beyond what is seen now

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16

I’m getting a little past the saturation point when it comes to politics and all the arguing, name calling, etc. I know politics has its place so I’ll still pay attention and pray and participate to some extent. And there are always issues that need to be addressed, something certain in this life. But I fear that we as Christians, or at least I, have largely lost the vision of the writer quoted above.

Sometimes what might be disparagingly called “Bible Christians” are criticized for being “so heavenly-minded, they’re no earthly good.” What might be missed there is all the good Christians have accomplished through the centuries for humanity. Everywhere you turn, you can trace back more than a little good to Christians. Sometimes though, it has been true that Christians seem not to care at all what happens here and now, thinking that the only thing that matters in the end is the life beyond this life. That is truly a short sighted view, and a misreading of the Bible.

Perhaps the best way to understand the above passage is not at all to project a “heaven” beyond this life when earth is gone. But the new creation in Jesus when heaven comes down to earth. Instead of a completely different existence, perhaps angelic-like in our imaginations where spirit replaces matter, the existence we live in now will be forever crowned with a fulfillment that we probably can’t imagine. Except what the Spirit gives us to experience or taste of that.

This hopefully will give us pause, even in the midst what attention and action we give to the politics of this world to remember what makes for lasting, even eternal change. As well as the one hope we can be assured will come. In and through Jesus.

 

blood moons and all the rest

I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved

I am a student, even a devotee of the Bible, reading and at least pondering it. With serious study more in the past, but that should be ongoing and currently is with a book I am now reading. But I admit to knowing little about some of the teaching about an apocalypse as in an end of the world scenario coming together with blood moons and the like. What gets me to write this post is the wonderful eclipse of the moon (“blood moon,” it is red) we were able to see clearly this morning.

As has been well said, such phrases and terms in scripture are not meant to be taken literally. They refer to sea changes, or world altering events. One such example in my lifetime is the removal of the old “iron curtain” from what was then the Soviet Union. Now we have Russia with a number of smaller nations, at least the old style Communism a thing of the past.

Scripture oftentimes in the prophets and we see that reflected some in the New Testament, particularly in the Revelation, uses imagery to denote major changes in the world. The “left behind” popular series of books and films (I’ve neither read nor seen any of it) fails in that it misreads such, often taking literally what is figurative in some way or another. It is built on a questionable at best and relatively recent interpretation of end times, or eschatological teaching.

Jesus is coming back when heaven and earth become one in the new creation, when all things are made new. Judgment will come as well, the wicked vanquished, as King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him takes over the entire earth. Much tribulation will occur before and in the midst of these changes, as the Revelation makes clear. In that book many of God’s people are martyred since they will not bow or give allegiance to the system in place meant to save the world but in reality destructive and evil. Even the when of that taking place is in question, in some sense it could be happening throughout the time between Jesus’ ascension and his reappearing. So there is overlap between what Christians traditionally believe and what is promoted in “left behind” theology.

But the differences are profound. Traditional Christian thinking is much less confident about how all of this will take place, not believing scripture actually gives us that information definitively for the most part, but in general. That there will be wars and major upheaval is clear. The understanding of Israel and the church is important in all of this as well. The church I believe does not replace Israel, but is the enlarged Israel (Scot McKnight).

Interestingly Peter on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in power quoted this very passage as a fulfillment of what was happening then. In Matthew 24 along with its parallels (Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36) Jesus does the same thing. What has often been read erroneously I believe in some literal sense– is true, but in some figurative sense.

I enjoyed the eclipse of the moon this morning. Do I think the “blood moons” have anything to do with Jesus’ second coming and major world changes? I am not sure, but I rather doubt it. We are those of the future in the present now as God’s resurrection people in Jesus. And so we carry on in God’s kingdom under King Jesus, looking forward to the change to come which has begun in us.

Michael Bird on the intermediate state in heaven and then* the new creation

The intermediate state means going to be with Christ; Christ is in heaven, so believers go to heaven upon death (e.g., John 14:2-3; Phil 1:23). For our departed saints, as Sunday school children rightly sing, “heaven is a wonderful place filled with glory and grace” because one is transported to the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven is not a dreamlike place of disembodied bliss; rather, it is a place of both longing for the future state (Rev 6:10-11) and a place of worship (7:13-17). The heavenly state is like being wrapped in a blanket of joy, free from the sadness of this age, but still anticipating through worship the full blessings yet to come.

The immediate postmortem experience of heaven is eschatologically intermediate; that is, it is a glorious interlude, not the final destination. That is because heaven is a transitional mode of existence until the resurrection and the new creation…It is the coming together of heaven and earth in union with Christ that is the ultimate goal of God’s plan and the final destination of God’s people. Paul declares that God’s purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph 1:10). The final state is a new creation created in Christ and under Christ and even for Christ. God unites himself to creation through the Logos, and the glory of God effuses into the new creation through Son and Spirit.

The final state is a heaven that descends to earth and an earth that receives the heavens, so that both heaven and earth are transformed into something other than what they were before. Heaven and earth are changed into the new creation. Heaven does not swallow up earth and earth does not simply absorb heaven. The earth is transfigured and transformed into a heavenly plane of existence, and the dividing line between heaven and earth is obliterated. Heaven becomes earthly and earth becomes heavenly. Though heaven is life after death, the new creation is life after life after death.

Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction

*Reflecting the title of this section: “HEAVEN AND THEN THE NEW CREATION”

strengthened with all might for great endurance and patience (from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit)

…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience…

Yesterday was a day in which just to do what we had to do was to be quite active. But to finish everything in good order would take nearly a superhuman effort. I like challenges like that for awhile, and sometimes you grow into being able to do something like that ongoing. But with circumstances and the enemy rearing its head with one of the same old same olds, I was rather at the height or you might say the depth of discouragement, thinking about packing certain things in. Wanting to be open to the Lord in whatever way, but just wanting to throw in the towel, even as I would continue to do what I would have to do.

And I was meditating when I had the opportunity on Colossians. And this verse (quoted above) especially stood out to me. Like a shot in the arm, even if I could hardly believe it could apply to the likes of me.

Though what I needed was strength and plenty of it, and I’m used to that in the kind of work I do, what I found encouraging was how God’s power and might, not my own, would help me to live with great endurance and patience. Yes, that thought at first seemed incredulous to me, but then it seemed to come from God as the needed shot in the arm.

We don’t know what we’ll face from day to day, much less what the future holds. But we can be assured that God in and through Christ by the Spirit will give us all we need and more to go on and finish well, which is my hope and aspiration.

And then I read the next lines:

and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

I am not anywhere near as thankful as I ought to be. I more than less, I’m afraid, take for granted all the good blessings God has bestowed on me. The one exception to that, I believe, is my wife. It’s not at all like I’m not thankful for my job and all the many good things God has given me. It’s simply that I’m not nearly thankful enough. Well, here comes the line about joyfully giving thanks to the Father for qualifying us to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. And his wonderful rescue of us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Yes, the salvation in Christ for us and for the world is rich indeed. We in Jesus are to live in and live out that great salvation, spelled out in Colossians in terms of setting our sight on heaven in terms of Jesus and the heavenly life for us on earth. While giving thanks, yes- joyfully to the Father for this gift.

I need this power from God for life: endurance, patience and all we are called to grow into in Christ. An endurance and patience in life in terms of living out God’s will in Jesus. Not that we won’t fail here and there, even as we begin to know something more of this. But that it can become more and more characteristic of us, of our lives in the world for others. Through Jesus by the Spirit to the glory of the Father.

plodding along

Yes, Christmas is a celebration of a wonderful birth, no less than a virgin birth, miraculous from our perspective, an instance where heaven touched earth resulting in this case in something quite earthly, yet also quite heavenly: the God-Human, Jesus. As much God as he is human, as much human as he is God. Indeed a mystery. And surrounding the birth are angelic visitations, dreams, and months down the road a visit by Magi guided by a star in ways we can’t understand in reading the narrative.

But much of the time was occupied with a certain plodding along. Ordinary life with all of its normal challenges, along with the new ones coming from the unusual, actually once for all circumstances. This is much like our life in Jesus in the here and now. Yes, God is at work with all that can accompany that. But by and large all looks and feels normal, in fact there is often a struggle along the lines of weakened humanity, as well as the ongoing spiritual warfare against our defeated foe, Satan.

Often in my life I use to idealize some existence through which I’d be able to take off like an eagle, in high spiritual flight. This is not to say that there are not times when we seem to be mounting with wings like eagles, running and not being weary, walking and not fainting. But by and large, even in so doing, we follow what would seem to be an ordinary course of life, even in the extraordinary way of Jesus.

In the gospels we’re told that Jesus does grow and increase in wisdom and in favor with God and man. But we’re told of no miracles, or anything extraordinary. Nearly the first thirty years of Jesus’ life he is known as a carpenter (or, stone worker- whatever that term actually meant). When he does speak at the synagogue after his anointing by God following his baptism by John, the people of his hometown are taken back. While they may have been used to his sharing from the scrolls in the synagogue, nothing could prepare them apart from God’s revelation for Jesus’ words applying the promises of God in Isaiah to himself.

Even in Jesus’ extraordinary ministry there is a kind of ongoing plodding along. In the ordinary stream of life in the extraordinary kingdom working of God in him. Not something that can be scripted, or planned out in advance. But a fresh, every day, every moment dependence on God, and interdependence on others in the way of Jesus.

So Christmas is about the extraordinary within the ordinary, God become human, the Word made flesh. And that continuing on in his Body for the world.