Category Archives: heaven

Death Is Dead

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jesus statue kneeling

Though death is dead
        to death he wages war
Each death a vict'ry
        in this lovers' quarrel
'tween sin and death—
        two partners in the fight
to steal mens' lives
        and lay them in the grave
 
Yes death is dead
       but still death carries pain
As one much-loved
       slips out beyond our grasp
And leaves a hole
       that never shall be filled
Though life and time
       for us yet linger on
 
Yes death is dead
        and sin's defeated, too
That much made known
        one Resurrection Day
When One who died
        for sin lay buried in the ground
And three days on
        no longer to be found
 
Yes death is dead
       and life is sweeter far
When lived with hope
       of life beyond the grave
A life for Him 
       who buried death itself
To give us life
       eternally with Him


[Written in honor of my sister-in-law, Jeaneen Blackinton Davis, as she fought a brain tumor that finally stole her life on April 27, 2015.]

3/26/14

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“Thirty-four years ago today…” – a phrase often heard in my home, only the number changing. It was the annual birthday greeting for my brothers, sister, and me; for years the first words heard in the morning or, after leaving home, on the phone when the annually-expected call came. “Thirty-four years ago today….”

With four kids in the family, each year marker was spoken four times, at roughly two-year intervals. Because of our moves, those markers were voiced in different homes, different states, different countries: twelve in Minnesota, Texas, and Canada; fourteen was heard in Texas, twice in British Columbia, and in Los Angeles. Three heard sixteen in Canada—one of those in a hospital bed—and one in Germany. And eighteen…only three times spoken.

That Canadian hospital bed was but a precursor to a more permanent rest that would strike before the third of us would reach that magic number of adulthood, the age at which one could drive and vote, the rite of passage so long anticipated. Three months early; three months premature—no, more than that: a life cut short too young, too much left undone.

And so, the “…years ago today” shifted, from June 30 to March 26. Reset. In 1981 it was, “a year ago today;” in ’85, “five years ago today.” For years, phone calls and cards came on that day, bringing with them the burden-bearing encouragement that even a distant friend remembers – and cares.

We remember thirty-four years ago today: the call, the drive, the airport, the bittersweet reunion…the words, “He’s gone.” The memories are vivid, like an old rerun but in HD.  And yet….

Slowly, over time, as the anniversaries drifted into double digits, the phone calls and cards on that day stopped. The wounds of death healed, leaving their mark like an old, familiar scar, but without the chronic pain of an open wound. And then one day, a call – and a realization: “I hadn’t thought about it.” Not a forgetting, but an awakening; the hole in the heart, the hole in life, had become so familiar, so normal, so present that it no longer demanded constant awareness. It’s just there. Life has gone on around the hole; the hole itself is no longer the center of attention, no longer the defining element. Shaping, yes; defining, no.

And as life goes on we celebrate this: his life began…thirty-four years ago today.

Bell’s Hell

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If there is anything that evangelical Christians are good at, it is throwing kerosene on a campfire. More often than not, those campfires – at first only warming the toes of a few folks partaking of random fireside conversations around questions that few take seriously – leap into wildfires that ultimately and indiscriminately consume thousands of acres of thoughtful (and some thoughtless) men and women. But as wildfires are wont to do, they ultimately burn themselves out, leaving significant but temporary destruction in their wake; destruction that in time is all but invisible.

Such will be the fate, I think, of the campfire musings of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. It may be that there is more readily-available fuel – and a larger gathering of campers – around Bell’s campfire than some of the others in my memory (“The Last Temptation of Christ,” Proctor & Gamble’s supposed satanic influences, Walt Disney’s occasional forays into dens of iniquity). Still, I think, the fire would consume itself soon enough were it not for the supply of kerosene-loaded extinguishers aimed by evangelical firefighters.

Some will claim that this is different – bigger – than earlier fires. They will say that his campfire is fueled by the flames of the very hell he reportedly denies. The result, I fear, will be two-fold: first, those who are asking the very questions that Bell raises will be driven not to the Source of the Answers, but to Bell’s book of questions. The fear here is that if (IF) Bell’s answers are, at best, insufficient and, at worst, unbiblical, then those who rely on them truly are in mortal and eternal danger.

Second, those who are not inclined to ask these questions will be driven neither to Bell’s book nor to The Book. Huddled together around the dying embers of their own campfire of second-hand faith, they will have neither the light nor the fuel to invite in and warm those who are shivering under the blanket of universalism.

Rob Bell dares to voice the questions that so many in this sin-depraved world are asking:

  • “Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?”
  • “If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape this fate?”
  • “What happens when a fifteen-year-old atheist dies?”
  • “So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things?”

There was a time in my life when I would pass off questions like these with a wave of the hand and a trite, childish, “for the Bible tells me so”-kind of answer. As if just asking the questions somehow betrayed a hellish eternity for the questioner. In the last few years, I have been – by God’s grace alone – growing out of that spiritual arrogance (and whatever ignorance it accompanies). I am increasingly intrigued by, and invited into, such questions. The source of answers for me remains the Bible, yet I recognize that the answers are found not in a few memorized but out-of-context verses, but rather in the “whole counsel of Scripture.”

There’s a very memorable scene in the 1992 film, “A Few Good Men.” A young Navy attorney (played by Tom Cruise) is challenging a Marine colonel (Jack Nicholson) about the death of a private under the colonel’s command. “I want the truth” demands the attorney. “You can’t handle the truth!” shouts back the colonel.

Whether intentional or not, Love Wins is an invitation to all to pursue truth. The question with which you must wrestle – whether you are among the convinced, the skeptics, or the seekers – is, can you handle the truth?