Jesus and Eternal Life

Admittedly, this blog has put a lot of trust in the words of the Bible to inform us about life after death. It has especially put trust in Jesus’ message. Why? How do we know that Jesus wasn’t a fictional character, or a first century person with delusional disorder, or a liar, or a charlatan, or just a person with a great imagination, or misunderstood and mistranslated? How would we know the same things about other religious leaders, both living and departed, who claim to have revelation about eternal life. There are plenty of ways to explain away Jesus, if you want to do that.

There are exhaustive rebuttals for every negative theory mentioned above and then some. I will keep it basic. Several layers of objective evidence should make you at least be curious and listen to what He says. The final proof that moves you from skeptic to believer will have to come from God interacting with you directly. Nothing in history, or reality for that matter, is entirely above some skeptic angle of reasoning to reject it. Still truth is truth and reality is reality. Our perception and understanding of it is the thing that can be false.

So here are the “layers of evidence” that I would put before you on behalf of the credibility of Jesus:

  • Unlike many other “religious” accounts, the story of Jesus establishes a specific time and place. Jesus did not exist, “Once upon a time.”
  • While that time was a long time ago, approximately 2 B.C. to 33B. C.; it was not so long ago that we do not have outside archeological and documented references from outside of Christianity about Christianity and most of the places referenced in the story of Jesus.
  • Jesus’ life and many of the specifics of it were clearly foretold hundreds if not thousands of years before they happened. This includes specifics that you would not or could not arrange: place of birth, unique means of birth, general time period of life, location of ministry, miraculous proofs, style of death and more.
  • Eyewitnesses recorded acts of Jesus that were clearly miraculous and not likely to be illusions. These eyewitnesses all suffered for their testimony and did not seem to have a reason to lie.
  • Jesus’ greatest promoter after his death was a former enemy of the faith who encountered a resurrected Jesus.
  • The Bible is the most recorded document from antiquity by far. Detailed study of manuscripts can detect copying errors, but they are few and identifiable by comparison studies. The earliest manuscripts can be dated to within decades of the actual events.
  • Both the time of the conception, birth and death of Jesus can be correlated to certain conjunction of stars and a full lunar eclipse, which are verifiable through mathematical means.

While the life of Jesus is full of such things as healing the sick, raising the dead, teaching about God, teaching about good and evil; the main mission of Jesus was connected to doing something specific (and to the sensibility of many, strange) to establish the possibility of a desirable eternal life for human beings, who actually didn’t deserve it according to the Law of God.

Jesus’ death was not tragic and inappropriate. It was what He needed to do. It was not only an example of self-sacrifice. It was fulfilling requirements established by God’s own Law on behalf of our whole species. Jesus’ death and, worse yet, His being forsaken by the Father while on the cross; were all voluntary and planned. Without these actions nobody would be at peace with God. God’s judgement of our sinful rejection of Him would fall on us hard. Death would be something to avoid and delay at all costs.

The way God created us makes us eternally and consciously “alive” in one form or another according to Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us gives us an existence worth having. One cannot go back in time to verify Jesus’ story with your own senses. Usually, you cannot go beyond death to verify what is there or not there either. We depend on God sharing information about these things or we reject that information. The surrounding, verifiable facts should at least make you think.

Why Believe In Eternal Life?

You go to a funeral or visitation and there lies the body of a person you know. There is no movement, no sign of life. None of your senses tell you that this person still exists. There is just observable death and with it grief. Perhaps you want to believe that they are “in a better place”, but it could be just wishful thinking that we desperately need at this moment.

In another instance, you are sitting with a person in the process of dying. They seem to be having a vision. “I see Grandpa!” “The angels are coming for me!” ” I see Jesus!” You, of course, don’t see any of this. Is it real or is this just the expected delusions created by a dying brain? The same might be asked about people who have more terrifying visions. “I see fire!” “Help me!”

The sensory experience or even instrumental readings available at the time of death, all carry with them a large degree of doubt. Short of being able to freely move back and forth from this life to the next, all accounts are questionable. While I would put some weight behind the testimony of those who have had Near Death Experiences, I would consider our ability to measure or experience life after death to severely limited. Maybe someday we will have an instrument that can peer beyond death, but the current scientific orthodoxy has already decided that such a thing doesn’t exist.

That leaves us with two further means of information: one I can endorse and one I cannot. God can give to people the truth of what lies beyond the grave, if He so desires. And to a limited extend, that is exactly what He has done. When you are unequipped to investigate on your own, you are dependent on revelation. The other is a type of stolen revelation. Dabbling in the occult is tapping into the knowledge and power of other beings, evil beings, that can span the gap of death. God strictly forbids it. Why? He knows them to be prolific liars and deceivers. He knows them to hate our species, but that hasn’t kept people away.

The people of Israel were strictly warned against this type of inquiry. The people who occupied Canaan where deeply into these practices along with other disgusting forms of worship. For these reasons, they were being dispossessed of the land.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

Such practices and the desperate demand for such contact has also created a cadre of con-men and women who prey on sorrow. It leads many people to doubt that such capabilities even exist. But God was not warning about hucksters.

Revelation from Jesus, who is God incarnate, is our most trustworthy source of information. Others sources provide modest, secondary affirmation. Jesus promised to be straight with us.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

John 14:1-2

If we were limited to just this life, then Jesus would have said so. There was no motive to lie. But Jesus’ whole mission was to prepare a place for us. It already had been determined and revealed that people would face a Judgment Day and experience a resurrection from the dead. Jesus was preparing a further place and a better resurrection. He was going to become the way to have Heaven as a destination at death, and a New Heaven and New Earth as a home after the resurrection.

Jesus proved his reliability on such grand promises to his contemporaries by raising people from the dead, three in all; and then rising from the dead himself. Do you have someone with better credentials?

It is true that there is nothing like experience. I can guarantee that you will get you chance at that. But listening to the revelation that God has given us is more than just interesting information. It is critical and relevant to all. It is information intended for you and truthful. It prepares you for death and guides you in life. It can make you certain of things you cannot see or measure.

Reward In Eternity

The idea of receiving some sort of reward, honor or earned responsibility in either Heaven or the New Earth really bothers some people. It should make us uncomfortable a little. It is a fundamental truth that we don’t deserve to experience the joys of Heaven or the freedom of a new creation. We are sinners and we can only gain access to these places as a gift.

Still, the Bible (primarily Jesus) speaks of reward, treasure, and commendation frequently. So how can being saved by grace and receiving an earned reward go together?

It starts with serving as a disciple. One cannot even be a true disciple of Jesus without understanding that we are so chosen by grace. The same is true of being a “steward”. You don’t have the job unless you’ve been hired by God. So for a successful disciple/steward the right attitude is required. Jesus puts it this way:

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.”

Luke 17:10

There is no room for entitlement, competition, or pride. We serve Jesus because we love Jesus, we believe in Jesus’ work, we are commanded to serve, and if we receive nothing for it, it was still the appropriate reaction to how Jesus has served us by His life and death. That said, it doesn’t mean that Jesus can’t reward or honor whoever he wishes.

Just looking at the word “reward” as it refers to something that is given after death, we come up with this list:

Matthew 5:12/Luke6:23 Enduring persecution because of Jesus

Matthew 5:46/Luke 6:35 Loving your enemies

Matthew 6:1-4 Giving to the needy secretly

Matthew 6:5-6 Praying secretly (Could be an earthly reward as well)

Matthew 10:40-41 Supporting the workers of God’s Kingdom

Matthew 10:42 Giving a cup of cold water to a child (Indicating the scope of what God rewards)

1 Corinthians 3:14 Building on the foundation of grace in Christ honorably

1 Corinthians 9:17 Accurately and willingly sharing God’s Word

Colossians 3:24 Doing anything well as for the Lord

Speaking generically about God rewarding: 2 John 1:8, Revelation 11:18

Jesus speaks about laying up treasures in Heaven: Matthew 6:19-21, Matthew 19:21 (for giving to the poor)

1 Timothy 6:19 Treasures in eternity by being rich in good works

Receiving a “commendation” from God:

1 Corinthians 4:5

Hebrews 11:2

Matthew 25:21,23

A reward, treasure or commendation is something earned. Entrance into Heaven or the New Earth is something given through the forgiveness of sins, because there is no way we could earn it.

It is clear that for those saved by Jesus, Judgment Day is about reward and not about salvation. Salvation has already been determined. It seems that God’s reward, whatever it is, can be received while living, in Heaven, or after Judgment Day. But what is it?

For good reasons the Bible is not specific. I think our sinful nature would be tempted to abuse thoughts of specific reward. The Bible does refer to honor coming through commendation. It also speaks of heightened responsibility in the New Earth for good stewardship here. (Parable of the Talents) One last idea is that reward can be connected to the people we assist. Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as his “hope or joy or crown of boasting…our glory and joy.” The thought of ongoing joyful relationships as a reward is particularly appealing.

One counterpoint often cited to the idea of reward is the parable of the “Workers in the Vineyard”. (Matthew 20:1-16) In this story workers are hired throughout the day to work in God’s vineyard. At the end of the day, they are all paid the same; giving the idea that eternal life is egalitarian. While equality in many respects will be the feeling in the Kingdom of God, since sinful competition and favoritism will be a thing of the past, this story speaks primarily of grace and love and not reward. Late comers to God’s Kingdom are as valued as those who have been there (as a people) for centuries.

One final verse to bring out on this topic is 1 Corinthians 3:15. This is a picture of Judgment Day for those who are saved. The section speaks of building on the foundation of Christ with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw. In other words, living in a way that is changed and honors God or simply receiving grace and being largely unchanged. Judgment Day will reveal how well our lives have been spent “by fire”. This describes some sort of supernatural judgment process. Verse 15 concludes the section in a way that shows the value of grace and the value of good discipleship:

If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:15

What does awareness of this dynamic of God’s Kingdom do for us? It helps us trust in mercy of God for one. It also shows a value of our lives that does confuse salvation with good living. I take away peace that I belong to God and eternal life with Him is mine, even if I frequently fail. I also take away excitement about having a God-given purpose of life. It is my hope to please God and make a difference. It is my duty.

What Is Eternal Life?

I want to tell you of an encounter I had on Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. I am not speaking metaphorically here. I was in Jerusalem a couple of years ago. We were visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is a church in the old city of Jerusalem, where the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and of Jesus’ burial lie within one building. Many people, including me, don’t appreciate that Golgotha and the rich man’s tomb were so close together; but John’s gospel records that the place of crucifixion was in a garden. It was an ugly act placed in a beautiful place near the gate of the city. I expect it was to show Roman dominance.

When you enter at the ground level through the main door, the top of Golgotha (the place of the skull) is just up about the equivalent of two normal floors of a building to your right. The tomb is around a corner to your left. Our group went up to the Chapel on top of Golgotha first. The chapel is a somewhat sad story of in-fighting among the groups that control the church. There are three altars. The far right altar is Roman Catholic, the middle Orthodox, the left Arminian. We were in the middle and a group (presumably Catholic) was in the right portion of the chapel. I couldn’t help but overhear the presentation being made by the priest, who sounded American. To my shock he said, “I don’t know what eternal life is, but I think it has something to do with this Earth; we live on in the memories of people.”

I almost had a stroke. Here we are on the likely place where Jesus died and a member of the clergy suggests that eternal life is being remembered. In reflection on the statement made by the priest, I guess I assumed that everyone is clear about the nature of eternal life; and, clearly, I assumed too much. When we let worldly doubts, fears, and academic criticism get into our heads, we can believe that real existence beyond our deaths is impossible. The Jews also had a group, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. When this becomes your worldview, references to eternal life are nothing more than wishful thinking or, as the priest said, memories.

My question is, “What would Jesus’ dying on a cross 2000 years ago have anything to do with whether people remember me or not?” The answer is, “It doesn’t.” On that rock on which we stood Jesus literally suffered being forsaken by His Father. That selfless act enabled a promise of God to work. God extends to humans the opportunity to be connected to Jesus. When connected through baptism in the name of Jesus (not some other ridiculous formula), the forsakeness of Jesus becomes the fulfillment of what God’s law requires of us. Because we have not kept God’s Law, we are required to be damned (forsaken). Jesus takes that sentence for us. Having been made right with God, we can live with God in the joy and glory of Heaven (a real place and thus capitalized) and also in the New Earth (also real and as a proper noun capitalized). If you can’t tell, the failure of many books and bible translations to capitalize both Heaven and Earth when referring to the place is a pet peeve of mine.

It is also important to note here that eternal life does not just mean existence. After your death you will exist regardless of your standing with God. That is how you are made. You will actually exist, not just in memory. It is just that if you exist as a being forsaken by God, the experience will be so hopeless and horrifying that calling such an existence “life” is a gross disservice to the word. The Bible is not even thrilled with called our current existence “life”. Existence in Heaven and the New Earth is real life. Once there you will not care if people remember you. You will be having too much fun. Life after death is not some version of the Disney movie, “Coco”. Maybe that is where the priest learned his theology.

So take heart. Jesus has opened the door to life. This is not some vague concept. It is more concrete that you are now.

Grief and Christmas

As a pastor I can tell you that deaths do not happen evenly over the course of a year. Death seems to be concentrated into the colder months. At my congregation we would typically have 8 to 12 funerals a year. This year, since mid-October we have already had 9 deaths with no doubt more to come before Spring. Covid only partially explains the rise.

This reality means that many deaths happen around the holidays, leaving grief perpetually connected with a day that is supposed to be happy. The same type of association can happen with hymns. We often play a person’s favorite hymn at their funeral, which often ruins it for us. “How Great Thou Art” is a hymn that many people can’t listen to for that reason.

Having a painful association points to having an incomplete and ineffective grieving process. Remembering shouldn’t hurt after a while. If we are still hurting, then we are dwelling on what we have lost versus focusing on the promise of eternal life and a future reunion. This, of course, hinges on having eternal life through Jesus.

The Christmas season will be the source of many cherished family memories. It should be. But the Christmas season is misspent if it is focused primarily on family and not focused on Christ. Celebrating the birth of Christ is celebrating God coming into the world to give a most precious gift.

The Son of God became a human to place himself under the jurisdiction of God’s Law. He came as the child of a virgin so that he would not be born with a sinful nature like the rest of us. Instead, he could remain sinless for life. He then could do something for us that is an incredible act of sacrificial love. When dying on the cross, Jesus was forsaken by his Father as a substitute for his Father forsaking us. To be forsaken, utterly abandoned by God, is the punishment required for sin. If you are connected to Jesus through baptism, your eternal punishment is done.

If your loved one died as a believer in Jesus as their Savior, they are alive with Jesus. Do not look back, look forward. If you also are in Christ, then there are more good times, even better than the best ahead. Let the celebration of the birth of a Savior take you there, at least for awhile. Be sure to also make the most of those who are still alive and with you.

I would say the same for “How Great Thou Art”, or any hymn for that matter. It sure not remind you of loss but rather of gain. Train your brain to do this. Catch yourself when you think about the loss, remind yourself of God’s promise and then imagine what you still cannot see. Do not wallow in loss. It is not forgetting your loved one, it is remembering them properly.

A Checklist for Death

I am a list maker. For many tasks I sit down and make a “to do” list so I do not forget something, and then take pleasure in checking off the list. Oddly, I do not typically do this for travel, but I should and many people do. Travel has a lot of details. You want to pack everything that you will need. You need to stop the mail, water the plants, care for your pets, and perhaps turn off the main water.

Should we have a checklist for death? It is a form of travel. Most of us are not planning to die, but we all will. A global pandemic helps to make that more real. Not only death, but Jesus’ return could be imminent. You don’t want to be unprepared.

The last two blogs covered the two critical areas in preparation for Judgment Day that Jesus shared with us. The first, we need to make sure our faith is alive. The stronger the better. Faith is the oil in the lamps in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Secondly, we want to be found to be faithful stewards, so we are to be busy doing God’s work at all times.

Anything else? There are a few more things that have biblical touchpoints that make for a wise checklist in preparation for leaving this Earth.

The first is being reconciled to everyone we know as far as that is possible. Don’t fail to ask for forgiveness from people that you hurt. Don’t fail to offer forgiveness to those who hurt you. Dying at peace means living at peace. Is this always possible? No. But be the instigator in trying to heal old wounds–even if you feel it should be the other person or that the effort is futile. To know that you put in the effort matters. (Matthew 5:25f, 18:21-35)

The next is to make clear, to at least the important people in your life, that you are disciple of Jesus. This is not to be done in a vain and bragging fashion. This is just the simple fact that your actions should match your beliefs. No one should be guessing whether you belong to Christ because your sinful nature is allowed to give conflicting messages. The Christian faith is not meant to be a private matter. Disciples are to be making more disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The degree to which you make your faith public depends on where you are. In the U.S., we should not hide who are at all, even though we may face ridicule from some. In countries where we would face dangerous persecution, we must be more clever. Other disciples of Jesus should recognize Christ in us. For others it depends on the Spirit’s guidance. We may be overt with our faith for the sake of witnessing to others. God will guide as to whether another person is open to our witness or a danger to be avoided. (Matthew 10:16)

A third item on our checklist is related to a good stewardship of life. Paul says,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1o

We are here in this life because we have work to do. God shapes us and empowers us to do “good works”, which cover a scope of activity from showing love and meeting needs of others, to direct witnessing and discipleship of others, to genuine worship in spirit and truth, to doing our daily work to the glory of God, to developing and reflecting God’s character through obedience to His commands, to general good stewardship, to interacting as a friend with God. It is a lot of stuff. As we age and our faculties diminish, we may feel that we are no longer useful to the Kingdom of God; but if God has us here still, then we have a purpose. Look for it. There is no checklist we can possess of things God has prepared us to do, but seek to knock it all out as if there is one.

Our fourth item on our checklist is common to all people. It is making sure your final wishes are known. Have a will. If it has some eccentricities explain them to your loved ones ahead of time. Don’t take the coward’s way out and have surprises at the reading of the will. The final disposition of a Christian’s earthly property should not be a source of conflict nor offense. (Luke 12:15)

Finally, think about how you can make a final impact. I do think that one should help the next generation through a will if you can. I do not think that you should indulge them to a point of not needing to provide for themselves. That is not good stewardship nor healthy for our children. Finances can make an impact for the Kingdom of God and is one way to make a final impact. Though we will not be the witness ourselves, the person we support will do the work and we will share in it. (Matthew 10:41)

Another way to have a final impact is to leave a pre-recorded witness for your friends and family. This can be viewed after your death privately or as part of a funeral. Don’t call people out or embarrass them. Simply share words of your love and God’s.

This list doesn’t require death to be imminent. But sometimes that is a catalyst to get things done. Checking this list and keeping it current shows that you care about the details of life and respect that fact that we are only temporarily here. Real life comes next when you belong to Christ.

Faithful Stewardship

To be well prepared for death, we have to be reconciled with our Maker and Judge. That is the most fundamental thing. The story of the Ten Virgins, covered in my last blog, teaches that we cannot have the connection that we have with Jesus to run dry, and faith be lost. Presuming that this is not the case, we go on to Jesus’ next parable, The Parable of the Talents, in Matthew 25:14-30 to learn another valuable lesson about being prepared for death and/or Judgment Day.

This story describes Jesus as a rich man who is going away and leaving property in the management of three stewards. From Jesus’ ascension to His return, Jesus is not going to have a direct visible presence. He promises to be with us always. He promises that we are “the Body of Christ” and that He is in us. But to the outside observer, He is gone. The wise and prepared disciple of Jesus understands that Jesus is here and that He has given us responsibility. We are best prepared when we are faithfully caring out our responsibility to the very end of our days.

In the story, two of the three stewards manage to bring a 100% return. They are not given equal responsibilities (one has five talents of silver-approximately 100 years wages and the other has three talents) The money represents a wide range of things of which we are stewards: our money, our time, our abilities, our opportunities, our bodies, the planet, our knowledge of God and possibly more.

Their example instructs us to be examining our stewardship throughout our lives. Again, our stewardship doesn’t save us, but clearly there is a reward connected with doing a good job and we don’t have an evaluation until Judgment Day. It is good to be aware of our stewardship as early as possible, but this lesson is especially valuable toward the end of life when we might be inclined to evaluate our own lives as useless.

To be productive stewards isn’t necessarily the same thing as having a big impact on the world. It is just a matter of being faithful with what you have. As physical and mental faculties diminish, we need to seek what we can do rather than merely survive or bemoan what we have lost. Can you still pray? Then do it. Can you show love? Can you praise God, even internally? God determines when our stewardship is concluded in this life.

This is the primary argument against suicide. Suicide is not necessarily damning , but it is a sin. When we cut the corner to death, we leave behind at least some of our stewardship responsibility. A person who sees life as a stewardship given by God and is confident in eternal life because of grace is highly unlikely to find any situation bad enough to merit killing oneself.

Faithful stewardship involves both respect for the asset under your stewardship as being the property of God, efficient use of it, and results that further God’s Kingdom or honor God’s name. Faithful stewardship is a second level of preparedness for death.

The story has a third steward in it. This one is given only one talent, but he buries it in the ground. Who does this character represent? It represents those who are given at least life, time on Earth, and an intellectual understanding of the Gospel; but it never results in faith, salvation and consequently any result that is pleasing to God.

In his explanation, the third steward says that he knew the owner was a hard man and was afraid. Is God a hard man? In a way, yes. God is patient, merciful, loving and supportive. Those who have faith can never be completely unproductive, so there is little to worry about. But the story reminds us of the twin facts that God can be generous and severe.

Faithlessness and unfaithfulness as a steward results in the third steward being “cut to pieces and put with the hypocrites. In that place where there will be weeping a gnashing of teeth.” This sentence a description of being damned. God’s law leaves no room for those who reject Jesus’ sacrifice. God’s justice or severity will not compromise that requirement.

Again, do not take away that decent stewardship saves you. God gives salvation, but throwing it away damns you or, even better, leaves you in your natural state of being damned. Being a good steward rewards you. The two productive stewards get this accolade and promise:

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.

Matthew 25:23

That is a promise that excites and a commendation that we should all seek.

For another angle on The Parable of the Talents go here:

https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/1395

Do You Have Oil in Your Lamp?

If you are not familiar with Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 of the Ten Virgins, then the title of this article would be confusing. Jesus tells a story where 10 bridesmaids are waiting the coming of the bridegroom. It is a picture of waiting for Jesus’ return and Judgment Day, but it might as well also be a story of waiting for our death.

In the story, five of the bridesmaids run out of oil for their lamps, because they did not adequately plan for the long delay. What does the oil represent? It is God who gets through to us and gives us a connection to Jesus that we call faith. This connection can be weak or strong, demonstrating its presence with trust and good works or barely discernable from those without faith. It is also comparable to a living thing–like a plant. Stronger is obviously better. So to grow or even to just survive, faith requires the input of God like a plant needs water. This input comes through exposure to God’s Word and through the gift of Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus instructs all of his people to have certain practices: worship, prayer, confession of sins, reading the Bible and regular participation in the Lord’s Supper. These practices not only keep “oil in our lamps”, they bring us into a more personal interaction with God, and prepare us for our life’s God-given purpose.

That said, these practices, which I call the practices of a disciple, are a way to not only prepare for life but to prepare for our death. Life is relatively short, but in the midst of troubling times it can seem to drag on for a long time. During these times it is easy to lose our zeal for God, then lose our basic feeling of being connected to God, next to drift away from critical practices and run low or out of “oil”.

One of my big concerns as a pastor is how the Covid-19 pandemic will impact people’s discipleship practices. Will be become both physically and spiritually soft during this pandemic because we acquire a habit of doing nothing?

If we continue to walk with God through all situations, we will have oil to spare. People who die with oil to spare, approach their immediate death with joy and expectation. They leave a marvelous example for those they leave behind and give a reason for happiness in the midst of loss.

Having oil in your lamp is one part of our preparation. Being active in pursuing our God given purpose is what I will cover in my next blog.

Prepared for Your Death

You are in good health. Maybe you are even young. Why should you think about death? The obvious answer is that all you have to be is alive in order to die. There is no particular age or way that it comes, and you are not guaranteed that you will grow old before death. But there is a better answer for why you should consider your own mortality. That is because living like you will die someday (and you will), will cause you to truly consider the purpose of life and help you to live fully and wisely.

If it were a fact that we just die and cease to exist, then truly life would be without purpose. In that case do whatever you want and can get away with. But that is not the case. Both the Bible and Near Death Experiences around the world confirm that we go on. The Bible also confirms that life has a purpose and it is a purpose often neglected by people.

When you don’t consider your mortality, or more accurately your immortality, you tend to do mostly what pleases you. Your life is measured by the number and quality of your experiences or the accumulation of your wealth. There is a bumper sticker that reflects this default philosophy, it says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” If that is on your car, you may want to scape it off before I see it. I will mock you.

Wealth simply passes through our fingers. We enjoy it only temporarily. Life isn’t a contest either. You don’t win anything for being the richest or having many toys. Some of the richest people in history have even concluded that dying with massive wealth was a source of shame and not honor. It certainly hasn’t done much for family dynamics as people quarrel over the estate.

Legacy is a concern of those who truly doubt the reality of eternal life. To be remembered well isn’t a bad thing, it is just not something that will enhance your existence. It is like having a great looking monument on your grave. Others will see it and not care. You won’t see it at all.

The most important quality of both life and death is to right with your Maker. Running a course independent of that chosen by God may feel like freedom but it is actually slavery to our inherent evil. If our death deposits us into the judgment of a Being we have denied and rebelled against, then nothing else matters. We are doomed. If on the other hand, we move from a life that has always been tainted into the arms of a Being that loves us and has compensated for our inherent evil, then that is the most fundamentally important thing in life. The meaning of life is connected to whatever comes next.

The good news is that God does favor the human race. We aggravate Him. We provoke Him. We do our best to write Him out of history. But God is a different kind of being. When He has decided to love someone or something, then He loves them regardless of their response. Despite ourselves, God has enacted a plan that puts a joyful, fun, social and unblemished life after death in our laps. He just has to get through our tough defenses to make it a reality for us personally. A connection to Jesus is the most valuable and indispensable asset we can have, and it is a gift that God is trying to give.

If you have a faith in Jesus as a Savior who has given Himself to die for your sins, then God has done it. He has broken through to you. Every other preparation for death is small by comparison, but there are more. The upcoming blogs will talk about how life impacts afterlife when you are connected to Jesus through faith and baptism. I hope you are curious enough to read them.

Marriage and the Afterlife

In my last entry, I spoke briefly about Jesus’s words in Matthew 22, where Jesus states that “in the resurrection” we will neither be married or given in marriage but will be like the angels. The true focus of that discussion with the Sadducees was that there was such a thing as the resurrection of the dead. For those of us who don’t doubt that, our focus shifts to the topic of marriage in the afterlife. So let’s concentrate on that topic.

In Romans 7, Paul confirms that marriage is a bond for our current stage of life. He says:

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.

Romans 7:2

That context makes marriage sound like something undesirable. That is not Paul’s intent. He is talking about the application of God’s Law to our salvation and uses marriage as an analogy. Obviously, people feel differently about their marriages. Some cannot imagine life without their spouse, others can’t wait for life without their spouse.

Marriage originally was conceived as a permanent and joyful union. Since Adam and Eve lived before sin and were created to never die, marriage would have been a part of our permanent condition. Sin not only altered our relationship with God, it damaged our relationship with each other, and apparently changed the plans God has for us. Marriage still remained a positive and honorable bond, but it would no longer be without challenges; nor would it remain a permanent condition.

So what does God have in mind for us, both in Heaven and in the New Earth? Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, was about “the resurrection”; specifically because the Sadducees didn’t think the resurrection of the dead was literal. It is. This may mean that our time in Heaven during the “Intermediate Period”, the time between your death and Judgment Day, is yet another arrangement. Jesus said in the resurrection we are neither married or given in marriage, but are like the angels. He did not explain what the angels are like other than to imply that they are different than us in this regard. This passage from Matthew may be informed a little by a passage in Isaiah 65. Talking about the post-resurrection world, Isaiah says:

No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, and the one not living out a hundred years would be accursed.

Isaiah 65:20

This difficult passage may be only contrasting the painful realities of pre-mature death in the current age to eternal life in the next. Still, we need to possibly consider that there may be an aging cycle within eternal life, and still some form of reproduction or regeneration. The aging cycle would not be something undesirable as it is today under the curse. Possibly it could be similar to the “Immortal Jellyfish”, which is a species that goes through a maturation process only to return to the beginning of the cycle without dying.

What does this say about marriage? Nothing more than if there is reproduction or regeneration is not the same as marital, sexual reproduction.

Does this diminish our need for relationships in the afterlife? I would think not. God is a being who desires relationships, and humans were made for relationships. While our relationships in the afterlife will be different, I would expect them to be more numerous, close and trouble-free. Perhaps marriage is not in the plans for our afterlife, because of the great number of close relationships that we will have.

Considering the little information we have about marriage in the afterlife, how should it inform our marital relations now? People often project their current relationships as being unchanged by death. This comforts them. While I doubt that this is accurate, there is little need to emotionally detach from a person who has died. You may not be married anymore, but for those of us who have been given eternal life through Jesus, we will have a new and better relationship to experience. It is hard to imagine, but Scripture hints at God’s innovations that will make relationships exciting and vital for an eternity.