The Art of Active Patience

I’ve developed a habit over the years of getting my hopes up about things that I desire. Maybe it was a college I wanted to attend, a friendship I wanted to last, an opportunity to do something special. If I even had the slightest reason to believe that something could happen (whether it was probable or not), I latched on to that hope with all my strength. I was so motivated in all those different situations to get what I was waiting for that it often crashed and burned, and the hope I started with resulted in a lot of pain or disappointment when I couldn’t get what I wanted. So how do we get through situations like that? How, in the presence of such great disappointment, can we keep our heads held high and trust in God’s provision? It’s not easy. And that’s exactly why Satan continues to try and drag us down in these situations – because he knows they can break our hearts and crush our faith. However, when we strive towards a more active and engaging form of patience, we can begin to see the strength that these trials produce when we come out on the other side, praising God along the way.

Life Sucks, but God is Good

It’s a simple fact that everyone comes to grips with at one point or another – life can be really unpleasant sometimes. Perhaps it was a failed relationship, a pregnancy complication, maybe you lost your job. These things hurt, and they can cut deeply. However, the presence of difficult circumstances does not mean that God has forsaken us. He can still be a just and perfect God even if we do not understand how or why he is working in our lives in a certain way. Our task during trials, then, is to remember that God’s glory transcends our understanding. Let’s take a look at a passage that illustrates this clearly:

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, ‘I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.’ . . . Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ (Rom. 9:14-15, 20, NLT)

And another verse from a book that has very good insight on the topic of suffering:

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2:10, ESV)

God is not obligated to bless us with lives that are easy. God is not obligated to bless us with the absence of difficult circumstances. Growing up in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen, we sometimes get this entitlement mentality that if anything goes wrong, God must be being unfair or must have forgotten us. But that’s not the case, and if we choose to believe that it is, our faith can be completely demolished. We will face hard times, but God’s faithfulness will not change in the slightest.

The Danger of Passive Patience

Often times, our only option in these hard times is to be patient. Yep, that one course of action that everybody loves and never struggles with. But patience can be approached in two very different ways, and each one has a totally different outcome. In his study The Letters of Peter and Jude, Scottish theologian William Barclay defines true patience:

The word never means the spirit which sits with folded hands and simply bears things. It is victorious endurance . . . Christian steadfastness, the brave and courageous acceptance of everything life can do to us, and the transmuting of even the worst into another step on the upward way. It is the courageous and triumphant ability to bear things, which enables a man to pass breaking point and not to break, and always to greet the unseen with a cheer.

Patience is, as stated here, an active attitude, a daily decision to trust in the fact that God will work things out according to our good. He calls it victorious endurance for a reason: because it takes a lot of fighting much of the time. We will reach these “breaking points” time after time, but the acknowledgment that God is in control is the only thing which can enable us to pass these points without truly breaking. Because of our right standing with God that is gained through faith, we have a foretaste of the future glory that we will receive – a day where our suffering will end and we will enjoy uninhibited communion with God. This is what gets us through. Patience is not passive. Patience is an active reliance on God’s faithfulness even when it is unseen or not understood. We’ve got to take small steps each day to show our complete dependence on God – giving our needs to him in prayer, confessing our times of wavering faith, letting down the walls that our quickly-changing emotions can so easily build up. It is in the times where the night seems darkest that we must, in faith, sing “great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me,” because we know it to be true even when we cannot see it at the moment. We will reach what we believe to be the end of the road, weary and beaten down by the things that this world can throw at us. But God will always be there waiting, ready to revive our tired souls.

You’ve brought me to the end of myself and this has been the longest road. Just when my hallelujah was tired, you gave me a new song. I’m letting go and falling into you.

Bethel Live – Letting Go

 

An Authentic Appreciation of Grace

Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to wish a happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful women out there who have had the responsibility of raising a child. You are truly extraordinary.

 

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with “adopted” family members in our house. Since my parents both have a tremendous passion for their ministry to college students (and just young people in general), we had a few different situations where we opened our home to students for a summer, semester, or even a year or more. Because of this, my brother and I lived in the same room for a big chunk of our childhood, a situation that brought us endless joy from willingly and gladly sharing every possession with each other. Rooming with Benjamin for so long taught me to have a certain amount of value for cleanliness, though; after spending so much time in a room that was perpetually messy, I developed quite the appreciation for time when I could have some cleanliness. With that being said, I was even more excited once I got to college and found out that both of my roommates (shown below) were reasonably clean. I appreciated it right from the beginning, but it was an appreciation that wouldn’t have been so strong without the years spent in a messy room.

20140428_173414The Men of Quincer 210

Now, my point for writing today wasn’t just to talk about the cleanliness of my dorm room, but rather to focus on an important truth: in order to appreciate things fully, we must first know what it’s like to be without them. I wouldn’t love Zach and Elijah’s cleaning habits as much if I’d always grown up with a spotless room. I wouldn’t miss Indianapolis as much if I had never left for Michigan. And, on a completely different level, if we don’t know the extent of our sinfulness, we can’t appreciate the extent of God’s grace.

We are guilty…

Let’s take a moment to observe what may be my favorite book of the Bible, Romans. Paul doesn’t go into specific detail about the grace of God until he has taken time to discuss God’s judgment. Why? Well, it’s because he wants to guide us to a proper realization of our need for grace. The fact is, we’re all guilty of sin that leads to death. We’re born with a shattered reflection of Christ, something I spoke about in the last post as well. On our own, we can do no good – even “morally good” acts have no ultimate weight if they’re done outside of our faith in Jesus. Sin is a disease, and apart from God there is no cure. This is a fundamental truth for all people to understand; without it, we cannot fully grasp the weight and meaning of our salvation. A proper understanding of our hopelessness without God is imperative for our ability to comprehend God’s great grace. Take, for example, David’s words in Psalm 14:

¹ The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. ² The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. ³ They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

This is strong language, especially for a culture today that fights adamantly for the acceptance of secular morality and humanism. But David’s point is clear: we are capable of no good works outside of faith in the one true God.

…but God redeems us.

Here’s the part we’ve all been waiting for, the part that gives us hope – God is merciful. After we’ve recognized the weight and consequence of our sins, we are finally able to fully enjoy the benefits of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. God doesn’t require any atonement on our part, he doesn’t expect us to earn our salvation. All that he asks in return is for our faith: that we are willing to trust in his provision and sanctification in our lives. Let’s look at another Davidic Psalm, Psalm 32:

¹ Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. ² Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

David’s praise is not simply on the holiness and perfection of God, but rather focuses on God’s promised redemption for our sin. His realization of his own sin leads to increased gratitude for God’s power to save.

Without sin, there’s no need for grace. If we were able to abide by the law that God has given us, he wouldn’t have needed to send Jesus. Do we, when reflecting on Jesus’ time on the cross, truly believe that we deserved that same punishment? Yes, he died in our place, but do we actually accept the fact that we should have had nails in our hands instead? If we don’t know the extent of our need, we can’t appreciate the extent of his grace. Yes – we are sinful and broken. But it’s through our weakness that we can rely more fully on God’s strength.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Have any insight on this post? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

 

Growing Up is a Choice

While preparing to leave for college last summer, the part that excited me most was the prospect of finally being on my ownI could finally do what I wanted when I wanted, I could go places without asking permission, I could explore the entire universe without worrying about making it back before curfew. Oh, how great it would be! I was finally going to be an adult – I even got to start paying bills like they do!

Ok, all joking aside, my point remains. I got to be my own little naïve entity, gently floating through the vast expanse of West Michigan. However, as my freshman year of college quickly blew by, I woke up from my sleep-deprivation-and-ramen-noodle-induced coma in mid-February and realized that life was not quite how I imagined it to be. I had not, in fact, grown up. Actually, I felt like I did the opposite. See, I had high hopes for my life once I left for college. It would be my first experience in Christian education, and I just sorta figured I would snap my fingers and immediately stop making stupid decisions or saying hurtful things. Now, here’s a real spoiler for those of you who plan to attend a Christian college, so feel free to skip over it if you like surprises: Christian colleges are full of sinners too. And to borrow some humbling and eloquent words from the Apostle Paul, I was the foremost. I still acted arrogantly, I still said things I wish I could take back, I still struggled with a lot of the same things that I did during high school. But wait, you ask, I thought you were an adult now! 

I wasn’t. I’m still not. But I’m choosing to work harder at getting there.

Maturity is a Choice

See, I think that maturing is a choice that we take. Your work ethic, your self-control, your ability to act responsibly, they’re all options – you can choose to embrace them or cast them aside. I viewed my maturity as inevitable; once I got in an environment filled with Christians, it would just magically happen, like flipping on a light switch. But the truth is, that’s just not gonna happen. One of the consequences of the fall is that we are a broken image of Christ now, like a reflection in a shattered mirror. We aren’t inherently good, we’ve been tainted by sin. And because of that, the choices that we make to grow closer to God are hard: they don’t just happen automatically. This year I had a lot of problems with the way I conducted myself, especially in my dorm. In an all-guy culture, I naturally got more competitive (and with that, I built up a lot of arrogance as well) and it permeated my actions even outside of campus. I was faced with strings of choices each day: respond with pride or humility, speak or hold my tongue, build up or tear down. And I screwed up over and over again. But here’s my point – they were choices that I consciously made. Not things I was doing subconsciously or without realization, but rather things that I knew were wrong. Let’s take a moment to look at some Scripture:

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. 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. (Jer. 31:33-34)

The beauty of the New Covenant, as described here in the book of Jeremiah, is that we no longer have an excuse for sin – God’s word is now written on our hearts. No, we’re not inherently good. But we are born with the opportunity for salvation because of this beautiful promise that God made to us. But what does this mean in the context of growing up? Well, it means that we’re presented with a choice to do the right or wrong thing at any given moment. It’s an obvious (but strangely hidden at the same time) realization, and one that can change our actions and our thoughts dramatically.

Our Past Choices Shape Our Future Ones

One of the very frustrating things I’ve found throughout my life is that I am, like everyone else on this planet, subject to falling into routines. It can be a good thing in some situations, like learning to open doors for others or remembering to turn our cars off before filling up the gas tank.These are things we just do now, simply because we’ve done them so many times before. But habit can also be incredibly unhelpful, like when we set a pattern of laziness or argue when we’re asked to do something. When we act in a certain way, we’re more likely to repeat this action when faced with similar circumstances down the road. I remember a time in my life when I couldn’t finish a game of hockey without getting bored, but once I moved to Michigan and attended a Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game almost every week of my first semester of college, I fell in love with the sport. Why? Well, 1) it’s an awesome sport and 2) I just formed a habit of enjoying it. Each of us has little stories like that, and it’s because we’re creatures of habit. Because of that defining truth about all of humanity, it’s important that we recognize the significance of even our little choices to do the right thing. As we take steps to respond to others with humility and grace, to speak in uplifting and edifying ways, to respect authority, we build ourselves a foundation on which our future actions will be placed. This is the beginning of true maturity: that we create patterns of God-glorifying behavior. God doesn’t command us to offer up one act of sacrifice each day, but rather commands us to offer our whole beings. We could choose to stay in a rut, or we can choose to fulfill the incredible potential that we have through Christ.

It’s not a question of whether we can. It’s a question of whether we will. 

 

 

Have any insight on this post? Let me know in the comment section below. 

Prayer Requests

Over the last few months, things have gotten crazy. And now that they’re starting to settle down, I’d like to take some time to lift up any needs that you all may have to the Lord. So, let’s try something new: Below this post is a box with a few different categories for you to fill out. You know, the typical “name and email” thing. It can be completely anonymous if you’d like, and the only required field is the request one. However, if you’d like, you can include your name and email address as well and I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve taken some time to pray for whatever request you may have. My goal for this is to spend as much time as I possibly can praying for you, the body of the Church, and so I encourage all of you to not only share your own requests, but also to open it up to friends and family. You all have been such a blessing to me since I began writing on this little blog, and I’d love to return that blessing in any way I can.

 

May God bless and keep you.

 

 

Circumstances Suck.

I’m getting really sick of the circumstances I’m in. I’m sick of getting what seems like the short end of the stick in so many situations, sick of feeling hurt and sad so often, sick of dealing with such awful events in my life. They really stack up, and every once in a while it just becomes too much. There a lot of things going on right now, and sometimes I wonder why I’m the one dealing with it. The unique (and a lot of times unsaid) part of this trial, though, is pretty important to realize – I’m not the only one feeling like this. In fact, every single person who ever has lived on this planet will feel the same way; we all have crappy times in our lives, no matter who we are, where we live, how much money we make, etc. And sometimes – here’s the not-so-fun part – God doesn’t deliver us from them.

Now before you confuse that last part with me saying that God isn’t in control, let’s take a look at some Scripture:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor. 12:7-9)

A lot of times, we take verse nine in a context of seeing God’s power through our weakness. But as we look deeper, we can see an even more valuable meaning from these verses – God will not deliver Paul from his pain by removing Satan’s presence in his life. He’s stuck in that situation and God refuses to take him out of it. See, we’re always going to have bad circumstances at some point. It’s inevitable. But the temptation is often to expect God to pull us out if we pray “hard enough” or achieve whatever other stipulations we create. See, that’s just not biblical. Do you think that Job got his original family back? Do you think that Moses finally got a pass into the Promised Land? Or perhaps we’ve forgotten that every single apostle was killed for his faith. Those seem to be circumstances that God did not deliver them from. But what God does promise to everyone who believes is that his grace is sufficient – we need nothing else. See, it’s these times of trial that our faith is truly built; without hardship, we have no need for God’s provision and grace. Sometimes, God will guide us through the pain. Sometimes, he will take us out of it. And sometimes, he just reminds us that his grace is sufficient. His faithfulness does not change, nor does his love for us, but sometimes we just need a reminder that trusting him completely is the only way to move forward.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not – as Thou hast been, Thou forever will be. 

Have any insight on this post? Let me know in the comment section below.

My God Will Provide

So, today is a short encouragement (just because I’m feeling like now would be a good time to share it).

God will provide for you. It won’t always be what you’re expecting, what you’re hoping for, what you want. But it will always be given in your best interest in order to bring glory to the perfect Creator.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)

Give us this day our daily bread. (Mt. 6:11)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt. 6:26)

Seek Christ. Desire more of him, and you will be filled with the satisfaction that only he can bring. When we look for things of this world, people and things that are broken in nature, we will never be completely filled. But when we seek the one true God, the only source of infinite comfort and joy, we will never be disappointed.

 

Have any insight on this post? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

Why does sin appeal to us?

As I turned off the Golden State Warriors game yesterday and made the trek upstairs to my bed for the night, I was confronted with a temptation that Satan often chooses to throw at me. See, each night before I go to sleep, I spend time reflecting on my day; I think about the things that happened to me that day and I think about things that are heavy on my heart. And the issue that has been heaviest on my heart in recent weeks and months is an issue of not trusting God’s plan for me – wishing I could have my own way instead of trusting His. It’s something that I struggle with nearly every day, but something that I’ve been trying to work on. And so last night when the temptation presented itself again, I took a step back and thought about my options in that moment: what choices could I make and how would each affect me and my walk with Jesus? As I contemplated my options, I began to wonder: why does sin appeal to us? Especially to those of us who are Christians, why do we, with full awareness that it is wrong, turn our backs on the Savior in favor of our own desires?

Well, it’s a simple answer – sin allows us to be “king” of our lives for just an instant. We get to have control, to pick whatever decision we want, to do what pleases us. Yeah, it’s a pretty appealing concept when you think about it, but think about this: what if we tune out the long-term consequences of sin while making those spur-of-the-moment decisions? What if we’re unable to see past “right now” and miss “down the road?” What if instant gratification clouds our view of lasting repercussions? Well, as I’ve found time and time again, that’s exactly what happens when we disregard God’s warnings about sin. We look for those “right now” rewards and end up suffering the “later on” results. They’re not fun, and you’d think with enough experience that we would learn to quit making those decisions in the first place. But that’s what is so tricky about sin: Satan comes up with new, clever ways to deceive us all the time. And when we try and fight the battle ourselves without relying on Christ’s strength, the only possible outcome is failure.

See, God wants us to avoid sin because he knows that it will hurt us in the long run. In our skewed, worldly view of sin, we’ve begun to value that which sin offers – lust, greed, selfishness. We see it as a means of gaining happiness, that if we just get one more raise or one more sexual encounter we’ll finally be happy. But in his divine design for our lives, God knows that these things bring only temporary happiness, and sometimes not even that. God asks us to deny ourselves and seek him because he knows that only he can offer true joy – nothing else, no one else. His command for our praise is not selfish, but actually completely selfless because he can see the big picture: he can see that he is the only path to lasting joy. Read these words from Psalm 1 about taking refuge in the Lord:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (Psalm 1:1-4)

See what God is trying to show us? His power, his love, his grace is enough for us. It’s more than enough, actually. And as we learn to rest in that truth, we experience true meaning in our lives. Through his wounds we are healed, through his death we find life, through his suffering we experience joy.

 

Have any insight on this post? Let me know in the comment section below.

Why I’ve Chosen to Let Go

2013 was, without any competition whatsoever, the best year of my life. I’ve never felt greater happiness, truer joy, or more peace in my life. God was good to me; He blessed me with a beautiful girlfriend, who I fell head-over-heels for and love dearly. He blessed me with an absolutely incredible first semester at Cornerstone University. He blessed me with a job that brings me fulfillment. But most importantly, he blessed me with himself. The joy of his presence, bestowed on one who does not deserve it.

But 2013 was the hardest year of my life as well. There’s a very dangerous temptation that is placed in front of us when we’re faced with enormous blessings: that is, to value the gifts more than the Giver. I struggle with that temptation every day, and in order to work in that area of my life God chose to remove some of the idols that I placed above him. As I left for my first semester of college, I felt my sources of comfort disappearing quickly, leaving me feeling alone and abandoned. It was incredibly hard for me to adjust; I was angry with God for taking what I loved, and instead of turning to him for guidance I pushed him further away.

Fighting and Embracing

So, a little about me: I don’t like our society’s typical response to hardship. You know, the whole “pity yourself until somebody else makes it better” thing. I think that’s a way to cheat yourself of the process of trusting God (see James 2). Instead of leaning on him and trusting his plan for the situation, you fight for what you want. And if you fight for long enough, God may just give you what you want (in a not-so-fun way). As appealing as it is to seek your own desires, we grow and mature in our faith by doing something a little different: seeking Christ’s desires for us. See, it’s far from easy at first. It goes against what our society tells us, even what our own mind tells us. But the beautiful thing about putting our identity in Christ is that the more we do it, the easier it becomes. And that has become more and more evident to me as I’ve gone through this journey over the past few months; I’ve seen the hardship that comes with going my own way, and I’ve seen the freedom that comes with letting God lead. God has put it on my heart each day to be content with where I am – not looking back and wishing things were the same, not looking forward and wishing things could be different. As I’ve reflected on the past few months of trials in my life, I’ve found that fighting gives us earthly rewards – we can fight for our idols, for the things we place above God – but embracing Christ’s plan for us frees us to see the amazing work that he is doing in our lives. Clinging onto these earthly rewards gives us the illusion of joy, but letting go allows us to claim the reward that Christ has promised us: peace in His name.

See, I could shake my fists at God and struggle until I get what I want. But seeing God’s plan is so much more fulfilling, so much more worth it, that I’d be foolish to push it away. And as he has revealed that plan to me lately, I’ve been able to see that and appreciate it more. To be honest, I don’t really know what is going on in my life right now. But just because I don’t know what’s going on doesn’t mean God doesn’t know what he’s doing. I am called to be thankful for my past, to look forward to my future, but to embrace what God is doing in my life right now. And that is of utmost importance in our walks with Jesus so that we might not lose faith and dependence on his will for us.

I’d like to finish this post with an encouragement to all of you that comes from the Gospel of John. Listen as our Savior guides us to true peace:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 ESV)

God wants you to rely on him. I could hang on to my best memories and wish that everything had stayed the same, but God knows that his presence alone will bring peace and meaning to our lives. He knows that nothing else matters. He wants us to let go.

“Surrendered I come with open hands; I give you my life because your love is better than anything this world has to offer. So I let go, I leave it all behind, let go, I’m taking up your life. All for your name, even if it costs me everything.” – Elevation Worship – Let Go

A Perspective on Submission

So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered,“What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:21-30 ESV)

I find it interesting here that when chronicling Jesus’ death, John uses a very interesting order of words: Jesus did not die and then slump over, he bowed his head and then released his spirit. Instead of just dying, Jesus bowed his head in submission. This final act of humility and selflessness shows that God is in complete control; none of this could have been done without his willingness. I love the fact that Jesus’ life ends with this. He does not fight, he does not resist. “He will not shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle” (Isaiah 42). Christ came softly, gently, with love and humility, even to the point of death on a cross. So after reading this, I wonder… what suffering am I submitting myself to in Christ’s name? If Jesus was willing to die on a cross for me, shouldn’t my life reflect that willingness? We will never have to endure the extent of his suffering, no. But there are things in our life that we are called to endure and trust God through even when it hurts. In these moments, are we bowing our heads or are we clinging to the desire for self-preservation? What in our lives is God calling us to patiently wait through? And how can we do that in a way that brings honor and glory to Him? Our lives are not ones of bliss, of comfort, of complacency, but rather of trials and pain and constant development. So, I ask you: how are you handling the trials that God is giving you? The hard decisions that he’s calling you to make? Are you bowing your head or shaking your fist? Let God control your life today. Submit to his desires for your life and you will surely see that what he wants for us is better than what we want for ourselves.

I’m not going to heaven when I die.

Now, before you start freaking out, let me explain a little further. Please don’t mistake this for me saying that there is no eternity spent with God – that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that I’m not so sure that we go straight to heaven when we die. After all, there’s not a verse in the New Testament that specifically says so. Yes, there are verses that speak about heaven – passages like Revelation 5, 21, and 22 – but the pattern I seem to be finding in each of these is that almost every verse speaks with a tone of hopefulness: waiting for things to come instead of describing something that is already available. Here are a few verses that echo that:

  • 2 Peter 3:13 – But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
  • Hebrews 11:16 – But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
  • Hebrews 13:14 – For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
  • Hebrews 11:10 – For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Do you see the pattern as well? These verses seem to point towards a future event, which I believe to be the consummation of our faith through Jesus’ second advent. The time when a new heaven and a new earth are revealed.

So what happens when we die?

Honestly, I don’t know. My best theory is that those who have not chosen to seek Christ will descend to hell immediately and that those who have been sanctified will be kept safe by God until Christ’s second coming. I don’t really know what that will look like, in all honesty. But I have a hard time believing that we’ll just float around on clouds until the second advent, when we begin our residence on the new earth. After all, that is where we will be for eternity: new earth. Not heaven, not floating on clouds, but in the new earth. But here’s where it gets tricky: the new heaven and new earth will be made one. We will enjoy complete and unending communion and unity with God and the pain of sin will be gone. I think that life will be relatively close to what it’s like now; like I said, I don’t think we’ll just be floating around doing nothing for eternity. But what will change is the fact that all suffering will have disappeared at the moment of our faith’s completion. No longer will we weep, will we long for change, will we feel pain and anguish. Our faith will be complete, our journey will have reached its finish. All will be made new in the precious name of Christ.

Lazarus and Elijah

As you’ve been reading this, I’m sure the same thought has popped into many of your heads: What about Lazarus (both of them) and Elijah? Well, the Lazarus question covers two topics: the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man and the passage in John 11 speaking about Lazarus’ death and resurrection. I’ll cover both.

Lazarus and the Rich Man

To start, it’s important to remember that this passage is a parable, not intended to be taken literally. Dr. Lawrence Richards, author of The Victor Bible Background Commentary, New Testament explains in his findings that Jesus used popular Jewish beliefs about the afterlife to make his point. These beliefs, also, were influenced by pagan mythology. The popular belief at the time was that those who died went to Hades, the abode of the dead, which was thought to be divided into two sections (the place of the righteous and the place of the unrighteous). It was also believed that those in separate sections could still communicate with each other. Because of this similarity in Jesus’ language to the contemporary Jewish beliefs, I’m inclined to side with Richards and view this parable from a teaching standpoint instead of a literal one. Viewing it from this lens would both create an explanation for what seemed like contradictory information about heaven as well as help to understand Christ’s language more clearly.

Lazarus’ Resurrection

In John 11, another story is told, this time chronicling the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. This story is different from the first because it is, without any doubt, intended to be taken literally. However, this one does not make any claims that Lazarus goes straight to heaven; in fact, Jesus actually seems to confirm the fact that Lazarus was dead and not residing in heaven:

John 11:11-13 – After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.

Now, this passage is much less decisive in its proof against or for my theory, and so I have had a much more difficult time including it in this post. In conclusion, I will simply say that Lazarus is never said to have spent his time of death in heaven, and the language that Christ uses to describe his sleep is very similar to language used to describe those waiting for their time on the new earth.

Elijah

An explanation of Elijah’s story has been by far the most difficult to understand while I’ve been reading about eternity. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s the excerpt:

2 Kings 2:11-12 – And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

The most credible argument I have found to explain this event also deals with the transfiguration:

Matthew 17:1-3 – And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

The explanation I have come to find for Elijah’s ascension to heaven deals directly with the transfiguration and how we view it: as a representation of Christ’s second coming. See, Moses and Elijah represent the two groups of believers who will be present during the second advent – those who have died, and those who are still alive. Why? Well, because Moses died and Elijah did not. Simple as that. When you understand that significance, it becomes easier to understand the symbolism behind the transfiguration. Jesus returns, and both groups of believers are present with him. Elijah’s ascension serves the purpose of giving a vivid picture of what the second advent could be like. The focus is not on the ascension itself, but rather on his presence at the transfiguration.

More Scriptural Evidence

Read these words from 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.

And there it is. A passage that states it clear as day. The dead in Christ and those who are alive will be brought together in the presence of the Lord. I love what the verses have to say about the hope we have in Christ as well: even though we may have loved ones that have died, we do not need to grieve as others do who have no hope. Through Jesus’ resurrection, we have hope! Through his selfless sacrifice, we have hope. By his stripes we are healed, raised to life in the glorious name of Jesus Christ.

Now, by writing this I am not meaning to say that what I’ve written is undoubtedly true. The beauty of our Savior is that he is infinite; unable to be fully comprehended by finite minds like our own. But I would be remiss to not seek all the knowledge I might gain while here on earth, and because of that I am inclined to look for all that my mind can understand. In doing so, I believe that I’ve come to a reasonable theory (and one that has been contemplated for many years) that may point to the events which may take place during Christ’s second coming. I’m not interested in arguing over this belief, nor am I interested in causing conflict because of it. Division over small details is not appealing whatsoever. But my goal in writing this is to simply share with you what I have found encouraging myself. If you have questions, rebuttals, different opinions, or even things that I may have interpreted incorrectly or left out, I would ask you to please let me know in the comment section below.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Have any insight on this post? Let me know in the comment section below.