All Saints’ Day: A Celebration and Encouragement

fullsizeoutput_ae3.jpegToday, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. What is All Saints’ Day and why should we celebrate it?

Since the 4th century, Christians have celebrated the lives of saints and martyrs. However, it was not until AD 609 that Pope Boniface IV dedicated one day of remembrance for all martyrs. Since that time, and after a broadening by Pope Gregory IV in 837 into a celebration of all past saints, All Saints’ Day has been a solemn holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, often connected with reverence for past Christians and relics.  While often criticized for idolatrous veneration of departed Christians, even after the Reformation, most Protestants continued to celebrate All Saints’ Day as a way to connect God’s faithfulness to His people in times past with God’s faithfulness to His people now.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us through what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” We hear of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Rahab — all of whom faithfully walked through their ups-and-downs with God. The first words of chapter 12 take a sudden turn to the present: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The lives of great heroes of the faith are celebrated as an inspiration for the Christians listening in the present moment, that they too might live with God faithfully in their everyday lives.

I love that phrase: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Those witnesses are the believers in God that have gone before us. They bear witness to us that there is a way to live faithfully with God upon earth now even as they also bear witness that there is future hope with God beyond our earthly lives. Although it may sound strange to our ears, all past believers are ‘saints’ in that they are ‘holy ones’ (the literal translation of the Greek word hagioi) through Jesus Christ. All Saints’ Day brings to the foreground the spiritual bond that exists between believers from all times and in all places. More specifically, All Saints’ Day highlights the connection between the saints who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) and the saints still upon this earthly plane (sometimes called “the Church militant”). We celebrate those who have gone before us so that we might be encouraged to run the race before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

In a culture dominated by the ever-pressing latest and greatest that is new and now, All Saints’ Day is a powerful corrective. It reminds that we are an important part of God’s story, but we are not the only part of the story. When we celebrate the saints of previous times we realize that we would not be here were it not for Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, David, Esther, Isaiah, Mary, and so many more.

In a culture that is obsessed with our present opinions about our present matters, All Saints’ Day offers us perspective. It helps us grow beyond “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” to steal a phrase from G. K. Chesterton. We reconnect with Catherine of Siena and Augustine of Hippo, with Perpetua of Carthage and Janani Luwum of Uganda, with Sojourner Truth and Blaise Pascal. We need them; perhaps even more than we know.

In a culture that has forgotten how to think about the future, All Saints’ Day reminds us to have hope of a future day. Since there are saints who have gone before us, we can persevere now as saints upon earth. Jesus Himself told us that He is preparing a place for us and, as John testifies, there will be a great company there of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation around God’s throne celebrating in God’s eternal kingdom.

By God’s grace, we, too, will join that great company. But until we do, we celebrate God’s faithfulness in their lives as a means to lean into God’s faithfulness in our own lives as persevering pilgrims in this land that is not our home.

Growing in Christ During Trying Times

For several years I have served as a seminar speaker for the No Regrets Men’s Conference. This year’s conference was primarily online, but I still had the privilege of speaking within the discipleship track on “Growing in Christ During Trying Times.” I spoke from Hebrews 12:1-13, giving attention to six aspects of growing with Christ in trials and difficulties:

  • Running with a crowd (Hebrews 12:1a)
  • Running with hindrances (Hebrews 12:1b)
  • Running with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1c-3)
  • Running who we are (Hebrews 12:4-6)
  • Running with discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11)
  • Running bandaged (Hebrews 12:12-13)

I could not seem to embed the message here on my blog, you can visit the No Regrets website to view the message video here.

Finding Encouragement within Suffering: a reflection on Hebrews 12

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Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

Be encouraged: God disciplines His children because He loves them. Do not lose heart amidst your suffering. Instead, endure it sustained by the truth that God is lovingly at work even here.

We can fight against our suffering, and it may have some good effect, particularly if we face unjust suffering from external forces. However, fighting against our circumstances is different than fighting against God. We must internally and spiritually submit ourselves to God for training in righteousness, even if we legitimately wrestle with our circumstances.

We could give up in the face of our suffering, simply throwing in the towel by passively surrendering to what is happening. This most often happens when we feel we are powerless to change our circumstances. Still, this powerlessness to outside circumstances is different than our inner spiritual submission to God amidst our circumstances. Even if apparently powerless, we still have power to yield our lives to God so that He might grow us amidst our suffering. Although sometimes powerless to change our situation, God still releases His power in us as we surrender to Him, changing us to become more like Christ.

At other times, we are powerless to change our circumstances but do have power to remove ourselves from those circumstances. This takes great discernment because we must constantly yield to God so that He might have His way in us. Sometimes choosing to change our circumstances is best for our safety or our growth. At other times leaving our circumstances may actually circumvent what God wants to develop in our lives through challenging circumstances or suffering.

In our suffering-averse culture we do well to thoroughly consider whether we are listening more to God than we are listening to ourselves when considering leaving tough circumstances. We do not want to miss out on His best work in our lives. As James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

It isn’t easy to discern when we should choose fight or flight. However, amidst it all we should always choose spiritually to yield to God so that He might have His way in growing us to full maturity in Christ, even through suffering and trials. We will not grow in Christ without facing hardships and challenges. We will not gain wisdom apart from navigating tough and trying experiences which take us beyond what we already know and understand. Still, w will not make our way through these challenges well with Christ if we do not daily remember God’s love for us as a good father even in the midst of suffering.

Eastbrook at Home – August 30, 2020

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM as we conclude our series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews.” This weekend I will conclude the series by preaching from Hebrews 13:1-22 on the sufficiency of Christ. Follow along with the entire series here. Access the downloadable bulletin, sermon notes, and sermon discussion guide here.

We also continue in-person services at both 9:30 and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, but you do need to RSVP ahead of time this week and in coming weeks. Find out more info here.

Don’t miss the chance to join in with a virtual small group discussing the sermon every Sunday at 11 AM. More info here.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

Encountering the Overwhelming Presence of God

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Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Lord, awesome God, who reveals with great power who You are and Your ways, I come to You in awe and humility today. If the might of storms and hurricanes show forth power, how much greater are You, the God who made those storms and hurricanes? “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and “clouds and thick darkness surround him” (97:2). Your power and majesty are overwhelming and unyielding. No wonder the Israelites trembled with fear after the Exodus while at Mount Sinai, begging Moses not to go up the mountain but to wait at a safe distance. You are not a God who by any means is safe. So “who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” (24:3). The question is not only who may but who would want to do something so bold? As it says elsewhere, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Yet here is an equally overpowering and awe-inspiring series of truths. “We have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God” (4:14). “Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant….he is able to save completely those who come to God through him” (7:22, 25). “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (9:14). “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16). This seems almost as a different world from those overwhelming words of distance earlier. On our own we could perchance try to ascend Your hill, but the revelation of our own inabilities and insignificance would lead us to falter, even hinder us entirely. Who can ascend? The One who is blameless, even Jesus the Messiah, who then makes a way for us to draw near to Your throne? of grace, finding there not fear-filled judgment but even awesome and undeserved mercy and grace in the presence of You, the holy God.

Thank You, Lord, for this greatest of gifts and the wonderful opportunity to know You and the responsibility to serve You upon earth. May we live in response to Your grace today!