Tim Keller on Death

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Most particularly for me as a Christian, Jesus’s costly love, death, and resurrection had become not just something I believed and filed away, but a hope that sustained me all day. I pray this prayer daily. Occasionally it electrifies, but ultimately it always calms:

And as I lay down in sleep and rose this morning only by your grace, keep me in the joyful, lively remembrance that whatever happens, I will someday know my final rising, because Jesus Christ lay down in death for me, and rose for my justification.

As this spiritual reality grows, what are the effects on how I live? One of the most difficult results to explain is what happened to my joys and fears. Since my diagnosis, Kathy and I have come to see that the more we tried to make a heaven out of this world—the more we grounded our comfort and security in it—the less we were able to enjoy it.

Timothy J. Keller in The Atlantic, “Growing My Faith in the Face of Death

Among Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, his ninth was this: “Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”

The modern age has revolutionized our thinking about death, mostly by keeping us from thinking much about it at all. Timothy Keller’s essay, which, as the title suggests, is firstly about his faith while also being about his death, cedes as much. Keller, a pastor for many years, confesses that he too, at least in part, had been taken in by the prevalent assumption that we’ll somehow get out of life alive.

Keller has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The counsel and comfort he had offered to parishioners through the years was suddenly up for a fresh examination. At 70, Keller looked ahead to many more years of life. His diagnosis revealed that death was nearer than assumed.

His essay is worth reading in full. His fullest wisdom, solidified through his experience of his confrontation with death, is to live as a heavenly minded person, not as a way of escapism from this world, but as a means of entering into gratitude for this world and everything God has accomplished and will accomplish through his glorious work of redemption, initiated, enacted, and one day fully realized in the already and even yet coming kingdom of Jesus Christ.

A Story About Church Votes

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One of my friends told me about a pastor they know who asks an interesting question before members of their church vote on a decision.

They said each time the church votes on a course of action, the pastor invites everyone to observe a moment of silent prayer. Each person, in the silence, is asked to pray to God and seek God’s will for the church.

Then, the pastor asks, “If you think this course of action is God’s will for our church, please raise your hand.”

That’s a different way to conduct a business meeting.

Kingdom Big. Kingdom Small.

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The central message of Jesus was the kingdom of God. Following Jesus’ temptation, what happened? Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'”

Mark 1:14-15 adds, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”

In Luke 4:43, Jesus says, ““I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.””

But what is the kingdom? Where is it? How do we enter it? Respond to it? Live in light of its reality?

Is the kingdom big? How big?

Is it small? How small?

We can seek the kingdom. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

How do we enter it? Regeneration is the theological term. We’re born into it. Jesus says in John 3:3, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” The Holy Spirit is involved here.

The kingdom of God can be present but missed. In Luke 17:20-21, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” Other translations render this “the kingdom of God is within you.”

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples, he taught them about the kingdom. Acts 1:3 says, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

Whatever the kingdom of God is, it is distinct from the kingdoms of this world. In John 18:36 Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” The kingdom of Jesus has its origin in God’s realm, the heavens.

The kingdom of God is not only a matter of outward observances, but an inward quality. In Romans 14:17-18, Paul says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”

In Matthew 6:10, Jesus tells us to pray for the kingdom to come.

In Luke 12:32, Jesus says, ““Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” That’s a tremendous claim.

Jesus compared the kingdom to a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price, leaven, a mustard seed, a sprouting seed, a net, a king offering a feast on a wedding day, a king settling accounts, a man going on a journey who entrusts talents to his servants, a group of young virgins, and a generous landowner.

Some big things. Some small things.

Things plainly visible. Things hidden.

It’s a broad metaphor.

But it tells us a lot. It invites us to pay attention. To seek. But also to stand confident. The kingdom is a gift. Something that is received. Something the Father gives and the Spirit initiates us into by the new birth. It pleases God to give us the kingdom.

“Why do I like it? You made it.”

We recently did a family tie-dye project. My kids had made me a shirt a few months ago. I wanted more gear.

I asked my daughter, “You know why I like this stuff?”

“Because it’s art?” she said.

“Yes, that,” I replied, “Also, every thing we made, there’s not another one like it in the world.”

“But you know what else?” I asked.

“What?” she said.

“I like it because you made it.”

Beware Potted Theology

Philosopher Susan Stebbing has something important to say to us about thinking clearly. Peter West, writing for Aeon, pass along this crucial insight of Stebbing:

What does thinking clearly involve? One important step, Stebbing argues, is to train ourselves out of bad habits of thinking. For example, she describes what she calls ‘potted thinking’. This is oversimplifying ideas using crude characterizations or slogans. While slogans aren’t always a bad thing, Stebbing thinks that they have a tendency to oversimplify more nuanced or sophisticated views and to hide the intricacies of an idea behind a catchy phrase. . . .

To the contemporary reader, this metaphor is perhaps a little dated, with her talk of ‘potted thinking’, because Stebbing is drawing a comparison with potted meat: a vacuum-packed product such as Spam that you might find in a wartime ration pack. She is careful to explain that we should always stop and examine the metaphors we see being used in public discourse. (As she puts it: ‘Do not accept the metaphor too hastily’!) With that in mind, she explains the metaphor:

Potted meat is sometimes a convenient form of food; it may be tasty, it contains some nourishment. But its nutritive value is not equivalent to that of the fresh meat from which it was potted. Also, it must have originally been made from fresh meat, and must not be allowed to grow stale. Similarly, a potted belief is convenient; it can be stated briefly, sometimes also in a snappy manner likely to attract attention.

Her point is that potted thinking takes something that once had high ‘nutritive value’ and packages it in a way that’s easier to sell but harder to find any genuine nourishment in. The worst type of potted thinking, according to Stebbing, is when we grow into the habit of ‘using words repeated parrot-fashion’ – put another way, when we start talking in slogans that have no thought or consideration behind them at all.

I thought of our preaching, often characterized by sound bites and sloganeering, catchy phrases and displays of cleverness, perhaps a distillation of something true, but processed nonetheless.

The New Testament speaks of the difference between solid food and milk. Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12, in the same passage, contains this rebuke: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”

1 Peter 2:2-3 says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”

The challenge in preaching is to offer the Word of God in a helpful way, a way that fosters maturity and invites growth, that aids each person in thinking clearly about the gospel for themselves.

We want people to receive the full nutritional value that comes via knowledge of the truth, not a potted theological substitute.

A Grammar for Forgiveness

My kids had a fight back in December.

Molly did not hear the exchange. She only knew that feelings had been hurt.

“Work it out,” she said.

Later, we found a letter exchange.

A great start. Here’s the reply:

Where did my children learn this grammar, this way of negotiating hurt feelings and pain? Where did they learn how to seek, grant, and extend forgiveness?

Home, sure. But anything we’ve passed on at home we learned first from Christianity.

Joy says she is sorry. She admits to having done wrong. She names the transgression. She asks for forgiveness. She expresses love.

David, likewise, admits an error. He says he is sorry. He grants forgiveness. He asks for forgiveness. He expresses love.

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

The grammar of forgiveness is learned.

Once learned, it must be practiced.

When practiced, it is wise to remember the grounds for forgiveness, the work of Jesus himself.

Clear Goals at 100

On the 100th day of school my son reflected on life at 100 years old.

Look closely at the picture. A cane. A nice place. A great view. What’s that up in the air?

He wrote about it on the back.

But why would you be sad?

We asked. He said, “Because I would be alone and I wouldn’t be with my family.”

We helped there. We said he could have descendants, or nieces or nephews, or other extended family.

As for the drone, I thought it was surveillance.