My first pastorate after finishing college was in a small dairy farming community in the midwest. The core of this small church was made up of Norwegians that had been members of a Missouri synod Lutheran church all their lives. Some of them had started a small Bible Study. As a part of the Bible study, each one would pray, asking God for a deeper life that would take them beyond the catechism of the liturgy of the church.

In my youth, I would sit in the farmhouse living rooms and listen to their stories. Strange things began to happen in their Bible studies. One lady described it to me as an electrical current that would pass through her body, she would shake and the English language that she was using to praise God became a strange language she did not understand but knew it was miraculous. They were experiencing the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. No one was there to teach them or instruct them from the scripture. They merely began meeting because they were wanting to experience God beyond merely reciting the church liturgy.

The established church they were part of disagreed with this group, which now consisted of a significant number of people, and they were asked to leave the church. This they did and began what was called “The free church.” This group of people was now a significant part of the core members of the first church I pastored.

There were several of these families (now older and semi-retired from dairy farming) that never let loose of what they had experienced in those original Bible studies.  They worshipped a living Christ. They were convinced that Jesus Himself would return at any time. There was one dear lady who spoke broken English who told me many times, “I’m convinced that I will see Jesus come back before I die.” Her name was Olga, and she has laid in the dust of the local cemetery for many years now, but I can still see her wrinkled face and penetrating eyes.  She is now with Jesus, along with her husband, Olger.

I never want to lose what some of those dear people taught me. They were simple, hard-working dairy farmers with no days off, but they had a love for God that became a part of their very being, and they knew that they would see Jesus, either through a heavenly meeting or through death.

What did Jesus say about this? On one occasion, He was talking to His Apostles and told them, “…in my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not true, I would have told you so. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself because where I am, I want you to be there also”.

Later, after his death and resurrection, He took His Apostles outside of Jerusalem and talked to them. As He was talking, He began to ascend until eventually, he disappeared into the heavens. The apostles stood there awestruck, looking up in absolute amazement. Then, it happened. An angel appeared as they stood there looking, and the angel said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus which has been taken up from you into heaven will come in just the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven”.

This teaching, which is plainly taught in the Bible, has become a point of controversy. Some see Jesus coming to this world as it is and ruling right here and the kingdom of God being established among us. Some see the teaching as symbolic. It is a symbol of a culture improving itself until a new kingdom is established. The list goes on.

It does seem incredulous that this, even as taught in the Bible, could or would happen. We know that historically it can be proven that Jesus did live right here among us as man. However, to believe that He ascended like described in Acts one, and about the message that the angel communicated, seems a bit of a stretch for the human mind. We have been trained to follow science, and science does not allow for the miraculous. We have great difficulty stepping out of our logical and scientific mindset. I feel more secure living in a secure and understandable world. I do not want to go to bed tonight, thinking that God has changed the order of things. That makes me uncomfortable.

The Apostle Paul wrote over half of the New Testament. His background was from the Pharisaic world, where rules were kept, and their belief system was nice and neatly bundled by years of Rabbinical teaching and writing. It was a secure world to live in.

But, his tight bundle of religious rules and belief system began to crumble as he approached Damascus and was ready to imprison those whose beliefs were different than his. Something miraculous happened in his life, which demanded that he re-write the scrolls, and God became more than Liturgy and Rabbinical writings. He met a living Christ. He, a blue-blooded Jew from head to foot, was sent by God to the Gentile nations to teach a living Christ that was based on knowing a living Christ. He says that Jesus Christ will return, just as He promised, and the dead in Christ will rise and the people of faith that are still alive, will be caught up to be with this Jesus who promised to return.

Paul waited for that day and when it came, he was ready. In his final words before death he said, “I have fought a good fight, and I have finished the course, and I have kept the faith. I know that in the future there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord Jesus Christ will award me on that day, and not only to me but to all those that love His appearing”.

It seems incredulous, but I would much rather live with that hope than die and rot in a grave.

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