Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Gift

We know that Jesus saves.  He forgives our sins, he heals our diseases.  “Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name, who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 106) But do we know that first of all Jesus is witness to (Matthew 9:1, Mark 2:5) and a demonstration of (Romans 3:25) the Father’s already accomplished forgiveness?  Paul writes that the cross is a demonstration, something like a billboard that splashes its headline near and far, “Come home, all your sins have been forgiven.” (Romans 3:25)    God said, “Comfort, comfort my people speak tenderly to Jerusalem, say to her that her warfare is over, her iniquities are pardoned, she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1) and Jesus recognizes that it has been done.  In the Lord’s gracious superabundance, Jesus saves, Jesus heals, Jesus forgives, but first of all, Jesus attests to what has been done by the word of the Lord.  God said let there be light and there was light.  God says “your iniquities are pardoned” and they are pardoned.  “Heal us and we shall be healed.”

How have we managed to forget such an important thing?  Perhaps we have forgotten what a friend is. Friends give out of the sweetness of their hearts with no thought of return. They make right what is wrong.  They heal the broken heart.  God the creator of the universe is our friend.  Or perhaps we have forgotten what love is, or what it means to be a mom or a dad.  I know a couple who have just adopted a nine year old child from Detroit.  They do this not because they will “get something out of it,” but because they love her.  God is our father in heaven, our Abba, who sees we are clothed in filthy rags and clothes us in his righteousness, who sees we are wounded and binds up our wounds and takes care of us, who sees we are dead and restores us to life.  Why?  Because he loves us.  We didn’t do anything to get salvation.  There is no contract between us and God. There is no exchange.  We do not give a little to God and receive grace.  Our error arises in some measure out of that tangle of misunderstandings having to do faith. For instance, we think we are justified by “faith in Christ” but it is by the “enfaithment” or “establishment” of Jesus. (Romans 3:21-22, 26, 30)  We engage in painful mental gymnastics about free will but the entire concept of “free will” is philosophical, not Biblical. Despite the efforts of the Church Fathers, we do not even really know in our hearts that belief is the result of justification.  But I think that one day, if God be pleased, we will see what he has done in reconciling us to himself.  It is a gift. It is the gift. It is rescue.  It is resurrection from the dead.  Even now when we read through Isaiah and the Old Testament as a whole, there is no other conclusion. Out of the longing of his heart, out of his great faithfulness, God pours himself out to make us whole.  It is something so great and good, we never could have imagined it ahead of time, so great and awesome a gift that the prophet must ask, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Isaiah 53:1) Who could believe a love like this? 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Immortality of The Soul

There are many who believe in the immortality of the soul. It would seem that the Bible supports this belief. In I Corinthians Paul writes, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”  There are many other places that speak of immortality. In John 11, Jesus assures Martha that we shall not die but live, “Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.'”  In these and many other verses the Bible is pointing toward unending life.  Even in the very beginning, Adam and Eve would have lived forever had they not disobeyed God. Jesus’ coming means that we will live forever, body and soul.   Yet like the body, the soul dies.   Many of our translations of the Bible obscure this fact.  In Judges 16, the great and beloved Samson, now weakened and blind, prays a great prayer to God.  We read, “Then Samson called to the LORD and said, "O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be avenged upon the Philistines for one of my two eyes. “ He grasps the two middle pillars of the temple, and as he bears down on them with all his might says, “let me die with the Philistines.”  Only, this is not what he really says.  The Hebrew is quite clear.  What Samson actually says before his destruction of God’s enemies, is “let my soul die with the Philistines.” 
There are a number of other places in the Bible that speak of the death of the soul.  Taking a quick look, and confining myself for the sake of time to just the books from Genesis to the beginning of Joshua, I counted more than a dozen times that Bible referred to “dead souls” or the death of the soul.    In addition the soul can be in danger, it can be bought and sold (as in Revelation 18:13) and it can be “destroyed.” (Matthew 10, various psalms)  How then will the soul live forever? The answer to this question is simple.  Our souls will live forever, but not because they do not die, rather because God raises us up, body, soul, spirit, every little bit of us.  We will be raised up when Jesus comes again to be sure, but not just in the time to come but in the NOW. How can this be? Anyone can see plainly that the graveyards are not empty.  But remember, we walk by faith not by sight.  How is it that when we take our last breath, our next breath will be in the arms of our Lord and Savior? But so it is. And not just our souls will be with the Lord but our bodies too, our whole selves.  Peter saw by the power of the Holy Spirit how it was with Jesus when Jesus dead in his tomb.  Jesus says, “I saw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope.”  Jesus continues, God the Father will not leave my soul in the grave, in the underworld or even allow “thine Holy One to see rot.”  “Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.” (Acts 2:27ff) As it was with Jesus so it will be with us; again, not just in the hereafter but in the here and now.  In the book of Isaiah, God says, “I will give you the faithful pities of David.”  All the mercies that Jesus is given, we will given as well.  We too will say in our graves, “I saw the Lord ever before me, for he is at my right hand...thou hast made known to me the ways of life.”  Our Father will not let us see corruption in the grave. Death, in the hereafter and in the here and now, is swallowed up in victory.  We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A New Heaven and A New Earth

A New Heaven And A New Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1) There is a little story from II Samuel that helps us understand. One of the sons of giants came up to fight against David, now established king over Israel, and the giant carried a new sword.  Why a new sword?  Because he recognized that in David, something new had happened.  Gone were the times of Jesse who now “went about, an old man among men” (I Samuel 17:12); his times were over.  Gone were the times of oppression, humiliation and despair. Remember how day after day Goliath humiliated the armies of Israel but little David came up to fight, and that giant went down and the armies of Israel rose up with a shout.  God was victor and we in him.  The old times were finished and the new was here.  So when it says a new heaven and a new earth, that’s what it means. Jesus Anointed, our David, our warrior king, has come, and the old ways of sorrow and death and humiliation gone. The giants of sin and death and the devil and his prophet are down for the count, utterly vanquished. Jesus is victor.  We rise up and cast off unbelief and lies.  There are no more immoral, no more cowards. There is no more sorcery, idols, delusion.  All that is done and the new has begun.  Now is the time of refreshment and the restoration of all things. (Acts 3)  And God shall wipe every tear away from their eyes. 
Sometimes a question arises. I have talked to some people who think this verse means we fly away to a different earth or planet. They read Isaiah 51, “lift up your eyes to the heavens and look upon the earth beneath for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke and the earth shall wax old like a garment” and they figure if everything is going pouf here, then logically we go some new place.  But the Bible says“No” to this idea.  In fact, every time the Bible talks of a new heavens and a new earth or about the earth or heavens growing old, it also makes it clear we aren’t going to a different planet.  Read on in Isaiah 51, in verse six it speaks of the heavens vanishing like smoke but in verse eleven, “therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing to Zion and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads and they shall obtain gladness and joy and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”  God is not talking about a Zion on some different planet.  He is talking about our Zion, our Jerusalem, the one with the Wailing Wall, the one with the little shops with their mountains of spices, the one with the Home Depot and the Burger King, the one sinning and sinned against, the one where tea is carried through the streets on silver tea trays, the one with white wall of separation running through the country like a scar, the one that God loves in spite of herself and will always love. 
All this is important because sadly when people move to a new apartment for instance, there is a temptation not to be careful anymore.   Sometimes they leave the apartment a terrible mess. There are those in the churches who have decided for the same reason not to take care of the rivers and the land and the heavens above, because, as they put it, “we are going fly away from this fallen earth to a new place, so why invest our time and talents in preserving and helping the fish and the trees and the seas and the animals?” The Bible corrects us.  We are not moving.  God is faithful to his creation.  His children are too. He is not giving up, nor will he ever give up on the rivers and the seas and the land and the heavens above.  On the contrary he is bringing all these things to perfection.  Through his faithfulness in Jesus we are made like him: caretakers, saviors, gardeners of all that he has given.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

God's Joy (Part II of Series)

It may be that we don't really understand what the New Testament is saying about men being attracted to men and women to women. In Romans 1, Paul is talking about the blindness of all society to Jesus, to the suffering servant. Because of this blindness, God hands all society over to its own latent sins and thus, we have women being attracted to women and men to men. For Paul and the apostles, men not loving women and women not loving men is worse than fornication, worse than covetousness, worse than murder. Read that list of vices for yourself. The rabbis always put the most serious transgressions first. But those who do any of these things, from the most weighty transgression to the lightest, are "worthy of death." Paul has a big surprise for us though, because for the "judge" (Romans 2) to condemn to death those who are caught up in these sins is to "do the same things," that is, to be blind to the suffering servant, the savior who saves us from our spiritual enemies, who saves us from the fires that we can't escape. As the song says, "I can't change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to."  That's the way it is, we are too deep in, we can't change. But Jesus was raised from the dead to save people like that, people like you and me. And he does and he did and I know he will. Because let's face it, all of us are prey to these vices that are listed here in Romans 1, at least one, if not a whole bunch. Now, we might have a question. Why is it that men going with men and women with women, heads Paul's list of transgressions? The reason is that Paul is simply following the Bible, in the very beginning God made Adam and then made Eve and Adam saw that Eve was the only one for him. That's Genesis, but we are constantly attempting to destroy Genesis. God generates, God gives the growth. We as sinners want to destroy life and growth. We want "de-generation." And here's the thing: the most destructive form of de-generation is when men don't like women and women don't like men and that describes a lot of us, a lot of the time. Women don't really see men these days and men don't really see women either. We just don't "get" why marriage and romance and men liking women and women liking men is very important but that's only because we don't see like God does. In fact, we don't see at all. It's only in God's light that we see light. Only he reveals what love is, what faith is, what is important and what is not important. All our reasoning, all our philosophy, all our science comes up with precisely nada, nothingness, chaos. In the early 20th century we reasoned and philosophized our way to eugenics and the holocaust. And we haven't changed one bit. Our way is always toward destruction. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life." He also said, "Come to me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." The Good Samaritan came to the man who had fallen among thieves, and who was pretty much as good as dead, beaten up by sin and death and the devil and he had compassion on him. We are that man. We are the ones who hate God and in so doing destroy ourselves and are destroyed. But God still loves us, he is crazy in love with us, he came to us while we were yet enemies. He is here, "the home of God is among men" and one by one we are lifted up in his arms and healed and saved. And as if that were not enough, to save us is his joy, his delight. We learn in the Bible that he sings with joy over what he has done through his only begotten Son. This is the entirely unexpected and undeserved face of God's justice and nothing can stop that justice now.

(Note: I follow the theologians William Orr of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and N.T. Wright of St. Andrews in this article, the song quoted above is "Same Love" written by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Decisions

Today is a day that we can be thankful for, even as we grieve what the Supreme Court has done to aid in the destruction of love and marriage. The mask has been ripped off government and we see the rot behind it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Oaks of Righteousness

Oaks of Righteousness

 In Romans 1, when we look at the original Greek, we find, “Jesus is declared to be the Son of God...by the resurrection of the dead.” Who are people raised from the dead?  They are us.  We see the beginnings of it in Matthew 27.  When Jesus dies, the veil of the temple is rent from top to bottom, there is a great earthquake and the rocks are split, the “bodies of the saints rise from the dead” and when Jesus is raised they “appear to many” in the holy city.  But this was only the start, because in Jerusalem and in all the nations of the earth God’s clarion call grows louder and sweeter still, for he raises those dead in their sins to life, “when we were dead in our sins, he has made us alive together with the Anointed One.”  When you go to church this Sunday, look around at your fellow believers in the pews: They are the proof that God’s justice has come and is coming.
Put it another way: Do you ever wonder why Paul does not despair when he sees his beloved brothers and sisters felled where they stand by the powers that be? After all Paul is just as capable of sadness as any one of us.  Yet in the very place where you would expect him to be filled with despair, he writes these triumphant words, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8).  Last week in Pierce County we saw  despotism vividly illustrated when the trees on the courthouse lawn were cut down.  But it will not stop with trees, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”(Ephesians 6) and these powers seek the destruction of humanity, body and soul.  Moreover, these powers are too much for us, they are “hands too strong for us.” (Jeremiah 31)   Should we then despair?  We must not, and even more, we are prevented from despair.  We are prevented from despair by seeing all around us, the dead that the Lord God has raised through his justice on the cross.  There is no one who assembles with the saints on Sunday, or  who believes or even wants the Lord Jesus in his life who has NOT been raised from the dead.  We sinners, realize that no argument ever got through to us.  We destroyed others and we destroyed ourselves.  People who love us talked themselves blue, but we ignored it. Only the word of the Lord got through.  Only the word of the cross raised us from death to life.  Christians have many weaknesses and sins.  Our churches are hospitals.  But Christians, whatever their faults are the living proof that the dominoes are falling.  It started with the veil being torn from top to bottom and it continues, as one by one people come into the kingdom.  Nothing can stop God’s justice.   His justice through the establishment of Jesus on the cross set off a chain reaction that nothing can stop.  Trees can be cut down but nothing can stop the restoration of all things, nothing can stop him who raises the dead to life, nothing can stop the hand that heals and nothing can stop the world to come.  And by “world to come,” I do not necessarily mean the end of the world, but rather the new world that is coming in.  We forget that our Savior is alive and is on the move, “all the the trees of the field shall clap their hands” and we ourselves shall be “oaks of righteousness.”  We see the proof of its coming all around us.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Two More Little Poems

The Red Sea

The Lord led Israel out to the Sea
He wanted those slaves to be happy and free.

The Israelites were scared, they thought they were stuck!
But the Egyptians instead, got stuck in the muck.

The Israelites were saved! They stood on the shore!
But the cruel Egyptians were no more!

And then in God and Moses they were believin’
Because of the wonders their eyes were seein’


Jonah was mad ‘cause God was so kind
“God would forgive those Ninevites?!” “Was He blind?!”

So out on the sea Jonah set sail at once
“No! I won’t prophesy”
“I’m no dunce!”

But our good Lord had other plans
A storm was brewin’ to beat the band.

And the prophet Jonah was thrown into the sea!
He sat in the belly of the whale
days, one two and three!

And when he got out ,Jonah was sent
To warn the Ninevites, they had to repent.

And the Ninevites did, both great and small.
And Jonah learned something about God’s love for us all.

Little Poems

The Call

Fishermen, fishing on the sea
But Jesus said, Follow me!

When they heard his voice, they followed him then
He would make them fishers of men.

Jesus Rules the Sea

The waves of the sea crashed up and down
The great storm made a horrible sound!

The disciples were scared, “We’re going to die!”
And to Jesus asleep, they did fly.

And Jesus awoke and heard their plea
They didn’t know: God rules the sea!

Then Jesus stilled the storm, made the wind cease.
And all around was perfect peace.

Jesus, Our Friend

Jesus came down to the seaside that night
And helped the disciples in their plight

No fish had they caught, they were lost indeed
Silently they prayed, “Help us please!”

And Jesus came and stood on the shore
“Cast in your net, you’ll find fish galore!”

And he gave them breakfast there on the sand
And told them all about his good plans.

That all the world might be happy and free
It all started there on the sea of Galilee.

God’s Throne

God’s throne sits on a crystalline sea
He watches over us all, for he loves you and me.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Things That Make For Peace

What if we are thinking of marriage in the wrong way? What if marriage is, as the French feminists assert, the smallest unit, the basic bedrock of community, and community is made up of men and women? What if the marriage between a man and a woman is a living, breathing, walking, talking declaration of the truth that man cannot get along without woman and woman cannot get along without man? If the Supreme Court rules that a man can marry a man, aren't they ruling that men don't need women and women don't need men? That we can get along on this earth without each other. In fact, if two men can marry, then what is my marriage to Farhad in the eyes of the law? Certainly it would not be that living, breathing, walking talking declaration of truth anymore! Remember why Jesus wept over Jerusalem? Because he saw that she did not anymore know the things that make for peace.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


The other day I received a unsigned letter in the mail. Although I usually counsel people not to write anonymous letters, this letter had a very big silver lining and I am grateful for it.  The letter got me thinking. The very first sentence “If we have a faith in Jesus Christ, we go immediately to the presence of the Lord.”  Two questions occurred to me.  First, where did the writer get this “if” and second, in what sense did she mean it?  --I should add here that the handwriting and the stationary seemed to denote a woman writer, if I am in error I sincerely apologize!--  But back to the two questions. To answer the first, I think the writer’s “if” came from Romans 10, where Paul writes, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” As to the second question, let me first say that there are two kinds of “ifs” in the Bible, what I call “sentry” “ifs” and “reassuring” “ifs.” A sentry “if” means an exchange of some kind, like a sentry at the gate of military base demanding your pass in exchange for entrance. A reassuring “if” is talking about something you already have.  Let me illustrate:  I am walking hand in hand with my little five year old niece Audrey.  She asks sadly, “Will I ever dance as good as you and Mommy?” I reply with African adage, “Audrey, if you can walk, you can dance.”  This is an “if” of reassurance.  She certainly will dance as well as or better than either her Mommy or me and she doesn’t need to worry.   I think the writer of the anonymous letter had in her mind belief as a kind of pass that you present in order to enter into the presence of the Lord.  In other words, a sentry “if.” But in Romans 10, Paul means his “if” as a reassuring “if.”  He is saying that since the congregations at Rome confess and believe that Jesus is raised from the dead they shall certainly be saved. After all, Paul had already spoken of their faith, “proclaimed throughout the world,” in the very first chapter of Romans. The confusion about this comes in chapter three of the letter, where Paul seems to say that we are justified by faith in Jesus.  However, this is a mistranslation.  What it says is that we are made right by the establishment of Jesus.  That is, to use more familiar language, are made right by the cross, we are made right by Jesus’ victory on that cross.  We are made right by the Father who sent his only begotten son because he so loved the world. 
It is important to remember that there is nothing we “do” to be saved.  What the God has done in his son is pure rescue; it is a lifeguard rescuing a drowning man, it is God awakening the dead, we who were once “dead in our trespasses and sins.”  It is only after we have been saved, born again, that we believe.  Think of the Israelites at the Red Sea, on the near side of the Red Sea they were afraid and crabby, grumbling against the Lord and wanting to go back to Egypt, but after God has saved them then and only then do they believe.  Believing in God is easy to do, but our spiritual enemies, like sin and death and the devil are hard as iron.  It’s only when we have been saved from these enemies that we believe.  As it says in John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.  Here again, our belief is not like a pass you give a stern sentry but instead the result of something that God has done through his son in his love for sinners like you and me.
 It’s not just in the Bible that we see people being saved before they believe.  We see it in day to day life too.  Has anyone ever known a single person who prayed the sinners prayer or accepted Jesus into their lives, or went to an altar call who was not saved, transferred from darkness to the kingdom of the beloved son BEFORE he ever asked Jesus into his life?  I have not.  The Billy Graham School Evangelism graciously invited me to be a student for its week long conference one year.  We heard many testimonies, many stories of people who had asked Jesus into their lives.  In all of them without exception, the asking was preceded by a revelation from God.  Every single person who testified had had God shine the light in their lives, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”  Furthermore, I have known many, including myself who have never “asked the Lord into their life” at least in the way that some mean it. Certainly I have asked the Lord to help me, to be with me, to save me, to uphold me, to come to where I am and lift me up...and that’s just this afternoon, but the truth is that God broke into my life.  I didn’t ask him to come and save me, he just did, in his mercy he came to me like the Good Samaritan came to the man who had fallen prey to thieves and lifted me up.  Only after I had been lifted up, made alive did I change my life and turn from the course of destruction that I was eagerly pursuing.  Think of Paul on the road to Damascus, he certainly did not ask that God come into his life.  God came anyway and how thankful we are as Gentiles that the Lord  re-created Paul in Anointed Jesus and sent the Gentiles a preacher of the good news.  Faith, as Paul himself says, comes through hearing.
Now of course we can reject salvation.  Lazarus could have looked at himself walking around again healthy and whole after four days in the tomb and said, “Jesus I want to be dead again.”  I am sure that Jesus would have not forced him to live. In fact, Jesus might well respond, “Lazarus, you indeed do not belong among the living.” By the way, such rejection however farfetched it seems is not without precedent, think of the men who rejected their Messiah and despised him in 1 Samuel.  One of the complaints of the anonymous letter writer was that I “make it sound” like all go to heaven, that all attain eternal life. Let me be clear, I have never said this, even in my heart.   But I do believe that the only thing separating people who go to church and love the name of Jesus is a word, the word of the Lord, who raises the dead to life, one little word which has the power to fell all our enemies and all the weapons ever forged against us in hell.  My dearest friend does not believe, but that does not mean that by this very evening somewhere in Chicago, God will not come into her life and save her from the darkness.  Moreover, this life does not seem to be the limit for God as we learn in 1 Peter 3:18 and 4:6.  Jesus even preaches to the souls in hell, to the dead.
 I do not know how it will be when Jesus comes again and we stand and see his beautiful face.  All I know is, it will be wonderful, far more glorious than we could ever imagine: “what eye has not seen, ear heard, or the heart of man imagined, what God has in store for those who are waiting on him.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What About AFTER Heaven?

     How do we picture the afterlife? If the stuff we see on TV is any indication, we picture some combination of clouds, harps and general “floatiness.”  Now I would be the last person to have anything against clouds or harps and I wouldn’t mind floating from time to time, but the Bible points us in another direction. Again and again, we see emphasized that the Lord Jesus came in the flesh.  Moreover, his being in the flesh does not end.  In Luke 24, after his death and resurrection, Jesus comes to his disciples in Jerusalem.  They are frightened.  They think he is a spirit, a ghost.  But Jesus sees this and asks, “Why are you troubled?  Why are you thinking such things?” “Look at my hands, my feet.” He tells them to touch him, “Does a ghost have flesh and bones like me?”  Jesus is no ghost.  He is solid. Think of the implications.  We can say, “Our flesh and blood is at the right hand of the Father, reigning in power!”

     Sometimes we are confused by the fact that after his resurrection Jesus seemed to be able to go through locked doors.  We think this means he is somehow immaterial, but remember even before his death he was able to pass through hostile crowds.  Is there really such a difference between the two?  Now, this is not to say that Jesus is the same before his resurrection as after.  First, Scripture tells us we cannot die after being raised from the dead.  Second, we are almost unimaginably more powerful after our resurrection. We are “sown a ‘soul body’ but raised a spiritual body.’” (I Corinthians 15)  To say the same in other words, before the resurrection we are, as it were a “breeze body,” but after our resurrection we will be a “storm body.”  The Spirit within us will be more powerful than any hurricane, any super-storm! Even now we have glimpses of how it will be.  Even now we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work within us.”

     Many of us rightly ask about what will happen when we breathe our last breath.  The Bible assures us that we will be with the Lord.  As I was taught, “when we breathe our last breath our next breath will in the arms of the Lord Jesus,” or as the Bible puts it, “I saw the Lord ever before me; for he is on my right hand...therefore my heart did rejoice...thou wilt not suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” (Acts 2).  With such a savior we are confident that we will arrive in heaven!  Still, the theologian N.T. Wright asks a good question, “What about AFTER heaven?”  How will it be when God’s plan of salvation comes to fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead?  The answer is in some degree a mystery.  There is much we do not know yet.  But one thing is clear, at “the restoration of all things,” we will not be ghosts.  We will be flesh, blood and bone just like now, only more so.  Sorrow and sighing will be no more and death will be defeated.  The devil is finished and all tears will be wiped from the eye.  Jerusalem shall be renewed and made happy and have within her the healing of all nations (Isaiah 54, Revelation 22)

     In the very beginning God shaped Adam out of clay and breathed into him and Adam became a living soul.  See God’s faithfulness and love; he never gives up on flesh and blood and bone but instead brings it to glorious flower in the Lord Jesus, the pioneer who goes ahead to lead us into life eternal.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Yelling Up The Stairs

We read in John’s letter to his congregations, “my little children I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  What was their sin?    Under the stress of persecution and other tribulations imposed on them from outside, they did what many, if not all of us would do under similar circumstances, they turned on one another.  Each man (and perhaps even the women) were looking out only for themselves, viewing the brethren as hinderances to survival.  John says that some were even “hating one another.”

What is John’s solution? Well, first off, he is not content merely to order them to “love another” and put down his pen.  John is a doctor and a real doctor treats not only the symptoms but gets to the root of the problem; a true doctor, like our Great Physician, treats the underlying disease.  And what is the problem at the root of the bad feelings and fighting with John’s congregations?  It is the fact that the people are not seeing the Lord Jesus, or rather, not seeing the Lord Jesus, the suffering servant.

The Bibles read to by the congregations of the first century included the following description of the suffering servant, “out of the tribulations of his soul he shall see light” (Isaiah 53:11).  This phrase leads us to other stories in the Bible. First and foremost it leads us to the story of Joseph.  He too was a suffering servant, who out the tribulations of his soul “saw light.”  He was sold by his own big brothers into slavery, then put into prison, then forgotten about in prison, but in the end Joseph triumphed, lifted out of prison he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and became his right hand man, then Joseph saved his family and really, the whole known world from famine.  What a glorious, shining victory.  Out of the tribulations of his soul he did indeed see light!  John’s congregations need to be reminded of stories like these.  Why?  Because the brother that they now view as a “hinderance” is in actual truth, a “Joseph.”   That brother or sister sweating beside you in the mines, doubled over by the pressures being brought to bear on the church could very well be your savior.  As Luther said, we can be “christs” (with a small “c”) to one another.  John clears the mists of delusion from the eyes of the people and show them the truth that your brother is not your hinderance but your help. He is your savior and then you can be his savior right back.  There is a story in the Bible about the brothers Joab and Abishai.  They were great heroes and generals of David’s army.  They were facing two enemies.  In response, Joab and Abishai divided their armies, one force facing the Ammonites and the other facing the Syrians (2 Samuel 10).  The brother were fighting, as it were, “back to back” and Joab told his brother, “look if the Syrians are too strong for me, you shall come and save me and if the Ammonites are too strong for you I will come and save you.” If I were pressed to come up with mottoes that sum up the Bible, “you save me and I will save you” would definitely be one of them.  We are, as Paul puts it, “mutually encouraging one another in the establishment, that is, the faith of Jesus Anointed.” 
I have a confession.  Sometimes before church on Sunday morning, I have been known to get, let us say, rather shrill.  I am afraid we will be late to church.   I yell up the stairs “Come on, Farhad , we have leave! Hurry!”   Under stress I turn on the one closest to me, my dear husband.  But what if I had right perspective?  What if I realized that Farhad is my Joseph?  That he is not “in my way,” slowing me down, a hinderance, but rather savior, my help, and that in turn, I can be his savior and help right back?  Well, this Sunday I tried out this idea of John’s and it works!  True, I didn’t give up all my shrillness but it came down a notch or several notches.  I think I only yelled, “Farhad!” up the stairs once and on the scale of shrillness it was only maybe a 6. Pretty good for Amy Kosari!

Monday, January 07, 2013

He Preached To The Spirits In Prison

He Preached To The Spirits In Prison

In First Peter 3, Peter writes something that gives pause to many, namely, that Jesus went in the power of the Spirit and “preached to the spirits in prison.”  Peter goes on to explain that these spirits in prison are the sinners of Noah’s day, those who mocked and blasphemed against God when they saw Noah building the ark.  These were the people who died in the flood, and in rabbinic literature are considered the worst of the worst.  In other words, Jesus did not merely descend into the shallows of Hell but into the very depths.  He went all the way down.  In the next chapter, chapter four, verse six, Peter talks again on the same subject, saying that “the good news was preached even to the dead.”

Now, is this surprising that the Lord God would have the ability to speak to the dead and to enter into hell?  No, not really.  Are Hell’s gates so strong that they can keep the Lord out?  No one would suppose this.  This is not what gives people pause when considering the passage in I Peter. Remember the psalmist’s question in Psalm 139: “Whither can I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend into heaven thou art there... if I make my bed in Hell behold thou art there....even there thy hand shall lead me and thy right hand shall hold me, even the darkness is not dark to thee.” And then also, remember the power of God that we learn about in Psalm 71: “Thy righteousness O God is very high, O God who is like unto thee, thou who has showed me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depth of the earth, thou shall increase my greatness and comfort me on every side.” Jesus preached to Lazarus and Lazarus stood up and walked out the grave.  In Ezekiel, the word of God, not only enlivens the dry bones of Israel, his word is forgiveness and healing and hope to those whose hope was altogether cut off.  No, I don’t think that people are surprised by the power of God in this regard, I think the hesitation and uncertainty that people have about this passage in I Peter comes from another source.

I have been fifteen years in the ministry and have noticed that when I would talk of Jesus going down into hell and preaching to the dead there, often people would say, “Pastor Amy are you saying that everyone will be saved?”  For many years I was caught completely off guard by this question.  I wondered why they would think that I thought that everyone will be saved?  But recently I started to understand where the questioners  might be coming from.  Let me introduce the subject in this way: The good news is not an offer.  I might offer my child and stick of gum, he might take it, or he might not.  The good news is not an offer like this; it is a proclamation, a proclamation that everything has changed.  The theologian N.T. Wright puts it like this, “it is the announcement of the coup d’etat, Jesus is the King of Kings.”  The good news is the announcement that something has already happened.  It is the announcement of Jesus’  victory.  As one friend of mine put it, if the dead have the good news preached to them, it's as if they have been transferred from the dominion of darkness into heaven.  They are standing in paradise.  All things are theirs through the Lord Jesus.  They are children of the King with unimaginable treasures of love and grace at their fingertips.  They have, moreover a future and hope, as children of the Heavenly Father. When the Israelites reached the far side of the Red Sea, when they stood there on the shore, not one of them turned on his heel at that point and started walking back to Egypt.  In the same way, how can we imagine any of the dead turning on their heels and walking back into torment?   This is the reason that so many parishioners ask me, “But Pastor Amy, do you think everyone will be saved?”  They understood the ramifications of Peter better than me. Jesus' preaching saves, even from Hell!

So, to answer the question, does Pastor Amy say that all will be saved?  The short answer is is "No, she does not."  We read,"God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the Lord.”  We also know, as Markus Barth put it,  “God is willing and able to save all men,” and yet we do not say or even imagine that all will be saved.  If we were following logic we would say it, but we are not following logic, we are following the Lord.  We go where he goes.  If God had said, "all men will be saved," I would preach it too, but he does not, so I don’t.

What of those who die without believing in the Lord Jesus?   Can we say that the faithless dead will go to Hell and eternal torment?  No, we can’t say this, and it’s for the same reason.  God does not say that those who don’t believe during their lifetimes will go to Hell.  He doesn’t so we don’t.  We read in Revelation 21, that the “cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, sorcerers, idolators and all liars” will be put into the lake of fire."  These people will not enter the New Jerusalem, but as my teacher said, “the question we must ask, is ‘Will there be any be any such people in the end?’”  We cannot answer yes, we cannot answer no.   We go where God wants us to go, and he has hidden the answer to that question in mystery, to be revealed only when Jesus comes again.  Nothing within human power can be done for the dead, but what will be done through the power of God?