Growing up in the church, I would often hear the phrase, “We’re just pilgrims passing through,” usually in response to someone’s passion for changing the world. It means that since this is not our “true home” (heaven is), we shouldn’t worry about what happens to our world other than keeping our family safe. Hebrews 11 talks about the Israelite patriarchs who “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” (v. 13), not because they considered earthly life irrelevant compared to “heaven,” but because they “desired a better country” (v. 16). Those who see our lives on Earth as a brief visit are tourists; those who are seeking a kingdom of God that requires more than one lifetime to build are pilgrims. Which are you? Continue reading
I’ve got issues with how people talk about heaven. It bothers me that the most popular Christian books are “proofs” of the afterlife instead of accounts of how people have lived out the kingdom of God here on Earth. Last week, part of my sermon text came from a passage in Hebrews 11 that refers to the hope of the Israelite patriarchs: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises… They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” It is one thing to live in the hope of a promise that will not be fulfilled in your lifetime; it is another thing to live in a nihilistic indifference to God’s beautiful creation because you’re ready for Him to burn it up and rapture you away. The way that my favorite podcast preacher Jonathan Martin put it in his sermon last week is that we don’t need to get ready to leave Earth and go to heaven; we need to be ready for the day that God brings heaven to Earth.
We’ve just started a sermon series in the spirit of Easter called Rewrite in which we talk about people from the Bible and from our church whose lives have been rewritten by God. Our first Biblical character was Abraham who really was just a regular guy that God decided to build a nation from. Abraham did some dumb things, like prostituting his wife to the Egyptian pharaoh and then impregnating his wife Sarah’s slave girl Hagar upon her request only to let Sarah abuse Hagar and run her out of their home. But God wasn’t going to let Abraham’s mistakes get in the way of his plan. In addition to Abraham’s story, we heard the testimony of Elsa Kuflom, a member of Burke UMC who came here as a refugee from the war in Eritrea.
On the same day that Jon Acuff wrote a self-affirmation about his success as a Christian celebrity, Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk posted his own version of the “purpose-driven life” based on three of Jesus’ commonly preached themes: becoming poor, blind, and dead. It was such a fresh contrast from the kind of self-help drivel that Christians have come to accept as Biblical provided it has a few verses from Proverbs slapped on top. The purpose that we are given by the real gospel isn’t good news to the success-oriented bourgeois American ethos that many so-called “conservative” evangelicals have modified their Christianity to fit. The real gospel is good news to the poor, the blind, and the dead and to those of us who accept the utter foolishness that we’d do better to join them. Continue reading
The Daily Office New Testament reading for today, Hebrews 11:1-11, includes a common proof-text for justification by faith in Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” I was a little surprised by how the sentence finishes out: “For whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Then when I looked at the Greek, I discovered that the Greek word for God, theos, wasn’t even there: χωρὶς δὲ πίστεως ἀδύνατον εὐαρεστῆσαι. I think the translators inserted God because the previous verse includes God after the same verb: εὐαρεστηκέναι τῷ θεῷ. But technically speaking, verse 6 should read: “Without faith, it is impossible to be pleasing.” So I thought I would narrate my journey of trying to explore what in the world this commonly quoted line really means. Continue reading