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 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

Why church matters matter . . . Revelation and deception

seekersI’ve been working on a post on Rev. 13:16-18 and in doing some commentary diving, was struck by Greg Beale’s commentary on Rev. 13:11.  The passage of Rev. 13:11-14 sets the backdrop of my next post and Beale’s poignant assessment of what this passage is saying;

And I saw another beast coming out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. And he exercies all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. And he performs great signs, so that even he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast who, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.

As I indicated in my post on reading Revelation, it helps if we understand Revelation to be a series of visions that describe the goings  on of what happens between the first and second Advent of Christ, these visions describe the reality of what occurs during that period particularly in relation to the opposition that comes against Christ’s church. In other words, it doesn’t help to see these visions transpire after the church is taken out of the way via a Rapture and isolated to a 7 year period, but rather describes happens from the tine of Christ’s ascencion until his return. As evidenced by the presence of the church, very much describes the onslaught of deception that eventually pits the mainstream culture against Christianity. (It also helps to see chapter 13 as a reflection of a larger series of visions beginning at 12:1). By way of observation in our culture, I have much to say about this, which I’ll get to in a bit, but I found this section from Beale compelling and sobering. Continue reading

Does 1 Thess 5:1-11 indicate a seven year tribulation?

rapture w buildingsI’m continually mindful that we often read presuppositions into the biblical text especially when convinced of a particular position. I think it’s just natural to do that. My shifting views on eschatology that is causing me to re-examine portions of Scripture with fresh eyes continues to affirm this.

As I indicated in my posts on the book of Revelation, this has struck me so powerfully how much I presumed a dispensational premillennial reading of Scripture. This then gets imposed onto key proof-texts that those of the dispensational stripe promote as proof of this system. In terms of eschatology, that primarily means a pre-tribulational rapture of the church followed by a seven year great tribulation before Christ renders final judgment.

Now I get that when determining if certain passages mean one thing or the other, it’s easy to be influenced by well-studied commentators with persuasive arguments especially if it concurs with a position you are already warm to. It does take a bit of honesty to recognize where they or YOU could have blind spots or want to hold on to a position or just be plain wrong.

But I’ve also discovered in the midst of doctrinal shifts and re-examining of positions, that sometimes you get hit with passages that you’re not even looking at to persuade you of one position or the other. They just further affirm that you weren’t crazy to change your mind.

And so it was, as I was reading through 1 Thessalonians with no angle or inquiries other than to just let the text speak into my life for fuel and comfort, that a particular proof-texted passage just jumped out at me. After a few readings, it became so obvious how it was yet another instance of a dispensational perspective being imposed on the text.

Now, I have concluded for a while that 1 Thess. 4:13-18, does not reference a pre-tribulational rapture and that Paul’s use of “caught up” references the custom of that day to go out and meet a visitor and accompany them into the arrival destination. As I’ve delved into this topic, it’s become clearer to me that Christ will come back once and it won’t be a quiet affair. The rapture spoken of here correlates to 2 Thess. 1:7-8; 2:1 and Rev. 1:7 when Christ returns to judge the world and set everything right. Continue reading