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In my last blog I talked about my future plans for raising Isaac (my son). Ideas that I had that I would try and implement to help him grow not only into a responsible adult but also into a faithful follower of Jesus. It was based off an article that I read called “10 Mistakes Christian Parents Make” or something along those lines…I don’t remember the specific title at hand and it really isn’t important. It was an article in line with what seems like hundreds of other blogs that are trying to address the problem of Christians leaving the faith when they get older. The theory is (and research supports this theory to a degree) that teenagers model their parents’ faith. This is a good pursuit. Strong Christian role models are a noble endeavor. God is certainly glorified when we try and encourage one another. Plus the Church needs a PR face lift, so encourage radical faithfulness to Jesus can certainly help with that in some ways I imagine.

But then I got to thinking about parents who students who left the faith who were faithful followers of Jesus. In all the studies, in all the reports it can become very easy to assume that teens that stay in church had great parents and teens that didn’t had not so great parents. It can be easy to turn this discussion or issue into a black and white, this is in and this is out battle extravaganza…similar to the discussions about which sleep training method to use Baby Wise or whatever other books are out there.

It’s easy to get vicious in these discussions because we care about our kids. Because this issue is important and when important issues arise it is hard to remain objective and honest. It is easy to get tunnel vision and create a strict, one size fits all solution. So I got to thinking about all of that. And while I do plan on implementing many of my ideas plus others I also want to address one thing when it comes to parenting. But before I go there, a word on future Kyle.

This whole post started because I started thinking about Future Kyle…you know the me in a few years who has to live with the results of Present Kyle (the always awesome) or Past Kyle’s (the usually annoying) decisions. Normally, I’m very neglectful of Future Kyle mainly saying “That’s Future Kyle’s problem.” But in a rare moment of futuristic-self-empathy, I started to worry about how Future Kyle would respond to my last post. What If I didn’t implement everything, what if Isaac grew up not following Jesus? What if he was Buddhist or something else? Would Future Kyle be sad? Is this another soon to be “silly past Kyle” moments that Future Kyle would bemoan? So I’m going to be a little pastoral to Future Kyle…and hopefully to others as well.

Dear Future Kyle,

Hey buddy, hope you’re doing well. Sorry about your credit score…I know, I know. On a brighter note, I bet you’re still hilarious and well read. Is it easier to buy books off amazon after they downloaded the shop chip into our collective brains? Do you still play Fantasy Football? I hope you do. Also, I’m trying to lose weight so our waste stops looking like our dad’s or better yet a lower case b. I’m assuming I succeeded.

Look, I don’t know what the future holds or what decisions I made but I hope we made good ones. Regardless of what happened, remember, Good Parenting does not negate free will (or if for some reason you turn Calvinist on me….Good Parenting does not negate predestination). You do the best you can, share and proclaim to the best of your abilities and the Lord moves as He will. Isaac will make whatever decisions he wanted to. It is not a negative reflection on you or your parenting choices.

Look, you know this but in case you forgot, kids do dumb things. Kids rebel. Kids don’t always listen and if Isaac is anything like his mother (and you unfortunately) he’s probably really stubborn. We’re all flawed people and sometimes we make mistakes. You’re just as flawed as Isaac if not more so. Yes you could’ve read more books to him, made more time for him. I’m sure you lost your temper with him more often than you would like. But you never stopped loving him and that is important.

Regardless, he is a free being capable of making his own choices. The reasons people make the decisions they make are complex and not always easy to resolve. Faith takes time to develop. And remember faith is not built on a list of rules, doctrines, ideas or even actions of other people but it is grounded in some experience with the Risen Lord Jesus. Maybe it hasn’t clicked yet, in any event, keep your head up buddy.

If he isn’t a Christian please remember the story for him isn’t over yet. There is always time, God is always at work and wondrous things tend to happen when we least expect them to. Regardless, he is your son and for that give thanks and be proud. He is a gift. He is YOUR gift. Treat him well, treat him with love, be firm when necessary (cause I bet that was your strength…right? being firm? I’m sure it was). But above all never stop supporting him.

That’s all for now buddy. I hope we end up well, maybe not super rich but I would like to think the world is a better place because we existed. In any event, I’ll do my best so you don’t have to roll your eyes too much when you get all nostalgic. Say “Sup girrrrl you lookin all fine and what nots to future Erin” for me. Love you bro and I’ll see you one day.

 

P.S. – IF we develop the ability to time travel, DON’T go back to the old west…I don’t want to die in the 1800’s around cowboys. Any other time is fine. *future self -high five*

 

Two posts in less than 24 hours…vacation is spoiling me!! Recently I shared an article that talked about the top 10 mistakes Christian parents make with their teens. I’ve shared a number of these articles before because I am of the opinion (and I think we have research to back this up) that teenagers (for the most part) model the faith of their parents. Thus, I try to post articles that can help feed the conversation going on among the parents at my church who are on Facebook (which is every one of them because teens have left Facebook…. Due to their parents being there =D).

All of the articles share good points (or I wouldn’t post them). All of the articles make points I don’t always agree with (because I don’t have to agree with everything I read lol). But many of them fall into a vein that is far too common among the Christian blogging industry. They point out a problem without actually providing solutions. Christians are really good at whining…it’s because we’re descendants of Israel and we learned from the best. To be fair, people in general are good at whining. I in fact have a fine talent for pointing out the barbecue sauce on someone else’s shirt and then ignore my own barbecue sauce stained garments.

Thus we arrive at this post. This is not a post to point out problems but to offer solutions (mostly theoretical because my son is only 10 months old). It’s a post intended to get my parenting juices flowing. It’s a post that is intended to remind myself that my role as a spiritual guide has already begun and if I wait until I see a problem, I’ve probably already missed my chance.

But mainly this post arose because Paul Cartwright threw down the gauntlet. Here’s what happened. I observed that many of the previously discussed posts miss a key point that spiritual guidance needs to start BEFORE our kids are teenagers. Paul sent me a message and said “good observation why don’t you write a post about it.” My first thought was…because I’m not a parent of a child above the age of 1. But then I decided, “Why do I need to wait until my kid is five or seven or whatever age to begin to make a game plan?”

Surely I can use my God given intellect to begin making a rough draft of sorts, an intentional focus and be humble enough to tweak when necessary. I will admit at the beginning these are all very early thoughts and I’m sure there are much wiser books, blogs and speakers who have something to say on the matter of spiritual parenting and in fact have already said a lot on the matter. So if you’re still reading here are my very limited perspective thoughts on Raising Isaac for Jesus (most of these are reflections from what I’ve seen others do, try or say…so if you said something and I took it from you but don’t remember…thanks for the help!!).

1)   One sport one season. I hate year around sports. They drive me bonkers. They add unneeded stress to teens and parents and they are a symptom of a very unhealthy relationship our culture has with sports. Most likely my son will not be all sporty (my wife and I are notoriously unsporty. I mean…I’m BAAAAADDD. This past summer I played a one on one game of basketball that lasted 20 minutes. Final score? 3 to 0. I almost puked more times than I scored (and for the record…I won that game). In no particular order.

If Isaac wants to play a sport and be a part of a team then I will support him fully. I will be at his games and try to make his practices as often as I can. However, his sports will not be the center of my life/calendar nor will it be the center of our family’s calendar. Maybe he won’t get to play as much as other students because of this and he and I will have a conversation about this and why it is important to not be controlled by one activity but to seek to live a healthy life. We will talk about how devotion to Jesus calls for sacrifice but in that sacrifice there is a joy because we find opportunities to do other good things. So yes he’ll play sports but he’ll do other stuff as well.

2) Jesus will be a big deal in our family. Isaac had his first Christmas this year and we started a tradition of reading a book about the Christmas story to Him on Christmas Eve (as he gets older this tradition will be coupled with our family tradition of watching a Muppet Christmas Carol). Every year we will read “The Crippled Lamb” because Jesus is a big deal in our family. Will he have Santa Clause? Yes. We are a family of imagination and Santa will be a part as well. And when he asks about the reality of Santa I will tell him the original story of Santa and talk about why we keep retelling the story each year as it connects to a man who loved Jesus.

I plan on talking about faith (in a positive way, not in a griping “so and so did such and such” at church) at the dinner table: telling stories of answered or unanswered prayers, discussing religious ideas as they come up, engaging Isaac’s life with the power and wonder of God. I did this as a young man with a friend’s family and it made me a better man and Christian. And btw, no topic will be off limits. They may be accommodated for His age but we will be open to discussing any topic.

When we read bed time stories, sometimes we will read or simply tell stories from the Bible. I have a friend who is going to start doing Jesus Calling devotionals with her boys soon (children’s edition). I like to think we will try this as well. In any event, we will pray together, we will read the Bible together and we will discuss faith together. Isaac will be free to choose whether or not he believes in God or wants to follow Jesus. But I will proclaim the wonder and power of my Lord to my son for as long as I have breath.

3)   Church will be a nonnegotiable (at least on Sundays). I know, I know there are nightmare stories of children being forced to go to Church and being bitter for it. I was forced to go to Church, I have friends that were forced to go to Church and guess what…we still go to Church. I’m not saying every time the doors are open Isaac will have to be there (I mean, I most likely will but he won’t). I am saying for followers of Christ being with other believers is a necessity and he will know the value of being together with other believers regularly.

I will share with him my desperate need to be around others who share in our beliefs. I will share with him the joy of being there to encourage others in the faith. I will walk with him through the “church is boring dad” moments and I will invite him to help me find ways to make church better. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. I’m going to teach my son HE HAS A VOICE IN THE ACTIVITIES OF CHURCH!! He will be a PARTICIPANT!!

He will be involved. He will share in the ministry of the church working alongside members as we live as a community. For instance, when it comes to potlucks, I don’t want Isaac going first with all the children. Isaac and I will go with the other adults. More importantly, I will ask Isaac to go through a potluck line with an elderly member with me and we will eat with them. Will he always like this idea? Probably not. Will I ALWAYS force him to do it? Maybe, maybe not. Will he know that followers of Jesus look after the least of these and don’t rush to fill our faces like hogs at a feeding trough? Yes. Will he learn to respect and value the elderly? Yes. Will he learn to engage the elderly? Yes.

 He won’t just be ministered to in the Children’s ministry. He will minister to others in small ways. And he and I (and his mom) will work together to find ways to use his gifts in the Church. He’ll read Scripture if he wants, he’ll lead songs if he wants, he’ll serve communion. If I ever become a preacher and he wants to preach with me, he will. If he wants to work lights or stay in the background he will. But I want to give him the opportunity to discover how God can use Him to encourage and strengthen and challenge fellow believers.

4) He will serve the community in Jesus’ name. I am a huge social justice junkie. I like to serve the poor and consider the least of these. I will invite Isaac to join me in this work. One of my friends just took his six year old son to Mexico for a mission trip. I love that idea!! Maybe we’ll take a family vacation (not every year but on occasion) just to serve in a mission type way. My other friend took his daughter to help make cinnamon rolls to serve to their local homeless population on Christmas. A marvelous idea!! I also read about a family that made pancakes and used their 4 year old son’s red wagon to help bring the pancakes to those who were hungry. I was all “WHAAA?!”

I want to show Isaac that faith is not just words and ideas but also actions and a lifestyle. I hope that my son and I can enjoy the deep discussion parts of faith but also enjoy the action side of faith. We will serve together and enter into the joy of giving to others and putting their needs first. It is a major part of faith that I want him to experience. When we talk about college and school I will challenge him to find a job that doesn’t just make money but betters the world for the glory of God.   When it comes to homework, I’ll help him as best I can and I expect him to try his best but I want his best to be because God has given him the opportunity to learn.

5) Above all I will love Isaac unconditionally. You ever noticed how God says “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased” at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? Like before he did anything really amazing, God was already proud of the Son. The same is true for me and Isaac. The first night he was born I held him in my arms and simply repeated those words to him. I made a promise that no matter what happens I will love my son, no questions asked.

He may be lazy and bad in school. I will love him. He may not be great at sports and I will love him. He may make some really really dumb choices but I will love him. He may decide that following Jesus isn’t for him. Or that I am a bad dad or get a girl pregnant before marriage or have a drug problem or whatever. I will always love my son and every night after we pray and every morning when we wake up I will tell him, “You are my son and with you I am well pleased.” And when he makes a mistake and I discipline him I will remember to say “you are still my son and though you screwed up, I am still well pleased because you are still my son.

I will work hard not to call him stupid when he messes up. I will work hard not to call him a failure when he fails. I will work hard to still be proud of him even in the dark times of his life and I will be there walking beside him as best I can. Will I always bail him out financially? Probably not. Does this mean I won’t have high expectations for him? By no means. Will it mean he’ll get everything he ever wants? Not gonna happen. But no matter what, he will know that he is loved.

So there we go…here’s the beginning of trying to help my son find faith. It’s probably really flawed but so am I. OOO…I’ll also show Isaac that we’re all flawed and we all make mistakes and that’s ok.  

I need to blog, I have had the time and even the ideas to blog but I haven’t. So this post is one of those, I need to blog blogs and just free style it to get the creative juices back on track…you know for the next few days before I return to work and then run out of ideas/time or energy to blog lol.

Despite being one who speaks highly of rest and the importance of taking/exercising regular Sabbaths, I rarely take vacations. I sit idly (ironic) by watching all of my friends take beach trips, lake trips, Vegas trips, Reno trips, ski trips, Disney trips and even trip trips (which I hear are really a trip). I typically vacation vicariously through others always wondering “how do these people find the time, energy, and money to travel and vacation as often as they do?”

So here I sit on the tail end of my first vacation in about three years. Sure I’ve taken some weekend trips here and there but nothing really extended. It’s been three years I think since I took one. As we packed I was a little gun shy about calling this time a vacation, I mean…does visiting family count? Is visiting family actually a vacation? We’ve all had those experiences where our family is actually MORE exhausting than restoring…particularly around the holiday season. Not to mention the fact that when you travel so rarely to where you were birthed there is this spoken and unspoken expectation that everyone who lives within an hour travel should be visited and a reasonable amount of catching up is required. Which…just adds to the exhaustion…oh and then there’s the baby. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, I’m glad I got to see them and my in-laws. But we all have those stories where (intentionally or unintentionally) being around family was less than restorative and very draining.

Needless to say, the potential for this trip to be more exhausting than less was a real and present danger.  I decided something early on (like before we left). I decided to actually treat this like a vacation and NOT a family visit. And thus far…I’d say it’s gone over pretty darn well. It meant not seeing everyone and their dog (although I did try to plan a few visits some of them didn’t work and while I was sad I didn’t feel guilty about it). It meant being ok with having mom watch Isaac while I went out.  And the biggest hurdle for me, it meant not feeling guilty for deciding to take some “me” time.

Now maybe that is selfish. Maybe that makes me a jerk. I don’t think so. I think it simply makes me human. It means I’m tired and I need to rest.  It allowed me to actually rest and to not feel guilty for needing/ wanting to rest. And it allowed me to enjoy the time I had with everyone. I didn’t feel forced to do anything, I didn’t feel burdened by seeing anyone. I enjoyed seeing everyone I saw.

I was raised to care about other people. I was raised to consider their needs and their desires before my own (and sometimes I even manage to pull that off). But over time I developed a very unhealthy sense of service. I began to feel guilty if I couldn’t meet someone’s request. Worried that they would be upset with me or would like me less or a hundred million other possible negative outcomes.

But when I do that, I become really bitter. Instead of allowing my friendship and the people around me to be a gift from God to be experienced in this world, they become a never ending burden that sucks the life out of a man. This isn’t to say I don’t love my life or my job but rather to say that I can’t go on and on and on without stopping. And when I do stop, I need to actually rest not simply shut down and escape. I need to RECHARGE.

Jesus needed to recharge. Yes even the Son of God was exhausted by people and thus Jesus in the gospels we find Jesus taking some “Him” time to be with the Father; to be away from the everyday business of Messiahing. Jesus needed to rest too. Soooo…if it’s good enough for Jesus…it’s good enough for me. Rest is what makes us ready to go again. Rest brings back creativity, energy and helps our brains focus and work.

I’m excited for the New Year, I have some hope in this coming year and I’m able to see the hope because I’m not burdened by work. More to the point I’m not burden by the exhaustion that work brings. Work is good, we should work, it brings glory to God. But work brings exhaustion and exhaustion is a burden. So this year, as I reflect on what it means to be like Jesus, I think it means to rest and rest well.

In the name of Jesus I’m going to use all of my vacation days this year. In the name of Jesus I’m going to try and actually take my Sabbatical that I technically should have taken this past Fall but you know how things slip by. In the name of Jesus I’m going to take time, back away for extended periods of time and let the world exist without me. And then when I am recharged, I’m going to hit the ground running again instead of just trying to crawl from one day to the next.

Ok to recap: Kyle in a cynical dark place for a bit, trying to pull out of it and rediscover what it means to be Christlike…ok we’re caught up to the context of this present writing endeavor which will probably only be three or four posts because I have a habit of becoming distracted from my blog…

I’m an argumentative person. I don’t really like to argue, I just find myself arguing…a lot. I find myself arguing over silly things and I find myself arguing in a very unloving way (because arguments in and of themselves are not necessarily bad). I tend to speak over people, ignore their thoughts so that I can make my point and make sure they know what my point is. I’ve been reflecting on that this afternoon. Why am I like this? Part of it stems from an insecurity that developed in my childhood when my dad would call me “stupid” as he corrected my homework. Can we just all agree that being insulted by your dad is one of the most soul crushing thing that can happen to children?

This insecurity has been within me for as long as I can remember and it drives me to be seen as “smart” or at least “not stupid.” To prove to myself that my dad was wrong and that I am more than he thought then. Thusly when I argue, if I’m not careful (and I rarely am), I have a tendency to latch onto the potential of being seen as “smart.” And thus I close my ears.  The second reason is that I am very competitive and like to win (I mean, who doesn’t like to win? It’s awesome!!).

The weird thing is, being argumentative seems like a Christian thing to do. It’s as if when you start following Christ, you stop listening and just start word vomiting a lot. I know a number of Christians who like picking intellectual fights. I’ve heard a number of stories who say things, rude things… or just plain wrong things, all in the name of speaking the truth. For instance, recently I watched a video where the person claimed “Evolutionists believe dogs came from rocks…if you go back far enough.”

Now maybe there was a time where people who support the theory of evolution actually believed this, I am not aware of this part of the theory and I feel fairly well versed in it (but I also recognize that I’m not a scientist and thus I don’t know as much information as I possibly could). But what I imagine is more accurate to the situation, because I see it happening often, is that this person not only disagree with evolution but lacks respect for the theory or people who believe it and thus, he stopped listening to them a long time ago.

It’s funny how often we don’t really listen to people and just assume we know what they believe or think, even when they say the exact opposite at times (and let’s be clear, the point of this example is not what evolutionists believe but rather people who disagree with evolutionists, if “dogs from rock” is a part of the theory then think of another example of people who don’t listen and are argumentative). Now without making too broad a statement about other Christian followers (and thus turning it into one of those “boo Christians from a Christian” blogs). Maybe the argumentative nature in Christians I mentioned earlier is just the narrative of negativity that my cynical nature is drawn to. Maybe I’m just argumentative and want other Christians to be so as well so I don’t feel so bad. I’ll simply admit that I am argumentative.That in my insecurity I stop listening to people. And I don’t believe this is the way of Christ (instead of looking at the barbecue sauce on someone else’s shirt, I simply choose to acknowledge the barbecue sauce on my own). 

This week, I gave our youth group a booklet with the birth narratives of Jesus to help them find deeper meaning during their Christmas Holidays. I also included the opening prologue to the Gospel of John and I think it has much to say about “Christlikedness.”

John writes,

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being 4 through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” 1:1-5

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this statement. Jesus, being the Word of God, is the power through which all creation has come into existence. Literally nothing exists without Christ. After this brief introduction, John introduces a villain “the darkness.” The light of Jesus shines into the darkness but the darkness cannot extinguish it. The word John chooses here has a duel meaning, for which John intends both. The word can mean overcome (extinguish) and also understand. Darkness cannot overcome the Light nor does it understand the light. I would also add that because the darkness cannot understand the Light it will never be able to overcome it.

This speaks massively to my insecurities. Regardless of whether or not I am actually “smart” or “stupid” I have a secure place in the one who never is overcome by a darkness that only pretends at grasping reality. While this may seem offensive, the reality of darkness is that it think it is not as wise as it thinks. It’s truth, it’s goodness, is a shadow a pale grasp at that which is actually truth. And perhaps that is why it is so hostile to light. It follows a principle of “the loudest voice wins.” Darkness only plays at wisdom, so it fools us by trying to appear mighty, intelligent…strong.

I don’t need to yell at other who disagree with me (honestly has my loudness ever overcome anyone’s heart? Has anyone ever really been transformed because a Christian screamed at them?). I don’t need to have the most words, the last words, the loudest words because my words are built upon the strength of Christ. The light will never be overcome or be truly comprehended by the darkness.

The power of Christ can be quiet and peaceful to be planted and take root in the lives of others. If it is forced, it might grow but only on a shallow level. It will not produce fruit that keeps with righteousness. So as I reflect on what Christlikedness looks like from John, I think it’s peaceful and quiet. It’s mirroring the one who creates and sustains and who has done so since the beginning. It is a quiet confidence that is not afraid to engage people calmly. It is not afraid of what others may say or believe or think. It simply comes into the world and begins to slowly create and transform, regardless of how the darkness behaves.

I’ll continue my reflections on John 1 sometime later this week. I love vacation…it gives me time to think, process and reflect. Why don’t I do these more often?

I’ll be honest; I’ve been a little cynical and in a dark place lately. There are a variety of reasons for these feelings, a complex amalgamation of multiple moments, incidents and what nots (of which I’m not going to go into at this time).

So anyway, part of this gloominess has led to some serious questions in regards to the Church. No, I’m not losing my faith, no I don’t believe there are other alternatives to giving glory to God outside of following Jesus and no I’m not becoming Buddhist, Shinto maybe, but not Buddhist (Shinto is the Japanese philosophy where I get to be a Samurai right?). I’ve simply been concerned with the Church people as of late.

Maybe it’s me but for a long time now it seems like many of us (self-included) are missing the point. We’ve lost our purpose, lost our hutzpah and have settled for some pale, stale shadow of our glorious Lord. None of this is new, nothing I’m feeling is stuff I haven’t felt before even. But lately, it’s been stronger, harder to shake off…like that depression blanket/bathrobe from that commercial.

So in the midst of the gloominess I posted a question via the tweeter/ Facebook page. I asked “Are there better examples of Jesus among non-Christians than Christians?” Some good points were made in the discussion. One of the points made was non-Christians are just as capable of doing good outside of knowing Jesus. One person even said “I promise that I live a more pure life than most Christians.” Now I don’t disagree with the premise, I know a lot of moral non-Christians, people who live good lives, don’t know Jesus but make this world a little brighter by their life (honestly, they’re some of my favorite people).

This morning Isaac woke up at 4:30 and I got up, gave him a bottle and rocked him back to sleep. As I was staring into his cute sleeping face, I started thinking about the conversation from earlier. And I began to wonder, “Is one’s actions of goodness what it means to be Christ-like?” Does being a good person make you a good example of Jesus? Or is there something else?

If doing good determines Christ-likeness then the answer to my question is possibly yes. And yet, a point was also made that even if someone does good for poor motives they’re still doing good and that’s good. And I think on some level regardless of motivations, good is good. But is it Christ-like? What do we even mean by Christ like?

We talk about kingdom, we talk about discipleship, we talk about “freedom of speech” we talk about a lot of issues but I want to talk about Jesus Himself. To answer my question I need to rediscover Jesus and reconsider Him (again not breaking new ground here or anything). I stayed awake for a while letting the question run through my mind and feeling frustrated that a minister of the Gospel who has been a follower of Jesus for as long as he can remember was having trouble answering this question. Although, to be fair, I never said I was a “good minister.”

So I’m going to spend some time revisiting my Lord. And the first verse that popped into my mind was Philippians 2:5-11. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul deals with a number of issues but one of them is a division that has arisen among some of the members of the church (which is a subtle theme in most of his letters, so don’t feel too bad if there are divisions in your church…it’s how we roll I guess). In this verse Paul uses an ancient Hymn to remind the Philippians about the character of the man they claim as Lord,

Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, 10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I love the phrase “he emptied Himself.” It’s not just that Jesus did good things, but in doing good, He emptied Himself. Now there are a lot of good discussions that come in interpreting “He emptied Himself.” Did He empty Himself of His divinity? What does that even mean? How can He do that and still be fully divine…we theologians have the best discussions that aren’t really that useful to the real world don’t we?

Yet the point of the passage is not really about what He emptied Himself of. The point of the passage is that He emptied Himself and became a servant. This is the attitude we should have as followers of Christ because this was the attitude of Jesus. So to answer, at least to begin to answer, what does it mean to be Christ-like, we find a theology and a practice of “emptying oneself.” Not simply doing good but of sacrifice, of becoming servants to others, regardless of who they are or how they treat you, and being willing to serve even to the point of death (or perhaps not just willing but striving to get to that level of service).

See, I don’t want to just to good (although I do want to do good). I want to be like Christ. I respect Jesus; I love Jesus, I want to be like Him. This isn’t that hard to understand, we like to emulate those we love and respect; it’s woven within our nature (for the most part). Doing good does not necessarily make us Christ-like…not that doing good is bad (and if you’re a non-Christian who lives a moral life in no way do I intend on demeaning that goodness. Keep doing good).

I don’t want to do good, nor do I simply want to be really moral. I want to have the strength to empty myself and be a servant. I want to care less about “my rights” or thoughts or issues or whatevers but instead to simply serve. To make myself less so that others can be more. So that’s where I’m starting and we’ll see where I end up. And hopefully this little exploration will get me out of this dark cynical funk and help me rediscover the hope that seems to be so waning these days. 

Many of our high school students are learning how to drive, or will learn how to drive soon. To open this week’s lesson we did an activity where they had to identify road signs. We used that to introduce the seven signs in John as pointing us towards the kingdom of Heaven. We had the groups explore the different signs (we only explored four of them) and had them discuss how these signs pointed us to Heaven or how the sign described Heaven.         

Road signs exist for many different reasons. Some set limits to speed or limits to what lanes can be driven in. Other signs warn of unexpected delays or dangerous situations. Still other’s point you in a certain direction or tell you how far you have to travel to reach a certain destination. But overall signs, road signs or any sign, describes a reality that you and your car are about to enter. You are about to enter a reality where the left lane is closed. You are entering a reality where the fastest you can legally drive is 65. Signs declare a new reality.

            Jesus did many things that were like road signs. His actions pointed to a new reality, a coming reality and He showed us how this new reality would be. There are seven signs in the Gospel of John (we only looked at four, and had the student discuss how these signs helped us understand Heaven and Eternity, they came up with some great answers). The final sign that John mentions is the raising of Lazarus, a dead man coming back to life by the power of Jesus. Each of these signs points us to and hints at a new world that is coming. John is trying to get his readers to see that Jesus is bringing about something different, something wonderful, something, new…or better yet, something restored. Jesus’ works, Jesus’ teachings are all about pointing us in a new direction that is coming. And this new age, this time begins to take shape when Jesus Himself resurrects from the dead.

But what does resurrection mean for us? Why is it significant for Heaven? This is what we will address for the rest of our time together. To do this we need to explore one of the greatest chapters in the whole New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15. I love this whole chapter because it is a wonderful reflection on the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for us. We’ll go section by section starting in verse 20.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”[a] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. -1 Corinthians 15:20-28

          Notice Paul’s use of the word “first fruits.” In the ancient world, a first fruit was an offering that a worshipper gave to a deity. It was a promise of faithfulness to the deity. But here Paul uses it, interestingly, in the reverse order. Instead of us making a promise to God, God makes a promise to us through Jesus. Jesus’ bodily resurrection points out that we will also have a bodily resurrection; that is God’s promise to us.

            You will be the you God created, because God loves you. God doesn’t want you to be someone or something else, even in creation. He wants you to be YOU, the YOU, you were meant to be without sin. The pure creation God intended. God is glorified by our redemption and restoration because it shows how truly powerless Satan is.

  Let me use an analogy from life to help you wrap your mind around restoration. Think about an old, dirty coffee table. It once used to look like a beautiful piece of furniture, but now it is warn, tired and possibly broken. Now imagine you took that table and restored it to its original shine. You sanded down the rough edges, added a new finish so that the old table looked as it once did. If you did this, you would have restored this table.

            That’s what God does to humanity, through the resurrection of Jesus. He takes something that is broken and restores it to its original beauty. That’s why Paul says “first Christ, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” The resurrection of Jesus restores us to our true beautiful selves. But Paul takes us even deeper with this discussion.

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. – 1 Corinthians 15:35-41

This is a very simple point and an important one to grasp. Paul’s belief in a resurrection body just seems to make sense when he thinks about the different kinds of bodies in our present reality. Birds and animals do not have the same kind of body as human bodies. They are different. Thus, just as there are different types of bodies among the creation on Earth, so also are there different types of bodies between earthly bodies and heavenly bodies.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. – 1 Corinthians 15:42-49

OK, stay with me on this. My bible translates these different bodies as “natural bodies” and “spiritual bodies.” Other translations have “physical bodies.” This has led to a belief in a heaven like the one in cartoons, where we are sort of disembodied floating beings without feet. And if we confuse what Paul is saying here, then we can certainly arrive at that conclusion. But that conclusion isn’t as hopeful as what Paul actually intends to be understood here.

Now get ready, we have to understand the Greek language a bit to understand Paul. And in my study I came across the writings of NT Wright to help us understand what Paul means here. And this dude, is one of the best New Testament writers and scholars, so what he says should be considered. The Greek word for “natural” is psychikos. It is a form of the word psyche which means soul (Wright is quick to note this word was not used to refer to something physical).

Now the word is used as an adjectival form, i.e. it describes something (see why basic English is important). Wright argues that what Paul is describing here is not the “material out of which things are made but rather the power or energy that animates them.” The difference is like asking on the one hand “is this ship made of wood or iron?” while on the other asking, “Is this ship powered by electricity or by the wind?” Paul’s point then is that this present body is powered by the normal human pyche (the life force of this present time that is ultimately powerless against sickness, brokenness and death) while the future body will be powered by the life giving pneuma (spiritual) of God and that body will not be powerless against sickness or death.

It’s like saying in this life you drive a gas powered engine but in the next you’ll run on an electric energy. Physicality or material is not really the issue. The issue is what powers it. And to back up this point, I would also observe that Jesus had a physical body when He resurrected. This then takes us to the final portion of this chapter, verses 50-58.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”[b]

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. -Read 1 Corinthians 15: 50-58

Just like before, when you read “flesh and blood” Paul is not talking about physicality in general but rather the present physical form that is mired by sin. “The perishable must put on the imperishable”, God is not starting over or rejecting our bodies that He created, He is transforming them. And thus death has not power, death has no sting. It gets nothing in the end. And this is why a physical resurrection matters, because it paves the way for the rest of creation to be resurrected as well.

Paul even says this earlier in the chapter, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” And here’s my point for all of this: God is ever faithful to all of Creation and when the end comes, Satan gets absolutely nothing. He doesn’t get the last laugh as God is forced to destroy Creation, He doesn’t get a small smile thinking, I got to beat God at something as he destroys the body. He gets nothing, there is no laughing for Him, no hope for Hi; only destruction.

And this God and this truth is where we find our strength.  That is why Paul closes the chapter by saying, “Therefore my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Nothing will bring ultimate harm to you, so be strong. Satan cannot force you out of God’s hand, he is not strong enough. He gets nothing and God gets everything!! How wonderful, how marvelous is that?

This coming Sunday I will be out of town and one of our students is teaching on the topic “Can We Sin in Heaven?” I’m hoping to get her to be a guest blogger, we’ll see if she wants to.

To open week 2, we began with an activity where the students made maps to one location and had to race to that location and back (I’m sure there are better ways to illustrate this point but I’m really bad at illustrations).

This, perhaps overly simplistic activity, is meant to make a very important point. Namely, you can in fact know if you are going to Heaven and Eternity. We can have a humble knowledge about our eternity. The simple truth is, if you believe that Jesus is Lord, you will live your life in Eternity with Him. Consider what Romans 10: 9-13 says,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 

            Now of course this begs the question, “can I trust the Bible?” and a whole slew of other questions. And while these questions are also worth answering, the point of this series is not intended on going in that direction. Plus, we have answered those questions before and if you want to have further conversation on the matter, we can at another time. But for now, those of us who trust Jesus, have no need to doubt our Eternal destination. But what exactly will our Eternal destination look like? That is part of today’s discussion.

          In our last post, we ended with a reading of Revelation 21:1-5. I want to go back to that passage again because it makes a very important statement for our current discussion.

 

            Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”                                                 

            If there is a new earth and a new heaven, then there must be an old earth AND an old heaven. Ok, sit with that for a minute. Often times, we think of heaven as unchanging and eternal but what if there is something even more eternal than a present Heaven #mindblowing. We’ll come back to this idea in a minute. First, I want to point out this isn’t the only place where the idea of a new earth or new heaven (or heavens) is discussed in Scripture. The idea is found in a few other passages. Consider the following:       

17 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” –Isaiah 65:17-20

20 And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the Lord.” 22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. – Isaiah 66:20-23

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. – 2 Peter 3:8-13   

            OK these are some crazy passages in Scripture. And there is much to be explored about all of them (especially the whole burning and melting of heavenly bodies from 2 Peter). But let’s notice one thing these passage all have in common. They all speak about restoration and in each discussion they discuss the “new heaven as well as a new earth.” And in this restoration we can see:

1)      There will be joy and no more weeping, nor death

2)      All people will come to worship the Lord, i.e. no more tribalism, no more nationalism, we will all be one people

3)      Righteousness (right ways) will dwell in this place.

          All of this will come to pass because as Revelation 21 points out (and 2 Peter alludes) God will fully dwell among His people. You have to remember, our God is a personal and relational God. His ultimate goal is to be in an intimate relationship with His creation, just as it was back in Eden, only even better. The reason there will be no more weeping, no more pain or suffering is because we will be in the full presence of God. We currently can experience His presence, partially because sin is still allowed to reign. In the afterlife life, God will be ever present.

           The full presence of God among his people helps me to wrap my mind around the idea of a new Heaven. It isn’t that the old heaven is flawed. Heaven is the place where God’s reign is perfect and always sustained. The present Heaven, the realm where the full reign and presence of God exists is currently separate from this present Earth. The newness (I think, at least in part) is that Heaven and Earth will finally be connected and together. So whether the present Heaven is completely recreated or whether it’s all simply restored by the process of breaking down the barrier that separates the two, I’m not sure. But either way, there will be completely restoration that all things will be made new.

So what will this look like, what are some descriptions of this wonderful eternity? Let’s make a list together and see how beautiful a picture that the Bible paints.

New Earth- If you want to know what Heaven will look like, look around at the present Earth. Eternity will take all of the good qualities of Creation and keep them around. God loves Creation, God created Creation and Satan will not get to take Creation away from Him.

A City- Hebrews makes reference to a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God(11:10)” and later on the author writes, “here (present earth) we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (13:14).”

Consider, what good things do cities hold?” Cities provide places of art, music, theater. Cities are places of safety (at least in the ancient world they represented some location of respite from roaming marauders and barbarians). In cities people share laughter together. IN cities there are some of the finest restaurants around. Now this is something to consider. Will we be able to eat in Heaven? To that I say, why not? Adam and Eve were able to eat in the Garden, Jesus talks about banquets as a place for people to come and find rest. Imagine just how wonderful Heavenly foods will be.

Resurrection Bodies- In 1 Corinthian 15:40-44, Paul talks about having spiritual bodies. We will explore this in greater detail in the coming weeks, but for now let us say, We will have a physical, but different body. This might seem odd because we so often think about the soul as going to Heaven yet; Eternity is for body and soul. As NT Wright says, “God wants to save our wholes not our souls.”

Also, consider there are people who never died but went to be with God (with their bodies): Enoch and Elijah. Jesus Himself resurrected (with a body) and later Stephen saw Him standing at the right hand of God. You will still have a body, it will be even better than the one you have now.

Now the ideas about Resurrection Bodies are the most fascinating part of this study for me. In fact, it was my initial study on that topic which led to this entire series. And we’ll cover this topic next week.

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