Tag Archives: heaven

What my sons’ mugshots taught me about citizenship

13 Jun

How about those two cute little mugshots?  They are my two oldest sons in September 2000, when they were 3 and 2 years old.  Our family of four had just moved to Kingston, Jamaica, and we had to apply for immigration status as legal aliens.  That meant we had to get photos taken and use those photos for immigration cards which we carried with us.  Even the boys at 3 and 2 years old had to have legal alien status.

Something curious happened, though, when the photographer took our photos.  What you see above is round 2.  In the first round of photos, he took the photos, developed them, and surprise, they showed nothing by eyeballs and hair.  Two eyeballs on a plain background with no body!  What?  The photographer had not adjusted the camera settings to account for our light skin tone!  That was one of the first times we felt a tinge of what strangers and aliens feel.  After a good laugh and a few setting changes to the camera, the photographer retook the photos and all was well.

We often felt like strangers in Kingston, and we were official aliens in Jamaica.

All week long we’ve been talking about strangers and aliens.  (You can review the previous posts here and here.)  That might sound odd, depending on how you are thinking about the word “aliens.”  Creatures from outer space?  No.  Peter is using the word “aliens” like we do when we use the phrase, “illegal aliens.”  In our society, an alien is a person from one country that is trying to set up a new life in another country, just like we did in Jamaica.

So why would Peter use that concept to describe Christians?  In our study of 1st Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12, Peter tells the Christians in the Roman Empire around 65 AD that they are aliens and strangers in the world.

It’s like the words of the old spiritual: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  All Christians, Peter says, are living in a foreign land.  We have another true home country.  We are from another place.

But what other country is he talking about? First of all, many of the Christians Peter was writing to were actual strangers and aliens.  Some had fled for their lives, leaving their home country, and became refugees in another country, in order to escape persecution.  They could easily have felt like strangers in their new country.  Second, as Christians, followers of Jesus were a unique, tiny minority in the Roman Empire.  Christianity was relatively new, only about 30 years old, and very few people understood it or accepted it.  So Christians were perceived as strange in regard to their beliefs.  In both areas the physical and the spiritual realms, those Christians were strangers and aliens.

Likewise, though we Christians today might not be strangers and aliens in our earthly country of citizenship, we are strangers and aliens in a very real spiritual sense.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We believe that, we claim it, but if we are honest it can be very hard for many of us to grasp how our citizenship in God’s Kingdom should impact our lives.

Why?  Because we get so entranced by what we see, touch, and feel.  It is super easy to get focused on what affects us.  It is all too easy to think, “I am an American.”  We were born here, we live here, we are comfortable here.  It is all we know.  Alien?  Stranger?  It sure doesn’t feel like it.  It is hard to see ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of God, because it is invisible.  It is much easier to identify as an American.  So what Peter has to say is difficult and radical: you’re actually an alien, from another place.   That American birth certificate, passport, voting card, social security number, ID card, and driver’s license?  None of it depicts your true identity, or your true home.

Remember that concept of new birth in Christ, being born again, that Peter talked about in verse 3?  When you choose to believe and follow Jesus, you are born again into his country.

I didn’t choose to be a citizen of the USA.  I was born here, in Virginia.  My birth certificate proves I am a citizen of the USA.  When I travel abroad, I carry my US passport, and when I return to an airport in the USA, at the immigration checkpoint the officer glances at my passport and says, “Welcome home!”

What I need to dwell on more is that I did choose to be a citizen on the Kingdom of Heaven, through new birth.  Christians, disciples of Jesus, have been born into a new place, and thus we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that citizenship is the true one.

How do citizens of an earthly country see themselves also as citizens of the Kingdom of God?  Can we hold dual citizenship?

What Peter is saying is that we Christians do have a dual citizenship.  But our citizenship in an earthly nation is temporary.  That whole nation is temporary.

Tom Hanks’ movie, The Terminal, illustrates this well.  Hanks plays a man who is from a small country.  The man is traveling outside his country, and on the way home, while in a foreign airport, he is shocked to learn about a revolution in his country.  In a very short time, that country is dissolved and a new one forms.  The airline will not let him back without proper identification.  What country did he belong to?

Some of us might have a change of citizenship like that while we are on this earth.  And for all of us, no matter if they drape an American flag on our casket, when we die, our citizenship in the USA is over.

Citizenship in heaven, however, is forever.

So Peter is saying that we Christians must choose to live now during our earthly lives, by the principles of the Kingdom of God, which is forever. How do we do that?  Check in tomorrow and we’ll begin to look at what Peter says Christians should do to live as strangers and aliens in the world.

How to have an inheritance that cannot be squandered

24 May

Image result for squandered inheritance

Michelle and I both had grandparents pass away in the last few years, and we have watched our parents and their siblings handle their parents’ estates.  Sometimes inheritances are smooth and easy.  Sometimes they are a bit complex.  One time Faith Church received a bequest from a parishioner who passed away, and it took nearly two years to receive it!  After a person passes away, there can be many details to process in the settlement of their estate.  Those details are often bills that eat away at the inheritance.  Imagine the frustration when what initially appeared to be a nice inheritance is reduced to pennies.

As Peter continues his teaching in 1 Peter 1, verse 4, he says the living hope based on Jesus’ resurrection, which we looked at the past few days, gives us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

What inheritance is Peter talking about?  That word “inheritance” is defined as: “to receive something of incredible value which has not been earned.”  Human inheritances can be squandered away quickly.  My father-in-law loves to joke around that he is going to write us out of the will, for example, if we don’t help him split firewood.  I love to say back to him, “Good, because all you have to pass on is junk!”

But not the inheritance that Jesus promises to those who are reborn.  We read that it can’t perish, spoil or fade.  Peter goes to enough trouble to use three individual words to describe how indestructible this inheritance is!  It is imperishable and undefiled and unfading, which is a word that means “pertaining to not losing the wonderful, pristine character of something”.

Like a new white shirt.  You know what happens: in a couple months or so, they lose that bright color.  But imagine a shirt that stays just as white as when you bought it at the store, even if you wash it 1000 times.  Paul says our inheritance in heaven is even better than that.  It will never fade.

So not only do they have hope that gives them inspiration to keep the faith now, even though they face persecution, they also get to experience the inheritance of God in heaven.

In other words, Peter is saying, “Christians, you can do this!  Though life is rough when you are going through hard times, remember the hope you have.  That hope can motivate you to stay true to God, to follow him, even when people come against you.  And what’s more, if they kill you, then you get that inheritance in heaven!”

It begs the question: just what will this inheritance in heaven be like?

Probably the most frequent thing I hear at a funeral is that heaven is a better place.  The person who died “is going to a better place.”  What is that better place?  A mansion in Heaven? The Good Place?  Have you seen the TV show The Good Place?  It is a comedy about a lady who, after death, goes to The Good Place, but it becomes apparent very quickly that a mistake was made, because she was supposed to go to The Bad Place.  And in the show, The Good Place is amazing!

Is that what our inheritance in heaven is?  Peter doesn’t tell us.  Instead he assumes that his readers who are going through hard times will know that their inheritance in heaven, which God has gone to great lengths to make available to them, and which God preserving for them, is far superior to what they are going through now.

Remember that Peter is talking to people who are being persecuted or who are threatened with persecution.  He is not intending to give them a full blown treatment of what heaven is like.  Instead he wants to remind them that they have hope now and an inheritance in the future.

For people living in uncertainty, there is certain hope that inspires them to stay true to God now, and an inheritance that will be waiting for them in heaven after they die.

I have to admit, during a prayer time last week, I was thinking about this passage and my own struggles in life, and I said to God, “Lord, I am intellectually thankful for hope of an inheritance in heaven, but I want to feel better now, to be done with my struggles now. I want that inheritance now.”

And instantly, you know what happened?  Thoughts flashed in my mind, thoughts I take as from the Lord, saying, “That’s what the prodigal son said.”

Bam! Conviction hit me hard and fast.  It’s true.  I so often ask for my inheritance now, just like the Prodigal Son saying to his father, “Give me my share of the estate,” while his father was still living.  What a slap in the face.  Do you ever do that to God?  I admit I do. I want my troubles to be done now!

But Peter is not telling these Christians going through a hard time that the hard time will stop.  The persecution might not stop.  Some have already died for their faith.  When we are going through a hard time, we usually want it to stop immediately.  Peter doesn’t say that though.

Instead he concludes in verse 5 that they are being guarded and protected by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in last (moment in) time. In other words, we can learn to wait for our inheritance in heaven.  We can learn to trust in God in the difficulties of the here and now, remain faithful to him, keeping that hope, that inheritance set before us.

But there is even more to this hope, Peter tells us in verse 5. By faith our salvation is shielded by God’s power. The word “shielded” is the idea of a guard that is posted until the time that God’s salvation is ready to be revealed.

Do you see the overall theme? Though you are going through these hard times, you can still have hope of a great inheritance, and it is secure.

You and I are not being persecuted.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges in life.  What are the difficult situations you are going through right now?  Know that your future is secure and your hope in Christ can enable you to face any challenges.

Nothing is certain in our world.

It is hard to watch the news.  Our country and world seems unstable.

The stock market is up and down. Bills keep coming and finances might be tight. Maybe we get laid off from work.

Health fails.  All of a sudden we can be on death’s door in a hospital bed.

Family and relationships go sour.  A person has to admit to their friend, “My relationship with my spouse is on the rocks, and we are headed for divorce.”  Friendships can tear apart.

Something in the house breaks.  The car dies.

A school shooting.  And our kids go through active shooter drills now.

Life feels very uncertain. We cannot count on the things of this world to take care of us.

But the good news is that we have a living hope.  And it is kept secure for us in heaven by the power of God.  That is our solid rock that will not be shaken.  What is that living hope?  That God is alive.  That he is active in our lives.  That he gives grace and mercy in the midst of the struggles.  That he loves us unconditionally. That he has made new birth in Christ available to us, so that we can have an inheritance in heaven.  This motivates us to pursue him in faith now!

That’s why it makes incredibly great sense to follow the way of Jesus, even when it gets hard, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when our bodies and emotions tell us to follow a different way.

Jesus’ way is the one true solid rock.

This is not just knowledge we need as we face difficulty and uncertainty!  We can access this hope to make actual choices to keep following Jesus, to keep being his disciples, to keep living like he wants us to live, even when life is falling apart around us.

Have you experienced this new birth?  Following Jesus starts with new birth that Peter refers to in verse 3.  It means believing in him, and living your life the way he wants you to live.  Or maybe you have received the new birth of the Spirit, but you know you have not allowed that to fully define your life.  Today is the day to make the choice to follow Jesus.  Let’s talk about that.  Comment below!

What happens after death? (Will God be fair?)

24 Oct

Image result for what happens after we dieIs God unfair?  That’s the question I asked yesterday.  I bring it up because Solus Christus, the fourth of the Five Solas that we are studying this week, very much has a bearing on how we might view this difficult theological situation. If salvation is in Christ alone, by grace through faith, then doesn’t that mean that all those people who do not have the opportunity or capacity to confess Christ will die separated from God forever?  If so, it really seems like God is not being fair, punishing those for no fault of their own.

This doctrine is an emotional one.  It is called the destiny of the unevangelized.

Christians through the ages have come up with many options for explaining how God is fair.  Sometimes these options have led to very heated debates and accusations of heresy.

So let’s review some of the options and their difficulties.

First there is Universalism, which teaches that all go to heaven.  Hell is not real.  The Bible clearly says that God is love and he loves all, and so therefore universalists believe he will save all.  It sure would be nice to believe this, but this view has difficulties.  Simply put, the Bible, including Jesus, clearly talks about eternal punishment in the afterlife.  Also Jesus said a couple different times that the way to God is narrow and few will find it. For those of you from Faith Church reading this, we are a part of a denomination called the Evangelical Congregational Church, and our EC Articles of Faith affirm that there is a hell.  We do not hold to universalism.  But we do hold strongly to the biblical teaching that God is love.

Second there is a relatively small group of Christians who believe in Post-Mortem Evangelism.  This view suggests that after you die and see the options of heaven and hell, God gives you a second chance to choose.  Again, this promotes God’s grace and love, and it removes the unfair element for those who are unevangelized.  No matter what your situation was on earth, whether a tribal person, a Muslim in Turkey, a person with diminished mental capacity or a baby, when you die, you will have a fully capable mind and body to make an informed decision.  God will give you a second chance to choose him.  It might seem that this is basically universalism because who wouldn’t choose heaven at that point?  But in theory some would still choose hell.  This view, however, has some difficulties, the big one being that there is basically no evidence of it being taught in the Bible.  Personally, I’ll be shocked if this is what actually happens after death.  As with universalism, I don’t think it is true, but I hope it is.

Next is Purgatory, which is not just a Roman Catholic doctrine.  Purgatory is the name of a place kind of between heaven and hell. In the Old Testament, there is evidence of this when OT authors used a word called Sheol to describe a place beyond the grave, and it appears to work like purgatory.  Sheol seems to be a place of waiting.  What is unique about the Roman Catholic view of purgatory is that it is a place where people can essentially pay off the debt of their sin. It’s not fun, but after years of waiting, you’ve done your time, and you get to go to heaven.  The difficulty again is that this view is biblically sketchy.

The fourth view is Annihilationism.  This, too, is a minority Christian view that says that believers in Christ go to heaven, the rest are just destroyed.  Annihilated.  Where does it come from?  Well, Jesus one time, said this in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  This view deals with the trouble many people have with a God who would send people to eternal conscious torment in hell.  Instead of feeling pain forever, like being burned alive but never dying, or the pain of being separated from God, annihilationism says that unrepentant sinners are destroyed.  The difficulty with this view is that we should be exceedingly cautious about making doctrine based on one verse.

Another view is called Predestination/Election. God picks or elects who will saved and who will not be.  It has nothing to do with human free will.  One aborted baby might be elected to go to heaven.  One might not be.  One Yanomami tribesman might be sent to heaven.  Another might not be.  One Turkish Muslim might go to heaven, another might not be.  It is all up to God.  This view is a very strict determinism.  Many people who believe in some form of predestination or election don’t take it that far.  But some do.  The Bible does talk about predestination and election, but most Christians do not believe it is to be understood in this strict sense.  The major difficulty of this view is that the way Jesus and the apostles talk about salvation is that it is a gift that we choose to receive or not receive.

And that leads me to bring up one more view, Free Will.  Those who choose of their own free will to be true disciples of Jesus, after they die, will go to heaven, while the others who have chosen not to believe in and follow Jesus, after they die, are separated from God for eternity in hell.  The difficulty with this view is that it requires that people hear the Gospel.  This view presumes that all have the choice to follow Jesus, but as we saw yesterday it doesn’t seem like all actually do have the choice.  What about tribal people, those is other lands with different religions, or those with a lack of mental capacity to understand the Gospel?

Do any of these views help you think about God’s fairness in salvation by Christ alone?  Which view do you hold to?  Or is there another view that you prefer?

I can’t say that any of these views is completely satisfying to me.  As I tried to show, they all have their pros and cons.  Are there any other biblical passages that might give us some help to understand this?  Yesterday, I mentioned the apostles teaching in Acts 4:12 that “there is no other name by which we are saved.”  They were referring to salvation in Christ alone.  And Jesus himself said in John 14:6 that he alone is the way, the truth and the life, that no one comes to the father, except through him.

Today we have surveyed many options that Christians have employed to try to respond to the question of God’s fairness, but maybe you are thinking that we really haven’t made any headway.  Thankfully, there are more places in God’s word that we can explore to shed some light on this thorny issue of God’s fairness in salvation by Christ alone.

Check in tomorrow as we’ll look further at those passages.

Jesus’ bizarre depiction of heaven and hell – Luke 16:19-31

1 Feb

Do pastors lie at funerals?  Though we sound confident, usually that the deceased is in heaven, do we really know that?  You can read my thoughts on that in the intro post.  The question I asked in that post is: “So, what happens when we die?  Is it possible that we can know now what our eternal destiny will be?  It sure would be nice!”

My sermon yesterday tried to address that question.  We have been studying the life of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Luke, and the sermon was about a really bizarre parable he told in Luke 16:19-31.  Before you read any further, I urge you to read the parable and see if you can discover any details that depict heaven and hell in surprising ways.

So now that you’ve read the story, did you see what I mean?  Did you find anything odd?  Here’s what I found that was surprising:

  1. There is a wide chasm between heaven and hell that is so huge you can’t cross it, but it is not so big that you can’t see across it or have a conversation across it.  And people in heaven and hell can see each other and talk with one another.
  2. When the die, people are carried by angels into heaven.
  3. People in heaven could possibly go back (be raised from the dead) and influence people on earth.

Is he for real?  Is Jesus using a literal approach to his teaching? Did we just get a lesson in how heaven and hell/Hades work? I highly doubt it. Actually, it seems much more feasible to understand Jesus teaching a larger principle that is based in this metaphorical story.  It is possible, scholars tell us, that Jesus is a story form that was commonplace in his day.

What do I mean by a story form?  Well, it is like the stories we tell in our day about going to see St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter stories are fabled versions of what will happen when we die. And there are plenty of them.  Here’s a good one I found:

A man died and approached the Pearly Gates. St. Peter told him heaven was getting crowded so he had to test people with the point system. If he got to 100 points he could enter. The man told Peter that he gave to the poor. Peter marked him down for 3 points. The man thought again, then said that he gave to the church. Peter added one point. The man, desperately searching his memory, finally said that he never cussed. Peter added 1/2 a point. By now the man got very frustrated and said that at this rate he could only get in by the grace of God. Peter replied, “Come on in!”

It seems Jesus is using a familiar story form like that, adapting it to his purposes.  And what does he teach us through this metaphorical vision of heaven and hell?

First, Jesus is once again trying to address heart attitude.   Compassion for the poor. Being concerned for the position of others. Not following the letter of the law, but the heart of the Law.  Having eyes that see the neighbor who needs help shoveling snow.

Getting involved in community efforts to alleviate poverty in our school district. I continue to be so proud of Faith Church in this regard. Not only do we collect food in our lobby for the food bank at Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, but we have people who volunteer there every single week. Some are loading food bank shelves, some are working with food bank clients, helping them select groceries. Some are preparing Weekend Blessing bags of food that go out to over 150 children in our school district. Some are delivering food from Faith Church to the food bank. Some are delivering boxes of weekend blessings bags to our schools.

Remember what Jesus says in Luke 14:11? “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  I see that in action in the people of Faith Church so often!  It’s a beautiful thing.

One scholar says that this parable: “…is mainly a call to the rich to examine how they use their wealth. They should know that God is not pleased with a self-indulgent lifestyle that has little care and compassion for those in need. As such, the parable is a call to the rich to repent of their inappropriate use of wealth.”

Next, the parable teaches about the finality of life. The men in the story made choices in their lives, and they were sealed in eternity. I wish I could tell you exactly how this works. The Bible is not precise.   You might respond by thinking “Well, maybe it happens exactly like this parable suggests?” Maybe, but I would say unlikely. There are too many other passages that speak about eternity differently.

What does happen then? Well, one day after we die we each will find out. But I don’t want to leave you in the dark. The Bible teaches that we can be ready for eternity.

One thing I can say for certain is this: Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Or as Paul says in Romans 10:9,10 “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved.”

Putting them both together, we must surrender our lives to be disciples of Jesus. It is a combination of head, heart and hands that all live for Jesus. Then we can be assured, then, as John tells us in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

So I urge you, choose the way of life, which is the way of Jesus. If you are not as certain as what John writes, then I would love to talk with you.

Likewise, eternity is not something that just randomly happens after death. What this parable teaches is that eternity happens now. Did you see how the life choices of the rich man and the beggar impacted their life after death? Eternity starts now.   Our life choices now impact life after death.

This seems to be the heart of what Jesus said in the Lord’s prayer when he prayed “Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that they could live out the Kingdom of God in the here and now.   Maybe not perfectly as it is in heaven, but they could strive for ushering God’s Kingdom into the here and now.

Disciples of Jesus are people who have the privilege of ushering God’s Kingdom into their lives now. As you move and live and breathe in your world, you have the wonderful privilege of taking God’s Kingdom with you.  At work, in your neighborhood, in your school, in your homes, wherever you are, you are an agent of the Kingdom of God. You are seeking to infect all of your surroundings, all the people you come in contact with, with the gracious, joyful, abundant life of the Kingdom of God.

Thirdly, then, this parable is an illustration of how to bring the Kingdom of God into the world we live in now. Last week we saw that in verses 16-17 that Jesus is talking about the Law and Prophets. They come up again here in the Parable as Abraham says that the rich man’s brothers can learn about what to do in the Old Testament, the Law or Moses, as he says it, and the prophets. Jesus is giving a bit of indication, as he did in verses 16-17, that saw within the Old Testament something of great value.

In this case, the OT has plenty of important things to say about human relationships, about what it means to pursue righteousness in relationships, especially in loving one another. Remember what Jesus would say in another place about the most important commands in the OT? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is why the mission statement of Faith Church is Loving God, Loving People. If you could summarize the teaching of the Bible into four words, Jesus tells us that is it.

But there is a problem.

The brothers, the rich man tells us, would not listen to the Word of God. They have major issues. He thinks, however, that they will respond to a radical sign, a resurrection.   But Abraham’s response in verse 31 gets us to Jesus’ fourth main idea in the parable. If their heart is hard, they won’t even respond to a resurrection.

The issue is the heart, and that is the fourth teaching in the parable.

One scholar says this: “Only a responsive heart will listen to God’s message and respond to his great works. No amount of wonder-working can change a heart that is unwilling to be challenged by God’s demand for righteousness. A lack of signs is not why people reject Jesus. Rather, people willfully reject him. The heart cannot see what it is not looking for. Jesus’ message is a call to recognize the need to repent.”

I want to ask you, then, who is your Lazarus? Put yourself in the role of the rich man? Not that you are rich. But put yourself in a position to serve, to give, to love. Who is need around you?

I heard again this past week how Sunday morning is the most ethnically segregated place in America. My school district is at least 25% populated by ethnic minority, why do we not see that here in my congregation?  Perhaps we need to do more to be at a place of readiness to see needs. Eyes wide open. Ready to serve in a moment’s notice.

I recently heard a story from someone at our church who was recovering from surgery in the hospital.  A guy walked into the room and introduced himself as cleaning staff.  But this guy saw his life as much more than cleaning staff.  He struck up a congregation with our church member.  They had great conversation, and finally guy said “can I pray with you”, and it was a great encouragement to our church member.

Can you remember a time when someone reached out to you when you were desperately in need? When the Lord put someone in your life to show interest in you, to encourage you?   Didn’t that feel awesome? What could it look like for you to supply another’s need?

Be willing to provide childcare for free. Mothers with young children could really use the help.

A family from Faith Church who has an elderly neighbor lady, and she lives alone.  A widow. Our church friends will have some extra dessert, which their neighbor lady loves, so they will take it over to her.  Their loves are busy, so they want to drop the dessert off and get back to their tasks at home.  But what the neighbor lady really wants is not dessert.  She loves the dessert.  But what she really wants to do is talk, and talk, and talk. So my church friends will often say to each other, “You give her the dessert this time,” knowing that the person who gives the dessert could be stuck there for a long time.

Sometimes we need to give ourselves in what has been called ministry of presence. The way to care is to be there. To give of yourself. Give of your ears, your eyes, not thinking about what you are going to say next, think next, or eat for lunch. Just being there for people, to listen to them can be so powerful.  I learned of a counselor who said “I think people pay me to be their friend.” Lots of people come in and sit there expecting her to fix their problems. But she waits. Eventually they start talking. And they realize that in her they have a found a person who will truly listen.

So I ask, where is your heart? Are you sensitive to the signs of how God can you use you?  Will you ask him to make you humble, teachable and ready to follow his leading? Will you say, “Lord, examine me. Change me. I want you to use me.”

Finally, are you ready for eternity?

Why pastors lie at funerals

28 Jan

Funerals are a place where we pastors can be guilty of lying…a lot.

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself.  So this is my confession: how to do I lie at funerals?  I almost always talk about the person who passed away as definitely being in heaven.  As if there is no question about their eternal destiny.

Should I say that the person who passed away is in heaven?  Do I really know this?  No, I don’t.  I am not the judge.  Only God knows for sure.  So why do I say that the person is in heaven?

I know why I say it. Oftentimes the family has beat me to it. After the person draws their last breath, almost immediately family members start saying their loved one is in heaven. So it can be very daunting and even offensive for me to say at that moment, or anytime in the coming days, “Well, I know your loved one just died, but you don’t really know for certain that they’re in heaven. So let’s talk about that.”

I don’t do that. Instead I just go along with it. But should I?  Am I promoting a lie?

For many of them, based on the life the deceased lived, it is almost certain that their loved one was a true disciple of Jesus, and we can say with confidence that they are in heaven.  Some of them when they were living may have been very vocal about their faith in Christ, some were obviously committed disciples of Jesus.  But for others we are not so certain.  We wrestle with how much theological hairsplitting we should get into with a grieving family.

My thought is that in their moment of crisis and tragedy, I’m not going to make things worse by trying to suggest that maybe their loved one is not in heaven. Instead I have a strong desire to comfort them as they mourn.  I want to help them walk through sadness in a healthy way.  So I choose not to quibble with them about whether their loved one is in heaven or hell.

I’d like to believe that my choice to avoid the discussion is not actually lying.  Instead I look at it as withholding the conversation for a different time.  In fact, that different time is usually during the funeral, though indirectly.  I don’t address the family of the deceased, in the middle of the funeral, asking them pointed questions about their loved one’s eternal destiny.  But I do share with the entire audience about what the Bible teaches about eternal matters.  From there the family can decide for themselves if they want to engage a further discussion.  And you know, while it has been rare, a few courageous ones have had that discussion with me.  They usually ask “I loved my relative, but I don’t know if they are in heaven or hell.”

So, what happens when we die?  Is it possible that we can know now what our eternal destiny will be?  It sure would be nice!

This week in our study of Luke, Jesus tells us a parable set in eternity.  Check it out at Luke 16:19-31.  Perhaps this parable will help us? Or maybe not?  If you haven’t clicked on the link and read the parable, let me warn you, Jesus teaches some rather bizarre details about heaven and hell.  Is he serious?

Join us at Faith Church this coming Sunday, as we’ll talk about this further!

Q & A with Jesus – How many will be saved?

24 Dec

Every now and then I get to preach on a passage of Scripture that I’ve covered before.  This coming Sunday is one of those times, as we will study Luke 13:22-35.  Last time it gave me the chance to talk about a guy I’d like to think I know pretty well, Bono, the lead singer of the band U2.  At the time, I was preaching the Lectionary texts for Lent.  (You can read all about it here.  And the follow-up post here.)

I try to read back over those sermons each time I preach them again.  If there is material I can use again, I just might, but almost always I find that I need to start from scratch, even if I feel that previous sermon was decent.  Technically, last time I only preached on Luke 13:22-30, and this time we’ll add verses 31-35.

Take a look at the passage, as it raises some difficult questions.  Luke sets the scene by telling us that Jesus is continuing his preaching and teaching ministry in the towns and villages he passes through as he is on his way to Jerusalem.  The crowds are big, no surprise, and on this particular day, a person in the crowd starts a little Q & A with Jesus.  The person asks “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

It is a question that comes up often in Jesus’ ministry, and one that people still today ask.  Recently a college friend asked this very question.

The answers are varied.  Some believe all will be saved.  We call that view universalism.  It is quite popular as it depicts a gracious, loving, merciful God who can’t let any of his human sons and daughters perish in hell.

Others believe there is no hell.

Still others believe that there is a hell and people will go there.  Some views depict God placing people there of his own desire and choice.  Others say that humans choose to go there, mostly out of disobedience to God, primarily for failing to believe in him and follow his ways.

What is so interesting to me, as I write this on Christmas Eve, is that tonight at our Christmas Eve Service we will be talking about and celebrating the purpose of Jesus’ birth, and in Luke 13:22-35 Jesus himself, about 30 years into his adulthood, is also talking about his purpose.  What does adult Jesus have to say about why he came?  What he has to say directly relates to the question of how many will be saved!

As is so often the case, he decides to answer the question from the crowd with a story.  A story about a man with a house that has a door.  Then he goes on to liken himself to a chicken, and a female chicken at that!

Join us Sunday at Faith Church to hear how Jesus answers the question of how many will be saved!

Pie in the Sky…and other half-baked resurrection ideas

19 Apr

pie in the sky

“Pie in the sky…in the great by and by.”

“Eternal life.”

“Pearly gates and streets of gold.”

What does resurrection bring to your mind?

Here’s another phrase to consider: “You’re so heavenly-minded, you’re of no earthly good.”  Are you? Could your understanding of the resurrection have misled you to be so heavenly-minded, you’re of no earthly good?

Normally when we think of Easter, we’re in Springtime-mode, and we think of new life.  As I type, the grass is growing (and needs to be mowed!), and the tulips are in bloom.  Spring is abundant with new life.  We are right to connect resurrection with new life!  Resurrection is the idea of that which is dead coming to life .  At least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we are blessed with the natural symbolism of Easter coinciding with Spring.  New life is all around us.

But what concerns me is that when we think of this new life, we’re so heavenly-minded that we’re of no earthly good.  What I mean by that is that resurrection causes us to think about pie in the sky, eternal life in heaven on those streets of gold.  We are joyously grateful that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, because that means we, too, will rise again in new life and be with him in paradise, kinda like he said to the thief on the cross.  Resurrection is for us the hope of eternal life, new life in heaven!  We are right to praise the Lord about that.

So why would that concern me?  Well, is that all resurrection was intended to mean?  New life after death.  Is that all?

Some might respond and say “Isn’t that enough?”

Good question: Isn’t it enough that we should have the hope of eternal life, of heaven, of being resurrected and with Jesus?

If that was all that Jesus said should be enough, I’d say “Yeah, that’s enough.”  If all he taught was that he would die and rise again so that we could have new life after we die and be with him in heaven, then I’d say the discussion is over.  I’d say that pie in the sky in the great by and by is all we need to concern ourselves about!

But Jesus didn’t stop there.  Neither did the other writers of the New Testament.  While they were very excited about new life in heaven made possible by salvation, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, they also talk about the amazing fact that resurrection begins now!

Think about that…you can be resurrected before you die.

In fact, let me go so far to say that unless you are resurrected before you die, you haven’t understood what Jesus was all about.  The resurrection matters now.  The resurrection is vital now.

Sound impossible?  That is what we explore tomorrow during our Easter Celebration at Faith Church.  Join us!