Category Archives: Musings

Fresh and seasoned thoughts about the practice of Sabbath.

The Process For Our Heavenly Musings

Some Criteria for Moving Forward

As I mentioned previously, we are going to put the texts about Heaven, and the themes, along with our questions about Heaven, up on an intellectual lift in order to get underneath them and get our minds positioned to deal with such a wonderful, and weighty, subject.  The process by which we prosecute our study is crucial to the outcomes.  Here are some criteria to keep in mind that will serve us as boundaries for our thinking.  These criteria will keep us focussed on coming to a biblical understanding of Heaven as a subject and the consummation of our salvation found in Jesus Christ.

Here are some criteria to keep in mind that will serve us as boundaries for our thinking.  These criteria will keep us focussed on arriving at a biblical understanding of Heaven as a subject, and the consummation of our salvation found in Jesus Christ.

ONE.  Stick To The Bible

The topic of Heaven is so vast, and discussed from so many traditions, philosophies and opinions, that there is an infinite amount of source material available to us.  

I’m going to go ahead and assert my bias here:  the Bible sufficiently informs our understanding of Heaven and extra-biblical texts are unnecessary, and for the most part, unhelpful.  

I believe that Jesus, the prophets, Paul, and the other New Testament writers give us enough detail to provide for an exhausting study about Heaven (though I highly doubt that we will be able to exhaust the subject given our limited amount of time and cognitive ability).

If we confine ourselves to the Old and New Testaments we will walk away from this study with as clear of an understanding of our glorious future that God permits.  

TWO.  Avoid Speculation

Heaven is a subject, due to our curiosity and the limited amount of information we are provided about it, rampant with speculative interjections.  

Worldly philosophers and religious traditions, since the beginning of time, have communicated varying interpretations and insights into our understanding of our final state.  Every thought we have about Heaven needs to be tested against the standard of Scripture.  We will have to, by necessity, wade through some of our own culturally received understanding about Heaven and eternity, but we will, during this study, try our best not to interject any more speculation than has already been provided to us.

To that end, answers to many questions may end up being, “I Don’t Know.”  Ignorance about certain parts of Heaven are inevitable.  There are things that we cannot know. There is a certain level of curiosity that begs to be satisfied, but assuaging that curiosity for curiosity’s sake should be avoided since it would require an extensive amount of assumption and speculation.

THREE. Be Open To What God Reveals

Consider Paul’s words about how we come about our knowledge of the things of God:

For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:11-14 NIV

Our minds should not be so open that we allow every thought to attract our attention, but open enough to be able to listen to the Spirit of God speak to us through the word of God.

Limiting the texts for our study of Heaven to the canonical scriptures may seem like a stifling boundary, but I think you will find it to be the most liberating process for the path ahead. It is through God’s word that he reveals all the necessary information for salvation and discipleship to Christ. By looking at the various texts about Heaven from the Bible in their context, we will also gain a greater familiarity with a number of other topics that arise, as well.

Ending Well

In order to wrap up our study, and keep our reflections relevant, I need a little bit of help.  I trust that as you engage in this investigation that you will contribute your questions about Heaven so that we can explore them together.  Questions you have on your heart are probably similar to the questions that others have on their hearts.  I have set aside some time and space to address as many personal questions as we can.   We will learn together in the presence of God Spirit, God’s word and God’s community.  

I trust, that as a result of our inquiry, we will all become even more excited about Heaven as we become more informed about it.  The Bible has many glowing and glorious teachings on the subject.  I can’t wait to get into this with you.  

Here are a few assignments for you are we proceed.

  1. Pray for me as I continue to put these lessons together.  
  2. Send me your questions to pastorburden@fbcnederland.com.  
  3. Commit to being present for the study period, or at least stay connect online as I publish what I can of our study.
  4. Consider inviting someone who would enjoy these lessons and could use the encouragement of being a part of the community, in person or electronically.  

May we all come to a better appreciation for the treasure laid up for us by Christ in Heaven!

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:20-21 NIV

 

Link To The Full Introduction (Spelling Errors and All) Here.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1OcGILGROk6Ww0StZbtyNnzLHOR0ibryOVMYgtqcngYA

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The Challenges In Studying Heaven

Did you think getting our minds around Heaven would be easy? You’re crazy!  There is only so much that we can know, and there is a lot of clutter that we need to get rid of in order to approach Heaven as a theological topic.

ONE. Limited Information

One of the challenges of satisfying our Heavenly curiosity is that we are going to limit ourselves to the Christian Bible.  God tells us all that we can know, and all we need to know, about the life to come.  In order to be as clear as we can about what God actually has planned for us, absent of any wayward speculation, the Bible must be our guide.  

IMG_9071

There are many books that have come onto the scene in the past decade or so talking about special revelations about Heaven to individuals.  Those will be ignored.  The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments will be our only sources. Anything outside of Scripture will have to fall into the realm of speculation.  

TWO. Cultural Chaos And Traditional Trash Clutter The Playing Field

We have imported so much from other worldviews, religions and philosophies into our understanding of Heaven.  And Heaven is not a place where people enjoy meddlers.  Even the most irreligious people seem to have a highly developed understanding of what happens the moment a person’s eyes close in death. They may not open the Bible to see what God has to say, but they will die for what they understand Heaven to be like.

As we travel through the Scriptures, we will be challenged to put aside some of the thinking about Heaven we have inherited from our culture.  This might cause us to think differently about some of our metaphors for Heaven. Scripture, not art or philosophy or science, has to be our number one authority as we inform our imagination about the Heaven God reveals to us.

THREE. Some Things About Heaven Are Unknowable

The Apostle Paul was given a special revelation about Heaven that he records for us in his second letter to the Corinthians.  The one thing that stands out in this revelation is what Paul doesn’t say!

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know– God knows. And I know that this man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.  
2 Corinthians 12:2-4 NIV

Paul was serious about those things that “no one is permitted to tell.”   We don’t know what he saw, or experienced, or heard, or smelled.  It was “inexpressible.”

Paul’s words heighten our curiosity.  We want to go there with him and have a fuller, more complete, experience of what God has planned for us.  But we can’t.

Perhaps the things that Paul cannot express to us are too great for our human language to convey.  Maybe we don’t have the words, or the imagination, to describe the scenes and do them justice.  God gives us enough of the picture to stir our longings, but he reserves something of the experience for us to continue to desire to explore.

FOUR.  Our Broken Perception

When it comes to looking into the things that God has in store for us, Paul gives us a passage that highlights our inability to mentally and imaginatively grasp the totality of what God has in store for us.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.   
1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NIV

There will be a day when we will be able to comprehend all that God has in store for us, but it’s not today.  We have a limited amount of information to work with, and we have a limited capacity to process the information we have been offered.  

For the meantime, we must trust that God will lead us, through his word, and with his Spirit, to the fullness of an understanding that can be achieved this side of the grave.  At the just-right-time, the scales of our limited existence will fall off the eyes of our heart and we will receive and experience the fullness God has kept for us.

Impatient for the full Introduction to our study on Heaven?  Here’s a link to the PDF of the full Introduction:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tUUCEjhmyW78YC2jvHxmj342QszO1nNw

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The Sacred Task of Receiving and Passing on Our Orders

Each year countless visitors watch the very moving experience of seeing the guards change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Between October 1st and March 31st, the guard is changed every hour. From April 1st to September 30th the guards change every 30 minutes.

These sentinels, all volunteers, are the most elite warriors from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Rigorous training is obvious as these soldiers move flawlessly through their work.

They march behind the tomb down a black mat for 21 steps, turn and face east for 21 seconds, turn and face north for 21 seconds, change the position of the weapon to keep it between spectators and the tomb as a symbol of protection against any threat, and then take 21 steps down the mat and repeat the process. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolically represents the military’s highest honor of a 21-gun salute.

When the guard is changed, the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, “Pass on your orders.” The soldier declares, “Post and orders remain as directed.” The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and then assumes

The soldier declares, “Post and orders remain as directed.

The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and then assumes his position at the black mat.

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus commanded Peter and Andrew to “Follow Me.”  the command for His followers to “make disciples.” Those orders have never changed so it is our responsibility to acknowledge that His decrees “remain as directed” and carry on with those orders.

Jesus’ orders to Peter and Andrew are also his orders to us, his present-day disciples:  Follow Me.

Our duty to Christ is to respond as the oncoming guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier “Orders Acknowledged.”

 

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Four Benefits of Studying Heaven

Heaven needs to be more than just an assumption about salvation that we keep at the back of our minds.  The early Christians got excited about going to Heaven. The Apostle Paul, when faced with his own mortality, was able to look past death to the new reality of being with Christ:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  
Philippians 1:21-24 NIV

We can draw the same kind of courage and hope that Paul had through our understanding of Heaven.

ONE. Studying Heaven Helps Us Take Stock Of What Jesus Purchased For Us

I was looking through some documents that I had in a desk at the house recently and I came across a survey of my property. Our house sits on a postage stamp of land near Helena Elementary in Nederland, Tx.  The survey outlined the size of the lot, outward dimensions of our house, the easements for gas, water and electricity, and a few other factors that I really couldn’t understand without asking Google a lot of questions.  In this survey, all of the important data about my house, and the property it sits on, was described in adequate detail.  This survey is a legal document.  There is a copy of it in the courthouse. It prevents my neighbors from encroaching on the land that I purchased, and it describes the boundaries of the property that I have the full right to enjoy.  

The Bible, in a sense, serves us like that. Scripture gives us an understanding of what we have to look forward to. We are going to be recipients of a great and glorious eternity.  We need to become acquainted with our destiny, as much as it is in our power to do so.  

Anytime that Kristi and I take a significant trip, be it to another country or even another city that holds the promise of good food, we always check out that location before we leave home.  We scour Google and Facebook for reviews on the best places to stay and where to eat.  If we can, we get our hands on tourism books.  We ask friends about their experience with where we are going.

If we put so much effort into researching a place where we might spend a few days, or a week, doesn’t it make sense that we would spend some time looking deeply into where we are going to spend eternity?

TWO. Studying Heaven Helps Us To Access And Appreciate What We Have Been Saved For

When we think of Heaven as the “Better Country” that God has prepared for us, it allows us to borrow from the future to live in the present.  This is exactly what Paul was doing as he wrote to the Philippians, he was filling up on hope for enduring the present struggles by borrowing on the joy of the life to come in the presence of Christ.

Again, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives us an example of using the hope we have for the life to come to live victoriously in the here and now:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians. 15:19 NIV

Paul knew what to look forward to, and he knew that the here-and-now struggles he faced for the sake of Christ, and Christ’s Gospel, would be worth every discomfort and inconvenience he endured.

Contemplating eternity with Christ will help us to take our attention off our the temporal frustrations that get us down.  Yearning for our heavenly home, and seeking to conform to God’s will on earth as it is done in Heaven, will make us better citizens of the land we currently occupy.

THREE. Studying Heaven Satisfies A Holy Curiosity And Hunger For All God Has In Store For Us

You have to admit it… you have to be a little curious about Heaven.  If you’re not curious, you’re not thinking about it correctly.  

I think God has placed within us a sense that this world is not our home.  The transient nature of life causes us to long for something more substantial, permanent, and secure.  The saints mentioned in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Fame of Faith, all had this longing:

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country– a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews. 11:15-16 NIV

God permits us to have this righteous curiosity in order to guide us into a more intimate relationship with Himself.  By seeking to understand more about what God has destined us for, we are in effect growing closer, and more knowledgeable about the God who saves us.

FOUR. Studying Heaven Leads To A Greater Zeal For Discipleship

If we are thinking properly about Heaven, and longing for what God has prepared for us, and looking forward to all that it holds for us, we can’t help but to be inspired to live more fully and faithfully for Christ in the present life.  It would be an ingratitude of epic proportions to consider Heaven, and yet ignore our present calling and commitment to Christ.

I would hope that as we conclude this study,  we would all have a greater zeal for serving God.  If we truly believe in what God has promised to us, it would make sense that we serve God with an increased enthusiasm based on what his word reveals to us.

 

In Order Not To Bore….

I divided up this study into several, readable, length posts.  If you want to see the whole study (unedited and full of misspellings) follow this link to a downloadable PDF.

INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF HEAVEN

If you are extremely patient, you can capture all of this study here at PastorBurden.com.  Be sure to subscribe via email to get these posts on Heaven, and my other writings on discipleship, delivered to your inbox.



An Introduction To Our Study On Heaven

Our hymns contain a treasury of thoughts about Heaven. Throughout the Christian centuries, the thought of Heaven has inspired us to sing about the reward of the faithful.  

One of my favorite hymns is When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.

Salvation is accomplished by the love of Christ.  There is a place, a home, prepared for us for all eternity.  A community of the redeemed, living in the presence of God and of each other.   A land of rest and riches.  Sounds like a pretty good place to me!

But not everyone looks at it this way.  Somewhere in Christian history, we incorporated the thinking of the world into our understanding of eternity.  We traded eternal joy for a pair of angel wings and a harp.  We discarded the “better country” of the Book of Hebrews for sitting on billowy clouds.

If you have a hard time getting excited about an eternity of harp strumming and cloud sitting, you’re in good company.  There is nothing more boring that than thinking about spending infinite time in purposeless inactivity.  

Sadly, notions like this have dominated the cultural understanding of the afterlife.  Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, talks about how this misunderstanding of Heaven serves to rob the joy of all that God has planned for us.  Referring to a minister Randy interviewed about Heaven, Randy says:

Tragically, however, most people do not find their joy in Christ and Heaven. In fact, many people find no joy at all when they think about Heaven. A pastor once confessed to me, “Whenever I think about Heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.” “Why?” I asked. “I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp . . . it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”
Heaven

Tragic certainly is a great way to describe that joyless view of Heaven!

There is a better way to understand the Heaven that God has in store for us. I believe it’s worth looking forward to and getting excited about. I think it will be full of delights and joy and pleasure.  It will have all of the good, without the sin that corrupts!  It will be a relational place.  It will be a place of broader experiences than we can imagine here on Earth. There will be as much to explore in Heaven as eternity will permit.

But because a study of Heaven is so important, and complicated by a number of factors that we will get into shortly, we need to build an intellectual framework in order to help us process the information God gives us about Heaven.

Consider the task ahead of us like working on a car.  If we need to get underneath the car to change the oil, work on the breaks, or repair the muffler, it’s easier to first put the car up on the lift so we can get underneath it with our full strength and apply ourselves to it with our full imagination.  We will take the information we are given from Scripture, work over it purposefully, see how it all works together, and by the time we’ve explored the contents of the Bible that relate to Heaven, we’ll be better able to appreciate what God has set before us.

Come along for the rest of the journey.  Something new will post each day this week.  Sign up to get every portion of this email in your inbox. 


There is No Safe Place to Hide from Jesus (or good way to shirk his calling)

The title is about as banal as they come. There isn’t a place that Jesus cannot find us. This is true whether we want it to be true or not.

I think there is something that needs to be appreciated about Jesus calling his first disciples while they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Matthew 4:18

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:21-22

First of all, the men who labored in boats, harvesting their living out of the Sea of Galilee, where probably not considered the best candidates for anyone looking to start an organization to change the world. Those who encountered the first disciples were, to put it lightly, were unimpressed with them.

When Peter and John had their first run-ins with the Jewish authorities after the resurrection of Jesus, those in authority “perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men…” Acts 4:13

It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t go to the local college and ask for the top performers in the graduating class. Jesus didn’t hang out at the Wall Street of the ancient world recruiting the best business minds of his day. Neither did Jesus seek out the most religiously advanced men to call into a discipleship relationship.

He went to fishermen.

Second thing to consider…fish Stink.

I enjoy fishing. I really do. Or, to be more exact, I enjoy catching fish. The excitement of the aquatic hunt is thrilling. Catching fish for a living involves more than just finding them and reeling them in. Particularly for Andrew and Peter, James and John, being a fisherman involved harvesting and cleanings the fish: a smelly occupation.

It’s hard to get fish-stink off your hands. You carry it around for a LONG time even after you’ve washed with hot, soapy water.

Andrew, Peter, James and John were common fisherman that Jesus called into the most uncommon and remarkable kind of relationship. In spite of their common-ness, in spite of their smelly-ness, in spite of whatever else they may have lacked in training, experience and personality, Jesus called them to be disciples.

Here’s the dangerous part.

Our common-ness, and our smelly-ness, our lack of training or creativity, does not exempt us from being called to discipleship to Jesus. Andrew, Peter, James and John are the prime, and first, examples of what our relationship with Jesus looks like as a believer.

Jesus calls to us where he finds us.  Jesus calls us as he finds us.

Jesus doesn’t wait for us to get our act together before he summons us. He doesn’t permit us to wait until a more suitable day comes around. Jesus isn’t interested in us adding a degree to our resume before entering his service.

Jesus calls us to be his disciple wherever, however, we are.

The thing that made the first disciples remarkable was not what they brought to the table: It was that they were in a relationship with Jesus. Their lives were given over to following Jesus. And in their pursuit of Christ, and his desires for them, they became some of the most remarkable figures in all of history.

I left off part of the verse from Acts 4 above. Here’s the rest:

…they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

They had been with Jesus. That was the difference maker. That’s what made them extraordinary. That’s what turned common fishermen, and sinners, into victorious advocates of the Gospel.

Discipleship is Christ’s calling on every believer. He gives us eternal life, by his death and resurrection, and he fills us with purpose by employing us in his service during our life on earth.

Discipleship is not for the ELITE believers. It’s Jesus’ calling on ALL believers.

Discipleship was not a designation for the first 12 men Jesus called to follow him. Discipleship is how all believers relate to him.

Luke describes the growth of the early church in the book of Acts not by the buildings they were constructing, not by the crowds they were drawing, but by the number of disciples they were making:

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7

When we think about this in our own context, I hope it encourages us to be faithful in our own discipleship. A disciple is first and foremost a follower. Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew at the Sea of Galilee is the same call Jesus speaks to us today: Follow Me.

Jesus keeps it simple. And so should we. Simply following in the footsteps of Jesus is the best path for discipleship that any of us can take.

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If there were a Purgatory…

I have arrived at an acute theoligical perception: if there were a Purgatory, it would have patterned carpet. 



Kristi and I are sitting in a waiting room this morning. Rylie has a checkup with her eye doctor.  The waiting room has wall to wall carpet with squiggly brown lines over a background of blues and oranges. It’s a nice pattern, but I don’t think I’ll put it in my house. 

Waiting rooms are boring places. We don’t want to be here, but it is a necessary evil that we’ll endure for a short time while we wait for our appointment. 

All sorts of thoughts float through my mind when my body is confined. Boredom causes us to explore the boundaries of our imagination. This commercial waiting room carpet has caused me to ponder, of all things, Purgatory. 

So about Purgatory…

I’m not a fan of the doctrine of Purgatory. The doctrine of Purgatory stems from a belief that we cooperate with Jesus in bringing about enough personal holiness to earn entrance in Heaven.  Purgatory is this a state of the afterlife where the sins you didn’t deal with properly are dealt with. It’s not Heaven, and it’s not Hell. It’s the holding tank for the eternally hopeful, but it’s much less than the full promise of God. 

Purgatory is not a New Testament doctrine. We do not place our faith in Christ for a consolation prize kind of afterlife. 

It is in the present moment that we must deal with God. It’s in the here-and-now that we trust what Christ has done for us that gives us a hope in the here-after. 

If you’re saved, your saved. There is NOTHING that you can do to make yourself any more saved than what Jesus has already done for you. 
If you aren’t saved, there is NO amount of purgation you can accomplish, in this life or the next, to achieve what Jesus did for you on the cross. 

What is our best hope fo after we die?

We’ll be getting into that in detail starting Sunday night. At the prompting of some of my friends, I’m going to start a study on Heaven for about the next ten weeks. 

I hope you can join me in person each Sunday at 6:00 pm. If you can’t join us at First Baptist, keep up here in the blog. I’ll add some of my notes here each week as we go along. 

But in order to help me out, I’d love to structure my lessons around your questions. Send me a note and let me know what you’re most curious about when you think about the life God has in store for us when this life is over. 

Send me an email at pastorburden@gmail.com

I look forward to hearing from you and staying in touch.  

When It Comes to Alabama…I’m Not A Fan. But I’ll Be Rooting for Tua!

The Game of the Year

I’ve lost all interest in Pro-Football.

College football is more my speed.

This year has been a big disappointment for my usual teams (Baylor, A&M, Anyone Playing Against Oklahoma).

But, since there was only one opportunity to catch a glimpse of collegiate gridiron glory before the long hibernation through basketball season, I decided to tune into last night’s college football championship game.

First, I didn’t expect a game that would keep me awake almost until midnight.  Second, I couldn’t get enough of Kendrick Lamar.  (Between you and me, I would have prefered to watch each schools’ band.  The bands always get the shaft when it comes to halftime show on television.).

I didn’t have a dog in the fight in last night’s contest.  At halftime, it looked like the Bulldogs were going to take the game away.  That is until this ruddy faced kid named Tua took the field for Bama.

Before watching him play a single down, I found myself a little perturbed at coach Sabin.  I thought, “Sabin, you idiot.  You just benched a QB that has won 25 of the last 27 games. This senior you are demoting has only thrown ONE interception ALL year.  One!  One out of 254 passing attempts!  Are you trying to lose this game?”

But then I remembered a couple of things.  First, this is Bama.  They have backups for their backups who are better than 90% of the rest of the players in their position.  And second, Sabin has been to the Big Game before. I think he has a handle on what he’s doing.

What I saw when Tua took the field was AMAZING.  This kid is an athlete!  Here is a little highlight reel from last night that I found on YouTube, so sorry if there are long ads that precede the clip.

You have to admit, this kid is pretty special on the field.

When he throws the ball, it’s as if the ball is being launched out of a cannon. It makes my hands hurt just thinking about playing catch with him. I think the government ought to research how this guy can get the ball downfield so fast.  I think he could be our next secret weapon against Nazi’s, or Commies, or Zombies, or Jihadi’s, or whatever the next threat will be.

But it’s what happened after the game is over that really got me excited.

This kid, Tua Tagovailoa, the man of the hour, deserving of all the praise that Bama-Nation could lavish on him, paused the interview to thank God for the opportunity to play in and win the college national championship.

I don’t know if you watched all the way through, but Tua basically shows gratitude to just about everyone on the team (expect the kicker…the kicker really didn’t have a good night, but I don’t think Tua excluded him intentionally).

What a kid!  What composure!  What a testimony!

I love that in the midst of such earthly glory, he had the presence of mind to express Glory to God!

I’m still not a Bama fan.  You hear me yelling “Roll Tide” anytime soon.

But you will find me tuning in next football season to watch this kid, Tua.  I don’t think I can pronounce his last name, but if given enough opportunities, I think I can learn.

Good job last night young man!

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The Cost of Following Jesus

And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them,
“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him.
Matthew 4:18-20 NAS

Locating Our Calling

Jesus calls his first disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

In the text above, Jesus appears on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is where he called his first disciples. He didn’t start with men who were at the academy. He didn’t even start with men who were overly religious. He called common men to his very uncommon task of changing the world.

Where were you when you experienced Jesus’ calling on your life?

I can look back over my years and locate a couple of different callings.

First, there is the call to faith. I don’t remember the day or the hour, but I remember where I was. I, along with a few other young men, were in the pastor’s office at the First United Methodist Church in Hico, TX. Something extraordinary happened on that otherwise unremarkable day in central Texas. I felt a desire, and an urgency, to confess Christ as my savior and accept his death on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for my sin. (I don’t know that I would have phrased it like that back then, but it sums up theologically what happened).

I wasn’t old enough to have done anything terrible to repent from, but I was old enough to know that I, like the rest of humanity, was a sinner in need of salvation. In the quiet of the pastor’s study, I made Christ my Lord and acknowledged him as my Savior.

This first calling paved the way for another calling that would happen years later. The second calling happened while I was in college. I sensed God calling me to do something more with my life than a degree in economics was preparing me for. I wasn’t in a church, or in a classroom when I sensed this second calling: I was outside building a fence. If God can call fishermen, I suppose he can call fence builders, too.

God didn’t outline a path, he didn’t give me a timeline, and he didn’t give me a map. He just planted a calling in my heart. That calling took root, sprouted, and a few years later resulted in me leaving my secular employment and enrolling in seminary. The rest is part history, part present reality, and part unrealized future.

My calling wasn’t like that of Peter’s and Andrew’s. When Jesus called them into service, they left their nets immediately. My obedience took a little while to materialize.

Christ’s Call For All Of Us

My calling is unique to me. Peter’s and Andrew’s calling was unique to them. Your calling is also personal, and therefore unique to who God made you to be.

Christ doesn’t call everyone to preach, teach, or to missionary work in a foreign land. But he does call everyone who believe to be a disciple.

When Jesus calls us, it is alway to Follow Him.

Following Christ involves faith. I mentioned in a recent sermon that we enter the Kingdom “faith first.” God calls us to a radical trust in who he is, trust in the sufficiency of what he has done for us, and hope in the promises he has made to us.

And by necessity, following involved obedience. You cannot follow Christ and set out on your own path. The path of discipleship is the path of following Christ day by day, and moment by moment.

Following Christ marks a departure with the past. At the point where Christ calls us, and we respond with faith and obedience, our lives are changed in such a way that there is a break with who we were before Christ’s calling, and subsequently with all of our dealings with the world we live in.

At the calling of Christ, we are immersed in a new identity. Our relations are changed, our ambitions are changed, our values are changed, and our purpose is changed.

I was going through an old book that I tend to re-read from time to time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. If you ever need a refresher course on what it means to be a disciple, to pursue the calling that Christ has made upon your life, this is the book for you. (This should actually be one of the MUST-READS for any serious Christian. I would lend you one of my copies, but they are marked up, dog-eared, and annotated with many personal notes. You can get your own copy HERE.)

Bonhoeffer talks about the break we make from our old lives when we take our first step into our new life as a follower of Christ.

If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps. The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible. Levi must leave the receipt of custom and Peter his nets in order to follow Jesus. One would have thought that nothing so drastic was necessary at such an early stage. Could not Jesus have initiated the publican into some new religious experience, and leave them as they were before? He could have done so, had he not been the incarnate Son of God. But since he is the Christ, he must make it clear from the start that his word is not an abstract doctrine, but the re-creation of the whole life of man. The only right and proper way is quite literally to go with Jesus. The call to follow implies that there is only one way of believing on Jesus Christ, and that is by leaving all and going with the incarnate Son of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pg 62

We’re going to be thinking about discipleship this week. We may borrow from Bonhoeffer a little more before Sunday’s sermon on Jesus’ calling of Andrew and Peter. I hope that we can gain a little inspiration from those who have gone on before us. I trust that their words will inspire us to keep in step with Jesus who calls us out of a world of darkness and into his Kingdom of light and life.

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What to Throw Away, What to Consecrate, And What To Add

We had a little bit of fun in worship this morning.  Or at least Rylie and I had a little fun.

I recruited Rylie for a special project.  I gave her a bag full of things that you could not carry onto a plane.  Mind you, these were all childish toys that represented real things that would be confiscated at the TSA security checkpoint if you tried to get such items in your carry-on baggage.  The things Rylie had in her bag included two swords, a toy ax, and an empty fireworks canister.  (The congregation was never in any danger of being hurt this morning.  Bored, maybe, but not hurt).

Rylie and I pretended that she would be taking this bag on a trip to Belize which requires a plane trip out of Houston.

Here’s a full video of the service.  Mine and Rylie’s moment start just a few minutes into the sermon.

Check out this video at the 40 minute mark to see Rylie.

What happens at the TSA checkpoint at the airport when we are trying to leave  town on a plane is similar to what needs to happen to each and every one of us when we come before God.  We need to allow God to search us and see if we are harboring anything that is not worthy of our calling.  He allows us to find things that do not need to make the trip with us.

Jesus, in calling us to discipleship, calls us to get rid of certain things, attitudes, reservations, shame, guilt, smallness, and sin.  This morning we listened to Jesus command us to “Repent.”  Repentance involves leaving behind anything that would not honor God, or that would detract from out ability to fully serve God.

After we got all of Rylie’s stuff out of her bag and and the table, we then turned to the things that need to be on the table.  Repentance has two sides: it involves turning away from something as well as turning toward something, or better, to someone.

So, we got the swords and axes and fireworks of the table. They represented all the things that wouldn’t be making the journey with us in the Kingdom of Heaven in 2018.

While the table was clear, we put the things on the table that must be part of this next year.

The table got full pretty fast.  There was a picture of family to remind us of the relationships that are important to us.  A clock to remind us of the time that God gives us to use this next year.  A textbook and a ball to remind all of those still in school that their education and sports, being a big part of their lives, need to be held in balance with who God is creating them to be.  A cross overlooks everything else on the table since Christ died to redeem the totality of our lives.  And a Bible is there so that God’s Word can be the foundation for our living.

Think about what all you would put on your table.  What represents your life?  What would define who you divide your time?  What it present on your table that might be missing from the one above?

It’s good for us to take stock of what we’ve filled our lives with.  After taking inventory of what’s there, we need relate to what we find in three ways when it comes to repentance.’

  1.   If you find things on your table that detract from your discipleship to Christ, that do no honor God, or are inconsistent with your calling to discipleship, you need to repent and eliminate.  Just like you will have to leave knives, swords and fireworks at the TSA checkpoint when you are taking a flight, pray that God would remove from your life anything that is currently present that doesn’t need to be with you for another step into the Kingdom of Heaven.
  2. If you find things on your table that are good, but are not fully given over to God (relationships, possessions, time on your calendar, etc…), you need to repent and consecrate.  Jesus came, and died, not just to redeem your Sunday morning time ort the first 10% of your income.  Jesus died to redeem the entirety of your life.  Consecrate all you have, and all of your relationships, to God’s greater purposes.  See how he will use your house, your car, your computer, your Monday-Thru-Saturday time for his Glory and your Good.
  3. If you find things that should be present, but currently aren’t, repent and commit.  Maybe this year, as you look over what your schedule holds, you find that you have room in your schedule to join a Bible study.  What’s stopping you?  Or what about service?  When a mission trip comes up, or a need arises for VBS workers, or for whatever opportunities that may come up, will you be willing and ready to add something to your table if God asks?

The better we disciple ourselves to Christ right now, the better 2018 will be.  May God always find what he desires on our table, never what would disappoint him, and at all times, enough room to add what he needs to accomplish his work through us.

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