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Date: 04/23/2016 9:16 PM (GMT-06:00)
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Subject: The Lutheran Hour: April 24, 2016 "One-upmanship"

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Email Us button greenSermon Text for April 24, 2016 

"One-upmanship" #83-34

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 24, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2016 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Revelation 21:1-7

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. ... 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." 

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! By God's grace and the Savior's sacrifice the time is coming when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Today the invitation into our family of faith is open to all. By the Holy Spirit's power, may you believe in the risen Redeemer and join us in that place where there is no more sin and sorrow. Grant this, Lord to us all. Amen. 

The other day I sat at a lunch table which held eight people. I was the only and obviously outnumbered man. Normally that would not be a problem; indeed, there are many times I would have enjoyed the experience, but not this time. If the Supreme Court hasn't ruled it cruel and unusual punishment and the Geneva Convention hasn't outlawed it as a crime against humanity, both groups are derelict in their duties. At great personal risk to my psychological well-being I am going to share some of those incredibly painful moments. 

The conversation began innocently enough when one of the ladies matter-of-factly stated, "Last month my daughter had her twins. All-in-all things went pretty well." With those words the other six ladies sat up straight; their eyes showed a peculiar glint and a flush came to their cheeks. The words of the first lady were immediately countered by, "I wish my daughter could say the same. She gained thirty pounds with her first child." The opening offering of thirty pounds quickly escalated to 35, 40, 50, and 72 pounds. The winning bid was 90. 

Without missing a beat, the conversation gravitated to delivery times. There were only chuckles at the table when one lady ventured, "I had seven hours of hard labor." Seven hours was pushed to the side by 9 hours, 12, and 18. A day-and-a-half eventually closed the bidding. The same process was repeated in regard to levels of pain; number of stitches, terrible hospital food, poorly chosen gifts, and amount of blood lost. 

That painful experience was what we call one-upmanship. One-upmanship pretty much permeates our thinking. Indeed, not even death manages to escape one-upmanship. Christians recognize that St. Paul wrote, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain...My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (Philippians 1:21, 23b). In principle, we agree with those words... but practically, we sometimes seem to be a bit reluctant to accept them completely. True, we might be willing to acknowledge how a fellow like Paul who has been beaten, whipped, imprisoned, stoned, and shipwrecked might be ready to depart this life, but for us, we prefer to postpone our departure to that time when we have our bucket list finished. 

If you doubt what I am saying, think upon the words of old Simeon who was in the temple when the Infant Jesus was presented to the Lord. Simeon said "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people..." (Luke 2:29-32 KJV). Having seen Jesus, God's Son Who had been born into this world to fulfill the Commandments we have broken; Who resisted every temptation placed in front of Him; Who carried all the sins of all of us to the cross, Simeon was ready to die. Having held God's Son Who would be crucified and then, on the third day rise from the grave and thereby show to all the world the work of rescuing us had been completed, old Simeon says he is ready to depart. Now, my question is, "How old does the Bible say old Simeon was?" Well, if you don't have an answer, you are correct. The Bible doesn't say how old, old Simeon was. In fact, nowhere does it imply that old Simeon was old. Truth is Simeon could have been a young man of 25. We just assume he was an old man because he says he is ready to die. 

For most believers, heaven is, as O.A. Lambert wrote in the catchy children's song: "a wonderful place, Filled with glory and grace. I wanna see my Savior's face, 'Cause Heaven is a wonderful place." Yes, we want to see Jesus in heaven... someday. But many of us are in no rush. And to me, that's surprising. 1 Corinthians 2 describes heaven this way: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, (is) what God has prepared for those who love him." In John 14 the Savior says He has prepared a room in heaven for all who faithfully follow Him. Now you know with Jesus being the Architect of those rooms, they have to be good. 

From Genesis through Revelation, Scripture is plain: God's gift of heaven is a wonderful thing and we should be as eager to get there as we are to go to our favorite vacation spot or our special restaurant. But, having presided at many funerals and having attended many more; that eagerness and joy doesn't always seem to be there. It often feels like people are ready to go to heaven when they're done doing everything else. They're ready to go as a last resort. Only when someone has been in pain or outlived friends and family are we ready to say a reluctant earthly "goodbye." That's why our words of comfort at a wake are often a somber, "Well, at least their pain is at an end," or "They're at peace now." 

Now I think there is a reason for that, and that reason is: the Christian heaven has had a lot of bad press. For the last 100 years or so, most every cartoon, movie, and newspaper artist has shown heaven in three or four ways. The first way shows getting in to heaven as being something like taking the college SAT or ACT tests. You go up to a big desk and the fellow behind the desk, usually St. Peter, has a thick file in front of him. He looks over that file, a file containing the things you have done right and wrong, he sighs, and says, "Well, I'm going to have to ask you some questions before you can go through these pearly gates." 

The second view of heaven shows the dearly departed with a long gown, a set of wings, a halo, and a harp. More often than not the newly promoted "angel" has been assigned a cloud where he is supposed to strum his harp for all eternity. Now that picture has so many errors it's almost impossible to cover them in this short message. First, believers who are dead don't become "angels." Angels were created, humans were made. God's angels no longer can sin; human beings make a practice of it. 

Our souls don't switch from human to angel when we die. God made us to live in the physical world He has made for us and on Judgment Day He will bring into being a new earth which will be as different from ours as day is from night as bad is from good. Nor does the Bible say we get a cloud, some wings, or a harp. Understand, I like clouds, but I don't want to sit on one for eternity. I appreciate harp music as much as the next man, but I would no more want to hear harp music for eternity than I would want to listen to shopping mall Christmas music. 

The third commonly accepted picture of heaven is that of a host of people waving palm branches and singing hymns. Now it is true that heaven is going to be filled with appreciation for the Lord Who sent His Son to save us and it will be marked by unending gratitude for the sacrifice the Savior made to save a sinful world. Still, as much as I enjoy singing hymns, heaven probably is not going to be limited to four-part harmonies of the "Hallelujah Chorus." Remember, heaven is what no eye has seen or mind has imagined. 

The last version of the new heaven and earth that we hear about is a most peculiar one. There we are supposed to be cookie-cutter clones who have no individual personality, interests, or imagination. In this place, along with our halos and harps, we are supposed to be given some kind of amnesia. This amnesia stops us from recognizing each other; it doesn't allow us to remember our lives, our friends, our family, our pets, or anything else which happened to us while we were alive. Look hard, you won't find any of that in the Bible. 

Listen to part of our text which is appointed to be read in churches today. The Lord says: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

Now there are a number of things which are notable about this description of heaven taken from the book of Revelation. The first is that God is dwelling with His people. He is going to be smack dab at the heart, core, and center of all we do, think, and say. In and of itself that is a wonderful and dramatic change from this world which is filled with all kinds of second rate stuff. The Lord Who has always wanted nothing but the best for His people will make sure the best is what we get. There will be no more second-rate politicians saying, "Trust me, I can save you." There won't be any more commercial products which promise they can 'raise our standard of living' when, in truth, they merely raise 'our standard of longing,' In this new, perfect communion with God, we will for the first time, experience life the way it was supposed to be: that is perfect, without fault, flaw, or failing. 

But there's still more... the text says God will: "wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore." Did you ever notice how the Lord describes this new heaven and earth? He does so by saying what won't be there. That's because, from the moment we are born until the moment we die, with only the occasional relief and bit of respite, life is marked by sorrow and sadness, pain and problems. If you doubt me, you just go out and say, "Boy, this has been a lousy day." Just as often as not, someone will reply with a one-upmanship statement like "You think your day was bad, well you don't know what a terrible day is. Let me tell you about mine." Tragically they probably can do it. That's because, from the time Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, this world has been tainted by transgressions and enslaved by sin. While it is true that Jesus gives believers in this world some respite and hope from the crushing burdens life brings, in this new heaven and earth everything will be permanently changed. 

This new heaven and earth is beyond our comprehension, but we can be sure that it will be more beautiful than we can imagine; it will rectify our problems and it will be greater than our most profound longings. For the first time since God declared His creation "very good" things will be very good and His children will be immersed in righteousness and rightness. Do you understand what that means; the impact of what God is doing? If not, think back on your life. 

Think back on all your hopes which were shattered by some cruel twist of fate or some crueler individual. Remember the loneliness you felt and the many sorrows and shortcomings you've endured. Were you mistreated by a boss; maligned by a teacher, a friend, your spouse? These things will be gone. Were you unfairly accused; punished without cause, or slandered by a lying tongue? Were you robbed of your savings, your good name, your good intentions? Whatever has been endured; whatever has been suffered; whatever crosses have been carried, these will be made right. They will be made right not through revenge, retaliation, or retribution. They will be made right because such things cannot exist in such a perfect place. As our passage says, "The former things have passed away." 

But I am still not done. The physical and mental sicknesses we have endured in this world will no longer plague us. The infirmities and limitations of age will no longer be a burden. In Christ we will be given a new and eternal home, but these old things, the product of sin things, will not be given a home in us. Can you not see it; can you not imagine it? For the first time in your life things will be as they should be The rivers and streams of this new earth will flow and not be polluted, the air will not be befouled by chemicals, and the land will not suffer through drought or flood nor will it be unproductive. Things will once again be as God intended them to be when He first set out to make the heavens and the earth. 

This is the place Jesus has promised to His faithful people. Truly it is beyond imagination or mental appreciation. If that is what you are thinking, let me try to make it easy by sharing an idea with you, as a wise, old country preacher once shared it with me. He said, "Ken, I want you to imagine the best day you ever had in this world. It may be a birthday, or when you got married, or when your children were born. It may be when you went fishing and the fish were biting. No matter what day it was, it has to be the best you ever experienced. Now with that day in mind, think of this: the worst day you will ever have in heaven..," (and yes, I know there won't be a worst day in heaven, but the point is still sound,) "the worst day in heaven is going to be a hundred-million times better than the best day you had on earth."

At the beginning of this message I spoke of one-upmanship. Today I have described the heaven which awaits those who believe on the Savior. It is a perfect place. Now, if you are an unbeliever, you may try to say something which is one-downmanship... that is making fun of what Christians believe. Please don't do that. Your words will not change what we believe. Instead, I would ask you to consider the Lord's invitation which says Jesus has a place prepared for you. If death frightens you and what happens after you breathe your last scares you, please let us introduce you to the Savior Who has created a place where your sins, your sorrows, your pains, hurts, and tears will be no more. To that end, I extend this invitation: please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 24, 2016
Topic: Future Problems 

ANNOUNCER: Once again, here is our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: And always a joy to be with you and the Lutheran Hour listeners, Mark.

ANNOUNCER: Pastor Klaus, today I think we have a question that's a bit different from others we've covered in this segment in the past. 

KLAUS: That's hard to believe. 

ANNOUNCER: I know, but it is unique because it is so open-ended. The question is what do you think will be the greatest challenges facing the Christian Church over the next twenty years?

KLAUS: So you want me to dust off the old, crystal ball and try to get a glimpse into the future?

ANNOUNCER: That pretty well sums it up. What challenges do you see coming in the years ahead?

KLAUS: I appreciate the challenge, but I'm sure I'm going to miss a lot of things. Okay, here's my list. Around the world I see national religions and political systems singling out and persecuting Christians. Within two decades, I am fairly sure Christianity is going to be wiped out in the Middle East. Prejudice, persecution, political punishments will be used to force people to renounce their faith if they wish to stay or force them to move to another country.

ANNOUNCER: And from what we've seen in the news, I can certainly understand persecution being the first thing that comes to mind. Other things we might need to be aware of happening around the world? 

KLAUS: Mark, there are places in the world where many Christians are being forced to give up their faith... but there are just as many places where Churches are giving up traditional and Biblical doctrines, all on their own.

ANNOUNCER: You're saying they do this voluntarily, without any pressure?

KLAUS: Well there is pressure, but it comes in a far more subtle form.

ANNOUNCER: Okay, how would such a thing come about?

KLAUS: It comes when governments say--and churches agree--we must be nice to everybody and never risk offending anyone. 

ANNOUNCER: Some of that is necessary to maintain civil order.

KLAUS: Generally speaking, that would be correct. But what happens, for instance, when a pastor stands in the pulpit and condemns a sin? He will offend the people who are committing that sin. The next thing you know lawsuits are filed, the church is involved in a costly legal battle, and, if they lose, it could cost them big time. 

ANNOUNCER: I imagine, here, you're thinking of some of those hot topics like abortion, homosexuality, and politics being preached from the pulpit.

KLAUS: Yeah, that and other such things. The coming years will see an increasing number of medical and social issues which will further polarize the Church from society.

ANNOUNCER: Assuming you were talking about a Church that takes the Bible and its message seriously.

KLAUS: Good point. Mark, a moment ago I mentioned congregations giving up doctrines. That is happening overseas more and more.

ANNOUNCER: But it's also happening here at home too, isn't it?

Ken: It is. Church practices which once were unthinkable when I became a minister over 4 decades ago have become common practice. Congregations are removing the name "Christian" from their publications and buildings. Crosses are being taken down so as not to give offense to anyone in the neighborhood who might drive by. 

ANNOUNCER: You might say these congregations seem to have forgotten the warning the Lord made about being lukewarm and wishy-washy. The Lord still expects His people to preach the message of Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of our sins and while that message may be offensive to the world, it is still God's power of salvation which saves those who believe. Anything else on your list of predictions for the future?

Ken: Well, I can say that, in 20 years, those who are at worship will be there because they want to be and not because it's the socially proper thing to do. They will be there because they are doing their best to be faithful in worship and devotion to the Lord.

ANNOUNCER: Anything else?

Ken: Just one thing. Don't neglect the training of the young. More and more, I am seeing congregations closing their parochial schools, emphasizing fun at the expense of solid teaching in Sunday School and youth groups. Pastors are stepping back from instructing the congregation's young people, especially in Confirmation. It's a dangerous thing to do. These kids are already encountering pressures that you and I, Mark, could never have imagined. We need to help them become educated and able to defend what they believe. 

ANNOUNCER: How would you sum all of this up for us today?

Ken: The Lord can take the bad and turn it to good to accomplish His purposes. That's how God worked in the past and it's how He will work in the future.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Action in Ministry for April 24, 2016
Guest: Pastor Michael Newman 

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action in Ministry. Pastor Gregory Seltz joins us now. Welcome.

SELTZ: It is great to be here, Mark. Thank you. 

ANNOUNCER: Our topic today is heaven and that always lends itself to some fascinating conversations. 

SELTZ: You know, Mark, we all can't wait to get there someday. But what if we knew more about it and weren't so worried about what comes right after our death? 

ANNOUNCER: Pastor Michael Newman has authored a video resource for us that answers some of those troubling questions about death and especially what follows. The title is Death...Then What? 

SELTZ: Pastor Newman, thanks for joining us. 

NEWMAN: It is a joy to be with you. 

SELTZ: Listen, we have to deal with death even from when we are young. For example, when a grandparent passes away. So in the back of our mind we know that it is inevitable, so why is it that most humans fear this thing called death the most? 

NEWMAN: Death can be scary for a couple of reasons. One fear that I've seen in my experience over and over again is just the simple fear of wondering how you're going to die and how it's going to feel. A second reason for being nervous is all the questions a person may have about what's next. 

ANNOUNCER: And people have all sorts of opinions about what might follow: reincarnation for one, absolute nothingness, or an afterlife. The Bible, though, tells us also about judgment and I suppose that would also be one reason why people might be uncomfortable or insecure concerning their own death. 

NEWMAN: Yeah, it can be scary. The Bible teaches us, in Hebrews, chapter 9, says, "It's appointed for man to die once and then to face the judgment." And then just one chapter later it gets a little more scary when the writer says "it's a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." So, we're all going to stand in the Presence of the Holy God and be accountable for our deeds at some point and the standard for judgment is perfection. So, that can be a reason for worry. 

SELTZ: Mike, when I say to folks, I say Jesus has been to hell and back so that we can go to heaven with Him. Talk about this. Why is it essential, then, to trust in Jesus as the final Authority when it comes to these issues of heaven and hell? 

NEWMAN: By God's grace we can fall into the hands of our God of mercy. You see, Jesus received our judgment and He took our punishment on the cross. So, when he arose from the grave, He stepped forward as our advocate. Essentially now, the Bible tells us we are clothed with Christ. He has given us His righteousness so when God looks at us, He sees the holiness of Jesus and He says, "Not guilty!" That's why He can welcome us into heaven. So, through faith in Jesus, as you've said, heaven is a sure thing. 

SELTZ: Wow, that's very powerful. Now listen, another thing that folks think about when it comes to death, they find comfort in death by thinking the person is no longer in pain and that they'll see them again, but here's what's probably in the back of their mind, they're saying "Is that really true?" 

NEWMAN: And that's the great comfort here because it's God's promise. That's what God promises. Because He forgives us, because He restores us, as we hear in the book of Revelation, there will be no more mourning or weeping or crying or pain. We're going to be united with loved ones who died in faith; and even now, in Christ, we're connected with those who have gone before us in faith. That's what we mean by the communion of saints when we confess it. So, this is a great comfort. You don't want to go it alone without Jesus. Separation from Him, handling eternity on your own, is devastating. 

ANNOUNCER: But yet there is reason for rejoicing. Pastor, share with us, once again, that good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus and how that affects what we might experience after death. 

NEWMAN: The Bible paints a beautiful picture of the gift of eternal life. When you are in heaven, you are going to be yourself, who God meant you to be fully. You're not going to be bored, floating on a cloud, playing a harp. Life in heaven is going to be more real, and vibrant, and beautiful than life even now. You are going to recognize people. You'll be recognized. You're going to be serving in a meaningful way. The life we live now is just a small taste of the beautiful life God has for us forever. So, it's an amazing blessing to walk in faith and have the eternal hope that Jesus gives. 

SELTZ: Wow, that's such an incredible thing to think about; and this isn't wishful thinking because like I've said before and like Pastor Newman said, Christ went to hell and back to make it possible for us. So, Pastor Newman, thank you for sharing this glimpse into the life that awaits all those who trust in Christ. Thank you for this resource, but above all, thanks for joining us today.

NEWMAN: Great to be with you again.

SELTZ: And that's our Action in Ministry segment today to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others. 

ANNOUNCER: To view or download this material for free, go to lutheranhour.org and look for the link that says Action In Ministry. For more information, call The Lutheran Hour toll free 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316. 

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Built on the Rock" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)



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