Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Revelation 14:13
The promise of eternal life is a central hope of our Christian faith. It sustains us through times of pain and grief. The joys of our life on earth are made even greater by the promise of everlasting joy and peace. We do not know exactly what eternal life will be like, but we know that the glimpses of its beauty that are given to us in the New Testament suggest things more wonderful than we can imagine.
The hope of eternal life is a hope for the end of suffering, pain and death. In the Revelation, John’s vision says, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain…” (Revelation 21:4). As we struggle in our lives, we find strength and joy in this great hope.
Eternal life also brings the promise of knowing the answers to those deep questions that have escaped us. Paul reminds us in the great chapter on love in 1 Corinthians. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Eternal life brings the promise that the sin and selfishness that has hounded us will be completely erased in that moment when we see Christ in heaven. We are meant to be created in the image of Jesus and that will show up in us perfectly in eternity. As John says, “…we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2) and “…God who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 1:6).
And that is the greatest and most important blessing of eternal life. We will live forever in the loving presence of God. Nothing can be a greater blessing to us as believers. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Love in Christ,
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” 1 Peter 2:12
“First in Flight.” That’s a motto in the state of North Carolina, marking the historical flight of Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk. We are rightly proud of this historic heritage, even as we engage in friendly competition with the Wright brothers’ native Ohio for the honor of the term.
What will the world say is our motto as followers of Jesus Christ? What are we “first” in? The New Testament has some ideas about how we should be known and what should be our “first” priorities.
First in righteousness and loyalty to God. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness…” and if we do, God will meet our needs. When we follow Jesus, we make living righteously, living God’s way, our top priority.
First in prayer. “I urge, then first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession ad thanksgiving be made for all people…” says 1 Timothy 2:1. The world will know we are people of prayer when they say how it affects the kind of people we are, humble, gentle, patient, loving, honest. You may have trouble living up to that. Me too. That’s why we need to be “first in prayer.”
First in loving and being loved. I John 4:19 says, “We love because God loved us first.” The love that God has is not a warm, fuzzy feeling. It is the will to give oneself sacrificially for another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
Belonging to God. That’s what we are called to first of all. When we do, the world will see Christ.
Love in Christ,
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19
There came a time when the only thing my grandmother remembered was the song “Amazing Grace.” She didn’t remember my name or my face. She didn’t even acknowledge me when I entered the room. But as soon as I started to sing, she would sing along. So much of her seemed gone; that little spark of her still showed through.
I can’t imagine the horror the mom and dad felt when they went to Jesus, their little girl already dead. Desperate for help, they turned to the one who could show them that the life of their little girl was not gone. “The child is not dead, but sleeping,” Jesus said (Mark 5:39). Everyone laughed except those parents. They prayed it was true. “Little girl, get up,” and that life returned.
We don’t often see such dramatic miracles among our loved ones whose minds and bodies show little signs of life. But the Jesus story gives up hope that the life that was there is not lost. We may only see little glimpses of it now, but in the loving presence of God, that life is still there. “…’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Love in Christ,
“God’s divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life…” 2 Peter 1:3
Some days I’m tempted to quit. Some of you have seen me at my best and many of you have seen me when I was pretty much incompetent. But I still enjoy it and on rare occasions I do it well enough that no one walks away. Of course I’m talking about playing the mandolin. I probably should be better at than I am, but adult life makes it hard to practice as much as I would like. And some days I’m tempted to quit.
For most of us, learning a musical instrument does not come naturally. It requires some work. Very often it requires discomfort. To press your fingers into steel strings causes pain. You have to do it enough so that you develop calluses on your fingertips.
To be a musician demands habit and discipline. To develop the physical dexterity and agility requires repetition. You have to be willing to make mistakes and sometimes to sound terrible before you begin to sound not so bad. Some people even start to sound good.
Our life of faith can be like that too. It doesn’t come to us automatically. We have to develop habits and practices that help us find the life that Jesus wants us to live. Most of those habits and practices are not spectacular and entertaining. They are the same kind of habits that make for good musicians, and good farmers and good teachers, and so on.
The habits of Christian life are simple: going to worship and fellowship and Bible study, caring for others and helping others in need, praying daily, being humble and gentle and loving and giving even when others are not. If they are to become habits, though, they have to be regular and consistent.
So, let’s not quit! In our lives of following Jesus, we have the resources of God’ Spirit to lead us and give us strength. We do not have to depend on our own limited ability. God gives us “everything we need.”
Love in Christ,
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” John 9:39
I can’t read anymore. For most of my life, I have had excellent vision. For more than ten years now, I have worn glasses. For most things, especially things that are not too close, I can see fine without my glasses. But now, without glasses, I cannot see to read anything in normal print.
Reading is an important part of Christian faith. You do not have to be able to read to know Jesus as your Savior or to live a life of faith. Many have done so. But our faith depends on the revelation God has given us through the Bible. We believe that the Bible is essential to our understanding of all that we know about God.
But the Bible is a big book. There is a lot of material there. Most of us have our favorite parts, the books and verses that we return to over and over for comfort and strength.
The Bible is comprised of 66 books, written by many authors and compiled over 1000 years or so. How do we understand how all of these words apply to our life of faith?
This has been the subject of many long discussions among pastors and Christian teachers ever since the idea of sacred scripture began. I don’t have space here to say all that needs to be said about this important idea. But there is one focus of Bible interpretation that I think Christians should always remember as the foundation of how we read the Bible.
“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” That’s how the old hymn puts it. This is the foundation of our understanding of all of the Bible. The words and actions of Jesus as described in the gospels should be central to how we understand all that the Bible has to say.
The life and teachings of Jesus in the gospels are the lens through which we see more clearly what the rest of the Bible teaches us about faith. Through our faith in Jesus, through His words and life, we can also say, “I was blind, but now I see.”
Love in Christ,
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
Southern Baptists have a problem. In May of this year, Southwestern Seminary trustees removed President Paige Patterson from office after an investigation into Patterson’s actions related to an incident at Southeastern Seminary while Patterson was president there. Patterson covered-up a rape committed by a Southeastern student. At the same time, video shows Patterson making inappropriate comments about women in public.
In the last few weeks, the International Mission Board of the SBC has endured criticism over its handling of a missionary who has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. The IMB let this missionary go, but failed to report the incident to authorities. This missionary went on to work with churches and as a consultant to the South Carolina Baptist Convention. IMB president David Platt, who was not in charge when this incident occurred, has issued a statement indicating that they will fully investigate how this happened and how it might be prevented in the future.
But such problems are a natural result of the ideology of the fundamentalist mindset of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has written into its confessional documents that women are not fully equal to men in God’s kingdom. SBC leaders have promoted the authoritarian mindset that church leaders should be obeyed and not questioned because they are called by God. These ideas have set us up for this disaster.
The fundamentalist takeover of the SBC was motivated by fear and longing for a “golden-age” when supposedly everything was better. This “golden-age” idea is a lie. As followers of Christ, we should be first in line to support truth, full accountability and sincere repentance and restoration when wrongs are discovered. I am not confident that the SBC will learn this lesson. I hope I am wrong.
Love in Christ,
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
I have a few old friends on Facebook who know everything. Well, they don’t actually know everything, but in their own mind, they know everything. A lot of important and painful things are going on in our world. Watching the news seems to be a more frustrating experience every day.
Sometimes we may need to tune out all of that negative news just to make it through. Is there a way we can continue to see all this bad news and really care about what is happening while preserving our own emotional health and well-being?
First, we need to renew our commitment to prayer. Jesus is the source of our compassion and wisdom. Jesus sustains our spirit. When we take prayer seriously, Jesus renews our energy for the work of God’s kingdom. Prayer also helps us remember our own weakness. Our bad habits and sinful tendencies can get in the way of our desire to truly influence the world. Prayer also reminds us that the work of God’s kingdom is a long arc toward justice.
Second, we can find something positive to support and be involved in. Wherever you feel the heart of God calling you, look for organizations or groups that are working toward that and get involved. Remember that God’s kingdom is about love and doing what is right toward other people. Find a way to support that work. Build those relationships among your brothers and sisters in your own church.
Third, tell the truth, as best you can, including the truth that you don’t know all the answers. Humility is supposed to be a Christian virtue but so many Christians in public spaces are shouting hateful lies as truth. James says we should be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19). We should speak up frankly and forcefully when evil is being done. But we should be careful that we are speaking the truth.
Fourth, pay attention to your own stress level and walk away for a time to take care of yourself. If you find yourself feeling uncontrollably angry or having thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or someone else, reach out to your pastor or a professional counselor. A lot of sin occurs because we do not deal with our inner stresses.
Love in Christ,