what happens after death – the quest for assurance

Something I’ve been discussing with friends is the quest for assurances about what happens to us after death.  I often think that it’s a little too easy to say, “oh I’m not afraid of death!” It has to be normal to wonder about what happens to us after death, and to work hard at avoiding it! No doubt it’s part of what keeps us alive. At this point in my life, I must say that I can’t think about death without thinking “what does God say about it?” We have the word of others who were close to God and faced death much closer than I – like Paul, who nearly died several times from acts of violence, starvation, and shipwrecks. And there’s Jesus himself, who died a violent death, but then got up from being dead to give us the very assurances we all need. How cool is that. Can there be any greater authority on death and life than he?

So what do we do with this need for assurances about life after death? The best I know how, I go to God, the ultimate truth on the matter. In my few years I feel so fortunate to know at least some of his love for me, to have seen his mercy/kindness in times of great need, and his power over my life’s circumstances when the waves of fear are too much for me. I don’t have any other place to go with my fear, but to him. And he’s never not been there in every single situation – my journey with him started when I was 15 (58 now). I’ve seen too much, I know too much not to believe him. It would be like telling Christopher Columbus that the earth was flat and if he sails too far he’ll fall off the edge. He’d sailed the globe, he knew too much, and those words would fall flat, but not Christopher. And I’m convinced the assurance I have inside me is not something I’ve mustered up, but it’s something God’s holy spirit gave me, and which he gives to anyone who asks him for it.

So what would I say to anyone seeking additional assurance? I say draw close to him with all your heart, and he will come to you, and give you that assurance, like he’s done for me. And not just assurance about life after this earth, but true life with him right here on earth. I’m no more special than any of his created ones, and his offer extends to all. I find I’m most open to receiving from him when I’ve come to the end of my rope; my own means. Some people’s ropes are longer than other’s, and it’s the fortunate ones that get to the end of it, so that God is all we want above all else. What else can I say? Sure, we can look to words of truth in the scriptures that speak of this assurance (a few below). But just seeing the words on a page has never been enough for me either, unless I have something “quickening” in me that injects faith in God in what I’m reading. It’s what Jesus was talking about in John’s gospel, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It seems to me that only by having our own relationship with God can we have such confidence. And surely God knows this. Jesus had such compassion and desire for people to know him, saying things like, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:8), and, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) I take comfort in these words. He knows what we need even before we ask. I believe we move forward in our quest by simply coming to him, finding honest words, and listening with our hearts to his response.

If interested, here’s a few scripture verses regarding assurance of life after death with God:

* Psalm 23:4 – David comforted by God even in the face of death

* Romans 8:38-39 – Paul comforting the Christians in Rome that neither death nor any earthly or other power can separate us from God’s love that comes through Jesus

* 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 – Paul comforting the Christians in Corinth that death has no “sting” when they are safe in Jesus

letting God be huge, wise, and in control

I had a friend recently write me about some really honest questions he was wrestling with – such as, “In my heart things are stirring…but is it me or is it God… wondering sometimes if I have missed it completely…makes me wonder what my life is about right now, and if the hunger I feel is true or what…”
I was encouraged by the raw honesty of this.  I too have had been doing some soul searching over the last 18 months.  It’s being a time of re-evaluating:  what I believe God is speaking to me about the direction and investment of my time, energy and resources.  Re-evaluating my skills (and lack thereof) in the work place – albeit, this came in the midst of probably the most challenging season of my adult working years in terms of the requirements placed on my time and the need to “step into bigger shoes.”  I’ve been confronted with a more honest assessment of the limits of my love for others vs. myself.  And during this same time period I’ve been very quiet on this blog.  There’s been less time for it, and I got out of a writing pattern.  But it’s more than that.  I think I’m slowly getting a new grip on what my life is really about, like my friend wrote.   I wrote back to him:
Dear Friend,
I commend you for the courage to ask the hard questions, and to look at things squarely.
The Lord once gave me a thought about this, when living in southern cal, and thinking about how we naturally bop around in the surf on the beach to avoid the impact of waves so they wouldn’t knock you down.  We jump up, dive, turning our bodies to the side and lean into the waves – of course!  We want to stay upright, on our feet.  He was showing me how I was approaching life, and he wanted to show me a different way.  He wanted me to turn over the full responsibility for whether the waves of life knocked me down or not, and not use any of my own cleverness to avoid things that are important, or my own strength to sustain them.  So the image he gave me, and he takes me back to it periodically over the years, was to simply stand there in the surf of life, facing forward and not sideways, letting come what may come, being willing to get knocked down by the waves, leaving all that in my loving Shepherd’s tender care.  Oh, that I would stay there.
Ps. 51:6 – and I like NASB here – “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.”

I believe that ruthless honesty you speak to is so important, so that what remains is only what comes from him, and is sustained only by him.

I too find myself wondering what my life is about these days.  I sense I’m in some kind of in-between place.  I guess I used to have answers but don’t anymore, but either way, I wasn’t even asking the questions I now have.  And the questions I have now are more simple and fundamental.  Like, “okay, what now?”  And somehow, this seems good and right – thank you, Lord.  I take comfort in feeling small in this season, letting him be huge, wise, and in control.
Your friend,
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a call to war

I laid awake in the middle of a night recently, right after a gathering of our home church gang, stirred up by some challenging spiritual things several of us sensed were in our midst that night.

It brought me back to being mindful that we are in a war. There is an enemy and he is crafty. I’m aware that God, amazingly, has made us warriors of this battle, the ground on which this battle is fought, and the prize for which it is fought. Of course, we know Jesus has won the war, but that doesn’t keep many battles along the way from being yet undecided. And at any moment, there are some that look like we’re on the winning side, and others where it’s not looking so good.

Battles for the kingdom of God to move through us. Battles for our own personal victories as the saints walking in the authority of Christ, rising up in all that he has called each one of us to. Battles for our children to chose wisely how they will live their lives. Battles won as, by his grace, we press in to the presence of the Lord in our daily lives.

Pressing in by making ourselves available to his loving overtures. Pressing in to knowing ALL the truth as he so willingly discloses it to us by his word and Spirit. Pressing in to all of his heavenly blessings, which are our inheritance. Pressing in to his presence as worship warriors. Pressing in to our authority in prayer. Fighting this war on our knees.

I’m feeling a call to go to battle for the kingdom of God in and through us. To pray over all that God is doing in each of our families and marriages. To pray for what God is doing in this area, our domain of work/friends/neighbors/others in which we mostly live our lves. And to pray over what he’s doing in the world at large. And to break through barriers in our relationships, so that we are reaching the places that God is wanting to take us. I’m not wanting to fabricate anything that isn’t what God is doing, but only do what he’s doing. But wanting to see strongholds of the enemy broken that keep us from living stronger lives of worship, prayer, the gifts of the Spirit, seeing his Kingdom moving in the lives of others – getting free from lies that hold us back from living in his freedom, grace, love, mercy. Seeing this same reality of God spread to those around us, our families, etc. as he prompts us to give it away.

I layed awake for hours that night a few weeks ago, feeling stirred up, and called to war. I’m sure many of you have already been sensing this, and many have already been dwelling on various aspects of the battle and are in prayer about this. Bless you! I’m stirred up to pray, and ready to pray over these things in every setting we may find ourselves together.

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when God doesn't agree with our hearts

Hanging out with some brothers this week, we came across this portion of scripture in 1 John:

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

It’s in the middle of a discussion about loving each other in real, tangible ways, such as helping one another in times of need. Pretty relevant today, eh?

But there is definitely an intent here of protecting our sense of freedom and rest in God’s presence. I love the way John validates the reality that there are times in this life when our hearts condemn us. And he is telling us that in those times we need to tell our hearts the truth; tell our hearts to be at ease, at rest, if we know we are his.

And then there’s this line, “For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

What an awesome thought. And how meaningful that John would be saying to us, “Hey, there are times when our hearts are going to lie to us, and try to get us under a pile of condemnation. In those times, dial up to your awareness how God is moving on you to actively live out your love for others, and that this shows you are his. And remember, God is bigger than that part of you that is making you feel condemned right now.”

Other parts of the bible come to mind, like, “speak the truth in love” – and how we need to speak it to ourselves sometimes. And “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” – so if you’re sensing condemnation, and you’re one of his, then you know the source of that condemnation isn’t him.

I keep coming back to “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” That’s really an amazing truth. There’s so many things we can struggle with on the inside, and our hearts can really sound convincing sometimes! How freeing it is to know that he’s just so much bigger than all that. He’s above all those things that we feel condemned over; isn’t phased in the least. Didn’t even give them a glance. That stuff isn’t coming from him, and he doesn’t agree with it. And he’s always right.

Nice to know.

just say no to a christian subculture

In an email to a friend, I recently wrote: “Let’s quit doing the Christian subculture – things that pull us out of the world that Jesus so naturally lived in. We lose, and those who are trying to be saved lose. He wants our lights to shine on top of the hill, not hiding under the sofa.”

About 10 years ago I read a book by John Fischer called, What On Earth Are We Doing that was formative in my early years of breaking away from the Christian subculture. It’s a quick read (189 pages), which are the only ones I seem to get all the way through, and I still recommend it on this topic. From the introduction, John writes:

“Now, enterprising Christians create and market thousands of products and services to a Christian market eager to pay for a safer version of contemporary culture – a sort of decaffeinated world where Christians can have their Christianity and their culture, too. This book is concerned about the emergence of a Christian subculture that encourges us to see ourselves as separate from the world not by beliefs and attitudes but by definable practices, identifiable markings, and cultural artifacts . . . I believe Christ established the church (his body of believers on earth) not to develop its own separate customs, civilization, and achievements, but to infuse the customs, civilization, and achievements of every age and society with people who love and fear God. In opting to abandon the world for our own safer version of it, we are failing to deliver on this vital aspect of our presence in the world.”

And that was published in 1996!

We need more like John.