Archive for the ‘eternal life’ category

The Impossible Perfection of God

September 27, 2018


In the Gospel of Mark, we read the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. (Mark 10:17) After a brief discussion about the law and keeping its commandments, Jesus said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)

The rich young ruler went away saddened and grieving. (Mark 10:22)

Obviously, the rich young man found the instruction very difficult. He was evidently hoping for a different answer. He claimed to have kept the commandments of God from an early age, but Jesus brushed his boasting aside and dashed his hopes by demanding the “impossible” from him.

Jesus turned to his disciples as the example for what he was about to say was walking away, and commented, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23)

If we are being honest with ourselves, most Christians in the United States are wealthy compared to the rest of the world. We might even be considered wealthy compared to the rich young man who sought out Jesus in the First Century. Unless we gloss over what Jesus said, these are hard words to swallow.

They were hard words for the disciples also. Though they had left everything to follow Jesus, they were still “amazed” at what Jesus just said. (Mark 10:24)

As if the example wasn’t enough, Jesus said it again, “[H]ow hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” and he added a word picture for emphasis:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

At these words, the disciples were not just amazed; they were “astonished”, asking, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)

I believe they identified with the rich young man. I suspect they knew they had to more to give than what they had given. They might have also been thinking about the size of this following to which they had given themselves – it would be small indeed! Who could even qualify?!

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God of the Living in Heaven and Hell

September 21, 2018


Interestingly, Jesus directed most of his criticism against the Pharisees, but there were two groups of religious leaders during his time. The other group was known as the Sadducees. In one of the rare encounters with the Sadducees that we read in the Gospels, they asked Jesus about marriage in heaven. This is because the Pharisees believed in resurrection in bodily form (at the end of the age), but the Sadducees did not. In the biblical passage that inspires this blog post, the Sadducess pressed Jesus on the issue of resurrection.

They confronted Jesus with the hypothetical example of a woman married to the oldest of seven brothers. In Jewish culture and tradition, a brother had an obligation to marry the wife of a deceased brother. In the hypothetical, they asked Jesus, if each brother died in turn, with a surviving brother marrying the widow, who would be her husband after the resurrection? (Matthew 22:23-28)

Jesus, in typical fashion, responded that they should know the answer if they know the Scriptures. (Matthew 22:29) Imagine the upstart Jesus putting the respected leaders in their place like this!

But, Jesus didn’t leave them hanging. He answered that people neither marry nor are given in marriage after death because people are “like the angels in heaven”. (Matthew 22:30) And, then Jesus said,

“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:  ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.’” (Matthew 22:31-32 ESV)

The statement that jumps out at me in this passage is the last one: God is not a God of the dead, but of the living!

Jesus made it clear when answering the Sadducees that there is a physical resurrection. Indeed, he had been talking about his own death and resurrection multiple times by this point in his ministry. Jesus came for the precise purpose of living and dying and rising from the dead.

And what this means for us is of the very most significance. God is a God of the living, not the dead.

What are the implications for us? While there are some obvious implications, I see some less obvious ones as well.

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Learning How to Die

September 11, 2018


Dying is a topic most us would rather avoid, but Jesus didn’t shy away from the subject. In fact, he focused on it – maybe because He came to die for us.

I guess I would probably be a bit fixated on the subject if I knew that was the fate that awaited me…. Wait a minute…. that is the fate that awaits me!

Well, maybe it was different for Jesus because it wasn’t just the fate that awaited him; it was among the primary purposes for which he became a man. Though he existed in the form of God, He didn’t hold on to His superior position. He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant being born a man. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Simply put – Jesus came to die – for us.

As Jesus neared the time when He would be betrayed into the hands of the tribunal that would seal His death warrant, He said:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”” (John 12:27-28)

For Jesus, death wasn’t inevitable. He chose to die. This does make him different than us: He chose to become one of us and die for us. And because He chose it, could it have been any different for Him?

Is it really different for us?

Maybe not. If you believe what Jesus said.

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Stairway to Heaven

August 9, 2018


Stairway to Heaven is, perhaps, my favorite song of all time. I was a big Led Zeppelin fan growing up. A case can be made that Stairway to Heaven is the greatest rock song of all time. It has all the elements of a great song. It has great melody. It has thoughtful, poetic lyrics. It rises and builds from a delicately unforgettable introduction to a crescendo of orchestration that matches the sweep of the lyrics with one of the most iconic guitar solos ever performed.

I am not one of those people who listen to music first for the lyrics. I hear the music first. I may never really learn the lyrics. Sometimes, I can’t even remember the song title. So, as I listened to the song recently, some 45 years or so after I first heard it, I realized that the song is about inspiration and hope. I hadn’t really thought about it much before. I just liked the song.

Like many rock songs, Stairway to Heaven was written with the seemingly eternal exuberance of youth and youthful energy. Though I am much older now, it, still resonates. It’s still sits in the pocket for me. It’s still a song of hope, ultimately, but I now have a different perspective.

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A Progression from Law to Relationship

July 28, 2018


A friend recently commented on an article I wrote about hypocrisy in which I referred to “God’s standard” without defining what that standard is. Of course, defining God’s standard of morality isn’t that easy. My friend made this point when he said:

“If you asked 100 self-proclaimed Christians, you will get 100 different answers. There are over 30,000 denominations of Christianity… all bible-based. The notion of a singular Christian ‘standard’ doesn’t really exist. Example… is killing ok?… I can find verses in the bible both for and against.”

He is right on a cursory level, though he overstates the proposition. The World Christian Encyclopedia puts the number of denominations at 33,000, of which there are “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs”.  I would venture to guess, however, that 100% of them hold that murder is wrong.

While we might have virtually universal agreement on some things, and “consensus” on other things (perhaps, killing in self-defense), nuances will generate different answers among those different denominations, and individual Christians as well. We don’t all agree on topics like killing in war, capital punishment, abortion, etc.

Some disagreements are doctrinal (infant baptism or adult baptism). Some of them are conduct related. (Is it ok for Christians to dance? drink alcohol? or smoke?) Should Christians tithe? What is the standard of tithing? Is homosexuality a sin? If I walk past a homeless man on the street begging for money and don’t give him anything, is that a sin?

Most Christians agree on the ten commandments, but disagreement grows from there. We may not agree on the details of “God’s standard”, but virtually all Christians would agree that God has a standard of morality, regardless of whether we agree on what it is.

Still, it’s a fair statement to say that we shouldn’t be so glib as to assume some universal set of rules to which all Christians ought to subscribe – at least a universal statement of rules that we confidently say is “the ” standard.

This got me thinking about morality from a Christian perspective, and it dawns on me that one of our failings is that we put too much emphasis on a set of standards that we can define. Yes, I think it is a failing, and I think Jesus would agree. Such a focus misses the point

According to a recent presentation by Ravi Zacharias, Moses gave us 613 laws. David summarized them in 15 laws. Isaiah reduced the summary to 11 laws. Jesus reduced everything in the Law and the Prophets down to just two principles. I haven’t researched these figures to confirm them, but the point is that there is a progression in the Scripture in respect to the law from an intricate set of very specific rules to summaries of the law that get simpler and simpler – culminating in just two principles.

I believe this progression from many, very specific laws to just two principles correlates to the progression God wants us to make from law to faith.

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What Is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It?

June 25, 2018


One of the simplest and most fundamental principles of Christianity is that salvation is a free gift. It is nothing that we earn. God gives salvation to us freely.

A closely associated principle is that righteousness is nothing that we achieve. God attributes righteousness to us freely. Again, we don’t achieve righteousness; God considers us righteous when are rightly related to God.

These words, salvation and righteousness, are among the most basic of Christian principles. These words are used with a great deal of presumption that everyone knows what they mean, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

What is salvation? Why should we want to be saved? Saved from what?

Righteousness may be even more misunderstood. Are we talking about moral superiority? Self-righteousness? Holier than thou?

I will try to illuminate these very central ideas to the Christian faith in this blog. Few things are more central to Christianity than the idea of salvation and righteousness.

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The Dissatisfaction of Life

June 11, 2018


“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes my life is an epitome of success.
However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.
At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and
wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death.
You can employ someone to drive the car for you, make money for you but you cannot have someone to bear the sickness for you.
Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost – ‘Life’.
….
Whichever stage in life we are at right now, with time, we will face the day when the curtain comes down.
….
As we grow older, and hence wiser, we slowly realize that wearing a $300 or $30 watch – they both tell the same time…
Whether we carry a $300 or $30 wallet/handbag – the amount of money inside is the same;
Whether we drive a $150,000 car or a $30,000 car, the road and distance is the same, and we get to the same destination.
Whether we drink a bottle of $300 or $10 wine – the hangover is the same;
Whether the house we live in is 300 or 3000 sq. ft. – loneliness is the same.
You will realize, your true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world.
Whether you fly first or economy class, if the plane goes down – you go down with it….”

These are the last words from Steve Jobs, reportedly.

I return to this same theme often in my thinking and writing: this life is short. We put so much energy into it, and we act often as if our time on this Earth will continue indefinitely, but it won’t. It doesn’t matter how accomplished, wealthy or powerful a person is, death is inevitable.

The recent suicides of Anthony Bourdain, the famous cook, food connoisseur and TV personality, and fashion designer, Kate Spade, are reminders that health, wealth, fame and influence do not satisfy our deepest longings and do not provide sufficient meaning or purpose in life to overcome depression. Many very wealthy and influential people have taken their own lives, suggesting that having everything a person might desire in the material world still leaves us lacking. So what is the point of life?

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Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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