November 20, 2019- The Conditions in Which We Are Called, Joy in Our Vocations- 1 Corinthians 7:17-27

Jesus on the water

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.  Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.  1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (ESV)

There is a popular misconception in some Christian traditions that we are only serving God if we have a call to formal ministry or to service in the church.  Yet our vocations (note the plural here) have a far deeper reach than simply dropping a check in the collection plate, serving as an usher, or donating to the food drive.  Our service in and for the local church is important- yes, people and resources are always needed, wanted and appreciated in the life and ministry of the church- but our service to the church is only one of our vocations.

Vocation is not about glorifying ourselves or climbing the corporate ladder. Vocations are ways in which we serve others for the glory of God.   How do we serve others and glorify God in and through our vocations?

Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

Thankfully it is not a requirement for Christians to inflict outward signs on their person to verify or establish their faith.  The circumcision argument- are Gentile men who become Christian obligated to be circumcised like Jewish men? – is the motivation behind the entire book of Galatians.  The Galatians were engaging in a false teaching that in order to be Christian you need to first become a Jew.  Paul teaches us that Jesus is the New Covenant, the fulfillment of everything that the Mosaic Covenant (the Laws given to Moses) foreshadowed.

Time and time again, Paul instructs the churches that our faith, our hope, our life itself, is found in Christ alone, not in outward signs, not in rituals, not in man-made rules.  Our foundation is Christ. Therefore we aren’t concerned with sacrifices and rituals and what things look like on the outside, but we are concerned with being the people that Jesus made us to be.

Moms serve God by loving their children and doing the mundane and thankless things that are part of being a mother. Even changing dirty diapers, wiping snotty noses, retrieving the cat from the bathtub, and scraping used mac and cheese off the kitchen table (yet again) are acts that Moms do for their children and household, to the glory of God.

Employees who are conscientious, ethical and are good workers for their employers bring glory to God.  Employers who are fair and reward employees for work well done bring glory to God through that vocation.

Husbands and wives bring glory to God in those vocations by loving and serving each other.

So what do we do when our vocations get difficult?  What do we do when we live with a terminally ill spouse, and caring for them and serving them becomes thankless and a burden?  What do we do when our circumstances at work are unfair, or we are compelled to do things in the course of our employment that are unethical or even unsafe?

We trust God.  We acknowledge that He is our strength. Jesus walks with us in every challenge and brings us through our trials. When we fail, when we fall, when we are at the end of ourselves, Jesus is there. He will not forsake us.

The apostle Paul does not give us easy answers about our vocations, but he does teach us that our focus in our vocations should not be on our own status or benefits, but for the benefit of those we serve through our vocations.  God can and does work in and through every situation.

Looking at who we are and what we do gives us a bit of a renewed perspective as we consider our identity- who we ARE in Christ- and how it corresponds with our vocations.

Jesus has bought us with the price of His precious blood.  Our value is in Him- not because we are such “special snowflakes”- but because He has given us value.  Any time one is tempted to think that what they do lacks value or that his or her life is worthless, one must remember that we have been bought with the blood of Christ and in that we have worth and value. Even the most lowly and mundane and difficult vocation has worth as we live and breathe and have our being rooted in the foundation of Christ.

In light of our value and as a response to the one who has bought us, how can we think about our vocations in a different way?

Lord, be our strength when our vocations become burdens.  Help us remember that you have bought us with the price of your precious blood, and that in you we have our value. Give us what we need not only to lead the life you have assigned us, in the places where you have landed us, but to find peace and strength and joy with you along the way.

 

September 11, 2019- The Unholy Trinity, the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Jesus Breaks the Curse

adam and eve2
Who or what stands against Christian people in this fallen world of “not yet?”

Sin
Death
The Accuser (Satan, the serpent)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV)

“Did God really say?”

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” It can be said that God does not tempt us or cause us evil. We’re good enough at finding temptation and walking into evil all by ourselves. We may know the difference between good and evil, but we don’t always choose what is good, and we don’t always reject evil.

The unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil are all against us and are all around us. The question behind the Fall of humanity, “Did God really say?,” echoes all around us.

Did God really say… I AM God, the Author and Creator of all things?
Did God really say…You will not bow down to the gods you make?
Did God really say…that He is the only One you will worship?
Did God really say…that you will honor your parents and those in authority over you?
Did God really say…that you will not murder or maliciously inflict harm on others?
Did God really say…that human beings were created male and female, and men and women are meant to be faithful to each other in marriage?
Did God really say…that you are not to steal money or possessions or anything that is your neighbor’s?
Did God really say…that you are not to falsely represent your neighbor or spread falsehoods?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s spouse, employees or livestock?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s inanimate material things?

God really did say all of those things. Most of us can agree that the Ten Commandments–See Exodus 20– are good and that we would all have a lot less trouble if we could just follow the rules.

The problem is we can’t just follow the rules, no matter how hard we try. Every human being alive today has inherited the curse of Adam- call it original sin, or to borrow from another Reformed theologian, John Calvin, the total depravity of man, but human beings are born sinners. We cannot fix ourselves.

To make the sin problem even more acute, we learn from Scripture (James 2:10) that if we break one tiny little part of the Law, in God’s eyes we broke all of the laws. Salvation by our own obedience requires perfection.  No human being is capable of perfection.

The apostle Paul makes us aware of our dilemma in Romans 7:7-25.
The Law makes us aware that we fall short and don’t live up to God’s standards. The unholy trinity of our own sin, the curse of death that we and the world around us are under, and the Accuser himself all stand against us and assail us with all sorts of suffering, temptations and trials.

It’s just not possible for us in our own strength and will to live the way that God wants. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

But God so loved the world, and fallen humanity, that He sent Jesus- the perfect God-Man- to break Adam’s curse, to suffer the penalty of death and become the perfect sacrifice for fallen humanity once and for all. The Law was not God’s final word to humanity.

Did God really say…?

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

 
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 33:14 (ESV)

 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

 
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6b (ESV)

 
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”- John 6:35 (ESV)

 
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17b (ESV)

 
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 (ESV)

 
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

 
Jesus has the final word. For we who believe in Him, there is no more death. We will pass from this life to eternal life with Him. The unholy trinity who would condemn us and lead us into unbelief does not have the upper hand. Jesus has broken Adam’s curse and Jesus paid the penalty of death for us.

July 30, 2019-Lessons from Galatians, Our Identity in Christ

galatians

Today’s lesson is a little different study. This week’s Catechism lesson (8-4) features key concepts and food for thought from the book of Galatians.  With the new school year starting soon it’s great to remind young people (as well as older people!) that we belong to Christ, and we live as new creations in Him.

The apostle Paul warned the Galatians against teaching a different gospel or of adding to the Gospel message out of fear of what other people might think.  Salvation comes to ALL people, regardless of national ancestry, race, gender or ethnic traditions by faith in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone.  There is no such thing as “Jesus….AND.”  We are not made right with God through circumcision, or by keeping Jewish Law (which the Jews never could seem to do anyway,) but by the grace of God in which we are given faith in Christ. It’s all about God, and it’s all a free gift.  No ANDs.

Galatians 1:10- (NIV) Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

What does it mean to be a person of integrity?

Galatians 2:20- (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Even though we are sinners who sin daily and sin much, we are defined by our identity in Christ, not by the sins we have committed.  What does it mean to “put on Baptism as daily wear?”

Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV)- So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

What does it mean that because we are baptized, our identity is in Christ, no matter what our place in life or our vocation (the things we do) happens to be?

Galatians 4:7 (NIV) -So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

What does it mean to be an heir of the kingdom of God?  Do we share in both the cross of Christ as well as in His resurrection?

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV) Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

As children of God, do we care more about living as someone who Jesus bled and died to redeem and save, or “going along to get along?”

Galatians 5:25-26 (NIV) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What does it mean to stay true to our values and to trust the Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need in difficult situations? When is it better to stand and fight or to walk away from an awkward situation?

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

We may not see the rewards of being kind, helping others, and living as God’s children should.  However, this is the vocation God gives us as His people no matter how other people treat us.  There is a saying, “No matter who your boss is, you are really working for God.”  What does this mean as we navigate our way through life?

 

 

July 16, 2019 Crucified With Christ, Galatians 2:20-21

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I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Galatians 2:20-21 (ESV)
Did the Law ever love me? Did the Law ever sacrifice itself for me? Did the Law ever die for me? On the contrary, it accuses me, it frightens me, it drives me crazy. Somebody else saved me from the Law, from sin and death unto eternal life. That Somebody is the Son of God, to whom be praise and glory forever.
Hence, Christ is no Moses, no tyrant, no lawgiver, but the Giver of grace, the Savior, full of mercy. In short, He is no less than infinite mercy and ineffable goodness, bountifully giving Himself for us. Visualize Christ in these His true colors. I do not say that it is easy. Even in the present diffusion of the Gospel light, I have much trouble to see Christ as Paul portrays Him. So deeply has the diseased opinion that Christ is a lawgiver sunk into my bones. You younger men are a good deal better off than we who are old. You have never become infected with the nefarious errors on which I suckled all my youth, until at the mention of the name of Christ I shivered with fear. You, I say, who are young may learn to know Christ in all His sweetness.
For Christ is Joy and Sweetness to a broken heart. Christ is a Lover of poor sinners, and such a Lover that He gave Himself for us. Now if this is true, and it is true, then are we never justified by our own righteousness.
Read the words “me” and “for me” with great emphasis. Print this “me” with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this “me.” Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins. – Martin Luther, from his Commentary on Galatians
The Law can only show us how terribly we fall short of keeping it. While the Law is good and necessary and right, it cannot save us. It only condemns. It shows us how desperately we need a Good Shepherd, a Redeemer, a loving Savior.
The harsh reality of the Law should bring us all to the foot of the cross from where God’s mercy flows- from the hands and feet and side of Jesus.
The reason why the offense of the cross was so necessary is because our sins are so offensive. Daily, constantly, even unconsciously, we thumb our noses at a holy God. If we could simply straighten up and fly right of our own accord then there would have been no need for God in human flesh to die in our place. The only way for fallible and unholy humans, born under the curse, to be made holy, to be justified, was for a sacrifice to be given on our behalf to break the curse, to cover us, to redeem us.
Our remorse for our sins and our attempts at right living don’t touch the depth of our corruption. In our own efforts we might become “beautiful-looking” Pharisees, at least on the outside. But looks can be deceiving.
Jesus wasn’t fooled by that whitewash job: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness- Matthew 23:27 (ESV)

Only an act of God, from the inside out, can make us right with God. Only in being crucified with Christ, buried with Him in baptism, and constantly held in faith by the Holy Spirit, are we healed, justified, made whole, saved.
The Law condemns us. The Gospel is a free gift from God to us- nothing we have earned, nothing we deserve. Even the faith to believe the Gospel is a gift. Thank God for the faith we need to cling to Jesus and to know that because we have been crucified with Him, we live in Him as well.

 

July 15, 2019- No One is Beyond the Grace of God in Christ- Galatians 1:11-24

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(The apostle Paul writes:) For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV)

Today people would be rightfully skeptical if someone were to claim a special revelation of God such as Paul had.  There is a view that many in the Christian church hold (including most Lutherans) that the extraordinary gifts and divine revelation ended with the apostles, the last being John of Patmos who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.  This is a view called cessationism.

Lutheran Christians generally believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, and that since there are no living apostles to whom Jesus directly revealed Himself, there are no direct revelations being given to people living today.  Today we are instructed to seek God where He promises to be found- in Scripture,  at the Lord’s Table, at the baptismal font, and in the preaching and teaching of His Word- which includes not a few of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the churches.

The reason why Paul’s message is still such a big deal is primarily because it was taught to Paul by Jesus Himself.  

God took someone who was completely opposed to Him and transformed him into someone who endured unimaginable hardships, suffering and ridicule for the sake of Jesus’ holy name.  It is rare that a person will risk imprisonment, torture, starvation, suffering and ultimately death, for a message that is a lie.  It would have been so much easier for Paul to go back with the other Pharisees and back to his old life, but for Christ, he could not do that.  For Christ, but only through Christ- Paul was willing to sacrifice everything.

Paul was profoundly changed.  From death to life.  From despair and damnation to the wonder and hope and salvation of Christ.

Paul didn’t ask for it.  He didn’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer, or wear a hair shirt, or promise to feed a thousand orphans.  God was doing the acting.  Jesus came to Paul, not the other way around.  The act of redemption and salvation is and will always be through the merit of Christ alone.

We may not have been given the charismatic gifts and highly visual miracles that the apostles were given, but faith comes to us the same way.

In the water of baptism, Jesus comes to us.  In His Body and Blood that we share at the Communion table, Jesus makes Himself part of us.  In the preaching and the hearing of the Word, the Holy Spirit works faith within us.  The Good News is that no one is beyond the grace of God.

It doesn’t matter if we have a shady background or a tortured past.  Jesus redeemed the apostle Paul, who was formerly a murderer of believers.

“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

 

 

May 10, 2019- Jesus Alone, Free from Legion- Luke 8:26-39

possession

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:26-39 (ESV)

We don’t hear much about demon possession today, although we learn in Scripture that there are powers and principalities that work against us, as well as our own sinfulness and the age old fallen human desire to make ourselves our own god. We have a similarity with the demon possessed man- we are in bondage to sin, whether or not it is markedly visible to the world.  We are separated from God because of our sin.

The demon possessed man didn’t ask for Jesus’ help to be set free. The man was so far into bondage to the legion of demons that he couldn’t ask for help if he wanted to.  Jesus came to him.  This is how the Kingdom of God comes to us.  Jesus came to earth as a flesh and blood man to reach into the world, to reach out to us with the gifts of faith, repentance, forgiveness and redemption.

The possessed man didn’t earn or deserve to be set free of the demons. Jesus saving him from that possession had nothing to do with the man-  and everything to do with Jesus.

By His grace, Jesus sets us free from those things that would keep us from Him. He forgives our sins.  He gives us the grace to love others, to serve others, to live in a way in which we can say to others, “See what God has done!”  In Christ, our sins are forgiven- and the old Adam is sent to drown in the abyss, like the possessed horde of pigs.

It is indeed good news that Jesus comes to us in our need, in our helplessness and in our utter inability to save ourselves.  May we have faith in Christ alone, and fall upon His mercy and grace.

 

April 25, 2019 – By Faith in Jesus, We Will Live In the Heavenly City- Hebrews 11:1-16

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Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:1-16 (ESV)

It is telling that the author of Hebrews brings the definition of faith back to creation. At the very beginning of Scripture we are taught, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”- Genesis 1:1

God created the universe ex nihilo- from nothing- and this is the God in whom we believe.  If creation is of God, then we are inextricably connected to Him whether we acknowledge it or not.  While God is separate from His creation, creation cannot exist apart from Him.

Our mighty creator God gives us the gift of faith- faith so that we would trust in His provision and promise. The stories of the patriarchs are given to us not to show us how great Abel or Noah were, or what fantastic people Abraham and Sarah were, but to show us how great God is. Their faith is what commended them to God rather than their own merit or good deeds.  Our merits and good deeds are nothing more than dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6) in the sight of God. By faith, we trust that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and when God looks at us all he sees is Jesus.  Jesus has justified us, because we believe He is who He says He is, and that what He said: “It is finished,“ as He died on the Cross in our place is enough.

We are strangers and sojourners in this world, but as people baptized into Christ we are made to be the children of God’s covenant with Abraham- born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

By faith we know that Jesus has made for us a lasting city. By faith we trust that the kingdom of “now but not yet” will end, and we will step into the fullness of God’s promise as citizens of the heavenly city.