Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven

christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Wages Of Sin Are A Slap On The Wrist summer Christianity Today reported that the Presbyterian Church USA was disallowing Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend’s hymn “In Christ Alone” into their hymn book because of a line that clashed with their theology. They sought permission to change the offending lines “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”

Until I read about this decision, I was unaware of the controversial nature of the doctrine referred to as “penal substitution.” To be clear, the PCUSA says the problem they had wasn’t with the idea of God’s wrath but with the idea of it being satisfied. Others, however, who have weighed in on the controversy, make it clear that they do indeed have a problem with the idea of God’s wrath. See for example this explanation:

What inevitably results from the penal substitution theory of the atonement is the picture of a God who is a blood-thirsty monster who demands violence and death in order to satisfy his boundless wrath and who apparently can conceive of no other response to sin other than murder (which ironically is itself a sin). (excerpt from “The Wrath of God Was Satisfied?”

I’ve heard similar accusations against God before. God is heinous, apparently, according to this view, because He actually meant what He said when He told Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. What’s more, when He said through the pen of Paul that the wages of sin is death, He only compounded the problem. Now people couldn’t view God the Father as heinous but Jesus as nice and loving because the New Testament was agreeing with the Old.

The ironic thing is that people who are rejecting God’s right to judge, are setting up themselves and their values as the “better way.” They are, in fact, judging God’s act of justice against sin and calling it “murder.”

People, apparently, don’t actually deserve to die. Our sin isn’t worthy of such a harsh punishment.

I’m not sure how those who hold this view explain that in fact, one out of one persons dies. We are actually and factually suffering the wages that God said would be ours as a result of sin.

The good news is that God has made a way of escape and life awaits us after death, if we accept by faith the gift of a cleared debt made possible by Jesus’s willingness to be our surrogate, to take the penalty we deserved.

The thing is, nothing could offer us a more complete view of God than this act of salvation. He is holy, so our sin separates us from Him. His is righteous, so His judgment is without error. He is just, so He doesn’t condemn that which is innocent. He is loving, so He is willing to redeem us at His own cost. He is merciful, so He forgives us when we have no hope of paying Him what we owe.

I could go on. It’s inconceivable that people who claim to be Christians are so willing to deny God’s nature in one area or another.

It’s honestly hard for me to imagine that thinking people could read the book of Leviticus and not see the picture of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the sin offering or the peace offering or in the Passover, or that they could read Genesis and not see the substitution of a ram for Isaac as the substitution of Christ for sinners.

The only way I can make sense of these accusations against God is to suppose that those saying God is a murderer simply do not believe that the wages of sin is death. Apparently, in their view, the wages of sin is a slap on the wrist. What’s needed then, is not a substitute to pay the price, but a gentle reminder or a stern reprimand because surely sinners know better and simply need a refresher course in how to please God.

Holding Life Loosely

holding plant looselyApparently humans have an innate survival instinct. Certainly celebrities have an obsession with looking younger than they are and sometimes a knack for acting more foolish than they ought to be (but that’s another subject).

I’ve seen a major change in our approach to doctors, too. It used to be you went to the doctor when you were sick. Then there developed an idea that you should have a routine physical. Now there’s almost an obsession (there’s that word again) with keeping track of our blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar and …

Then there are the things we shouldn’t eat, drink, or smoke and the things we should do religiously. All for the sake of adding years to our lives. This reminds me of a Woody Allen quote I heard recently:

Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.

The thing is, both sides of that equation are wrong. Life doesn’t have to be full of misery, loneliness, and suffering. Well, maybe the suffering. But for God’s child, we are never alone–the tag line Wayne Thomas Batson used for his Door Within books. It’s beautiful and true. We have the Holy Spirit living in us. How much better is that than what the people of Israel had–God coming into their midst in the form of a cloud or fire.

We know God through His Son, through the sacrifice He made on our behalf. The most notable thing about God, then, is the extent He went to in order to bring us near. He does not want us to be alone. Or miserable. His presence provides peace that surpasses understanding. His Person gives us joy unspeakable.

The suffering isn’t even the same when we have this relationship with God. Yes, we all lose loved ones and we all face death–in one way or another we all have or will suffer. But God doesn’t leave us without His strength to cope. He says in one place in Scripture, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.” Elsewhere he says when we stumble we won’t fall because He holds our hand. Then in David’s famous psalm, He says when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death He will be with us.

Which brings me to the other part of Woody Allen’s quote that he has wrong. It’s not over when it’s over. Death is the beginning of a new life experience, not the end.

When we understand this, we realize that we don’t have to cling to this life relentlessly or pretend that time isn’t passing. It is and it will and we can’t hold it back for the simple reason that our time is in God’s hands. He is the one who determines when we will pass from this life to the next.

It seems to me, if we try so hard to hold onto this life, our focus is in the wrong place. Paul says in Colossians

Therefore since you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things on earth. (3:1-2)

Of course the key is to have that relationship with God available only through Jesus Christ that makes it possible for us to experience His presence, His joy, His peace, and to look forward to the future, not some all-too-soon end.

“For to me, to live is Christ,” Paul said in Philippians, “and to die is gain.” What a difference the Savior makes!

Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death

Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

What are we to make, then, of the events in Mid-America this year? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. This spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

At the beginning of this summer, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought has consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reports that 64% of the US is experiencing drought conditions.

If all that isn’t bad enough, the Denver area experienced another horrific shooting event last night. Some reports say more than seventy people were hit and twelve died.

All this, of course, comes in the midst of the feeble recovery from the Great Recession that has our spend-happy nation reeling.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras caught survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they had lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After last night’s shooting, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation is on the horizon.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause the shooting suspect to open fire on those theater-goers last night. That was an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.
“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

The Problem With Salvation

When I was a kid, growing up in a Christian home, I attended Sunday school regularly. My first recollection of an explanation about sin and salvation is tied to heaven and hell.

Later I attended a Bible club and received a Wordless Book that reinforced the concepts.

Clearly, I did not want to go to Hell. If Heaven was the only alternative, then that’s where I wanted to go, and if Jesus could get me there, then I wanted to accept Him “into my heart.”

I had to get past the idea of a shrunken version of Jesus fitting into my heart, and one Sunday school teacher was able to explain, the Holy Spirit was actually the One who would live in my heart.

Why didn’t they just say so, I thought. I had a vague understanding of the Holy Spirit because a lot of hymns called Him the Holy Ghost. Ghosts didn’t sound holy to me, so I had already asked my parents about that one. I don’t remember what they told me, but it must have been adequate for a child’s understanding because I wasn’t troubled by further questions until much later.

But I digress. From my own experience, from listening to others tell their testimony and to some venting about unhappy religious backgrounds, I see confusion when it comes to the issue of salvation.

In part I think this is because some of us never grow up in our understanding of God. But another contributing factor, I think, is that I had an experience of being saved from Hell rather than an experience of being saved to God.

Any teacher, coach, and most parents will tell you that part of training involves laying out consequences. God deals with us the same way. He tells us what the wages of sin is, just as He warned Adam what would happen if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So Sunday school teachers who spoke of Hell were not inventing something or using scare tactics. They were telling the truth.

However, escape from Hell isn’t all that great in and of itself. For years I worried about boredom sitting on those clouds, playing a miniature harp for all of eternity.

Eventually my understanding began to grow and my relationship with God began to develop, but it took years.

I had one friend in college who had serious questions about God, in part because she had questions about eternity. My answers were woeful and unbiblical, and she dismissed Christianity in the face of them.

That experience drove me to ask more questions.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  1. Salvation seems to be less important to some people than their efforts to earn it.
  2. Salvation is much more about being in God’s company than anything else. The real terror isn’t Hell. It’s separation from God. Conversely, Heaven is only great because God makes it great.
  3. Christ provides the only access to God.
  4. Because salvation is really a relationship, it is dynamic.
  5. I don’t have to wait for “later” to experience the joy of my salvation.
  6. The relationship I now have with God grows like any other relationship. If I spend time with Him, I am close to Him. If I don’t, I’m not.
  7. Right now, my relationship with God is more like an Internet friendship. I know Him in part, in the ways He’s revealed Himself to me. Someday, I’ll know Him in person.

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in August, 2009.

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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God’s Best-Kept Secret

I suppose it’s inaccurate to call it God’s secret since He put it in the Bible. I mean, if God wants to keep something about Himself secret, no one is going to pry it out of Him and no one is going to sneak behind His back and discover it.

But you’d think it was a secret, seeing as how few people seem to know and understand this basic fact — God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

People think He does. Some say He’s blood-thirsty and tyrannical. Others say He repented of His Old Testament violent streak which is why He sent Jesus. Some think He rightly takes pleasure in killing off the wicked and so they gleefully announce the doom awaiting those who scorn God’s Son.

What all these people are missing is the difference between announcing something that is true and announcing it with gladness.

I don’t suppose parents say it any more, but when I was growing up, it became quite a standard joke. Before a parent spanked his child, he’d say, This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you. Ha! all the kids thought.

My dad said that line to me once, and I asked him how he could say such a thing. He explained how he did not want to spank me, how sad it made him, but how necessary it was for me to learn to obey. So my dad was willing to take the hurt of going against his true nature, inflicting temporary pain on the children he loved and only wanted to protect.

I have no way of measuring the degree of anguish spanking caused my father, or of comparing that to the physical discomfort I felt because of the swats he gave. But I certainly understood, my dad did not delight in punishing me. Yet he gave me spankings.

Undoubtedly my parents’ approach to discipline has helped me understand God’s judgment. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that He delighted in destroying the wicked. If He did, He would never have promised Noah that He would refrain from wiping out all living beings with another flood. Instead He would have been more apt to say, That was fun; let’s do it again!

He would never have gone to such an extent to send Jonah to Nineveh or Jeremiah to Jerusalem or Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar if He wasn’t more interested in repentance than in judgment.

If He took delight in the death of the wicked, why would He have sent His Son to provide a way of escape from the consequences of sin?

It’s a silly thing, really, to accuse God of delighting in killing off the wicked. But apparently the people of Ezekiel’s day were saying the same thing. God gave a clear answer to the charge:

“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? . . .

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:21-32, emphases mine)

I can only imagine that God has been maligned by those who think He shouldn’t punish people at all — or that He shouldn’t offer grace and mercy to those people.

In other words, some judge Him to be cruel because He holds people accountable for their actions, so they deny that He does. A different group judges Him to be sentimental in offering forgiveness to the most heinous sinners, so they deny that He does.

The former pass out copies of Love Wins and the latter waves signs along with the Westboro Baptist crowd. Both obscure the truth about God: He loves the world and He will not allow sin to go unpunished. That doesn’t mean He delights in the death of those who reject Him. Instead, He wants them to repent and live. That’s the secret so many are missing.

Published in: on April 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Defining Who We Are

Two years ago, I watched an unpopular senator get re-elected though many thought she’d finally met her match. However, she got ahead of her opponent and defined her for the public. By the time the challenger came out with her ads saying what she would do as a senator, few people were listening. They already had her labeled, courtesy of Ms. Unpopular.

That political race told me a lot about how the public works in this day and age. We deplore attack ads, but we listen to them. We may not even realize we are, but it shows when people start saying what they believe about this or that candidate — the material is often straight out of the opponent’s playbook.

In the same way, Christians are allowing non-Christians to define us, to the point that we’re buying into it ourselves. Worse, we are parroting the ideas, as if they have merit, as if they are true.

I heard one on Sunday that really bothered me: Protestants don’t like to think about Jesus on the cross. All that blood and death makes us want to look away. The Catholics, now they embrace this dark side of salvation. By implication, the idea was, So should we.

I admit, I felt a little defensive — mostly because the accusation is scurrilous. In my church we regularly take communion, and until recently that was a time of reflection on Christ’s sacrifice, His broken body, His shed blood. How many times have I sung “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or “‘Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow” or “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”?

That contemporary song writers are not writing about Christ’s suffering doesn’t mean that Protestants don’t or haven’t put an emphasis on what Christ did in dying.

In addition, I’ve heard from our pulpit more than one sermon about Christ’s death, none more powerful than “Death on a Cross” that graphically took Christ through the scourging and beating and humiliation and nails and hours writhing in pain, to the spear piercing his side and proving his death. (You can listen to a sermon from the same text in the book of John by the same pastor, this one entitled “Jesus: A Lamb Led to Slaughter”)

I find it ironic, though, that we should be taken to task for focusing on Christ the resurrected Lord seated at the right hand of God. I’ve heard more than once that the cross Protestants display is barren because Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is, in fact, a risen Savior. Easter is a joyous time.

The cross is significant, no doubt. Paul says clearly that our “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which was hostile to us” was nailed to the cross. Without Christ’s death, we’d still have the burden of what we owe — an insurmountable burden.

The cross affected Christ in every facet of human existence. He was forsaken, betrayed, denied, humiliated, rejected, tortured, misunderstood, condemned, doubted, and killed. For me. For you.

Yes, it was bloody. Yes, it was pain, like few have experienced. But focusing on the physical alone is to miss the wider scope of what Jesus did. He bore our sins. The Man who had the nature of His Father, who lived accordingly, took on the stench of his fallen brothers — that which separates us from God.

How can that be? A Holy God, bearing sin? An immortal God, dying?

It is by Jesus’s blood we are sprinkled, by His precious blood we are redeemed. How can anyone say, Protestants look away from the cross? Perhaps they’ve mistaken our weeping for closing our eyes.

Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (5)  
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Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

I just got back from seeing the last of the Harry Potter movies. As usual, I came away feeling quite satisfied. The movie-makers, unlike those putting out the Narnia stories, did a good job faithfully rendering the book, in this case Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.

My only complaint was that I expected a review of Part 1 at the beginning to orient me to this last half, but that was absent. Consequently, I spent a few minutes trying to remember where we were in the story and what had happened last.

A couple things struck me as I watched it and afterwards as I discussed it with my movie buddy. First, I believe author J.K. Rowling when she said she never set out to write a children’s series. Harry Potter moved into dark and dangerous waters, and this book is the culmination of his fight against evil. Harry faces the greatest task, against the greatest odds, and must pay the greatest price.

In conjunction with that point, I can’t believe I didn’t see sooner (and without having to read it online) that the books — all of them — are about death. From the first to the last Harry is grappling with the loss of loved ones, and he eventually must come to grips with his own death.

Which brings me back to the original point: with such a serious theme running through all seven novels, it’s hard to call these children’s books.

Here are a couple other odd tidbits I thought about the movie.

Somewhere in the first half there were some awkward attempts to lighten the mood with humor. I didn’t think they worked. Rather, I thought they felt inappropriate by insinuating themselves into a serious story. Fortunately there weren’t many of these moments — I don’t remember any in the second half.

Similarly I thought “the kiss” was out of place and ill-timed.

On the other hand, the end, which some disliked in the book, I thought was handled very well. I thought it was appropriately brief but powerful, and it was such a nice tie to the first movie, it made me remember that one with greater fondness.

I also was struck by how the least likely characters ended up playing such key roles: the once-school-joke Neville Longbottom, the silly house elf Dobby, the less than grounded Luna Lovegood, even the apparently traitorous and wicked Professor Snape.

Now that it’s all over, I can’t help but wonder if J.K. Rowling will ever write again. Certainly she doesn’t need to — her fortune and literary fame is clearly established. But did she dig out the answers to the big questions that pushed her to write Harry Potter? Does she have others that might compel her to develop another fantasy world? Could she ever come up with one different enough from Harry Potter but equally as rich? It seems to me, anything less would be a huge disappointment, so perhaps the effort might seem too hard or too risky.

In the same way, will the young actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson be able to break from the mold they’ve been poured into and continue working in their profession? I have to say, of all the characters in the movies, I thought Emma Watson the most improved. She also seems to be interested in growing as a person, so she may not stay in show business. I suspect none of the main players need to work any more if they choose not to. But perhaps their drive to perform will draw them back to the big screen, even as Ms. Rowling drive to write may cause her to imagine another rich story.

Published in: on July 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm  Comments Off on Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2  
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Some Things You Don’t Get Used To

It’s been nine years now. Nine! But in many ways, it still seems like yesterday. I’m talking about the last time I saw my mother.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I think, as I have any number of other times, that I should write a tribute to my mom. It would be fitting, and I’d like to honor her. But when I try, the words won’t come.

They wouldn’t come when I wanted to write something for her memorial service, and they haven’t come ever since. I suspect it might always be this way. Losing a parent isn’t something you get over. Ever.

I remember after my dad died, spending Mother’s Day weekend with my mom. It was hard because the last day I saw my dad alive was on a previous Mother’s Day. I felt his loss more keenly on that sad anniversary that should have been a happy celebration.

As I talked with my mom about it, she reminisced about losing her own father. She mentioned his birthday and stopped to think. He would be a hundred and twenty-four, she said and then we both laughed.

Death always feels premature, even when we know that we’re not going to live until we’re a hundred and twenty-four. And because it feels premature, it’s hard to get used to.

I suppose this year, nine years into life as an orphan, is particularly hard because I know a number of people who have lost their mothers recently. My “Glick” cousins when my dear Aunt Doris died last fall. (She I could write about. Go figure!) A former student of mine, whose mother died months after her father passed away from a sudden heart attack. And most recently, author Karen Hancock’s mother who died on Palm Sunday. As did my mother, nine years earlier.

I want to offer comfort and encouragement, I really do. But what keeps rushing to my mind is, You’ll never have another mother. Mother’s Day will never be the same. Christmas will never be the same. Your birthday, her birthday, and lots of other little days when you really want to celebrate or cry or laugh or talk things over. Just things. Nothing special.

The thing is, even though I never get used to Mom being gone, I do have comfort. And encouragement. It stems from a little verse tucked in Psalm 27:

For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the LORD will take me up.

I know, I know. Dying isn’t the same as “forsaking.” But it seems the principle is the same — God parents us when we need parenting.

And me, I always wanted to go the way of Peter Pan, so I figure I’ll always need parenting. 😉

Thanks be to God that He gives just what we each need when we need it. And for me at Mother’s Day, I need my loving Father’s reminder that He will not fail me or forsake me. I’ll never have to get use to getting along without Him.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm  Comments (10)  
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The Wages Of Sin Is Death

If sin is a tough sell these days, imagine what the proclamation of its wages has become! I mean, western culture is still not fond of talking about death unless its in the context of a crime scene television program.

But everyone is thinking about it. That’s why books about heaven sell so well. People are wondering, What’s it like after death? And of course, the popular assumption is, heaven’s it, unless it’s nothing.

The only other question that might be more on our minds is, What’s it like when the world self-destructs? No one’s really sitting down to ask that question — except novelists who are writing end-times or dystopian fiction. But the people reading those books are lapping them up, because they want to know what somebody else thinks it might be like.

Thankfully we have the Bible and God hasn’t left us totally in the dark.

One thing we can know from Scripture is that there is physical death and there is spiritual death. A number of verses indicate that people separated from God by their sin are already dead. Here are a couple verses of the many:

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart
– Eph. 4:17-18 (emphasis mine)

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace
– Rom. 8:6 (see the following verses also)

In brief, this is what I believe the Bible teaches about death. When sin entered the world, so did death — both physical and spiritual. This was the very consequence God warned Adam and Eve about.

Physical death is the incontrovertible consequence of rebellion against God, one that we, and the world, must all suffer — with the exception of Enoch and the believers who will be alive when Christ comes back. Spiritual death, at the least, is separation from God.

Christ doesn’t undo death. He does one step better. He offers new life. By shedding His blood, He washed away the sin that separated us from God. Consequently, believers have spiritual life here and now. In addition, He promised eternal life — a new, better body we can enjoy for eternity — and He Himself was resurrected from the dead, giving us a glimpse of what a resurrected body is like.

But new life is conditional, as are many of God’s promises. All through the Old Testament, God told His chosen people He would bless them if they obeyed Him. So too, in the New Testament, the promise of life is conditional.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
– John 3:16-18 (emphasis mine)

Apparently there’s some confusion regarding what it means to “believe in Jesus,” so I’ll address that another time.

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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