Category Archives: heaven

Is Jesus ‘Enough?’ – Listen to Bach

enough-titlePrinceton mathematician, Bernard Chazelle runs out of superlatives for J.S. Bach. He calls Bach the most human of all composers who “gets to your soul through your body.”
Here is a gem of an article with embedded excerpts of music that will make you an instant Bach fan. (You can also listen to a fascinating On Being interview by Krista Tippett.)

Speaking of Bach, I was preparing a sermon on coveting and contentment. I’d decided to title it, Enough” (available for listening here). The next day, I’m listening online to a weekly radio program, called The Bach Hour. Each week, it plays one of Bach’s cantatas with translation. This day it was No. 82. based on Jesus’ presentation as a baby in the temple and Simeon’s response, “Let your servant now depart in peace!” (Luke 2:22-35)

Bach’s first line title: “I Have Enough!”

1. I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!
  I have beheld Him,
  my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
  now I wish, even today with joy
  to depart from here.
2. I have enough.
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine and I His own.
In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.
Let us go with this man!
Ah! if only the Lord might rescue me
from the chains of my body;
Ah! were only my departure here,
with joy I would say, world, to you:
I have enough.
3. Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly!
  World, I will not remain here any longer,
  I own no part of you
  that could matter to my soul.
  Here I must build up misery,
  but there, there I will see
  sweet peace, quiet rest.
4. My God! When will the lovely ‘now!’ come,
when I will journey into peace
and into the cool soil of earth,
and there, near You, rest in Your lap?
My farewells are made,
world, good night!
5. I delight in my death,
ah, if it were only present already!
  Then I will emerge from all the suffering
  that still binds me to the world.

(p.s. Ten of Bach’s children and his wife died in his lifetime.)

A few days later, I visited a dear sister in Christ in our church, who was near death after a long fight with cancer. I shared Bach’s words with her husband. He asked me to read it at her Memorial Service.
I will…
Bach was right.

What’s the use!

cslewisWhen the world seems to be coming unglued, it’s easy to lean toward despair or acedia or worse.

On October 22, 1939, Lewis preached at the University Church of St. Mary in Oxford. I had the privilege of hearing an English orator re-enact the sermon at this church when I attended a conference in Oxford a few years ago. This sermon was later published in various editions as The Weight of Glory with other wonderful essays.

The occasion of Lewis’ sermon was this. Less than two months earlier Hitler had invaded Poland. (We forget that 500,000 Poles were killed or deported at the beginning of the war!) England was about to face the horrible onslaught of the Nazi attack known as the Battle of Britain. This is what C.S. Lewis told assembled students on that day:

It may seem odd for us to carry on classes, to go about our academic routine in the midst of a great war. What is the use of beginning when there is so little chance of finishing? How can we study Latin, geography, algebra in a time like this? Aren’t we just fiddling while Rome burns?

This impending war has taught us some important things. Life is short. The world is fragile. All of us are vulnerable, but we are here because this is our calling. Our lives are rooted not only in time, but also in eternity, and the life of learning, humbly offered to God, is its own reward. It is one of the appointed approaches to the divine reality and the divine beauty, which we shall hereafter enjoy in heaven, and which we are called to display even now amidst the brokenness all around us.

Will we continue to flourish as fragile people in a broken world – putting God’s truth and beauty on display no matter what the cost!

Poetry Monday – Humility and hope in a broken world

narniaI try to always read some poetry on my day off – my Sabbath Monday. This poem by Anne Porter struck me in a unique way. It reminds me of my part in the brokenness inflicted by sin. My “blind complicity” as she says in the third stanza. How I dismiss people in their wounded state, “as if I were not one of them.”

The last lines remind me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan’s resurrection ushers in the spring of the New Creation!

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

“A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, from Living Things.
reprinted in The Writer’s Almanac

Live with the end in mind!

Eschatology – or the study of “Last Things,” has often been mis-applied. What the Bible tells us about the end of all things is not to make us speculate or to make us panic and evacuate.  Rather it is about living NOW in light of the in-breaking of Christ and His Kingdom! It’s about being prayerful, pure, watchful, and on-mission.  Preaching on 1 Peter 4:7-11 made me appreciate again, the challenge of living the rest of my life with POSITIVE URGENCY. (Here is the sermon)

This is a section from N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian that further unpacks the practical implications of the Bible’s end-times teaching:

ntw   God’s future has arrived in the present, has arrived in the person of Jesus. In arriving, it has confronted and defeated the forces of evil and opened the way for God’s new world, for heaven and earth to be joined forever…Not only heaven and earth, but also future and present, overlap and interlock. And the way that interlocking becomes real, not just imaginary, is through the powerful work of God’s Spirit. This is the launchpad for the specifically Christian way of life. That way of life isn’t a matter simply of getting in touch with our inner depths. It is certainly not about keeping the commands of a distant deity. Rather, it is the new way of being human, the Jesus-shaped way of being human, the cross-and-resurrection way of life, the Spirit-led pathway. It is the way which anticipates, in the present, the full, rich, glad human existence which will one day be ours when God makes all things new. Christian ethics is not a matter of discovering what’s going on in the world and getting in tune with it. It isn’t a matter of doing things to earn God’s favor. It is not about trying to obey dusty rulebooks from long ago or far away. It is about practicing, in the present, the tunes we shall sing in God’s new world!   Christian holiness is not (as people often imagine) a matter of denying something good. It is about growing up and grasping something even better. Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.
And a closing prayer:
Almighty God, who alone can bring order to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity: Give your people grace so to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, among the many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Poetry Monday – Longing for Home

The 17th century pastor and writer Richard Baxter, in his later years, spent a portion of each day in ‘Heavenly contemplation.” It deepened his love and delight in God and helped his fruitfulness in ministry. I’m finding  myself “homesick” too, in a joyful way, eager to taste the sweetness of that eternal Communion with my Lord.

Colossians 3 – If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

20th century poet Anne Porter wrote most of her work late in her long life.  After the death of her husband, she writes longingly of the New Jerusalem, our true home. It’s the place where “death will hunt us in vain.” Here’s a portion of her poem that I read today:

We know little
We can tell less
But one thing I know
One thing I can tell
I will see you again in Jerusalem
Which is of such beauty
No matter what country you come from
You will be more at home there
Than ever with father or mother
Than even with lover or friend
And once we’re within her borders
Death will hunt us in vain.

__ from Four Poems in One in Living Things

‘Of Gods and Men’ Review

God’s Kingdom is worth everything we have! That is the message of Jesus’ Treasure and Pearl Parables.  It is also the message of a marvelous movie seen by so few.  It is the story of a community of Cistercian monks in Algeria in the early 1990’s, who have close relationships with their Muslim neighbors but who must decide whether to stay or leave when they are threatened by Islamic militants.

As I mentioned in the parable sermon (linked here), we intend to show and discuss the film at Christ Church in the future.  Until then here are two reviews:

1. A 12 min. video review from Religion and Ethics News Weekly that shows much of a “last supper” scene that has been called one of the most transcendent ever filmed.

2. A portion of  the  review from Books and Culture: A Christian Review by Brett McCracken (July/August 2011).

Whatever they decide, one thing is clear: The monks are committed to making the decision as a group. Several conversations between the men ensue, revealing a model process for how tough decisions can be reached in community and how issues of individuality, sacrifice, and hierarchy can peacefully be negotiated with wisdom and charity. It’s an environment of openness, where all perspectives are welcomed, including fear and doubt. One younger monk in particular (Olivier Rabourdin) struggles with apprehension about staying and lets his frustrations show. Eventually the monks do arrive at a conclusion: They’ll stay.

In one of the film’s most remarkable sequences, the monks sit silently at the U-shaped communal dinner table, pondering the decision they’ve made together. One of the monks puts on an old tape of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which, as it builds and climaxes, leads the men to a state of sublime contentedness. Letting the music wash over them, sensing the Last Supper solemnity of the occasion, they seem united by the conviction that—even in the face of death—beauty prevails. Cinematographer Carline Champetier captures the moment by tenderly observing the monks’ faces in gradually closer framing, so that by the climax of the music we get glimpses of each man’s face in extreme closeup, revealing joy, tears, resolve, and oneness in Christ.

Life after death: Intermediate Heaven and the Eternal State

Richard Baxter, English pastor and author living in the 1600’s,  went through an extreme physical breakdown that left him near death for 5 months.  During that time he meditated deeply on the scriptural teaching on heaven and eternity.  He recovered and later his notes and sermons became the book, The Saints Everlasting Rest.  After this experience, he vowed to spend an hour every day meditating on his heavenly citizenship.

I had rather read, hear or meditate, on God and Heaven, than on any other Subject: for I perceive that it is the Object that altereth and elevateth the Mind…that it must animate all our other Duties; and fortifie us against every Temptation and Sin… click here for a link to the story

I was recently  talking with a sister in Christ (who is facing a life-threatening illness) about heaven and the difference between the final state of resurrection on a restored earth and the after-death state.  There is much mystery but real hope!  I want to re- post a helpful  article from Randy Alcorn’s web site section on Heaven. It’s an article that I believe does an excellent job of explaining the difference. Continue reading Life after death: Intermediate Heaven and the Eternal State