Death is Short; Life is Forever

Death is Short, Life is Forever

We’ve all heard or spoken the phrase, “Life is short but death is forever.”  The point of the slogan captures the brevity of life contrasted against the permanence of death and the grave.  James 4:14 defends the notion of the brevity of life.  “…For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.”  We take from this verse the reality that we cannot presume upon the future nor procrastinate away the opportunities of grace.

When it comes to life and death Jesus offers a counter-intuitive idea as He does with so many other issues of consequence.  The hard sayings of Jesus on the issue of death not only fail to make sense from a human perspective but are stunning in their offer.   Consider the following quotes and their meaning:

  • “He who believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life and…IS PASSED FROM DEATH UNTO LIFE.” (John 5:24).
  • “This is the bread that cometh down from heaven that a man may eat thereof and NOT DIE.” (John 6:50).
  • “If a man keep my saying, he shall NEVER SEE DEATH.” (John 8:51).
  • “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me SHALL NEVER DIE. Believeth thou this?” (John 11:26).
  • “Because I live ye shall live also.” (John 14:19)

Recently, the writer has had four individuals from his community, workplace and church family pass into eternity.  Most of our friends were believers, at least one may not have been.  Some died due to disease; some died unexpectedly or tragically, but every one of them died!  We celebrated their lives, wept over our loss, said our goodbyes to them and we understand that we will never see them again in this life.  How then are we to understand the stunning claims of Christ that:

  1. Anyone who believes in Christ has already passed from death to life?
  2. If we receive the bread of life we will not see death?
  3. If we live and believe in Christ, we will NEVER DIE?

The story is told of a dying child.  Her nurses gathered around her to comfort her.  Overcome with grief, one of the nurses slipped from the room in tears to pour out her heart to God in the complaint that God was allowing an innocent beautiful child to suffer so much.  Regaining her composure, the nurse returned to the room where the child lay.  Moments later, the child began speaking as if someone else was in the room.

“Can you see Jesus too?  He’s said he’s coming to take me to his house to be with him.  Are you coming with us?” the child asked.

It was in that moment when the child came face to face with Jesus that the nurse understood the words of Jesus, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.”  Though the child was experiencing death, she did not SEE death.  She only saw the Savior who had come to step between her and death.

Jesus promises us eternal life.  Eternal life means so much more than forgiveness of sins.  Nor is the life He gives us something different in nature from His life.  It is exactly the same kind of life He enjoys.

  • In His life there is resiliency; nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus  (Romans 8:35-39).
  • In His life there is security; God shall supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
  • In His life there is goodness; our Father in heaven shall give good things to them that ask Him (Matthew 7:11).
  • In His life there is satisfaction; the water he gives shall be in us a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14).

These features of eternal life are not simply for our existence while we are in this body.  They are not lost when our loved ones expire. They cannot be lost for they are bound up with the resurrection life of the Savior and because He lives we shall continue to live also!  (John 14:19).   So because of Christ’s resurrection life that He shares with His disciples, its not that life is short and death is forever.  Rather, it’s that death is short and life is forever!



The Glory of the Church

cassetteAround 1996, I heard a sermon on cassette tape from the library of the El Monte Church of God (Holiness), El Monte, CA, the church I was pastoring at that time.  It was a sermon on the Church and was delivered many years before at the local Inter-Holiness Convention by an outstanding expositor and revered pastor, the late Raymond Pollard.  I remember being so moved by the message, especially the reading Rev. Pollard used at the conclusion of his sermon. I wish I knew who penned the piece but it was published in our church periodical, The Church Herald.  It made such an impact upon my mind and heart that I have sought in vain for over 20 years to find the reading.  I thought the reading was lost to time and posterity with the death of cassette tape media.

Then God surprised me.   This week I was reviewing our new quarter of Sunday School material, which focuses on the theme of the Church.  As I was looking over the lesson scope and sequence, I re-discovered this inspiring lost reading Rev. Pollard used! God had evidently prompted our current editor, Dr. Gordon Snider, to rediscover the piece and republish it.  Needless to say I was ecstatic and determined to capture it on permanent media so it will no longer slip away into obscurity.  This reading is reproduced below.  I hope it’s as thrilling to others as it has been to me.

“The Church of God was incepted at creation, instituted at Calvary, inspired by the blood of the martyrs and is destined to rise in the rapture.  She is the most powerful, the richest, the most peaceful, the hardest working the most elegantly dressed, the best advertised, the most benevolent organization in the world.  The oil of the Rockefellers, the steel of the Carnegies, the railroads of the Vanderbilts yea the gold of Ft. Knox could never attain the heights of her power and riches.  

medical missions“Her people are royally born–the most elite, in the highest society ever known.  There is not a sinner in her nor a saint out of her.  She has saved more  homes, delivered more slaves, clothed more nakedness, fed more hungry, slaked more thirst, sobered more drunkards, emptied more jails, opened more eyes, unstopped more deaf ears, healed more diseases, satisfied more needs, appeased more wrath, stopped more wars and settled more disputes than any police force, Red Cross, March of Dimes, summit conferences, or armed forces have ever done.

“Her banner flies high above flags of the highest civilizations.  Her foundation is surest and most steadfast this universe could ever know.  She has withstood more oppression, weathered more storms, survived more assaults, and outlasted more antagonists than any other organization.  Yet she towers higher than ever, above the filth and stench of this world.

“Her people are the most pure, holy, peaceful, meek, long-suffering, hospitable, yet the martyrdom most feared in battle, the hardest fighters, the most determined, rugged, and sacrificial people ever known.  They have died by rack, lions, stoning, sword, bullet, torture, burning a the stake, because of her.  Yet as the death angel claimed their tortured and pain-raked bodies, they shouted praise to their glorious divine Father.   

“Within her framework are found the most privileged people, the best chances for advancement, the best reward for labor, the greatest opportunities for service, the most varied careers, and the most security of any organization known.  

“Time has not weakened her, nor bloodbaths vanquished her.  When the world ceases to be, she shall still stand victorious over all: Jesus Christ the Righteous at the head, and Satan, her greatest foe, conquered at her feet.”   church

What Christ’s Resurrection Meant to the Apostles

Jesus-Resurrection-Walking-out-of-Tomb-900The sermons of the apostles centered  upon the Resurrection of Christ.  This event was the single greatest historical event of human history and they witnessed with their own eyes.  What effects did they see the resurrection of Christ to accomplish?

  1.  They saw the resurrection of Christ as a the evidence of Christ’s Messiahship  “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified both Lord and Christ.”   (Acts 2:36)
  2. They saw the resurrection of Christ as the provision for the remission of sins.  Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins.”  (Acts 2:38)
  3. They saw the resurrection of Christ as the guarantee of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted and having received of the father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he had shed forth this which ye now see and hear.”  (Acts 2:33)
  4. They saw the resurrection of Christ as the source of power to reverse the effects of darkness brokenness and sin.  “And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong whom ye see and know.  yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.”  (Acts 3:16)  “Be it known unto you all and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.”  (Acts 4:10).
  5. They saw the resurrection of Christ as the motivation for bold testimony to Christ in the face of persecution.  “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than God, judge ye.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”  Acts 4:19-20)
  6. They saw the resurrection of Christ as the first fruit of our own bodily resurrection.  “But now Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.  (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)

Just Ask!

This year I plan to preach more regularly  on prayer, at least monthly. Todays posting  addresses my first text on prayer for this year. 

Matthew 7:7-10 and James 4:2 enjoin believers to ask God for the resolution of our needs. Jesus promised us that if we ask we will receive. His half-brother, James, explained that we don’t have because we don’t ask. If we believe Jesus’ promise what often holds us back from asking?  Four reasons come to mind. 
1. Pride We are often ashamed to admit our own neediness. Its my experience that this is especially true of American men. Admitting we have needs we can’t meet runs counter to the self-sufficient spirit that so defines our culture. But Jesus promises reward to the poor in spirit. While we should use common sense and take care of the needs we are able to satisfy, I’m finding I need God’s providential intervention much more than expected. 

2.  Apathy. We may lack a clear desire of what we want Christ to do for us through answered prayer. Jesus once asked a blind man “What do you want me to do for you?”  Mark 10:51. While the blind man knew exactly what to say, I am seldom that desperate or ready with an answer. Do you know what you would ask for if Jesus posed that question to you?  A second promise from the Savior is that whatever we desire when we ask we should believe and He will give it to us. Mark 11:24. This is a dangerous promise not intended for a selfish disciple. But once we identify what we are desperate for, are humble enough to ask, and believe for it, we can be sure the answer is within reach if we ask the Savior. 

3. Unbelief. The larger the ask the harder the task to believe.  I limit God’s work in me by failing to believe Him for the awesome changes only He can accomplish. Is there anything in my life that cannot be explained by human endeavor?  Anything that I have to explain as a “God thing?” If I claim to have the supernatural gift of eternal life there ought to be something unexplainable, mysterious and, well, supernatural about it. 

Herein lies the wonder and thrill of knowing Jesus! I should never become settled down in a comfortable existence without occasionally encountering something only God can do. His word to the doubter is found in Matthew 19:26 “all things are  possible with God.”

4. Fear.  Everyone has been disappointed by unfulfilled expectations. Afraid to hope and be disappointed, we shy away from asking God for His intervention, we learn to suck it up and tough it out. Behind this hopeless existence is the assumption that God is indifferent to our situation. But Jesus again rebukes this fear in Matthew 7:11, if you then being evil known how to give good gifts to you children how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” 

Imagine if God really did want to answer our prayers and provide for our needs!  Imagine if He was more anxious to give us what we need or even want than we are to give gifts to our children! How much easier would it be to ask Him for His blessings. The good news is it’s not necessary to imagine such a good thing. We can believe it because Jesus said our Father is perfectly good. He does not give us what we want all the time, or even what we think we need. But He always gives us what is best for us. 

The Futility of Knowledge and Wisdom

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.  Ecclesiastes 1:18 
These words were written by the sage and philosopher king, Solomon. They contradict the quote from Hannah Arndt and the spirit of the age. Whose words ring more real?  My money is on Solomon. 

But if his words are true, why are they true? Why does knowledge and wisdom increase sorrow. Isn’t it said that the solution for all human maladies is education?

Arndt’s statement assumes a good heart and that evil always redesides outside if me. Solomon knew that evil was innate in the human individual. (2 Chronicles 6:36). Just because we know does not mean we do. In fact knowledge has no power over the will. The human will, untouched by the divine influence of grace, is not naturally subject to the law of God. (Romans 7:13-25; 8:7).  We see this illustrated on the daily news. 

Therefore knowledge provides only a reason to do right.  It requires the will, empowered by divine grace from the Holy Spirit alone, to make knowledge beneficial and practical and real. 

Vin Sculley or Tommy Lasorda?

The Dodgers are perhaps my second or third favorite major league basball team. I especially enjoyed watching them in the 1980s. (Maybe more because they beat Reggie Jackson and the Yankees when my KC Royals didn’t)  

Two of the greatest Dodger personalities of all time were Vin Sculley and Tommy Lasorda. Sculley was the Shakespeare of Baseball commentary calling Dodger games for over 50 years.  Lasorda, a hall of fame coach with multiple World Series wins. How do these two men relate to my blog today on preaching?  Keep these two men in mind as I explain. 

As a preacher I want to be open to discovery and improvement. Honestly if I don’t occasionally experience some improvement in my preaching my ministry becomes stale. 

Today as I was studying for my Sunday morning message, I realized a weakness I have in sermon formatting and composition. I shy away from offending my hearers by presenting truth in a sterile format. I use the third person instead of the first or second person. This permits the listener to remain on the outside as an observer rather than forcing them to step inside the message as a participant. 

It’s the difference between a Sculley and a Lasorda. Sculley sits in the booth and talks to the fans about the game, the players, the strategies, the rules, etc. He may be considered an expert but he is distant and removed from the game. He works to be objective and report on the game as a third person. Sculley uses words like “they and he.”  “He was behind the pitch.” “They need to play harder.” The Sculley, as good as he is, is still outside the game.  

But Lasorda was in the game.  He cared more about the outcome of the game than Sculley.   His job security and future negotiating leverage was at stake. So he addressed players directly.  He used “you” more than the Scully did. “Here’s what YOU need to do.”  Here’s how YOU can inprove.”  Lasorda got personal. And sometimes offended players. 
And that’s why I avoid the Lasorda approach and favor the Sculley approach. I want to explain truth without becoming offensive.  But I’m learning that this approach creates fans who know the game, can discuss strategies, and watch victories;  it does not develop players who are playing the game, living out the life, experiencing victory. 

So in order to become more effective in my preaching, and develop players instead of just fans, I will need to change my pronouns, get more personal and think more like Tommy Lasorda. 

A Story with a 700 Year Resolution 

There s irony in the drama between Mordecai and Haman which unfolds in the Old Testament book of Esther. Mordecai was a descendant of King Saul, and Haman was the descendant of King Agag. 700 years prior to the current story another story played out in 1 Samuel 15 between Samuel, Saul and Agag, the Amalekite. God instructed Saul to destroy the Amalekites including their King Agag to punish them for fighting his people as they exited Egypt. Saul spared Agag however, setting up another showdown 700 years later between Mordecai and Haman. 

Of course the fall of Wicked Haman illustrates great poetic justice. The story highlights the  courage of both Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai to risk the King’s wrath by exposing the plot of a prince favored by the King. It further displays the sovereignty of God in protecting His people, Israel. 
But one lesson often missed due to the forgotten link between Saul and Mordecai, Agag and Haman is that Disoedience today will lead to problems later.  

Ahab’s Daughter on David’s Throne?

For 6 years it appeared that God’s covenant with David had been broken. For Athaliah, daughter of Phoenician queen Jezebel was also the wife to Jehoram, King of Judah. When both her husband, Jehoram and her son, Ahaziah, were killed by Jehu, Athaliah seized upon her opportunity to be queen. She destroyed all the royal seed of David–her grandsons– and claimed the throne of David As a Gentile queen. Had God forsaken His promise to David?  

But through the the secret intervention of his aunt Jehosheba, Joash was spared as the last surviving male member of David’s family.   Jehosheba was King Ahaziah’s sister, Athaliah’s own daughter and wife of the high priest, Jehoiada. 

Six years into this reign of Athaliah, Jehoida and Jehosheba, led a coup to overthrow the queen and re-establish the Davidic Kingdom with Joash serving as King.  What courage and independence to defy your own mother to save and hide your nephew.  Truly an act of sacrifice. 

Joash’s story begins with promise and providence.  2 Chronicles 24 tells how Joash’s youthful zeal for the Lord was lost when his mentor, Jehoiada died. Joash allowed himself to be influenced by ungodly friends. His mentor’s son, Zechariah, tried to dissuade him from drifting but Joash had him killed for his rebuke.  
A sad end to a promising and providential life.

Inches from Eternity

My wife was nearly hit by a car this week. She loves to get up before dawn and go for a walk or jog. However we live on a two lane highway just outside of town. The highway is a main artery for poultry trucks. On the occasions when I’ve joined her on her jogs we have tried to face oncoming traffic. Occasionally due to oncoming traffic in both lanes we are prevented from choosing the safer side of the road. 

But recently she was alone early in the morning, jogging along the side of the highway, with a flashlight, our dog and her Bluetooth headphones. Out of her peripheral vision she noticed headlights fast approaching.  As she turned to her left she suddenly realized what was happening. A pickup truck was in the process of passing an 18 wheeler on her side of the road, most likely entirely unaware of her presence. 

As the truck passed, she says there was only a two foot space of separation between her and the truck and even less between our dog and the truck. The experience has convinced her to utilize our fitness center membership for her exercise. 

This experience has been added to our catalog of stories illustrating God’s providence and mercy over our lives.  Needless to say,  I am thankful that the Lord spared the life of my dear wife. I can’t imagine life without her.