Posted in pastoral care, reflections

Thoughts after a cancer ward visit

By myself (User:Piotrus) (Own work (taken by myself)) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
A hospital chaplain spoke of the comfort provided to Christians by the belief we have eternal souls. As patients’ bodies gradually become weaker and more uncooperative, they rest in the fact that no disease can diminish their soul which would soon go to be with Jesus. While I respect that position, N.T. Wright has correctly noted that the New Testament hope in the face of death is not disembodied existence but the resurrection.(See his excellent book, Surpised by Hope).

Yesterday I visited a cancer ward. There were many who were wasting away, limbs shriveled, eyes sunken, their frail frames a shadow of what they once were. As I prayed with a friend, my prayer was that God would restore his health. Yet whether God chooses to heal, our faith is that this is not the final chapter. Creation is followed by re-creation. Mortality surrenders to immortality; death is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54). Eternal life follows resurrection at Christ’s return, God’s gracious gift to the righteous (John 3:16, Romans 6:23).

“He fell asleep in Jesus.” So wrote a friend of mine at the passing of a loved one. It’s a good summary of what happens when people die: They fall asleep. When Jesus returns, believers will have a sweet awakening to life eternal, while punishment and destruction is the rude awakening reserved for the wicked (John 5:28-29; Rev 20:11-15). Both Jesus and Paul used “sleep” as a snynonym for death (John 11:11-14, 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Yet Christians fall asleep in the steadfast hope that the same Jesus whom God raised to life will himself raise us to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:51-55). One short sleep later and Jesus (at his return) will receive us (formerly mortal but now immortal) into his strong arms. The old Negro spirituals called this the “great gettin’ up mornin.’ ” What an amazing awakening that will be!

When it comes to how Christians conceptualize death, sleeping in Jesus is a minority position. Most instead believe in an immortal soul that leaves the body at the moment of death. While I see no conclusive biblical evidence for an “immortal soul” – an idea from Greek philosophy – there are a few New Testament passages traditionally interpreted as teaching a conscious existence apart from our bodies (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Cor 5:1-8, 12:1-5). This is called body-soul dualism, the belief that the enduring part of the human being is not the body but an indestructible soul.

Whichever position one takes, one thing is certain: We must be ready for our own demise. The writer to the Hebrews affirms that all human beings are “destined to die” and “after that face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, NIV). There are no post mortem opportunities to make things right with God. Are you ready for that encounter?

Posted in eschatology

Between the already and the not yet

dawnThe phone rang with the tragic news. My thirty-something pastor friend, Tim (name changed), was dead. He had tried to swerve, but the small sedan took the brunt of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler. The car overturned, coming to rest upside down. The emergency crew unbuckled Tim from the driver’s seat and raced him to the hospital. It was too late. His wife survived the crash, but Tim passed away.

Tim had pastored a radically charismatic storefront church. He had preached that God does miracles in our day, that He can even raise the dead. When some members of his church arrived at the hospital, they asked where their pastor’s body was being stored. Steven (name changed) – my friend and Tim’s and a fellow pastor from another charismatic church – was there to comfort the family. “We believe God is going to raise our pastor from the dead,” one of Tim’s church members announced to Steven. “Will you come and pray over Tim with us?” Steven refused; he even dissuaded them from doing what they planned. For days, one member told others that her pastor wasn’t dead, he was only “on vacation” and that he would soon return. A few days later, many attended his funeral and shed tears of sorrow. Tim had been well-loved. As best we could, we comforted his traumatized wife. Tim was buried; there was no miraculous resurrection.

This is an important dividing line between various church traditions. It is the eschatological question of the “already” vs. the “not yet.” All Christians believe that when Christ came to earth, he inaugurated the Kingdom of God. This is what Jesus meant when he said that the Kingdom of God was “in your midst” (Luke 17:21). Throughout Matthew’s Gospel – often dubbed the “Gospel of the Kingdom” – Jesus told parables of the Kingdom, but he did much more. He made the Kingdom concrete by healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, mulitplying loaves and fish to feed the hungry, and even making the winds and the waves obey his bidding. He brought the dead back to life. Already – it’s a word that unscores that Jesus got the ball rolling, that through his ministry – like rays of light penetrating the darkness at sunrise – the Kingdom had begun to dawn.

More than any group of believers, charismatics are the people of the already. Did not Jesus say that we would do even “greater things” than he did (John 14:12)? The spiritual gifts spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14 were not for the first centuries alone, as some claim. Charismatics more than any other Christian tradition emphasize that gifts are for the here-and-now, powerful endowments given by the Holy Spirit to the Church that allow her to carry out her ministry in a triumphant manner, opposing the forces of evil and advancing the Kingdom of God on earth.

Seen in this light, it’s less surprising that Tim’s church member would expect God to raise their pastor. Yet most Christian traditions have been reluctant to see everything through the single lens of the already. Long experience has taught us that we live in a world of suffering, that bad things happen to good people. Though we see the rays of a dawning Kingdom, the full light of day has not yet come. As long as we are caught in the parentheses between the already and the not yet – as long as Jesus has not yet returned to consummate the Kingdom – tractor trailers will slam into cars and good people will die, even good pastors. A thousand other heartaches will strike – the cruelty of cancer, the horrors of war, the madness of terrorism. Jesus tells us to pray “your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) precisely because we’re not yet there. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

I believe God can still work miracles, but I’m not counting on it. Even when we look at the Gospels, we don’t see everyone getting a miracle. Yes, a handful received their sight, but what of those who couldn’t make it to Jesus? Lepers were cleansed, no doubt about it, but surely many still went to their grave still suffering from the skin disease. As for resurrection? Jesus raised three from the dead, namely, the widow’s son at Nain, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus (Luke 7:11-17, Matthew 9:18-26, John 11:1-44). That is an infinitessimally small amount compared to the many who remained dead. Even the Acts of the Apostles record only one instance of Paul raising the dead (Acts 20:7-12). This is not to denigrate the signs and wonders that our Lord performed nor those performed by Peter, Paul, and others. Rather, it’s a caution to those who lean too heavily toward the already. Martha confessed her faith that Lazarus would be raised on the last day (John 11:24). Jesus had other plans for her brother, but Martha’s confession of faith is still the default one for believers today. The Apostles’ Creed places faith in the resurrection of the dead at the very end of the Creed, after our confession that Jesus will return to judge the “living and the dead.” Life everlasting follows the resurrection but after the return of Christ, not now. We’ll get there, but we have not yet arrived.

Where does that leave us? I believe our charismatic friends serve an important role. They are a corrective to churches that are lifeless, where the winds of the Holy Spirit have not blown in decades. By reminding us that Jesus has already inaugurated the Kingdom, they encourage us to push back the darkness, to live into the Kingdom. Yet we must be careful not to set up our people for a fall, to promise in the now what Jesus has only reserved for later. There is an already, but there is also a not yet. May God give us the courage to trust Him for what He longs to give us in the present and the patience to wait for what God has kept back for a future time.









Posted in missions & evangelism, reflections

Trading in our goodbyes for hellos

goodbyeIt was December 5, 2005. Political storm clouds had been gathering for months, but on that day, the storm let loose. Word came from our superior that – due to insecurity in the country – we were to evacuate Haiti within 48 hours. Just one day before, we’d decorated the Christmas tree. Now, we quickly removed the ornaments, collapsing the tree and storing it in a closet. Hurriedly, we did laundry, packed our clothes, swept the house and headed to the airport.

So began an odyssey that took the four of us to Bethany, Oklahoma. Since that time, Bethany has been our psychological anchor, even if after three years there Amy and I physically returned to Africa, the continent of our earlier missionary service. One son already lives overseas, and the other will soon move to another state. Like a hot air balloon tethered to the ground, one-by-one, the slender ropes have once again been severed. The balloon is slowing rising again, this time to a new base back East with a sibling, a new driver’s license and address, a new touch-back point when we return from Africa briefly to the U.S. each year. Nine years after first coming to Oklahoma, it’s time for another goodbye.

Goodbyes were the stuff of life for Paul. In Acts 20:13-38, Paul was passing near Ephesus, his old pastorate where he’d spent three years pouring his life into new disciples. He was on his way to Jerusalem, so from Miletus he sent word to the elders in Ephesus to come to see him. After encouraging them to remain firm in the faith and warning them about dangers to the flock, Luke recounts the emotional scene:

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship (20:36-38, NIV).

As Paul lamented that he would be absent from the Ephesians, so today we lament absence. Despite gadgets that connect us across the miles in real time via the Internet, there’s no substitute for sitting in the same room with friends and loved ones. Through the prophets, God had sent revelation to his people – a kind of virtual contact – yet it was inferior to the incarnation, Jesus coming in the flesh. It is only in the flesh that we can place a reassuring hand on a shoulder, wipe a tear, or give someone a hug. When distance separates us, like Paul, we grieve the loss.

The French language is rich when it comes to saying goodbye. In the musical, “The Sound of Music,” the children perform a goodnight song for the gathered party goers. In a clever bi-lingual play on words, Lisel chants: “Adieu, adieu, to yuh and yuh and yuh.” The word “adieu” (literally, “to God”) is well-chosen since her family would soon be secretly crossing the Alps from Austria to the safety of war time neutral Switzerland. She had no expectation to see them again, so she commended them into God’s hands. Yet the more common way to say goodbye is “au revoir,” meaning “until the re-sighting,” or more informally, “see you later.” The Scottish tune “Auld Lang Syne” – commonly sung at New Year’s Eve parties – is a celebration of times gone by. The French keep the tune, but substitute words with another meaning: “Ce n’est qu’un au revoir, mes frères” (“This is only a ‘see you later,’ my brothers. “) It looks forward, not backward.

Christian faith also looks forward. However sad goodbyes might be, hope changes the equation. The same gloomy Paul of Acts 19 is cheerier elsewhere, reminding the Corinthians that we are resurrection people:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:9, NIV).

To the Thessalonians, he paints a picture of Christ’s return when we shall be raised to new life (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We are to “comfort each other with these words” (v. 18), the promise that we shall “be with the Lord forever” (v. 17).

Former missionary Linda Seaman has said:

Heaven is where we’ll trade in all our goodbyes for hellos.

I’ve gotten better at saying goodbyes. When moving, it’s healthy to visit one last time places that hold good memories and to wish farewell to friends. I spent a lot of time this week doing just that. Some friends I won’t see again during this life, but we despair not. The Christian hope sustains us.

Saying goodbye to Bethany, Oklahoma – a safe harbor after a storm – won’t be my last goodbye. There will be other goodbyes made to other people and places on this earthly journey. I’m glad that – for the Jesus follower – the journey ends with  heavenly hellos. Don’t miss the reunion!


Image credit: Luna Starla blog

Posted in reflections

Resurrection: Putting all our eggs in one basket

eggs-in-a-basketThe old proverb warns: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Mark Twain retorted: “Put all your eggs in one basket, then watch that basket.”

There’s no question that for followers of Christ, the basket has a label: RESURRECTION. But have we been watching that basket, keeping it strong, or allowing speculative, fanciful views about “Heaven” to weaken it?

Ancient Jewish views on life after death and resurrection

The first followers of Christ staked their lives on the claim that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth to life. But what was the context of that claim and what made it so extraordinary? As Jews, they had been brought up learning swaths of what Christians now call the Old Testament. Importantly, this part of our Bible gives little hope for life after death, wavering between death as either non-existence or (at most) a shadowy and undefined abode.

Job 14:1-14 (NIV) is a good summary of the non-existence view. In v. 14a, Job asked:

If someone dies, will they live again?

That the answer to Job’s question is “no” may be concluded from the preceding verses. There we read phrases like these:

“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble. They spring up like flowers and wither away; like fleeting shadows, they do not endure” (vv. 1-2).

“A man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more” (v. 10).

“As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so he lies down and does not rise;
 till the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep” (vv. 11-12).

King David models this hopelessness. In 2 Samuel 12:14, Nathan the prophet had announced that the child born of David’s illicit affair with Bathsheba would die. However, David attempted to change God’s mind by fasting and showing his repentance, lying on sackcloth for several nights. Seven days later, the child died. When David heard the news, he got up, washed and ate food. When asked about his sudden return to normal behavior, the King replied (vv. 22-23):

While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let him live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me (HCSB).

When David said “I will go to him,” what did he mean? It is a simple acknowledgment that he, too, would one day die. As Ecclesiastes 3:2 teaches, there is a “time to be born, and a time to die.” The location where the dead reside is sheol, the grave, a place that the Psalmist – in a parallel phrase – compares to destruction:

“The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me” (Psalm 18:4-5, ESV).

At best, sheol is a place of shadowy existence. Isaiah 14:9-10 pictures the kings of the earth: “Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’ (ESV).

While the majority report in the OT gives no promise of meaningful life after death, there is a minority report. One might think that the minority report would speak of disembodied souls surviving death, yet this is not the case. The Hebrew worldview can conceive of no meaningful life apart from the body. It is no surprise, then, that the minority report – Daniel 12:1-4 – frames hope in terms of renewed bodily existence:

At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.  But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge (NIV).

Jesus and Paul on resurrection

Fast forward several hundred years. In the time between the writing of the Old and New Testaments, the doctrine of the resurrection gained ground, so much so that we see the doctrine believed by some ordinary Jews in the Gospels. For example, when Jesus told the grieving Mary that her brother, Lazarus, will rise again, she replied: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24, NIV). To this, Jesus answered (vv. 25-26):

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (ESV)

Note where Jesus lodged Mary’s hope. It was not in disembodied existence as a soul, but renewed bodily existence possible only through the resurrection power of God in Christ. He brought comfort not by saying: “Mary, don’t you know that Lazarus is in a better place right now?” Rather, he anchored Christian hope solidly in the resurrection.

Jesus was not alone in this approach. Paul taught the same thing in multiple passages, but the strongest is found in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14. To those who denied Christ’s resurrection, he replied:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (ESV).

The communion ritual has it right when the people respond: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” In that response, we direct people back to one of the main themes of the New Testament, the place where our hope for the next life is found, namely, the resurrection (John 5:28-29, 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Challenges raised by the notion of disembodied existence after death

There are a few passages in the New Testament that suggest believers who have died have conscious existence now, awaiting the resurrection at the return of Christ. In Philippians 1:23, Paul talked of his desire to “depart and be with Christ”(NIV). Likewise, to be “away from the body” was for Paul to be “at-home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8, NIV). The problem with dwelling on these passages – and taking them to the next level by speculating, as books like Todd Burpo’s Heaven is for Real have done- is that they provoke a set of parallel questions about unbelievers. These include:

1) If believers are with Jesus, then where are unbelievers?

2) Do rewards and punishments begin immediately at death? If so, then what purpose does the final judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 11:15) serve if God at death has already passed out rewards and punishments?

3) If unbelievers are now in “torment” (as some interpret Luke 16:19-31 to teach), then in what sense can a disembodied, non-physical spirit suffer physical torture? How could flames harm a soul that has no more substance to it than steam that rises from a tea kettle?

Anyone who emphasizes what happens immediately after we die (continued existence of a soul) and not what happens when Jesus returns (bodily resurrection) will be forced to answer these questions in more detail.

Whispering and Shouting: Getting it backwards

The Old Testament writers were careful not to speculate unduly about the abode of the dead. In the same way, the New Testament gives very little information on where the righteous are prior to the resurrection at Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and less still about the current location of the wicked. Put in other terms, regarding the intermediate state – “life after death” – the New Testament only whispers, yet regarding the resurrection – what N.T. Wright calls “life AFTER life after death” – Scripture SHOUTS!

megaphoneBut what do we find today?

The problem with most current popular books about the next life is that writers have gotten it backwards, shouting where Scripture only whispers. What we end up with are books about Heaven based mostly upon individuals who claim to have left their body and gone to Heaven. How can such claims be verified? We’ve seen some unscrupulous individuals ready to sell their fabricated story to people anxious to know more than Scripture itself teaches, books like The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, co-written by Kevin Melarky and his son, Alex. A decade later, Alex admitted that he had never gone to Heaven, that it was all made up. LifeWay books has since pulled all books from its stores that recount such stories.

Instead of speculating harmfully about where Scripture only whispers, isn’t it time that we get back to where Scripture shouts?

Pastoral practice at the time of grieving

Theory meets practice most directly at the funeral. Here, our theology must put its overalls on, ministering to families when they are grieving the loss of a loved one. Sometimes, people will ask: “Where is my loved one now?” Here are a few guidelines for those confronted with this heartfelt query:

1. If a deceased individual was a unbeliever, refuse to speculate on their current state. That is truly only known to God. Instead, we should emphasize that God is loving, merciful, and just. We can simply say what is true for everyone:

“They are in God’s hands, awaiting the resurrection.”

2. On the other hand, there are some who lived a righteous life and had a clear Christian testimony. Even there, let us not embellish what Scripture affirms. Do not speculate about activities in Heaven that require a body by saying things like “Uncle Harry is teeing off on Heaven’s 18th hole” or “I’m sure Grandma is having a good time baking cookies with Aunt Sally.” Such comments cheapen the resurrection, weakening the “basket” in which Christianity has confidently put all of its “eggs.” Also, avoid speaking of the resurrection in present terms. The resurrection is still future, happening at the return of Christ, so to attribute bodily activities now to those who have not yet received a resurrected body is confusing. Even if human beings have souls that outlive bodies – and some Christians teach otherwise – at very least, we should not go beyond what the New Testament allows us to say, simply affirming instead:

“They are now with Jesus.”

Thoughts upon a massacre

Last week in Garissa, Kenya, 150 university students were slaughtered by terrorists, many of the victims Christians, some who were in the chapel praying when the shooting broke out. The resurrection of Christ, on the third day after Jesus was unjustly stripped, whipped, and nailed to a shameful cross, tells us:

Evil will not have the last word.

Followers of Christ who died that day in Kenya are now with their Master, but most importantly, the One who made them will one day re-create them! Jesus has risen, and so we shall rise at his return when the Lord inaugurates his kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth.

In the face of unthinkable actions by evildoers, this is not the time to soft-pedal the resurrection. It is the basket where we have placed every last egg. Instead, let us keep the basket strong, affirming once again the timeless words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. AMEN.”


FOR FURTHER STUDY: See Pastor Matt O’Reilly’s video at Seed Bed, sponsored by Asbury Theological Seminary. Also, I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).


Image credits:

Eggs and basket –

Megaphone –

Posted in reflections

Heaven: Starting the song all over again

trumpetMr. Taylor was my first band conductor.

Conducting a 4th grade band takes a special kind of patience. Every child is new at his or her instrument, be it the flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, drums, or a dozen other things that make noise. And let’s face it, for 4th graders, about all we could was make noise. Like my brothers before me, I played the trumpet, or at least I tried.

Our first concert came at Christmas time. By then, all of us had a grand total of 3 months of experience, practicing twice per week in the band room. Parents and siblings gathered in the cafeteria and waited for us to file in. At last, all of us were in our seats and Mr. Taylor stepped up to the small platform, took his conductor’s baton, and raised his arms. We all snapped to attention and raised our instruments, ready to play.

I’m not sure what happened, but only about half of us began playing when his arms came down, signalling the start of the song. Were some still trying to spot where their families sat in the audience? Maybe others were still adjusting their music on the stand or simply daydreaming, but whatever the reason, it was a poor start.

Mr. Taylor then did something that surprised us. He suddenly stopped directing the song, tapping his baton several times on the music stand. We all ground to a halt, not knowing what to make of it all. Slowly, he turned around and addressed the audience:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had a very poor start to the song. Please forgive us. We can do better. Now, we are going to start all over again.”

And that is exactly what we did. I’m glad to report that the second time went much better, and when we were done, the audience applauded with gusto.

That’s what Heaven will be like. Heaven is New Creation. Heaven is God starting the song all over again.

The first time through, the song has been marred by sin, off-key. God knows we all can do better. One day, he will tap his baton on the music stand and we will all begin again.

John described it this way: :

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

More and more of those who have played their instruments with me in the band are now silent, awaiting that second chance to perform. On that day, the band will once again assemble. All who have played before us will be present, gloriously resurrected by the Lord in new, durable bodies. What a grand reunion that will be as Jesus raises the baton and we start the song all over again!

How about you? Will you be in the band? This life is only the poor beginning to the song, but a new, better beginning is coming. Don’t miss out on it. Keep your instrument in-tune. What a performance that will be!

Posted in reflections

My Times are in Thy Hand

William F. Lloyd, composer of "My Times are in Thy Hand"
William F. Lloyd, composer of “My Times are in Thy Hand”

I’m one who travels by jet, a lot.

Those who – as one of my Ivorian students put it, “vivent dans les avions” (live in planes) – get over thinking about the thousands things that could go wrong on an airplane at take-off, landing, or mid-flight. Statistics that prove you’re more likely to die in a car crash than in an airplane are comforting.

But whatever probability theory teaches, I find peace in theology, knowing that I am in God’s hands.

When our older son, John, was just 3 years old, he learned the Sunday School chorus, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” “Dad and Mom,” he asked one day from the back seat of the car, “does God really have the whole world in His hands?” “He sure does, Johnny” we replied. Johnny was quiet for about 10 seconds, then finally commented: “God sure must have big hands.”

I sang tenor with the A Cappella choir at Eastern Nazarene College. The choir was known for closing out its concerts with an interpretation of Psalm 31:15a, with lyrics by William F. Lloyd:

“My times are in Thy Hand,

My God I wish them there.

My life, my friends, my soul I leave entirely to thy care.”

But I really like the last line of the song: “Then after death, at Thy right hand, I shall forever be.”

The hope that we have in Christ is the resurrection of the body. No human or diabolical scheme can shake that faith. No missile can shoot it down.

Our love and prayers go out to those mourning the loss of loved ones on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

I believe in the resurrection, when wrongs not righted on this earth will be squared away and loved ones separated by evil and senseless acts will be reunited. God will have the last word.

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus, and complete your Kingdom.


Image credit: Cyber Hymnal

Posted in Bible

Edward Fudge on the resurrection

Dear readers:

The month of March 2014 is easily the busiest I have known in a long time, with meetings and conferences booked solid. So, I’ve decided – with his blessing – to pass on to you some of my favorite graceEmails from a friend mine, Mr Edward Fudge, author of The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. 3rd ed. (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011). Edward is a retired lawyer and a fine biblical theologian, from the Church of Christ. Enjoy!

Edward Fudge

The Age of Reason was dawning, and an anti-Christian intellectual named Lepeau was desperate for advice. He had created a rational new religion, Lepeau told French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, but, despite its superiority to Christianity, it had failed to catch on. Might Talleyrand have any suggestions? “M. Lepeau,” the diplomat dryly replied, “to ensure success for your new religion, you need only two things. Arrange to have yourself crucified, and three days later rise from the dead.”

New religions recoil with horror at the suggestion and respond with derision when anyone says it aloud, but Jesus’ resurrection is the linch-pin of Christianity, without which it crumbles and disintegrates before our watching eyes. It identifies Jesus as the conqueror over death (Rev. 1:18), the world’s Savior, and the Jews’ Messiah (Acts 3:17-26). By raising him from the dead, God declared powerfully and publicly that Jesus is his Son (Rom. 1:4). By the resurrection, God ordained Jesus as the great shepherd of God’s sheep (Heb. 13:20-21), and consecrated him as the high priest who intercedes for us in the heavenly sanctuary (Rom. 8:31-39). Because Jesus is risen, we know that he will be our judge when he appears again in power to make all things new (Acts 17:30-31).

Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all preaching is empty, faith is worthless, the apostles become liars, sins remain unforgiven, Christians are pitiful fools, and dead believers have simply perished (1 Cor. 15:13-19). It is no wonder that Paul calls the resurrection of Jesus Christ a matter “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). Indeed, if Jesus was not resurrected, nothing flows from Calvary but the memory of a travesty.


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Posted in reflections

Resting in peace, rising in glory

Grave marker of Hector Pieterson, boy martyr of the Soweto uprising, 16 June 1976“Mommy, what is it like to die? Mommy, will it hurt?”

The 1955 film A Man Called Peter, based on the life of Peter Marshall, contains a story by the late pastor and Senate Chaplain, where this earnest line is on the lips of a terminally ill young boy, Kenneth. His mother does not know what to respond to her sickly son, and runs to the kitchen, supposedly to tend a pan on the stove. Finally, she has an inspiration, and reminds her son of a time when he had come home from playing outside. Exhausted, Kenneth had fallen asleep on the sofa. Later, his dad arrived home from work and gently picked up his sleeping boy in strong arms and carried him upstairs, laying him in his bed, in his own room. “Kenneth,” his mother said, “death is like that. You wake up in your own bed, in your own room, because Jesus loved you and carried you in his strong arms.”

In the same way, the Apostle Paul comforted the Corinthians:

Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. – 1 Cor 15:51-52, NIV

We lost a member of the community this week. In a tribute, the site manager emblazoned a banner on the front page. Part of the message read:

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

That’s a simple and comforting message. One day, I shall close my eyes in death, and one short sleep later, wake up in the presence of Jesus. What a resurrection promise!

Posted in reflections

Eugénio Duarte on Last Things

Dr. Eugénio R. Duarte
37th General Superintendent
Church of the Nazarene

Dr. Eugénio R. Duarte (pronounced DEW ART) is one of six General Superintendents in the Church of the Nazarene. His meditation (below) is part of the “We Believe” series on Nazarene beliefs, widely distributed via e-mail by the Board of General Superintendents.


We believe … that our Lord will return,
the dead will be raised,
and the final judgment will take place.

Growing up in a community greatly affected by emigration, I observed early on the struggle some experienced between wanting to stay home with loved ones and their need to leave. In fact those who were able to depart in search of a better life were considered brave; emigration became a mark of prestige. My older brother left the day before he would have been recruited to serve in the army. Many ran away out of fear of dying in battle.

My brother promised that he would return home. We waited for many years. Then one day we learned that he had passed away, and our hope of seeing him again vanished. We could never be certain about his real desire to return or even his ability to fulfill his promise. This is an oft-repeated human tragedy.

Unlike humans, Jesus is always able and willing to fulfill His promises. The promise of His return was made with unswerving confidence. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. 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 14:1–3, NIV).

Theologians do not agree on details surrounding the second coming of Jesus; they have differing views about the order of eschatological events. But there is unequivocal agreement that Jesus is coming again because in His own words and in other parts of the Scriptures it is clear that He will return. In fact the Bible ends with Jesus’ words, “I am coming soon,” followed by the Church’s “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20, NIV).

Our belief in the second coming of Jesus is also firmly supported by God’s promise of His victory over all sin, death, pain, afflictions, and injustice. To see the Lord Jesus when He comes—whether we are raised from the dead or found alive in Him—will be cause for great celebration.

The spirit of hope and celebration with which 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 proclaims His return must be accompanied by the declaration in Romans 2:1–16 that Jesus will judge the world. Those who refuse to know and confess Him as Lord will miss not only this moment of celebration at His coming, but also the eternal joy of being with the Lord forever. The reality of unbelievers having to face the unbiased Judge should prompt the Church to share the good news with everyone and to disciple all who come to know and love Jesus.

Let the Church say AMEN to the announced return of the Lord!


“On the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” (The Apostles’ Creed)


Photo Credit: Wesleyan Anglican

Posted in book reviews

‘Surprised by Hope,’ by N.T. Wright – Part 2

Take away resurrection, and you take away the central message of the New Testament. This is the conclusion of N.T. Wright, renowned New Testament scholar and author of Suprised by Hope : Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne, 2008).

Wright maintains that Scripture emphasizes not a disembodied existence after death, but the resurrection (or new creation) of our bodies at the return of Christ, a continuation of meaningful service in the Kingdom of God. This is not “life after death” but “life after life after death.” An interim period after death – a time marked by our conscious existence with Christ – will be crowned on “that great, getting’ up mornin’” with life eternal.

What makes N.T. Wright’s book challenging is that he’s not content to leave the resurrection as an abstract, future doctrine. He is determined to bring the future into the present. We say in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead” – so what? How will this radical doctrine affect the way the Christian church operates in the here-and-now? Wright observes (p. 197):

As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality – what I have called life after life after death – then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence.

Continue reading “‘Surprised by Hope,’ by N.T. Wright – Part 2”