Further Down Rt. 66

 

Are you ready to get your motors runnin’? Sunday we launch into Leg #2 on Rt. 66. If you were with us last Sunday, you might remember that the key word for Leg 2 is “History”. As we head into Missouri on Old Rt. 66, our first stop of 12 stops is St. Louis. I have an attachment to St. Louis because my family is from there and I was born there – (at a very early age!) St. Louis has another big connection to Rt. 66, but you will have to come to find out.

Our corresponding book of the Bible is the book of Joshua. You might want to check out the little video Biff and I did as a “teaser”. Just click here: https://vimeo.com/189053557. Joshua is the first of the historical books of the Old Testament and for the next 12 weeks we will be working through the history of Israel from 1400 BC to 400 BC. It should be a great “Leg” of the trip.

Happy Yom Kippur!

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The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement, (Lev. 23:27)

Happy Yom Kippur!  Over the last few weeks I have been teaching a series called “Route 66”.  Using the old “Mother Road” as a mnemonic device, I teach through a corresponding book of the Bible with each stop.  You can join us at www.highlinecc.org if you want to understand the Bible better than most do.

Two weeks ago, I taught through the book of Leviticus (not one a lot of non-Jews know well).  The book contains the Law God gave Moses at Mt. Sinai.  It is an extension of the book of Exodus.  In the twenty-third chapter of the book, God gives Moses instructions on annual holy days the nation was to observe in the Promised Land.  One of those days was called “Yom Kippur”.  The words mean “Day of Atonement”.  Today is roughly the 3,500th time the holy day has been observed by Jews around the world.

During the days of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, this was the day where once a year the High Priest of Israel was allowed into the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies.  There he was to sprinkle the blood of one of two sacrificial goats to atone for the sins of the nation.  The place where the blood was sprinkled was on a covering that sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant and was called the “kippuret” or “place of atonement”.  Later it became known as the “Mercy Seat”.

The second sacrificial goat was called the “scapegoat”.  The High Priest laid his hands on the head of this goat and confessed the sins of the people.  The goat was then taken out into the wilderness and set free.  It was an image of the mercy and grace of God to take our sins as far as the “east is from the west”.  It all pointed to an event to take place fifteen hundred years later, and almost two thousand years ago.

The true Day of Atonement is Good Friday. The Bible says that the blood of bulls and goats never really took away sin.  But when Jesus went to the cross, and gave his life, shedding his own blood, the ultimate sacrifice to forgive the sins of humanity was realized.  The book of Hebrews says he entered the true tabernacle, heaven itself, and there presented his sacrifice at the real Mercy Seat.  That sacrifice is available to all, and only needs to be received personally to atone for our sin.

For most of us, we stop and reflect upon the death of Jesus during the Easter season.  But it makes sense that today, we stop on this central feast day in the Jewish world and remember the real Day of Atonement!

 

Stop being anxious (if you can)!

 

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Do not be anxious about anything…. (Phil. 4:6)

A friend of mine once told me he was the “poster child” for anxiety. I feel that way myself on occasion. There are certainly plenty of reasons to be anxious in our world.  Anxiety is a form of fear.  It is a fear of what might come.  Specifically, what might come that is bad.  It is the opposite of hope, which is the expectation that something good is going to happen.  I find myself fighting anxiety often these days.

In the original Greek text of this verse, Paul is actually saying, “Stop being anxious.”  He is referring to a state the Philippians were already experiencing.  It’s good to know that even in biblical times, anxiety was a problem, even among people of faith.

This message from Paul gives an antidote: “pray…and present”. Sometimes I find simply praying the Jesus Prayer (see the last post) repeatedly when anxious brings a calm that is “beyond comprehension”; i.e., it makes no sense. But I would rather have peace that makes no sense than anxiety that is totally rational.

In prayer we are to present our requests to God.  There is a sense in the language of “presenting” of letting go and giving it to God.  Often easier said than done.  But when we pull it off, we can experience peace.  Paul paints a word picture here where God’s peace, that is beyond comprehension, is like a sentinel that stands guard over our hearts (the seat of emotion) and minds (the seat of our intellect).

Are you experiencing anxiety today?  Try praying and presenting.

A few good men (and women)

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Lord, have mercy on me… (Luke 18:13)

Jesus told a story about two men who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The first is what we might call a highly religious man. In the parable, this fellow stands in the front of the Temple and rehearses for God why God should be glad he has this fellow on his team because of all the religious stuff he has done. The other man is what we might think of as a normal human being. He falls on his knees, so conscious of his failure to be the man he knows God wants him to be, that all he can do is beat his breast in humility and pray, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus says the second man is the kind of spiritual “few good men (or women)” God is looking for.

The verse is sometimes called “The Jesus Prayer”, and repeatedly praying it during the day has been recognized for a thousand years as a healthy way to stay connected to God.  For a number of years I have kept something in my pocket, that when I reach in and feel it triggers me to pray a similar prayer.  (My current “reminder” is a poker chip with the logo of my local Harley dealer on it)  I often change the original to reflect all that Jesus has done for us.  My version simply goes, “Lord Jesus, thank you that you have mercy on me!”  You might try the exercise today and let me know how it goes. It has been a good thing for me. I hope it might be for you, too!

What happens when we die?

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We…would prefer to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, (II Cor. 5:8).

I just returned home from my second funeral in three days.  Both were of good friends.  Many of you know of Jim Dixon’s unexpected death that I wrote about in my last post.  His funeral was Saturday.  Ken and Jeanne Atkinson have been long-time friends.  Jeanne was a college friend and in a strange twist of fate, I actually met Jim at Ken and Jeanne’s wedding.  Most of you know Ken was shot and killed by his neighbor when Ken came to the aid of his neighbor’s wife who the neighbor had just shot.  The wife lived, Ken didn’t.

In between the two funerals I gave a message on Sunday morning.  After Jim’s death and before Ken’s I decided to answer the question, “What happens when we die?”  At some point in all of our lives, it will be THE question.  I pulled together a number of the classic passages that partially answer the question.   I divided the experiences we will have when we die (We all will, you know.  Except for the lucky generation of believers who are alive when Jesus returns) into three phases.  Let me share them with you:

PHASE ONE: When a true Christian dies, they immediately enter into the presence of the Lord.  Our bodies die, but the immaterial and immortal YOU continues to live.  The classic passage that describes this experience is II Corinthians, chapter 5.  It is here that Paul writes that to be physically alive (he refers to this as “at home in the body”) is to be absent from the Lord.  But to be absent from the body (one way of referring to physical death) is to be present with the Lord.  At both services, references were made to Jim and Ken being with Christ.  You expect this at a funeral.  But I felt like shouting “This is really true!”  The Corinthian passage expands on what Jesus said to Martha at the death of Lazarus…”The one who believes in me will live even though they die…and whoever lives and believes in me will never really die,” (John 11:24-25).  Your body dies, but you live!  And immediately upon physical death, you will find yourself with Jesus.

I should point out that there is one requirement for this to happen.  You have to have experienced spiritual rebirth through faith in Jesus Christ.  Think of it this way.  You have to be “equipped” to be with Christ, and the essential equipment is the presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is why Jesus could say to one of the most religious men in Israel, “unless a man is born again (or “from above”) he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven,” (John 3:8).  This obviously has significant implications for those who die and do not belong to Jesus.  They aren’t equipped to be “present with the Lord.”  I don’t think this is punitive on God’s part.  I think it is a statement of fact.  But, even for the believer, this is only phase one.  It is not the end of the story.

PHASE TWO:  There is a day coming when YOU, the immaterial and immortal YOU, is going to experience what Jesus experienced: resurrection.  This is one of the big messages of Easter: because Jesus had a resurrection, you get one too!  When Jesus returns, your immaterial soul/spirit will receive a new body.  The one you have is not designed to last.  For most of us it is only good for seventy or eighty years.  Moses points this out in Psalm 90.  Some will live longer, but none will exceed the hundred and twenty year mark that God set after the Flood, (see Genesis 6:3).

One of the classic texts on this phase of life after earthly death is found in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  They were expecting an imminent return of Christ.  Some had quit working and were waiting for it to happen.  Then some of the Thessalonians died and Jesus had not yet returned.  They were worried that maybe those who had died had missed the boat.  Paul responded by writing what has come to be known as the “Rapture” passage.  It is loaded.  He writes that those who have “fallen asleep” (the expression Christians began to use to refer to physical death) would not get left behind.  As a matter of fact, the “dead in Christ” will rise first.  Then the generation of believers who are still alive will be caught up to be with them and Jesus.  Both the resurrected, and the raptured will get a resurrection body that is designed to last forever, (I Thess. 4:13-18).

Another classic text dealing with this phase is found in I Corinthians, chapter fifteen.  Paul is facing an audience, some of whom do not believe there will be a resurrection.  Paul describes the body that will be ours using five words.  He says it will be “heavenly”, (I Cor. 15:40).  The word literally means “fit for the heavens”.  He goes on to reiterate what Jesus said to Nicodemus, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” (I Cor. 15:50).    In other words, the body you have now is not designed to live forever, but your new one will be!  He goes on to say this new body will be incorruptible.  Your body is subject to decay.  The older you get, the more you realize this.  I’m currently falling apart myself!

Paul says your resurrection body will be both powerful and glorious.  Your current one he says is weak and without glory, (I Cor. 15:42-44).  And finally it will be “spiritual” not “natural”.  Your current body is driven by physical desires.  As a Christian, we learn to be “filled with the Spirit”, which means the Holy Spirit is allowed to be the dominant influence in our lives in order to overcome the influence of the old nature.  Your new body will be dominated by the influence of the Holy Spirit, and without the pull of what Paul calls the “flesh”.  When all this happens, you will be “equipped” for the Age to Come.  That brings us to phase three.

PHASE THREE: If you are of the opinion that the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation, chapter 4, is symbolic, then phase three would begin immediately upon your resurrection.  But if this refers to a literal thousand-year period, then you will reign with Christ during this period.  It would appear that there will be both mortals and immortals living during this time.  But at the end of the thousand-years the really good stuff begins.

A new universe is on its way.  In an instant, the present heavens and earth are going to figuratively go up in smoke, (II Pet. 3:10).  Then in a nano-second, there will be a new heavens and a new earth.  The old order will pass and there will be no more death, pain, suffering, and illness, (Rev. 21:1-4).  The new heavens and earth will be characterized by a city.  The Bible calls it the New Jerusalem.  It is a place where God will live forever with his people, (Rev. 21:3).  I have a hunch that what will happen in Phase Three is so far beyond our ability to comprehend that not even the Bible gives us the whole picture.

What happens when we die?  For the man or woman who is “equipped” by giving their lives to Christ and receiving him via his Spirit, it is really good news.  Immediately we get to be with Jesus.  When Christ returns, we come with him and when the trumpet sounds, we experience resurrection and the merging of our soul/spirit with a new body designed to last forever.  And when the present heavens and earth are eliminated, and a new heavens and a new earth are created, we get to live forever with the Lord.  This was such a reality to Paul (after seeing the other side – see II Corinthians 12) that he could write that he preferred to be “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord”.  To depart and be with Christ, he says, will be “better by far”, (Philippians 1:23).  Death will be vanquished and God’s ultimate plans and purposes will be achieved.

If you want to hear more teaching on this subject, go to: http://highlinecc.org/?page_id=196.