The Way That We Are Made

What makes a human being special, if anything? A Materialist would say that nothing is special. We are just a biological robot doing what chemistry is forcing us to do with no specific purpose. Materialism is a very disparaging philosophy that doesn’t fit our experience. I don’t believe it at all. I experience myself making choices, contemplating my existence, living with purpose; and even though I have not died and returned from the dead yet, I have a sense that I am not limited to my physical lifespan. That may lack scientific vigor, but the atheistic claims of a Materialist do as well, and are clearly rubbish.

Human beings are more than interesting chemistry. Complex chemistry is a part of our being, but not the whole of it. Most people have thought so. The dissenters have a clear bias–they don’t want God to exist.

The Bible says something different about humans. It says we were created in the “image of God”. What does that mean? I don’t think it is the common meaning of the term “image”. The Bible declares several times that God is a spirit or is spirit. While the meaning of “spirit” is also vague, I would gather from usage that it means that God is not set in his appearance by a defined physical form. Part of being created in the “image of God” is having a part of our being not connected to a defined physical form.

Our bodies are a “defined physical form” the way I am using the phrase. The Bible speaks of humans as also having a “spirit”. Our spirit may be what we experience as consciousness. But our spirit is not the whole of us. We are body, and possibly bodies, and spirit. Our spirit can be liberated from connection to our body. That is what death is. Our spirit can interact with our body. That is why we can control it and that is what is observed when mapping brain activity.

We know that our earthly body can die and decay. Our spirit cannot, which is another aspect of being made in the image of God. We are eternal. While I do not believe in reincarnation, I understand the Bible to say that we can have a heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:40, 2 Corinthians 5:1). In that case, our spirit is interacting with a body made for the physical dimensions of Heaven. I also know from the Bible that we will have a “resurrected” body. In this case, our spirit is interacting with a recreated, indestructible body built for the physical dimensions of this universe. Being eternal, we will never lapse into non-existence.

Being created in the image of God means, among still other things, that we have an eternal, non-material part that can interact with material bodies that can exist within their respective physical realms. This is theorizing that Heaven is a parallel universe to this universe rather than a remote part of it. The same can be said for Hell. How we will spend eternity depends on our relationship with God.

Humans were not created by God to be in an antagonistic or forsaken relationship to Him. We were created for Him, to be with Him. But that relationship was broken a long time ago. When we come into being at our conception, we do not arrive with a good relationship and with an unblemished image of God. God creates us, but in the sense that He created the biological system of reproduction that makes us. We do not start from scratch. As such, we inherit physically a nature that is antagonistic to God and under God’s judgment. (Romans 7, Psalm 51:5 et al). The only fix for us is Jesus. Jesus’ actions created the opportunity to repair our relationship with God. God seeks us out to connect us to Jesus; and, if successful, to restore us to what we were originally intended to be.

Would we know this without being told about it by God? I doubt it. We would only experience a vague sense of something amiss. We would see a troubled and often ugly world made painful by human actions. We would walk blindly into our own deaths, perhaps expecting the end of our existence. Finding instead a far worse continued existence.

Created in the image of God is what we are for better or worse. Thank God, He did not abandon us to a hopeless fate.

The Unique Perspective and Mission of Jesus

If you wanted to know something about life after death, who would you consult? The obvious answer is someone who has died. Clearly, this answer has a problem. Death is typically a one way street. You don’t die and then come back to tell people about it. But throughout history there has been some exceptions, especially lately. There has also been work-arounds, though forbidden. And then there is Jesus, the one who not only died but rose again; the one who has created “all things unseen” and bridged an otherwise unbridgeable gap to eternal joy.

Near death experiences (NDE) are on the rise because of advances in modern science. They are intriguing accounts. For the most part they are brief. There is some consistency in the reports. There is also decent proof that these are not the memories of dying brain.

It seems that most people experience an ecstatically joyful experience with great beauty, heightened senses, and often meeting people that they know who are deceased. Some have experienced the opposite, encountering a place of agony, hopelessness and anger. These accounts clash with a common message that comes from NDEs, that all will be saved. This message also is contradicted by Jesus. So what does this say about the message and what does it say about the experience of an NDE?

We are definitely in unfamiliar territory when we cross over death. Is it real? Is it a vision? Can we be misled? It is exciting that people can report on heavenly experiences but we cannot give our trust to the information unreservedly.

Even less so what I termed as “work-arounds”. From Old Testament times the Bible reported practices of consulting the dead. These were forbidden by God. Why? These were also widely practiced. Were they real? If practices of consulting the dead were strictly forms of fraud, I could understand God forbidding them but not attaching such seriousness as we find in Deuteronomy 18:9-12:

“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.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-12

Similarities between the after death beliefs in various religions are often attributing to copying between cultures. While this could happen, could not inquiries of the dead produce some similarities with possible distortions?

A current day practice called (TM) Transcendental Meditation produces out of body experiences. This might be just an altered state of mind, but we have to consider whether it accesses some type of space beyond our current dimension and that it could fall into the condemnation mentioned above. Are these work-arounds forbidden because the power used to do them is not from God, and/or does it leave the individual exposed to deceptions that will poison society if they are shared?

Jesus is something completely different from NDEs and forbidden procedures. Jesus has unique claims about himself. First, he claims to pre-exist his birth and to hail from Heaven.

13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:13

As far as understanding the place of joy that exists beyond death, Jesus makes this unique claim and then backs it up with very public miracles involving health issues, control over the laws of physics and even raising people from the dead. Who else comes close to having authority on this topic and proving it?

With this quote He is not dismissing the possibility that others could have had visions of Heaven (like Daniel and Isaiah) or that others who came after His resurrection could have actual travel there. But I bounce everything reported to be information about Heaven and getting there off of the words of Jesus. He alone has the credentials for truth.

Then there is His mission. Jesus does a lot of good during His earthly ministry, but He is clearly the Son of God in human flesh for one reason-to change the course of what happens to us when we die. Jesus can tell us about life after death because He is making real life after death possible by fixing our relationship to God’s Law which would condemn us. I can trust a being who made such a great sacrifice for me.

Because of how God worked His plan, when I read about Jesus’ death on the cross I am looking at my death and forsakeness under God’s Law. Also, when I read of Jesus’ resurrection, I am reading about something that happened for me and will happen to me. I will be physically resurrected, and it will be a resurrection to a new level of glory.

If other sources of information are preferred they need to show why. Jesus is the source of our information, and its interesting and serious stuff.

The Folly of Flying Blind

Imagine that you are an airplane pilot and that you need to land your plane. Only today there is a low cloud blank over the airport. You cannot see where you are going. Luckily, modern instrumentation can tell you your location and altitude and speed. You can land blind if you rely on your instrumentation. Imagine if it wasn’t working.

With a large degree of certainty, you know that the ground is somewhere below you. Just go for it, right? Landing a plane is not an activity without high stakes. Hitting the ground in the wrong way in the wrong place has serious consequences.

Many people approach death this way. With a high degree of certainty they will die. Still, they approach death as if nothing can go wrong. Ignoring the topic, living in denial at least makes them happy for the moment. But death is an experience where you would prefer not to have a crash landing. Information is critical.

We can assume that every outcome is positive. People like that. But that is hardly proof that every outcome is positive. You can dismiss all evidence and revelation as unreliable. You can hedge your bets by being a “moral” person. You can convince yourself that there is nothing to be known about what comes next, and just “land the plane”, but that is folly.

Since we will all die, we should all be hungry for information about what, if anything, happens to us next. Don’t be quickly convinced that we simply cease to exist. The methods of materialistic inquiry may not serve you well in this instance. Reported near death experiences and revelations about God, Heaven, Hell or reincarnation all have to be carefully weighed as to their reliability. While you can’t arrive at an absolutely conclusive experiment or definitive experience, I believe that God can give you the certainty and clarity that you need.

Only God can give us the information we seek and confidence to trust it. The experiences of others may give some corroboration. For me, the weight of the information points to a judgment of each of us at death; and it is a judgment that we will fair poorly in without forgiveness from God.

The good news is that God is a being eager to forgive and eager to bless people with an existence after death that far exceeds in both length and quality what we are experiencing now. That eagerness manifested itself in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life and death were part of a plan that provided a way for God to fulfill His laws and still forgive the sins of people. A connection to Jesus is a critical and necessary part of landing safely.

The objective of this blog has been to give you information about what the Bible says exists beyond this life. It is a more complicated scenario than most people realize. The complexity is caused because humans decided to rebel against God. Without the original sin of Adam and Eve, we would simply live forever in a world with no problems, new adventure and direct interaction with God. That is the end that God still desires for us. Jesus makes it possible.

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