Archive for the ‘heaven’ Tag

When the Bell Tolls   3 comments

If you had the option to know the date of your death, would you want to know?

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The short answer is no, but there’s a longer answer that’s more nuanced. No surprise there to regular readers of this blog.

First, I don’t fear death. As a Christian, I believe death is a gateway to God’s kingdom where I will live forever in the presence of my Savior and some of my family and friends will be there also. No worries about death darken my mind. If I knew I was dying, I might be sad to be leaving some people and things behind, but a moment after I die, I won’t care because my existence will be wonderful. I believe that. Enough on that topic.

When I saw the topic, my mind went immediately to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. He KNEW the hour of His death and it hurt so bad He sweated drops of blood. That’s actually a thing, by the way. In times of intense stress, some people secret iron, which oxidizes in the air and looks like blood.

Can you imagine knowing that you were going to die the next day and your death would be horribly painful?

I wouldn’t want to know that. I think that’s why in movies where the “hero” knows he’s going to die, you see a lot of frenzied effort in trying to reverse that inevitability. Or else they run around trying to make amends to the people they were estranged from. While that’s nice – to die with some closure in your damaged relationships – I think knowing the date of your death would keep you not focused on the here-and-now.

I could die anytime within the next 40 years. My mother’s family routinely live into their eighties and nineties and a few have broken the century mark. So I could live a long time, yet. Or I could get stomped to death by a moose tomorrow. If I knew I was going to live to be 100, I think I might not live life as urgently as I do now.  Maybe I wouldn’t say “I love you” to the people I care about quite so often. Maybe I’d dawdle in writing books. Maybe I wouldn’t go out onto the deck to watch the northern lights as often because “well, I’ve got 40 years to do these things.” Of course, knowing the date of my own death wouldn’t mean I’d know the date of my loved ones’ deaths. The other day, the UAF Geophysical Institute announced we’re entering a period of solar minimum. Now I’m wishing I’d seen more auroral displays last winter since they will be rare for the next few years. I’ve published eight books in the last four years and I can’t help wonder how many books I might have published if publishing had been different when I was younger.

Do you see what I’m getting at? I’ve missed a lot of opportunities because I thought I had time. As time now catches up with me, I look back and think “Wow, if I’d lived life like a moose would stomp me to death tomorrow, think about the things I would have done.” I can still do them and I think I have a few decades, but if I knew I was going to die in a year or two, I would stop publishing series because I wouldn’t want to leave my audience hanging. Would the world mourn that loss? I doubt it. But I would mourn that creative output.

Meanwhile, if I thought a moose would stomp me to death tomorrow, I might seek to avoid that fate rather than live my life and I don’t want to stop living in order to go on existing.

Not knowing the date of my death gives my life freshness and forces me to do things in the moment, but not put so much intensity into it that I look like one of those freaks in the movies who try to make amends with people they’ve hated in the last 24 hours of their lives. I live today as if tomorrow my life might end and I’ll have to face God with today’s sin to explain, and so I’m always trying to improve my contact with God and my relationships with others. But I also plan for the next four decades because I don’t know what’s coming and those plans give me joy and structure.

So, no, I don’t want to know the hour of my death. I don’t need to hear the bell toll. 

Posted November 19, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Everybody Dies, but Not Everybody Lives   2 comments

What gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave? Why would anyone who is disabled be encouraged when they think of life after death? How can we see past the martyrdom of believers in the persecuted church? Where do the thoughts of young couples go when they lose their baby? What is God’s final answer to pain and suffering in this world?

Image result for image of life after deathThe answer is the hope of bodily resurrection. We draw strength from this truth almost every day of our lives, probably more than we realize. It becomes the mental glue that holds our otherwise shattered thoughts together. Impossible though it may be for us to understand the details of how God is going to pull it off, we hang our hopes on the fragile threadlike thought, “Someday, He will make it right, and thank God, all this will change.”

Or as my charismatic friends say “It’s all going to burn.”

Still, for many Christians death is disturbing. If we’re honest we acknowledge that death is scary. Yet, Paul said when we die is when we truly begin to live.

The bodily resurrection is familiar and unique 

15:35 But someone will say“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? 15:36 Fool! What you sow will not come to life unless it dies. 15:37 And what you sow is not the body that is to bebut a bare seed 23  – perhaps of wheat or something else.15:38 But God gives it a body just as he plannedand to each of the seeds a body of its own.

Paul argued strongly for the resurrection of the body, but he knew his teaching would spur two questions:

  • how will God resurrect our bodies
  • what does a resurrection body look like?

I think we all wonder how God will resurrect people out of the dirt. I still haven’t figured out how God will put all those molecules back together again. If someone died at sea and sailors buried him, maybe fish ate his body. The atoms and molecules of his body would become part of the fish. If a fisherman caught and ate the fish, its body would become part of the fisherman’s body. If the fisherman died and an undertaker buried him in the ground and someone eventually sowed wheat over his grave, the fisherman’s atoms and molecules would go into the wheat. A third person would eat the wheat and so on. How could the first person’s body ever come together again?4

The quick response to this dilemma is:

God is God

He can easily resurrect the humans He created. He constructed man out of dust in the first place, I’m not worried about him reconstructing us out of dust again. Reintegration is a problem for limited humans, but not for the unlimited God. How will He do it? I don’t know. The resurrection of our bodies does not depend upon us understanding how God will do it. When we grasp the fact that nothing is impossible with God, resurrection becomes simple. Absolutely nothing, including raising the dead, is too difficult for God (Jerermiah 32:17). God created the universe out of nothing, so resurrecting people out of dust is minor-league for Him (Hebrew 11:3).7

Of course, not everyone will accept this Biblical argument. Paul anticipated the objection of someone arguing against the idea of a bodily resurrection. In 15:36, he called such a person a “fool.” The Bible defines a “fool” as someone who fails to take God into account. Such a person excludes God from consideration. Remember, if God is God bodily resurrection is absolutely no problem!

Paul used an analogy from nature to get his point across. Calling the hypothetical scoffer a “fool” for not recognizing a simple fact of nature that can be observed every day. Choose any plant and you can  see the body that grows out of the ground is very different from the “body” that was planted. Compare a pumpkin seed with a pumpkin or an orange seed with an orange tree. Paul was not talking about the appearance of our resurrection bodies in terms of whether we will be recognizable. His point was the body that is planted in death is not the same body that is resurrected. When a seed is buried in the ground, a plant, not another seed, comes out of the seed. The plant does not look like the seed it came from. Likewise, when we are buried in the ground and resurrected, our bodies will not look identical to the ones we have now.

Good. I’m hoping to be taller and skinnier.

15:39 All flesh is not the same: People have one flesh, animals have another, birdsand fish another. 24 

Paul expanded his argument by describing the unique nature of various “bodies.” How are the earthly sphere and heavenly sphere bridged? All flesh is not the same. There’s man flesh, beast flesh, bird flesh and fish flesh. These four different types of “flesh” also appear in the created order in Genesis but in the reverse of how they appear in here (see Genesis 1:20 – 26. Such a view is derived from Paul’s view of the Old Testament. God designed bodies to fit the environment they live in. Our resurrection bodies will be perfect for the environment of heaven. Earthly bodies equip us to live on earth. We breathe the earth’s oxygen, drink its water, and eat its fruit. However, these earthly bodies aren’t suitable for heaven. To get us ready for the next world they must undergo a change.

15:40 And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one sort and the earthly another. 15:41 There is one glory of the sunand another glory of the moon and another glory of the starsfor star differs from star inglory.

Earthly bodies will pale in comparison to heavenly bodies. Heavenly bodies will be glorious! There is a huge difference in brightness between a twenty-five watt light bulb and a 1000-watt light bulb. In the resurrection, our “lumens” of brightness will be turned up to the fullest. Our resurrection bodies will literally shine with brightness (Daniel 12:3Matthew 13:43). This passage could mean that there will be differing degrees of brightness in our glorified bodies or perhaps it refers the difference in glory between our natural and resurrection bodies. I opt for an allusion to the former. In light of the emphasis throughout 1 Corinthians on eternal rewards, it seems that Paul alluded to differences in the eternal state. One thing is certain: every resurrection body will be without defect and will literally radiate brightness. Death for the Christian is not gloom but glory.

The bodily resurrection is new and improved 

15:42 It is the same with the resurrection of the deadWhat is sown is perishablewhat is raised is imperishable. 25  15:43 It is sown in dishonorit is raised in gloryit is sown inweaknessit is raised in power; 15:44 it is sown a natural bodyit is raised a spiritualbodyIf there is a natural bodythere is also a spiritual body.

In these verses, Paul contrasted the two living bodies—the present body and the resurrection body. Your present body was created to last only several decades. Your resurrection body will equip you for a much higher level of existence. At the resurrection, our bodies will be transformed from our current “caterpillar” form to our future “butterfly” status. The beauty of a butterfly is far superior to that of a caterpillar, but the butterfly has to go through the transformation process first. Four changes must take place to transform your body from earthly to heavenly.

Change #1: Perishable to Imperishable (15:42). Our present bodies are perishable, and they degenerate as we race toward the grave. Just like Adam we are headed back to dust. In the resurrection, we will be raised imperishable, never to deteriorate or die again. In heaven no one will comment on your age or notice the years are beginning to take their toll. You will look as young a billion years from now as you will a thousand years from now.

Sir Michael Faraday, one of England’s greatest chemists and physicists, reportedly heard a student scoff at the idea of the resurrection. Faraday threw a silver goblet into a jar of acid, which completely dissolved it. He then added other chemicals that caused the silver to settle to the bottom of the jar. The chemists then took the silver to a silversmith, who made it into a goblet more beautiful than the first. Then Faraday held up a goblet and told the student, “If I, an ordinary scientist, can dissolve and remake a silver goblet, why is it hard to believe that God can raise the body from the dead?”

God will transform your perishable body into one that is indestructible. Once you receive it, dying will be impossible. You will live in it throughout eternity. Truly, it can be said, although our body is perishing our spirit can be flourishing. When we die we have truly begun to live.

Change #2: Dishonor to Glory (15:43a). All of us come to a point in life when we look in the mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall—you’ve got to be kidding!” There is a sense in which our bodies are “dishonorable.” But God promises that we will be raised in glory. When a body is transported to a funeral home, it is always covered by a sheet to shield gaping eyes from the dishonor of looking upon the corpse. Every dead body is a reminder of our dishonor, a reminder that we are but frail.

Change #3: Weakness to Power (15:43b). Have you ever noticed everyone wants to live long, but no one wants to grow old? It is true. Our bodies wear out, slow down, decay, sag, groan, and even begin to smell bad. We brag about our strength but a tiny microbe can kill us. Sooner or later, we grow old and our bodies begin to break down. Eventually, they stop working altogether. No amount of Vitamin C or Siberian Ginseng can change that fact. At best, we can only slow down the aging process; we cannot delay it forever.

If you are like me, you probably have one part of your body (or maybe several parts) that you would like to change. Maybe it’s your weight, your height, your hair, or something about your face. To make it worse, our culture bombards us daily with images of beautiful, well-built people. In heaven, there will be no fad diets, Weight Watchers, aerobics, exercise bikes, personal trainers, physical therapists, stair masters, weight rooms, saunas, jogging tracks, low-fat foods, diet drinks, or plastic surgeons. God will give every one of His children a glorious, unique, perfect new body at the resurrection that will never fail or disappoint them.

Our resurrection bodies will be extremely powerful. We will never grow weary or weak. Can you imagine not having to sleep throughout all eternity? Since there will be no need to nap, we will never again have to toss and turn on lumpy mattresses. Wives will not have to listen to their husband snoring anymore. No more insomnia, sleeping pills, or alarm clocks, either. Our way of life will be radically different than our lifestyles here on earth.

Change #4: Natural to Spiritual. When Paul stated that our resurrection bodies will be spiritual, he does not mean like Casper the friendly ghost. He referred to the type of body we will have. When the disciples saw Jesus after He was resurrected, they thought they had seen a ghost. Jesus assured them, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Jesus did not become a spirit, but was raised with a spiritual body. In heaven we will not be “spirits,” but we will have spiritual bodies. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He didn’t have two bodies, one natural and another spiritual. He had one body—a natural body that had been transformed into a spiritual body. Jesus showed His disciples the marks of the nails in His hands and feet and the wounds in His side that proved it was the same body. That body had undergone a radical change. Similarly, when you are resurrected your body also will be changed and perfected.

15:45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person; 26  the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 15:46 Howeverthe spiritual did not come firstbut the naturaland then the spiritual. 15:47 The first man is from the earthmade of dustthe second man is fromheaven. 15:48 Like the one made of dustso too are those made of dustand like the one from heavenso too those who are heavenly. 15:49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dustlet us also bear 27  the image of the man of heaven.

Paul compared Adam and Jesus, arguing that there is a difference between earthy and spiritual bodies. The first Adam was merely “a living human being.” By emphatic contrast, the last Adam is not merely “living,” but “life-giving.” Christ gives life through His resurrection. The heavenly is greater than the earthy. But in order to experience the heavenly body, one must first live in the earthy body.

I knew this pastor mentioned in this story. A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her affairs in order, she contacted her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss some of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. She requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. As the pastor prepared to leave, the woman suddenly remembered something else. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” said the pastor. “This is important,” the woman said. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.’ It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. So, when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and they ask, ‘What’s with the fork?’ I want you to tell them, ‘The best is yet to come!’”

This elderly woman got it right! The best is yet to come for when we die we have truly begun to live.

What If There Was No Heaven?   1 comment

What if there was no heaven? John Lennon asked us to imagine it and he didn’t think it would be hard to do. He thought it would bring peace on earth.

“Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky.”

Image result for image of heavenHave you ever allowed yourself to think about that question. I think about it every time I hear Lennon’s song. What if everything I believe is a fairy tale, or worse yet, a malicious lie? What if Lennon was right? Of course, if there really is no heaven and the resurrection is a shame, life itself is an exercise in existential futility.

Which was Paul’s whole point in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34. If the bodily resurrection is only an empty dream and this life is all there is, Christians are to be pitied. We’re living in the world where you only go round once in life, so you’d better grab all the gusto you can, but we don’t because we believe a lie. Without the resurrection, our world is compassed about by “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Fortunately, since Christ was raised from the dead, and His kingdom culminates in the defeat of death, we don’t actually live in existential futility.

Christ’s resurrection provides hope

Paul claimed that if we have no future, we have no forgiveness of our sins in the past, and we have no advantage over unbelievers in the present.

15:12 Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (1Corinthians 15:12)

Paul used so much ink on the topic of the resurrection because some Corinthians argued that there was no future physical resurrection. They denied that believers will experience resurrection. Paul argued since Christ has been raised, resurrection obviously is possible, but more, it is an essential part of our faith. However, before Paul could drive home this point, he conceded the possibility that Christ has not risen.

But if there is no resurrection of the deadthen not even Christ has been raised. (1Corinthians 15:13)

Paul disclosed seven disastrous consequences if there is no resurrection from the dead.

And if Christ has not been raisedthen our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. Alsowe are found to be false witnesses about Godbecause we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raisedthen not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is uselessyou are still in your sins. Furthermorethose who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. For if only in this life we have hope in Christwe should be pitied more than anyone. (1Corinthians 15:14-19)

First, if there is no resurrection Christ has not been raised from the dead. For the sake of debate, Paul granted there was no resurrection of the dead. Logically, no one has or ever will rise from the dead, which means that not even Christ has been raised, because He was a human being like you and me.

The erroneous Corinthians were not denying the resurrection of Christ per se, only the future resurrection of believers, but you really can’t have it both ways. You can’t believe in the resurrection of Christ and deny the eventual resurrection of believers, for resurrection is a single package. Thus, Paul introduced Doubt #1.

Second, if there is no resurrection our preaching is stupid (15:14).

There are some highly distinguished religious professors who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involves something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.” Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998), 129-131.

Dr. Borg won many awards when he was a professor of religion at University of Oregon. Despite his education and giftedness, Dr. Borg was wrong. The gospel Paul preached at Corinth proclaimed Christ’s literal resurrection (15:3-5). Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had received this gospel, stood on this gospel, and were being saved by this gospel (15:1-2). Thus, as far as Paul was concerned, if there is no resurrection there is nothing worth preaching! This remains true today. Eloquence, persuasion, humor, and passion make for wonderful sermons, but if the speech does not contain the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it cannot accurately be labeled “preaching”. Every thing stands or falls on the truth of the assertion that God raised Christ from the dead.

Third, if there is no resurrection our faith is worthless (15:14, 17). Regardless of how vibrant the outworking of faith, the core of Christian belief and life is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Christ did not rise from the dead faith has no foundation; it is empty and useless. The gospel is not good news but a hoax that has no real power to change lives or to do anything else except to deceive.

Fourth, if there is no resurrection we are false witnesses of God (15:15). Those who proclaim that Christ rose from the dead speak in God’s name what they know to be untrue. Christianity is not a system of philosophy or a moral code, but the declaration of what God has done in Christ. If the dead are not raised then the whole gospel is a sham and those who preach it are liars.

Fifth, if there is no resurrection we are still in our sins (15:17). In Romans 4:25, Paul asserted Jesus was raised “for our justification.” In other words, if Jesus failed to rise from the dead we are still dead in our sins.

Sixth, if there is no resurrection those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (15:18). If Christ has not been raised, then those who “fall asleep in Christ” are no different from unbelievers, who are consigned to ruin (1:18). Who wants to think of their relatives and loved ones who have trusted in Christ rotting with nowhere to go?

Seventh, if there is no resurrection we are to be pitied more than all human beings (15:19). I’m sure you’ve probably heard some people say even if Christianity is not true, the Christian faith is still the best way to live. “Even if it turned out Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and there was no such place as heaven, I would still have no regrets about living the Christian life.” You might have said that yourself at some point. Yet, the apostle Paul absolutely disagreed with that position. He wrote in 15:19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christ has not risen, Christians are the most miserable people in the world.

When drug companies develop a new product, they run tests with two groups of people. They give one group the new tablets, and they give the other group an identical-looking product that is a dummy. They do this to verify the efficacy to their new drug. The mind is powerful, and some people feel better just having taken a tablet, although the tablet has no substance that could change the body. It’s all in their minds. If Christ has not risen, Christians are like people who have swallowed the placebo. They are confessing some change that has no substantial basis. Like the dummy drug, such faith would not do anything except within the individual minds of these people. In medical research, the placebo group is still dying of cancer. In the faith realm, Christians are still headed to the worm farm and nowhere else.

Christ’s resurrection guarantees victory

According to Paul, Christ’s resurrection makes the resurrection of believers both necessary and inevitable. Those “in Christ” must arise since Christ arose. Christ’s resurrection set in motion the defeat of all God’s enemies, including death. His resurrection demands our resurrection since otherwise death would remain undefeated.

But now Christ has been raised from the deadthe firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Corinthians 15:20)

“But now” are two of the sweetest words in the Bible, for they are often followed by words of comfort and hope. “But now” Christ has been raised from the dead as the “first fruits” of those believers who have died. The imagery of “first fruits” links with the Feast of First Fruits in the Old Testament. At the beginning of the grain harvest, the Israelites brought the first sheaf harvested and dedicated it to the Lord. This offering assured the Israelites that the rest of the harvest would follow. Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection—the first person to be raised from the dead permanently. His resurrection assures us that someday there will be a complete harvest.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For just as in Adam all dieso also in Christ all will be made alive. (1Corinthians 15:21-22)

Adam’s sin brought death (see Romans 5:12-21) and Jesus Christ’s resurrection offers life to those who believe. The word “all” is used twelve times in 15:22-28. Consequently, some argue that all people will eventually be saved. This is typically called “universalism.” However, the “all” that will be made alive with Christ refers only to those who have fallen asleep in Christ. Paul was only speaking about the Christian dead, not about a general resurrection.

The imagery of “first fruits” implies that Christ’s resurrection sets in motion a series of events that will culminate at His coming.

But each in his own order: Christthe firstfruitsthen when Christ comesthose who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Fatherwhen he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. (1Corinthians 15:23-24)

Every Christian is going to receive a brand-new body, but every one must wait his or her turn! The key word here is “order.” The word translated “order” (tagma) is a military term that refers to rank or order. Paul was describing a military parade passing by, with each corps falling into position at the proper time. Throughout history, different Christians fall into their place in the parade at their appointed times.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death. For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjectionit is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to himthen the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to himso that God may be all in all. (1Corinthians 15:25-28)

Paul quoted Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6 to support his arguments about the Messiah’s reign. The point Paul made is that God empowers Christ to accomplish His purposes. Christ is equal to the Father but chooses of His own accord to submit to His Father so that He might receive glory.

Christ’s resurrection gives purpose

Otherwisewhat will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at allthen why are they baptized for them? Why too are we in danger every hour? Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If from a human point of view I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what did it benefit me? If the dead are not raisedlet us eat and drinkfor tomorrow we die.  (1Corinthians 15:29-32)

I don’t know about you, but verse 29 has got to be the most confusing verse in the entire New Testament. Paul’s words here are so difficult that scholars have devised around 40 proposed interpretations. I decided not to bore people with an analysis of the various interpretations, but just touch lightly on a couple of the more controversial theories. Mormons, for example, have baptized millions upon millions of dead people by proxy in Mormon temples so that they might be saved, including Christians, pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even avowed atheists.

As a result of this belief, the Mormon Church has amassed the greatest collection of genealogical data anywhere in the world, with billions of names in millions of family trees traced back as far as they can find even scant records. Hundreds of full-time employees do the research, which is recorded on over a billion pages of documents, all stored in a multi-million dollar underground vault system in a canyon near Salt Lake City. Now the information is available on the internet. After researchers come up with new names, hundreds of volunteers go through baptismal rites, hour after hour, day after day, in some fifty Mormon temples. They don’t hold services in those temples, you know; they are only for secret temple rites, including proxy baptisms. Many of your ancestors have been baptized in absentia in a Mormon temple, without either their consent or yours or mine.

All of this activity is based upon this one verse of Scripture which when you examine it, proves to be a very shaky foundation for such a practice, which flied directly in the face of Scriptures that clearly teaches that after death comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27), not a second chance if someone happens to be baptized for you. Therefore, I believe this verse deserves careful re-examination.

Theory – When new believers in Corinth were baptized, they credited their salvation to the gospel message they had heard or received from one or two of the apostles whom were now dead. They did this because they wanted these deceased apostles to receive greater reward in eternity for the work they had done. This seems to be the best view for four primary reasons. First, this interpretation is based upon a literal understanding of the terms “baptism,” “for,” and “the dead.” Baptism refers to a literal act for new believers; the word “for” means “for the benefit of;” and the phrase “the dead” is identified with physically dead people (see 15:6). Second, the Corinthians liked to associate themselves with the ministry of certain apostles (1:12-13; 3:4). This would explain why some of them were baptized “on behalf of” some deceased apostles. Third, some of the Corinthians did not believe in a resurrection (15:15-16). In refuting this, Paul referred to their practice of baptizing for the dead. Their practice contradicted their beliefs. Lastly, Paul had previously mentioned eternal rewards (3:13-15), the Corinthian desire to bring honor to the apostles (1:13-17), and how the Corinthians themselves would be part of Paul’s apostolic reward when he stood before Christ (3:10; 4:14-15). This reward can only be received in the resurrection, and if the Corinthians wanted the dead apostles to receive the reward they were ascribing to them by baptizing new believers for these apostles, resurrection was necessary.

Paul nowhere denounced the practice of baptizing for the dead, which is one reason I think the Corinthians were claiming “I am being baptized as a ministry from Apostle X.” I think Paul would have scoffed at the idea that a proxy baptism on behalf of someone already dead had any effect at all. We know from other Pauline writings that he view baptism as a symbol of joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He didn’t see any saving grace in baptism. It was merely a first step of obedience in the Christian life … which means it would be silly to do it after someone was dead.

Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus One case of Paul’s dying daily was fighting with “beasts” at Ephesus (15:32). It is nearly certain that the “beasts” are not wild animals. As a Roman citizen, Paul would not have fought with wild animals. Furthermore, he would have likely mentioned these beasts in all of his lists about his own personal suffering. It’s likely Paul wrote about the many who opposed him in Ephesus. It would make no sense for Paul to face his opponents head-on and endanger his life if there were no resurrection.

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

This is a quote from God’s people who are suffering in the midst of an Assyrian siege (Isaiah 22:13). They figured they had nothing to lose since they were going to be destroyed. If there is no resurrection then we might as well live for the present, in unadulterated hedonism.

So, of what use is the resurrection. Paul explained the reason he served God was because of his personal assurance of the resurrection of his body. Paul went through incredible suffering and pain in the course of his ministry. He was tortured, ship-wrecked, temporarily blinded, stoned — If there were no resurrection of the dead, he would be foolish risking his life for nothing. Paul’s boast in the Corinthians referred to the fruit of his apostolic labor and suffering (9:1-2). Paul felt deeply attached to this church. Note the expression of Paul’s basic satisfaction with his Corinthian converts despite the many things for which he had to rebuke them.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Sober up as you should, and stop sinning! For some have no knowledge of God – I say this to your shame! (1Corinthians 5:33-24)

Paul commanded the Corinthians to stop being deceived. He then quoted a well-known cliché. “Bad company corrupts good morals.” God’s people are susceptible to deception, especially from friends and fellow church members. It is dangerous to keep company with fellow Christians who are not characterized by consistent Christian living. Hanging around with people who claim to know Christ, but who are themselves far from the Lord can be more dangerous than spending time with non-Christians. We are inclined to be vulnerable to inconsistent thought and actions, to let down our guard, if the Christians around us are materialistic, sensual, loose talking, freethinking, irreverent persons. Remember, water flows downhill. Birds of a feather flock together. If we lay down with dogs, then we will get up with fleas. It is inevitable that evil companions warp good morals. This is why we should care about who our children “hang out” with. Similarly, you need to be careful about who influences you.

Paul commanded the church to be sober-minded and to stop sinning. Some of the Corinthians had been duped into believing that this life is all there is—you only go around once. Paul says such people have no knowledge of God. They are agnosia (“ignorant”) of God. We get our English word “agnostic” from this Greek word. Paul was saying, “Some Christians can live like functional agnostics.” Beware of such people! The crying shame of the church today is the glaring difference between what we believe and how we behave. There is little correlation between doctrine and deeds or creed and conduct with some Christians. High talk and no walk is a problem. We quote the Bible by the mile and live it by the inch.

What you believe about the resurrection controls how you live your life, how you spend your money and use your time—how you invest yourself. People who think wrongly invariably behave wrongly. Yet, you and I must remember, we will one day stand before the Lord to answer for our lives. We should live accordingly.

Non-Believers Misconceptions of Heaven Part 2   3 comments

“Heaven is a place, just as much a place as is New York or Chicago.” Charles Ferguson Ball

Everyone wants to know about heaven and everyone wants to go there. Nearly 80% of Americans believe there is a place called heaven and most people expect to go there when they die. That 80% includes a lot of people who do not attend church or align with the New Testament definition of a Christian.

Don’t you wonder why so many non-believers in the Biblical God want to go to His heaven?

Something deep inside the human heart cries out for something more than the pain and suffering of this life. They hope for something more than 70 or 80 years on Earth, of being born, living, dying and being buried. C.S. Lewis talked about a “God shaped hole” in the human heart, but even in an era when many Americans claim not to believe in God, there is apparently still a heaven-shaped vacuum inside the human heart. We somehow know we were made for something more than this life.

What I find interesting about all of those folks who think they’re going to heaven — especially the ones who do not seek a day-to-day relationship with God while they’re on this planet — is most of them have no concept of what heaven will be like and even if they do, if you push them, they wouldn’t really like heaven.

I suspect most Christians wouldn’t like the mythical representation of heaven either. What’s to like about floating around on clouds playing the harp? I l’ve hiked into many a cloud and they tend to rain on you and I don’t play the harp now, so why would I enjoy playing it for eternity in wet robes?

Fortunately, that’s not the Biblical concept of heaven. The Bible describes it as a real place, where believers will be free of sin, illness and death to pursue the work of God and worship Him without end. I don’t know any non-believers who would like to live that way for even a day, let alone an eternity.

Nonbelievers, I have a few questions for you. Please consider …

If you desire to go somewhere, shouldn’t you have some idea of where you’re going and what it will be like when you get there? Wouldn’t that be important if you were going somewhere forever? If you don’t like it, you’re going to have a long, long time to regret your decision. If you don’t want to worship God now, why would you want to worship Him forever?

How do you feel about serving Him forever? Luke 19:11-27 provides us a picture of what heaven will be like. We will use our gifts to administer the new heaven and the new earth. Bakers will bake, teachers will teach, singers will sing, and preachers will preach. For all I know, soldiers may march off to battle and quarterbacks will throw passes. Think of the flowers the botanists will study. Gifted astronomers will go from galaxy to galaxy studying the wonders of God’s creation.

No one will be sitting around on a cloud eating grapes and polishing his halo. We’ll all be too busy for that. And all of it will be in the service of God.

Non-believers –

You do realize — Christians will be in heaven? You know, those people you’ve ridiculed for believing in God — whom some of you have called stupid or mentally ill or weak willed. Are you sure you want to spend eternity with us? And we’re not just talking about one or two Christians. We’re talking about millions of Christians.

You can be as angry as you want about God expecting you to meet His standards to enter His home, but be honest with yourselves. If you hate God and are annoyed by Christians, would heaven feel like hell to you rather than a paradise?

Christian Misconceptions of Heaven Part 1   5 comments

To a certain extent modern Christians own the non-believers jabs on several topics, including heaven and hell. The prosperity gospel favored by many churches today paints a rosy picture of heaven as a place of temporal rewards where even a greedy person might overdose on the opulence.

Most Americans have a cliched notion of heaven as a blissful realm of harp-strumming angels. The vast majority of Americans also believe that after death their souls will ascend to some kind of celestial resting place where they will be “happy”.

There’s really no Biblical basis for that belief. First century Christian believers expected the world to be transformed into God’s Kingdom – a restored Eden where redeemed human beings would be liberated from death, illness, sin and other corruptions. They also believed that Jesus had established the Kingdom of God with His death and resurrection. In other words, they (and we) were (and are) living in the the start-up era of the Kingdom of God. This inauguration of God’s Kingdom was (and is) far from complete and required (still does) the cooperation of God’s people in spreading the gospel and being good examples of Christ-in-the-flesh, because God works through people and He is not willing for anyone to perish … if He can help it.

Which makes me sometimes wonder … is the delay in His return due to the rising tide of atheism? Is He allowing Christians the opportunity to find effective arguments to reach these misguided humans?

The idea of heaven veered off course in the Middle Ages. Writers and artists like Dante and Michelangelo and some theologians began to depict a heaven and hell (and a purgatory in Catholicism) that looked nothing like the New Testament version. Why? Depicting hell as the absence of God didn’t make such an exciting painting as the fiery hell painting? Maybe, but images like hell-fire and angels were actually pagan images from surrounding cultures, made more attractive because people couldn’t read the New Testament for themselves.

Twenty-first century Christians don’t have the same excuse. We have the New Testament literally at our fingertips. We can carry it around on our smart phones. We should read it, because our misconceptions, Christians, are crippling our faith. We have a temporal perspective rather than an eternal one. Many of us live only for the here and now and we don’t study that much about the world to come.

The Bible actually commands us to think about Heaven.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2

When we understand what heaven really is, it changes how we live life now.

My cousin Rick (the research doctor) works with patients who have debilitating diseases and very little chance of long-term survival. I’ve met people from third-world countries where they faced difficult and dangerous situations, where sharing the faith can get them imprisoned or killed. Those who face adverse circumstances think about heaven a lot! Their perspective is not on their temporary lives, but on their hope for the future.

On Jesus’ last night on Earth, He told his remaining 11 disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. My Father’s house as many rooms, if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-4)

Heaven is about a restored relationship, which is what Christians have signed onto. The relationship we have now is intermittent because we are bent and twisted by sin. The relationship we will have with God in heaven will be in sharp focus. We will have renewed relationships also with our fellow believers and with ourselves. Heaven will be a place where sin, death and sorrow are absent, adventure, work and discovery await us and God will be present in a way that even we who seek Him have never experienced.

Now doesn’t the sound better than floating around a cloud playing the harp?

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