God’s Secret

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, “Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12b).

When St. Paul says that he does not have all the answers to God’s revelation, who am I, or any other human, to think that we do?

The Bible answers many of our questions. Here are a few of these answers:

¥ We are created by God in his image.

¥ We are sinners.

¥ Christ suffered and died for the sins of the world.

¥ Christ will one day return to this earth.

We learn a few more answers in our text:

¥ Jesus is coming back. This is a biblical revelation. We, however, do not know when he will return. That is a secret.

¥ At Jesus’ return, he will judge the living and the dead. Our Lord will gather to himself those who are his own. Beyond these things, we can go no further.

¥ Jesus gives us some strong warnings: Be ready. Beyond these things we cannot go for God has kept the ultimate knowledge to himself.

There are at least responses to this text:

1. Denial

Such a response would come from the atheist or agnostic who would say it is ridiculous. Jesus was simply a man, and men do not return from the dead.

2. Not Interested

This person hears the message but gives it little thought. He was taught in Sunday school as a child that Jesus is coming back, but when he matured in his thinking, he gave up such foolish thinking. The sermon dealing with Jesus’ second coming has low priority in his system of beliefs, but he does not want to disturb other people who do believe it. Therefore, he routinely says that “Christ shall come again to judge the living and the dead,” at that time when the congregation confesses its faith in the word of the Apostles’ Creed.

3. Fear

Let’s say an event gets international attention. This person is heard asking if this is a sign that Jesus is coming soon. “Is He just around the corner? Maybe we will be here when He returns.”

In 1948, the state of Israel had just been established. Jewish people were free to return to their homeland. Some people believed this was a sign that Christ would soon return.

As a Lutheran Christian, I had not been highly schooled in dispensation theology, which teaches more about the how and when of our Lord’s return than had others. These people were far better versed in the books of Daniel and Revelation than I. When I was ordained in June, 1948, the Advent Season, with its teaching on Jesus’ second coming was only six months away. I preached on this text, and several parishioners came with their questions about my understanding of our Lord’s return afterward. They felt the Jewish peoples’ return to the state of Israel had spiritual innuendos.

I told those seeking great knowledge on the subject more detailed information, but I never became interested enough to read in depth on what people thought about Jesus’ return. For me, it was enough to confess that he is coming again and take his admonition to be ready to meet him when he comes seriously.

What did concern me was their fear of his coming. Weren’t these people ready to meet him? We spent a great deal of time on this subject.

4. Anticipation

When Jesus comes to receive us, believers will stand in his presence. All secrets will be revealed. We will live in a place where there is no sorrow, suffering, and death. Words cannot explain it, but we can dream of that blessed day.

The older we get, the more we anticipate that time. What joy it is to sit at the bedside of an older person whose life is over and the doctor has estimated she will have only a few hours left in this world. Then to read that great promise in John 14 where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for all who have died trusting him as their Savior and Lord. Based on God’s Word to whisper into the ear of the loved one who is dying, “Think of it, mother! The earthly life is soon over. Tomorrow you will be with Jesus!” Then to see the smile cross her face as she squeezes your hand.

Yes, at the end of time our Lord will return. We must also realize that he could come to get us in death before he returns to judge the living and the dead. Are we ready? You are only when Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord and lives in your heart. Have you received him? Amen.

“The King is coming, the King is coming

I just heard the trumpet sounding,

And now His face I see;

O, the King is coming, the King is coming!

Praise God, He is coming for me.”

The Big Picture

“I was a thousand miles from home, a visitor at a morning worship service. This one, I found, offered more than liturgy, a sermon, and handshakes. The church custodian was retiring after serving well and long. The congregation was taking time to honor the custodian. They called him forward, gave him gifts, and offered spoken tributes. They talked about how he had never rebuffed even the shiest child, of how he had labored with patience and humor regardless of the situation. But one description does stay in my memory. Someone said, ÔHe never lost sight of the large picture.'”

Dear friends, this little story about the custodian isn’t mine. It’s a true story, written by a Lutheran author named Gerhard Frost. It was part of a devotion in which he went on to say, “The large picture; can we see it Ð you and I? God gives us a bit of it in his Word. He helps us see beyond the aches of the present to the beauty of the endless future.”

Sometimes it is difficult for us to keep our eyes on the larger picture. Day to day living with its many priorities and problems and hardships, concerns, responsibilities Ð all clamoring for our attention and allegiance Ð can oftentimes cause us to lose sight of the ultimate, the infinite, the eternal, the larger picture. That is what our text this day is discussing.

According to our text, Jesus’ disciples asked when the end times would be and what would be its signs. His response described the hard times ahead for them. Their lives would be filled with suffering, confusion, and a lot of waiting. But, in regard to when the end times would come, Jesus told them that no one knows Ð not the angels or even the Son Ð only the Father.

A couple things jump out at me right away: First of all, Jesus points out that God is in charge of this world. The angels don’t know; even the Son doesn’t know. Only the Father knows. He made it, and he has every intention of keeping it.

We also see in this passage that Jesus is making a claim for himself when he says, “The Son doesn’t know.” In all likelihood, Jesus was pointing to himself as the Son of God. He’s the part of the God-head that is now in the flesh to live amongst God’s people. Our Apostles’ Creed draws that picture: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father . . . .” We believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, according to the Apostles’ Creed, and that he has come into our world.

And then the text ends with Jesus telling his disciples to “keep watch . . . be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Here Jesus completes the portion of the creed where it says he is coming again to judge the living and the dead. He goes on to say that the Son of Man is coming again.

As we approach Christmas, we remember that this is the first coming of the Son of Man. The Bible tells us in John 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . . full of grace and truth.”

Why did this Word, this Son of God come? He came because humanity was lost in sin, and the wages of sin is eternal death. There is no way out on our own. The world was doomed. But thanks be to God Ð our Father in heaven loved us so much that he gave us his only begotten Son. He took on human flesh and died on the cross as a payment for our sins. He took our punishment upon himself. God raised him on the third day from the grave and promised that, as we trust Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness and eternal life. God has ultimately given Jesus all authority over heaven and earth. Someday he is coming again, but not as a tiny, helpless babe in a manger, but in power, glory, and might as the Son of Man.

Now note, Jesus teaches us in our text that we cannot know when he is coming again. Like the flood that came upon the earth at the time of Noah, it will come as a total surprise. We see in another place that Christ’s coming is described as a thief in the night. We don’t know when it will happen, we just trust that he is coming again in power. Even though we don’t know when, we do know what his return means for the world. As Jesus said, “Two men in the field, one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding wheat in the mill, one will be taken and one left behind.” This is a picture of judgment, of a separating out. Whether a person is taken or left all depends upon their relationship with Christ Jesus.

The book of Revelation says that Christians look forward to this day. It will be a great day of joy and celebration, a day of homecoming as Christ takes his own home to himself, as he promised. No more tears, no more death, no more suffering, a new heaven and a new earth. Hear John’s words: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of water, and God will wipe eery tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16, 17).

Amen! There we have it! The large picture Ð Christ has come; he’s coming again. This is our hope. It is the grounds for our confidence and optimism as Christians. This is the grounds of confidence as we pray, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We know, and we trust, that God is in charge. Christ is coming again.

But Jesus didn’t leave it there. We are not to simply sit and wait around. Instead He continued to instruct his disciples on living out the in-between times. He told them to keep awake and be ready. The Lord of Lords and the King of Kings Ð the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given after the resurrection Ð is calling us to heed these words as servants and live them out in obedience and trust.

I heard a story years ago about Coach Bear Bryant who had a brilliant career coaching football at Alabama. He was tough and demanding and his players did what Bear said. One year Coach Bryant had a starting quarterback who was a bit head strong and gave the coach real fits. However, the kid was a little slow on his feet, but had a good passing arm.

During one particular game, Alabama was six points ahead with only a couple minutes left in the game. Alabama had the ball. When the opposing team called a time out, Coach Bryant told his quarterback, “Play it safe. Don’t you dare throw the ball or I’ll kill you myself. You keep the ball on the ground and run the clock out.”

The young quarterback nodded, but when he got back to the huddle he didn’t follow the instructions. He told the team, “They are waiting for us to run; let’s surprise them. I’ll throw a pass.” So he went out to throw a pass, saw a man open, threw the ball at his direction, but it was intercepted by a pass defender who just happened to be that school’s champion sprinter. He picked off a couple of blocks, and before you knew it, he was headed for the goal line. It looked like a sure touchdown. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, came this slow quarterback streaking towards that runner. He caught him and tackled him at the ten-yard line just as the clock ran out. Alabama won the game. After the game the opposing team’s coach asked, “Bear Bryant, how in the world did your quarterback catch my sprinter?” Bryant’s reply was, “Your man was running for six points; my man was running for his life.”

Our Lord’s instruction is meant to be taken seriously. Our lives depend upon it. So what does it mean to be ready? It means first of all to place your faith in Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior. When I say faith, I mean trust. It’s more than having correct thoughts in your head. It’s about trusting Jesus Christ, his Word, and what he did for you. It’s following him each day, surrendering yourself to his care. That’s being ready.

Have you come to that place in your spiritual life where you know for certain that, if you were to die today, you would go to heaven? Some have argued no one can know that for sure. Jesus came to this earth, he died and rose from the dead so that we can know for sure. The Bible says that all these things were written for us in order that we may know that we have eternal life in Christ. Place your trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Ask him into your life today if you haven’t done so already. That’s the first step in being ready for Christ’s return. Stick with that Gospel; keep trusting it and living with it the rest of your days.

To keep awake is to simply be like a watchman who keeps watch. Stay awake and live with a spirit of expectancy, like he is coming any day. Christians are to keep their eye out for him, not like astronomers looking through a telescope, but more like captives in a prison camp longing for the day that will allow them to go home. Christ told us when he comes he will take us to himself. We will go home.

It is interesting to note as well that after Jesus gets done with this little portion with his disciples, he goes on to describe what it means to be ready. He first talked about servants who will be blessed when the master returns to find them at work. He describes bridesmaids who are allowed into the wedding celebration because they stayed awake and watched expectantly for the bridegroom. He describes in a parable servants who took the money their master had entrusted to them while he was away and did something with it for the master’s sake. He describes compassionate people who fed the poor, cared for the needy, and heard the master say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25).

Friends, you and I have been given a great treasure: the Gospel, the good news of Christ Jesus. Jesus calls us to tell that story and point people in his direction at every opportunity he affords us. We are called to care about those who don’t know him yet and find ways to connect them to him through our words and loving actions.

Suppose you knew that you only had a few days left to live. Isn’t there someone in your life that you’d want to check in with to make sure they know that Gospel story in order that they might trust in it and be saved. Perhaps it is a parent, a friend, a child, a sister or brother. Christ is counting on you, wherever you are, to do just that. Don’t wait; do it now. You don’t know when it could all be over and the opportunity could be missed. Each day is an opportunity, another gift from God to love somebody into the kingdom with your words and your actions.

So there, we have it! Christ has come; Christ is coming again. God is in charge. The world is headed, not for ultimate chaos and disaster, but for the return of the King Jesus and his coronation. That is our hope. Ultimately he’s in charge. Hang on to that one. And as we wait for that day, may we heed his words, keep watch, and live each day as if it might be our last.

Be ready. Serve the Master. May Jesus find you awake and ready. Come Lord Jesus.

Financing His Kingdom

The Church has always called on believers to share their possessions in building God’s Kingdom. That’s why the giving of time, talent, and money is a fruit of our faith and a part of the Christian life. To help us grow in our stewardship, the Word of God has a lot to say about giving.

The Old Testament taught that God’s people should return to the Lord one tenth of their earnings. This was called the tithe, and a part of Jewish law. Jesus affirmed the tithe but for Him it was not an end in itself.

He said to the Pharisees, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

Without criticizing the tithe, Jesus placed greater emphasis on love for the Kingdom as the motivation for our giving. One day He pointed His disciples to people leaving their gifts at the place of worship. Luke records this conversation, “Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.

He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.'”

Our Lord was not teaching that we should give away all that we have, but He was teaching that when our love for God is strong, it will move us beyond giving out of our abundance.

Stewardship is more than fulfilling a law, it is being constrained to give out of love for Christ. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, pursued this same thought that our giving was an expression of our love for the Lord Jesus. He used the Macedonians as examples of what true stewardship is. They themselves had many trials and lived in poverty, but when they heard the Christians in Jerusalem were suffering from a famine, they were anxious to share their possessions with these brothers and sisters in Christ.

Using the Macedonian churches as role models, Paul says, “They gave themselves first to the Lord.” (II Corinthians 8:5) This is the first step in Christian stewardship and one that is sometimes overlooked by congregations in talking to the members about the giving of their time, talent, and money.

Imagine that it is Stewardship Sunday in a given congregation. The people are urged to give liberally that God’s work may flourish. However, a percentage of the people in the congregation have little or no relationship with the Lord. They have belonged to the church for some years and have been regular in their attendance. Going to church is just the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean to these friends that they have to become involved with Jesus Christ to the degree that they give themselves to Him.

Their giving to the church is no different than paying dues to other organizations to which they belong. Now the preacher is getting radical and even goes beyond the tithe to suggest that their love for Christ will lead them to give sacrificially.

When these friends are told that giving is a part of the Christian life, they are not able to comprehend the meaning of the statement. Giving has nothing to do with their relationship with the Lord. To them, giving is meeting the expenses of the congregation and what is left over should be given for some good cause.

In other words, giving beyond this does not make any sense to the church member until he or she has met and given themselves to Christ. Sermons on giving become irritating, and the church is accused of always asking for money and putting unrealistic demands on the members’ time.

To relieve some of the ill feelings towards the church, I used to tell those members who had not yet met the Lord that they did not need to give anything, for they were not a part of the missionary force of the church. They were a part of the church’s mission. When they had met the Lord, giving would become fun for them.

It is a demonstrated truth that the person who knows the Lord has great fun in giving of himself or herself and that includes the giving of time, talent, and money. It is the way they demonstrate their love for the Lord who first loved them.

St. Paul has another teaching on stewardship which is important for us to hear. He writes, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7)

In other words, no one is to use pressure in telling another person how much of his time and money he or she should give to the Lord. This is between the Christian and the Lord with whom he has a personal relationship.

I sometimes wonder about the practice used by some fundraisers who serve our congregation, especially when large sums of money are to be raised to construct a building or do some other major project. Many of them use the “advanced givers list.” Those on the list are the people who are more affluent than other members.

A committee tries to determine what these people should be willing to give in the light of their financial circumstances. So you visit Mrs. Jones and suggest she give $100,000 for this worthy cause. One cannot argue that this approach has been quite effective and Mrs. Jones was willing and anxious to give. In fact, she was blessed by giving this large amount of money.

She now claimed ownership to the project. The congregation also benefited for a lot of money was needed to complete the large project. The other side of the coin is to answer the question, “Is this Christian stewardship or downright plain fundraising?”

Were the Macedonian churches having a fund-raiser for the poor people in Jerusalem or were they giving out of love to Christ?

It was not until I had been in the ministry for nearly ten years that I learned what Biblical stewardship was all about. One day I met a layman by the name of Sam Edwins who taught me that Christian stewardship could be summarized with the words, “We give out of love to Christ in relationship to our faith.” We give out of love. We give to Christ and not to some particular cause, though we might know how the money will be used. As our faith grows, our giving will grow.

My experience has convinced me that this is God’s plan for Christian giving, and if this teaching is followed over the years, believers in Christ will respond with their gifts. The more we follow these Biblical teachings on giving, the more fun we had watching giving grow in our congregation. But more than that, we saw the excitement on the part of the giver for he or she, in a tangible way, was showing love for the Savior. Giving was no longer an obligation but an opportunity to have a small part in building God’s Kingdom.

Why Did Jesus Come?

Are you ever disappointed with Jesus? His cousin, John the Baptist, was!

If we become disappointed with Jesus, it is because we do not know why he came to earth. This is a lesson that John the Baptist had to learn.

We learn from the Bible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, were cousins. Both were told by the angel, Gabriel, that they were called by God to have special places in the building of God’s kingdom. Mary was to be the mother of Jesus, the Savior of the world, and Elizabeth, was to be the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. Neither understood these roles. However, Mary said it well: “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

John was born and lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel (Luke 1:80). And he began his ministry. Luke described John the Baptist as the “voice of one crying in the desert, ÔPrepare the way for the Lord, . . .'” (Luke 3:4).

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” He never softened the truth, neither in his preaching nor in his counseling. He even rebuked Herod, the ruler of a small area of land who had stolen his brother Philip’s wife. John minced no words in telling the leader that this was sin. This angered Herod and his wife, and so John was put into prison just waiting for the right time to be executed.

While in prison, John received reports of Jesus’ ministry. He had expected that Jesus would point out people’s sin to them and continue the same message of God’s judgement as he had done. Jesus preached to the people about their sins, but more than that He talked about the forgiveness of their sins and the new life they could have in following Him. While our Lord was not soft on sin, He ate with the tax collectors and sinners. This was unheard of to the Scribes and Pharisees.

When Jesus heard of John’s disappointment, He responded with these words, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of the commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-19).

Speaking words like these, no one could accuse Jesus of being soft on sin. However, the Savior wanted to talk about the solution to the sinfulness of the human being. He came to offer us forgiveness. He brought the good news that he would not only take our sins away, but also that the Holy Spirit would give us grace to turn from our sins and become new people.

In John chapter 8, verses 1-11, Jesus is speaking to a lady who was caught in the act of adultery. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees reminded Jesus that, in the law of Moses, this woman could be stoned. The accusers then asked, “Now what do you say?” Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time until Jesus was alone with her. Jesus then asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Why did Jesus come? To forgive our sins and change our lives. St. Paul could then write, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17).

Back to our text for this Sunday in Advent. Why did Jesus’ message differ from John the Baptist’s? They both said that the wages of sin is an unhappy life and death. However, Jesus added that the forgiveness of sins and a new life are free gifts from God. That is the good news of Christmas. If you miss this message, you miss the message of Christmas.

If it is true that we can be disappointed with Jesus, then we do not fully understand why he came to earth. Jesus had to discover his mission here among us, so it isn’t any wonder that we could have the same problem. As we walk with him through life’s experiences, we can learn little by little why he is here for us.

On October 12 of this year, my wife and I were watching the Texas Rangers defeat the New York Yankees to win the American League championship and a place in the World Series. The name of Josh Hamilton kept being mentioned. However, being Cub fans, we didn’t know much about the players involved in the game.

At the end of the game, Josh was named the MVP in the American League Ð a cherished award. The commentators mentioned that he had a rough past. We became interested in this man when they told us he had gone from being a drug addict to a sober super star. Josh then told the audience that all through the game he was tearing up. Is this going to be the night? He kept thinking about where he had been, where he was now, everything he had gone through, and how God was just faithful to bring him out of his addiction.

When Josh received his trophy, his first words were, “I give my thanks to God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is making me a new person.”

We learned that Hamilton had a brief relapse in 2009. However, God was right there to pick him up, forgive him, and encourage him on his way again.

What about the future and his addiction? Josh is like all the rest of us with our sins. We take one day at a time knowing that Christ has promised to walk with us.

Why did Jesus Christ come to this earth?

He answers the question in fourteen words found in Luke 19:10. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

A Blessed Christmas to you all.

Living and Dying

Sitting in prison, perhaps on death row, St. Paul had plenty of time to write a letter to the Philippian congregation. In this letter, he says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

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Hearing this statement, you might say this sentence must have come from some saint who had never tasted of the real world. St. Paul would not have agreed. In fact, he called himself “the worst of sinners.” He had committed murder, which was not the sin of most people. But his sins had been forgiven by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, and so all guilt had been taken away. Let’s take a look at the early life of this man.

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Saul (Paul) was born into the upper-middle class. His father and mother were Jews of the tribe of Benjamin. His father was an influential Jew and a Pharisee. Paul was born in the affluent and academic city of Tarsus, and he was a Roman citizen. Tradition says that when he was a child, Paul was sent to a boarding school in Jerusalem to learn the Jewish Law and later returned to Tarsus to study under the famous theological teacher, Gamaliel. Paul was not only well-educated, but also zealous for his religious convictions and destined to become a leader in Judaism.

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But then came the day when life changed for Paul. The Bible tells us that he went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice from heaven say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

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“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

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“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

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So he was led into the city blind, and he did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus he met a disciple named Ananias. The Lord had told Ananias to go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He was to then place hands on Saul to restore his sight. Ananias went and immediately Saul received his sight, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was baptized.

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Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus and preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All of this astonished the people. The Jews tried to kill him, but we are told in the book of Galatians that he soon left for Arabia and spent up to three years maturing in the faith.

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Saul had been converted and later wrote to the Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come.” He was a new man and called by God to be his Apostle to the Gentile world. Later Paul described his life in this way: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

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This did not mean that Paul lived an easy life. Through the years he was stoned in Lystra, imprisoned and beaten in Philippi, beaten and thrown out of other cities, afflicted with poor health, and shipwrecked in the Mediterranean to mention only a few of his hardships. And yet he said that for him to live was Christ.

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What did this mean? Paul was telling the people that life was not easy, but whether in good days or bad days, Jesus was always at his side, and His grace was always more than sufficient for Paul.

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If Paul had his choice, he would rather die and be with Christ, for there he would see Him face to face and all his questions pertaining to his life and his relationship with the Father would be answered. Now he only knew in part, but when his earthly tasks were done, Paul, a good and faithful servant, would be taken in death under the hand of Nero, the godless emperor, to be with his heavenly Father.

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Now, let’s see what this part of God’s Word says to us. Can we make the same confession Ð “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”?

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The answer is yes. Millions of believers have and do make this confession. Let me illustrate.

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In 1945, Bishop Hans Lilje of Hanover, Germany spoke to 10,000 youth in Minneapolis. The bishop had been in one of Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II. He was punished for making statements such as “The future of the German people is not in the hands of Adolph Hitler, but of Almighty God.” After his release, Lilje visited the United States and spoke to a youth group. In his address he said, “The days were difficult in prison, but always were the promises of Christ sure. He never failed me, but comforted me with His presence and His promise, ÔI am with you!'”Ê

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The bishop could say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

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Let me tell you of a woman who was afflicted with a serious illness. As she lay on a gurney waiting to be pushed into the operating room, a nurse, sensing the tense situation, asked, “Would you like to have a chaplain?” The patient, replied, “No, I am alright.” She was at peace wanting to live because she loved life, but assured that, whether she lived or died, she belonged to the Lord, and He had prepared a heavenly home for her.

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A third example of the many who can say “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain,” are those who live in a retirement center but are assured of a place in heaven. I often hear a person say, “No life supports for me! I have enjoyed my life, but now I am ready to go when Christ calls me.” Isn’t this the Christian attitude of St. Paul?

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Our Lord has blessed us with his presence while we live on planet earth, and he has assured us that the best is yet to come.

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