. “What now?” Naaman must have wondered. But the story wasn’t over.

“When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ÔWhy have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.'”

Those were dark spiritual times in Israel. Elisha the prophet was not considered a favorite subject of the king. He often told him the things he didn’t want to hear about worshiping other gods, so Elisha was put on the shelf out of the way. But Elisha was a man of God, and God spoke through him. When Elisha heard about the king’s fit, he sent word to him to send Naaman to him.

So the king did send Naaman on his way to Elisha. Again, Naaman had to have been very excited Ð he was about to get healed by a man of God. He probably had the picture in his mind of what was going to take place. Boy! Was he surprised!

“So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ÔGo, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.'”

“But Naaman went away angry and said, ÔI thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.”

We have a fellow here with a wounded ego, don’t we? He had in his mind how he was to be treated. “I’m an important person, and he didn’t even come out to meet me face to face! And his prescription sounded absurd and humiliating to me. Dunk myself seven times in that dirty river? Never!”

So Naaman began to turn toward home. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and here is what happened:

“Naaman’s servants went to him and said, ÔMy father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ÔWash and be cleansed’!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”

“Naaman! You just got healed! What are you going to do now?”

We know what he didn’t do Ð he didn’t head straight home. Instead he went back to Elisha’s house, humbled and grateful. Listen to what he said:

“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ÔNow I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.'”

Dear friends, what we have here in these words is a man who has had a conversion experience. This is a profound profession of faith. “Now I know there is no other god but the God of Israel.” He then went on to say,

“Please accept now a gift from your servant.”

Elisha responded, “No, don’t pay me. It’s a God thing. God did this for you.”

Naaman was grateful, and he wanted to do something in response. Here is what he requested:

“ÔIf you will not,’ said Naaman, Ôplease let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other God but the Lord.’

“Let me take some of this holy ground back home with me so that I might build an altar and stay connected with this community of faith,” Naaman said. “I’m putting aside all the other things I’ve relied on in my life Ð all the other gods Ð that I looked to for my security. I’m going to love and worship the Lord of Israel, alone. He is my God.”

Then Naaman took it a bit further. A practical matter came to mind.

“But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also Ð when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

Naaman was saying, “I know I am playing for an audience of one now Ð the Lord. I want my life to be pleasing in his sight. Still, I have this job back home, and sometimes I have to escort the old king to worship services at his temple. He leans on me so that he doesn’t fall over when he bows to Rimmon his God. So when I am on my knee holding the king up, may the Lord know that in my heart I still belong to him.”

Elisha’s response was, “Go in peace.” He gave his blessing to Naaman. Off Naaman went to live the rest of his days worshiping the one true God.

Do you ever wonder why stories like this get told and retold from generation to generation until they’re finally written and placed in Scripture? I have a couple ideas about this one.

First, it’s a wonderful grace story. We see God caring for all kinds of people, even an enemy of Israel. We see the truth of that statement in John: “For God so loved the world . . .” God poured his healing grace into this foreigner’s life as he swallowed his pride and jumped into the Jordan river. His life was changed.

Second, it’s also a great response story. Naaman responded to God’s grace in a God-pleasing way. He committed himself to first-commandment living. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Martin Luther once wrote of this commandment that it means we are to fear, love, and trust God above anything else.

That is exactly what we see Naaman doing in this story, and Elisha affirmed it. Naaman expressed his faith (“Now I know there is no other God but the God of Israel.”) He turned from his old gods and promised to worship the one and only God. He expressed the fear of a man playing out his life before God and not wanting to displease him as he did his duties. That is first-commandment living!

You might be wondering what this has to do with your life? Let me tell you.

The Bible tells us that God has provided healing from something far more deadly than any disease Ð sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We cannot cure it on our own. There are deadly consequences Ð the wages of sin is death.

Yet we have just celebrated Christmas. It is more than a tale about a baby. It is a rescue story. God gave his only Son, who grew up and died upon the cross, as the perfect sacrifice for healing our broken relationship with God. Read Isaiah 53:4-6. By his bruises we are healed.

God loves you and has promised healing for sin-sick souls. Come and dip yourself in the river of healing grace. He doesn’t want you to spend another minute without him in your life.

To those of you who have been touched by that grace, this story has much to say about responsive living to grace. Christian, you have been saved. What are you going to do now? Let me ask you, do you have any idols in your back yard that you fear, love, and trust? Any things to whom you look to for security other than the one who has saved you through his Son, Jesus Christ? Remember that first commandment. According to Scripture, there is a promise that delights God. It is from the book of Joshua and goes like this: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

An Inspired Conversation With Mary

St. John records the following in his Gospel: “When Jesus saw his mother at the foot of the cross, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ÔDear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ÔHere is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).

Put in simple words, Jesus told John to take care of his mother.

Why didn’t Jesus entrust his mother to his siblings Ð James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas or to one of his sisters (Matthew 13:55)? His family did not believe at that time that he was the Savior of the world. Why would they? It was not until after the resurrection that his brother James became a believer, and then he became the head of the church in Jerusalem. Mary would have learned much from John, the disciple, that his siblings would not have known.

In the years that followed, Mary and John must have had some great conversations about their days with Jesus. Tradition tells us that later in life Mary and John lived in Ephesus.

Let’s assume that one day Mary asks John this: “I have read parts of the Gospel you are writing, and you give none of the details about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Yet you refer to him as the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Explain this to me.”

“Well, Mary, the Holy Spirit has inspired Matthew and Luke to give an excellent summary of the annunciation and what happened that night in the manger. He inspired me to record that Jesus is God who became flesh and lived with us. But Mary, I would like to know more about his birth. Tell me once more about the night Jesus was born.”

Mary replied, “To give you more details of the birth than Matthew and Luke record is not possible. I can tell you that, though I am his mother, there is a mystery concerning Jesus’ earthly life from the cradle to the grave that my mind cannot comprehend. I can only accept what God is doing, and I leave it all with him. In fear I said, ÔI am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.’ I can say that Jesus was the perfect child, so different from his brothers and sister that I knew he had a special place in God’s kingdom.”

And so that imaginary conversation between Mary and John concludes.

Some time between the years 90 – 100, John wrote his Gospel. He got the information for the book from revelation, but God, who inspired John, also gave him the freedom to make use of his observations and conversations, having been with Jesus for three years.

John states his purpose for writing his Gospel with these words: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John’s inspired Gospel tells us that Jesus is God. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God from the beginning . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” He is the Creator, the maker of all things. He came with a message of grace, truth, and light.

The Gospel continues, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God Ð children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but of grace and truth.”

God’s Kingdom is not for one nationality, but for all people. In Christ we are God’s chosen people. In Christ, Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28).

Yes, I believe that John and Mary had many good talks about Jesus, who must have been the center of their conversations. But even John and Mary went to their deaths with mysteries unanswered.

In your Christmas gatherings, discuss the message of Jesus’ birth. Remember it is far more than a human story. It is God’s voice saying, “I came, and I will come again. Are you ready to meet me? Have I been born in your heart?” Then you can join Mary and John in praising God for sending his Son into this world to bring us into a living relationship with him.

You Are Loved

There are times when society can be very cruel. It is a terrible experience to have the feeling that you do not belong or you are not accepted by a certain group of people.

When I was a high school freshman, a teacher asked me why I was taking a particular class. I told her that it was on the list of classes that were required for those planning to attend college. She looked at me and said, “You are not college material.”

This woman was a fine teacher and was probably just tired at the end of a busy day. However, the remark was cutting. While I had grades that met the requirements for attending college, my parents were a part of the laboring population, and these people ordinarily did not send their children on to college. Hearing her remark, my mother told the teacher that I would be continuing my formal education after high school. The teacher apologized for her remark and was most supportive of my plans for the future.

When I was a junior in high school, a pastor at the Bible camp asked me if I had ever considered studying for the ministry. I replied, “No, I have been told that I am not college material.” He assured me that there were many colleges that would accept me as a student, and I would do just fine. This gave me new hope that I could consider my self included in that group of college-bound young people.

Another example that makes me very sad, I will never forget. After I had conducted a funeral service, a man asked if I remembered him. In all honesty, I had to say I didn’t. He then gave me his family name and immediately I recalled many experiences with this man’s parents. They had a large family and made sure that their children were baptized, but he seldom or never attended church.

This man had been in prison. While there he was converted. It was evident that he was now a committed Christian.

When I asked him if he attended church now, he replied, “Since you baptized me, I felt that Nazareth was my church, so that is where I first attended after coming out of prison. But I soon concluded that this was not the place for me. I church shopped for awhile, and finally found a place where I felt accepted.

Suddenly I was reminded of my high school experience of not being accepted in the group planning to attend college. What had we done or not done to make this young man in the faith feel he was not one of us? I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Please forgive us for not making you feel at home. Just remember, God’s kingdom is much larger than any one congregation.”

In this world that passes out hurts freely, we hear from God’s Word that we are loved. That is why our Savior came. It is the Advent message. Let that message live in your soul and you are prepared to accept what society might throw at you. It matters not what a tired teacher or a self-centered congregation may say to make you feel you don’t belong, for Jesus says that you are loved. When we know that God loves us, it takes away the inferiority complex, which gives us the feeling that we do not belong.

Through the years, I have respected people who have risen to prestigious places in society, and I have not felt uncomfortable in their presence. Some years ago, I was invited to deliver the prayer at one of the sessions of the Republican convention in Dallas, Texas. My wife and I were waiting in a beautiful room for the time when I would be ushered to the podium to pray. The door opened and in walked former President Gerald Ford. He excused himself for intruding and without time to give it much thought, I said, “Come in, Mr. President.” He gave us warm handshakes and visited with us for a few minutes, and then he was on his way. He too was loved by God and had walked in high places with great responsibilities, but gave us no indication that we should feel unwelcome by this group of delegates and elected officials assembled for their political convention. Our oneness in Christ makes the floor level.

Listen to these familiar words of our text: “For God so loved the world.” All are precious in his eyes. It matters not how our financial statement reads, how many academic degrees we have, our social and political status, our age or race. He loves us all and he gave his Son to die for all of us.

Yet, God makes it very clear that, while this gift of eternal salvation is offered to all, it is given only to those who receive the Savior (that whoever believes should not perish but have everlasting life).

Christ’s mission of coming to earth was to prepare the Way for us. Now he calls his Church to proclaim this message of salvation to all the world.

Let the message of Advent grab your heart. Christ has come to build his Kingdom, and we are a part of that kingdom when he lives in our hearts.

I Came to Bring Hope

Had Mary ever shared with her Son some experiences she had in giving birth to Jesus? Do you suppose he knew about the angel’s visit to Mary telling her that she was going to have a baby and her surprise, for she and Joseph were not yet married? Had Mary ever told him about his birth in the manger? Could she have gone further and said, “Jesus, you were so different from your siblings. I can never remember that you did anything wrong. You were perfect.”

We do not know if Mary had shared any of these experiences. The Bible does tell us that “she kept all these things in her heart.” How much did Jesus know of his mission to earth during the first thirty years of his life? We do not know, but I personally believe, based on scripture, that his mission was coming alive real fast as he observed the people flocking around John the Baptist. These people were religious. They were concerned about the things of God. They were faithful in their worship, but they were a people of no hope.

Then, on the Sabbath day in Nazareth, he stood in the synagogue and read to the congregation these words from the Prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he said to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4).

Jesus revealed to them that he was the promised Messiah who had been sent from God to bring hope to the people of the world.

Soon Jesus chose twelve disciples. These men walked with Jesus for three years. They heard him preach and reveal that he and the Father were one. He told the disciples that if they had seen him, they had seen the Father. They saw Jesus heal the sick, forgive the sins of the people, and assure them that he would be with them always. He was the Good Shepherd who had come to lead his sheep.

Then came the day that Jesus had described to the Twelve. He died on the cross as a payment for the sins of the world. On the third day he was raised from the dead. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, full atonement has been made for the sins of the world. Those disciples were to be the early carriers of that Gospel. Their mission was to bring hope, which came only through receiving Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world.

This mission has been going on now for 2,000 years and will continue until it has been proclaimed around the world and millions of people have come to confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. That is what is going on today. In this hopeless old world, there is a message of hope for those who trust Jesus Christ. God loves them. He wants all people to be saved. He has established a kingdom, which begins here on this earth and climaxes in the kingdom of heaven. You enter this kingdom by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The carriers of this Gospel are people like you and me who trust Jesus Christ and tell others about him.

It is a message for all people. It matters not how powerful a person you might be. Each knee must bow and every tongue must confess that Jesus is Lord if you want entrance into that kingdom and become a possessor of that hope.

In the book, The Preacher and the Presidents, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy tell of Billy Graham sharing this Gospel with Dwight Eisenhower. He was the guest of the former President at his Gettysburg farm. Here is a quotation from the book: “They were in the den, Graham seated. Eisenhower pacing in front of the fireplace, when he got to what was on his mind. ÔBilly,’ he said, Ôcould you explain to me how a person can be sure when he dies he’s going to heaven?’ Surprised, Graham said, ÔI’ll try,’ pulled out his New Testament, and walked him through those passages that explained salvation and its terms. He hoped he had provided some reassurance that salvation came through grace, and not by anything we can do for ourselves. It was an interesting visit.”

Get the picture? One of the most powerful people in the world asking Billy Graham how he could be sure of his heavenly home. What did Eisenhower want? Hope. And that is what Christ came to give him.

It is the need of every person, and it is the privilege of every Christian to share God’s love in Christ with them.

When I was a kid, we often sang a hymn in our church, and it made a great impression on me. Let me quote just two stanzas:

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations

That shall turn their hearts to the right,

A story of truth and mercy,

A story of peace and light,

A story of peace and light.

“We’ve a message to give to the nations

That the Lord who reigneth above

Hath sent us His Son to save us

And show us that God is love,

And show us that God is love.

“For the darkness shall turn to dawning,

And the dawning to noonday bright.

And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,

The kingdom of love and light.”

This hymn says it all. To you who have not received Christ, he says, “I have come to be your Savior and to give you a new hope.” And to you who have received him, remember you are the carriers of this message of hope to this world.

A Kingdom With No End

We have entered the Advent season. This is a time in the Church year that we are being prepared to celebrate Jesus’ birth Ð God coming to earth in the form of a man. During these Sundays of Advent, I would like to address four answers regarding the Lord’s coming under the general theme, Why did Jesus come to earth?

This week’s emphasis is, Jesus came to earth to give us back the Kingdom, which our Creator intended us to have before sin took it away.

These are the words of our text: “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ÔGreetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. . . You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.'”

Notice that Jesus will establish his kingdom and it will be made up of all who confess him as Savior and Lord. This announcement came from God.

Following Jesus birth, few things happened until he was thirty years of age. Then he went throughout Galilee preaching the good news of the kingdom. When asked where his kingdom was, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” This caused the Jews to be so concerned, they brought him to Pilate with the accusation that he claimed to be a king.

Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews, but now my kingdom is from another place.”

Pilate then asked, “You are a king, then!”

Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Here we learn that those of us who walk on this earth and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord have a dual citizenship Ð that of the Kingdom of God and of a nation in this world. Let’s think about these two citizenships.

As we grow older and the years swiftly pass by, we begin to understand how brief this life is. We soon understand the truth of the writer’s words in the book of Hebrews when he says that we are like aliens and pilgrims on our way to the homeland. We have the assurance that when these days are over, it is not the end, for God has prepared for us a kingdom that is eternal. Christ has come to give us the kingdom that our Creator intended us to have before sin took it from us.

Yet, people are still asking how they can become a member of that eternal kingdom. By our natural birth, we became citizens of a nation. But to be a part of the kingdom of God, we must be born again. Our Lord tells us that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they receive him as Savior and Lord. The invitation to be his eternal child is offered to all people, for God wants all to have citizenship in that kingdom. Therefore, he sent his Son into the world to suffer and die as a payment for those sins, which separate us from our Creator. The new birth comes when we receive Christ and he lives in us.

The question is then asked, What is the relationship between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of our Lord?

The Bible clearly teaches that this earthly kingdom is very important. Jesus taught us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” Paul wrote, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1f). Apply this teaching to those of us who live in a democracy Ð a government of the people Ð and it tells us that we are to assume our responsibilities and serve wherever we are called to be servants of God in our nation. But he also says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” His kingdom has top priority. Here is where we have our temptation.

The material is so appealing for the sinful human being. The earthly kingdom is here. It has so much to offer us that favors the human body with all of its material gifts, and these possessions are so satisfying to our many appetites. This tempts us to set aside the kingdom of God with the promise to ourselves that we will pick up that part of our lives as we draw closer to the time of death. This decision costs us blessings, like peace, joy, security, and forgiveness, which only Christ can give us. No million dollar house can bring us the joy that the assurance of having a mansion in heaven can bring. It is at this point in our lives that we have to ask, “Who is the rich man now and who is the rich man in eternity? Our answer will determine which of the two kingdoms has top priority in our life.

While we enjoy being a part of God’s kingdom while on earth, we will not have the full understanding of what it is to be in this kingdom until we arrive in heaven. Imagine living in a kingdom that knows no sorrow, suffering, or death. The natural mind cannot even comprehend such a place.

The Bible says, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his grace, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Christ will appear and the world will end. His second coming will not be like his first coming in Bethlehem where he was born in a manger. At this second coming, “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

Then those who began their journey in the kingdom of God on earth will have the full understanding of what this kingdom truly is. Jesus came to give us back the kingdom that Satan took away. All of this is ours in Christ.