Friday, April 22, 2011
One reason I'm a Christian, and perhaps one of the more under-appreciated aspects of Christianity, is that Jesus has not left us wandering aimlessly through life trying to understand the meaning of it all. In fact, it is quite the opposite: God has given us an astonishing number of clear and concrete truths about ultimate reality upon which we can build our hopes and allay our sorrows.
Paul gives us such a truth in 1 Thessalonians 4:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The first thing I notice in this passage is that, even though Paul will go on to assure his hearers that those who die in Christ are secure and will be resurrected, he doesn't tell them not to mourn.
Instead, he teaches them how to mourn.
When a Christian dies, we mourn, but it is a peculiar mourning. There is apparently a way to grieve as if there is no hope (which is the wrong way), and there is a way to sorrow that does not undermine hope. And Paul says the latter is how we ought to mourn.
So what does it mean to mourn with hope? I think Paul gives us a hint in 2 Corinthians 6 when he says that in difficulty he is "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." Even in a time of mourning, there is a deep river of joy that sustains us in the hope that death is dead in Christ; that, as my brother noted this week, the end is not the end for those who are in Jesus.
And that is the concrete truth we cling to now. We do not cling to vague optimism that Nanny was a good person and so she must be in heaven. We don't offer sympathetic platitudes to one another in an attempt place a band-aid on a deep wound.
Instead, we go to the truth Jesus has given us, and we find rest for our souls.
The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because Romans 6 says that those who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death; and if we have died with Christ we will also live with him.
The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because if "Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep." (1 Thess. 4:14)
The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because, in Christ, "Death is swallowed up in victory." (1 Cor. 15)
The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because "the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Thess. 4:16)
And the end is not the end for those who are in Christ, not just because there will be a resurrection, but because Jesus Christ IS the resurrection. (John 11:25)
On Sunday afternoon, Nanny reached the end of her life here, and it is right and good that we grieve over that. But I'm confident she would say, with Paul, that we should mourn with a settled joy, knowing that she is more alive at this moment than we could ever imagine.
As C.S. Lewis noted, we live in the Shadowlands; in less reality than we will one day know. But Nanny is no longer in the Shadowlands. She is basking in the light of ultimate reality in the presence of Christ. And though we miss her, we rejoice that we will see her again, and know her in a fullness of life greater than we have ever imagined possible, because we will know her in the full experience of the Resurrection and the Life: Jesus Christ.
Friday, December 24, 2010
In fact, today is not even about what I have to say. I'm just gonna give Dustin Kensrue my blog for a minute and share the lyrics to one of my new favorite Christmas songs:
This Is War
This is war like you ain't seen.
This winter's long, it's cold and mean.
With hangdog hearts we stood condemned,
But the tide turns now at Bethlehem.
This is war and born tonight,
The Word as flesh, the Lord of Light,
The Son of God, the low-born king;
Who demons fear, of whom angels sing.
This is war on sin and death;
The dark will take it's final breath.
It shakes the earth, confounds all plans;
The mystery of God as man.
I hope, like me, you're unbelievably grateful for the Infant Warrior King who conquered sin and death. Merry Christmas!
Friday, May 07, 2010
I say the essence of Christianity, and therefore the most important aspect of my faith, is the Biblical truth about Jesus Christ. It's a dangerous overstatement, but you can basically deduce why I say Christianity must be Biblical. Whatever else we might think we know, whatever other ideas about Jesus that might seem novel or nice, at the end of the day everything we know about Jesus comes from the Bible.
(Maybe, like me, you've tired of "Sunday School" Christianity, where the answer to every question is "Read your Bible, pray, go to church...", but just because a truth is oversimplified and overused and misunderstood doesn't mean we should disregard it. )
Honestly, it makes a lot of sense to me that God would want to settle things about Christ once and for all. So instead of having us see Jesus through our own private séances or mystical experiences, God gave us a firm, concrete description of Jesus for us to take in and think about. Perhaps it was because He knew that in our time men everywhere would want to define truth and reality by the fraction of existence which they themselves can experience and logically explain.
Certainly most of us have sought some type of personal encounter with that mystical, unintelligible higher power which for some reason we have a suspicion exists and is interested in our lives.
The problem is, at what point is our desire for experience satisfied completely enough to offer us any bit of surety that we have indeed encountered the creator? It seems that we have an insatiable thirst for experience, and an uncanny ability to doubt that experience.
Perhaps we presume that we are better than the Jews who sought something more mystical than a text as proof of God’s existence (1 Cor. 1:22-24). Or maybe we, like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, think that if God would just manifest himself plainly through personal experiences, certainly more would believe in him (Luke 16:27-31).
But the reply given to the rich man is that his brothers have writings, the writings of Moses and the prophets, and if they do not believe based on them, they will not even believe if they encountered a miraculous display of divine power.
If knowing Jesus were based on sheer mysticism and personal experience, who’s to discern between those who really know Jesus, and those wolves in sheep’s clothing who would find “knowing Jesus” a great means of suckering a bunch of zealously generous people out of some major funds?
And after all, if we’re all sinners, can I even trust myself to discern my own mystical experience; to know what’s the real Jesus and what’s the latte that I shouldn’t have drunk at 10 p.m.?
So it makes sense that God would say, “You fallen people can’t trust each other; you can’t even trust yourselves! So I’ll go ahead and solidify everything you need to know about Jesus in one source so you can all get your fill.”
“But Wait!” you scream in frustration. “What about my EXPERIENCING Jesus? You’re telling me to read a book?! I can’t buy it. I need that mystical experience. I mean, what about all the ‘the Spirit testifies with your spirit’ stuff? Are you just throwing that out?” Glad you asked. I've felt that same frustration many times.
But I totally disagree that reading a book about Jesus, written by men who knew him personally and intimately, somehow interferes with you knowing him better.
It seems to me that if the Spirit is going to testify with your spirit about Jesus, then He’ll want to testify about the real deal, and not just some “buddy Jesus” that you’ve invented to make you feel alive and important, like some imaginary friend that only plays the games you want to play and always lets you win.
So, I come to the conclusion that the essence of Christianity, the foundation of everything I believe, is the historical, reliable, propositional, Biblical truths regarding Jesus Christ.
You may not buy that. And I will gladly affirm that it is your perogative to agree or disagree. But I would challenge you to be careful of the dishonest practice so common to our culture: Don't reject the Jesus of the Bible yet still claim to be a Christian.
If you're going to reinvent Jesus the way you want him to be with little regard to the biographies written by his closest friends, at least do him the courtesy of acknowledging that it's not really him you are following. It's not honoring to him, and it's not helpful to anyone when the shell of Christianity is preserved, but the heart of Christianity, namely the historical Jesus, is ignored or misrepresented.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to leave a comment here or email me at mpsmith82[at]gmail[dot]com.
Friday, January 22, 2010
A lot of people live under the misconception that the Bible is just a string of seemingly unrelated commandments designed to keep us from living out our natural impulses or inclinations. If you've bought that, hopefully today will give you a new perspective.
There's one particular over-arching reason why I'm insisting that we can't neglect or marginalize the truth-claims of Christianity. Here it is:
I've always found it interesting that throughout the New Testament, we are given arguments for why we should live a certain way or believe a certain thing. The New Testament writers rarely appeal to feelings or emotional experiences to assure their readers that Christianity is real and true. Rather, they formulate arguments based on something Jesus said or the order of creation, or at the very least they lay out a reasoned, logical sequence of thought for why we should believe.
For example, I just linked to Hebrews 13:5-6. The author urges his readers to keep their lives free from the love of money - don't be greedy. Don't strive to accumulate loads and loads of cash. Be content with what you have.
The natural response to that is probably worry (or defiance...). We have insatiable appetites for money and comfort and convenience. If we're honest, we never have enough money in the bank or in our kids' college funds, or enough to go on that dream vacation. We think, "In order to proactively fight the love of money, that means I have to give money away, which means less for me. How will I pay my bills? Will my kids be taken care of? What if something horrible happens? Will I have enough money to fix what needs to be fixed?"
See what the author of Hebrews says. He doesn't appeal to any kind of emotional experience or disposition. He makes an argument. Be content with what you have, for [Jesus] said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Do you see it? What is he doing? He is offering you an assertion. A proposition. Don't be greedy and accumulate a ridiculous amount of cash - just be content with what you have. And that shouldn't make you nervous, BECAUSE Jesus said he will not leave you or forsake you, meaning he will be there to provide for all of your needs.
Which begs a HUGE question: Is that TRUE?!? Is it true that Jesus will take care of me even if some inconceivable tragedy hits me tomorrow? And if you think it's true, you start giving generously to those in need and try to be content with what you have. And if you don't think it's true, you ignore it and go on with your life.
But either way, you had to decide whether or not to believe what Jesus said. And that's why I say Christianity is propositional. It's not designed to just ease your pain or make you happy. The Gospel forces you to a point of reckoning: will you believe what Jesus said?
Which brings me to my final assertion - that true Christianity is essentially Biblical. More on that soon.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
As I mentioned yesterday, when we emphasize the "emotional experience" side of Christianity and neglect the truth-claims made by Jesus and the other biblical authors, we lose the very essence of our faith.
We're left with a hollow, weak belief system. When people ask, "Why should I be a Christian and not a Muslim or a Hindu?", the only answer we can give them is, "I think Christianity will give you a more meaningful experience...?" That's a stark contrast to how Jesus or Paul would have answered that question.
In other words, if we don't build our faith on the propositional truth of the Gospel, we lose the ability to speak about Jesus with authority and conviction.
I don't know if Taylor Mali is a Christian, but he has definitely picked up on this flimsy, post-modern lack of conviction. This is great stuff.
(HT: Justin Taylor)