Christianity 201

August 6, 2017

Sunday Worship

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Today we’re beginning something new at C201. Each Sunday when you come here you’ll see the same title, Sunday Worship, with an article or study which revolves around some aspect of that theme, which as most of you realize, involves much more than music.

NIV Genesis 14:17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Melchizedek blesses Abram. Isn’t that the opposite of where we should be looking to consider worship? Isn’t worship about us blessing God through our worship?

I was drawn to this passage through a chapter in Rob Bell’s book, What is the Bible? I know Bell is controversial, but hear him out on this. He writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior.

But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. I think that’s Bell’s point.

So Melchizedek is part of that priestly class then, right?

Maybe not. Many believe that this is a theophany, a place where God himself breaks in and makes a post-Eden appearance. Perhaps even a Christophany, an Old-Testament appearance of the Son. (We’ve written on this subject a few months ago in this article.) Really, how can anyone ignore the mention of bread and wine in verse 18? So shouldn’t Abram fall on his face and worship Melchizedek? That’s what often happens in theophanies, where the term “the angel of the Lord” is used to describe the one making an appearance. Instead, Melchizedek blesses him.

So let’s instead go back to the idea that this priest is in every sense a human like us; the idea that there is a designated structure that involves a set apart, priestly class. We have a reference to him again in Psalm 110:4 and also in Hebrews. Who does he serve? What does he do?

Remember, by the time the book of Genesis is recorded, it’s a given that we know something of the meaning of the word priest. Part of the sacrificial system was to offer animals and the fruit of the land in hope of God’s blessing. But part of it was also as an act of thankfulness for blessings already received.  It meant honoring God’s place, God’s position, God’s status, God’s authority, God’s power, God’s involvement in the everyday, God’s predisposition to bless, God’s prerogative to withhold blessing. A calendar cycle would evolve which represented the intersection of God’s work and our lives.

There was a role for the priest in all of this, as overseer of that system. In facilitating that worship.

The people didn’t worship 24 hours a day. There were fields to cultivate, animals to feed and children to tend to. But where they set apart their time, they did so with the aid and direction of one set apart to lead. In other words, before the establishment of the singers, we could see the priests as worship leaders. Just not in the sense we use that term today.

But this priest “blessed Abram.” Is that backwards?

It depends how you were raised. In a Roman Catholic context, there’s nothing surprising about a priest blessing children or even blessing objects. If our modern day worship leaders are some type of parallel or equivalent, do they, in addition to facilitating God-directed worship, ever bless the assembled worshipers? Or does that tread into the murky territory of responding to God in hopes of receiving something in return; i.e. a blessing.

I want to raise the possibility then that Melchizedek is part of something larger, and something ongoing, and something that Abraham is going to be a part of, but in so doing, he is plugging into something long-established. Something that pre-dates the new thing God is doing with him. Some that has already been taking place…

…in heaven. That is to say beyond the time constraints of this earth. In eternity. We see visions of angelic worship in Revelation but that heavenly worship is, to use a common phrase today, a pre-existing condition. In other words it follows through in Revelation but it also precedes Genesis.

And the notion of being a “priest of God Most High” is an extension of what has already taken place in heaven, is already taking place in heaven, and will continue to take place in heaven: The worship of God.

 

 

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.

 

 

December 13, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Upward

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. – Psalm 57:5 (also 11)

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? – Psalm 89:6

Like so many, I often wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep. I have found that simply focusing on scriptures passages I have memorized is very helpful, but often I take 20 minutes before I remember to focus on those scriptures.

The Psalmist said he had hidden God’s Word in his heart “so I might not sin against thee;” but in a recent article Jacob Young remembered something John Piper had said about memorizing scripture for the inevitable onslaught of old age:

He commented that one aspect of the value of Scripture memory for him was to fill his head with as much Scripture so that when everything else goes (via dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) there will hopefully remain the truths from God’s mind. When the likelihood of losing all memory is coming at you, what do you want to remain? When the paint and drywall of the mind behind to be taken away, what are the studs and foundation?

So it was several nights ago while processing the words of The Lord’s Prayer (what Catholics call The Our Father) that I realized there are two nouns in the prayer which occur twice.

The first is “heaven” occurring in Matthew 6:9

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

and also in the next verse:

“…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

It was interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in verse 9 all the English translations kept the same word (Phillips used ‘heavenly Father’) and in verse 10 only The Message dropped the term, replacing the phrase with ‘as above, so below’ which keeps the simile but phrased in reversed order.

You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required.

While your first reaction might be to look up the term in Greek (Matthew is New Testament after all) it’s interesting to see how heretofore Jesus’ followers would have understood the Hebrew term Shamayim. The word is taken from a root not found in scripture which means lofty. BibleStudyTools.com provides this definition:

heaven, heavens, sky

  1. visible heavens, sky
    1. as abode of the stars
    2. as the visible universe, the sky, atmosphere, etc
  2. Heaven (as the abode of God)

and informs us the Hebrew equivalent term is used in the Old Testament 392 times with other meanings including horizons and sky.

This prayer, which includes an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, the establishing of his kingdom, the carrying out of his will, the petition for daily provision, the request to be kept from temptation, etc. is also a prayer which causes us to look upward.

BibleStudyTools also contains Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. There we read:

“Heaven” is the created reality beyond earth. “The heavens and the earth” ( Gen 1:1 ) circumscribe the entire creation, or what we call the universe. God does not need heaven in which to exist. He is self-existent and infinite. Place is an accommodation of God to his finite creatures. God transcends not only earth, but heaven as well.

“Heaven” designates two interrelated and broad concepts, the physical reality beyond the earth and the spiritual reality in which God dwells…

Three nuances of meaning are given first, and then we are brought to:

…Fourth, the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness, however, is a spiritual, not a spacial, fact. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, he acknowledged, “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ).

The Dwelling Place of God. Heaven most commonly refers to the dwelling-place of God. Heaven is where the glory of God is expressed in pristine clarity. The term “glory, ” therefore, has popularly been used as a synonym for heaven ( Rom 8:18 ). Actually, God’s glory is above the heavens ( Psalm 113:4 ; 148:13 ) because it is the sum total of his attributes that are expressed wherever he is present ( Exod 13:21-22 ; Psalm 108:5 ; 2 Col 3:7-18 ). In heaven there is a continual acknowledgment of God’s glory ( Psalm 29:9 ). Various figurative expressions identify God’s heavenly abode such as “the highest heaven” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ), “the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ), and “his lofty palace in the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ). Paul speaks of being taken up into “the third heaven” ( 2 Cor 12:2 ). Although he does not identify the first two, possible references to the atmospheric and celestial heavens are suggestive.

The Heavenly Perspective. God invites human beings to adopt his heavenly perspective. All blessings, whether natural or supernatural, are from God ( James 1:17 ; see John 3:27 ), who is Creator and Sustainer of the universe ( Rom 11:36 ). Israel rightly regarded rain as a heavenly gift from God ( Deut 28:12 ). Likewise, drought was a sign of God’s displeasure ( Deut 28:23-24 ).

So we are not only being asked to look upward, but we are looking beyond.

  • Beyond what we can see from our perspective
  • Beyond what we know; God is wholly other
  • Beyond what we can fully comprehend; the place of God’s glory

The other noun which occurs twice, depending on which version of the prayer you learned, is kingdom and we’ll look at that one tomorrow.


Previously at C201: We looked at two songs, How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place and Better Is One Day.

all sections today were NIV

April 27, 2016

Resurrection: The Big Picture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 pm
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Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series. To read them all, go to April 2016 entries at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, or for this post at source, click here.

•••by Clarke Dixon

When we are being honest, we may be more easily identified as Canadians than Christians. The passion of the typical Christian in Canada just does not seem to be of the same caliber as that of the apostles we meet in the pages of the New Testament. And if the Christians in Corinth in New Testament times were being honest, they would seem to be more easily identified as being Greek than Christian. As we learn in 1st Corinthians 15 their theology was influenced by Greek thinking, especially with regards to the afterlife. Their lacking theology could and would cause a lack in living for Christ:

Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In contrast, there is no doubt about Paul’s allegiance, passion, and priority: “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31a) How is it Paul is so recognizably representing Christ than his birthplace,Tarsus, his religion, Jewish, or his citizenship, Roman, while the Christians at Corinth seem more Greek than anything? How is it Paul is passionate and we are often not? One reason is that he, and others like him, have a bigger and better picture of reality. They have a solid knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there will be a resurrection to life of anyone who is in Christ. That hope drives Paul to choose the dangerous and difficult path rather than an easier one:

If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Paul, the other apostles, and many, many Christians down through the centuries have risked their lives, given their lives, lived their lives for Jesus, and shared the Gospel everywhere they went because they had a bigger and better picture of the reality of God’s love and eternal life. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to see this bigger picture and if we feel more Canadian than Christian, perhaps we ought to see it also. Here are a few things to think about:

Our vision of the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of eternal life. Paul’s vision of eternal life put his experiences of life in perspective: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The notion of glory here is not to be missed. Paul speaks of this glory in what he says immediately before:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Some people think the afterlife of the Christian consists of being a disembodied immortal soul sitting in clouds playing a harp, which of course sounds kind of boring and lacking in glory. That concept is not Biblical. The Bible points us to relationship. We are children of God, and remarkably co-heirs with Christ. We deserve to be neither. All attempts to describe what God has prepared for His children invariably fall short. We simply do not have the language yet to describe glory. Sadly most attempts to describe eternal life are missing God Himself, as if being home for Christmas is more about enjoying the view from the front porch than in enjoying the presence of loved ones.

Our vision of God with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. The picture of disembodied souls flying around captures neither the capability nor desire of God. Indeed such a picture does not even require thinking of God’s presence, many people believing in their souls flying away to some sort of afterlife at death with no idea of God being a part of it. And it does not capture the grand span of Biblical theology. We can make it sound like God is on some sort of plan B, disembodied souls in eternity, because He could not pull off plan A spoken of in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is still on plan A and we look forward to bodily existence in the presence of God following our resurrection.

There is a wonderful thought of being reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. I once heard a pastor powerfully give an illustration of the death of a loved one being like a person taking a journey across a river. We are sad as we say our goodbyes, but upon arriving on the other shore, there is joy as loved ones are reunited. A beautiful illustration but with one problem. God was missing! And at funerals, even Christian ones, God is often is left out of the picture. We need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. To be in His presence will be astounding, more astounding, in fact, than being reunited with loved ones.

Our vision of Jesus with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of who Jesus is. Some who would call themselves Christian would qualify that by saying that Jesus was a great teacher, but just that, and being a Christian means being inspired by his great example and teaching. Jesus therefore has nothing to do with any kind of afterlife we might experience. The New Testament points to a far more divine picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. However, skeptics say this results from an evolving picture in the minds of Christians between the events of Easter and the writing of the New Testament documents. People’s memories would have changed they say. Indeed I recently heard a podcast where this was claimed along with appeals to an experiment where people had poor memories of the speeches of American Presidents. I was surprised at the comparison. There is no comparison! Jesus was unforgettable. His teaching astonished. His miracles astounded. His death and resurrection caused people, sinners and skeptics alike, to pick up their crosses and follow. He was unforgettable. The apostles were not changing their stories about Jesus, they were changing their lives for Jesus. They were willing to die, having a bigger and better picture of eternal life, having a bigger and better picture of Jesus and his role in the hope of eternal life.

Our vision of salvation may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God’s grace. Some think there will be no salvation. Some think that salvation can be earned, as if it is an easy thing for us to span the gulf that exists between a sinful creature and Holy Creator. Some think salvation is a right: “You created me, you owe eternal life to me.” Because of our sin, God does not owe us another minute of life either now or in the future. Salvation is God doing something for us we could never do for ourselves, something we do not deserve. There is far more to say about it, but when we truly understand God’s amazing grace, we sing the hymns of the faith with far more passion than than we can muster for our national anthem. When we grasp the depth of His grace, we will want to be known first as Christians, second as Canadians.

If we are lacking passion, it may be because we do not have a clear enough picture of eternal life, God, Jesus, and salvation. Like the Christians of Corinth we may want to trade in a theology shaped by society for the bigger and better picture we get in the Bible.

 

 

April 13, 2016

Resurrection: Yes, There Will Be One

••• by Clarke Dixon

Click this link to read this at source.

When we Christians talk about the afterlife you might get the impression that we do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Asked what happens when we die, there is often a reference to either going straight to heaven or hell, or of being reunited with loved ones in a spirit world. I imagine that my favorite bass player thought he was capturing Christian theology when he penned these words for a song by the Who in the 1960s:

On top of the sky is a place where you go if you’ve done nothing wrong
If you’ve done nothing wrong
And down in the ground is a place where you go if you’ve been a bad boy
If you’ve been a bad boy
Why can’t we have eternal life
And never die, never die?
In the place up above you grow feather wings and you fly round and round
With a harp singin’ hymns
And down in the ground you grow horns and a tail and you carry a fork
And burn away
Why can’t we have eternal life
And never die, never die?            (Lyrics by John Entwhistle)
There is something we can refer to as “pop theology.” That is, many people believe and say things that fit more with what popular culture believes and says, or what popular culture thinks Christianity believes and says, than what the Bible actually teaches. Often Christians will echo the belief that when it comes to the afterlife you are a disembodied soul or spirit for the rest of eternity. Pop theology is far from Biblical theology here. Those who believe pop theology today are not far from the Christians in Corinth who also had a pop theology problem. The Christians in Corinth had come to believe the Gospel and that Jesus rose from the dead. But it seems they continued believing the common theology of the culture they lived in, a Greek culture which tended to believe that when you die, your soul is freed from your body, never to have a body again. The apostle Paul addresses their pop theology:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12)

In other words “why do you say the future is only about being disembodied souls and deny that we shall be bodily raised?” Instead of taking their theology from Greek thinking, they really ought to be taking their theology from Jesus Himself, the fact He rose from the dead, and from where Jewish theology had been pointing all along.

Paul’s argument begins in verse 12. We might interpret “Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead” as meaning He was raised from a state of being dead, but the Greek behind it is quite explicit; “Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead ones.” So if Christ is raised from among the “dead ones” we ought to expect the same for all the “dead ones.”

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. (1 Corinthians 15:13)

The line of reasoning is easier to see if we think of it this way: “If we are not expecting the dead to be raised but rather to be disembodied souls, then why didn’t Jesus appear following his crucifixion as a disembodied soul? Why was the tomb empty?” 

Paul goes on to point out the logical consequences of not believing in the resurrection of the dead and therefore of not believing that Jesus rose from the dead:

and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

ResurrectionThere is much to be said about this, but suffice it to say that the resurrection of Jesus was many things including the confirmation of who Jesus is and what God was doing through Jesus’ death. Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, history may have recorded that he was simply a miracle worker and teacher who said some quite blasphemous things about himself. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is confirmation of who He really is, and that in His death God really was doing something about our sin.

So Paul’s main point to the Christians at Corinth? Move from the pop theology of the society around you and move into theology that comes from God Himself. Does this have anything to teach us today? Very much so as our views of the afterlife can often be informed by pop theology also. Consider the following:

  • We can focus too much on people, substituting our own sense of greatness for the greatness of God. While it is not wrong to long to be with our loved ones when we die, it becomes too much when the afterlife becomes all about that reunion, and not at all about being with the LORD. When I die I suspect my wife and children will miss me, they may even pine for me. But my hope for them is that their heart’s cry will be not for my presence, but the presence of the Lord. My prayer for them is that their longings to see the LORD face to face will overwhelm their desire to see me again. As John the Baptist put it: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). If we find it hard to let our loved ones take a lesser place in our longings when they pass on, or if the fact we will not be married in eternity disturbs us, then perhaps we do not have a great enough glimpse of the greatness and glory of God. We fall into pop theology when our focus is too much on people and not enough on the LORD. 
  • We can think our bodies are bad. If we think the goal is to become a disembodied soul, we might come to think of our bodies as something awful to be discarded ASAP. When we recognize that the future points to a bodily resurrection, yes a changed body, but still a body, then we can more clearly see that when the Lord gives us a body, it is a gift, it is a good thing. He already has given us a body, and it is not something awful, but rather a gift, one we will want to take care of.

Unfortunately, not only is pop theology messing with the minds of Christians, it also affects those who do not believe. Too may people think they are rejecting Christianity when in fact they are rejecting pop theology. So when people say things like “Christianity teaches that if you are a bad boy you go to hell” then we need to remind them that we are all bad boys and girls and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we hear people say things like “if you are good you will go to heaven” we need to remind them that Jesus teaches “No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18) Salvation is made possible by God Himself in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is by His grace. And salvation does not mean becoming disembodied souls with wings and harps. Salvation means the effect of sin that has separated us from God has been dealt with. It means life in the full presence and glory of God becomes a reality and will be most real when we are raised from the dead.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away
(Revelation 21:1-4)

(All Bible references are taken form the NRSV)

 

April 4, 2016

What Would Jesus Do This Morning: The Ascension (Part 1)

Ascension of Jesus

Even among those who pride themselves on reading a wide variety of Christian material online, I believe if you were to check their history, 90% of Americans are reading more than 90% blogs and websites produced by other Americans. So today we ‘cross the pond’ for an article from Christian Today (not to be confused with the U.S. Christianity Today) to look at an article about a vital topic that I decided we would carry in two parts because of the length. But if you’re wanting to read it all in one go, click the link below, and then take tomorrow off.

Where is Jesus now? And what is he doing?

•••by David Robertson

Where is Jesus Now?

It’s the week after Easter.

We repeat the joyous affirmation of faith. “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.” In St Pete’s as we have some Greeks in our fellowship we always use the Greek version – “Christos Anesti...Alithos Anesti.” But then comes the question: OK, He is Risen. Where is he then? And it’s not just the question of an inquisitive child, it should be a question for every adult and for every Christian.

The Apostles’ Creed tells us – “On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

AscensionSo Jesus is in heaven. But where is that and what does it mean he ascended? It’s not just non-Christians who regard this as somewhat fanciful, many Christians struggle with this idea. Is the idea that Jesus was on earth and then went up into the heavens like a spaceman? Is this not something that clearly belongs to a past where they believed in a three-tiered universe – heaven above, hell below and earth in the middle? Are we not so much wiser now?

This question is all the more important to our non-Christian friends because Christians talk about knowing Christ, having a personal relationship with Jesus, talking to Christ, and wanting to introduce them to Jesus. Unless this is just spiritual code or mumbo jumbo we need to be able to say what it means. Surely it requires a real Jesus, with a real presence and not just ‘Jesus living in my heart’ (as a child that always made me think about some weird John Malkovich-style body!)

The key to this is the biblical teaching about the Ascension. I have been enormously helped in thinking about this by my book of the week this week, Gerrit Scott Dawson’s Jesus Ascended – the Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. I have unashamedly relied on it for much of what follows.

1) What is the ascension?

It is stated simply in at the end of Luke’s gospel –

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24 – NIV)

The Ascension seems such a strange doctrine. It’s hard enough to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. But the idea that he physically rose to heaven seems far-fetched. The usual liberal dismissal of this is expressed by Bishop Richard Holloway who says Jesus is not coming back. And the best way to honour him on his birthday is to look for him not in the skies, but in the streets of our own town. That’s one solution: deny the Ascension happened and spiritualize its meaning so that it becomes all about us.

For those who actually believe the Bible and don’t just make up their own faith the teaching is quite clear. Two Greek words are used for Ascension. One talks about Christ ascending himself, reflecting the Old Testament’s Psalms of ascent (Ps 120-134), another talks about Christ being raised up. He was raised up. An early church statement of faith is expressed in Paul’s letter to Timothy:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

There is the key. He was taken up in glory. He was taken up to glory. Again, what does that mean? “I’ve gotta home in Gloryland that outshines the sun” – but where is Gloryland? Where did Jesus go? Where is he now?

Where did Jesus Ascend to?

Heaven. The bible uses the term heaven or heavens in different ways. It can refer to the sky above, or the vast region of stars beyond our world, or another dimension altogether – the realm of God beyond all sense perception. The Ascension does not mean that Jesus is somewhere up there in the stars – where if only we could get a spacecraft which could travel far enough and quick enough we would be able to get to him. One of those ‘ignorant’ earlier Christians, John Calvin, put it clearly: “What? Do we place Christ midway among the spheres? Or do we build a cottage for him among planets? Heaven we regard as the magnificent palace of God far outstripping all this world’s fabric.”

Heaven is the place where God is. He is of course everywhere, but this universe has been tainted by sin and it is therefore not, in Moltmann’s phrase ‘totally pervaded by his glory’. Heaven is. To put it in modern terms, heaven is another universe. Out of this world, but nonetheless real.

What does the Ascension of Jesus tell us about Jesus?

Many Christians seem to think that the Ascension means the undoing of the incarnation. God became man in Jesus, and after Jesus ascended to heaven he became God again. CS Lewis observes: “We also in our heart of hearts, tend to slur over the risen manhood of Jesus to conceive him, after death, simply returning into deity, so that the resurrection would be no more than a reversal or undoing of the incarnation.”This is an enormous error. When Jesus became man he did not cease to be God, and when he ascended he did not cease to be man. He is still the God/Man and that has enormous practical consequences for us. Karl Barth said: “The son of God maintains our humanity to all eternity. It is a clothing which he does not put off. It is his temple which he does not leave. It is the form which he does not lose.” The dust of earth now sits on the throne of heaven.

Tomorrow: What Does the Ascension Mean for Us?


David Robertson is minister of St Peters, Dundee, Scotland; director Solas CPC; husband of Annabel, father of Andrew, Becky and EJ; author, debater, broadcaster and Uni chaplain. Follow him @theweeflea

February 20, 2016

7 Ways the Believer is Currently Linked to Heaven

Today we’re paying a return visit to Robert Lloyd Russell’s blog which we featured at this time last year, noting that the article was all scripture. This one is no exception, so we’ll forego our usual pattern of placing scriptures in green!

This is reprinted from “Abundant Life Now,” a free blog which offers inspiring moments, thought-provoking comments, and solid Biblical insight at http://RobertLloydRussell.blogspot.com/ .

Click the title below to read at source.

Aspects of Heaven

~ 7 Aspects of the Christian’s Heavenly Possessions ~

A Savior in Heaven ~ “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:30-32). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

A Master in Heaven ~ “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Ephesians 6:9).

His Name Written in Heaven ~ “And Jesus said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven’” (Luke 10:18-20). “And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3).

His Hope in Heaven ~ “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:3-8). “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).

His Home and Citizenship in Heaven ~ “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16). “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

His Inheritance in Heaven ~ “An inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

His Reward in Heaven ~ Jesus said, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:23). Jesus also said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).

~ Robert Lloyd Russell, ABUNDANT LIFE NOW

 

 

September 13, 2015

How You Imagine Heaven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A shorter reading today for Sunday. We invited Debbie McCray to submit a devotional as we liked what she’s doing at the blog Snowdrops for Faith. Debbie is an Engineer by training, a breast-cancer survivor and a stay at home mom. Click the title below to read at source.

What Would You Name Your Little Piece of Heaven?

I enjoy the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan for the slower pace of life, the natural beauty and the friendliness of the people with a Yooper accent. The locals lovingly refer to their U.P. as “God’s Country.”

On the way to our destination in God’s Country, we passed a stretch of road dotted with houses bordering the rugged beauty of Lake Superior. You can’t see the homes, but their locations are marked with signs that identify their little piece of heaven here on earth.

The names have always caught my attention. Names that describe what they expect to do: Rancho Relaxo, No Rest Here II. Names of who they hope to see: Papa’s Camp, TheShores of Maggie Mae, Ruth’s Land. Names of what they look forward to: Foote Rest, Superior Times. Names that make their little piece of heaven feel like home. Superior Hut, End of Track. Names that try to capture the allure: Superior Reflections, Lake Superior Shangri-La. Names for its natural beauty: Thistle Dew, Loon Call Cove.

What would you name your little piece of heaven here on earth? As believers in Jesus Christ, one day we will experience the heaven God has prepared for us. If God were to put up signs marking heaven, I believe that He would name it for what can not be found there: No Sin, No Pain, No Illness, No Death, No Sorrow, No Harm, No Tears and No Evil. A simple description that fulfills the longing of our hearts for eternity. But wait, there is one more name I can think of for heaven: Promise Kept!

Revelation 21:2-4

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 Isaiah 11:9

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

 




Related:


 

August 13, 2015

Things Not Present in the Age to Come

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. -Rev. 21:4 NASB

This is from David Murray, author of The Happy Christian and Jesus on Every Page at the blog Head•Heart•Hand. You’ll want to use these links to Revelation 21 and Revelation 22 (links are to NIV, you may select a different version). Click the title below to read at source.

8 Things You Won’t Find in Heaven

Heaven is so heavenly that it’s often hard for earthly creatures to understand what it will really be like. That’s why the Bible often describes heaven in terms of what will not be there. For example, the last two chapters of the Bible tell us eight things that will not be there:

1. No Sea (Rev. 21:1): Does not necessarily mean that there will literally be no sea. Rather “sea” is a common biblical metaphor for the storms of life, the mysteries of life, and the barriers and distances that separate us in life.

2. No Tears (21:4): Why? Verse four tells us, there will be no more pain or death. Imagine, we will never cry or hear a cry ever again.

3. No Temple (21:22): “Yes! No churches!!” says an unbeliever. But it’s no churches because everything is church; everything and everywhere is worship. Here we often experience churches without God. There we will experience God without churches. How? Because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”

4. No Sun or Moon (21:23): Again, not necessarily literal but a biblical symbol for time. No more time pressure, no more stress of having too much to do and too little time to do it. No sun and no moon also means no shadows, no fluctuations in life, no ups and downs. How can this be? “For the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”

5. No Locked Gates (21:25): Because no threats and no thieves. All is at peace and all is at rest. Perfect and total security.

6. No Night (21:25): Meaning, no ignorance. The smallest child in heaven knows more about God than the greatest theologian on earth. No night also means no spiritual drowsiness and sleepiness.

7. No Sin (21:27): All the causes, acts, and effects of sin will be abolished. Impossible to even think a sinful thought.

8. No Curse (22:3): Not just no curses from men and women. Also, no evidence or experience of any curse of God on us or the environment. Because Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13), not one atom in us or our new world will have any trace of the divine curse.

These eight things will not be there.

The question is, will you be there?

July 2, 2015

Does Everyone Get the Same Reward; Same Punishment?

Today we pay a return visit to Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr, a member of the Church of Christ. A year ago I noted the way he defines his writing: “I preach, and teach the Gospel of Christ, and I adhere to the principle of speaking where the bible speaks, and remaining silent where the bible is silent.” (italics added) This one today will get you thinking.

Reward and Punishment

Will all the righteous receive the exact same reward in heaven? Will all the wicked receive the same damnation in hell? Some think so, but what saith the scripture? (Gal 4:30).

In the parable of the talents (Luke 19:12-27), servants were given a set amount of funds to invest while the master was gone. One was able to take one mina and produced 10 more from it. And the master told him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). Another servant produced 5 more minas and was told, “You also be over five cities” (Luke 19:19). Thus it appears that while all faithful followers are given eternal life as a reward, in that eternal life we will have differing responsibilities or roles based on our productivity for the Lord here. It is an application of a principle stated earlier by the Lord, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).

One person can measure the character of another by observing how he does with small things. If a person is willing to steal small things because “it doesn’t matter” then you can be sure that given the opportunity he’ll steal larger things as well. If someone is trustworthy enough to pay you back a dollar that he owes you will be reliable with larger sums as well. That is why eternal life is said to be determined by seemingly small things. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Another passage to consider is “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). One way to read this passage is that each person will get either eternal life or eternal punishment based on what he has done. But it is also possible that Jesus is saying Christians will each be rewarded in proportion to what they have done.

A more obscure passage is Paul’s discussion of each man’s works. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:11-15). In the context, Paul describes himself as a master builder and those he has converted as material being built up into a temple for God. Seen in this way, the success of those Paul converts to Christ are a benefit and joy to Paul when they too reach heaven. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (I Thessalonians 2:19-20). The opposite would also be true. If someone you worked with and converted does not make it, you’ll suffer loss, though you yourself should make it.

This is what John had in mind when he said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2 Jn 7-8). It is clear he is not talking about losing his own reward, but since he is concerned about others, whom he has worked with, he is expressing a desire to see them in heaven that his joy may be as full as it can be.

In regards to punishment, there also seems to be degrees of punishment. Here Jesus is found saying to three cities… It will be better in the Day of Judgment for Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, than for those of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. The punishment will be more severe for them than for those of… Sodom… Tyre… and Sidon (Mt 11.21-24).

In the parable of the servants Jesus said, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48). Related to this is the warning in Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Jesus warned the scribes and Pharisees by saying, “…hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Mt 23:14). The apostle James warned all those who sought to be teachers by saying, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment (Jam 3:1). It was the apostle John who foretold the ending to the Devil and the false prophet by saying, The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). John also said that the “bottomless pit” is where the Devil was cast into (Rev 20:3). It is evident that those who mislead so many like Billy Graham, all the Popes, and all the many false prophets of the world will share the worst part of hell with the Devil and his angels.

Conclusion: I can only suppose that the very wicked seek to comfort themselves with the idea that God won’t punish them more than those who sought the Lord but came up shy of the mark. Many think that they can mass murder the innocent, starve the poor, or live abominable lifestyles like homosexuals and adulterers with impunity and suffer no more than anyone else. If Sodom and Gomorrah could but speak, they would testify to the contrary. It is conclusive, the greater the sin, the greater the punishment!

The same applies to the righteous. Some shall receive a greater reward for all that they do for the cause of Christ. It is totally improbable and contradicts biblical accounts that God will not reward greatly those who were beheaded, cut in half, tortured, tormented, and tossed into fire and the lions den for the cause of Christ. In fact, many refused deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection (Heb 11:33-38). Jesus said to his disciples, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Mt 19:28-29). It is conclusive, the greater service to God, the greater the reward! Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap (Gal 6:7).

March 4, 2015

“I go to prepare a place for you.”

I so appreciate Clarke Dixon’s regular midweek sharing of the material from his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon; and it’s also a good fit here. Click the title below to read at source.

In My Father’s House . . .

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2 NRSV)

A story is sometimes told at funerals about a man who went on a journey. All his family and friends were full of grief as they stood on the shore waving goodbye to the man who so recently left never to return. But on the other shore were all his friends and family who had made the journey before him who were waiting with anticipation to welcome him. This is a comforting story about death and the afterlife but do you notice anything missing? Or more correctly, do you notice anyone missing? Where is God in the story?

People can tend to have a pretty self-centred view of the afterlife. It is all about paradise, down to details like the perfect swing on the perfect golf course, or the perfect outdoor hockey rink. Of course my idea of paradise does not include ice, as ice and the beach do not go together well! The Bible in contrast gives us a very God-centred view of the afterlife. When Jesus points us to the afterlife, he does not say “in your house,” but “In my Father’s house.” It is His house, it will be according to his will, we do not get to make it up.

Our self-centred view of the afterlife extends into relationships. It would be interesting to do a survey of those who believe heaven exists with regards to whom they are most looking forward to seeing there. I imagine many people will list off family and friends. But what about God, will He be on the list? Will He be first on the list?

My wife and I sometimes playfully argue about who will die first. It should be me due to the fact that I am male and older already anyway. But should Sandra pass away first will I be expecting her to be eagerly waiting, if not pining for the day I join her? No, for she will be going to our Heavenly Father’s house. There, when she beholds God in all of His glory, I will decrease in importance, and our relationship will decrease in importance. This makes sense of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:30: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” We have trouble grasping how this could be, that our significant relationships will seem to be less significant. But this is not a failure in giving our earthly relationships too much importance, it is a failure to grasp the glory of God, and the significance of our relationship with Him. A recent love song has the lyric, “I don’t want to go to heaven if you’re going to hell.” The lyric writer simply does not understand the glory of God, nor the destitution of experiencing the absence of God in hell. I don’t think too many of us do. It is our Heavenly Father’s house, not ours, not our spouse’s, not our parents’, nor our friends’. It is His presence that matters most.

Next Jesus tells us there are “many dwelling places” in our Heavenly Father’s house. This comes from a custom in ancient times of adding on “rooms” to a household that share a common courtyard as the family grew. We should not take this as a literal description of the afterlife, but as figurative. The point is: there is room. And as we watch the life of Jesus we begin to see there is room for the sinner and tax collector. There is room for the leper and outcast. There is room for children in the presence of Jesus. There is room for women as we see in Mary learning a the feet of Jesus. There is room for the thief crucified with Jesus. And as we watch the body of Christ unfold in the world we see that there is room for the Jew and the Greek, for the female and the male, for the slave and the free. As we watch the Church of Christ grow we discover there is room for the vilest sinner and the most devout saint. And there is room for you.

Next comes a promise: “I go to prepare a place for you.” Some will imagine Jesus as a Master renovator, but that is not really what is happening here. As one Bible scholar points out, Jesus “goes” and His journey begins at the cross. It is there that the preparations begin. It is there that we find, not the Master Renovator, but the Master Redeemer. There is wood and there are nails, but this project is like nothing Mike Holmes has ever tackled. This is not about Jesus making the afterlife fit for us, but about Jesus making us fit for eternal life with God. It is about Jesus dying on the cross so that we could live with God in His home. It is about Jesus rising from the dead, so that one day we will rise to discover that

the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
(Revelation 21:3 NRSV)


This song won’t make it into the worship song directory in the right margin of the blog, but given today’s topic, I couldn’t resist including it. Have fun listening!

January 6, 2015

If It Were Not So I Would Have Told You

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CEB John 14:1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.

John’s quotation from Jesus in John 14: 1-6 begins with four statements, the fourth seeming a bit uncharacteristic:

  1. Don’t be afraid
  2. Trust Me
  3. God’s house contains many ‘mansions’
  4. I would have told you if anything were different

In many translations this last comment is bundled into the phrase which followed or even appears as a unified question, “If that were not true, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?”

Of course, there is a lot of mystery about what awaits beyond this life about which Jesus has not told us. But this passage is seen as the clearest promise of the second coming. The NIV Application commentary states:

The KJV “mansions” (for Gk. monai, “rooms”) was a seventeenth-century expression for modest dwellings; thus, 14:2 should not build a picture for us of heavenly palatial residences. This is not Jesus’ point. God’s “house” refers not to the church but to the heavenly dwelling where he lives (cf. Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:9–22:5), and a mone is a place of residence there with him. This word is related to the common Johannine verb meno, to remain or abide. To “remain” with Jesus is the highest virtue in John’s Gospel (15:4–10), and he is promising

Matthew Henry sees the “I would have told you” as a direct comment to The Twelve:

If you had deceived yourselves, when you quit your livelihoods, and ventured your lives for me, in prospect of a happiness future and unseen, I would soon have undeceived you.” The assurance is built, [1.] Upon the veracity of his word. It is implied, “If there were not such a happiness, valuable and attainable, I would not have told you that there was.” [2.] Upon the sincerity of his affection to them. As he is true, and would not impose upon them himself, so he is kind, and would not suffer them to be imposed upon. If either there were no such mansions, or none designed for them, who had left all to follow him, he would have given them timely notice of the mistake, that they might have made an honourable retreat to the world again, and have made the best they could of it. Note, Christ’s good-will to us is a great encouragement to our hope in him. He loves us too well, and means us too well, to disappoint the expectations of his own raising, or to leave those to be of all men most miserable who have been of him most observant.

It’s interesting that this would seem to affirm their confidence in him and his teachings and ministry, but next he is going to quiz them as to where he is going.  The IVP NT Commentary notes:

After speaking of himself as the agent of their future access to the presence of God, he throws out a statement that steers them toward the next stage of his revelation: You know the way to the place where I am going (v. 4). This could be taken as a question: “Do you know the way to the place where I am going?” Whether or not he is asking a question, Jesus seems to be alluding to his earlier teaching about being the gate through whom the sheep “will come in and go out, and find pasture” (10:9; cf. Talbert 1992:204). If he is alluding to this, the disciples miss it. Indeed, all of Jesus’ teaching in these chapters is mystifying to the disciples (cf. 16:25). But he is walking them through it so the Spirit will be able to unpack it for them later (14:26). This statement (or question) triggers the next question by a disciple, which leads Jesus to further develop the thoughts he has already expressed in very condensed fashion.

The point is that they knew in part and saw only in part.  But pieces of the puzzle were not doubt starting to come together.  I like to think that in these moments they were also struck by an increase in his passion as he imparted these truths to them for what would be the final time.

The second statement, “If it were not so,” really relates to the second, above, which we’ve rendered as “trust me” or better, “Do you trust me?”

 

 

November 17, 2014

Heaven is Heaven Because There We Find Christ

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NIV Col 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

NIV Eph. 1:20 …he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

NLT Phil. 3:20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Today’s post was sourced at Christianity.com and is an undated devotional written by Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who we regularly refer to at this blog’s sister site, Thinking Out Loud. To read this at source, click the title below.

Russell D. MooreHeaven is the expectation of Christians that life does not end with physical death but, for the redeemed, continues eternally in the presence of Christ.

Theologian Jerry Walls has traced two understandings of eternal blessedness in the history of Christian theology: a theocentric view and an anthropocentric view. In the theocentric view, eternity is “a timeless experience of contemplating the infinitely fascinating reality of God in all of his aspects,” without much element of human fellowship. The anthropocentric view, by contrast, emphasizes “being reunited with family and friends” and sees eternity as the continuation of life without the mar of sin and suffering.

Both strands are seen from the very beginning of the Christian story, with Christian thinkers such as Origen and Augustine emphasizing heaven as beatific vision and spiritual reality and thinkers such as Irenaeus and Justin Martyr emphasizing the creational aspects of the new creation.

In biblical eschatology, however, the eternal state is strikingly anthropocentric but not in the ways found in much of popular piety. Eternity can be said to be anthropocentric so long as we understand that the anthropos referenced is Jesus of Nazareth. Eternity is not a timeless beatific vision or an endless choir practice. But neither is it merely a family reunion in which the circle is seen to be unbroken after all. Eternity means Jesus (and, by extension, those who are in him) finally receives his promised inheritance: everything.

Heaven is defined in Scripture as the dwelling place of God, a place inhabited by the angelic armies, the redeemed of all the ages, and the ascended Jesus himself as he awaits the consummation of his kingdom. At the moment of death, the believer is ushered into the presence of Christ in heaven. Since Jesus is now in heaven, this is where the inheritance of the church waits for us, where our mother, the heavenly Jerusalem, is located. Our inheritance, our Jerusalem, and even our Christ do not stay in heaven though-and neither do we.

Many Christians think of their future existence as heaven, in the kind of disembodied, unearthly abode they know awaits them immediately after death. And yet the time between death and resurrection–what theologians call the intermediate state–is far from permanent. It is itself a time of waiting for the full blessing of salvation: The resurrection of the body and the coming of the kingdom. Karl Barth describes John Calvin’s vision of this heavenly interlude for the dead in Christ with perfect clarity. Believers in heaven are conscious and active “but with the rest and assurance of conscience that comes with physical death, contemplating God and his peace, from which they are still at a distance, but of which they are sure.” These believers are “not yet in possession of the kingdom of God” but they can nonetheless “see what here we can only believe in hope.”

For believers, the intermediate state is blessedness, to be sure. But in heaven there is yet eschatology. The ultimate purpose of God is not just the ongoing life of believers but that his kingdom would come, his will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). That awaits the end of all ends, the return of Jesus and the final overthrow of death.

In Christian theology, the point of the gospel is not that believers should go to heaven when they die.  Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe. After the millennium, the final judgment, and the condemnation of the lost, John sees a New Jerusalem coming down from the heavens to earth (Rev. 21:2).

He then describes an eternal order that, consistent with the rest of biblical eschatology, is surprisingly “earthy.” Eternity means civilization, architecture, banquet feasting, ruling, work-in short, it is eternal life. The new earth is not the white, antiseptic hyper-spiritual heaven some Christians expect as their eternal home. Nor is it simply an everlasting family reunion or the resumption of all the pleasures one enjoyed in this life.

It is the Christic focus of heaven that keeps Christian eschatology from veering toward a Platonizing spirituality or toward a secularizing carnality. The Scripture does indeed tell Christians to focus their minds on heavenly things, not earthly things. But this focus on heaven is precisely because the church’s inheritance is there-in Christ, seated at the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20-21). Paul contrasts the Christian mindset with the appetite-driven mindset of “enemies of the cross” who have “minds set on earthly things” by reminding the church at Philippi that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:18-20). But he does not stop there.

Of heaven, Paul writes: “And from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20b-21). Christians lay up treasures in heaven, but the treasure does not stay in heaven. Christians focus their minds on heaven, but heaven comes down to earth.

Ultimately our hope is in new creation: transformation and glorification of our bodies and, with them, the cosmos itself.

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