Death is but a Sleep

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13,14)

Are you afraid to sleep at night? Probably not. At the end of each day, you look forward to getting some sleep. You need it to get some rest and to refresh your body and mind. It’s a necessary part of a healthy life, not something to be afraid of. When you go to sleep, you have the confidence that you will feel better when you awake.

 “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep,” St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica. They needed more information about those who die in the Lord. Paul explained that for those who believe in Jesus Christ—those who “fall asleep” in him—death is nothing more to be afraid of than a good night’s rest. 

This confidence is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” We believe that Jesus’ death paid the price God’s justice demanded for the sins of the entire world. We believe that God raised Christ’s body from the dead on the third day. We believe that on the Last Day God will raise the bodies of all who put their trust in Jesus Christ, and they will live and reign with him throughout eternity.

We believe these things because we know that Jesus Christ has all power in heaven and on earth. For him, death is like a sleep. He saw the lifeless body of Jairus’ daughter, and to everyone’s astonishment he announced, “This child is not dead but asleep” (Matthew 5:39). Some people laughed. They knew that the girl had died. They did not expect that Jesus would be able to do anything for her now. But he did. 

On another occasion, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). And he called his friend’s lifeless body out of the grave. 

With confidence you can pray, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” He will do it. 

O Jesus draw near my dying bed

And take me into your keeping

And say when my spirit hence is fled,

“This child is not dead, but sleeping.”

And leave me not, Savior, till I rise

To praise you in life eternal. Amen.

(Christian Worship 211:4)


Are We There Yet?

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in
all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:17)
In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, we find ourselves walking down a dusty road with
two disciples headed toward the village of Emmaus. They’re trudging along with heavy
hearts, deeply discouraged. Jesus, their Teacher, has been crucified at the hands of his
enemies and all their fondest hopes have been dashed.
Then a Stranger joins them. We know that it’s Jesus, but they’re kept from knowing who
he is. “What are you talking about?” he asks. The disciples seem surprised, “Haven’t you
heard about all the things that have happened in Jerusalem these past few days?” They
go on to explain that Jesus of Nazareth…was a prophet, powerful in word and deed….
We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”
Jesus responds by turning a long walk into an inspirational Bible class. To these weary
disciples he slowly unpacks a survey of Old Testament prophecies about the promised
Messiah—“what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). With
each step, Jesus connects the dots—the details about his life foretold in the writings of
the prophets.
Life is a journey down a long and winding road. Sometimes exhilarating, it can also be
tiresome and exhausting. Our trip down life’s path often poses unexpected challenges to
our faith. Teachers say things that challenge our belief in God. Friends tempt us to do
things we know to be wrong. Our own sinful nature leads us to think that we can figure
things out on our own—that we don’t need God or church to help us on our way. The
devil uses these and a thousand other lies to try to take Jesus out of our hearts.
Where will we find the resolve to keep our legs strong for the journey? In Christ alone.
After Jesus left them, those two weary travelers asked each other, “Were not our hearts
burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?
(Luke 24:32). The Word our Lord used to re-ignite the faith of those two discouraged
disciples on the road to Emmaus is the very same Word that will strengthen us as we
travel along the path toward our heavenly home.
We’re not there yet. But with our Lord’s Word in our hearts, one day we will be.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, strengthen our weary hearts through your Word. Amen.


A Place Created by God

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and
instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
“I know a place created by God as part of his plan for our existence and survival. I know
a place where I am loved and accepted. I know a place where I am forgiven when I
make a mistake. I know a place where I belong.” So wrote Rolf Zettersten several years
ago in Focus on the Family. “This place is called the family.”
More than ever before, it seems, the family is in trouble. We are no longer living in a
Christian, or even post-Christian, culture. It’s anti-Christian, and it has the family in its
crosshairs. Our children are especially vulnerable to the toxic influences of today’s world.
How will they be able to hold on to the faith they have? What can we do to help them as
they grow? Here are a few thoughts:
  1. The family is where we receive our identity. We must first give our children an
    identity as children of God. If we—parents and grandparents—model the attitude, “I
    am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16) in our own lives, they will absorb that
    lesson in theirs.
  2. The family is a sanctuary where we are accepted and restored after we have
    stumbled or gone wrong. It is where we confess our sins and forgive one another
    daily. We must continue to forgive one another in our marriages and in our homes.
    Forgive, as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13) needs to be part of the fabric of
    our lives. (Read Genesis 45:3-15 and 50:15-21 for a biblical example.)
  3. Caring, yet firm discipline is a blessing to any child. There are times in every
    child’s life when they need a healthy dose of “vitamin N”—when they need to be told
    “No.” The Lord says, “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a
    willing party to their death” (Proverbs 19:18).
  4. The family is where we teach our children about Jesus. Our ultimate objective is
    to lead precious souls to heaven. We must above all be missionaries to our children.
    Home devotions, prayers, and bringing them to church are indispensable to raising
    our children to know that Jesus came to be their Savior.
Our children are growing up in a challenging environment, but God has promised that his
word will not return empty (Isaiah 55:10). God’s word works. There is no better reason to
bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord. And there is no better
place to do so than the family.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we thank you for bringing us into your family of believers. Help us to
make our own families a blessing for generations to come. Amen.


He Won for Us

We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
(Hebrews 4:15)
Peter knew.
He knew the diabolical nature of Satan’s tactics and the power of his lies. And he learned: you
don’t play games with the devil. The warning comes from the pen of Peter himself: “Your enemy
the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
We’d better pay attention, because the devil plays for keeps. He’ll get us to question God’s
goodness and doubt the wisdom of his Word. He’ll make bad things seem good, so that we
want them more than what God wants for our lives. And once he gets us to fall into that trap,
he’ll lead us to believe that our sins are bigger than God’s forgiveness. His end game is to lead
us—little by little, bit by bit—away from our Lord…and to destroy our souls forever in hell.
We’re at war.
Whether we realize it or not, every day we’re involved in a great struggle against a deadly
enemy. It’s a struggle that is far greater and more devastating than any earthly conflict. That
great war continues to this day.
You remember, don’t you, how the giant Goliath stood before the armies of Israel and defied
them to fight? He proposed that one man fight for all. “Choose a man and have him come down
to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome and kill
him, you will become our subjects and serve us” (1 Samuel 17:8,9). The young man David
volunteered to fight, and with his sling and a stone, and with the Lord on his side, he won.
That’s what Jesus has done for us. Throughout his life, he fought as one man for the whole
human race. The stakes were high. If he had lost—if he had sinned just once—we would have
been subject to the devil forever. But he didn’t lose. Jesus fought and won…and because of him,
we’re free!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fought the battle against Satan and lost, and I’m not going to
ask how often it has happened to you. Like it or not, the reality is that our sins merit
hell—eternal separation from the all-holy God. And yet, no matter how deeply we’ve fallen,
we’re on the winning side. “We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we
are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus won. He fought for us and took our place. He won, and his victory is ours! “Thanks be to
God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:25).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for fighting the devil in our place and defeating him for us. Teach
us to turn to you in every temptation. Amen.


St. Paul’s Surprising Admission

I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. (Romans 7:7)
A popular television preacher once made the remarkable claim that it’s fruitless to tell
people they’re sinners, because deep down they already know that. Instead, churches
need to tell people they are “fantastic” (Robert Schuller).
He at least understood something very basic about human nature: people don’t like to
hear the truth—especially when they’re wrong. Even people who say they believe that
Jesus is their Savior don’t like to hear God’s law. They don’t like to hear that they’re
sinners and that their sins are enough to send them to hell.
What that preacher didn’t understand is that even though we don’t like to hear God’s
law, we need to hear it. Unless we first see ourselves in the accusing mirror of God’s
law, the gospel means nothing. Any preaching that avoids telling us that we’re sinners
actually leads us away from the God who saved us from the punishment our sins
We have a problem. We want to think of ourselves as basically good, so we minimize
our own sins, as if they weren’t that big of a deal. But whenever we do that, the very real
need we have for God’s mercy and forgiveness becomes less urgent to us. We may still
appreciate Jesus as a great example of kindness, love, and compassion—maybe even
the greatest example ever. But if we lose our appreciation for him as our Savior from sin,
we lose the heart and core of the Christian faith.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes a surprising admission. He writes, “I would
not have known what sin was had it not been for the law” (Romans 7:7). He needed
God’s law. We all do. We need faithful preachers who candidly point out our sins and
their consequences. We need to be alarmed at our guilt so that we turn to Jesus for
mercy. We need to hear the law, because if we don’t recognize that we need a Savior,
the gospel (the message of God’s love and forgiveness) will not help us.
A message that makes no mention of sin may entertain us. It may be soothing and
agreeable to our ears. But it will never expose our hearts for what they really are, and it
will never comfort our conscience when the truth of our sin hits home. Only the law and
gospel, working together as God intended them to work, can do that.
We don’t need to hear that we’re “fantastic.” We need to hear that Jesus is
fantastic—that his love is perfect and that his forgiveness is complete because he
poured out his life for us on the cross.
Prayer: Lord, expose my sin through your law so that my heart is prepared to accept the
sweet comfort of the gospel. Amen.

Note: The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 2. Worship services are at 3:30
and 6:30 pm.


God is with Us

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” –Isaiah 7:14
What’s your favorite expression of love? I mean, if you were to boil love down to one phrase or
even a word, what would it be?
You could say commitment. Married love is a commitment to one another, a resolve to stay
together through thick and thin. Or you might think of the word affection. Love is a strong
affection, a feeling of caring for someone else. Those are good words. And there are others.
Words like fondness, warmth, devotion, and compassion—all of them express the concept of
love in different ways.
But I’d like to suggest another word as perhaps the greatest expression of love—with.
A wife says to her husband, “Would you like to go with me to the grocery store?” A sick little girl
says to her father, “Daddy, stay with me.” A young man asks a young woman if she will go
through life with him.
There’s something special about with. Teammates say, “I’m with you,” and you know they’ll do
everything in their power to help the team. Friends say, “I’ll be with you,” and you know that
they’re going to be there for you in good times and in bad.
God also expresses his love in terms of with, but sadly, the people he most wants to be with
sometimes act as if they’d rather do without him in their lives.
That’s where King Ahaz stood. He tried to live his life without God. It was to him that the Lord
made the promise through the prophet Isaiah that, “the virgin will be with child and will give birth
to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Immanuel. In all of scripture, only Jesus is given that name. It means “God with us.” And God
with us is the ultimate expression of his love.
That’s what makes our celebration of Christmas more than just a mid-winter break. God came to
be with us. He knows what life is like. He understands hurt. He’s experienced rejection. He
knows pain. He knows what it’s like to lose sleep. He knows betrayal and hatred,
disappointment and grief. He knows…and he cares.
  • To the student for the first time away from home, he says, “I am with you.”
  • To the newlywed husband and wife wondering about their future, he says, “I am with you.”
  • To the discouraged resident of a nursing home, he says, “I am with you.”
  • To the single parent and her child…to the recently divorced…to the financially strapped…to
    the grieving and the sick, he says, “I am with you.”
  • To the tiniest child and the most elderly among us, he says. “I am with you.”
Before he ascended into heaven Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age”
(Matthew 28:20). He loved us too much to leave us to ourselves. And one day he will come
back to take us to be with him forever.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming to be with us. Keep us faithful to you, that we may live with
you forever. Amen.


What will we do with this book?

“Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” –2 Kings 22:10
It must have been like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie.
In the eighteenth year of his reign, good King Josiah ordered the repair of the Temple in
Jerusalem. For years worship of the true God in Judah had suffered under a long parade of evil
kings, and by now the magnificent temple Solomon built three centuries earlier had fallen into
During the course of the restoration, Hilkiah the priest made an astonishing discovery. It was a
scroll—one that had not been touched for some time. He carefully examined the delicate book,
and his heart must have raced when he realized what it was. He hurried off to tell the secretary,
Shaphan, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord!” (2 Kings 22:8).
It was Shaphan’s job to report to the king on the progress of the restoration project. He began in
fairly undramatic fashion, “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the
Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple” (2 Kings 22:9).
Then he dropped the bombshell. “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book,” (2 Kings 22:10).
Shaphan unrolled the scroll and began to read from it in the presence of the king.
When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders…
“Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what
is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that is poured out
on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD; they have not acted in
accordance with all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:19-21).
Do you wonder, as I do, how the Book of the Law could have been lost? How could it have been
lost and not missed for so long in the temple of the Lord?
That day began a great reform. Josiah vowed to follow the Lord and keep his commands with all
his heart. And all the people pledged the same.
We, too, have been given a Book—the sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. But it
is in danger of being lost. Biblical illiteracy is soaring. Worship attendance is on the decline. Our
nation is quickly transforming from a post-Christian culture into an anti-Christian one.
We have a choice. We can follow the trend and drift ever-so-slowly away from our God. Or we
can re-commit ourselves to living our lives by the Book of the Lord. What will we do?
The Word of God is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). It exposes our sin and shows us our
Savior. May we treasure that Word, and each day commit ourselves to holding on to its truth.

Prayer: Lord, give me insight, peace, courage, and strength through your Word. Amen.


What speaks, yet has no words?

What speaks, yet uses no words? What beautifully and eloquently declares the power, wisdom and glory of God, yet does so without employing human language or speech? 

God’s creation does. And we’d better pay attention. 

King David must have been musing on the wonders of a star-studded key as he wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4).  

All creation testifies to God’s power, wisdom and glory. The “voice” of the heavens reaches out into the remotest parts of the world. Yet the world, it seems, refuses to listen. It’s considered the height of wisdom to reject the very idea of a Creator—to act as if the world is all there ever was and to say that there is not and never was a Maker. But the stars in the night sky shout it out. There is a God! He is the Maker of all. He is awesome. And he is real. 

Still, nature can only reveal so much. It cannot tell us who this God is and what he did to save us. For that, we need another revelation—the Bible: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. . . The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11).

Only God can tell us who he really is, that he is Triune—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only he can tell us how deeply and dearly he loves us. Only he could have revealed his plan to save his fallen world. Only he could have told us that he so deeply loved the world that he sent his Son to live among us and die, so that we might live with him in unending peace and joy. 

When this God speaks, I need to listen. Sin is so deeply ingrained in my heart that I sin when I know better, and even when I don’t want to. “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (Psalm 19:12,13). My sin is not a minor corruption. Only God can undo its awful effects. And the heart and core of the Bible’s message is that he has! 

As amazing as the heavens are and as eloquently as the stars speak about the power of our Creator, we rejoice even more in the wisdom and love he has revealed to us in his Word. 

We pray: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Amen.


Come, Follow Me

Matthew 4:19
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (NIV11).
Come, Follow Me
I wonder what they were thinking, don’t you? Jesus sees two brothers, Peter and Andrew,
casting a net into the lake to catch fish. He tells them, “Come, follow me.” And they leave their
nets to follow him. Now, understand: he’s met them before. This isn’t a first-time cold call. But
when Jesus calls, they’re ready. . . and they go.
Then he comes across James and John, who are also fishermen. They’re in a boat with their
father preparing their nets. Jesus calls them, too. “Let’s fish for souls,” he says. And they drop
everything. They leave their boat. They leave their father. And they go and follow Jesus.
Who does that? Who leaves it all behind to follow Jesus, not knowing what the future holds in
store? Who leaves behind job, family, and home just to be with Jesus and learn from him? I
guess you could say: only somebody who really wants to. Only someone who sees Jesus for who
he is and knows the peace and blessing only he can bring.
What these men did makes sense only when we see that. Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God
and Savior of the world. Yet he took on the nature of a servant. “He humbled himself by
becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). He did it to cancel our
debt of sin and give us the joy of everlasting life.
How much of that did Peter and Andrew and James and John really understand? Not all of
it—at least not at this time. But what they did know about Jesus made them want to give
something in return. And so when they hear his call to come and follow him, they answer that
call with joy. They give him their lives.
Jesus is calling you. He’s calling you to follow him just as he called them. He’s calling you to be
his disciple—to learn from him, to walk in his ways, and to share the good news with all. He’s
calling you to get involved in his work—to go out and “fish for souls.” How will you respond?


You Know What’s Coming

Matthew 24:36
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the
You Know What’s Coming
I love a good movie with a surprise twist at the end, don’t you? The plot draws you in, you
begin to really care about the characters, you go through all kinds of emotional ups and downs,
and just when you think it’s all over. . . something happens that makes you say, “I did not see
that coming!”
That’s similar to what Jesus says the end of time will be like. It will take us all by surprise.
“About that day or hour no one knows. . .” he says. He explains that at the time of the flood,
people went about their lives as usual, “up to the day Noah entered the ark. . . until the flood
came and took them all away.” Jesus’ arrival on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead
will be a shocker—the kind of thing that makes you say, “I did not see that coming!”
People have made all kinds of predictions about the end of time and have tried to calculate just
when it will be. None of them has ever proven to be true. That’s no surprise, because that day
is known only to God. But there is one aspect of the end that we do know. We know that it’s
going to come. That is certain. And when it comes, we need to be ready.
This Advent season, get ready for Jesus. Come to worship and listen to his Word. Recognize
your sin and trust in the blood that washes it all away. You know what’s coming. Grow closer to
your Lord, so that when he comes you can say with confidence and joy, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Pastor Thomas Fricke