Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Living We Die; In Dying We Live

Chapter 6 of The Slumber of Christianity deals with the teaching of Jesus that real living is found in heaven. According to Ted Dekker we put ourselves at risk of falling into slumber when we put our expectations in finding satisfaction in this life.
“We expect perfect bliss in our marriages here on earth when when such a bliss isn’t available, at least not here.

“We beg God for better jobs, but none come.

“We trust for growth in our churches, but numbers stagnate.

“And when we don’t find these expected benefits to our faith, we begin to falter.

“We must dump the loads of expectations for nirvana in this life along with the burden of find ultimate happiness. That happiness simply isn’t available during our alloted eighty-odd years. The bliss we seek awaits in the next life. Our faith is being sure of this hope. The pleasures God has given us serve as a reminder of far greater pleasures to come.” (p. 81)

Dekker goes on to talk about death and how true life is found when we die. He then asks this question:
“In living we die. But don’t fear, because in dying we live! Then we do we sweep death under the rug?” (p. 82)

Good question. We try our best, even in our sermons and lessons and books, to avoid talking about death. We want to avoid that discussion at all costs, but according to Biblical theology it is through death that we truly begin to live. When we don’t fear death, when we have hope for better things to come, then we can enjoy the things of this life better without being bound to them.

Have we forgotten the promise, the Good News, of the New Testament?
“Spiritual death was a thing to be feared, which explains why Paul wrote tirelessly on the subject. The world lives in spiritual death, but through Christ we are born again into a new life. Not a new physical life, but a new spiritual life that makes physical death irrelevant.” (p. 85)

Do we believe that? Honestly it is hard for me to not think about all the things I will miss out on if I died today. Death, physical death, hardly seem irrelevant to me. No wonder I do what I can to protect this life I have.
“Yet we seem to have it backward. We tend to go to extremes to protect the body rather than the soul. And it’s no wonder, really. The god of this world know all too well the devastating nature of spiritual death. He’s gone to great lengths to distract us from that death by redirecting our fears of death to physical death. He began by slaughtering Christ. Then he continued by killing as many of Christ’s followers as he could, intending to strike fear into their hearts.” (p. 86)

Instead of fearing physical death we need to put our trust and our hope in Jesus. Yes, Satan killed Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead. What a promise for us! Can we find hope in the resurrection? Yet, for us to find hope in the resurrection we have to believe that heaven holds more joy and pleasure than what we can find here. Let’s face it we like this world way too much.
“We Christians, like the world, are so taken with this life full of its colors and sounds and tastes that give us joy, we don’t really want the next life, which, as far as we can see, consists of nothing more than playing harps around a throne. It’s no wonder we don’t want to die.” (p. 88)

When we lack the hope of a better and indescribable life to come we put ourselves at risk of losing our faith completely. Hope is what keeps us going when everything else looks bleak.
“Christianity’s foundation rests on a living hope that fills us with an inexpressible joy for that which is to come. Without this hope, our faith will fail, we won’t have the power to withstand our trials, and we will slip into a slumber.” (p. 91)

Our hope rests in the promise of Jesus to prepare a place for us. We might be content in building huts and play kingdoms in this world, but Jesus is in heaven preparing us a place that is wilder than anything that we can imagine.
“There can be no mistake about the object of our hope. It is not in what we see now. It is not in the gifts of the Spirit. It is not in a large ministry or a thriving church. It is not in a good marriage or good health or good food.

“It is heaven. This is true Christianity, and this is what we were saved into. A kingdom so rich in reward, our hope for that kingdom causes us to groan.” (p. 97)

If our hope isn’t in heaven do we really understand the gospel?
“One has to wonder if we truly understand the good news at all. Buildings and programs and attendance and well-run services aren’t the gospel, yet they preoccupy our minds. The fact that because of Christ there is coming a blessed day when we will finally be able to dive into God himself rather than be eternally separated from him, is the good news. We ought to let that reality ravage our minds.” (p. 98)

Dekker references the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25-1-13). He makes the point that the only difference between the five who were let into the wedding banquet and the five who were shut out was their preparation. He goes on to write:
“The notion that we have some responsibility to secure oil for our journey to the wedding feast is an unpopular notion in Christianity today. Our religion is focused on quick fixes that require nothing. But here Jesus is clearly making the case that the virgin’s responsibility to secure oil before the wedding was critical to their journey.” (p. 102)

Dekker suggests that the lamp oil represents hope. So hope isn’t just something that is given to us, but it is something that we must find. I don’t know if he is right, but I would agree that hope is something that we must find. While is initially a gift it grows as we live by faith and experience God more and more. If we are not living by faith and just going through the motions of a religion we, like the five bridesmaids who run out of oil, will find our light fading as our hope runs out.
“And of all the gifts, hope is perhaps the most personal. You can show love, you can demonstrate faith, but you either have or do not have hope. The amount of hope you have, like oil, may be shown in how bright your lamp shines. You may attend a church filled with colorfully dressed Christians who sing and wave their lamps in celebration. But check the flames that light the path to the wedding feast, and you will know if the bridesmaids you dance with are wise or foolish.” (p. 103)

Hope is what attracted so many to the Church.
“The New Testament is like a seed itself, rich in the oil of hope. You can’t read a single book without being soaked in it. The early church thrived in this oil. Hope lit their lamps and attracted thousands into a persecuted movement.

“The early Christians eagerly awaited their inheritance. Each day they sang songs about death being swallowed up in victory at the end of days. Their entire faith burned with hope for a day that would soon come, not only for the days that had come.” (p. 103)

We need to take some time and rediscover the teachings of the New Testament. Not to dissect them and discover who has the correct doctrine, but to immerse ourselves in the promises and the hope that it contains.
“It is time that we understand the true nature of our own faith. Christianity is as much about death as life. It’s about the end of spiritual death, through a spiritual birth, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection. Death has become life, in part now, and in whole after this life. After we die.

“And the way we engage this entire truth is through a small portal into the reality that lies beyond. The portal is hope.

“But our eyes of hope have grown heavy and dark, and we can no longer see past the skin of this world into the next.” (p. 104)

Life takes on a whole new significance when we allow ourselves to die to the things of this world and long for what God has prepared for us in heaven. Clinging to Jesus, His death and resurrection, means we don’t have to fear death any longer, because we know better things wait for us on the other side.

Find the other chapters:
Chapter 1: The Death of our Dreams
Chapter 2: The Search for Pleasure
Chapter 3: Foundations
Chapter 4: Give Me Pleasure or Give Me Death
Chapter 5: The Slippery Slope to Slumber
Chapter 7: Created to Obsess
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Heart part 1
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Heart part 2

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