MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

Walking With the Lord

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

One bright autumn morning, I was sitting at my breakfast table, thinking:      

    “I’ve certainly had a lot of problems lately. Troubles at work, troubles at home. . . I really ought to take time to pray about them.”

But then, all of a sudden, I sensed that someone had walked into the room behind me. I turned around and gasped:

          “Lord Jesus! What are You doing here?”

The Lord himself was standing in my doorway! I rubbed my eyes – was it really He? Yes, everything checked out .  . . from the tip of the white seamless robe to the faint glimmering halo around His head. I stammered:

          “That is . . . errr . . . it’s not that you shouldn’t be here. I’m just not used to You dropping by in such a visible form.”

This unexpected visit had unsettled me, and I vaguely wondered if I had done anything wrong. He smiled and the light in His eyes grew brighter.

          “Would you like to go for a walk?”

          “Uhmmm . . . why. . . sure!”

And so, we walked down the little country road that leads past my home. Slowly, the truth began to dawn upon up and I murmured to myself:

          “What an incredible opportunity! He has all the answers to all my problems – my relationships at work . . . my worries about the future . . . my family problems. All I need is to ask.”

We walked quietly for several minutes, and then I turned to Him:

          “Excuse me, Lord, but I need advice on this very difficult problem. . “

But before I could finish, He had raised His fingers to His lips:

          “Shhhh . . . Do you hear it?”

At first, I didn’t hear a thing. But then came the faint tumbling of a nearby brook, crisp and light beneath the autumn colors. The Lord sighed:

          “Isn’t that beautiful?”

“Ah . . . yes . . . I suppose so. . .”

I was thoroughly distracted. (He had interrupted my train of thought.) I waited a few minutes to show due respect, and then – just as we walked past a rolling meadow – I blurted out:

          “Lord, I’ve been worried about my prayer life. Things have been awfully dry. Now, according to the books that I’ve read. . .”

He put His arm around my shoulder:

          “Hush . . . Do you hear it?”

Children were running through the meadow grass. Once again, He smiled:

          “Isn’t it wonderful?”

          “Uhmm . . .yes . . . now that you mention it.”

Then I added irritably :

          “You know I love children.”

We walked on. A horrible thought loomed in my mind: what if I lost this opportunity? Here were all the answers to all my problems, right at my elbow! He even knew the deepest mysteries of the universe: love . . . death . . . .the Armageddon! As a last resort, I thought I’d talk to Him about religion. After all, that is His line of work:

          “Lord, I was wondering what you think of the conflict in modern biblical scholarship between . . .”

Again, the friendly arm came around my shoulder and I gritted my teeth. The Lord stopped and silently picked up a roadside pebble. He grinned:

          “I’ll bet you can’t hit the top of that telephone pole.”

I was bewildered. Why, of all things! And from the Lord! (This was not what I had expected from the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. If you were God, wouldn’t you be a bit more serious about it?) He casually tossed His pebble toward the pole:

It arched silently through the air.

          Hmmmmm . . . He missed!

My depression was deepening, but still I stopped to pick up a pebble. What else could I do? Half-heartedly, I tossed it in the general direction of the telephone pole:

It arched silently through the air.

          Hmmmmm . . . I hit it!

The Lord proudly looked at me and chuckled:

          “Hey, you’re good.”

As we strolled on, the knots in my stomach grew tighter. Whenever I wanted to talk about anything of any importance, there would always be an interruption. Some faded blue chicory would be brushed by the wind, or a butterfly would light on a moss-covered fencepost.

At last, our walk is finished. I am so upset that I can think of nothing to say. Beneath His long black beard, the Lord has a playful smile, and as He turns to leave, the light in His eyes grows brighter.

He walks to the door, and then stops to glance at me over His shoulder:

                     “Stop trying so hard.”

         

         

 

 

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

My sister, Loretta Tetrick, visiting me from her home in Rock Island, Ill., spoke to the Women’s class at Norway Church of Christ this past week. Below are notes from that message. I feel blessed by sharing in her thoughts and love for the Lord.

WHO AM I?

I am visiting my brother and his wife, Marie this week.  Though I was introduced as Loretta you may call me Sis (Bill’s name for me, of course). When I go back home to Illinois I will be known as Lorrie, Mother, and Grandma.

We can be known by many names or known by our occupation, but who truly knows who we are? We have the desire to be known and loved. God has put a vacuum in our hearts that can only be filled by him. In Psalms 139 David expressed it beautifully. He says the Lord has searched him and knows him. He knows he is always surrounded by God’s thoughts, his love and even God’s right hand will hold him fast. I find it fascinating in the last two verses of Psalms 139 he asks God to search his heart, to test him and see if there are anxious thoughts in him.

After we come to know God – know who he is – asking WHO I AM is the key to our Christian walk. God already is familiar with all our ways, but now we desire to be intimate with Him.

There can be an issue for some if their thoughts and opinions about God are not based on his love but on punishment and condemnation. They think deep inside they are deserving of this punishment and feel God is displeased, quick to anger, and perpetually disappointed with them. Such a wrong belief drives many into fear, guilt, depression and insecurity.

This is the key in our Christian walk is – God knows us!

 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love him because he first loved us” (John 4:18-19).

God is Personal! “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eyes upon you” (Psalms 32:8).

A favorite song writer of mine is Fanny Crosby. She became blind at the age of six weeks and throughout her life gave God glory and praise. She thanked God he had given her “soul vision.” Though her blindness resulted from a mistake from a physician she said it was the greatest favor in the world. Who was she? She was physically blind but God gave her sight. “Christ is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my way.” So what is your perception of who you are? “We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).

 WHO AM I?

1.     I am God’s Workmanship.  Ephesians 2:10…for we are Go’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance to do.

2.    I am an Original Psalm 139:13-14…For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

3.    I am More than a conqueror.  Romans 8:37…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

4.    I am Anointed.  I John 3:27…but the anointing that you receive from him abides in you and you have no need that anyone should teach you.  But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is not a lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.

5.    I am a New Self.  Colossians 3:9-10.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

  TRUTH:  Your identity comes from what God has done for you.

                    Your identity comes from what God’s says about you.

I AM A WOMAN OF GOD

 

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

 The Power of the Resurrection

The meanings of the Resurrection of Christ, as interpreted in the New Testament, reaches a much deeper level than is reflected in most contemporary preaching. The Easter message is far more than one who was dead was restored to the life he had before. It is more than that we, too, have a continued existence after death. It is more than affirmation that a unique event like the resurrection can be regarded as credible in a scientific age.

The Easter message, as it unfolds in the pages of the New Testament, is, first of all, that our world is in the hands of God - not blind and uncaring fate. It is a world in which the final word is his a world, in whichChrist does not go down in defeat, but wins the victory over the forces of evil and darkness and death. The climax and keystone of the redemptive, revealatory history is the resurrection of Jesus. It is the actual cornerstone on which the whole gospel rests on and on which the Christian church is built.

The Easter message is also that which God was doing in raising Jesus from the dead has cosmic significance. This was the beginning of a "new creation," something comparable of what God had done in the first creation. The Resurrection is the clue to all of history. In the Resurrection a new age had arrived - not just a prolongation of life but a new order of life in a new relation to God and one's fellow men.

The gospel of Jesus Christ announces what God did for Jesus at Easter he will do not only for all those who are "in Christ" but also for the entire cosmos. It will be an act of new creation, parallel and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead.

The Easter message goes still further by proclaiming the new order of life inaugurated by the resurrection is one which can be ours and into which we may enter now. The new life is not for our Lord only, but also for humanity of which he is the head. The same divine energy which manifested itself in him is available to us and is available now. This is what Paul is implying when he speaks of knowing him and "the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10), and refers to it as operating in us "with the strength and the might which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:20 NEB).

So when Paul says, "We are citizens of heaven," (Philippians 3:20) he doesn't at all mean when we're done with this life we'll be going off to live in heaven. What he means is that  is that the Savior, the Lord, Jesus the King - will come from heaven to earth, to change the present situation and state of his people. The key word is transform: He will transform our present humble bodies to be like his glorious body. Jesus will not declare that present physicality is redundant and can be evolutionary cycle. In a great act of power - the same power that accomplishes Jesus' own resurrection, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:19-20 - he will change the present body into the one that corresponds in kind to his own as part of his work of bringing all things into subjection to himself. Philippians 3, though it is primarily speaking of human resurrection, indicates this will take place within the context of God's victorious transformation of the whole cosmos.

The most convincing evidence of the power of the Resurrection is human lives that are renewed by their own contact with the risen Christ. This was true in the first generation of Christians, when men who were frightened and despairing became bold proclaimers of faith in God as a result of their encounter with him as a powerful presence with them. It is equally true today. If one does not have this kind of evidence, neither a study of the gospel narratives nor a theological exposition based on them will convince him, but, if he has it, no other evidence is needed.

The proof of the Resurrection must always be in the presence and power of the Living Christ among his followers. It was a sound insight that led a modern poet to say to "loud mockers" of the Christian faith: "Yet all the while my Lord I meet/In every London lane and street." Paul does not debate the truth of the resurrection: he simply assumes it. He assumes, too, that
Christians share in it. So he tells them: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above" (Colossians 3:1). The resurrection is not merely something about Christ in the long ago, nor merely something about ourselves after we die. It is reality now. To the extent that we realize this, we are linked with the power of the Resurrection.

And They Laughed at Him

Good Friday

Matthew 9:24

It is a sobering, heart-rending scene. To have someone laugh at you - not with you, but at you - hurts, causes pain not unlike that of physical attack; indeed, oftentimes it is far worse. And yet, here it happens. The Son of God, Savior of the world, is the object of people's ridicule.

He had come to the home of a young girl who had died. It was when he went to her and said she was only sleeping that they laughed. The King James Version preserves the sharpness of the ridicule even more, for there we are told "they laughed him to scorn."

This incident reported in Matthew 9 may have been one of the first times people laughed at our Lord, but it was not the last. For on the day we call Good Friday they laughed with even more belligerence.

"Ah, ha, if thou art the Son of God, come down from that Cross."

"Physician, heal thyself."

"He saved others,; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" (Luke 23:35 RSV).

And so they laughed and mocked him as he writhed in agony on the cross, but their laughter had a hollow ring to it, for it cam from their own emptiness, their ignorance and smallness.

Laughter is often anything but what it appears to be. It is often a cover for our own sense of inadequacy. We laugh at those greater and bolder than we because we have no other way to stand before them. We laugh because they have the vision, the idea, the faith that we don't have. We laugh because before such a one we feel our own poverty of spirit and mind. People laughed at Henry Ford; the Wrights were laughed at because they had the idea the people can fly. And people laughed at the Son of Man because as they stood in opposition before him, they felt the poverty of their own spirits most of all. 

They laughed because he exposed their threadbare souls. As they clung to their old ways, to their legalism, their positions of station and prestige for the purpose of impressing others, they saw how artificial it all was when the light of his presence was cast over it. When they saw the freedom he exhibited before God, when they saw God is not a tyrant but the loving Father, they turned away; their notion of God was of one who was more concerned about protocol and procedure than people. For them, God was not a loving Father but a stern judge, looking for slip-ups and mistakes, more ready to punish than to forgive.

The God of Jesus brought the breeze of freedom, of joy, of love, of peace, of celebration. It was too much for them, but since they had no way to deny it, they laughed at him.

Today the world still laughs at him. The demands of his teachings are so extreme as to be funny to many. "Turn the other cheek" - we make a joke of it, don't we, because it seems so far-fetched and ridiculous. Who among us will take it seriously?

And what of his words about forgiveness? Peter had asked him how many times he should forgive another - seven was what Peter suggested in an attempt to be magnanimous. But Jesus said, "Not seven, but seventy times seven." Forgive without limit!

And we chuckle for how preposterous it is. In its generous moments the world allows a second chance, but not a third or a fourth chance, let alone endless opportunities. Such a thing won't work, so we laugh.

And then there is the idea we ought to love our enemies. The standard of the world is we ought to try to love our family and friends. If we do that, we think we do well. But Jesus turns it all around by asking if we only love whose who love us, what have we gained. So love your enemies, he says. And we think, 'That obnoxious neighbor down the street, the boisterous poor demanding their rights - love them? He must be crazy!' And so, we join those who laugh at him. And yet, does our laughter not provide a greater indictment of ourselves than it does of him?

It has been said that laughter and tears come from the same place in the human soul. We ourselves know that experience of laughing until we cry. Their laughter, then, indicted them even as it intended to scorn him. For you see, more often than not, those who manage to laugh at another are themselves the wretched ones. When a child snickers at a crippled person, it is the child whom we most pity. When we laugh at anyone with a disability or infirmity of any kind, our laughter is more like tears for ourselves, tears that we are so blind as to miss our own pathetic state in such a moment.

We stand then before the cross and the suffering Lord as people in need of forgiveness, forgiveness for our blindness and hardness of heart. But we stand also before him as a people in desperate need of him and his ways.

It may be that as we move closely toward the edge of nuclear disaster; it may be as we wade through one international debacle after another, as we survive the flare-up of one more hot spot, that we, and other people of the world, will begin to see the need for the life and ways of our Lord.

It may be that after we have confronted the emptiness within ourselves often enough, we'll hear his voice and respond to his call. It may be that after all these things; we will bow humbly before the cross.

That is, after all, what this day is about. Through the discovery of love so great that he would die on the cross, our Lord is showing us the need to be loving and forgiving with one another, and to do those things that might bring on the laughter of many but life for those who have the courage to so love.

 

 

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

NOW IS THE TIME

Do you recall how you were haunted by time as a child? Someone always seemed to be saying, “It’s time to go to bed,” or, “It’s time to get up.” And for some strange reason, we never wanted to do either at the moment.

Every modern contrivance seems to conspire to make us conscious of time. We seem to live and move and have our being in the presence of clocks and calendars. Time dogs us like a demon from childhood to death.

How often we hear our children say of time, “We have nothing to do.” And as adults we cry, “There’s not enough time.”

It is no mere coincidence the Greeks had two words for time. Our emphasis is chronological; we think of time as something to be measured. This is chronos-time. It is the time that ticks away, one second relentlessly following another. It is empty time. It is a void that has to be filled with something, anything. And they do fill it – some with alcohol, some with drugs and violence; others with more respectable time-fillers. But let it be noted a person can be very busy – and busy doing worthwhile things – and still, deep down, only know time as an empty void to be filled.

But the Greeks had another word for time. It is Kairos-time – time of opportunity and fulfillment. It is full time – a time when things happen to change the course of history.

And so Mark writes “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). The Kairos is fulfilled. The right time, the decisive time, has come. This is the time to act, to believe. It is now, or never.

The time of Jesus is Kairos – and so is a time of opportunity. To embrace the opportunity means salvation, to neglect it is disaster. There is no third course. In rejecting Christ, in failing to seize the opportunity, one courts disaster. By contrast, Christians, discerning the times aright, are the heirs of salvation. They “know the season” (Romans 13:11), “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16), Colossians 4:5); know that “now is the time acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Now is the time to receive the grace of God. Now is the time to enlist in his service. Now is the time to live life to its fullest possibilities. There is a memorable word in Wilder’s play, Our Town, which pictures the common failing to reach the limit of the possibilities of now as life rushes by.

A young woman, dead at a very early age, returns from the cemetery to her birthday part of years ago and can be seen by her parents only as she was. As she leaves them she wonders whether people “ever realize life while they live it, every minute.” She cries out, “Why don’t we look at each other?”

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “the obscurest epoch is today.” The hour in which we are now living is the magic hour in the truest sense, for now is the day of salvation. God has given us Kairos-time. We are given the now, to be used for the doing of his will and the hastening of his kingdom. The time is now

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

Christmas and The Impossibility of Love 

It is no accident that Mary takes center stage this time of year. Mary, so venerated by some Christians, so ignored by some Christians, so misunderstood by some Christians. At times Catholics have transformed the peasant Jewish teenage girl into an otherworldly queen. At times Protestants and Evangelicals have pretended that she never existed, or they have missed the truth that she is the first disciple, that she displays radical faith and trust in God. 

Mary hears the call of God and she responds. She models faith, obedience, servanthood, discipleship, and hospitality. The Annunciation is the word of God, through the messenger, to Mary. “You have found favor with God. The power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you. You will give birth to the Savior” (Luke 1:26-38). 

How can this be?” Mary asks. “Nothing will be impossible with God,” the angel/messenger says to her. The call of God is to an ordinary woman, and yet the call is to do something extraordinary. God chose an ordinary human being – Mary – to be the vessel through which the Son of God would be born. What is impossible for us is possible with God. Paul, writing later to the church at Corinth, would reflect on this truth that is common and profound: “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extra-ordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). 

In a busy season of the year it is good to get clarity about what is happening. God calls ordinary people, people like you and me. This has always been the way of the Lord; again, Paul writing to the Corinthians says: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But . . . God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28). 

Or we can go father back into the tradition and rehearse the call of Moses, who suggested that he was not eloquent of speech and that his brother might be a better candidate for God’s mission (Exodus 3).

The call of God comes to ordinary human beings, like Mary. Yet through ordinary people the extraordinary happens. The call of God, found in the Annunciation, finds its response in a later text, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). Mary senses it: “I am an ordinary person. I am not perfect.” Preachers grasp this: we are imperfect people, and we preach to gatherings of imperfect people. 

The Good News of the gospel is that when God begins to search for us, God is not seeking perfection. God chooses the ordinary. God loves the unlovable. In fact, God reverses just about every expectation we might have of how the Lord would enter into this world and save it. 

Does God flatter the proud? No, God scatters the proud. Does God seek an invitation from the throne? No, God brings those from thrones down, and lifts up the lowly. Does God hang out at the finest restaurants? No, God throws a banquet for the poor. Does God choose a queen or a princess to be the mother of Jesus? No, God chooses Mary. Does God choose the wise, the noble, and the powerful in this world to accomplish the divine will? No, God chooses you and me. Does God love the unlovable? God forgives the imperfect; God reaches out to the lost. 

Christmas is really all about this attribute of God, who loves us, who reaches out, down to us, who stoops to our weakness. “Mild he lays his glory by,” Charles Wesley wrote in the carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. God comes in the unspectacular and the humble. 

This is what Christmas is about. As a child growing up, our family party was always on Christmas Eve. Maybe we do tend to see the past through rose-colored glasses but I remember those times as among my happiest moments on earth. We were euphoric, ecstatic.  

I look at the pictures of those gatherings, and see the very simple house – and I look at the Christmas tree – a Georgia pine tree, not like the artificial ones we put up now. What was happening in those gatherings? 

It all becomes clear again. What made such a setting – simple, nothing grand or extravagant about it – one of the very places on earth that is most holy to me now? The clue is in the call of God to Mary and her response. God chooses the simple to confound the wise. God chooses the humble to shame the strong. God always chooses the ordinary to do something extraordinary. What is impossible for us is possible for God. 

In a stable, probably more like a cave, on a hillside in the country, out of the way, a baby was born to two scared young people. They had nothing to offer, only the circumstance of their lives. They heard the call of God, each in their own way. They responded in faith. Christmas, for us, more than twenty centuries later, is no different. What is the call and what is our response? What is God saying to you this Christmas? What are you saying to God?

 

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

ARE YOU GOING SKING

THIS WEEKEND? 

The Old Testament prophets tell of their hope in the coming Messiah Nationalistic Jews in the first century, galled by the Roman occupation, looked with great expectation for the Son of Man coming on clouds of glory to defeat the oppressors and rule in equity the Chosen People.

People flocked to hear Jesus because they thought he was to be this triumphant Son of Man, a political ruler. Even the Apostles expressed this view at times. Their hopes were destroyed when they saw their leader murdered – but the Resurrection turned their despair to joy, and the church was established.

Eschatological hope was one of the main themes of New Testament Christianity. The early followers of the Way could give up all their earthly possessions – suffer indignities and even martyrdom – because of their belief that the Lord Jesus Christ would return. One of the early problems of the church was that as the years passed and Jesus did not return, believers fell away. The book of John attempts to answer this problem with the explanation of the timelessness of God.

Nineteen centuries have passed Jesus has not returned. Very few Christians now expect Him in any concrete sense. We say, “You never know; He might come tomorrow.” But we do not believe it – our affirmation that he might come does not keep us from buying insurance. We all expect to die in bed – and not for years yet. To paraphrase a prominent East Cost theologian, “We don’t think Jesus will cut the ski season short.”

One of the main emphasis of the early church was its eager hope to be caught up with the Lord. This is not a main emphasis of the twentieth century church. If we believe in the Second Coming at all, it is a theological abstraction – a minor biblical doctrine, having little to do with our daily conduct. For all our pious protestations, we don’t really believe He will cut the ski season short.

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSGES

Post 2016 Presidential Election 

In every presidential election, those who cheer for a particular candidate feel like it’s closed curtains on the free world when their candidate loses. Those on the winning side feel the opposite.

Laying that aside, throughout this year’s selection, countless Christians engaged in the same level of anger, vitriolic rhetoric, and political smackdowns in which the unbelieving world engaged. There was little difference save for the words “Jesus” or “God” peppered in.

As I reflected on the kingdom of God, I believe many of us have forgotten who we are and what our citizenship entails. The kingdom to which we belong isn’t reduced to going to heaven when we die. Nor is it trying to make the world a better place by grabbing political power.

The kingdom of God is here right now (though not in fullness). It broke into this realm 2,000 years ago when Jesus of Nazareth – the world’s true Lord and King – began a divine insurgence. It’s a kingdom that’s not of the world, yet it’s for the world.

To both mourning Americans and celebrating Americans, I wish to remind us that no president ever brought in the kingdom. And no president ever will.

Reality check. You are part of an embassy of a radically different empire. A kingdom that’s not from this planet yet one which demands your full allegiance, total passion, and very life – something that many people (Christians even?) have given to a political party or candidate.

As ambassadors of that kingdom, we can rest assured that God has everything under control. Whether you are in abject fear or delightful relief with the newly elected president, the Lord calls us to touch the throne on his behalf.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” (I Timothy 1:1-3)

 

So wherever you stand today – don’t let your heart be troubled on the one hand, nor place your full hope in any fallen human on the other. Jesus is Lord of the world. Let us all seek first his kingdom, which includes showing this world what the kingdom of God looks like, acts like, and feels like – especially during heated political seasons like the one we Americans have been in.

MCDOWELL.S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

The World to Come 

The story goes of a sociology professor who questioned his students about what changes they would make to the world in which they find themselves, assuming they had the power to do so. One immediate response was that the world should have no more wars, that nations would be at peace. Further responses called for an end to poverty, crime, violence, injustice. They would banish all evil. Everyone should be well clothed, fed, and housed, and able to enjoy worthwhile pursuits. If they had the power to do so, the students at last decided they would end all pain, sickness, and even death. 

The question is often asked if God is indeed benevolent and all-powerful why did he not create such a world they describe instead of what we have? While I will not address that question here, I will claim that such a world and one even more glorious than the one the students described is in the plan of God. Indeed, the students were describing, as limited as it was, the world to come. We can believe, as Alexander Pope put it, that such a hope springs eternal in every human breast. It is hope in God’s tomorrow. 

The Scriptures speak now and again of the world to come, which refers to far more than the heaven that awaits us at death. In fact, those now in heaven can anticipate the world to come as well as those of us yet on earth. It is a hope and a promise that goes back to Isaiah 65:17: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth,” a promise repeated in Isaiah 66:22: “As the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me,” says the Lord, “so shall your descendents and your name remain.” This promise is referenced in 2 Peter 3:13. After describing the dissolution of the present heaven and earth, the writer says: “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwell.” 

It is appropriate to ask at this point if we, the 21st century church, look for the world to come as did the first century church? Are we as impressed by the promises God gave to the prophets as they were? If the apostle John had such faith when he was confined to Patmos, his faith soon became sight, for while on that island he wrote, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea’ (Revelation 21:1). He sees what Isaiah had envisioned long centuries before. But both are referring to the future. While Isaiah clearly writes of the world to come as future, John writes as if it were occurring at that moment. He writes of the future as if already occurring. 

The reference to there being no more sea provides a tiny clue to the nature of the new earth. Space will matter. With something like seven-eighths of the earth’s surface covered by sea, the new, actually, renewed, earth will have far more room for what John goes on to see: “And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” He goes on to describe the size of the holy city as a 1500 mile cube, ample size for a capitol, and with the seas now terra firma, the huge city will not crowd the earth. 

Yes, I believe the renewed earth will be the permanent (eternal) heaven, and it will be the capital of all the new heavens, with the New Jerusalem as the capitol. The temporary heaven, where the redeemed family of God now resides (Ephesians 3:14-15) is the New Jerusalem that is now “above,” according to Galatians 4:26. So John saw this “heaven above,” the holy city, New Jerusalem, come down to earth, and he says this is where God will be with his people. “He will be their God, and they shall be his people.”  

We ourselves will be gloriously transformed into spiritual bodies, like unto Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:21), and thus prepared for cosmic assignments… “In the regeneration (the world to come), when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). 

But when it says “They shall see the face of God” (Revelation 22:4), we should see this as one more anthropomorphism, attributing to God a human trait. Since “No one has seen God or can see him” (I Timothy 6:16), and since God is spirit and incorporeal, of course has no face, this is to be seen as one more precious symbol of the holy city “along with golden streets, jasper walls, pearly gates” – and as referring to the glorious presence of God in the world to come. We will “see” God when we witness that “The city has no need of sun or moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminates it. The Lamb is its light” (Revelation 21:23). 

As far back as Abraham God’s covenant people “waited” for this city, and they “saw it afar, a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The prophets looked for that time when nations would beat their swords into ploughs and study war no more (Micah 4:3), and when “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Jesus promised his disciples that he would go away and prepare a place for them that had many mansions (John 14:2). Then there is “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of the Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign forever” (Revelation 11:15). And the Bible closes with the promise: “Blessed are those who keep his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14). 

Apart from whether I have all the details right, the world to come in all its glory is as certain as the promises of God. We do not know when that will be, but we are called to “the one hope of our calling” (Ephesians 4:4), and that hope will motivate us to help prepare this world for the great transformation that awaits it to become heaven itself. It may come incrementally, and hastened by our prayers and efforts. Thy kingdom come!

 

  

MCDOWELL’S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER”

 I saw the name of Thomas McKean mentioned somewhere in my reading. I would wager that you do not know who he was or why anybody should remember him. Well, he signed the Declaration of Independence in 1781. And why, you may ask, is that noteworthy? Only because it was four years after it had been adopted. If the other signers had been of this man’s quality, the whole course of our history would have been different but not better. Quite a contrast between McKean and John Hancock who signed the Declaration with a flourish in the hour of danger and commented that George the Third read that without his spectacles.

There are people who are late to everything. They always have an excellent excuse which, the first time you hear it, is convincing. Finally, it dawns on you that they are late because they do not care how much they inconvenience others, and because they get some satisfaction out of keeping other people waiting. I lost a friend one time because, finally, I was sick and tired of always having to wait. Perhaps God gets equally weary of waiting for me, and I am saved only because of His infinite patience.

How many people will cheer a cause when its success is assured? How much encouragement a fellow gets after he has taken the risk of the apparent defeat of the good enterprise. How many church members eventually get on the band wagon who must wait to make up their minds when only a brave few start the march? May the good Lord send us more brethren who come in at the right time when they are needed.

I suggest that we make Felix the patron of all who are too late. You remember the story in Acts. With his Jewish wife Drusilla, the Roman governor of Caesarea heard Paul speak about faith in Jesus Christ and argue “about justice and self-control and future judgment.” Then Felix was alarmed and said: “God away for the present: when I have an opportunity I will summon you” (Acts 24:24, 25).

 

The fellows who wait to see which way the ball of success is going to bounce seem so wise and clever. But they are not so smart after all. For life is commitment and the bystander never gets into the action. If it is right, better sign up immediately.