Called to Riches

Jewels

Ephesians 1:18c “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you man know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.

God has riches waiting for you, glorious riches in heaven. This is your inheritance, your “new-birth” right as God’s children. That sounds good. It sounds great. But it may seem a little vague. Have you ever noticed that when God describe heaven, he usually talks about the absence of the things we don’t like? It is the place with no more sorrow, no more pain, no more hunger, no more tears, no more sin, no more death.

When it comes to describing what heaven is in a positive way, God himself seems to be at a loss for words. Later in this same letter Paul says that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And heaven is one of those things that defy human words, because it is more than our little brains are even capable of imagining.

So Paul tells us it is the riches of a glorious inheritance. What do “riches” mean to you? Is a millionaire rich? Is a billionaire rich? Do we even know how much that really is? If a billion people made a human tower, they would stand up past the moon. If you started counting from one to a billion, it would take you 95 years to finish. If you found a goldfish bowl large enough to hold a billion goldfish, it would be as big as a football stadium. A billion seconds ago it was 1980. A billion minutes ago the Apostle John was still alive. A billion hours ago our world hadn’t been created yet. A billion dollars ago was earlier this morning at the rate dollars are spent in Washington D.C.

Of course, the riches of heaven aren’t measured in dollars. And a billion is something we can imagine, as we have just demonstrated. The riches of our glorious inheritance far exceed all this, more than we can even imagine. And yet, it is not more than we can hope or believe. Another place Paul writes the Corinthians, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him–but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Maybe human words can’t describe it. Maybe our minds can’t fully picture it. But God’s Spirit has still revealed it in a way that our believing hearts embrace and long for. Though the eyes of my body don’t see the riches of my glorious inheritance, the enlightened eyes of my heart and faith do. I believe that yours do, too. It is part of your Christian calling–to see that your future is full of glorious riches now, and to know that you will live in them forever.

As much as we ought to be fighting for a place in line to receive what he is giving away, he doesn’t wait for that to happen. He has found us and called us to receive it all by faith. Doesn’t that calling speak to our situation now? I want to hear God’s word at every opportunity, because that is how he flips the switches in my soul and turns the lights on for my faith.

I am not going to expect a life free from trouble or trial. I am not going to let them destroy my hope, either. The fires of affliction refine my faith. I know that God is on my side through them, because he has called me to his side. There may be battles ahead, but in the end the Lord doesn’t lose.

I am more than the graying, middle-aged has been with poor eyesight that the world sees. In Christ I am far richer than the world’s super rich, because all the treasures of heaven belong to me. Don’t we, then, have confidence for our life of service now as well as the life of glory to come? Christian, this is your calling. See it. Believe it. Let it change your life.

Called to Hope

Rail to Hope

Ephesians 1:18b “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…

If God has called you, that makes you a special person. When I receive a call to go and serve some other congregation as its pastor, sometimes it seems like a nuisance. Many hours will be needed to investigate the two ministries before me: the one I have and the one inviting me to come and serve. There will be phone calls, searching questions, sometimes a gut-wrenching decision. It can seem like a distraction from the work of the ministry.

But that is wrong. In the call God is telling me, “I haven’t forgotten about you. I still have a special purpose for your life. I have singled you out to serve me, and I want you to think about what that means for a little while.”

Most of you haven’t been called to be pastors, but God has given you an even more important and more fundamental call. He has called you to be his children by faith. He has singled you out to know him as your dear Father, to see his Son Jesus become your real brother, to discover the ultimate act of love for you in Jesus’ death on the cross, to receive forgiveness for all your sins, to be free from every guilty burden that has weighed on your soul, to live each moment of your life under the smiling face of a gracious God, and to know that it all only gets better after you die.

In short, he has called you to hope. You may not look any different after you have been called to faith. Your skin tone doesn’t change with the removal of sin. You don’t stretch up several inches after the guilty burden has been removed. You aren’t suddenly immune to all the world’s dangers, and the grass doesn’t turn gold beneath your feet. Yet somehow, the world looks different. Your life looks different. Everything that happens looks different. To borrow a turn of phrase from the movie The Santa Clause, it’s not that seeing is believing. Rather, believing is seeing. By bringing you his gospel, and calling you to faith, God has given you hope.

God’s hope makes all the difference, because God’s hope is certain. Everybody wants a better future. That’s why politicians try to inspire a sense of hope in their political campaigns. That’s why people from so many parts of the world bring their hopes for a better life to America. But hope that is built on human calculations and planning is nothing more than a wish. We neither know nor control the future. It is a dream that offers comfort, but it may be nothing more than an illusion.

The hope to which God has called us cannot fail. No one controls God, but God himself controls the future. He does exactly what he pleases, and he never changes. If he makes a promise, he always keeps it. Nothing can stand in his way. If he says he forgives our sins, he does–every time! If he says he will give us eternal life, he does! We are living in it already! The hope we have in him is the only hope that comes with an absolutely unbreakable, unfailing guarantee.

Do you know what that means? It means that Lutheran Church Father C.F.W. Walther was 100 percent correct when he said, “Der Christ ist ein optimist.” I’ll bet you can already translate the German. “The Christian is an optimist.” We know that the future is good. For those God has called, with fists full of his promises, even the parts of the future that are bad are good. We have certain hope! This hope frees us from anxiety. It makes us patient as we struggle through more difficult days now in anticipation of what lies ahead. At all times, in every circumstance, we have hope because God has called us to be his own.

Gospel Glasses

gospel glasses

Ephesians 1:18 “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…”

God doesn’t wait for volunteers. When he needed a nation to carry on the promise and the bloodline of the Savior, he didn’t travel from one part of the ancient world to another, asking whether anyone was interested. He told Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation…”

When he needed a king to lead his people, he didn’t ask David, “Would you like to do something other than watch sheep?” He sent Samuel to anoint this teenager king, almost before David knew what was happening.

When Jesus needed 12 men to lead his church as apostles after him, he didn’t post a sign-up list and wait for volunteers. He found men at work, and in the middle of the day he told them to put everything down and follow him.

God doesn’t wait for volunteers. He calls people. He calls them to faith. He calls them to service. The reason you believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior is that God has called you. His gospel made your unwilling heart willing. It has turned you from fear and doubt to trust and confidence.

Seeing our Christian calling isn’t a natural thing. Have you ever seen the movie National Treasure? In the movie, in order to read clues hidden on the back of the original Declaration of Independence, clues that lead to a treasure hidden by America’s founding fathers, the hero of the movie, Benjamin Gates, needs special glasses with colored lenses invented by Ben Franklin. Without the glasses, all you see is parchment.

In order for us to understand what is really going on in the world, we need God’s clues. But we can’t see them at all without his special “glasses.” That’s why the Bible often describes our natural spiritual condition as “blindness” or “darkness.” We just can’t see. That’s why the Lord gives us his gospel and calls us to faith. Even then our vision is often blurred by our sinful nature. That’s why Paul prays that our hearts may be enlightened. Then we can see the hope to which God has called us.

Are you aware of the darkness of which I am speaking? We still fight it in our own lives. It creeps into our thinking in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. If you became deathly ill and suffered from chronic pain with no relief, if your family was coming apart at the seams, if you lost your job, if one of these sink holes you hear about on the news from time to time opened up right under your house and swallowed it whole, what would you conclude? You might start wondering what you ever did to make God so mad. You might even start to question his fairness. Your faith in God’s goodness and love might be seriously shaken.

And you would be wrong. That is the unenlightened thinking of spiritual darkness. That’s your sinful nature talking. It is a serious threat to your faith.

If you are like me, your first thought would not be, “How deeply God must love me to go to such lengths to loosen my grip on this world, to teach me that there is no heaven on earth, to leave me nothing on which I can rely except him alone, and to give me this opportunity to know his all-encompassing love even better.” To us, the parchment looks blank. The darkness makes it impossible to see.

For this, we need to put on the special glasses. Eyes of faith looking through gospel lenses interpret everything in the light of Christ’s cross and God’s promises. Then we can conclude with Dr. Becker, “In this way the children of God learn to know that God is nearest just at the moment when he seems to be farthest away. At the time when he seems to be most angry, when he sends them afflictions and trials, they know him best as their merciful Savior. When they feel the terrors of sin and death most deeply, then they know best that they have eternal righteousness. And just when they are of all men the most miserable, they know that they are lords over all things.”

May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, so that we see everything through the lenses of God’s love.

Face to Face

Sun rays

Revelation 22:4-5 “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

Do you remember how Moses once asked to see God’s face, and God told him “…no man may see me and live”? Do you remember how practically everyone who saw God or his angels in visions was terrified? The great gulf between his holiness and our sinfulness is why the relationship must be carried on by faith rather than sight at this time. It is almost like a long distance relationship between two pen pals. They write, but never see each other. That is how we relate to God, at least on our part. He has written to us in his word. We never see him. The words that connect us lead us to care about each other deeply. But now, there is always that distance, at least for us who cannot see him.

One of the many blessings of living at home with God is the end of that distance. He will live life with us, and we will see him face to face. Writing is great when you can’t see the one you love. I once lived for the next letter from my wife to appear in my mailbox. Hearing a live voice over the phone is even better. But only being together, in the same place, where you can see or touch, as well as read or hear, makes the relationship complete. Only seeing each other face to face allows you to connect and communicate in the way you long to do. That is waiting for us in God’s home, and it may be the very greatest blessing of them all.

Since God and the Lamb will live life with us face to face, we will forever live in their light. “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.” What will it be like to live in such unending light? Will we sleep in heaven, but sleep in spite of the persistent light? It is also described as a place of perfect rest. You certainly can’t ask God to turn it down. That light is part of who he is.

Will we be so changed that sleep itself is no longer necessary? One thing is certain: no multicolored sunrise or sunset, no glorious view of the sun’s rays shining through a hole in the clouds, no warm glow of a fire, no dazzling display of fireworks, no light we can conceive of here will be as beautiful to see, or warming to soak in, as the light that shines from God’s face when he lives life with his people.

You have heard the saying, “A man’s home is his castle.” In our own home, each one of us rules. Ironically, in God’s home, each of us rules as well. “They will reign forever and ever.” When you look at the life God gives in his presence, ruling is an apt description of how we live. We will live like kings, in the presence of the King, because we are home with God, and live with him face to face.

God rules. We serve.

throne

Revelation 22:3 “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.”

What does God do when he lives with his people? What is that relationship in the heavenly city God makes his home? He rules, and his people serve. Does that seem like a letdown for heaven–even a bait and switch? Our sinful nature chafes at the idea of chasing around doing what God wants. We want freedom. We want to do what we want. We want the otherworldly luxury resort and spa to pamper us the way we always imagined heaven. God rules and we serve? Maybe we find ourselves thinking like the devil in Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven,” (even though the devil doesn’t actually rule in hell).

All of this misunderstands how God rules, and what it means for us to serve him. God’s rule doesn’t make us do all the unpleasant, menial tasks so that he can sit back and take it easy. This is the God who did everything to save us. He left heaven and became a man for us. He kept the law perfectly and died for sins and defeated death for us. This is the God whose power gives all things life and keeps all things going. He needs no help from us. His rule runs the universe to take care of our needs. His rule will run heaven for the same reasons.

Where his rule touches our behavior, it has less to do with getting his needs met. It has more to do with how we treat each other. As a father, you might say that I also “rule” my children. But I am not so interested in having them do my work for me. I am interested in teaching them how to take care of themselves someday, and how to get along with each other and other people. That is why I tell them to do certain chores, or behave in certain ways. God’s rule has us behaving in ways that show we respect him for his great love to us. It leads us to care for each other. In heaven, that won’t seem like any burden.

Let’s also not be so naive as to think that heaven would be a place we can enjoy if all we did was lay around, stuff our faces, and try to keep entertained. Doesn’t that lifestyle leave so many people feeling bored and unfulfilled in this world? Heaven will be perfect pleasure, but everlasting laziness and selfishness are not fun. God created human beings to have a sense of purpose. In order to be fulfilled, we need a way to serve. That is why the Lord will give us interesting, satisfying work to do. He will make use of the gifts that make each one of us unique. We will know, in a way we never fully realize here, that we are important, that there is a reason for us to exist. When God lives life with his people, he rules and we serve. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

Abundance

fruit tree

Revelation 22:2-3 “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

Do you remember what Jesus said his ministry was supposed to accomplish for us in John 10, the chapter in which he describes himself as the Good Shepherd? “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Or, as the King James translated it, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

That full and abundant life does not mean earthly wealth and health. Jesus also tells us that following him in this world will mean bearing a cross, seeing our relationships strained and families divided, enduring much trouble: in short, losing our lives for him.

At the same time we do know the blessings of living in his promises by faith: the relief of having our guilt lifted from us, the peace of knowing God will give us our daily bread, the joy of growing in a life of love for others. All of this is a foretaste of the full and abundant life to come.

The life with God in heaven is the full banquet, not merely a foretaste. The life he gives his people there is abundant in every way. The tree of life keeps producing its life-giving fruit, 12 crops a year. There is no need to ration food, no scrimping, no difficulty getting by. The Lord provides plenty of everything for all. John’s Greek in this verse also suggests the fruit may be a different kind each month. God’s bounty is not boring sameness, but endless variety.

And all of it never ends. The River of Life keeps flowing. The Tree of Life keeps bearing. The people who live in God’s home keep on living, forever. The curses the Lord pronounced on Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden– pain in childbirth, strained marriages, tiring, frustrating work, and death– are no more. All have been healed, and God’s abundance continues without end.

Unpolluted

drink river

Revelation 22:1-2 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”

John paints a picture for us here. That is how the book of Revelation is presented, in symbols and pictures. The very first verse of the book tells us that God “sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” In this book God wants to tell us about things and events that are real, but he uses signs and symbols to do so. It’s not always easy to know when we are looking at symbol, or when he is talking about the reality behind it. So it is when the Lord describes “the river of the water of life” in heaven.

There is no reason to think that heaven couldn’t have a river like the one John sees in his vision. But the real message is to be found in the way in which the river is described. This is the river of the water of life. Our life in heaven with God fills us with happy anticipation because there he is giving life to his people. Note how the waters of this river of life are described: “clear as crystal.” These life giving waters are pure and unpolluted. That is profoundly different from the life we know now.

Our sins pollute life as we know it. That is no small problem. We act as though our sins will make little difference in our lives. Often we think they will actually make an improvement. Why do we lie instead of taking responsibility for a mistake? Because we think that life will be a little better if we don’t have to take the heat. Why do we pepper our speech with curses and vulgarities when there are perfectly wholesome words we can use? Because we think that we will sound a little stronger, and people will take us a little more seriously, if we do.

Truth is, sin is a deadly pollution to our lives. It never delivers the better life it promises. You know how lies can snowball and trap you. You know that gutter language makes us out to be little more than bullies, or incapable of intelligent thought. In the end we lose more respect than we gain with our obscenities. But those consequences are small compared to the real poison of sin. “The wages of sin is death.”

If sin and death go together, so do purity and life. Already now Jesus has forgiven our sins by his perfect life and innocent death on the cross. Our polluted stream of life has been purified. How does Paul say it? “Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without any stain, or wrinkle, or blemish, but holy and blameless.” Though we may continue to pollute our lives with sin, God’s grace and forgiveness keeps on filtering the deadly poison away. He declares us holy and righteous through faith, and that gives us life.

In heaven, the pollution has stopped altogether. The water of life that God gives us is “clear as crystal.” Where there is no sin, there is no death. Where there is life, real life, there is holiness. Purity will no longer be an unattainable goal. It will be an inseparable and unending part of the life that God gives us. Its waters will leave us eternally refreshed, eternally clean–forever free of the embarrassment, shame, guilt, and fear that spoil our lives and the death that ends it. God’s home is a blessed place, because the life he gives to his people is unpolluted, like the river in John’s vision.

Swallowed Up In Victory

Lion Eats

1 Corinthians 15: 54-57 “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 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 our Lord Jesus Christ”

Paul pictures death completely devoured. It is as if a hungry animal swallowed it whole and didn’t leave a trace.

Isn’t that an interesting twist? In other places the Bible pictures death as the hungry animal. It eats and eats and never has enough. “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, the land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’” (Proverbs 30:15-16). The grave never stops consuming. There are never so many dead people that death can’t take anymore. Isaiah says something similar: “Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses…” (Isaiah 5:14). Far from being satisfied, death seems to get hungrier and hungrier.

Jesus’ resurrection turns the tables. Death itself is swallowed up. “‘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 our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Death has lost its stinger. Sin was the venom that poisoned us. Sin injected death into our lives. The reason sin was so potent was the way that it reacts with the law. God wrote the law on our hearts and in his word. When sin came into contact with the law, there was a violent reaction. We were turned into rebels and lawbreakers. We were turned against God. That leads to death.

But by his death on the cross, our Savior has taken all sin away. The stinger has been removed. When Jesus crushed the serpent’s head, he broke his venomous fangs as well. Death is on the losing side in this contest, and its hunger for us will never be satisfied. Jesus assures our victory.  These lives and these bodies are not ones death will get to keep.

In the Twinkling of an Eye

Eye Twinkle

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Paul grabs our attention by telling us that he is going to tell us a “mystery.” This does not mean that we are about to hear a “whodunit.” Nor is his point particularly hard to understand (though there may be things about it we find hard to fathom). Paul is telling us that what follows has to do with the Gospel. This is information about God and his work which can’t be learned from our consciences or from looking at his creation. God must reveal his mysteries to us. This good news about the resurrection is “inside information,” so to speak. It’s not that God wants to keep it a secret from everyone. Rather, it is something people know only after they have heard the word. We are privileged to know something that not everyone is aware of!

This is that good news: we are all going to be changed on the last day when Jesus comes again, “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” We won’t suffer a long, drawn out process of purification, like the purgatory some believe in. The Lord doesn’t make you go through a miniature version of hell to make you ready for heaven.

Instead, he brings us instant relief from the waiting process we endure right now. Each day we are painfully aware of the fight with our own sin. Each new day the battle begins as soon as we roll out of bed. We face a new army of temptations, waiting to ambush us. Each day life in a sinful world makes our lives miserable. We go from heartache to heartache, illness to illness, anxiety to anxiety, fear to fear, disappointment to disappointment.

But because Jesus lives, God promises that we will all be changed in an instant. Whether we are dead or alive will make no difference. “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” If we are among those whose souls already resting in heaven, whose bodies long ago crumbled into plant food and potting soil, our bodies will change and live again quick as you can wink your eye. If we are still alive on that day, God will miraculously transform our bodies even while we are wearing them.

What will this mean for us? Paul says that we will be imperishable. Jesus death on the cross has purified us and made us free from sin. We aren’t subject to sin’s effects anymore. Even now, our bodies are decaying as we live. Sin is like the rot or decay that makes foods spoil. “One bad apple spoils the bunch.” The rot or decay spreads until none of them are any good. So our bodies also sag, our hair turns colors, our joints wear out, our vision dims, our memory fails—and not only because these things are natural. These are symptoms of sin. The rot, the decay, the spoiling spreads until finally it takes us in death. No amount of artificial preservative can stop it.

That is all going to change. God will remake us imperishable. He will change us so that we can’t spoil anymore. Imagine an existence in which you are always “fresh.” You’ll never wake up in the morning with bags under your eyes because the kids were up all night or the big presentation in the morning gave you fits. Your back won’t ache because you overdid it the day before. Your head won’t pound because you just can’t shake this cold or flu.

All these symptoms of the big decay will be gone. In the resurrection, we will be instantly fresh and new, because God will raise us imperishable.