Christianity 201

June 27, 2018

Knowing in Part

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely – I Corinithians 13:12a NLT

Today we’re back at the devotional page of Susan Barnes, who most recently has been working her way through I Corinthians. Click this link, to see the full index, or click the title below to read this one at source and comment.

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 13:12b

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12b

This thought is rather like what John writes in 1 John 3:2:

“Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.”

Living by faith requires that we acknowledge that we only know “in part”. We know we are children of God yet we won’t know “fully” until Jesus comes and “we shall see him as he is.”

I only have to look at my garden to know that God’s kingdom has not fully come. I still have weeds! And when God’s kingdom fully comes not only will I not have weeds, but, “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

Heaven is described in terms of a city. God isn’t taking us back to the garden but rather to a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). A city with foundations speaks of permanence, of security, and of community. The garden was a graceless state – one wrong decision and Adam and Eve were out of there. Heaven, however, is a permanent destination.

God’s grace is so amazing that we gain more than we lost in the Garden. The forgiven person is better off than before they sinned because God not only forgives us but credits us with righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We start our Christian lives with a righteousness we could never have achieved for ourselves.

However we are not, as Paul says, “already been made perfect.” We still live with the difficulties and inconveniences of a broken world with broken people and nothing works like it should. Nevertheless let’s press on to gain all Christ died to give us (Philippians 3:12).


Writing on the first part of the verse, Susan says,

God is waiting for a face to face meeting with you and me. At the moment no matter how clearly we may think we hear from God we always lose something in the communication. We only see “as in a mirror” but the day is coming when we will see face to face and then we will really know. Really know how much we are loved, how much we mean to God and how much He wants to be with us.

 

June 22, 2018

Fire & Brimstone – Part 2

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by Clarke Dixon

We have already seen the reality of the judgement of God, that separation from God and His goodness is real and therefore hell is real. But what does it mean to “go to hell”?

There are three possible views on hell which could be summarized by the words fire, torment, and destruction.

Fire: The first takes the language used in the Bible about hell most literally and those who hold this view think those in hell will literally experience everlasting fire along with everything else mentioned.

Torment: The second view holds the language around hell to be metaphorical, but still very descriptive of experience. Those who hold this view don’t think those in hell will experience literal everlasting fire, but will experience everlasting something, and that something will be bad.

Destruction: The two former views reflect what we call ‘eternal conscious torment’ and are considered to be the more tractional views. The third view is different. Let us look at this third view more closely since many of us already know the traditional views.

Remember that time Luther posted his 95 theses which helped spark the move from what tradition taught to what the Bible taught? John Stott called for a similar move in the last century:

As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and it—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.  – John Stott.

You can read that passage in its context here.

Is it possible that hell, the experience of separation from God and his goodness, could be summed up by ‘destruction’ rather than ‘everlasting conscious torment’? Does the Bible teach that? Let us consider the same passages we looked at in the last post when we asked if God’s judgement was real:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Adam is given the gift of life and is warned that the consequence of rebellion against God is death. Nothing is said about eternal eternal conscious torment at this point.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (emphasis added)

Adam and Eve did rebel against God and the consequences started to fall into place. Here, at the very first sin, the consequence of rebellion is framed as death, not everlasting conscious torment. This death and life theme is reflected when Paul brings up Adam’s sin and the resurrection of Jesus:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (emphasis added)

In that same chapter on the resurrection, Paul does not speak of going to heaven rather than hell as we might think he would. He speaks of eternal life made possible through the putting on of immortality:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

The focus here is on life versus death, rather than heaven verses hell. The Bible does speak elsewhere of the unrepentant also being raised for judgement. But from this passage in Corinthians we can infer that the unrepentant will not receive the wonderful gift being celebrated by Paul here, namely the gift of being clothed in imperishability and immortality. We should note here that the concept of the immortality of the soul is a Greek concept that has more to do with Platonic philosophy than Biblical teaching. Our souls have not been around for eternity, they were created. Adam and Eve could have enjoyed everlasting life in the Garden, but sin messed that up. Our default without Christ is mortality. God, however, graciously offers the gift of eternal life in Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

This last verse reminds us of the doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus paid the wages of sin on our behalf. No one believes that Jesus is experiencing eternal conscious torment on our behalf.  He experienced death, and in a mysterious but real way, separation from the Father and His goodness.

Consider, finally, these verses that speak in a matter of fact manner of everlasting life versus destruction.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

But what about those passages that speak of everlasting torment? When Biblical teaching which has the sound of metaphor is placed next to Biblical teaching which sounds quite matter of fact, perhaps we should consider the matter of fact statements to be pointing to facts, and the metaphor to be poetic. “The wages of sin is death” is a matter of fact statement and so, in fact, sin without the atoning work of Jesus will lead to death, separation from the presence and goodness of God. That “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) is a poetic way of saying that to experience separation from God and his goodness, to experience death, is utterly regrettable. That too, is a fact! But to take the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as a factual description of the experience of separation from God may not be what is intended.

Likewise, when Jesus speaks of hell he often is being poetic by using the word “Gehenna”. Gehenna was locatable on a map and was a place of idol worship, including the incredibly evil practice of sacrificing children. The people of Jerusalem ended up burning their garbage there. When Jesus speaks of people going to Gehenna, in the Sermon on the Mount for example, the idea is that if you want to appeal to your own righteousness, then you will end up being taken out with the trash. Perhaps what we learn through the poetry of Jesus’ words on hell should not be lost by forcing them to become a scientific description.

Which view of hell is correct? I’ll leave that up to you to research further and decide (A good start is to read both John Stott and J.I. Packer on the topic). Whichever view is correct, we agonize over our loved ones who do not know Christ. Whichever view is correct, we agonize over anyone who would choose to be separated from God and His goodness. Whichever view is correct, we thank God for His wonderful love and grace.

Is it time to bring back fire and brimstone? Whichever view on hell we think is correct, are we witnesses that hell is eternal conscious torment, or that Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord, even over death? Keep in mind that our unbelieving friends do not yet believe in hell. They already believe in death. The Good News is that though “the wages of sin is death”, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the Good News we share. We don’t need to be angry fire and brimstone preachers to do that.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 21, 2018

Fire and Brimstone – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part two will run tomorrow, or you can read ahead by clicking the link at the bottom of this page to see it on Clarke’s blog.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we need to bring back hell-fire and brimstone? Preachers don’t seem to preach on hell as often these days, and for that some people are very grateful. Others think that something important has been lost. The good folk at Calvary may or may not have noticed I rarely use the word “hell”, preferring to refer to “separation from God”. But is there even such a thing as being cast out from the presence of God? There are those who would say that God is so loving, that everyone will be saved in the end. That might be what we would like the Bible to teach. But is it?

A brief overview of the Bible will help clarify our thoughts on God’s judgement. Let us begin at Genesis:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24

The Bible is clear from the get-go that separation from God and His goodness is a consequence of rebellion against Him. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, the place where they could fully experience the presence of God, plus the way to the tree of life was guarded. Death became a reality, a sure thing. The gift of life was taken back.

This is reflected in the New Testament:

For the wages of sin is death . . . Romans 6:23

That is the bad news. Now for the good news:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

While it is clear that judgement against sin results in death, it is also clear that Jesus came to give us life. But perhaps Jesus came to give everyone life?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The Bible is clear that though Jesus came to give us life, people can say “no thanks”.

The Bible is also clear that God is a good father:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

Would we as imperfect Dads go and force an adult child to return home, locking them up in our living room? God invites people to call him Father, but he gives people the freedom to people to say “no, I’m not coming home”.

There is such a thing as being cut off from God and his goodness. Hell is therefore a reality. So, time to bring back fire and brimstone, right?

We will consider that in Part 2.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

May 21, 2018

The Unsaved Aren’t Afraid of a Hell They Don’t Believe Exists

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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, the writing of Kaleb Tillman who calls his blog The Controversial Christian. Kaleb has an extensive background in Christian music and broadcast media. Click the title below to read this at source.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.

April 20, 2018

The Duplicity of the Sadducees

Today’s author is here at C201 for the first time today, though I have encountered his writing before. David Ettinger has been widely published including “various LifeWay publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine.” David was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York, and converted to Christianity in 1986.

What’s reproduced below begins about a third into the article, so if you’d like to know more about the Sadducees, I strongly encourage you to click the title below.

A Brief Look at the Sadducees

This is the second in a short series of brief blogs on some of the “players” who had a major role in the four Gospels: the Sadducees, Pharisees, and, to a lesser degree, the Essenes. The first was “The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes: The Precursor.”

Religious Beliefs
Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not accept all of the Hebrew Scriptures, but only the first five books known as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Ironically, in this way they were similar to the lowly-regarded Samaritans (read my blog, “A Brief Look at the Samaritans”).

Furthermore, they did not believe in the concept of an afterlife, which at that time was gaining great popularity in Judaism, particularly among the Pharisees (and is clearly taught in the Book of Daniel). They also rejected the belief of angels, demons, resurrection from the dead, and apocalyptic predictions of the last days. They likewise did not accept the oral law as developed by the Pharisees.

What they did advocate was the animal sacrifices at the Temple and the role of the priesthood.

The Sadducees and Jesus
Perhaps the most famous confrontation between Jesus and the Sadducees concerned their questioning Him on an issue regarding marriage and, especially, the resurrection of the dead. This, of course, was disingenuous on the part of the Sadducees because they did not believe in the resurrection; their goal was to discredit Jesus, not to discover truth.

In Matthew Chapter 22, the Sadducees ask Jesus the following:

Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her? (vv. 23-28).

The question is preposterous and Jesus exposes the duplicity of the Sadducees while at the same time shaming them most deservingly. The Lord replied:

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead – have you not read what God said to you, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead but of the living (vv. 29-32).

One would think that after being taken so soundly to the theological woodshed the Sadducees would reflect, reconsider, and repent. However, as Jesus elucidated, the Sadducees did “not know the Scriptures” nor did they know “the power of God.” They were ignorant on both counts, and had no desire to overcome their spiritual shortcomings.

The Sadducee “Legacy”
It is no wonder that absolutely NONE of the writings of the Sadducees have been preserved. All we know about them is what we read in the Bible and extra-biblical sources. They were theologically limited, have left nothing in writing for the generations to come, and denied both the messiahship and Deity of Jesus Christ.

This is the lamentable legacy of a sect of men who lived at the same time of Christ, interacted with Him, witnessed the miracles He performed, but in the end denied Him.

 

 

February 24, 2018

Billy Graham Quotations

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[He has] fought the good fight, [he has] finished the race, and [he has] remained faithful. Now there is in store for [him] the crown of righteousness… (2 Tim 2:7-8a, amended)

Yesterday we honored Billy Graham with an excerpt from his final book. Today we want to include him in our quotations series here at Christianity 201. Quotation columns here at C201 always run the danger of being pithy — such as the shorter ones found here — so I’ve tried to include some more substantive quotes as they were available. Preparing this was an amazing opportunity to learn more about a servant of God who was willing to be obedient to the call of God. His presence and influence will be missed.

The greatest need in our world today is the need for hope. We thrive on hope, we rejoice in hope, we witness in hope, knowing that experience works hope. ‘Happy is he . . . whose hope is in the Lord his God (Psalm 146:5).’ There is hope for the future. It is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the grave and is alive now. I have staked all that I am or ever hope to be on Him.

One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity.

God proved his love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’

Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.

Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one. How can I say two things that seem so contradictory? In a perfect marriage, everything is always the finest and best imaginable; like a Greek statue, the proportions are exact and the finish is unblemished. Who knows any human beings like that? For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. We learned that even before we were married.

The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.

The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing circumstances and the most bitter environment. It is the kind of happiness that grins when things go wrong and smiles through the tears. The happiness for which our souls ache is one undisturbed by success or failure, one which will root deeply inside us and give inward relaxation, peace, and contentment, no matter what the surface problems may be. That kind of happiness stands in need of no outward stimulus.

There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men.”

Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets…I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.

The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’

The men who followed Him were unique in their generation. They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up. The world has never been the same.

The cross shows us the seriousness of our sin—but it also shows us the immeasurable love of God.

I have a certainty about eternity that is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for giving me that certainty. I do not fear death. I may fear a little bit about the process, but not death itself, because I think the moment that my spirit leaves this body, I will be in the presence of the Lord.

Like Joseph storing up grain during the years of plenty to be used during the years of famine that lay ahead, may we store up the truths of God’s Word in our hearts as much as possible, so that we are prepared for whatever suffering we are called upon to endure.

The message I preach hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed. Problems have changed, but deep inside man has not changed, and the gospel hasn’t changed.

“What is the greatest surprise you have found about life?” a university student asked me several years ago. “The brevity of it,” I replied without hesitation. … Time moves so quickly, and no matter who we are or what we have done, the time will come when our lives will be over. As Jesus said,As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work(John 9:4).

When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.

I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before. I look forward to Heaven’s freedom from sorrow and pain. I also look forward to serving God in ways we can’t begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness. And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace–just as I am.

 


Sources:

February 2, 2018

When Someone Dies Without Christ

“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  (Luke 12:47-48 emphasis added)

I asked my wife to copy this from a June, 2001 newsletter sent to supporters of Our Daily Bread in Canada. It was the references to Luke 12 which particularly got my attention.

A Personal Loss

by Mart De Haan

Dear Al,

The last time we talked, you asked a question I couldn’t answer.  I remember the concern in your eyes and how helpless I felt to give you any assurance when you asked, “Does the Bible offer any comfort when we’re afraid someone we love has died without Christ?”

Your heartbreak is understandable. So is your anger. I can see why you feel that your faith has turned against you. Beliefs that once gave you comfort are now robbing you of sleep.

Other questions you asked have also been hounding me. Why didn’t our Lord help us with such an important issue? Why did the apostle Paul write as if his readers are concerned only about loved ones who “die in the Lord“? (1 Thess 4:15-17).  Didn’t he realize the impact his words would have on those who, because of their faith, would agonize even more deeply because they would have no hope of ever again seeing someone they love so much?

Your questions caught me off guard. But the longer I have thought about them, the more convinced I’ve become that even in our concern for unsaved loved ones we do not grieve as those “who have no hope.”

There is a time to comfort

As there is a time to warn, so there is a time to console. That comfort goes beyond our Lord’s assurance that he will someday wipe all tears from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). We can also find consolation knowing that it is none other than Jesus who will judge all of the earth (John 5:26-27). Because of the concern He showed for people during His life on earth, we can be sure he cares more about our lost loved ones than we do.

We see a hint of that compassion when Jesus mourned the unbelief of those who rejected Him (Matthew 23:37). We hear Him teaching His disciples to love their enemies (Luke 6:35). And in the moment of His deepest suffering, we hear Him say of those who called for His death, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 3:34).

Ever since coming to know Christ, those of us who believe in him have been learning to rely on Him more than ourselves. We’ve been discovering that we can trust His goodness more than our own fears.

While believing that everything Jesus said about heaven and hell is true, we can cling to the truth that both mercy and justice have their origin in Him.  The God whom Christ personified is not cruel. He will not add unnecessary pain to the fate of those who die rejecting Him. The suffering of judgment will be neither more nor less than it needs to be.

What we don’t know

We don’t know how our Lord will give “many stripes” (lashes of judgment) to some and “few stripes” to others (Luke 12:47-48), except that the punishment of some will be as severe as the punishment of others will be light. We don’t know the full meaning of the fire and darkness of judgment, except that the Hebrew prophet Isaiah first used the language of everlasting fire and smoke as a way of describing a battlefield defeat that is final and irreversible (Isaiah 34:9-10, 66:24).

What we do know

What we do know is that God will be fair, and good, and right in judgment. We know that not all will experience the same degree of pain and regret. All will be judged according to their works, which is one reason my grandfather Dr. M. R. De Haan said repeatedly, “To some, hell will be a little heaven compared to what it will be for others.”

The Scriptures show that those who suffer the severest judgment will be the devil, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and those who accept the mark of the beast in the last days (Revelation 14:11; 20:10). In a similar way, Jesus reserved His strongest warnings for those religious leaders who used their influence to turn the crowds against Him.

There is a time to grieve

The apostle Paul grieved for lost loved ones without losing his mind or faith. He cared so much for Jewish family members that he would have taken their place in judgment if he could have. He said, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3). Yet Paul’s concern for others didn’t rob him of his affection for heaven or his confidence in Christ (Philippians 1:23-24).

There is time to rest

We cannot afford to let fear of what we don’t know about the future rob us of what we do know about our Saviour and Lord. There is no better person to trust with the souls of our lost loved ones. He alone is their judge. He alone understands all of the factors that make faith and character more difficult for some than for others.

Most of our fears for those who have died lie not in what Jesus said, but in what we add by our own imagination. This is where we need to doubt ourselves and trust that even as He judges our lost loved ones the Lord will give us reason to worship and love Him forever.

Al, with you in mind, I bow my knees and pray, “Father, in heaven, at the end of our own fears, and at the end of our own wits, we cast ourselves upon You. We take comfort in the fact that You take no joy in the death of lost people. We cling to the assurance that You, our Father, the Judge of all the earth, will do right.”

December 31, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last day of the year; first day of the week…

…An ending and a beginning all at the same time. If that’s not a metaphor for the Christian faith in terms of living and dying, then I don’t know a better one! The idea that strikes me is that the end of this life is the beginning of the next chapter; the chapter we call eternity.

As a generation raised on Science Fiction, we’re probably more attuned than previous generations to the dimension of time. Biblical scholars tell us that the New Testament scriptures are less preoccupied about future concerns and more focused on living the Christ-follower life in their here and now.

Paul was a bi-vocational pastor, teacher and missionary. His “day job” if you want to call it that, was making tents. So when he does look at afterlife, he uses a work analogy to express the end of life:

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

2 Cor 4:16b – 2 Cor 5:2 (NLT)

I was also thinking of this in terms of prayer. God exists outside of linear time as we know it, but when we pray, we have an inter-dimensional communication channel from the constraints of time to a creator who exists in eternity. Each time you pray, the one you are speaking to is in a entirely different world (to put it mildly) and yet, although in Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens;” at the same time, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are…” (Hebrews 4:14b – 15a; HCSB)

We launch our prayers into eternity, but as we pray in Jesus’ name we have an intermediary who has lived under the same temporal and spatial limitations as we.

That eternity will soon be our home.

How would Paul say it if he were a contemporary writer? Perhaps he’d think in terms of a video game where you move on to the next level. Or maybe a rocket ship. When we jettison this space capsule, we will have arrived at a destination where we will breathe new air and have a new body. (It needs work, but you get the idea, right?)

‘Last day of the year; first day of the week?’ He might say, ‘Last day on earth, first day in eternity.’ (I would have liked it better if had been, ‘Last day of the week, first day of the year;’ but we’ll have to wait and see if a future calendar arrangement permits that one.)

When we keep eternity in view — and when we pray into eternity — I think we have a reason to worship.

 

 

 

July 14, 2017

God’s Promise for Our Eternity (Part Two)

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“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Last month at Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber took a week to present a five part article on the above verse. Today we continue our look at this passage with them, phrase-by-phrase. The days refer to the day of the week they published the topic and are also links to the original, longer articles.

Wednesday – No More Sorrow

Other versions translate “grief”, “anguish”, “suffering”, “sadness”.  Oh, how we long for the day when these heart-wrenching emotions will be no more, but on this side of eternity they are a part of life. As an old Andrae Crouch songs states, “I’ve had many tears and sorrows”.

…Sorrows can affect us in many ways, often concurrently. They may emotionally, spiritually and physically weaken us. Some look for ways to block out sorrow such as alcohol and drugs which usually leads to more sorrow. Foundational trust is tested during times of sorrow but it’s trust that is so vitally needed. As Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe writes, “Faith that cannot be tested is faith that cannot be trusted.” Times of sorrow are times we need to call out to God such as the Psalmist who cried, “My soul is weary with sorrow, strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28).

…Whether our sorrows are a personal experience or whether it’s bearing the burdens of others our faith in God and His promises is crucial, especially today’s text which is a wonderful promise for those enduring sorrow.

I have cried a river in the darkness
I have known the loss of precious dreams
But soon there will be perfect joy and gladness
All suffering will be gone from memory

Thursday – No More Pain

Pain is something we seek hard to avoid. “Pain killing” medicines are big business.

The first Biblical reference to pain was following the trangression in The Garden of Eden when God said to Eve,  “To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).

We’ve all known pain and for some it’s a present reality. Hardly a day goes by in the course of our chaplaincy work that there’s not a discussion about pain. There’s chronic pain, excruciating pain, unbearable pain and many others.

We normally think of pain in the physical but there’s emotional pain, spiritual pain and relational pain. Most of us have experienced all the above. Then as you age you face more pain associated with the aging process! And as Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote in their hymn “Because He Lives” one day we will “fight life’s final war with pain” at the time of our death.

In a message from the “Our Daily Bread” devotional (July 21, 2011) we read:

…He has hurt and bled and cried and suffered. He has dignified for all time those who suffer, by sharing their pain. But one day He will gather the armies of heaven and will unleash them against the enemies of God. The world will see one last terrifying moment of suffering before the full victory is ushered in. Then God will create for us a new, incredible world. And pain will be no more…

Friday – Former Things Gone

…Won’t it be wonderful there! The verse ends with the reason for these blessed “no mores”, “for the former things have passed away”. For now though we live in the season of what will be “the former things”.

…Christ taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come” and all over the world this day people who earnestly follow Christ are seeking to do just that, including many in the business world.

We are all called to have a Kingdom impact. When it’s all been said and done that’s what really matters. This present life is very temporary but it’s all we now know. From the perspective of Revelation 21:4 this life is called “the former things” which will pass away. A helpful outlook in life is to be constantly, intentionally and purposefully mindful of this. Whatever you are going through, pleasant or unpleasant, be mindful that one day these will be the former things.

When the former things pass away we will see clearly what really mattered all along.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to live with an eternal perspective in their daily lives because “the time is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29). “The things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

One of the reasons we are not to love the world is because Scripture reveals that which is in the kingdom of this world is often godless and ultimately transitory: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Theologian Joseph A. Seiss wrote, “Man comes into the world with a cry; and goes out of it with a groan, and all between is more or less intoned with helpless wailing . . . But the hallelujahs of the renewed world will drown out the voice of woe forever.”

While still living in what will be an age of “the former things” let us all seek to make a greater Kingdom impact. A phrase many of us have used fits well as we conclude today’s message, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

 

July 13, 2017

God’s Promise for Our Eternity (Part One)

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And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Last month at Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber took a week to present a five part article on the above verse. Today we begin our look at this passage with them, phrase-by-phrase. The days refer to the day of the week they published the topic and are also links to the original, longer articles.

Monday – No More Tears

…I doubt if too many of our readers have given much consideration on why we cry physiologically but we have all experienced the emotional aspect of tears; some positive and pleasant such as “tears of joy”. But we have also known the tears of grief and sadness. When the Bible refers to “tears” it is this type. One of the lesser considered but emotionally touching examples of this is when Paul writes to Timothy, “I am reminded of your tears, and I long to see you, so that I might be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4).

Tears are actually healthy on this side of eternity, even the emotional tears, although when it comes to tears of grief and sadness we would rather avoid these prompters!

When grief has left you low it causes tears to flow
When things have not turned out the way that you had planned
But God won’t forget you His promises are true
Tears are a language God understands.
You have recorded my troubles. You have kept a list of my tears. Aren’t they in your records?” (Psalm 56:8).
We can have an assurance that God understands our tears.
Today some of you are going through a hard time, a season of trouble. It may be an illness, a broken marriage, a wayward child, a financial or health crisis, the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you even shed tears as you consider the sorrows of others.It’s a natural part of existence on this side of eternity in the present age which one day will pass away and be considered “the former things.” But a time is promised when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes… and there will be no more crying.”

In the meantime may God fill your hearts with assurance of His love especially during times of tears.

God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul
He sees your tears and hears them when they fall
God weeps along with man and takes him by the hand
Tears are a language God understands.

Tuesday – No More Death

…Death is God’s appointed method of transition to the afterlife, just as conception and birth are His appointed method of transition into life as we now know it. As William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote, “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” Forthrightly the writer of Hebrews states, “Man is destined to die” (Hebrews 9:27). Of course we are aware of the supernatural departure of Enoch and Elijah, as well as the wonderful promise of the rapture for those living at that time, however the norm for most will be death.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26)

In the above text Paul calls death the “last enemy”. We look for encouragement and comfort in the truths and promises of the Holy Scriptures. Death will one day be destroyed. The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. Death will be swallowed up in victory. When the old order of things has passed away there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

Meanwhile we continue to deal with death and grief, but not like those who have no hope, for we have hope based on the Bible’s promises. Therefore, we comfort and encourage you all with these words today. When the old order (life as we now know it) passes away, there will indeed be no more death!

The important thing we must each ask ourselves is this, “Am I ready to die”? “Have I accepted the glorious gift of salvation by faith in Christ” If you’ve answered “no” to the above soul searching questions we welcome you to say this prayer from your heart and begin serving Jesus, who declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

“Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner and ask You to forgive me of my sins. I believe that You came to this earth and died on the cross as a substitute for me. I place my faith in You and what You have done for me. I receive You into my life and choose this day to follow and serve You. Thank You for hearing my prayer.”

Tomorrow: Part two; the other three clauses of the verse.

 

 

June 17, 2017

Heaven: There Compared to Here

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Whenever I see an article purporting to tell me ‘what heaven will be like’ I get nervous. Do they take an up there or New Earth approach? Does the article contain other eschatological ideas about the timing of events with which everyone might not agree?

I turns out I need not have worried. This article is by author, pastor, radio teacher and Turning Point television host David Jeremiah, no less; and appeared at Crosswalk.com. You can click the title to read at source.

What Will Heaven be Like?

by David Jeremiah

Many people picture heaven as a never-ending church service in the sky. Or they think we will all become angels who float around on clouds playing harps for the rest of time. Neither of these make eternity seem very appealing. And both are completely inaccurate according to the Bible.

In fact, heaven will be glorious and full of grandeur. We will experience fullness of joy as we live in the presence of God and fellowship with each other. There are so many reasons to look forward to heaven, I want to give you a glimpse of three.

For one, our friendships will be richer. One of the most fascinating glimpses we have of heaven is in Hebrews 12:22-23, a passage that provides a list of heaven’s inhabitants.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.

Now, who in that group is boring? We’re going to spend eternity with God, with His angels, with the Old Testament saints, and with Christians through all the ages. Can you imagine being in an environment like that?

There will be no misunderstandings or tiffs or tension among us. Our relationships will be so much healthier in heaven than here. Down here we have problems even with our closest friends. You know what that’s like. Someone says something to you, and you aren’t sure how to interpret it. You react to it— perhaps overact. You say to yourself, “I wonder what he meant by that? I wonder why she said that?”

In heaven there will be none of that. Our relationships will be open, honest, interesting, loving, and uncomplicated by sin or our sinful natures. We will dwell with God, the angels, and one another in perfect compatibility and refreshing intimacy.

We will all be together in heaven. It won’t make any difference when we lived on earth. Imagine being best friends with people whom we’ve only read about in the Bible or in books. I’m eager to meet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Imagine having all the time we wanted to talk to Augustine, George Muller, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale. We’ll be great friends with our missionary heroes—William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Eric Liddell, the Olympic champion who left it all to go to China for Christ.

Heaven is going to be such an incredible time of unlimited fellowship with people who have lived in all ages that I can’t begin to comprehend it, but I know it’s true. The Lord Jesus even gave us a glimpse of this on the Mount of Transfiguration when He stood there talking to Moses and Elijah, as the twelve disciples listened to the amazing conversation.

And don’t get me started on the fellowship we’ll enjoy with the angels! In heaven, we’ll be part of it all; and all our mentors, heroes, friends, ancestors, and descendants—all who know Jesus—will be there with us!

Our work will be sweeter. Many people don’t think of heaven as a place of work but rather as a place of rest; but in heaven, the two go together. I wouldn’t want to spend eternity with nothing to do, for God made us to be productive.

The idea of service pervades the book of Revelation. The most glorious verse on this subject occurs in the last chapter, in Revelation 22:3: “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” That tells us what we’ll be doing forever— serving Him!

All of us will be serving in the fullest expression of the capacity God has given us and the giftedness with which He has blessed us. We will discover new gifts, new interests, and new pursuits. We will have new responsibilities and exercise positions of authority.

Whatever we do in heaven will have eternity stamped all over it. Think of that! Would your attitude toward your work change today if you knew everything you did, every ounce of energy you expended, every product you produced, every building you designed, every poem you wrote, every investment you made, and every lesson you taught would last forever? What a legacy! That’s the heritage we’ll have in heaven. Heaven won’t be boring because our work won’t be boring; it will be exciting.

Finally, our longing for home will be filledRomans 8:22-23 says, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

There is a hunger with all creation and even among us who have God’s Spirit within us. It’s a yearning and an anticipation for the coming day of ultimate redemption. The redemption process unleashed at Calvary isn’t finished. God won’t be finished until all creation is redeemed and we yearn for that day. The decaying world around us will be replaced at the end of time by the new heaven and the new earth and the city of New Jerusalem. That’s what we truly crave.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us God has placed eternity in our hearts. He created us with a space in our souls that can’t be satisfied by anything except things of everlasting duration. We need permanence. We need transcendence. We try to cram temporal things in the empty space with us, but they don’t assuage our spiritual appetite.

When we get to heaven, that ache is going to vanish. When we get to heaven, everything we do will bring us perfect satisfaction and lasting reward. When we get to heaven, we will never again engage in anything that will leave us feeling even a tad empty. When we get to heaven, everything we do will bring joy. We’ll be home.

It’s safe to say we won’t be bored in heaven. Heaven is going to be the most exciting, adventure-filled place your mind can imagine, multiplied by trillions.

For more on what the Bible says about heaven, check out David Jeremiah’s new book, Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven.

 

 

January 9, 2017

Where God Dwells There are No Clocks

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And He Shall Reign Forever

Today we pay a return visit to the Lutheran pastor Paul Willweber at the website, The Three Taverns. Click the title to read at source.

The Timelessness of Eternity

NLT John 16:15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

16 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.

What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.

December 19, 2016

Will Broken Relationships With Other Believers Be Reconciled in Heaven?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once again we’re paying a return visit to the website Blogos which features a variety of writers. Today’s author is Christopher Schwinger. Click the title below to read at source, and then click the banner at the top to see other recent articles.

Relationships in Heaven

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
 -Revelation 21:4 NLT

I recently got a question asking whether heaven will be painless and have perfect reconciliation of relationships with others who belong to Christ. The simple answer has to be yes, but there are complexities which are troubling. I have heard it said that all of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ, so Christians who are unkind still are good in their ultimate standing with God. Does that really mean there is no such thing as God “disliking” a Christian who is unkind? That sounds like our painful experiences with other Christians are invalidated. An equal source of concern is whether everyone will get to have equal rewards in heaven even if they were ungracious to other people, as long as they believed in Jesus. I’ve often thought about whether we are supposed to expect the past to be nonexistent in our relationships when we get to heaven, because even though it’s unhealthy to want other people to suffer like we have, it just doesn’t seem fair that everyone would be on the same degree of perfection in heaven, from those who got only a little progress made (the thief on the cross by Jesus), to those who went backward or became stagnant, to someone who suffered because of other Christians’ lack of mercy.

Some people think it undermines the fullness of what Christ accomplished if we desire to have all our pain understood by the people who caused the pain, and I think that depends on whether they are trying to reconcile or trying to use pain in a vengeful way. The only way for that to feel right is if the Christians who are more obedient get more privileges in eternity than those who are more selfish. But as Jesus said to Peter in John 21:21-22, don’t worry about how God wants to bless someone else, or who is more or less deserving.

A further source of anxiety about heaven is whether our sins will be publicly exposed if we don’t confess them between our conversion to Christ and our death. Being ashamed for our previous spiritual immaturity can only be a factor in heaven if we didn’t heed the warnings God gave to us in our lives. For those who struggle with “feeling” clean after confessing their sins to God throughout their lives, that shame will be gone.

As a lot of our hope about the afterlife is just hope, not something we can know in a carefully defined way, it’s almost like we have to make heaven a philosophy more than a precise theology. Even the term is philosophical, because characteristics of God are evident in the cosmos and it’s the opposite direction of where people get buried. I used to try to visually imagine heaven and how it could be better than my current life, and I always wound up unsatisfied with the courtroom and music concert imagery, and that was probably because I missed that the emphasis in the Book of Revelation is that every group of people finds unity under God.

It’s not the luxurious description of heaven which should inspire us, but the relational healing. tweet

I have 3 sources of comfort about heaven:

1. What has convinced me that heaven even exists, besides Jesus’ fulfillment of specific Old Testament prophecies, is the poetic and wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The Old Testament passages in Job and the psalms which express hope about eternal life after death, with no more pain, happen after the writers have experienced sufferings and reflected on the meaning of it all, and God gives them hope as they continue to do the right thing. I have learned from this to not expect faith about a better hereafter to be something I can force on myself. Faith can’t be just forced, but is partially the natural outcome of making good choices. Another way of putting it: God gives hope/faith as a gift to those who pursue virtue.

2. The story of Jesus and Lazarus in John 11, from the most personal of the four Gospels, is important to me because Jesus actually identifies with the sorrow as they’re going through it, even though He knows it’s not going to continue after He raises Lazarus from the dead — until Lazarus eventually dies again, that is. Jesus felt their pain and cried even though He knew it would be short-lived pain. Until the amazing restoration actually happens, there is going to be pain, but somehow even the pain feels meaningful when we know God is feeling the pain with us. Gaining the confidence that He feels the pain is a difficult thing, though. Sorrow is not something to hide from, even if we hate it, because it actually is meaningful in its own way when we know God feels the pain.

3. The Apostle Paul’s expectation about the 2nd Coming, based on Jewish apocalyptic literature about Judgment Day, was that everyone who belongs to Christ, even from before the time of Christ in the first century, would be reunited and forever be together. It’s hard to know how much of the imagery we have of the End Times is symbolic and how much will really come true in the exact way described, but the Biblical writers are convinced that heaven is not just an idea we hope for, but a reality which Jesus already made possible.

Reconciliation of hurts in heaven does not mean the past never happened, but the fundamental relationship problems we have with other Christians will be gone in heaven because the atonement of Christ will be complete then. The atonement of Christ helps us become free from sin during our lives, but it’s still a struggle because we have our “sin nature” which we’re born with, what Paul calls “the flesh.” But when we make it to the next life, which you can call heaven, God’s transformation of us will be complete and we’ll have new bodies. The reason I can believe this is because the Holy Spirit’s work in my life right now is proof that there is more to come, what Paul called a pledge, like a deposit which proves there’s more where that came from. The Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, when we sense it going on in ourselves, proves to us that we’re not being defrauded by God, but are given a trustworthy deposit, with the promise that the deposit will be completed later. The Holy Spirit didn’t just give me hope in my struggles only for it to all end in nothingness. Thus I can view even death as a gateway to a brighter future if I belong to Christ.

May 25, 2016

Christians and Cremation

NLT 1 Cor. 15:51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Today we’re doing something a little more topical, but very appropriate for Christianity 201 readers. Perhaps this subject is an issue that has arisen in your local congregation or among your Christian friends.

This is an older post from regular Wednesday contributor Pastor Clarke Dixon.

Burial and Cremation: What Is a Christian to Do?

“The conclusion is simple. Cremation is devil worship and rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel . . . the true followers of Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with it. His ministers and churches will not allow it, and they will speak boldly against it.”

So concludes an article I had reason to come across recently… People have asked me whether it is OK for them to be cremated to which my normal response is “yes, so long as you no longer have a pulse.” So why do I not speak against cremation as the writer of the article would urge that I do? What is the Christian to think and plan to do in this matter?

Cremation UrnThe first thing we should note is that nothing can trump the power of God.

What happens to the matter we are made of now, really will not matter to God. Some people have a fear, namely “what if there is nothing left of me to be raised at the resurrection?” And what if one’s family has ignored the desire for burial and gone ahead with cremation then lost the urn, or what if the circumstances of one’s death has ensured that there is no body to bury? Grim, but it happens. Let us note however, that we are not to be equated with the matter that makes us up. Most of our cells will be replaced over our lifetime, but even more importantly, the very atoms that make us up are continually being swapped out, so much so that it is suggested that the majority of atoms are replaced yearly. If our bodies are independent of the of the particular matter that makes us up, then what actually are they? They are the result of the information that guides the matter into place. We can think of creation when God spoke everything into existence. It is interesting that the language of speaking and communicating is used, for creation is not just about the creation of matter, but about the vast amounts of information that guides that matter into place. This was no cosmic tweet! And so if each atom of your body is scattered to the air, don’t worry, for as one of the youth from my last church profoundly put it, “God’s got your DNA.” He knows who you are and who you are to be, so as a matter of fact it does not matter what happens to the matter that matters so much to you right now.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that we “will be changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the analogy of a seed to teach about the resurrection body. As with all analogies, we ought not to press the analogy too far, for example expecting that only if our corpse is “planted” will we expect to be raised. That is not what Paul is saying, but rather he is pointing out the continuity and change that we can expect. There will be a continuity that points to individuality, so if you die, you yourself can expect to be raised again as an individual. But you will be different, in fact whether alive or dead when Christ returns “we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NRSV) For “this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NRSV) which does not mean to say that these particular atoms are used, but that you, who once had a body on a journey towards death, will now have a body full of life.

Finally, the Bible teaches us that God’s purposes stand. Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NRSV). We have not learned this truth if we are worried about the future of our remains. As a Christian your resurrection is not dependent on the circumstances of your remains but on the purposes and power of God.

So it is not a matter of God’s power and ability, but is it a matter of obedience?

It is not a matter of law. Curiously, there is no law in the Old Testament stating what you must do with a corpse, though there are plenty of laws for what you must do if you come into contact with one. And there is no law given in the New Testament either. In fact it is instructive that when Jews and Gentiles join together in Christianity with all the ethical sorting out that goes on when two peoples bring their baggage along to a merger, we have no mention of burial versus cremation. Jews tended to bury their dead and Gentiles would sometimes cremate theirs, yet when they come together into Christianity this is not an issue. It is interesting that the issue doesn’t get a mention at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 which would have been an ideal time to lay such to rest.

Though it is not a matter of law, burial was the custom. As already stated it was the norm for God’s people in the Old Testament to bury their dead, and while we hear of burials happening in the New Testament, we never hear of cremation. Throughout the history of the Church, burial has been the more common custom. But does the fact that burial has been more customary make cremation a matter of disobedience? We should note that our burial customs today are not the same customs practiced in Biblical times. Embalming was not a customary practice, and in fact we know that in New Testament times the custom was often to bury twice. First the body would be laid in a tomb (and not in a casket) where it would decompose, then after a year the bones would be collected together and placed in small box (just long enough for one’s femur bone) called an ossuary leaving the former space vacant for someone else. Now consider that when a funeral home hands you an urn, it is not filled with ash, but rather the pulverized remains that do not burn away into the atmosphere, namely bone. You could therefore almost make the case that cremation is closer to the Biblical model of keeping a box of bone than our current custom of embalming.

But if we opt for cremation are we not taking on a pagan custom? We might consider the one time we do hear of embalming happening in the Old Testament, with Joseph in Genesis: “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). Embalming and use of a coffin was an Egyptian custom, and was related to the Egyptian theology of resurrection. That Joseph took on the pagan burial practice of the land he had made his home does not appear to have threatened his status as a godly hero of the faith. Further I have heard it said that Christians should not cremate their dead for Hindus cremate theirs. But Hindus also sing, and laugh, and breathe, and do all manner of things that we also do. Rather than ask what cultures and religions carry out the custom, we might better ask in what spirit we carry out ours. Chocolate itself is not an evil thing, but if I were to eat it in a spirit of gluttony, then I might be doing something bad. Right now I cannot think of any other spirit to eat chocolate in so perhaps that is a bad example, but if I could eat it in a spirit of celebration of God’s goodness in providing sweetness, then I would be doing something good. If I were asking for cremation in a spirit of willful rebellion towards and rejection of God, then yes, cremation would be a very bad thing to do, but if I ask for it in a spirit of trust and rejoicing in the power and grace of God, then it is not.

But if we opt for cremation are we not doing violence to a gift from God? Some will want to say “you cannot just do to a body whatever you want, it is a gift from God that is to be cherished in how it is handled.” Yes we certainly do want to cherish the gift of our body while alive, but does that carry over into death? The words of Paul are instructive here: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Here our current bodies are contrasted with those to come, they are mere tents in comparison to proper buildings, and though gifts indeed, they are not ones Paul seems too keen on cherishing as he looks forward to a better gift to come. They are tents which are prone to destruction, in fact there is no dignified process ahead for one’s corpse whether pumped up with embalming, naturally decomposing, or cremated – it is all rather undignified and a violence to the body. For many of us the concept of dignity will be a personal matter, and speaking for myself, I would find it a most undignified end for my body to be done up with make-up and dressed up with a suit and tie.

If we began noting that nothing can trump the power of God, let us finish by noting that nothing can trump the grace of God.

While the writer quoted at first would imply that one would lose their salvation by choosing cremation, a “rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel,” we must ask if our salvation is in jeopardy. From my study of the issue of burial versus cremation for the Christian, I have not found the case convincing that to be cremated is to reject Jesus and His gospel. If in fact I turn out to be wrong (yes it happens, ask my wife!) and cremation does sadden our Lord, at worst it is a misunderstanding on my part, not a willful rejection of a clearly stated will. Is God’s grace not sufficient to cover such misunderstandings? Is the love of God so weak so as to be so easily ended through my one decision?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39 NRSV)

Dear reader, let us not belittle the grace, love, and power of God by taking salvation back into our own hands. Will you be buried? Will you be cremated? God’s grace, love, and power in Christ will shine through either way.


We also covered this topic (not as well) in 2011 at Thinking Out Loud under the heading
Cremation and Christianity.

May 11, 2016

Resurrection: Concluding Thoughts, A New Beginning

We continue with #5 in a series of Resurrection Facts. Read here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, or for this post at source, click here.

•••by Clarke Dixon

54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

Thanks be to God! What a fitting conclusion to this chapter on the resurrection of dead. Only this is not the conclusion as Paul, being the typical preacher that he is, goes on to say more. What more could he possibly have to say about it? Let’s take a look. . . .

 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

“Therefore”

This is a deeply significant word that could easily be missed since it is a rather simple word. The significance lies in the fact it is a ‘therefore‘ and not an ‘if‘. It is not “the dead in Christ are raised if you excel in the Lord’s work,” but rather “the dead in Christ will be raised, therefore excel in the Lord’s work.” So often people think that God will love them if they work harder. God has already shown His love:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures . . . Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 20-22)

The cross and the promise of resurrection is evidence of God’s love. We do not excel in the Lord’s work to earn that love, we excel in the Lord’s work because He loves us.

“My beloved”

While most English translations translate this as Paul’s expression of his love for the Corinthians, the Greek is a little more vague being something like “brothers of mine, loved ones.” Given the whole discussion of the resurrection of the dead in Christ in this chapter, perhaps we ought to be thinking of God’s love here and not just Paul’s?

Furthermore, the fact that he addresses the “brothers” (meaning brothers and sisters) is significant in that we ought not to think this chapter is saying all people will be raised to eternal life with Christ. This chapter only speaks about the dead in Christ. Those who die without Christ are spoken of elsewhere in the Bible, but not here. This promise of resurrection to eternal life is for sisters and brothers in Christ.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

“Be steadfast, immovable”

We might think these two words mean basically the same thing, however as one Bible teacher points out, being ‘steadfast’ means that you do not take the initiative to move, being ‘immovable’ refers to not allowing other people or circumstances to move you. In what are we to remain steadfast and immovable? The very things Paul has been teaching, the truth of the Gospel including the death and resurrection of Christ and the hope of resurrection of the dead in Christ.

“Always excelling in the work of the Lord”

To excel could be translated “work enthusiastically” as one translation puts it. But how do we define the work of the Lord? It is the work God wills. It is anything the Lord calls and enables us to do in answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I once heard someone say that the work of the Church is much bigger than church work. It is the work of the Church to be available and willing for God’s call in everything; work, play, relationships, parenting, learning, teaching, following, leading, in anything and everything in life the Lord can use us for impact that has eternal significance. Which brings us to our next point about “the work of the Lord.” To define what Paul means by it, we need only see how Paul is working:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

What was Paul working hard at doing? Helping people know Jesus! Anything that points people to Jesus is work that has eternal significance which is what the last part of the verse wants us to think about.

“Because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain”

We can tend to focus, as we often do, on ourselves here and think something to the effect that “oh good, my excelling in the work of the Lord will lead me to extra rewards for it is all about me.” Or we can remember that Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and that the apostle Paul was helping people know Jesus for their benefit, not his own. Our labour in the Lord is not in vain, because it has lasting impact for others.

 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)

I had a moment of rejoicing recently when I stood on the weigh scales and realized I had lost another pound. Will I be rejoicing over that fact five years from now? Or even five weeks from now? How long will the rejoicing in the presence of angels last when a sinner repents and becomes a child of God? For that sinner who becomes a son or daughter, that joy will be eternal. The dead in Christ will be raised to eternal life with God, therefore let us devote ourselves to helping people know Jesus, a work God calls and enables us to do, a work has lasting value and is never in vain.

A Concluding Thought

Since in verse 58 Paul adds a concluding thought to this chapter about the resurrection, perhaps I can add a concluding thought to this sermon series. Given how we normally use 1st Corinthians 15, and given where we normally hear it quoted, at the bedside of a dying person, or at a funeral for example, we might think Paul’s conclusion ought to be “the dead in Christ shall be raised to eternal life, therefore be comforted in the face of death.” While this is certainly a good conclusion, Paul does not go there. Instead he ends with something that could be summarized more like “in the face of life, be encouraged.” The Biblical teaching on the resurrection can give us comfort in the face of death, but let it also give us encouragement in the face of life, to carry on in the Lord’s work, to keep in step with His Spirit, to live as Kingdom people anticipating the coming Kingdom of God, and to keep reaching out to others with the love of Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(All Bible references are taken from the NRSV)

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