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Archive for Death

Mar
31

We Need a New Perspective

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We need a new perspective on death.

Most of us, reasonably so I suppose, view death as the end.

The end of life, the end of all things good. The end of all things we love.

Heaven is nothing more than the rest of everything; the reward for enjoying all of the good stuff here and now.

But is that right?

I think evangelicalism has done a disservice to everyone in leading people to believe that heaven is the reward for now. It’s not. Heaven is the real beginning to life as God sees it.

We dread, even fear death. We view it as some tragic end to the good stuff of life. But from God’s perspective, its not the end, its merely the beginning to all that God has planned all along.

The gift of life that we have is nothing more than an opportunity to get to find and know God. Once we do, we have an obligation to help others come to know and find God.

All death is is a transition to knowing God fully, and spending an eternity experiencing the life that He has planned for us all along.

There’s nothing wrong with dreading death or even prolonging our lives. But let’s not look at death as the end of something great and heaven as settling for something “ok.” Death for the believer is the beginning of what’s truly great. It’s a step across the threshold of what God intended from the beginning.

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Apr
27

Hope that Sings!

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Do you ever burst out in spontaneous singing? I’m not talking about the obligatory chorus that comes at holiday celebrations or birthday parties. I’m talking about being so filled with joyful hope that you are overpowered by song and it spews out. For the last three weeks I’ve been sharing some of the insights I’ve learned from Paul’s discourse on the implications of the resurrection of Jesus from 1 Corinthians 15. I’ve learned that the resurrection provides hope in three dimensions: it is our hope for transformation, living, and even dying. In the first 49 verses, Paul has provided lengthy explanations concerning these truths, but beginning in verse 50 he moves from “theology” to “doxology!” I don’t want to take away from the depth of what Paul says at the conclusion of the chapter. However it feels like the lyrical content of one caught up in joyful worship! Check it out…

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,j this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58, NLT)

Look at the characteristics of the Hope that Sings:

1. Everyone sings (15:50-53). It’s an inclusive celebration. Whether we are dead or alive at the time Christ’s return does not matter, for everyone will experience this transformation and receive a glorified body suited and fitted for eternity. Jesus has been raised, and his resurrection guarantees our resurrection. We will experience and enjoy what Jesus experienced and enjoys!

2. Everyone sings now (15:54-56). It’s a present tense celebration. Why? Because death is defeated now, not later. Paul rhetorically asked, “Where is death?” The answer? Death is no where. In our life experience we usually don’t sing songs of celebration until the final seconds tick off the clock or the final gun sounds. The Christian faith is the faith that sings before the victory is realized. In faith, it is as appropriate to sing the songs of victory in the first quarter as in the final quarter!

Tomorrow I’ll add the final two aspects of Hope that Sings! My prayer for you today is that God fills your heart with such joy and hope that you’ll spontaneously lift your voice in praise to God!

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Apr
19

Hope That Sustains

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After patiently answering question upon question about the resurrection, Paul finally got to the heart of the issue that concerned the Corinthian congregation: But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” (1 Corinthians 15:35, NLT)

Much has been written regarding his response to the church, but to simplify, I see Paul’s response under three headings. The first heading is CONTINUITY. Reading on, Paul writes, “What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory” (1 Corinthians 15:36-41, NLT).

Paul wants the reader to know that there is continuity between our earthly bodies and our resurrection bodies. Rather than seek understanding from an abstraction, Paul simply reminds his readers that the hold the answer in their hands. It’s like a seed that is planted beneath the soil. In time, the seed sprouts and shoots up through the soil in a glorious new form. The seed itself doesn’t come through the soil, but it comes in a new form that is something superior and beyond compare. While the difference between a seed and a plant is obvious, the identity is the same. After all, if you plant corn you expect to raise corn. Burial of the seed (death) is necessary for the new form to appear, such as is true with our bodies. In the resurrection we will be raised in a new and glorious form, but we will not lose our identity.

The second heading is TRANSFORMATION. Verse 42 continues, “It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, NLT).

While we do not lose our identity in eternity, we must still be appropriately fitted for our eternal living environment. Transformation is necessary in order for believers to enter their heavenly existence. We will have a body in eternity, but not the same body. Resurrection is not the same as resuscitation of a corpse! To help the reader understand the transformation, Paul uses comparison language.

Our present bodies are subject to decay, while our resurrection bodies will never decay. They will be “deathless.” Our present bodies are buried in “brokenness,” literally dishonor. The word dishonor is the word used of those who had lost the rights of citizenship. Those who lost their citizenship lost their rights. Hence, “dishonor.” But though the body is buried in dishonor, it is raised in glory where there is no shame.
Our present bodies are buried in weakness, meaning they require air, food, water, and shelter for their existence. Our resurrection bodies, on the other hand, are raised in power to live independent and free of the things we relied upon while on earth.

The final broad heading I would use is the word PROTOTYPE. The final words of this section begin in verse 45, “The Scriptures tell us, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person.’ But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:45-49, NLT).

Paul is simply saying that our earthly bodies come from an earthly prototype, Adam. Our heavenly bodies will be different because God will use a new prototype, Jesus!

Tomorrow I’ll finish up this section on the resurrection body by describing how this teaching from Paul provides a hope that endures the deepest challenge any of us will ever face: death.

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Apr
13

A New Confidence for Living

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Paul has asserted that the resurrection provides a hope that sustains us by providing believers with a new attitude about death. For the Christian, death is not the bitter, final end of our existence. Rather, it is a transition step toward eternal union with God.

The second piece that naturally follows our new attitude is a new confidence about life. When we understand the reality of eternity, we also understand that fear of death no longer needs to govern our lives. Because we are free from fear, we are free to live. Paul takes this up in the next section.

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? (1 Corinthians 15:29-32a, NIV).

Some who fear death are filled with superstition. Evidently some in Corinth did not embrace resurrection, but were being baptized vicariously for the dead “just in case.” Without going into all of the historical detail regarding this first century cultic practice, for our contemporary purposes I see it for what it is at the lowest common denominator: people practicing superstitious acts compelled by fear.

More important to the argument is Paul’s own attitude about death. Notice what he has written:

1. We face danger every hour. Indeed, the world is a dangerous place. No matter how hard we try to live safely and securely, there are no 100% guarantees that protect us from harm.
2. Death is a daily reality. Paul bluntly declared, “I die daily.” I liken that to those public servants such as police officers and fire fighters who go to work each day realizing that they may be called upon to make “the ultimate sacrifice.”
3. There are those who do not have our best interests at heart. By referring to fighting wild beasts, Paul has drawn on the popular imagery of slaves who were forced to fight for their lives in the arenas as sport for the spectators.

So what’s his point? Death forces us to confront our deepest and darkest fears. But ultimately, you are not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Only when you resolve the reality and immanence of death are you truly free to live life as God intended. Jesus has been raised, and his resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Therefore, our lives do not have to be governed by fear of death or anything else. We can live with freedom and confidence because we are confident of what’s on the other side.

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Apr
12

A New Attitude

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Last week I counted the number of times Lisa and I have moved since we’ve been married. We got married before our senior year of college, then moved to St. Louis after graduation. We lived in three houses in the nine years we were there. Then we moved to Ft. Worth, and later to Springdale, Arkansas. We have now been in Iowa for nearly six years, and are on our second house in Waukee. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 8 houses and 7 moves in 26 years of marriage. I know some who have moved more and some who have moved less, but we all share one thing in common: we all hate to move.

Boxes, packing, lifting, loading, change of address forms, unpacking, sorting, arranging and rearranging, you know the drill. It’s a painful process that is only made bearable by the anticipation that at some future point we’ll be finished with the move and will settle into our new contexts. There is something good on the other side of the move. That’s what gets us through it.

Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can have a new attitude about death. Death for the believer is like making that big move. It’s difficult and can be unpleasant, but we know there’s something better on the other side.

This is what Paul was trying to convey in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, NLT)

Paul has previously argued that Jesus was raised by the Father and remained raised forever more. Because Jesus has been raised, he becomes the “first fruits” of all who have died. “First fruits” implies more fruit and later fruit. Jesus was raised to a life that knows no death and in that sense becomes the forerunner of all who follow. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees our resurrection. Therefore, resurrection is both proof that Jesus was who he said he was and promise that we will share in the resurrection as well.

Death came through one man, Adam. In Adam, all die. That death involves more than physical death, though that is certainly included. In Adam, all experience death. We all share in the solidarity of Adam’s guilt. But Jesus came as the second Adam and reversed the trend. In the first Adam, all die and experience separation from God. In the second Adam (Jesus) all may find life and union with God. The last enemy to be defeated is death. Through the resurrection, Jesus claimed victory over death, eliminated the power that death holds over our lives, and demonstrated authority over death by placing it under his feet. We must face physical death. But the resurrection ensures that we will not face spiritual death. We have eternal life. Because of that, death is not a bitter end. It is a new beginning. That new attitude about death provides us with hope that sustains our lives.

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Mar
30

A Word to Those Who Lack Faith

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A study released last week revealed that cancer will likely overtake heart disease as the number one cause of death in the world in 2010. The most complete statistical data on leading causes of death I could find were located at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention web site. According to the CDC, the most recent (2006) final statistics listed heart disease as the leading cause of death, followed by cancer, stroke, chronic respiratory disease, and accidents (or unintentional death).

When people ask “How do you think you will you die?,” we usually take that question to mean, “What will be the cause of your death?” Maybe we should ask a better question, that being, “How will you face death when it comes?” The seventh and final phrase Jesus said on the cross is found in Luke 23:46. For me, this is as good as an explanation I can find in the Bible to shed light on how Jesus himself faced death.

“Then Jesus shouted, ‘Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!’ And with those words, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46, NLT)

We know the cause of Jesus’ death was crucifixion, and medical doctors have gone to great lengths to explain how crucifixion worked in the first century. These insights from the halls of medicine include detailed analysis of how pain was inflicted and how crucifixion was lethal. None of that should be minimized, for Jesus’ did suffer greatly in his physical body. But I do think that we miss a dimension of the story if we neglect to see the resilience of spirit and declaration of faith from Jesus as he faced physical death. The seventh word was and remains a source of encouragement to those who need a faith lift.

Mar
25

How Will You Die?

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This weekend I’m beginning my talk with a very important question: How will you die?

I assume you will take that question to mean, “What will be the cause of my death?”…as in an accident, disease, or natural causes. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is, “How will you face death when (not if) it comes?”

Jesus taught us so much about how to live life with fullness and joy. He showed us through his words and his works that we are to be people of passionate worship and uncommon love. He valued compassion and justice, truth and witness, service and devotion. All this and more were part and parcel of his daily comings and goings. Sometimes I think we focus so much on Jesus’ cause of death that we forget how he actually died.

“Then Jesus shouted, ‘Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!’ And with those words, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46, NLT)

This weekend I’m concluding the last of the series on Words to Live by from a Dying Man. The final word is a word about faith. Jesus taught about saving faith, living faith, and dying faith. I don’t know what my cause of death will be, but I hope to be strong enough in faith to die like Jesus died.