December 17, 2017

Now. On Earth.

Church Sign 9-3

Is that it?

Is this the message?

Is this what Jesus and the apostles announced?

Are we in rehearsals? Is this prep time for the final exam? Are we taking batting practice? Is this pre-season and we’re sorting out the team, making the cuts, setting the roster?

Are we humans given sixty, seventy, eighty or more years that have no value in and of themselves? Is it all merely preparation for the real deal?

The more I read the Bible and the longer I follow Jesus, the less I think this whole thing is about “eternity” or “heaven.”

Of course I hold to an age to come — “I believe…he will come again to judge the living and the dead;” “I believe in…the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”

God will make a new heavens and a new earth. However, it is not we who will go to heaven, it is heaven that will come to earth, to us:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them…” 

– Revelation 21:1-3

Whatever this “Christian” thing is about, it is about earth. It is about life on earth. It is about life with God on earth. It is about life that begins now here on this earth and extends to the age to come on a renewed earth.

And it is about you and I starting to live that life now.

It is not about spending my years getting ready for the life to come.

When Jesus gave his apostolic commission, he said we should make disciples — lifelong learners and apprentices. Now.

He said we should baptize — bring people into the life and nurture of his family. Now.

He said we should teach one another to obey everything he commanded us. Now.

He ascended and sits enthroned as King. Now.

He sent the Spirit, who indwells and empowers his people. Now.

The promises Jesus gave regarding the future make now more meaningful, not less. The seeds we plant now will yield a harvest both now and then beyond anything we can imagine.

“Now” is not just time God gave us to determine where we will spend “then.”

“Now” is the time when “then” begins.

Comments

  1. That’s the way ‘we’ operate.

    That just tears the guts out of the gospel. Reduces God to some embellished version of ourselves.

    That’s not salvation. It’s damnation.

  2. Amen and amen!

  3. I get tired of all the “dress rehearsal” talk too. For Jesus said the time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God is at hand. (Mk 1.15) Not will be, not “not yet,” but is.

    But people would much rather push it off into the future. Saves them the bother of obeying the Sermon on the Mount when they can just say it’s Jesus’s ideal—it’s how he wants us to live someday—but not today. Or, if we’re being honest, ever.

  4. Vega Magnus says:

    The concept of life being just about converting sent me into near suicidal depression. If life is just about answering the right yes/no question, everything else becomes pointless after that. We might as well just die as soon as we convert.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That’s the logical end point of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

      Say the magic words and get your Fire Insurance policy.

  5. I agree with ya, CM, especially the line “the more I read the Bible and the longer I follow Jesus, the less I think this whole thing is about ‘eternity’ or ‘heaven.'”

    However, as a counterpoint, I’m not sure this sign is aimed at those of us who read the Bible and follow Jesus. I think it’s aimed at the unchurched who drive by, one or two who might just be ready to hear that there is more to life, and that there might just be an eternity and a heaven.

    So yeah, it might be a message I don’t need to hear and that I’ve moved beyond, but maybe, just maybe, God’ll use it to bring someone into relationship with Him and eventually into His Kingdom.

    • I disagree Rick. It’s a bad message, incomplete at best and not at all reflective of what Jesus and the apostles taught. And I’m not rejecting it simply as one who is already following Jesus, but as one who wants to share the Gospel with others.

      • IndianaMike says:

        It’s hard to put a systematic theology on a 4 line reader board. I suppose one could visit their web site for more information. Maybe one could go in and meet the people and hear the sermon. But then some people don’t get to work out their own issues through generalization and guilt by association. Maybe this church merits the characterization assigned to it in this article and many comments. Maybe they take this slogan seriously so they fill their lives with faith and works of love and good deeds.

        If you want to criticize the ambiguity and potential dangers of reader board slogans, that seems to be fair game here. To speak of this church almost like it were a Syngogue of Satan goes beyond the pale.

        • No one is denigrating the church. I don’t know them. The message itself is sub-Christian and representative of a large swath of “Christian” teaching, and deserves to be criticized.

          • IndianaMike says:

            Denigrating them is exactly what you are doing. If you knew them, you might be exactly right. Or you might say that they are precious brothers in Christ who maybe should rethink what they put on their reader board. The message is subject to interpretation.

            Yes, there are swaths of Evangelicalism that deserve criticism. But does that justify this drive-by shooting? IDK. Do you? Should I look at Jeff Dunn through the lens of the abuses in the Catholic Church because he is on the banks of the Tiber. Should I look at Mule Chewing Briars only through the lens of the recent difficulties in the Orthodox Church? I don’t. I can respect and hear how God is speaking to them within and in spite of their traditions just as I trust He does with me.

            What do you do with people like this – http://mereorthodoxy.com/beyond-eclecticism/ or this – http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/08/is-jesus-a-baptist/timothy-george? Wow. People who are no part of the mainline denominations can write stuff like that? One one a Catholic web site. Must be an aberration. Or maybe we can listen and learn from each others’ traditions.

            I get it that people have been hurt in evangelical churches. Haven’t they also in Roman Catholic and Orthodox and whatever churches too, may God have mercy? I have been hurt in evangelical churches too. But I have also decided that, for better or for worse, these are my people. And I hope that the Great Shepherd of the Sheep will also have some of us for His fold no less that He will have Lutherans, and Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics, and Orthodox.

            FWIW, I thought that this site became much more negative when you gave over more of the posting duties. I thought your September 2 post might be something of a call back from the edge. Today’s post saddens me much. I am willing to hear and agree and grow from the many criticisms due my Evangelical tradition. Could you be willing to rejoice just a little if we have preached Christ in however much pretense if not in truth? Most days I just feel like the convenient whipping boy as those of you who have moved elsewhere work out your remaining frustrations.

            • Sorry, IndianaMike. The site remains and will remain a mix of critique, discovery, and the positive. If I lament the message communicated on a sign like this, it is not because I am doing a “drive-by” but because in the world of my experience, this message has misled people with regard to Christ and the wonderful good news he brought. I chose deliberately to crop the photo so that the church would not be identified, so as not to focus attention on any particular group or church. Not that it matters. All one need do is read N.T. Wright to recognize that this insufficient message is as common among British Anglicans as it is among Baptists in the U.S. Michael Spencer had to defend the role of the critic on numerous occasions. I don’t have any problem doing the same.

              And by the way, if you ever catch me promoting bad theology from a Lutheran perspective, have at it.

          • IndianaMike says:

            Then do you see through a glass darkly? Consider the world of other experiences. To me, this site is not a critique, discovery, or positive. It’s a self-affirmation society. You cut out the name of the particular church. Better to deal with the anonymous Evangelical bogey-men? You are yet to respond substantively to my critique of your comments. Feel free. If you can’t see how your reaction to this sign is a caricature, wow, just wow. If you can’t see how the human traditions have been an admixture wherein many in the several of the traditions have found Christ, I wonder who you think is Lord of the Church. Or, as a good Lutheran, do you have a definition that excludes me based on your definition of the Gospel in its fullness and the Sacraments in their integrity? I would not so exclude you. Christ brings us to Himself through many traditions as He wills.

            At the moment, you still impress me as someone who hasn’t learned not to believe their own press.

            • IndianaMike, somehow I think we are missing connections here. Let me try to list the steps by which this post developed.

              1. One of IM’s consistent critiques of fundamentalism/evangelicalism has been the characteristic of being world-denying. This critique is not unique to us but actually rather common among non-evangelicals and post-evangelicals.

              2. This includes a view of eschatology that downplays the significance of life in this world and overplays the significance of one’s “eternal destiny.”

              3. The gospel message that often grows out of such groups is the message that the main (sometimes, only) truly important transaction people must make in this life is the decision to choose Jesus and heaven or face judgment and hell.

              4. On the positive side, we have written approvingly of views like those expressed by N.T. Wright, who has built a strong reputation saying things like the goal of the Christian life is not to “go to heaven when we die.”

              5. I come across a church sign that succinctly displays the message I consider insufficient. It says that THE reason God gave us life was so that we will determine where we will spend eternity.

              6. I question that theology in a blog post and claim that it is not the gospel of Jesus and the apostles, that “now” is not merely preparation for “eternity,” but is actually the beginning of our “eternal life,” and that this life really matters as more than mere preparation for then.

              7. I do not question the members of that church or deal with this in a personal fashion whatsoever. Nor do I generalize and say that this is true of all fundamentalists or evangelicals or any group of Christians. Nor did I exclude the church or people who hold such views from the Kingdom. The post is a simple meditation on a sign I see that reports my reaction to its contents. In it, I ask a few questions that come to mind when I read it and then devote the majority of the post to a positive affirmation of what it means to live out that eternal life now.

              I actually thought it was quite tame and not hyper-critical at all! I questioned the message and gave my alternative view.

              Is there a reason this stuck in your craw so much?

          • Ditto.

            That sign represents a large swath of “Christianity” and certainly deserves to be called into question.

            The problem with that marquee is that those who are a part of that church actually believe it–or at least their paid professional Christian believes it.

          • On the other hand, Mike, IndianaMike and Tom aka Volkmar,

            While people in that church probably do believe it, or at least their paid professional does, it’s probably not something they think about much, or question until somebody points it out. Even then, when led to scripture that exposes this, they might say, “Oh yeah. I never thought about that. Huh. Interesting.” And then they go on not really thinking about it.

            But on the other hand again, this does permeate our evangelical culture, leading to 1) Legalism “I must do all these thinks for Christ in order to be ready Him in the Kingdom; I must touch not, taste not, handle not (even getting Colossians 2:20-22 wrong)”; or 2) Anti-nomianism “Hey, what the hell, man, Jesus loves me, I can get away with anything and he’ll forgive me. Let’s have a toke.”

            Me, I lean toward anti-nomianism these days (yet refraining from marijuana), having been a bit legalist in the past. I like to think of myself as a Jeremiah 31 anarchist:

            31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

            Non-believers pick up on discrepancies in our religion too. Some of the labor songs, pro-union or even anti-religion, take church hymns in a fit of irony and change the lyrics in order to lampoon us.

            In a song by Utah Phillips (of blessed memory), he ridicules those who put up the church sign at the head of this post: “You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land in the sky (way up high!); Work and pray, live on hay; You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie!).”

            Aw, what the heck, here’s Utah: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8qoB1XwtHM

          • Today’s post by Jeri Massi has something about this, calling works (and perhaps the earning of Pie in the Sky) a counterfeit to the very holiness that some strive for. It’s what I mean by the Jeremiah 31 reference above:

            People who object to the practice of “standards” are not objecting to holiness. We object to the counterfeit of holiness: works. We recognize that only by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, by living in terms of His righteousness that covers us (faith), can we live holy lives. We do not put on rules and standards. We put on the Lord Jesus Christ, who affords us a covering acceptable with God.

            http://jeriwho.net/lillypad2/?p=3161

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            In a song by Utah Phillips (of blessed memory), he ridicules those who put up the church sign at the head of this post: “You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land in the sky (way up high!); Work and pray, live on hay; You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie!).”

            “The Preacher and the Slave”, an old Wobbly march song.

            (Around a hundred years ago, the IWW or “Wobblies” were the most extreme of labor unions.)

          • Even so, Utah Phillips is still of blessed memory…

      • Mike you are so right. I see signs similar to that one all the time here in the heart of the Bible belt. I even hear some of this kind of thinking in my own church. This is what I grew up with. It was such a breath of fresh air to discover the writings of N. T. Wright who does such a great job of explaining what the Kingdom of God is all about. I just recently attempted to start a class at church to discuss and study his book, “Simply Jesus”. No one showed up. Another class featuring a study of Thessalonians, where I’m sure “being caught up in the rapture” will be front and center, had no such problem. I know it sounds like sour grapes, but it is depressing.

    • In the spirit of trying to be charitable maybe they are just trying to get people to think about eternity, that there is life beyond this. Jesus told us not to store up treasure on earth but to store up treasure in heaven. Paul said the present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us. There is a day of judgment and without Christ we have no hope on that day. With Christ we have no fear.
      Granted, if that is there intention it still isn’t a very good sign. In my experience church signs can be notorious for bad theology. Perhaps the worst I ever saw was on a disciples of Christ church that read “God can’t be everywhere at once, that’s why he gave us mothers.”

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I have no doubt that the intentions behind signs like these are pure, but good intentions are a poor excuse for bad theology. Moreover, this “by any means necessary” approach to gospel sharing/church building, based on a perceived ticking clock against which we are running out of time, actually distorts the gospel into something it was never meant to be. It makes the work of the church much harder, because now we have to redirect someone from a false image of Jesus to the real thing.

      What’s the point of getting someone to church, if we don’t get them to Jesus?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I think it’s aimed at the unchurched who drive by, one or two who might just be ready

      CHURCHES MUST STOP DOING THIS. If this is what they are trying, they fail epically. They are so wrapped in their own world view they cannot see what their words look like to everyone else.

      My favorite recently: “Yes, God loves you, even you.” …. Wow! 99.44% of the people driving by think “Wow, so you believe (a) I suck or (b) I loathe myself”. That is how it reads. And the sign in the article is entirely about a silly childish “fire insurance” religion.

      Every opportunity I get to have an option [to a pastor – so of course they have never once listened, they’re trained professionals leading…. churches steadily declining in attendance.. argh] – just stop putting stuff on your sign other than times. Don’t try to be pithy to the hundreds of thousands of people driving by – you don’t know them [they are so arrogant they are convinced they do].

      > What’s the point of getting someone to church, if we don’t get them to Jesus?

      To introduce them to a supportive community. To provide them an opportunity to participate in worship.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        I’m in total agreement with you, Adam, especially about the pithy slogans on churchboard signs.

        I also want to re-emphasize that last sentence in my earlier post, with the help of some cool HTML coding:

        What’s the point of getting someone to church, if we don’t get them to Jesus?

        Let’s say someone does come to church, and they find a supportive community, and they are entertained and moved by the worship service. If the pithy sign in front of the church drew them in, but that slogan presented a skewed concept of who God is, what’s the point of getting them past the church doors?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        As for churchboard signs themselves, I’m inclined to cut them a little slack.

        Think about it. Every week you have to come up with a new Inspirational blurb about the length of a Twitter post for the church sign. Spiritual-sounding, Inspirational, that cannot possibly offend any of the Church Ladies who REALLY hold power in your church. Week after week after week. Eventually you’re going to either run dry, get punchy, or both and end up with a really lame sign that goes viral on the Web.

  6. Yes, I couldn’t agree more with this post.

    These days I cringe when I hear the phrase ‘go to heaven when you die’ (in fact I’m less and less a fan of even talking about ‘heaven’, since its such an ambiguous word- does it mean where God dwells, His reign, the intermediate state between our death and the general resurrection, or the final state after the resurrection?). The idea of ‘going to heaven’ is rarely alluded to in the New Testament and kept, as a rule, in the background while far more important things are discussed. So how and when did it get front and centre in our preaching and evangelism? Why is the popular representation of Christianity’s end-game a fluffy heaven with harps and halos, rather than people bursting out of graves zombie-style (or, for that matter, a new heavens and earth Garden of Eden-type set-up)?

    It’s high time for the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead to reclaim its place and prominence as a central Christian belief, not just tucked away in the creed, but proclaimed loudly in our regular preaching and witness.

    • “The idea of ‘going to heaven’ is rarely alluded to in the New Testament and kept, as a rule, in the background while far more important things are discussed. So how and when did it get front and centre in our preaching and evangelism?”

      Glenn, spot on. Indiana Mike — this is the point.

      • It became front and center once people decided bringing about the Kingdom of God in this world was just too hard and impossible. So the bulk of evangelical eschatology shifted to premillennialism, and people stopped bothering with this world since God is gonna burn it up anyway.

        Problem is, premillennialism still teaches Jesus will reign over this existing, messed-up world for the 10 centuries after his return. So if you believe in it, it still seems awfully short-sighted to put off ministering to this world till the End. Not just that, but since Jesus is determining our place in the Kingdom by our fruit, it seems a lot of Christians (if God graciously still counts them as his kids) are gonna spend the millennium doing all the grunt work they won’t do now.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Amen!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For Christians so hated the world, that they seek only for the chance to escape it into Fluffy Cloud Heaven as disembodied Souls, forever free of the filthy Body and filthy Cosmos…

      • I ran into Mark Twain’s Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven at a young age, and it forever poisoned my mind against Fluffy Cloud Heaven. Made it seem infinitely boring.

        “Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it’s as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive. It would just make a heaven of warbling ignoramuses, don’t you see? Eternal Rest sounds comforting in the pulpit, too. Well, you try it once, and see how heavy time will hang on your hands. Why, Stormfield, a man like you, that had been active and stirring all his life, would go mad in six months in a heaven where he hadn’t anything to do. Heaven is the very last place to come to rest in—and don’t you be afraid to bet on that!”

      • HUG, are you accusing us of Gnosticism?

        Come on, out with it. 😀

  7. About five years ago, I was in an argument with a Reformed fellow who took issue with me on a statement I made:

    “Death changes nothing”

    My attitude is that the soul of the deceased basically remains in the same ‘world’ we inhabit waiting for the final judgement. It has all of the fears, desires, and prejudices it had while still in the body, except that now that it lived in a tractionless environment, repentance was impossible. Souls who would been joined to the Lord in baptism in life and had been moving towards Him would continue on the same trajectory. This is roughly the Orthodox position, although on the ground it seems as though we are baptimsal universalists.

    The Reformed guy said, no, the process of death itself completed whatever mortification of indwelling sin the deceased had undertaken during life, and was thus “ready” for the presence of the Lord. The Reformed guy gave me some Scriptures, but I’ve lost them.

    • I’m going to go with the line my orthodox catechism had on this subject. “The Orthodox Church declines to speculate….”. How God and time interact is all timey-wimey, wibbly wobbly.

      • “The Orthodox Church declines to speculate”
        I should have known.

        They gave you a catechism?

        • They did, “The Living God, a catechism”.

          It does use the phrase “decline to speculate” a few times in other places, but in this case there’s a two page answer to the question of “what happens after the death and burial of the body and before the resurrection of the flesh?”. It goes through explaining that God is not limited or defined by our experience of time, that the truth of eternal life “cannot be measured in human categories derived from our physical experiences”. Then there is a description of how that relates to our participation in the Liturgy, how we are participating in the true realities of time and space beyond our understanding. Then it gets back on track to the original question:

          “And what about the dead who ‘await’ the resurrection? We don’t know what waiting means for those who are outside the realm of space and time and who are in ‘the bosom of Abraham.’ At least let’s not invent stories , as so often is done, by applying our categories of space and time to the beyond.”

          Then it reiterates that the dead are with us in the Liturgy, however that works, and reaffirms the communion of the saints.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Tokah, to me this is one of the best explanations I’ve heard (or lack of explanation). Our speculations solve little and lead to many assumptions that are probably wrong. Rather than depend on our rationalities, that give us little understanding in our categories of time and space, we admit that we cannot “know for sure.” It is beyond us.

            This is part of the problem also in our understanding, or lack thereof, in the stories of Creation and Eden. It is difficult for us as rational beings to admit that there are things we cannot understand.

            We do not need to “invent stories.” We have all the Story we need. And in the Liturgy we repeat again the Story that remains mystery.

          • I have also been informed by an EO that a person’s corporeal remains are still “indwelt” by the Holy Spirit. Interesting that.

          • @Tom –

            No need for double quotes. We are completely unironic about this.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        How God and time interact is all timey-wimey, wibbly wobbly.

        But what is God’s stance on the coolness or lack thereof of bow-ties and/or fezzes?

      • Doubly funny, because if there was ever a Christ figure on TV, The Doctor would be it.

        He is an enigmatic figure who spends a short time on earth, gathers followers, causes them to love him, and then leaves them changed, their eyes opened to the glory of the universe…

        In several versions, he lays down his own life for his friends, or even people he barely knows, and is reborn with a new body…

        Humans are the very image of Time Lords…

    • I always cringe when I hear a pastor say words like “Miss Myrtle closed her eyes in this life, and opened them in heaven.” It implies a definite end. Life is eternal in Christ. It doesn’t end. While here on earth, we’re to act as stewards of the Kingdom of God, and when we “fall asleep”, “die”, or “kick the bucket”, we await Christ’s return.

      I think we don’t devote enough teaching to the “afterlife”, because it’s easier to package and sell as “go to heaven when you die”. We as Christians are largely ignorant of Abraham’s Bosom, the coming Kingdom, etc.

      My biggest question, Mule, is “Will there be chili dogs in eternity?” Being a Georgia boy, I’m sure that you have an affection for The Varsity that defies all space and time…

      • I’m a Florida transplant.

        Grouper sandwiches with Red Rooster hot sauce, and the Gators beating the Dawgs, then the ‘Noles, and a jar of sweet tea on the back porch watching the sun set in that endless sky.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Because when “Miss Myrtle closed her eyes in this life, and opened them in Heaven,” Death is Permanent.

        In Fluffy Cloud Heaven, DEATH WINS. ENTROPY WINS.

        In Resurrection, CHRIST WINS. DEATH LOSES. ENTROPY LOSES.

      • Christianity is actually pretty interesting, because unlike Reform Judaism it has made pronouncements that there will be an afterlife (Reform pretty much just kicks the can and says, eh, you’ll find out when you get there, now go do something useful with the time you have). Yet for all that, it has a very undeveloped picture of the afterlife. The Egyptians, for example, had a very well defined idea of what went on in the afterlife (pretty much the same stuff that went on in the before-death life). The LDS church had a pretty good understanding at one time that each couple got their own kingdom and had spirit children (I’m not sure if that has been a victim of correlation or if some LDS still believe it).

        Some time back there was discussion of whether there would be combustion engines in heaven. Which brought to mind, well, if we need cars, then do we have jobs in the afterlife? Do we need money? Were the Egyptians right after all?

        All I can say is if I get issued a harp in the afterlife I’m gonna complain! I don’t do strings, give me a contra-alto clarinet and I’ll be happy.

  8. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

    So, I definitely agree with Chap. Mike’s post. It is absolutely true that this life ain’t a dress rehearsal. Heck, there’s a lot of stuff about this life that is REALLY neat that Scripture seems to indicate will not be a factor in the World to Come. I’m fixin’ to get married. Well, that ain’t gonna be crossing over. Vocationally, I’m a priest. That ain’t gonna cross over either! I’ll be out of a family and out of a job in the World to Come, and as much as I find that worrisome, I’m assured that it’s for the best.

    On the other hand, we’ve got plenty of passages such as Hebrews 13:14. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (ESV, emphasis added). How do we reconcile these two concepts? Whenever Scripture speaks such, or in similar terms, it seems plain in the text that we’re talking about eternity being our true goal.

    For my part, I don’t try to reconcile it. I just live with the both/and tension (hey, I’m an Anglican; we love “both/and”). I try to do what needs to be done here on earth, but I keep in mind that it’s all temporary and will be both fixed and drastically changed in the World to Come.

    Maybe that’s a cop out. Maybe I’m trying to justify using Hebrews 13:14 in my sermon last week. I dunno.

    • There’s a scene in the play Zorba the Greek where Zorba encounters a man who has lived over a hundred years. Zorba asks for his secret. The man states, “I live each day as if I were going to live forever.” To this Zorba replies, “That’s the difference between you an me. I live each day as if it were my last.” Perhaps understanding verses like Hebrews 13:14 has as much to do with how the verse shapes our lives (now as Chaplain Mike might point out) as it does with the content of the verse. A poor reading leads to a sort of Christian mythology. A good reading sets our goods, kindred and very lives in the context of both eternity and death.

      • +1

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The online comic “Coffee with Jesus” has Jesus responding to a glib “I’ll live each day as if it were my last!” with “If you knew today was really your last, you’d be curled up in a corner with a bottle of Jack Daniels, crying and babbling.”

    • Maybe that’s a cop out. Maybe I’m trying to justify using Hebrews 13:14 in my sermon last week. I dunno.

      Isaac/Obed, the verses following Hebrews 13:14 balance it out. Verse 15 says, “let us offer praise to God as our sacrifice through Jesus (loosely translated: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength).” And verse 16 says, “Do not forget to do good and to help one another (loosely translated: Love your neighbor as yourself).”

      It’s the same thing as Jeremiah 31:31-34 above; also Micah 6:8, “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” No Pie in the Sky proffered or peddled.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    If I believed what this sign teaches I would have declined to start a family. If all I were doing was simply to bring a child into this world in order to save him/her from hell, then what’s the use? This Creation was, and still is a delight to God. This does not deny the reality of the fall and the taint that came with it, but it does not mean that this is just some kind of waiting station where we prepare to be saved from something terrible that soon awaits us. If this was all I had to teach my children, then life would be a terrible negative reality, a mistake, an error on the part of God.

    I cannot but help move from this sign back to the birth of my children. It was a time of tremendous joy. I agree it was also a time of a feeling of terrible responsibility, but this went far beyond preparing them to avoid the consequences of a hot hell of punishment.

    This kind of evangelism, to me, is a twisted argument arising out of a watering down of scripture to some low common denominator that misses the entire point. And if someone is “saved” by this kind of teaching, then watch out for that person, because there may be a loose cannon ball in the house. I’ve known some of them, and the harm they can conjure up runs deep and wide.

  10. Amos is now says:

    “Now” is the time when “then” begins.

    I love this, Mike. It really encapsulates what has been missed by the the institutional evangelical church of my youth.

  11. Yes, precisely this. Many years ago one of the first questions I was asked by several very seasoned missionaries from various denominations in preparation for my confirmation was when eternal life begins. The right answer was, of course, which I gave, was that it had already begun.

    I never could understand why some segments of Christianity don’t get that, or don’t want to, but here we are. Some of NT Wright’s writings might do some good for the folks who believe the sentiments expressed in the sign, if they’re willing to read his stuff.

    It’s why He taught us to pray “thy kingdom come,” not “beam me up.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >I never could understand why some segments of Christianity don’t get that

      Because that isn’t how it works on TV?

  12. Haven’t commented in a while, Chap. Mike, but the power of your words & perspective here called me to offer thanks. This post was like the Holy Spirit blowing through a dry land or Christ laying bare the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. If we are to be like Christ, we must be able to see & call out barren theology when it’s plastered on public signs. The last thing we need to do is make excuses for it. Thank you for putting real muscle behind your words to set the path straight.

  13. “Eternity”

    “It starts inside”
    “Come and See”

  14. I suppose it is easy to look around at all of the suffering and think of the coming of a time when it will be over. I do. But I also know this: Our Lord came to us and He ushered in the Kingdom of God in our midst. There, life is sacred, and there is compassion and mercy, and most of all there is hope.

    “We think back with repugnance to that ancient biological prehuman scene whence we came;
    there no life was a sacred thing.
    There millions of years of pain went by without one moment of pity,
    not to speak of mercy”

    (Sir Charles Sherrington)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Hmmmm.

      >There millions of years of pain went by without one moment of pity,

      Just for the record – this only stands if you believe that only humans know pity or compassion.

      And there is the rat bringing food to his trapped companion, and attempting to free him. His attempts may be feeble. But its a rat. We know, scientifically [if you need that word], that ‘samaritanism’ is not limited to humans. I doubt they know “sacred”, but compassion – in at least some limited way it exists without us.

      I do not know how much light this brings into the ‘natural world’ or how much more condemnation it brings upon us for our cruelties hidden behind out vast intellects.

  15. “Eternity is in love with the Productions of Time.” William Blake

  16. Paul Tillich made this interesting comment in his sermon, “The Eternal Now”:

    “They expect an endless future in which they may achieve or possess what has been denied them in this life. This is a prevalent attitude about the future, and also a very simple one. It denies that there is an end. It refuses to accept that we are creatures, that we come from the eternal ground of time and return to the eternal ground of time and have received a limited span of time as our time. It replaces eternity by endless future. But endless future is without a final aim; it repeats itself and could well be described as an image of hell. This is not the Christian way of dealing with the end. The Christian message says that the eternal stands above past and future. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.’ ”

    It seems that those who are obsessed with the afterlife do not necessarily have an eternal perspective.

  17. Christiane says:

    the intersection of eternity with time: the Incarnation of Our Lord

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xK73ppFVvjE

  18. @Tom –

    No need for double quotes. We are completely unironic about this.

    Mule, wasn’t intending irony. Not questioning the understanding. I find it extremely interesting in that it is a very positive affirmation of our materiality.

  19. IndianaMike says:

    Chaplain Mike,

    Without having darkened their doors, do either of us know what this church truly intended by the message on their sign?

    If not, then any comments should be about the ambiguity of the message and not the character of the messenger.

    That is the line I think you crossed and what sticks in my craw.

    Please let me and my evangelical compatriots at least be guilty of the sins we actually commit.

    Best Regards,
    IndianaMike

  20. In Transition says:

    Is it too late to comment on this one? Looks like the conversation may be a little cold by now, but I thought I’d comment anyway.

    I think it’s good to address Christian sound bites and slogans. The sound bites come from beliefs that may 1) have become stale assumptions, 2) need to be thought about and addressed, and 3) provide a springboard for conversation.

    So I like that the author addressed the sign.

    So, I think that the world needs to hear more about what God is like, not less. Our good news is presented too narrowly and too often in language that sounds like white noise to the world that needs it. There is SO MUCH about God that people need to know, yet our message for a while has been about a very small amount of the available information about God.

    Jesus taught the sermon on the mount, he didn’t just say “receive me into your heart” over and over again.

    I was walking with a friend on a Friday night in a downtown area. We passed an open air preacher. I’ve preached open air my self many times, as has my friend. After passing the preacher my friend and I realized we were thinking and feeling the same thing: “Even though I’ve preached that same message in similar settings in the past, there is something unsettling about it”.

    And the thing that was unsettling was this: We keep saying the same words about Jesus over and over again. Yet there are so many other words about Jesus that need to be said. The folks that don’t know God yet need to hear a lot more about what we know about God. The bible says about Jesus works, “all the world’s books could not contain them.” I became committed on that day to telling people the good news about what God and His kingdom are like. There are millions of needs in the hearts of men and women and there’s a God whose character and works are rich and multifaceted. Let’s say more about God!

  21. In Transition says:

    >The more I read the Bible and the longer I follow Jesus, the less I think this whole thing is about “eternity” or “heaven.”

    Just realized I have something to say about this too. In my opinion “It” is about now and then. It’s about eternity invading now. It’s about starting to live eternally now. Eternal is about quality and quantity, and it can start now. But the “then” is important because Jesus is coming back. And not just coming back, but will stand on the earth.

    The fact that Jesus will, in the future, stand on the earth, and I’m being given the opportunity to be there for that, is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. And that piece of eternity is getting into my heart and impacting my faith and actions right now.