The story thus far...does a life worth experiencing exist beyond death?
Question first: would a thorough study suggest, if not prove, that the more ancient cultures, closer to creation, would produce greater awareness of life after death? Persuaded of the possibility, but willing to be corrected, I proceed to fact:
As an example of other ancient societies, the Egyptians asked the question and, in response, built massive mausoleums we call pyramids. (The earliest were ancient with Abraham entered Egypt.) They housed the corpse AND paraphernalia the dead would need in the after-life.
Omitting other examples, history produced only two men who could speak with authority about the after-life—and only one did. Moses, the greatest of all legislators in history, stood in the Very Presence of God to receive the Ten Words. To this day they provide the legal basis of western culture. But he offered no definitive instructions about the after-life.
Then Jesus Christ, Very God himself, came to earth as the embodiment of the eternal life he IS before he came, HAD while here, HAS now—the beginning-and-never-ending Great I AM.
He proved we can live after death by personally rising from the dead on the third day. Indeed, that’s the truth Paul stated, argued and defended in I Corinthians 15.
Next...ideas that may give us clues to the GLORY of that eternal life. End Part II
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s education began at age two, his dwarf Aunt Mary the teacher. She dressed in a hand-made shroud, as if preparing for death. She wore it all day at home, used it as pajamas at night, even publicly as a dress on the streets of Concord. Great Diaries, 219.
We don’t need to obsess with death to prove our mortality. It’s all around and within us. We do need to KNOW if, after death, life continues. And, if it does, will it be worthwhile?
Biographer David Boswell once told philosopher David Hume that life did indeed survive death, offering the most delightful prospects. Which Hume vehemently denied as a baseless fantasy. Historian/philosopher Will Durant agreed with Hume.
Which we understand since both adopted Greek philosophy as their model of the next world. Greek religion postulated at best a SOUL—a soul, not a body—wandering aimlessly through a darkened underworld. Who could get excited by that?
To be desirable and inviting, a future life must be something else, somewhere else. In a dimension we cannot presently calculate. Where we avoid the limitations our flesh imposes and acquire the pleasures our forgiven spirits anticipate.
Is there such a life? The question burns with Bessemer heat in every language. It’s posed in a thousand ways in 10,000 cultures world-wide, history-long. End Part I
The kind of faith in God Abraham possessed led God to make him the prototype of what he wants every believer to emulate.
If we say we can’t possibly have such great faith, do we mean Abraham could climb those heights of faith 2000 years before Christ, and we can’t though heirs of 2000 years of history under Christ’s supervision?
If we say we don’t want to be like Abraham, then who will we choose as our human model? When only believers like Abraham please God, whom would we make our example?
And consider this: if everyone had the personal level of faith we feel comfortable having, how much faith would they have? If everyone attended worship services as often as we, how many weeks a month would worship services be held? If everyone gave the percentage we give, how healthy would our church’s finances be? If everyone read the Bible as much as we, how many chapters would be read? If everyone expressed our example of Christ-likeness, how many lost people would be encouraged to accept him?
Worthy questions. Disturbing questions. Challenging questions.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. First, we may think we can never be as dedicated to God as Abraham. Listen to the Holy Spirit as he whispers in our ear, “Yes you can be, and yes you better be!”
Second, late NFL Football coach Bum Phillips held coach Bear Bryant in high esteem. In fact, he had a saying: “He can take his’n and beat your’n and turn around and take your’n and beat his’n”. San Diego U-T, Nick Canepa column. Forget that it wasn’t always true. That Bear Bryant had difficulty winning major Bowl Games. To Bum Philipps, Bear Bryant epitomized the BEST in college football coaching.
Here’s what is TRUE: whatever team Jesus LEADS WINS! Because he’s never lost and isn’t going to start now. He can take anybody’s people and succeed because he always WINS and shares his victories with anyone on his team.
May each of us make a Bethlehem of our mind and heart in which Jesus can be born and grow to such maturity that we can one day we can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20. Fini
God tested Abraham’s faith to determine the depth of his patience and the length of his obedience. His experience translates directly into our Christian life.
We all have egos. They identify us as persons. They empower our resistance to those who would otherwise victimize in some way, taking advantage of the lack of self-awareness ego provides. Indeed, those without a strong sense of identity give tyrants the chance to brutalize them.
However, we must understand, accept and obey this principle: the sole, useful purpose ego has to God is as the object of self-denial! Jesus made it the first requirement of discipleship the first time he clearly discussed his death Matthew 16:24.
God and we cannot exist together as equals. And he will NEVER exist as our inferior. If we insist on determining truth, he’ll allow us the freedom, but will NEVER use us as positive servants. To the extent we insist on having our way in discipleship—what we believe, what we give, how we’ll live, how often we attend worship services, etc.,—to that extent God will use us. And that won’t be much!
Now...a warning...if we say to Jesus, “I’ll play no part, you’re the whole show; I’m out of the way, you alone live in me; I have no opinion but what you allow and no limit on what you expect from me....”
IF we say these things, expect God to test us, to see if we’re telling the truth or blowing smoke; filling the air with oaths without substance or self-sacrificing obedience.
Whether we know it or not; like it or not; accept it or not, GOD intends to kick us out of our life as ruler and move in himself! And only if we invite him to clean our house—to empty it completely if it pleases him; to move in any habit or obedience he wants us to develop; to crucify every habit and disobedience that disgraces, not graces, Jesus—do we practice self-denial.
No matter the amount of water used, we can always wash gold from the words of Jesus. And when the water is depleted, much more gold remains for discovery. But only when we deny self so Jesus can Live in us. End Part III
As II Corinthians 3:7-18 proves, the best interpreter of Old Testament texts is the New. Hebrews 11:17-19 describes Abraham’s greatest faith. He knew he and his boy would return. He knew for certain that after he killed his son God would resurrect him! At a time when no resurrection of the dead had occurred he had that faith.
And why was that faith so important? Because it forecast Christ’s own resurrection. In this event, then, Abraham served as a type of God the Father and Isaac as a type of Christ the Son. Abraham knew that if God let him sacrifice Isaac, he would raise him from the dead. Just as God let Jesus be sacrificed, to provide forgiveness of sin for all, because God knew that no possible way existed for Jesus to stay dead. As Peter preached on Pentecost, “...God raised him from the dead...because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” 2:24.
Abraham’s willingness to kill Isaac as a sacrifice to God dramatized the death of Jesus 2000 years before it happened. So that 2000 plus years later, and as long as history lasts, those forgiven by Jesus can continue celebrating his return from the grave.
And yet...uninformed people foolishly say the “Bible isn’t relevant.” Though this event 4000 years ago still relates to the 21st century AD with colossal truths that translate into our Christian lives. End Part II
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God has the right to test anyone’s faith. He exercises that right in any believer anytime he pleases. Testing is simply the process by which God lets us winnow the chaff of life from his spiritual grain. To see if, after we’ve discarded the chaff, we’ll also roast and consume his grain as the basis of our life. Testing can have multiple expressions, but always one purpose: to determine how far our obedience to God extends.
Which brings us to God’s test of Abraham, recorded in Genesis 22. A test he aced. And in a way we don’t consider.
Yes, when God said, take Isaac, Abraham obeyed. When ordered to take wood for the sacrifice, he obeyed. When told to climb the mountain God identified, Abraham obeyed. When ordered to put Isaac on the altar and tie him down, he obeyed. When told to slay his son, Abraham unsheathed his knife and raised his hand to STRIKE—and FROZE only when God said STOP!
Surely all that compliance proved the greatest extent of Abraham’s faith.
The greatest example of his obedience was his certainty that after he killed Isaac, God would resurrect him. He implied that when he told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will come back to you,” italics added. End Part I
Jeremiah and Ezekiel shared with faithful men the hardship of preaching God’s word to faithless Israel. Balaam was among the first who resisted God but found himself subject to his sovereignty.
Isaac, son of Abraham, and father of twins Esau and Jacob, intentionally tried to resist God’s 75 year-old prediction that the elder Esau would serve the younger Jacob. Genesis 25:19-34, 27-28 have the accounts.
Apologists for Isaac say that the long period between the boys’ birth and his blessing could account for his negligence. Funny that Rebekah and Jacob remembered it and Isaac forgot it. Indeed, that God had to use Rebekah to preserve his prediction shames Isaac. Especially since he ignored God’s word simply by loving Esau’s kitchen skills. Isaac’s taste buds tried to trump God’s predictive will!
However, lest we condemn him too harshly, remember that MANY people compromise or dismiss God’s control of their lives by satisfying themselves with lesser goals! How like perverted Israelites are SO MANY today, not a few of them Christian, who reject God “for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread” Ezekiel 13:19a.
Wicked old Caiaphas joins this unholy alliance. John 11:45-53 has the account. When toadies rushed news of Lazarus’ resurrection to the Sanhedrin, a hand-wringing meeting followed. They obviously had no control of the Nazarene preacher. He was sure to bring Roman interference in Israel.
Note: none of the miracles Jesus performed in more than 3 years, including resurrections, HAD raised concern in Roman authorities. Why would Lazarus’? It wasn’t resurrection the Sanhedrin feared: it was resurrection in Jerusalem, their power base! But it would have brought only further estrangement of the people from the leaders, not the removal of those men by Rome.
Nevertheless...Caiaphas’ pronouncement that one man, not the nation, should die, fulfilled God’s intention to preach Christ beyond Jerusalem to capitals of the Empire. The Sanhedrin thought: kill Jesus and he’s gone. God said: kill Jesus and it will simply make salvation from sin possible for all people everywhere. Caiaphas didn’t know that, but what difference did that make? The intentional wicked, and the good but sinful believer, serve God’s purpose. The former may resent it, the believer may regret his role...but God’s Glory remains intact. Fini
Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and apostles Peter and Paul, encountered opposition when preaching God’s word. By submitting to God’s call, and equally submissive to the rejection, persecution or imprisonment endemic to their preaching, they had the satisfaction of sharing with God in his work.
Consider the far greater cost to three men who fulfilled God’s will when speaking despite personal desires hostile to his purpose. The heathen diviner Balaam comes to mind. Numbers
22-24 has the account. As Egyptians came to dread a numerically-fecund enslaved Israel, Moab dreaded an Israelite army bivouacked on the Plains of Moab.
Undefeated in every conflict east of the Jordan, north from the Dead Sea to Bashan, northeast of Lake Galilee, King Balak saw no way to overcome it militarily. Knowing of Balaam’s reputation as a diviner, he hired him to put a curse on Israel.
Long story short, in four Oracles God instead filled Balaam’s mouth with blessings on Israel. Proving, first, when Satan challenges God’s predictive will, any attack on God’s people becomes support for them. Proving, second, however, while God wouldn’t let Israel be cursed by Satan, Israel allowed itself to be seduced into immorality by Balaam’s suggestion to Balak, Numbers 25. Satan cannot defeat Christians if we remain faithful to God. He can seduce Christians into spiritual neutrality or hostility to God by compromising Biblical standards—the curse of 21st century preaching. End Part II
With prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel as examples, even those desiring to proclaim God’s word struggle to heed his summons. He gave as his powerful commission to Jeremiah: “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them” 1:17. He gave an equally powerful commission to Ezekiel: “And you,
son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words...though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions....” 2:6.
God promised Jeremiah, “...I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes” 5:14. He promised Ezekiel that, while “the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate...I will make...your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint....13:7, 9.
Both prophets shared God’s righteous anger against their depraved people. Both paid the price their message of doom cost them. And both served under divine compulsion. When Jeremiah found rejection too much to bear, and felt God had made his work too hard, he decided to no longer speak for God. Only to find himself even more stressed. For God’s word was in his heart “like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” 20:9.
Ezekiel experienced a negative initial response when called to serve. “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me: 3:14. End Part I
Genesis 22:9-11. To prove his faith in God, Abraham took his only son Isaac to Mt. Moriah. There he bound him on an altar and raised his knife to strike!
What that we honor and love SO MUCH would we surrender to prove that no obedience to God could ever cost us too much?
I Kings 19:19-21. To prove his willingness to obey God’s call Elisha left family and financial security to succeed Elijah as prophet to Israel.
What would we abandon to prove there would be no turning back once we commit to Jesus?
Luke 5:10d-11. To prove his desire to be a disciple of Jesus, despite obligations as husband, son-in-law and father, Simon, son of John, forfeited a prosperous business career.
What that would certify us as a success in this life would we sacrifice to serve the Lord in a career that’s merely spiritually rewarding?
Philippians 3:7-8d. To prove the value of his apostolate, Saul of Tarsus heroically embraced a ministry of toil, not ease; of disruption, not comfort; of pain, not pleasure; as the prisoner at the end of the column, fated to die, I Corinthians 4:9, not the Consul in the chariot leading the Triumph.
What delight have we found in Christ that SO FAR exceeds any earthly experience that Jesus alone is GAIN, and everything else is LOSS; he alone is TREASURE and everything else is RUBBISH; he alone is RESURRECTION and everything else is DEATH?
If we’re living with Jesus, stay true.
If we’ve turned from Jesus, turn back.
If we’ve strayed from Jesus, return
He IS worth it all!
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