Just Imagine!

The Corinthians were curious about this physical resurrection that Paul kept teaching about. It was quite different than what most Greeks traditionally believed about the after-life.

The Greek religion taught that after death, a person’s spirit would be delivered to the river Styx. There, if the person’s body had received a proper burial, he would be ferried across the river by the ferryman, Charon. Once across the river, the person would be faced with three potential fates.

The worst fate, reserved for those who sinned against the gods, was Tartarus, a dark place of eternal punishment. You might recall the story of Sisyphus, who had to keep pushing a large rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down the hill again and again. Or maybe you’ve heard about Tantalus who was made to eternally stand nearby a table laden with delicious food, but the table remains eternally out of reach.

The Fields of Asphodel were reserved for the vast majority. This was where you ended up if you were a regular joe, not too offensive to the gods, but not exactly a hero of the faith, either. The Fields of Asphodel were, as the name suggests, a vast plain containing grass and flowers upon which the dead lived and wandered aimlessly. Not exactly a glorious existence!

For the heroes and those who impressed the gods with their virtue and piety there was Elysium, a paradise where their spirits lived on in everlasting life.

None of these included a resurrected body. So it was a shocking thought to most Greeks that the afterlife would be a physical existence. They were curious, because this was like nothing they had ever heard before.

Paul’s response to their question was, “It’s going to be amazing! Your perishable body will become imperishable. Your not-so-glorious corpse will become glorious. The body that was placed in the ground motionless and powerless will be raised and be brought forth a powerful body. The body sown into the ground like a seed was a natural body. The body that will rise will be a supernatural body.

It’ll be the same body, Paul says. It will be your body. But what a difference between what you physically experience now, and what your physical existence will be then! It will be glorious. It will be amazing. The best way to put it is this: Your body today is modeled after Adam, the earthly man. But in heaven, your body will be modeled after Jesus’ glorified body.

Just imagine!

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” …So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-44, 49, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for salvation. Thank you for heaven. Thank you that because of the cross and the empty tomb, I will enjoy an eternal — and physical — existence in your presence forever. I can barely imagine how amazing it will be!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 23, is 2 Chronicles 18:28 – 21:3, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 and Psalm 102:12-17.

Header image based on "Elysium" by Sundaram Ramaswamy, CC By 2.0

The Final Word

Solomon writes the book of Ecclesiastes as a warning to those who want to live their lives as if God doesn’t exist.

He does that by stepping into the shoes of someone who believes that this life is all there is. So, many of his statements in this book are written from the point of view of someone who doesn’t trust in God, or believe in eternity.

Without that understanding, Ecclesiastes can be a very confusing book to read. Over and over again Solomon makes the statement that “Everything is meaningless!” And then he defends the statement with one illustration and argument after another.

Now that doesn’t sound very much like a believer’s point of view, does it?

Because it’s not. Solomon, in essence, is authoring a one-person drama in which he is both the antagonist and the protagonist. The antagonist has major doubts about God. But the protagonist — though he only appears on rare occasions in the drama — boldly states his fear of God, and his trust in God.

Solomon ends the book of Ecclesiastes by moving back one final time into the position of the protagonist. Here he tells us “the conclusion of the matter.”

And what is that conclusion?

The conclusion is, “Listen to the words of the Wise Shepherd. His words are constant and faithful. They are like nails that can’t be pulled out because they are so firmly and completely nailed down.”

“And yes, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of self-improvement books written every year. But you don’t need to add anything to what your Shepherd teaches you. He has all you need.”

“Just respect him, put his words into practice, and most of all, trust his gracious, hope-giving promises of forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation.”

“Because, Jesus, your Good Shepherd, will bring you to and through the day of judgment by making a gift of his goodness and righteousness.”

“The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, August 14, is Ecclesiastes 9:13 – 12:14, 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, and Psalm 96:1-13.

Lord, I am sorry for all the times when I’ve doubted you and your word. Please forgive me. Restore me to a place of complete trust in you, Jesus, so that your words, your promises and your commands are never far from my heart. I believe, Lord. Help me with my unbelief.

Header image based on "The Good Shepherd 136" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

Eternity In Our Hearts

Solomon is one of the wisest and wealthiest men who ever lived. He truly had it all. When it came to power, position, possessions, prestige and the playthings of this life, he seemingly had no peer in his own lifetime.

And yet, as he pens the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wonders aloud where all this has really gotten him. His book starts with him writing, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Apart from faith, God is inscrutable to us. From our point of view, he often seems to have hidden himself behind his creation. God’s hiddenness is a burden on us as humans because we sense that God exists and yet we can’t see him without the eyes of faith.

Is God really real? We have a “burden” in our hearts to know!

Yet, God has also left plentiful hints intended to “unburden” us. All around us are signs of his existence and his presence. As Solomon points out, the beauty and order that we see around us in the creation are clear indicators of God. Have you ever noticed, for example, how many people like to claim that being out in nature is their “church”?

Inside of us are further hints that God is real. The constant nudge from within is that there must be something more than this life.

God created us to be eternal beings. We will never be truly satisfied in our inner being with earthly things. We sense that our value is eternal. And the things that our heart is most drawn to — whether we like to admit it or not — are eternal things.

In the end, only the love of the eternal God can truly satisfy us.

“I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 11, is Ecclesiastes 1:1 – 3:22, 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 and Psalm 94:12-23.

Lord, I feel eternity in my heart. Thank you for sending me a Savior named Jesus to make sure that I will one day enter eternity and spend it with you. Send me your Holy Spirit so that I may always trust in Jesus as my Savior from sin, and my Lord who even now sits at your right hand in heaven.

Header image based on "Dawn of Eternity 2" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

Get Ready for What’s Coming

Life is nothing more than a blip, really. So, it’s actually amazing that we have some time to think about what’s coming next after this blip is over. But we do, by the grace of God.

What’s next is eternity. Heaven. Our salvation is near and our destiny is drawing closer. And that means that this blip of a life is going to end sooner than we realize. Before we know it, we’ll have blown right through the blip.

So one thing Paul wants us to remember is this. We have only so much time here on planet earth to fully live in our new identity as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The time is short for us to put aside the deeds of darkness, with its key goals being to “party hardy,” stay high, get wasted, sleep around, divide people, devastate relationships, and self-centeredly wish I had more of this or that than anyone around me.

Paul says that the way we get ready for what’s coming is to get rid of all of that and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. And what he means by that is that we need to have a faith-relationship with Jesus. We need to trust that he is our Savior, and our Lord.

God will provide this for us. Through baptism. Through his word. And through the sacrament of holy communion.

Time is short. If we refuse to put ourselves in position for God to reach us through the word and sacraments, God will not come to us in any other way. We need to quickly put down the deeds of darkness and the desires of our selfish, sinful self. We need to give Jesus space to work on our hearts.

We can’t, in other words, put on one set of clothing until we’ve taken off the old set. In this case, “layering” just isn’t going to cut the mustard. There’s no “both-and” to be had here. This is a definite “either-or”.

So which set of “clothing” do you want to put on? Remember, “what’s next” is coming very, very soon. And it’s very clear that we need to have the right set of “clothing” on right now!

So get ready for what’s coming!

“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:11-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 30, is 1 Chronicles 7:1 – 9:1a, Romans 13:1-14 and Psalm 89:38-45.

Jesus, thank you for giving me your perfection as my new clothing. Help me to treasure it and to be ready for what is coming.

Header image based on "Stopwatch" by William Warby, CC By 2.0

No Excuse

It’s not easy to talk about these things. These are decidedly inconvenient and unpleasant truths.

But the apostle Paul did not hold anything back. He really wanted to tackle a question that he must have been asked many times. I know I have been asked this question more than once.

And the question is this: “What about all the people who haven’t had a chance to hear about Jesus? What is God going to do with them? How could God ever consign such people to eternal condemnation in hell?”

Paul’s answer is that God has not hidden from anyone. He’s given us instincts. And he has shown up in creation. Anyone who is willing to study a bit, open their eyes and see — in other words, listen to those instincts — will understand that there has to be someone who designed all this.

Have you ever had a spiritual moment in nature? Have you ever gazed at the stars through a telescope, or observed a living cell through the lens of a microscope? Have you ever watched a lion or a cheetah pursue it’s prey, or an elk nurse its young?

Have you ever felt a close bond to a pet? Or an attraction to a cute puppy or kitten at the pound?

Why is the ocean so beautiful? Why are the mountains so majestic? Why are the waves of grass on the prairies so mesmerizing? What makes the wind blowing through the trees or the drumbeat of raindrops on the roof sound so magical to our human ears?

Do the sights, the sounds, the smells of nature ever make you think of the possibility of heaven? The scent of pine trees does it for me!

If your answer, like mine, is yes, then know that you’re not alone. That’s exactly the way God designed it to be.

And that’s why, as Paul says so bluntly and clearly, we are without excuse if we choose to screw our eyes and ears shut and ignore all our instincts:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 13, is 2 Kings 24:8 – 25:30, Romans 1:18-32 and Psalm 84:8-12.

Lord, open my eyes to see you and know you as the only true God, and to trust in Jesus Christ whom you have sent for my salvation.

Header image based on "Yosemite falls and tourists, CA, USA" by Dzhingarova, CC By 2.0

This Is Eternal Life

Jesus is about to be arrested and crucified. He is going to enter a period of the most intense suffering that anyone can imagine. And he knows its coming.

He’s already given his disciples their final instructions and reminders. So what does he do after that?

He prays.

This prayer is perhaps the second most well-known prayer of Jesus, following only The Lord’s Prayer. It’s known world-wide as “The High Priestly Prayer”. It’s a prayer in which Jesus makes intercession for the church of the future.

As Jesus begins this most intense and beautiful prayer of any prayer in the gospel records, he starts with purpose. He reminds God the Father of why he has come — that he might glorify the Father. He also asks the Father to glorify him through what is about to happen, but only so that might complete his task of glorifying the Father.

He points out that the Father granted him the amazing authority to confer eternal life on all those given to him by the Father.

And then Jesus comes with an explanation — in the clearest terms possible — of how eternal life is conferred on us.

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NIV).

Notice how Jesus here cements knowing God to knowing him. The two are inextricably linked. If you want to truly know God, to take hold of him and receive his grace, mercy and help, let no one convince you to look anywhere else than Jesus.

Know God, the Father, through his Son, Jesus Christ. Know Jesus as your Lord, sent by the Father to be your Savior from sin.

And eternal life is yours.

This is the gospel in its purest form! This is the central message of the Christian faith.

Believe it!

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, May 26, is 1 Samuel 17:38 – 18:30, John 16:5 – 17:5 and Psalm 68:1-6.

Father, thank you for sending me your Son to be my Savior. Thank you for glorifying him through his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. In your Spirit’s power, I believe. Please receive me into eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ!

Header image based on "Gospel Graffiti II" by Peat Bakke, CC By 2.0

What Page Are You On?

It’s so easy — and dangerous — to get consumed with the hopes and desires of the present.

Following Jesus’ bread of life speech, and a realization by many in the crowd that Jesus was not merely around to serve their daily needs or meet their earthly goals, many of those who had been Jesus’ disciples began to turn back and stop following him.

They failed to see that to follow Jesus is to get on Jesus’ page. They just were not willing to go there. It’s important to know that Jesus doesn’t want us on his page because he’s on some sort of power trip. He wants us on his page because that’s what’s truly best for us.

The other day I was in an airport, and I saw a family — a Dad and a Mom with two little girls about 3 or 4 years old. The girls had matching rolling bags that they brought with them. The younger of the two little girls kept wanting to stop to get things out of her bag. This happened several times, with her parents patiently trying to explain that they needed to move their way more quickly through the airport.

The little girl was having none of that, and she was persistent about what she wanted for herself (and apparently her entire family as well) — frequent stops so she could dig around in her bag.

At last, her father simply took hold of the bag, and gently relieved her of it. The response of the little girl was not pretty, as I’m sure you can imagine. She pouted quite loudly for a really, really long time.

Sometimes we behave like that little girl. We want God to hold everything up — including his own gracious plans — for us. After all, in our minds, who’s more important than we are?

Jesus had just made it clear that he had come for his own purpose and glory. This involves the eternal salvation of mankind. So wasting a lot of time baking bread for people (or even just miraculously making it!) wasn’t on the agenda. Instead, he was going to be busy helping people see him as the bread of life. His concerns were far more of an eternal nature.

The people — like the little girl — didn’t like being told someone else’s agenda took precedence. So they turned away. It was just too tough to swallow.

Jesus watches them go, and then turns to his inner circle, the twelve, and ask them, “Do you also want to leave?”

Their answer shows that the disciples — by the Spirit’s power — had gotten on Jesus’ (eternal) page with him.

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:68-69, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, May 11, is Judges 12:1 – 13:25, John 6:60 – 7:13 and Psalm 59:9-17.

Lord, I repent for the times when I want to be on my own page, rather than on yours. My mind and heart want to dwell on the present, and on my own worldly needs, rather than on eternity, and your eternal desires for me and for the world around me. Please forgive me! Jesus, I want to be on your page with you. Send me the Spirit, who gives life, through your words. You have the words of eternal life, because you are the Holy One of God.

Header image based on "Studied Godspel" by Daniel Paixao Fontes, CC By 2.0