Please persuade me

Version 2I’m a preacher. Something of a frustrated one currently. Most Easter Sundays see me preaching. And if you only ever hear me on this day, you might think I’m a one trick pony. The topic is always the same. Resurrection. Jesus coming back from the dead. The empty tomb. Appearances to the women. Dealing with doubting Thomas. The hope of eternal life. Why death is not all there is. Being prepared for your future beyond your future.

If you get along to church on an Easter Sunday morning, there’s a pretty good chance you know what you are going to get. And if you are the preacher at that church, there’s a pretty good chance you know what you should give. It will be about Jesus. The one who died is no longer dead. There is real hope for humanity. We can know our creator. We can receive his forgiveness. We can be adopted into his family. We can trust him in life and in death. Life can be better—not freedom from suffering, but genuine hope in our suffering. Life can have meaning—not simply protons, neutrons, electrons—life with God, shaped and transformed by God.

Easter is familiar. Like birthdays and Christmas are familiar. It comes around every year. We know what to expect, and we know what to give. It’s comfortable.

So, let me plead with you, preacher. Don’t just preach another sermon tomorrow. Don’t give me extraneous facts. Don’t show me how well you know your Bible. Don’t parrot out the same message you wrote for another gathering a decade ago. Don’t read your manuscript like any other lecture. Don’t make it about you—make it about Jesus. And make it about me, and how much you want me to know Jesus. Persuade me. Implore me. Urge me. Don’t give me reason to ignore you, to tune out, to scan my Facebook. Call on me to take this with deathly seriousness. Prove to me how much this matters to you. Show me how much you care—about me and your message.

Don’t you dare simply go through the motions. Preacher, if you’re not persuaded, then pull out now. Tomorrow you will have people turn up to listen to you. Please don’t let them down. Persuade them. Show some passion.

Stop now and pray. Ask God to speak through you. Pray that you will be captivated by the love of Christ. Call on God to fill you with the power of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Humble yourself and seek God’s help for your privileged task of declaring that Jesus is alive today.

When I turn up to church to hear what you have to say, please persuade me. Make me so glad I came.

Be like the Apostle Paul…

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
(Acts 17:2-4)

Hope beyond cure

‘Cancer free to no hope in less than two weeks.’

This was the headline to the post I read on a cancer forum yesterday. How could things change so quickly? The truth is, they hadn’t. There’d been a bad case of miscommunication.

I browse these forums from time to time. I can’t do it daily. I find it too sad, too overwhelming. People are sick, confused, powerless, dying, and so often lacking in hope. Every day there are desperate cries of anguish. There are pleas for prayer. There’s the outpouring of grief. Sometimes there’s an explosion of anger at the merciless killer, cancer.

As I read the headline above, it clarified in my mind what it is that I so want to communicate. It’s what I’m praying my book will achieve. My goal is to offer hope beyond cure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% pro-cure. I want my cancer to completely disappear. I pray that it will and I pray the same for others. I’m excited by medical advances and new discoveries. I absolutely love hearing that someone with cancer has no evidence of disease anymore. I love the hope that comes with this pronouncement. In a sense, life can begin again. A new chapter with a new outlook.

Yet when the prognosis is bad, when all attempts at medical intervention have been exhausted, when prayers have not been answered as we might wish… what then? Is there hope still? Or has all hope been exhausted?

Is cure the ultimate hope for those of us with cancer? Is this what we hope for beyond all else? I don’t know really. I haven’t asked enough people. My guess, is that we have a range of hopes. But I’m concerned if the hope of a cure for cancer is where we stop.

What happens if we are cured? We go back to life. Not as normal. More likely as radically changed people. But then we’re likely to get sick again. It could be the recurrence of cancer. It may be something else altogether. We may recover and we might keep recovering, but there will come a day when we won’t. Death will catch up with each of us eventually.

What then of hope? Is it a meaningless platitude? Was Nietzsche right when he wrote…

In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.

Or is there hope yet for those facing death? This is such an important question and yet so often it doesn’t get asked. We become so consumed with life here and now, that we don’t pause to consider the inevitability of our death. I may not have cancer when I die, but I will still die. Is there hope for me? Is there hope for any of us?

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:18-19)

God’s Word tells me that the answer is YES! There is hope beyond death and it’s found in Jesus Christ. I long for people to know the certainty of this hope. This is a hope that stands on the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If Jesus is alive today, then there is hope beyond cure. There is hope beyond death.

Fact or fantasy

You head to the local library looking for a book to read over the long weekend. Something with drama, mystery, intrigue, torture, murder. You want to read about some allegations of grave robbery, insider plots, religious corruption, political power plays. And you’re keen to spice it up with some angels and demons, astrology, ghostly appearances, the spiritual underworld, ancient signs, the dead coming to life, and claims to divinity. “Where will I find something?” you ask.

matthewThe librarian brings you a book. It’s a little bit dusty. Doesn”t get borrowed too often. You look at the cover and it says Holy Bible. She opens it for you and points to The Gospel of Matthew. Where did she get it from? Is this Fact or Fantasy? Is it found in Fiction or Non-fiction? Is it History or Legend? Biography or Novel? Was it next to Harry Potter and The Twilight series, or was it down with The Works of Josephus and Suetonius?

What do you think?

Reading these requirements sounds like we’re dealing with fiction and fantasy, not history and reality. This is the kind of stuff you find in airport novels, B grade movies, low rating TV dramas. It’s not the kind of book you take seriously. Or is it?

I can tell you most people don’t. Even in many churches. The last 100 years or more has seen embarrassed churchy people talking these things down. Bishops denying that Jesus was born to a virgin. Theologians writing books claiming that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead. It’s just his idea that lives on and that’s what we mean by resurrection. Many will say, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. The ideas are nice, they’re moral, they’re a good story, they’re nice for children. And hey, we get a few public holidays, so don’t worry about it!

Let me be open with you. Unless this is non-fiction, historical, factual, and continues to have relevance, then I’ve backed a complete loser. I’ve invested all my hopes, plans, priorities, aspirations, on this being truth. When I discovered that I had a terminal illness, the weight of these issues became enormous. I experienced doubts, fears, and confusion. I had big questions. Real questions, not just theoretical or ideological questions. They were intense, existential, of utmost significance. I engaged in investigation and reinvestigation. I had bet my life on this. Is it true?

I hadn’t just staked my future on this being real. I’d been living my life on the basis that it is. I’d been teaching that this book explains life. I’d been calling others to take it seriously. I’d been an advocate, an ambassador, a preacher of these things. Was I a fraud? Inadvertently even? Am I mistaken? Some say it doesn’t matter. I say it does!

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, one of the first Christian preachers had this to say about the substance of the events described in the gospels:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

This is not just the idea of Christ living on, keeping his memory alive, but his physical bodily resurrection. Real death followed by real coming back to life. If it didn’t happen then there’s no point me trusting that it did or trying to persuade people that it still matters.

15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.

If these things are simply one big misunderstanding then the early Christians were guilty of perjuring themselves. They were liars, perpetuating myths about Jesus, brainwashing people with ridiculous notions. And therefore I’m guilty of doing much the same thing. Gullible, deluded, or just plain deceptive.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

When it comes to death – and let me tell you this is something that I take very seriously – I believe what happens afterwards really matters. If there is a God, and he takes me seriously, and I’m asked to give an account for how I’ve treated Him, then my only hope is in Christ dealing with my sins in his body on the cross. No point claiming I’ve been good. I haven’t. No point backing my religious behaviour. It’s pathetic. My hope is only in Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. If this didn’t happen, then I don’t have a leg to stand on before God.

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.

There’s no hope for countless people who’ve already gone to their grave believing in Jesus. And what about those who’ve done so at gun point, who’ve been burned alive, crucified upside down, or thrown to lions? When all they had to do was change their minds! Recant! All they had to say was “No, I don’t really believe it!” They could have lived.

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

What a waste! Why would you spend your life living for a fiction, trying to persuade others. It’s really pretty sad! In fact, we may as well take these words seriously…

32 If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

That’s right. No point wasting my life on God, Jesus, hoping for resurrection, and a life beyond the grave. May as well simply focus on and enjoy what I’ve got now, because that’s all there is, and it’s not going to last that long.

What do I believe? I believe in the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I believe in the ongoing significance of these events. I believe that my sin against God has been dealt with and that I have real hope for all eternity. As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I believe the evidence needs to be considered carefully. Weighed up seriously. These events make sense of promises written centuries before. They tie in so well with the words of the Bible that predicted them happening. When these words were first written, it was less that a generation after the events described. There were people alive who claimed to be eye-witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. You could question and cross examine them.

Cephas (Peter) had spent so long with Jesus, he was hardly likely to be mistaken. The twelve weren’t expecting him to appear. They were cowering in a room, in fear of their lives, after Jesus was killed. Five hundred people claimed to have seen Jesus on one occasion. You can’t explain this as mass hallucinations. And you could have asked some of them about who and what they saw. James, the brother of Jesus, would have been hard to convince. Not to mention Thomas, who wouldn’t believe without physical evidence. And Paul (or Saul as he used to be known) was so persuaded of the resurrection that he went from imprisoning Christians to joining them in prison. I understand a few lawyers would love this quality of evidence.

And then there’s the circumstantial evidence. How do you explain the missing body? The empty tomb? The wrong tomb? Surely, they’d just go to the next one. The authorities stole the body? All they had to do to stop the early Christians was produce it. The disciples stole the body and pulled off a conspiracy? Likely! A pathetic bunch of eleven cowards overthrowing imperial guards and then perpetuating lies that they go on to die for? Surely, at least one would have cracked to save himself!

There are many more pieces to the puzzle. Lot’s more circumstances to consider carefully. They keep pointing me to the conclusion that the accounts of Jesus are non-fiction, factual, historical records of real events. And these events are worth staking your life on.

This Easter, please consider.

An open letter to Sam Harris

Dear Mr Harris

samharrisI was encouraged by a friend to watch your lecture on Death and the Present Moment at the recent Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. Your topic is very close to home for me, as I’ve been battling a stage 4 adenocarcinoma of the lung for the past 6 months. I understand it was also especially pertinent for you, and many in your audience, following the death of your good friend, Christopher Hitchens. Your lecture has provoked me to consider a number of issues and to write a few words in response.

For me, the most provocative words in your talk were the following:

Atheism appears to be a death cult, because we are the only people who admit that death is real.

When I heard these words, I had to stop and hit replay. You didn’t really say that, did you? Surely, this is hyperbole for the sake of impact! I’m a theist, not an atheist, and I firmly believe in the reality of death. I’ve visited morgues, been on the scene at fatal accidents, attended funerals, and sat beside lifeless bodies in the hospital. Strangers, friends, and family. No breath, no movement, no heartbeat, no consciousness, no life. I’m not an atheist and yet I affirm that death is very very real. It seems bizarre to claim otherwise.

I suspect it’s what you call the ‘gospel of atheism’ – that nothing happens after death – that’s really at issue here. You admit that atheism doesn’t offer real consolation in the face of death and you claim that religion creates a fictional hope, that’s really no hope at all. Thus, while people might feel better that their deceased daughter is ‘now with Jesus’, you don’t believe they have any reason to believe. I think this is a question worth putting on the table and exploring:

Is there, or is there not, any reasonable evidence for life after death?

There may be a number of ways to answer this question, but it would appear to me that a fruitful starting place is the Christian claim that Jesus, the first century carpenter, died and subsequently rose from the dead. I’d start here because Christians base everything on this being true. The claims that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb and that he had been seen alive are foundational to Christian beliefs. Scrutinise them, consider the explanations, explore the alternatives, look at the impact on people at the time. Evaluate the counter claims, conspiracy theories, tampering of documents, and challenge the evidence. Public scrutiny and debate are a good thing if they’ll help us get to the truth of the matter.

You also seem to assume that religion is all about faith, whereas atheism is all about reason. This assumption needs to be challenged. They’re not opposing pairs. Faith can be based on reason. I’d say that good faith must be based on good reasons. Let me illustrate. I have faith that my wife loves me. Why? Because there is good evidence that this is so. I sit on a chair, showing my faith in the chair to hold my weight, only because it is reasonable. I take a step of faith (trust, dependence, practical belief) because there are good reasons to exercise that faith. Dare I say it, atheism is a step of faith – faith that there is no God and no life after death – based on reasons. What is needed is a non-bigoted, open-mindedness to examine and evaluate the reasons for the faith(s).

There is something else that bothered me about your lecture. You seem to divide the world into two belief systems: atheism and religion. This seems reductionist, disingenuous, and deceptive. It is not meaningful to lump together Muslims and Hindus as being the same. They’re both ‘religious’ and they’re both ‘not atheists’, but one believes in only one God and the other believes in many Gods. In fact, you could group Buddhism and Atheism together as ‘non-theism’ and contrast them with Judaism and Islam as ‘theism’. My point is that speaking of ‘religion in contrast to atheism’ simply muddies the waters. It would be much more productive to evaluate the particular claims of different religions alongside the particular claims of atheism.

I’d like to finish with an observation that you made about people. You intended it as a critique of atheists, and I’d like to claim it as a critique for many Christians also. These are your words:

We spend much of life tacitly presuming we’ll live for ever.

Death is the clearest evidence that life is finite and yet we live as though it isn’t so. You remind us that we waste a lot of time on trivia when things are ‘normal’. Why else would we watch that hopeless movie for the fourth time?! We care about the wrong things. We regret the things we’ve spent time caring about. You call us to live in the moment. You invite us to explore what’s really worth having and doing. I’m persuaded that the answers to these questions are to be found in knowing God and enjoying the life that God gives us, not by dismissing God and reconstructing a world without him.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is evidence to me of what lies ahead. These events in history provide the reasons for my faith. They explain why I’m not religious. That is, I’m someone who has discovered good reasons to put my faith in Jesus, rather than trying to earn my place in heaven (in contrast to many other religions). However, my assurance of a real life beyond death, doesn’t lead me to complacency, but to a renewed urgency and purpose in life here and now. Sometimes I can drift along as though this is not the case, as can we all, so thank you for bringing me to attention once again!

Sincerely,

Dave McDonald

If I were God I’d make myself clearer

ClearerIf I were God I’d make myself clearer. That’s a big call! Way too big for me. But I can understand the sentiment. Why doesn’t God simply prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he exists? Once and for all. No questions. No ambiguities. No contradictory evidence. Just clear, obvious, proof.

I guess the obvious question is, what would such clarity look like? What would I consider persuasive? What would it take for you to be convinced of the existence of God? And then, which God are we talking about? There are so many religions, so many claims about God, how can we possibly know which is the right one, if any of them are?

In this little book, John Dickson takes us on a pathway through the maze of ideas about God. It’s been popular for years to argue that all beliefs are really different paths to the same end. This could be for a couple of reasons. Firstly, so much blood has been spilled through religious conflict, that there seems nothing to be gained by highlighting differences that could cause more conflict. Secondly, sorting out the differences takes research, time and effort, and not many people are prepared to do this. It’s easier to stay preoccupied with trivia.

John demonstrates that religious pluralism has obvious and fatal flaws. How can Hinduism and Buddhism possibly both be true expressions of reality. Hinduism has many gods, while classical Buddhism rejects the notion of any god. Christianity believes that people are saved by the mercy and grace of God, whereas Islam argues that people are saved through ethical and ritual obedience. Christianity claims that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfils the promises made to Israel, and yet Israel still awaits a Messiah. The Koran claims that Jesus was neither crucified or resurrected, while Christianity hangs everything on these events. A quick assessment of these claims highlights the bankruptcy of pluralism. It could be that none of these religions are true, but there is no way they can each be true.

This is a scary prospect in a world committed to tolerance. However, John offers us a better understanding of tolerance.

True tolerance, then, is not my willingness to accept the position of another, it is the more admirable ability to treat with respect a person with whom I deeply disagree. A tolerant Muslim, for instance, is not one who accepts as valid the Buddhist doctrine of ‘birth and rebirth’, it is one who, while rejecting such a teaching, is able to remain respectful and compassionate toward Buddhists themselves. Again, the tolerant Christian is not one who accepts as valid the Hindu claim that there are many gods, it is the one who, while denying polytheism, is able to treat Hindus with the honour due to them as fellow members of the human race. In each case there is an informed awareness of the contrary position of the other and a generous commitment to respect and value the person who holds that position.  (p38-39)

Such an understanding of tolerance opens the way through the maze of ideas. We can be intellectually rigorous and culturally sensitive in a way that overcomes bigotry and discrimination. We don’t have to paint over differences but can be freed to respectfully discuss, and argue, and explore and persuade one another.

This book argues that Christianity is to a large extent a ‘verifiable’ religion. This is not to say that it’s true, but that it’s founded upon public, historical, evidence. It makes claims that can be tested through historical, archeological, literary, and critical scrutiny. The implications of this are important. If none of the places, dates, names or events pertinent to Christianity could be attested anywhere else, there would be good grounds for being suspicious as to it’s truth claims. If it could be demonstrated that Jesus never lived, was not crucified, or did not rise from the dead, then Christianity could hardly be trusted as the way to God. As it is, Christianity makes some dangerously verifiable claims and invites people to check them out. No tricks or mirrors – just open investigation. This is a book that invites such scrutiny.

The heart of the evidence for Christianity lies in the documents of the New Testament, much of which were written shortly after the events they describe. Consider, for example, the following incident recorded in the Book of Acts. In AD 50 the city of Athens in ancient Greece was a melting pot of ideas. All kinds of claims were made about religion, and there were many ‘gods’ being promoted. Into this confusion, the Apostle Paul sought to bring some clarity by directing people to the evidence concerning Jesus. You can read what he said and the reaction it evoked…

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.  (Acts 17:22-34)

Some sneered, some followed, and others were keen to find out more. If you’d like to find out more, this little book by John Dickson will help point you in the right direction.

Beam me up Scotty!

Beam me up Scotty! There’s something epic about those words. I can’t say I was ever a hard-core Star Trek fan, but this is one line that really stuck. Maybe it tapped into an inner deep desire to experience teleportation – how cool would it be to just get beamed places?

Well now it’s happened… to Scotty. The ashes of actor James Doohan, who played ‘Scotty’ in the 1960s TV series of Star Trek, were beamed into space on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. They are expected to orbit the earth for about a year before the rocket’s second stage falls to ground and Scotty gets burned up again on re-entry. You can do it too if you wish. It will cost you $2995 for every gram of your ashes, with a minimum fee of $12,500.

I learned of this as I was driving to the hospital for chemo this morning. It must have tickled the announcer’s fancy, because he asked people to ring in and discuss what they’ve done with their loved one’s ashes or what they’d like done with their own. One bloke said he’d invested so much in his house and property that he wanted his ashes scattered over the lawn. Another spoke of the urn getting used as a door stop until other family members objected. One woman wanted hers put into the garden to fertilise the tomato plants, and another described scattering them on the ocean.

However, one caller left me gob-smacked with what she had done with her partner’s ashes. They’d been compressed to make a diamond! For real! You can take a cup or so of ashes and get them fashioned it into a flawless diamond. They can make it different colours to suit your choice. You can have different sizes, a half-carat or a one carat stone. Presumably it can be set on a ring, a brooch, or a necklace, so you can carry the remains of your loved one with you. They can be on your body all the time, or put on for special occasions. Once again, you can do it too. Most say ‘price on application’, but word is you’ll be looking upwards of $15,000 for a one carat gem. Someone commented on radio that you could be worth more dead than alive!

It used to be dust to dust, ashes to ashes… but now there are more glamourous options, for the rich and eccentric anyway. I’m not sure how the conversation would go if you were complemented on your pendant, and then replied “That’s my husband. I had him made into jewellery.” I suspect it’d stop pretty quickly, that is until they moved on and couldn’t stop speaking about you to others! 

I get the space thing, even though I would never blast that kind of money away. It celebrates the life of the deceased. Just like a gardener might want to be used as fertiliser or a fisherman used as burley. If something is so much a part of their life, its nice to celebrate or at least respect that in death.

And I kind of get the diamond idea. Perpetual memory, something beautiful and precious, ongoing respect, even if a tad elitist. But maybe there’s also the sense of not wanting to let go and not wanting death to be the end. Maybe the diamond is seen as a hint of victory over death, something of substance that will last for eternity?

But let’s get real, it’s only a rock. It can’t replace the person. It won’t listen or respond. It can’t offer comfort or help. It might have the DNA (I don’t understand all that stuff) but it is not the person. And maybe one day it will be lost or stolen or given away to someone who doesn’t appreciate what it is, and the grief will flood back all over again.

So much effort to blast ashes into space or to fashion a diamond. They can’t take away the harshness of death. And what’s more, they don’t offer any substantial hope beyond death. Death is cruel and unnatural. It’s an ugly stain on our existence. It’s no respecter of persons. It makes a mockery of so much that we consider to be important in life. It’s a final undoing. These words from the Bible are blunt, but true:

By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.  (Genesis 3:19)

Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor
that he can carry in his hand.  (Ecclesiastes 5:15)

I’m a little surprised, yet pleased, that we had a quarter hour of radio talkback about death this morning. I admit it was probably the quirky that caused it, not the mundane fact of death. We rarely talk about death. We’d prefer to ignore it, because it’s going to hurt, and we don’t have any answers. But taking the time to think about the reality of death can make a huge difference to how we live life now. You’re more likely to make wise decisions for your life following a friend’s funeral, than you are at a New Years party, even with all the resolutions. Consider these strange but wise words from the Bible:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
(Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

The important question remains, is there be any substantial hope beyond death? Or is the crematorium fire, the last word on our existence? We want to cling on to our loved ones. We’d dearly love to be reunited on the other side. Is this possible? Is there something more personal, more relational, more real than ashes to diamonds? The Bible’s answer is yes. The answer is the promised resurrection of the body. Consider these words:

35 But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.39 All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [ie. Jesus], a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.  (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

This is God’s promise to those who will listen to him, and trust in Jesus. There’s evidence in history that Jesus has conquered death, and this gives us good reasons for hope beyond death. Not wishful thinking. Nor absolute certain proof beyond any shadow of a doubt. But reasonable and rational confidence based on reliable historical evidence. I’d recommend investigating these promises. They offer so much more than getting beamed up like Scotty!

Gospel ink

Tattoos used to be the just for bikers and sailors. Now they’re for everyone! Walk up and down the beach on a summer’s day and count them. Check out the tattoos on the arms, legs and bodies of the rugby players. It’s like they’re wearing line-art skins under their jerseys. Musicians, artists, athletes, public servants, computer geeks, tradies, stay-at-home mothers… everyone’s getting inked!

Last year I thought seriously about getting some tattoos. Yeah, I did! Maybe I was having a mid-life crisis, but I saw it as a way to communicate some really important things about myself. If it matters that much to me, then surely I’d be willing to write it on my arms was my line of thinking. There’s a tattoo shop near where we live, so I paid them a visit, checked out some designs, worked out some costings, even asked about booking a time!

We were planning a move to Darwin and tattoos are more common than crocodiles up there. I figured that my uniform for the Territory could be shorts, t-shirt, thongs, and tattoos! We were heading north to start a new church, so I thought that I could use tattoos as part of my advertising strategy! The plan was for two tattoos. One on each arm. Three words each.

SAVED BY GRACE and COMPELLED BY LOVE

There’s so much packed into each of these phrases. They sum up what God has done for me and how this motivates me. Each phrase is taken from verses in the Bible. Let me quote them in full:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Both these sets of verses mean so much to me. The first makes it absolutely clear that the only way I can be right with God is by what he has done. So many people make the mistake of thinking that a Christian is a religious person who tries to earn their standing with God by living a good life. Absolute rubbish! Being Christian is about what God has done for us, not what we do for God. It’s a God-given righteousness, not a self-righteousness. And God makes this possible through Jesus Christ dying on the cross to pay the price for our rejection of him. We are simply called to trust (put our faith) in what God has already done on our behalf. A Christian is one who is saved by grace.

tattooThe second set of verses shape the way I respond to what God has done for me. Love is the compelling motivation to change how I live. This love is Christ’s love for me, not my love for him. Jesus effectively swapped places with me, dying my judgement instead of me. The price is paid. There’s nothing owing on my account. It’s as though when Christ died in 30AD I died with him. The invoice is wiped and God no longer holds anything against me.

Following the logic of this connection with Christ, not only have I died with him, but I’ve also been raised with him. I’ve been given a new life and a new purpose for living. The death and resurrection aren’t simply facts of history, they’re motivators for a whole new personal history. I’ve been given my life back so that I can live it for Jesus, rather than selfishly living it for myself all over again.

These two phrases sum it up for me. Saved by grace – I’ve been rescued from my sin through the death of Jesus. Compelled by love – having dealt with my sin, Christ is calling me to live for him.

Should I get these words inked on my arms? My mum will say no! Maybe, I should take a poll! I must confess, I’m a bit nervous given my infection risk with chemotherapy. I’m not even supposed to get a scratch at certain points of the chemo cycle. So, it’d probably be irresponsible. And I can’t help thinking, what if they spolled one of the words rong?!