Uneasy about death? You should be and its ok

Recently, a friend from church was sharing about her episode with anaphylaxis shock. She was home alone with her infant when suddenly and without warning, her body started reacting to what, is unknown. She couldn’t make it to the phone to call her husband or mother-in-law and barely made it to the computer to type a message out. She was going in and out of consciousness and wondered if this was it, was she going to die. But instead of the cheery easiness with which we Christians tend to treat death, there was an easiness about it. Almost a fear, more like dread.

Now this is a strong believer and someone who has had to trust God through some rough stuff. I know there is nothing she would want more than to be in the sweet arms of Jesus. She is not alone. I recall when my son and I were robbed at gunpoint and flashes of losing my life were before me and conjured up that same kind of dread. Or times when experiencing turbulence in airplanes and the mind flashing to a scenario of the plane crashing.

We talked about how these reactions seem contradictory to almost giddy like treatment of death as being a transition from one stage to the other, as if it’s something we should look forward to. I mean, Paul did say, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” I would speculate that a good number of Christians experience this kind of apprehension and guilt for thinking it.  Are we weak and unfaithful Christians for being apprehensive about death?

No because there is something else to consider: death is a wretched result of the Fall. Death does to us what God did not intend for our bodies to do, be ripped apart. Death reminds us, or should remind us, what tragedy occurred through one man’s disobedience that plunged God’s creation into cosmic devastation. Continue reading

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The things hoped for: on faith and the resurrection

As we Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of our Lord, we loudly proclaim that he is risen. Now through much of my Christian life, I tended to translate that into merely a spiritual enterprise. Meaning, the resurrection signifies the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to the Father, baptism into the kingdom of God and union with Christ. It is that transaction that raises us to new life in Christ (see Romans 6:5-11).

Over time, I’ve come to recognize how this frame of thinking circumvents the significance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. For his resurrection not only points back to God’s intention in creation but also brings the future of that intention into the present. In other words, it’s not enough for us to reduce the resurrection to merely a spiritual enterprise, that we are now part of God’s adopted family but there is a broader framework in which this reconciliation happens related to God’s restoration of what he intended. It’s why Paul emphasizes our bodily resurrection in 1 Cor 15, to which Christ’s resurrection is a first fruit. Death is an enemy because it is antithetical to creation. The entrance of sin and death unleashed such cosmic wreckage that the whole of the Bible’s story explains God’s plan and action to redeem his creation from that cursed grip.

In that regard, here’s a connection to the resurrection and faith I found quite interesting and insightful. I’ve been reading through this incredible book by Michael D. Williams, professor at Covenant Seminary. Far as the Curse is Found: the Covenant Story of Redemption  is essentially a biblical theology of God’s historical-redemptive narrative from Genesis to Revelation, or in other words, “the biblical story of God’s unfolding covenant relationship with his people.” I absolutely love that he starts the book off with The Resurrection: the Single Best Page of the Story to show that the whole story of redemption is anchored in and centered on the work and person of Christ according to what God intended from the beginning.

The writer of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). How does this relate to the resurrection? Continue reading

The real good fight: why security in Christ matters

 I confess, one of my guilty pleasures for the past few years was watching The Good Wife every Sunday evening. The series ended last Spring 2016. So I was intrigued by the spin-off series The Good Fight. One of the key characters, Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski, has always enjoyed a certain security as partner in the prestigious law firm that played a central role to the story of The Good Wife.

And so The Good Fight opens with Lockhart at the top of game. She is set to retire, has millions stashed away in retirement (or so she thought) and awaits the carefree life on a French villa she has in escrow. But then it all comes crashing down. The close friend investment banker with whom she entrusted her millions, gets arrested by the FBI. It is discovered that he created a ponzi scheme, bilking several people out of hard earned retirement savings. Not only that, Lockhart had so much faith in her friend that she recommended others to invest. Her accountant tells her the best she can do is to try to hang on to what she has, namely cancelling her retirement.

Well, I think we know what happens next. On top of losing millions of dollars, she seeks to hold on to the security of her partnership but to no avail. She has already signed an exit agreement and with the scandal of losses, they don’t want her anyway. She tries in vain to secure another partnership at firms that before would have turned over tables to have her on board. But this wretched event has left her tainted and spurned. She is left with no employment, no prospects, no savings and a scarred reputation.

All the while I’m watching this, I kept thinking about how grateful I was that my trust was not in riches. Though it was a fictional drama, it was not lost on me that this kind of thing happens on a regular basis. I was smugly satisfied that my security was not in the wealth of this world but in the riches of Christ. I was mindful of my recent reading in the book of Matthew 6:19-21; Continue reading

The unintended prosperity gospel: why tangibility matters

god-touching-manIf you’ve followed me for any period of time, you know that I abhor the prosperity gospel. As I wrote about here in Should We Call the Prosperity Gospel Something Else?, the prosperity gospel has a deceptive nature in that it is not really about getting rich. Because of that, prosperity teaching flies under the radar because many who gravitate towards it would denounce that Christianity is about lining the pockets. What gets missed, is that wealth is just a by-product of the real foundation: material blessings are a sign of God’s favor. So we really can’t restrict the prosperity gospel to money but to any material blessing that we place our hope in. It’s peddler’s would have you believe that getting blessed by God in ways that make you look like you are winning (by the world’s standards) is a true mark of God’s favor. This is the very nature of the prosperity gospel, that favorable conditions are a sign that God approves of us.

And it’s not just about despising a doctrine for doctrine’s sake. But this distorted teaching actually impacts people’s lives. Either people can be lured into a false sense that God is on their side because they are “winning” in life. Or conversely, feel like God is opposed to them when suffering and loss occur and believe they are less loved by God, failed in some way to earn his favor, or basically just have insufficient faith. It’s easy to ridicule those who embraced such distortions and spurn the teachers of this dastardly teaching. After all, the Christian hope, trust and confidence is the work and person of Jesus Christ. Period.

But if we’re honest, there is something about receiving tangible results to life’s negative circumstances: the rescue from wayward happenings, the reversal of loss with a gain of something hoped for, the improvement of life’s condition with a better home, car, job or status symbol. Receiving material rewards, while not the basis of favor from God, can make us feel like God is on our side, that he is looking out for us. Continue reading

Race, grace, and the work of the church

helping handsIn the midst of this Labor Day weekend, I was reminded of a piece I wrote for my church’s newsletter last year after a trip to St. Louis and thought I’d share it here.

Normally my Labor Day weekends are pretty non-eventful and I use the extra day to catch up on rest, reading or household projects. But this past Labor Day weekend busted that mold. I travelled to St. Louis, MO to attend the Leadership Development and Resource Weekend. LDR, as it’s commonly known, was started by a group of African-American students in conjunction with mentors at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN, a church of the PCA. The gathering has grown over the years into a multi-cultural representation of PCA members and friends to consider ways in which the church can address areas of disparities.

This year’s theme of the conference was Orthodox Activism: the Church in Pursuit of Social Justice. Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, crafter of the resolution on civil rights that was presented at the 43rd General Assembly,  gave the first plenary address and what rousing presentation. Dr. Lucas examined the doctrine of the spirituality of the church as cited in our WCF 31.5 calling for the church, “not to meddle with civil affairs . . .  unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary.” Throughout the history of American Presbyterianism, the doctrine of spirituality had been used selectively as the basis for uninvolvment in matters of social affairs, most notably civil rights. However, Dr. Lucas pointed out that the doctrine had been inconsistently applied and exhorted the hearers to consider ways in which the church should rightfully engage in matters of social justice for the cause of the gospel.

The weekend drew to a close with an apropos visit to one of St. Louis’ oldest Presbyterian churches that had great significance for the work of the church. Memorial Presbyterian Church, as it is now named, was established in 1868 as a gospel experiment that began a few years prior, in 1864. While the Civil War was headed to a close, some Confederate and Union soldiers wanted to test the biblical call for unification of the body of Christ comprised of radically diverse people without any preference to race or political sympathies. Imagine that! At a time when a war was fought in large part over the outcome of it’s black citizens, most of whom did not even share equal citizenship, racial and political lines were set aside for the sake of the gospel. Continue reading