Category Archives: Kingdom Life
To live Gently in a violent world
To gaze continually on the
Amidst ugliness and suffering
To experientially know the
Height, Depth, Width and Length of
Divine Cruciform Love in a
World drunk with power
With all my
Even in the thick of spiritual warfare.
To find my home in the
Heart of God, in
The Secret Place of the
To Abide under the
Shadow of the Almighty
To Live in the
Holiest of All
Wherein lies all of
Life, Joy, Strength, Guidance
– for there is a highway within –
To Create artesian wells in the
Valley of Weeping, satiating
Like Rain in a drought
Earth and People weary of
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 New Living Translation (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;then you won’t become weary and give up.(Hebrews 12:1-3 New Living Translation (NLT)
In this section of First Corinthians, Paul is answering questions about liberty. Americans are all about liberty, freedom. Inalienable right. Liberty.
Why is liberty inalienable, absolute, indisputable? Because it is given to all humans by the Creator God. We have freewill. We have liberty. God given liberty.
Liberty must always be regulated by love.
Love is the highest virtue. Faith, hope, love abide forever, but the greatest is love.
Love: the New Testament Greek word is Agapé. Agapé is:
God is Agapé.
Jesus is Agapé.
God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God.
But, how can God be love? Isn’t love a combination of emotions and actions? How can a Being be love?
Herein lies the essential difference between Christianity and all other religions. Many religions assert that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, sovereign, and holy.
Only Christianity asserts that God is Triune: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
God’s eternal essence is a singular loving community, so united as to form a single being joined in an eternal love relationship.
All of our false concepts of God involve seeing God as a singular person: Angry god, judgmental god, distant god, kindly old grandpa god, Santa Claus god, vengeful god – all singular.
The True and Living God who is pure love created us with freewill. Liberty. There is no real love without the freedom to choose. Law had to be given because of the abuse of liberty.
But liberty must always be subject to love because love is the essence of God.
We are not at liberty to pollute or exploit the earth because God created the earth and pronounced it good.
We are not at liberty to enslave, use, abuse, kill, dismiss, manipulate, or disenfranchise people because people are created in the image of God.
Love must always regulate liberty.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of his willingness to give up some of his liberty, specifically, in this passage, his right as a minister of the gospel to expect that the church will take care of his material needs.
He also speaks of being willing to give up anything that hinders the fulfilling of his appointed task.
What he absolutely refuses to give up is his authority as an apostle appointed by Jesus to carry the good news to the world. Paul’s eyes are fixed on the goal. Like an athlete training for the Olympics, he is disciplined, gives up whatever would hinder, and focuses on doing what God has called him to do.
Paul determined to run the race of life to win. He was determined to lay aside every weight that would hold him back and run with endurance looking unto Jesus.
I am 68-years-old. I am determined to run with all my might for the rest of my life the race God has set before me. God has called and appointed me as a pastor-teacher. Nothing and no one will dissuade me.
I intend to flameout for Jesus.
With a living coal from off Thy altar,
Touch our lips to swell Thy wondrous praise
To extol Thee; bless, adore Thee
And our songs of worship raise;
Let the cloud of glory now descending
Fill our hearts with holy ecstasy,
Come in all Thy glorious fullness
Blessed Holy Spirit have Thy way.
Let the fire fall, let the fire fall
Let the fire from heaven fall;
We are waiting and expecting
Now in faith dear Lord we call;
Let the fire fall, let the fire fall
On Thy promise we depend;
From the glory of Thy presence, let the Pentecostal fire descend.
Or, leader and perfecter of our faith
Some manuscripts read: Think of how people hurt themselves by opposing him.
Quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Let the Fire Fall, by Henry Tee
The Mariana Trench Challenger Deep is the deepest place on earth, and likely the most alien. It is 36,037 feet (10,984 meters; 6.825 miles) deep. Mount Everest rises 29,035 feet above sea level. If you dumped Mt. Everest into the Mariana Trench, its peak would be 7,000 feet under water.
Named in honor of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute oceanographer Allyn Vine, “Alvin” is a human occupied vehicle (HOV) that is part of the National Deep Submergence Facility and which enables scientists to observe and collect samples as deep as 4,500 meters (2.8 miles) in the ocean during dives that can last up to ten hours. I stood gazing at Alvin I (it has been upgraded numerous times) on the deck of her mother ship when I lived in Woods Hole and dreamt of what it would be like to descend into the ocean depths where humans had never before seen the strange and wondrous creatures that live there.
At noon on Monday, March 19, 2012 local time (2200 hours, Sunday, March 18, 2012, Eastern Time), National Geographic photographer James Cameron resurfaced in the western Pacific Ocean having just dived over 6 miles deep into the Mariana Trench. His submarine has been called “a vertical torpedo,” and had to withstand 8 tons of pressure per square inch at depths over 35,000 feet below sea level. (That’s like putting a 2,365 pound weight on your fingernail.)
What wonders lie in the depths? Frilled sharks, giant spider crabs, wolffish, fangtooth fish, tube worms, vampire squid, viperfish, xenophyophores (resembling giant amoebas), amphipods (shiny, shrimplike scavengers), andholothurians, which may be a new species of bizarre, translucent sea cucumber.One of my father’s graduate students was the first to discover microbe life in sulfur trenches at the bottom of the ocean.
There, vents bubble up liquid sulfur and carbon dioxide, microbes rely on chemicals such as methane or sulfur rather than oxygen, creatures gobble marine life lower on the food chain,and active mud volcanoes erupt. And there, sadly, chemicals caused by human pollution reside.
Although massive oil spills are horrendous, they account for only 12% of the oil in the oceans. Most of it comes from runoff from our roads and fields and from ship engines.
We dump 8 million metric tons (17.6 billion pounds) of plastic into our oceans every year – a garbage truck full every minute. In 30 years, plastic will outweigh all ocean fish combined. After all that plastic breaks down into microplastic, it enters the food chain causing disease in everything that ingests it, humans included. Four hundred years later, when plastic finally breaks down, it releases toxic chemicals.
There are five huge floating garbage dumps in the ocean, the largest of which is twice the size of Texas and contains some 1.8 trillion pieces of trash. There are over 400 hypoxic dead zones in the oceans caused by human pollution. One, the size of New Jersey sits in the Gulf of Mexico.
With each load of laundry, 700,000 synthetic microfibers are washed into our waterways. Plasticized fibers do not break down.
70% of ocean garbage sits on the seafloor.
Agricultural fertilizers like nitrogen stimulate massive algae blooms that kill off fish by the millions.
Greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power plants and vehicles are increasing ocean acidification resulting in the demise of shellfish.
Noise from ships and the military is harming invertebrates like anemones, a vital food source for larger animals.
Ancient Neareastern peoples like the Canaanites, Hittites, Egyptians, and Hebrews feared the sea. In their collective cosmology, the earth was a flat oval-shaped disk held up on pillars. Over it was a hard canopy, above which was water. Windows in the canopy could be opened to permit rain. Below the earth was more water, which was personified as a mythological chaos monster named Yam, Rahab, or Leviathan. One can easily understand the beliefs – with the human eye, the earth looks like it might be a flattened oval, the sky a dome with lights screwed into it at night, and chaos often does come from the sea in the form of hurricanes or tsunamis. The sea has swallowed many a person, many a seaside village, and many a ship. Even today, the ocean refuses to be tamed.
It was there, in the sea, that life began on planet earth. How it went from nothing to something, then later from chemicals to living organisms, no one yet knows; but it did, and the wonder of evolution by natural selection began its creative painting while the Master Artist smiled. A Master Artist so brilliant that he knew (and knows) every possible combination of every possible genetic mutation and every possible choice of every being; and, therefore, has a contingency plan for every possible outcome. The Artist is never surprised, but always delighted. His creation is good. The Divine Artist pushed back chaos to create order. The natural world is a Temple erected in honor of the Artist.
In the Ancient Neareastern religions, temples were erected to the gods, and, when completed, an image of the god was placed in it. Nature is God’s Temple. He placed His image therein – human beings – the image and likeness of the Creator, the Imago Dei– and charged those primal humans with the protection and care of the natural world. Humans were never given dominion over one another, but as kings and queens, they were charged with the oversight of nature. The intricate, delicate web of interconnected life from xenophyophores in the Mariana Trench to playwrights in New York is all connected in a grand systemic family. What happens to one affects the other.
Humans are to protect all of nature. In one of the two sacred creation myths in Genesis, a serpent enters God’s garden. Serpents universally represented evil and chaos throughout the Ancient Near East. Rather than protect the Artist’s garden from a return to chaos, evil, and destruction, the humans allowed chaos to return. Humans began murdering one another. Violence and war spread. False gods like Mammon were worshipped. Greed became a virtue. The tender, delicate, wondrous, beautiful garden of God was raped, ravished, decimated in exchange for caviar and mistresses. Environmental violence and human on human violence are closely related. Jesus forbids both.
I was taught that the essential and universal human problem was sin because sin separates us from God, who is sinless and holy. But now it seems to me that the larger problem is death, the consequence of sin. In fact, the reason sin is a problem is because it causes death.
And what is death? Biologically, it is the cessation of physiological functions – the heart stops pumping, the brain tops waving, the liver stops filtering, the lungs stop breathing. Legally, death is declared when trained medical personnel using sophisticated technology can no longer detect either cardiovascular or upper brain function.
But beyond the biology and the legality, what is death? Answers are ubiquitous.
- Simple biology – the end
- Nonexistence, annihilation
- Permanent unconsciousness
- Disembodied consciousness
- Transition to another sphere of life
- Drifting into a nether world
- Absence of personality
- Swallowed into wholeness
- Nirvana, nothingness
- Sleep until a future resurrection
- Going into the light
- Reunion with loved ones
- Mansions, pearly gates, streets of gold
- Wearing the chains forged in this life
- Happiness for some; torture for others
- Heaven, hell, purgatory
- Sheol, Hades
- Becoming an angel
- Sitting on clouds playing harps
- Watching over folks here on earth
- Refinement that might take millennia
- Part of life
- Haunting old houses
- Simply an unknowable enigma
If death is the end, if, once it occurs, the essential person permanently ceases one way or another, then life is absurd. It has no purpose beyond (perhaps) the cultivation of inner peace in this life now (Buddhism), or the stoic acceptance of absurdity (Jean Paul Sartre), or the invitation to be entirely self-centered (Ayn Rand) and/or brutally domineering (Friedrich Nietzsche). If those are the options, I choose Buddhism.
If the biblical record has value, death is an invasion on the natural order. The story begins with a relational triune God of perfect altruistic love. The story continues with that love spilling over into creative activity. Quasars, fumaroles, mahi-mahi, snails, butterflies, planets, marigolds, dragonflies, solar systems, electrons, molecules, humpback whales, scarlet tanagers, women, men, and grasshoppers – a breathtakingly beautiful universe, the loving artwork of a loving God.
Life – fungi, protists, archaea, bacteria, plants, animals, humans – however we define it, life comes from God. God is the source of life. God is life. No God; no life. So, anything that separates us from God severs the life-source, and death ensues.
Because God is love, God can (and will) readily forgive sin. That’s not the essential problem, however. Even forgiven, the consequences of sin remain. Death reigns.
All my life I have been afraid of death. I do not know why. I know that when I tried, in my childlike way, to express those fears, they were flippantly dismissed. The door of death is foreboding, terrifying, unknown – does it lead to an abyss, nonexistence, or what? What lies beyond? How can we know?
Generation after generation, lined up, like so many Confederate solders under the command of George Pickett, like so many young men on the Western Front, waiting for their turn to fall in the ditch. A highly intelligent, deep-thinking hospice nurse commented that it all seemed so meaningless. We wait for the proverbial shoe to drop. What horrible ailment will be our personal Waterloo?
Is it a kind of a dream
Floating out on the tide
Following the river of death downstream
Oh, is it a dream?
There’s a fog along the horizon
A strange glow in the sky
And nobody seems to know where it goes
And what does it mean?
Oh, is it a dream?
Bright eyes, burning like fire
Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
How can the light that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale?
Is it a kind of a shadow
Reaching into the night
Wandering over the hills unseen
Or is it a dream?
There’s a high wind in the trees
A cold sound in the air
And nobody ever knows when you go
And where do you start?
Oh, into the dark
(Bright Eyes, Written by Mike Batt and sung by Art Garfunkel)
Many people seem to simply make up an answer. Or, perhaps more accurately, many adopt a comforting scenario they heard someplace.
“It’s all peace and light.”
“You’re not dead as long as people remember you.”
“Well, grandpa’s up there fishing with Uncle George.”
“She’s in a better place.”
But I was raised in a scientific home. I can’t accept anything without some evidence, and there is no evidence whatsoever for most of the speculations about what happens during and after death. Some folks seem ok with simply deciding to believe something based on nothing. Not me. I don’t need proof, but I do need evidence.
I have good reason, strong evidence, for believing in Jesus. Jesus said things only God could say, did things only God could do, claimed to be God incarnate, said He was one with the Father, and rose from the dead. (I have strong rational evidence to support the Gospel narratives and the resurrection, but those are subjects for other essays.)
Jesus said that He is the door to eternal life. Like a soldier falling on a grenade to save her comrades, Jesus absorbed all the evil of the entire universe into Himself. It killed Him. But He didn’t stay dead. Death swallowed Him, but could not digest Him. Sin is off the table. Death is dead. The Jesus door has replaced death’s door.
Stepping through it, we meet Him.
And that is heaven.