I wish this could be more gently expressed, but like a man seeing the house of a friend on fire, I must SHOUT IT. There is too little time to say, “Oh, maybe I will disturb him or interrupt his nice supper; I’ll call him later and tell him his house is on fire.” What kind of friend would I be!? That said, no one can force you out of a burning house if it is your choice to stay there. But still, I have to warn that Jesus made it clear, we must Be Ready or we will perish.
We have examined the evidence of evil. There are people who sell other people into the sex trades or some form of indentured servitude. Just as bad, there are people who buy and use them. There are people who will sell drugs to anyone with money to purchase, no matter how badly addicted their victims are; others who will turn a blind eye to crises because it is politically inconvenient or will cost them their job or make them look foolish to others; even more who simply shrug and say, “Well, I am not doing that. It is not my problem.” The mass of German citizens seemed shocked when they were paraded into POW camps after WW2 and said, “Oh, my, we didn’t know.” But their complicity was in not listening to the warning sirens of Jews being “labeled” and marginalized; ignoring the buildup of power into a select few, all in the name of “purifying the race;” making life better for “all of you.”
Evil is evident. Hell is authentic. So how can one avoid it? Jesus spent most of his parables telling about the Kingdom of God and how to get into it. He gave several stern warnings, though, against being deceived. In Matthew 24, four times He told His followers to beware. He then conclude this teaching with a blessing and a severe warning (verses 45-51) .
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards,the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not knowand will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
He then tellsthe story of ten women who went out to meet a bridegroom. In that culture, the groom would come to his bride at an unannounced time after meeting with his friends. Five were foolish and five were wise. At the end of the story, this Jesus that everyone thinks would always be so kind and forgiving, excludes the foolish women from the groom’s banquet, and quite harshly!
He then tells a story of a landowner who commits responsibilities to his servants while he is away. The wise servants invest his loans to them, but a foolish one hides the money so he can give back only what he received. He gets a tongue lashing that would make Bear Bryant blush, and the land owner orders the “worthless servant [to be cast] into the outer darkness . . . where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
He concludes a trilogy of parables with a story of sheep and goats being separated. To the “goats on the left” Jesus will tell them, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Note, the eternal fire was never intended for humans.
The fearful thing for most people is that Heaven is not our default destination. In our natural state, the way we are born, we are already condemned to hell! John wrote in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already!” John 3:16-18
That is why Jesus told the Pharisee that he needed to be “born again!” Being born into this life was NOT enough! As lovely or successful or rich or powerful or comfortable as one can be, we are all condemned to hell UNLESS we specifically and personally take a step of faith and “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” to be saved.
It would be “nice” if everyone would get into Heaven, but Jesus clearly teaches that many will NOT! How can I invite you to read the Gospels, the Good News, so that you do not have to go to hell? What can I do to persuade you that you were created for a better life than this? Are there any words I can write that will convince you to trust Jesus for eternal life? What can I show you of how much God, the Father, loves you beyond the fact that Jesus died in your place, in my place?
The promise is completely inclusive: ANYONE can come to Jesus, regardless of past sin, problems, ethnicity, success or failure; NOTHING excludes you! But the promise is completely exclusive simultaneously: ONLY those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.
Someday, “at the name of Jesus every knee [WILL] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue [WILL] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” when He is fully revealed at the end of time. But there is a special blessing and fellowship of the Holy Spirit and of other Christ-followers for those who bow their knees now, and confess now that Jesus Christ ISLord. Do not be deceived.
Please, dear friends reading this blog, you to whom I have emailed this link, those of you just stopping by for a visit: Pray to Jesus to be born again and to guide you by His Holy Spirit. Begin reading the Bible, especially starting in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Find someone near you who knows Jesus and start meeting regularly.
If you do not know of anyone in your hometown or country, email me at email@example.com and I will help you find someone out of our international connections. If you want to Zoom with me, just email me, but I encourage you to find someone locally who speaks your ‘heart language.’ Please, prepare or you will perish.
G.K Chesterton is the source for today’s blog: a challenge to do some mental gymnastics to discover something we may have been missing. In his 1925 philosophical tome, The Everlasting Man, the “prince of paradox” presents an interesting challenge: to read a Bible story from an aboriginal mindset. You see, we have Christmas and Easter, jewelry and architecture, names of streets, cities and buildings and so many myriad additional references in our world to that unique man, Jesus, that it is difficult to imagine anyone anywhere in our global community that does not know somethingabout Jesus. And depending on the source of that something, our views of Jesus have been significantly shaped by the introductions we have been given, whether from a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, friend, enemy, or Christian/anti-Christian teaching. And Chesterton contends that much of our view, even in the “Christian west” is significantly distorted.
So I wish to challenge you, as Chesterton has challenged me, to do some mental exercising. Set your mind as though you have never heard of Jesus, a Christian church, or anything “christian.” Pretend for this exercise that your only exposure to the divine has been the thunderous clouds that bring rain and frightening lightning; a starry sky at night and the warm and sometimes burning heat of the sun at day; the long graceful hop of a wallaby or neck of a giraffe; the worrisome growl of a bear or roar of a lion; a baby’s sweet coo and cry and the caress of your beloved.
Begin by beguiling your brain into thinking you have never received a Christmas gift or hunted an Easter egg or walked on Christchurch Avenue or stood in front of the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral. You have never heard of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul or John. Equally, you have never heard of Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, Rama or Krishna or Zoroaster. Add to that, you have never been concerned with politics, social structure or economics; no Communists, Conservatives, Democrats, Greens, Liberals, Republicans, Socialists, Tories or any other ideology for guidance of a nation.
This is a difficult mental exercise, but I encourage you, that it is not impossible. Settle in your mind that you have never been taught anything about any god or history of creation, whether theism or atheistic evolution. You have never worried about issues of government or society. Your mind has been focused all these years on eating and drinking to stay alive and whatever day-to-day activities were required to survive, be at peace, avoid enemies and enjoy your time on earth.
Now, with this mindset, approach a new short book someone has brought you. Its title is very short, just four letters, L-u-k-e. If you can find it in its original formatting, without chapter and verse numbers, all the better. (Chapters and verses were added centuries later to make research and memorization easier.)
However, it is available at a website where you can look up your language in which to read it. If English is your native language, I encourage you to use the ESV noted in the website connection. If another language is your “heart language,” feel free to try to find it under the ALL tab when you pull down the languages from the little arrow by the default version that opened.
So sorry, Mongolian is not on the list . . . yet. But Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, Tagalog and LOTS of others are there.
Any Gujariti readers here? 😉
Now that you have emptied your mind of any preconceptions about this little story, begin with Luke’s introduction to his narrative for his friend, Theophilus. Read the short biography at a single sitting if you can; in your heart language it should not take much more than 90 to 120 minutes . Remember, you have never heard of these people, Luke, Herod, Elizabeth, Martha or Jesus before. Your entire impression of these people will come from your reading this for the first time!
You may want to have a pencil and paper handy, and note what you discover about some of the characters introduced to you for the first time. Questions are sure to come up, as we begin with no information on the culture or history of these people and events; Why did He say THAT!? Why did she do that!? Why was He so rude? Why did that confuse them? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be meek and mild? Aha, you’ve slipped from the aboriginal mindset and are remembering something you’ve heard. Try again! 😁
If you want to dialog about your questions, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment here. No guarantees I have any answers for you. Either Tim Keller or Rick Warren wrote (but I cannot find the referemce), “When someone thinks he knows all the answers, you have to wonder if he knows all the questions.” (Similar to a Confucius quote.)
Here’s to hoping you have a good week and discover who Jesus really is.
Enjoy Peter Hollen’s and Home Free’s a-capella performance of Amazing Grace.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” C.S.Lewis
News hits us faster than we can absorb it. This began with television reporting back in the 60s and 70s of the last century. The joke about our level of engagement came with a news anchor announcing, with a bright smile, “10 killed in hit-and-run on Broadway, film at 11.”
We are saturated 24/7, 1,440 minutes per day, with available information any time we look at our watches, phones or computers, most of which is unrelated to our daily lives, very little about which we can do anything, and most without consequence for any length of time, only lasting until the next broadcast or posting on social media.
But there IS something that matters, something integrally related to your life, something over which you have complete control, something that will last for all eternity: What will you do about the claims of Jesus, called the Christ?
Jesus is the focal point of history, changing for over half the world the way we count the days of our lives ever since shortly after He walked on earth. And He made some pretty audacious claims, so auspicious that I capitalize pronouns when I refer to Him. Nothing particularly holy about capitalization, but simply to reflect that He is higher, better, greater (every positive superlative of which you can think) than any other human, past, present or future.
To understand who Jesus claimed to be one must read His biographies, which we call the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the first four books of the New Testament. (Many online sources are available and each one can be read in your native language in less than an hour; my favorite source is at Biblegateway.com where you can see if your language is listed.)
Even those who do not trust Him as what He claimed to be admit something unusual happened after He left the world, something that transformed His followers from meek and frightened, politically disenfranchised jellyfish to robust and daring defenders of what they had experienced. What they experienced is recorded in Matthew 28, John 16 and 20, and Acts 1 and 2. And all but one of them died rather than recant; only John survived to old age, but that was in exile on a prison island.
These disciples who had deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, are next seen hiding in quiet rooms, afraid the High Priest, Sanhedrin or Roman authorities might be coming after them next. Their political aspirations were dead, their leader had been crucified and the Jewish leaders had ensured that none of the disciples could steal His body. They were confused and dismayed that the One they expected to lead Israel to international prominence, even over the Roman Empire, was dead and buried in a Roman-guarded sealed tomb. How much worse could it get!?
But rather than getting worse, some women went to the grave in which Jesus was buried and found it empty, encountering angels who declared, “He is not here, for He has risen!” Mary Magdalene, hardly an archetype of integrity, did not believe the angels and came at first to announce to the disciples, who were cowering in their chamber, that the tomb was empty. Two of the disciples, Peter and John, ran to the tomb to see for themselves and also found it empty. But then Jesus met Mary Magdalene in the garden where His tomb was and showed her that He was alive! A couple of others returned from Emmaeus and said they had seen Jesus alive!
In all of these encounters, the ones who knew Jesus best resisted the stories and did not understand the Old Testament scriptures and refused to believe tales of seeing Jesus. They still could not think of the things He had taught them about His death! It was just too much for a rational brain to take in . . . until He appeared to them in a locked room. (They were still afraid and could not sort through the events that were happening faster than the Fall of the Berlin Wall in modern times.) But when Jesus appeared to them, He showed them His wounds from the crucifixion and they finally believed.
This short blog does not allow nearly adequate space for me to show you from the Bible all that it teaches of who Jesus is, but you are all intelligent and capable learned people. Hey, you access a computer and blog! 😉 So do not take my word alone for this. Read the Gospels and discover for yourself if you can trust this Jesus to be what He claimed to be. What will you do? You MUST do something, either admit these to be true or reject them to be false. There is no middle ground.
If you believe, the next step is to receive Him. John 1:12 says, “To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.” Picture you came to my home and I offered to feed you dinner. You could believe I was going to provide a meal; you could thank me for it; we could sit at the table together and talk about the food in front of us . . . but if you did not reach out and take the food, you would leave my home as empty as when you came.
So, first, reach out in your heart and mind to Jesus. He is God and knows what is in your heart and thoughts even before you say it. So invite Him to come and live in you. Admit you are a sinner and have not let Him rule your life yet. Turn away (repent) from your self-guided life and tell Jesus that you will trust Him to lead the rest of your life. Do not worry that you are not perfect, or that you do not understand all this yet. Simply trust Him that He will come live in you and begin to work in you to perform His will. There are no special formulas for praying. Just talk to Him as you would your own earthly father.
Secondly, if you decide to do this, the next step is to begin reading the Bible. It is His directive to us, an ultimate guide for life and practice. Do not be intimidated by the size (it is actually a library collection of small books; just take one at a time.) There are numerous Bible-reading “plans” you can access, but just read!
Thirdly, if you talked with Jesus to invite Him to live in you, you have begun to pray. Keep it up. Again, there are lots of books and helps for praying, but remember, it does not take any special language. Plus, as you get to know Jesus better (not just know about Him, but knowHIM), you will find prayer is not just you talking to God. In times of His choosing, He will talk to you! Although the value of prayer cannot be measured by its volume, it can safely be said that prayer is valueless if you do not pray. Make time to pray.
Lastly, God does not call “Lone Ranger Christians.” Find a community of people who are seeking and experiencing the Presence of God. Some will be phony; some will be misguided or misinformed; some will be manipulative; some will be dishonest; but you need them as much as they need you. And as you pray and read the Bible, you will grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and your Savior, Jesus Christ.
Certainly, there is no requirement or expectation for you to contact me regarding your Journey into Faith, but if you want to contact me, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. No question is off limits.
Finally, let me assure you from many years of Bible study and examination of world religions from Atheism to Zoroastrianism, from Buddhism to Hinduism to Islam to Jainism, there is no intellectual reason for rejecting the claims of Jesus. There is no text more authentically relayed to our generation than the Bible. There is no way to get to know who God is, other than through the God-Man, Jesus.
The Night after Christmas, It Was Still Dark How the story of the shepherds changes our view of suffering. by Jeff Peabody – November 27, 2020 – Good reading in Christianity Today.
The little Palestinian town of Beit Sahour is believed to sit atop the site where “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8). Two churches claim to mark the spot of the angelic visitation. But that is just geography. This year I find myself less interested in the where of the fields because I am more concerned with the when — the “at night” Luke briefly mentions. The shepherds’ experience of darkness, both before and after their trip to the manger, holds special relevance for a Christmas arriving in the waning hours of 2020.
It has been a pretty dark year. In the midst of already dire global conditions, the pandemic has plunged the world into what has seemed like an endless metaphorical nighttime. It calls to mind when God brought the plague of darkness on Egypt, describing it to Moses as “darkness that can be felt” (Exodus 10:21). Once again, something palpable seems to have blanketed the world with all the unknowns, fears, and uncertainties nightfall brings. And as with most nights, we are weary.
Merry Christmas, right?
Maybe the sentiment is not as incongruous as it feels. Maybe the season of joy is right at home in these conditions. “Advent always begins in the dark,” writes Fleming Rutledge.
For most of my years as a pastor, it has felt as though I have been shepherding at night, in the dark. No grand visions. No mapped-out growth strategy. I have prayed regularly for the light-up-the-sky kind of illumination realized by the Bethlehem shepherds. Just show me what to do, God, and I will do it. But my eyes have never been able to focus very far ahead.
That blindness became amplified by all that happened this year, like moving from twilight to midnight. Suddenly, I could not see two steps in front of me. Staring into a camera week after week to deliver sermons, I could not even see the flock, let alone the fields. Each new crisis in the world begged for a response I did not have. Big decisions and future planning became increasingly difficult, even as the need for them intensified.
The Old Testament book of Joel recounts a disastrous pestilence that wreaked havoc on God’s people. It brought widespread, horrific destruction. In reflecting on those events, Eugene Peterson observed, “There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual.”
The virus we are facing may be novel, but the distress we are experiencing is not. The preexisting darkness has simply grown thicker, making it more difficult to move. But immobility is not always bad. When we cannot go anywhere, we are left with sitting and waiting. And if we are still for any length of time, we are more likely to notice what we would have missed otherwise.
Such as those two little words: “at night.”
That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness. There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness. “The shepherds returned,” Luke says, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20). After everything they saw, they returned to the place they had started. In other words, they went back to that dark night.
All the brilliant, phosphorescent glory that lit up the entire sky did not end their experience of darkness. It was still there, waiting for them on the far side of the manger. And that was to be expected. The angels had not visited the shepherds to bring a miraculous halt to the rotation of the earth. They were not there to banish the night. Glory displayed for one purpose only: to provide the irresistible prompt to seek out Jesus. A flash of light showed the way to a greater light.
This, I have realized, is where I have often gotten hung up. I have been praying for a light that will eradicate the dark altogether and get me out of it. I am looking — aching, at times — for clear, confident revelation that will end my confusion for good. I have been waiting for God to solve life for me. But honestly, that is more escapism than seeking God’s leading. And that is not why he gives us light. He shines his beams of revelation to show us the path to Jesus, the light of the world.
We can learn to reframe our questions from “Lord, when will this darkness be over?” to “What is pointing me toward Christ?” As we do, we may find there is significantly more light in the room than we realized.
The angel’s message began with the reassurance that there was no need to be afraid because God’s rescue plan was in motion. It encompassed everything (offering joy for all people) and missed nothing (down to the details of how Jesus was bundled). God’s grasp of history and his utter command of the situation were fully evident. The birth of Christ happened before the angels arrived, during the unlit hours of the night. The angelic announcement may have shattered the gloom with its brightness, but the miraculous arrival of Jesus occurred much like his resurrection: “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).
God is at work before we see him, absolutely unhindered. Our blindness is not His. “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” the psalmist says (Psalm 139:12). He is not intimidated by all the unknowns of night that stop us in our tracks.
That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness. There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.
Up until then, no one had ever lived in a world where the Son of God had dwelt among us as a fellow human being. Prior to the Incarnation, God had not fully revealed himself. As the shepherds sat out in those fields, they were living in a world that could see no more than the outlines of God’s redemption plan. The veil had not been torn yet.
But then, as Isaiah predicted, a light dawned on the people sitting in that pre-manger darkness. The birth of Christ changed everything. Suddenly, there was physical evidence of spiritual action. The hopes of endless ages were no longer abstract wishes. They were about to be fulfilled within the lifespan of a real live person.
It was the reality of Jesus — not the light of the angels — that stuck with the shepherds. As glorious as the heavenly choir had looked and sounded out in the field, it paled in comparison to the staggering truth the Christ child embodied. Even as they were filled with wonder, the shepherds were given only the smallest glimpse of what was coming. Their understanding was limited to whatever promise they could imagine from a newborn baby. They did not know he would literally calm storms. They did not see him heal the sick or raise the dead or feed the crowds. They knew nothing of the Cross, let alone the Resurrection. God did not show them the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the inclusion of the nations, or how the gospel would advance tirelessly around the globe for the next 2,000 years. Yet the shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.
Sometimes we act as though what we are going through is pre-manger darkness. When God seems silent, when we are bewildered by our inability to figure out a way forward, we make up a greater void than is truly there. Because in truth, a staggering amount of light has been shed on Jesus since the shepherds. History continues to provide both evidence and explanation.
I do not mean to minimize or trivialize anyone’s “dark night of the soul.” When you are in one, it is painful and disorienting, often to the point of despair. But as believers, our darkness is always post-manger. Our darkness is forever against the backdrop of the light of Christ. What has been shown of him cannot be unrevealed. And Jesus never leaves our side through each season of darkness. It is those who love us best who stay with us through our worst. You know love is real when it shows up in the middle of the night.
Someday, morning will come. Night never lasts forever. In the meantime, we have Immanuel, God right here with us. And that means we can return to the dark again and again, rejoicing and praising God for the light we have and the One who loves us enough to remain. We can heed the angel’s call to not be afraid of this present darkness or any other. The one born to us that night is still good news of great joy.
This was not intended to be a guest blog. I have several writings on death that I would like to share – as a healthy senior citizen, though. With six strokes behind me (the first was at 49 years old; the last was in 2007) and a couple of “near misses” (May 8, 2018, January 14, 2015), I feel like I have some perspectives worth sharing about the “shuffling off of this mortal coil.”
However, even with that history of vascular events, one cannot tell my medical risks by looking at me, and I function very highly as an active and able-bodied not-yet-silver septuagenarian. Anita and I walk about 3.5 miles a day and I still do odd jobs of construction (no more ladder work, though!).
But then this blog came in my email from Christianity Today (good reading; worth subscribing) and so I put my ideas aside and thought this 47 year-old might have a better way of convincing you of what this old man wanted to say. So read Todd’s essay of knowing better than most of us how much longer (or shorter) he has on this earth. Sobering considerations.
Good News: Tomorrow We Die Why dwelling on our mortality may be good for us. by J. Todd Billings, September 21, 2020
I used to assume that God owed me a long life — to pursue a vocation and family with full strength, to live long enough to become a grandparent. Then, at 39 , I was diagnosed with incurable cancer. The expected storyline of my life was interrupted. Now, as a cancer patient, my expectations have changed. The cancer is likely to cut decades from my life; I experience daily pain and fatigue that drain my strength. While my former expectations of God may seem reasonable, I’ve come to see how I had unwittingly embraced a form of the prosperity gospel. I believed that God owed me a long life.
This assumption is widespread. Among those in the United States who believe in God, 56 percent think that “God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith,” according to a recent Pew study. In other parts of the world, the percentage of Christians who hold this view is even higher.
In some ways, this belief fits with Old Testament teachings about reaping what we sow. “Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things,” Proverbs 13:21 says. The prosperity gospel takes nuggets of wisdom like this and combines them with the healing ministry of Jesus in a way that explains illness in a clear axiom: Since God loves us, he doesn’t want us to be sick. So if we don’t have good health, it must be a consequence of personal sin, or at least a lack of faith on our part. One way or another, the ill person is to blame. While many evangelicals would reject this “strong” form of the prosperity gospel, many of us accept a softer version, a corollary: If I’m seeking to obey God and live in faith, I should expect a long life of earthly flourishing and relative comfort.
Recently, a friend told me about her work as a counselor with middle school youth at a Christian summer camp. On a designated day, campers participated in an activity designed to help them develop empathy in some small ways for people living with physical disabilities. Some students were blindfolded, others had their ears covered, and others sat in a wheelchair for the day’s activities.
Partway through the day, one girl ripped off her blindfold and refused to put it back on. “If I became blind, God would heal me,” she said. She had faith in Jesus and was trying to obey God. Like a predictable transaction, she knew that if she did her part, she could count on God to give her a life she considered to be prosperous. If she became blind, God would fix that.
The problem with this approach is not the belief that God can heal and that God loves us. The issue is that the God of Scripture never promises the type of prosperity this camper so confidently expected. Certainly, when healing comes, including through the means of medical treatment, it is a good gift from God. When we feel like we are in a dark “pit,” like the psalmist (Ps. 30:1–3), we can and should lament and petition for deliverance, including in our pain and illness. We rightly ask God for healing, just as we ask the Father for our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. Yet healing, like our daily bread, is ephemeral, passing away. Whether we live only a few years or several decades, Ecclesiastes reminds us that, viewed through a wide-angle lens, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart” (5:15).
Every one of us will eventually be struck down by death, a wound that no medicine can heal. Though Proverbs is right to point us to the general wisdom of reaping what we sow, it’s not a divine law of how the universe always works. Job was “blameless and upright” yet suffered great calamity with the loss of his children, his servants, his wealth, and his health (Job 1:1, 13–19; 2:7–8). The apostle Paul served Christ and the church sacrificially in faith yet was not granted deliverance from his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7–10). When it comes to mortality and the losses that come with it, none of us will be exempt. Although we tend to push away such basic human realities in our daily life, I’ve discovered something surprising: For us as Christians, embracing daily reminders of our mortal limits can refresh our parched souls.
Good News Worth Dying For Our lifetime is “fleeting,” our days like a “handbreadth” in relation to the eternal God, Psalm 39 reminds us. Until the Lord of creation comes again to make all things new, we join the psalmist in praying: “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.” (vv. 4–5, NRSV)
This prayer contrasts with commonly shared cultural assumptions today. Our tendency to construct tales about ourselves on Facebook and Instagram, for example, is part of a larger cultural liturgy — a set of practices shaping our desires — that subtly leads many of us to assume that we are at the center of the universe and that our story, if not our actual number of years on earth, will never end. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed these assumptions as illusions. The fact that refrigerated trucks were required to gather the bodies of the dead in cities like New York and Detroit is jarring testimony that highly developed nations are not immune to unexpected death. Moreover, as protests about the killing of unarmed black people have disclosed, the assumption that “my storyline will never end” is a culturally privileged one. The black church and other marginalized communities are painfully aware of the fleeting nature of human life. “Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,” the Negro spiritual intones. For “I ain’t got long to stay here.”
Our mortality was not so easy to avoid in earlier generations. Beyond the reality that life-threatening communicable disease was an ever-present threat, the culture of death in America was more communal. Funeral services served as consistent reminders of human mortality as whole congregations attended, including children. These services traditionally focused on how we are not our own but belong to Christ in life and in death. In contrast, it is more common now to have personal memorial services tailored to the particular life story of the deceased, with only family and friends attending. We may care about someone else’s death, but only when it’s meaningful for our own story. Our own story counts the most. Death is something that happens to other people.
Psalm 39 cuts through such illusions, yet it is charged with hope. Though we are temporal creatures, we can still find true flourishing by investing our deepest loves in the one who is everlasting, the Lord. Peter Craigie, a particularly insightful commentator on the Psalms, notes how life’s value must be understood in light of its finitude. “Life is extremely short,” Craigie once wrote. “If its meaning is to be found, it must be found in the purpose of God, the giver of all life.” Indeed, recognizing the “transitory nature” of our lives is “a starting point in achieving the sanity of a pilgrim in an otherwise mad world.” Craigie penned these words in 1983, in the first of three planned volumes on the Psalms in a prestigious scholarly commentary series. Two years later he died in a car accident, leaving his commentary series incomplete. He was 47 [the age of this author].
Craigie’s life was taken before he and his loved ones expected, before he could accomplish his good and worthy earthly goals. Yet in his transient life, he bore witness to the breathtaking horizon of eternity. He bore witness to how embracing our mortal limits goes hand in hand with offering our mortal bodies to the Lord of life. We’re not heroes of the world, and we can’t do much. But we can love generously, and we can bear witness to the one who is the origin and end of life itself — the everlasting Lord, the Alpha and the Omega, the crucified and risen Savior who has accomplished and will bring about what we could never do ourselves.
The Antidote to Death Denial Our faith should not be used as a buffer to shield us from the sobering reality of our own mortality. Indeed, this death-denying attitude, so common in the “soft” prosperity gospel today, is unnecessary because of our hope in God for the resurrection of the dead. In the end, a faith unable to cope with our mortal helplessness is not worth having. The apostle Paul admits this openly: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” he says in his famous chapter on Christ’s resurrection. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19). Daily admitting our impotence before death can be a way of giving ourselves over to the risen Lord rather than depending upon our own attempts to manufacture a “prosperous” earthly life.
Strangely enough, admitting our powerlessness over death in this way can free us from slavery to the fear of death. Sociologists, in a school of thought inspired by Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Denial of Death, have documented how cultures tend to idolize political heroes or national fortunes as a way to deny their mortal limits. When we humans deny our mortality, we become defensive, trusting only our own political tribe or own racial or cultural groups. But living in resurrection hope displaces the need to idolize flawed leaders or whitewash sinful ideological causes. We can openly admit that we cannot defeat death. Instead, we live in trust that on the final day, “when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Cor. 15:54). That day has not yet come — we long for it in the coming age, when Christ’s kingdom comes in fullness. Our hope for it, and in God’s purposes rather than our own, makes a great deal of difference in how we live each day now.
In light of resurrection hope, Paul believed that though “outwardly we are wasting away,” our bodily decay will not have the final word (2 Cor. 4:16). Moreover, even our bodily afflictions are incorporated into the reality that holds us: our union with the crucified and risen Lord. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (v. 11). Whether or not we have sight or mobility, whether we live 5 or 40 or 90 years, our bodies belong to the Lord, and the process of outwardly wasting away can be a testimony to the humble love of our Savior. Amazingly, the Spirit enfolds bodily failings into his work in the world. As we are witnesses to Christ, the very crumbling of our bodies makes it “clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (v. 7, NRSV). In this way, the anchor of our hope is not deliverance from the process of decay but union with the crucified and risen Christ. This union with Christ will fully blossom in the coming resurrection, sharing in “an eternal glory that far outweighs” our present troubles (v. 17).
The Gift of Mortality Reminders According to Martin Luther, even when our bodies feel vibrant and dying seems to belong to a far country, we should make death a frequent acquaintance. “We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime,” he wrote in a 1518 sermon, “inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move.” Why does Luther advise this? His reason is not a morbid proclivity but rather the same reason the psalmist refers to life as merely “a few handbreadths” before God: Death punctures our hubris, our sense that the world is a drama in which we are the focal point. Reminders of our death can point to the God of life — the God who put flesh on dry bones — as our only hope, both now and in the age to come. As Luther reminds us, “since everyone must depart, we must turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us.”
On hard days and easier days, amid joy and pain, I’ve come to embrace mortality reminders as strange but good gifts. They can ground me as a mortal before God. We live in hope that the frailty and decay of our bodies will not be the final measure of our lives. We live in hope that the central drama of the universe is not our own life story. Instead, living as small creatures, we can rejoice in the wonder and drama of God’s love in Christ.
Our present life will end when, like Job, we as creatures are stripped of family and fortune and worldly future. But even in light of this mortal end — indeed, especially in light of it — we can join the apostle Paul in being “convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. His latest book, The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live is available at bookstores and on Amazon.
My Dad died at age 73 from complications with Parkinson’s Disease in 1993. He was a believer before any of his children were born. He and Mother met at an evangelistic rally she and a colleague held in Paradise, Kansas, as war was about to be declared by the U.S. She and her friend had graduated from Foursquare Life Bible College in California and were having meetings in small towns around the Midwest, and as they say, “The rest is history.” Married, a short stint on a recon team in France, farming in Brookfield, Missouri, two daughters and my brother after the war ended, a move to Kansas City, Kansas, and the only Kansas “Sunflower” since Daddy was me! 🙂
Some of my earliest memories include learning to read from the Bible sitting on his or Mother’s lap, and learning to count as they pointed to the verse numbers as we had “family devotions.” He taught adult Sunday School with more students in his classes than many churches of the time. It was in Victoria Tabernacle where attendance ran around 500, a feat almost unheard of before Calvary Chapel and Westside Assembly of God ran into the thousands. Back then the very few biggest “megachurches” ran between one and 2000.
Dad was not an easy man to get to know, a characteristic of his era where men were admired for being strong and silent. When asked if he loved his family it is reported that he answered, “I put a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, food on the table and give them wheels when they’re old enough to drive. What more is a man supposed to do?” Yes, he loved us as much as he understood of love, which was a lot more than we realized as children. I never saw his chest swell larger with pride than when my brother spoke and played piano at Victoria Tabernacle while home on a visit from college.
In the 60s the hippies of California preached a humanistic “love gospel” that slipped over the Midwest to embrace Woodstock, NY, before permeating back through the Rockies and the Pennsylvania forests to finally meet in Missouri where I was in college, getting ready to go to Alaska for a summer program. The summer turned into a year, and at 20 years old I would spend my first Christmas away from family.
I remember calling my parents in August, 1972, from my boss’s office and telling them he had invited me to stay on for a year. Asking them to get on extensions so both could hear, it was a joy to get their encouragement. Dad said he would pray that I would do a good job and be a blessing in Alaska which Mother affirmed.
I had never heard anyone in my family say, “I love you” to another person. That does not mean they had not said it, just not in my hearing. But I had heard a sermon about the love of God and its implications to our relationships the previous semester, the first one I had ever heard on that topic. Just before saying goodbye, with a lump in my throat I meekly said, “Dad and Mom, I love you.” . . . Dead silence on the phone for what seemed like forever but was only moments, Mom spoke up first. “Well, we love you, too.” Then Dad spoke, “Yeah, son, we love you. Now do a good job up there in Alaska.”
When I returned home, Mother met me at the airport, and when Dad came home, as we started to shake hands, he pulled me closer and I realized we were going to hug. And that became a pattern whenever I would be gone for a season, first to finish college, then to my first job, then through career changes. Whenever I came home, Dad and I would shake hands and it would turn into a warm hug.
For families today, any Dad that does not provide physical support to his children is tantamount to child abuse, but back then most of my friends were surprised if they saw Dad and me hug each other. Their dads did not do that, and these were dads that I know loved their sons as much as mine loved me.
Dad had to take early retirement from a long career as a local truck driver due to progression of his Parkinson’s. His feet could not move quickly enough any more to drive the big rigs safely, so at 63 he began to relax and drive Mom up a wall with being underfoot until she discovered their mutual love of the Kansas City Royals baseball team.
Just before he died in 1993 we visited in his hospital room and I asked him, “Dad, I know you’ve taught the Bible longer than I’ve been alive, but I remember one of the things you taught was to never assume someone knows Jesus, no matter how religious they may be. . . . So Dad, do you know you’ll go to Heaven if you die?” To my delight he smiled at first before breaking into a small laugh as he assured me, “Yes, son, I know Jesus is my savior, and you know, based on Psalm 90, I owe the Lord three “years of grace” over the 70 that we are supposed to get.” So we talked more about Father’s love for us and the grace that he gives.
In 1996 I was mulling over these events and penned the following song that I wish someone could sing for you. The music is pretty good and if I ever get someone to show me how to load videos to YouTube, and get a vocalist who can do the song justice, and maybe my brother or brother-in-law to play it, I’ll post an edit to this blog.
In the meantime, here is my memory of my Daddy and his Years of Grace, until I worship Jesus alongside of him:
1. My father laid before me, his body trembling like a leaf.
He said, “Son, I know the Lord Jesus, and I’m ready for Heaven’s relief.
He’s blessed me each year of my seventy-three, and though just a blink of His eye,
That’s three Years of Grace to give back to the Lord when to His presence I fly.”
Chorus “These are the Years of Grace that the Lord has given to me, And though I long to see His face, there may be reasons I cannot see To keep me here in this time and place to learn to serve Him more faithfully. Though outside we appear to be dying, inside the light of Jesus is shining. He put such treasures in this earthen vase in these Years of Grace.”
2. Years ago I left the Way to chase the pleasure of sin, But Dad prayed and God bore my abuse of His grace to bring me back to repentance again. So Dad and I spoke of the mysteries of faith and the mercies of God in the night, And we realized each year was a year of God’s grace bringing us into His light.
3. Then I laid his hand upon my head and said, “Dad, say a prayer for me.” And like the patriarchs of days long ago he prayed for his whole family. He named each of us God had put in his care and prayed the light afflictions we feel Would work in us a greater eternal reward and the weight of God’s glory reveal.
4. So we’re troubled on every side, yet we are not distressed. We’re never abandoned nor in despair, though persecuted or perplexed. We may be struck down, but we are not destroyed, for we know His surpassing might Reveals through our bodies, for Jesus’ sake, His life and His glorious light.
5. Two weeks later my sister called. The Lord had taken Dad home. His spirit was free from its crumbling shell, from all of earth’s pain he had flown. I can picture him bowing before the Throne with all the saints who are saved And singing as angels stand silently by of the Years of Grace the Lord gave.
I say daily prayers with The God Who Is There and as I get older, I feel a sense of urgency to encourage others to consider the claims of Jesus and what that could mean to their lives.
My mother used to scold me when I would use the phrase, “Well, I’ll bet that . . .”
“You should never gamble; do not bet!” would be her retort. But here is a bet which I’llbet even she would approve 😉.
Consider “Pascal’s Wager.” (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/) In its simplest form it is the challenge that one who seeks to believe that God exists and lives as such will have lost very little if he is wrong compared to one who does not seek to believe in God and will miss Heaven if he is wrong. In contrast the former will gain Heaven if he is right, and the latter gains very little if he is right.
Of course, Pascal’s Wager does not address the issue of whether one truly believes God exists or genuinely submits his life to a Creator. (See Hebrews 11:6 and .)
This blog is not out of any sense of being “holier-than-thou” or having any advantage. Very few of you know anything about my life before Anita, and frankly, I plan to keep it that way. It was not a good time in my life, and I was not a very good person. But Someone got hold of my life and led me to changes that have showed how much He loves even the worst of sinners. (Romans 5:7-8; 1 Timothy 1:15)
The wonderful thing about Jesus is His exclusiveness and His inclusiveness.
He is exclusive in that He claims to be the only way to get to know the Creator God. He is inclusive in that anyone (even I!) can get to know the Creator God.
One of the strongest arguments against following Jesus is that He only appeared to His disciples, people who might have a vested interest in proving He arose from the dead. However, all of them suffered immeasurably and most were killed because they would not renounce their claims to have seen Him alive after His crucifixion. This lends credence to the idea that they believed what they had seen.
Chuck Colson, Nixon’s ‘hatchet man’ went to prison for his crimes and there met Jesus. He says of his experience: “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate [the criminal enterprise for which he was in prison] proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned or put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
The attached page (https://wordpress.com/page/capost2k.wordpress.com/16919) gives more perspective on this issue in that it details views of skeptics who do not believe in Jesus, but grudgingly admit that the disciples saw “something” though they admit they do not know what.
So I’ll bet that if you try Pascal’s Wager, you may find more that you bargain for.
With apologies to the great French mathematician and philosopher, Descartes: “Cognito ergo sum” translated “I think, therefore I am.” So though my existence is not in question, there is a lot about this existence that is.
I doubt that the Bible is true. I doubt that there is a Creator. I doubt that we live after this body dies. I doubt that there is anything beyond what we see and experience in this life. Perhaps we are only creatures of an eternal evolution; everything is continuing as it has for all time and there is no purpose, only existence.
How does one handle these kinds of thoughts that enter the mind uninvited? When they come in as you feel discouraged or disconnected? When life has handed you lemons and your attempt to make lemonade winds up a broken pitcher and a puddle on the ground?
To come out of this downward spiral you have to return to the basics of what you know to be true:
First, that you exist.
Second, that you are not the only one to exist; there are lots of others around you.
Third, that this existence is not new; we were not born in this minute.
Fourth, that the world has been around for a long time.
Fifth, that some of those others have recorded what happened to them.
Sixth, that not all of them are liars.
Seventh, this downward spiral will lead to disillusionment and hopelessness.
Eighth, there is a better way: listening to those honest recorders before you.
This takes us back to the crux of history, that event that overshadowed all others when it occurred and changed all of history. The Resurrection of Jesus, called the Christ or the Anointed One. Paul must have experienced something of this disconnect to have penned “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) There have been times this statement confused me.
We who follow Jesus have mostly good lives. Many of us, especially here in the West, have little persecution (yet). We enjoy each other’s companionship and share worship experiences and many of us even “hear God speak to our hearts.” Not that many claim to actually hear a voice, but such strong impressions that seem to come from somewhere outside ourselves invade out thinking. To the one that has experienced this, there is no question in his or her mind, God has spoken! And we are filled with joy and “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) regardless of external circumstances.
So how does Paul conclude that if we are wrong, we are of all people most to be pitied? Consider the insane man who thinks he is living in a palace with sumptuous banquets and lavish comforts when in reality his trailer home is overrun with mice and cockroaches nibbling at his droppings of crackers and cheese. Would we not pity this man? In this same way, if the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, we are certainly crazy people, believing in angels and demons and a Creator who loves us and will provide eternal comforts for us. We are to be pitied.
But Paul does not leave us in this pitiable state! In the next sentence he points out the reason: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) So it all hinges on this: did Jesus arise from the dead or are his remains rotting away in some forgotten Judean grave outside Jerusalem?
Someone once said, “There is more historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for the truth of George Washington being our first president.” I am not sure how this speaker evaluated the evidence, but Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most authenticated events of history. This is not true of any other religious figure’s miraculous events.
Gautama Buddha’s miraculous walking that produced lotus blossoms under every footstep reads more like a fairy tale than real events. That he lived around 500BC and the earliest mention of him shows up around 300 years later suggests a long time for legends to develop, especially given the often differing and conflicting narratives about him. His oldest “biographies” are dated between 300 and 500AD, 800 to 1000 years after his life.
Examine each of the other figures of major religions and you will find gaping holes in historical validation, especially of major events marking the initiation of their teaching. Even in the 19th century, the stories of Joseph Smith and his experiences with Moroni, the angel who gave him special glasses to enable his understanding of the “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” are conveniently uncorroborated by anyone else.
Jesus resurrection falls into a whole other category with its historical evidence and validation by eyewitnesses who lived with him and wrote what they heard and saw. “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16) And not just Peter, but many women, James, His brother, and all of the apostles and then more than 500 others who were most likely present at His ascension saw the risen Jesus.
Do not take my word for the historicity of these events. Read them for yourself in the biographies of Jesus, called the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Read Paul’s exposition of the good news that Jesus arose from the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. Then look at the skeptics who doubted but became Christ-followers: Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict and He Walked Among Us. Read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ in which he details how he thought the resurrection was a fairy tale that any good reporter could debunk . . . until he tried and became a follower. Look at C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy and Mere Christianity that describes his logical process of not believing in God and being angry at God for not existing, until he found Jesus was really present in his life. Consider Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison, a British lawyer annoyed that his wife was becoming “one of those religious fanatics.” He attempted to show how a legal mind could not accept the resurrection and it would be laughed out of an English court. Instead he found the evidence clear and convincing that Jesus was alive. And this list could go on of authors and seekers who attempted to shut down the silliness of believing in the resurrection and wound up following the One they at first disdained.
Beyond these intellectual analyses, there are the experiences of millions whose lives have been transformed by encounters with Jesus, through prayer, involvement with miracles, comfort for unbelievable suffering, revelations by visions or dreams, all consistent with the teachings of the Bible.
So when we begin to doubt, as often happens when life does not go the way we hope, we must come back to what we know. “I told you the most important truths: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say;that he was buried and was raised to life on the third day, as the Scriptures say.” (1 Corinthian 15:3-4)
I leave you with this quote from Chuck Colson, who was one of the most powerful and feared men in the Nixon administration in the 1970s, involved in what became known as Watergate. “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned or put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
Randy Alcorn opens Heaven, the book Tyndale published in 2004, with this thought: “The sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history.”
He begins by wondering about all the misinformation and distortions of Heaven in our society, and concludes in the first chapter that we have some decidedly incorrect views of Heaven in our western philosophy that have corrupted the Biblical view. Some of it comes from movies, television, imaginings of friends, and wild-eyed wishful thinking, most from Greek philosophy.
It is not as most suppose, a boring place of ghostly unearthly experience. Many sincere Christ-followers quote the 1 Corinthian 2:9 to conclude we cannot know anything about Heaven: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love Him.” But read on! Verse 10 says: “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”
It is not as many suppose an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits floating around with no physical reality. Stopping short of verse 10, we fail to see that the descriptions of Heaven in the Bible are descriptions! They detail gardens, cities, buildings, banquets and even bodies for us; recognizable, identifiable personal bodies. A human spirit without a body is not really human, any more than a body without a spirit is. And a place that Jesus is preparing for us (John 14:2-3) is a place to which He will escort us one day.
This is why Paul goes to such detail to explain the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Here he describes a “spiritual body,” but not a disembodied spirit. “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven.” (15:49) Look at Jesus after His resurrection and we can see that He had a real body, though it was somehow different from His natural body which had been crucified. Yet He was recognizable (once the disciples got past their prejudice that He was dead), He was touchable, He could eat and drink, He could walk and talk and hold conversations. This is you and me in our resurrected bodies in Heaven someday!
Now I grant that there are some things in Heaven that are difficult to understand, and I have addressed this issue previously. An illustration I have used before is going inside a mother’s womb and telling an unborn baby what to expect when he gets out into the world: sunsets, concerts, caramel, roses and massages (to cover the five senses). How could he possibly understand the heightened awareness he will have when he comes out of the boring, dark and quiet place he lives?
Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and John all saw things in the next world and tried to convey them to us in language we could understand, yet even in the Scripture they fell woefully short of clarifying what they had seen. But they had not seen disembodied spirits floating on ethereal clouds! They saw real things in Heaven that we will someday understand when we no longer “see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthian 13:12)
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is!” (1 John 3:2) So what in Heaven’s name will it be like when we get there?
I have recommended before, and do so again, Randy Alcorn’s excellent text, Heaven. It is not a conclusive end-all discussion of Heaven, but rather a challenge to explore for yourself what the Bible does teach about our eternal state. With sound Biblical exegesis he asserts a Theology of Heaven with careful caveats on where he is speculating and where we are certain of its teaching.
He rejects the philosophies of the Middle Ages, which taught that Heaven was nothing more than a world of light and contemplation, contrary to what the Bible described. The scholasticism of that era gradually replaced the commonly understood Biblical view of Heaven as a Garden, a City, a Place of earthly beauty, dwelling places, food and fellowship for all eternity.
No one interprets the Bible absolutely literally nor absolutely figuratively. But if we believe Jesus was physically resurrected and had a glorified body walking and talking with the disciples until His ascension, it is safe to believe His promises of a place for us are real and that when God says He will renew all things, He means that he will make all things renewed (Revelation 21:5) Note, He does not say He will make new stuff! Just like Jesus renewed body, He will renew the creation, returning us to the pure life of Eden before the Fall, but in a fuller and more complete relation to Himself than Adam and Eve had in Eden.
The Revelation 21 “passing away” of the first heaven (this is a reference to the sky, not the eternal realm of God) and the first earth will be like the “passing away” of a loved one, as Jesus passed away when He died and was buried. Then He was resurrected “new” and improved! Then our Lord’s “dwelling place” will be with us, in a “new heaven and a new earth”. (Revelation 21:1)
What in Heaven’s name will all this be like? Well, at this time, we can only imagine, but it will be REAL!