The trip you can't afford to miss (part three)

Ever had a baby? I haven't. In the words of comedian Jim Gaffigan, "I don't think I could have a baby... because I don't have a uterus." 

I have, however, spoken with many people who have given birth. Apparently, it's a painful process. But it's interesting, it's a painful process that leads to overwhelming joy. (Well, usually. There are terribly tragic times that it does not. Which is part of what we've been talking about in this little blog series.) 

I've been trying to show you over the past couple posts that if we get some clarity around our eternal destination, that it changes our perspective of all the struggles and trials that we walk through in life. It's what Paul was writing about in Romans chapter 8. 

Look at what Paul says in verse 22: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." He goes on to say that followers of Christ groan in the same way. These groanings are expressed by our souls through pain and hardship. The universe itself is expressing these same things. It's broken, "in bondage to decay" as Romans 8:21 says. But the destination changes everything

Our journey is progressing toward the glory of birth, not the agony of death.

When life falls apart, it often feels like death. When marriages fail, when those close to us hurt us, when we hurt them, when floodwaters rise, when the economy crashes, when the government is out of money and out of ideas. It feels like death. 

But it's not death. It's birth.

We're living in an alarming time in history. The threat of terrorism, genocide, global pandemics, war, environmental decay - many of us walk around in a shroud of anxiety. I mean, some people are ready for a zombie apocalypse! (It is comforting, in a way, that the linked article says "FEMA did not respond to requests for comment about the need for zombie preparedness." Phew! 

A few implications of Romans 8:22-23:

1. Birth pains still hurt.

Knowing that they will produce something wonderful doesn't change that.

When Karen and I were expecting our first child, she had these grand ideas that she was going to have our baby naturally. "I have a pretty high pain tolerance," she said. I'll go with it, and if the pain gets too severe, I'll get the epidural. 

Karen's first words at the hospital when she went into labor? "Give me the epidural!" 

Jesus told us that pain will be a reality of life in this world (John 16:33). Nothing in the Bible seeks to minimize or trivialize the pain we experience. From seemingly small things like getting laughed at in elementary school, to major things like burying a child, life hurts. Deeply. 

2. Our pain isn't for nothing

Although birth pains hurt, we know they aren't pointless. No mother, holding her newborn for the first time, says, "That wasn't worth it." The hurt we feel isn't senseless. God isn't cruel. Romans 8 says that "He subjected the universe to frustration in hope." That means that the pain all around us has a purpose. Whatever pain you are walking through right now will one day be worth it. 

I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:17. "For our light and momentary troubles (that's a paradigm shift in itself!) are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." The trials we experience now are actually adding to the glory of heaven. 

3. Our future joy will be greater for having experienced pain.

The joy of motherhood is greater for having gone through labor. The championship trophy is more fulfilling for having endured spring practices and tough losses. Graduation is more meaningful because of the all-nighters. Embracing your child is sweeter after the agony of separation. And our heavenly joy will be greater for our suffering on earth. 

4. Hope is the currency we need to endure the pain of life.

That's the idea of Romans 8:24-25. A mother can endures the excruciating contractions because her hope is in the not-yet-experienced moment of cradling her child. 

Have you read those stories of women in labor who didn't know they were pregnant? Can you imagine anything worse? All the pain with none of the hope? 

Unfortunately, that's how many, many people live. Their only hope is some alleviation of pain in this life. In Paul's words, that is "no hope at all." But if we understand and believe in our great destination, the result will be patient endurance that only God can produce (Romans 8:25). 

Is your hope in Christ? Or is it in a relationship, or social status, or comfort, or financial independence? Those things will inevitably fail. Jesus did promise us trouble in John 16:33. But He also promised us hope: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world." 

Divine Sovereignty or Human Freedom?

Matt Slate spoke Sunday on Romans 8:29-30, a passage of Scripture full of theological terms that can cause heartburn for many people. If you are curious about The Bridge's stance on these issues, our elders have written a position paper on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. It is available at the link below. We hope this will be a resource that provides some clarity for you around an issue that we simply cannot fully comprehend. 

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom Statement

 

The trip you can't afford to miss (part two)

If someone asked you what happens after you die, what would you say? Do you really know what you believe, or what the Bible teaches about the afterlife? 

I remember learning about death as a child. I think it was around my grandfather's funeral when I was eight or nine. That's the first time I saw a dead body. I saw him in the casket, looking so fake. I remember all my family members being sad. The preacher said that my grandfather was now with the Lord. I thought, "Well, at least part of him is still in that casket!" 

When I talked with my mom, she tried to explain that when we die, we go to be with Jesus, but it's spiritual. So we don't have a body like we do here. I thought to myself, that's the most boring thing I could imagine! Everything I like about earth is something that I can see, taste, or touch. Spiritual things sure didn't seem very fun. 

Now, mom was right... sort of. 2 Corinthians 5 says that when we are absent from the body, we're present with Christ. So when Christians die, our souls do immediately enter the presence of Jesus, and our bodies stay on earth and decompose. And we have to believe that's better than the pain and brokenness that we experience here. But it's not our ultimate hope. 

Truth is, a lot of us don't really get excited when we think about heaven. We like it here. Life is good! We're comfortable. When we think about Jesus coming back, it feels more disruptive than anything. Rather than anticipation or joy, it brings feelings of sadness and despair. I think that's evidence that we've distorted our understanding of heaven and what happens after death. Let me show you a few things that could help to clarify the hope that the Bible shows us.

Searching for answers

At The Bridge, we've been teaching through Romans 8. Verse 19 says that "the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." That's significant because it means that creation will participate in our salvation. We won't just be floating around in an ethereal cloud. We will see, taste, touch, and smell in a way that we can't imagine right now!

1. Our destination will be a physical reality.

It'll be a lot like life here, only completely redeemed and restored. And creation - sun, moon, stars, animals, insects, grass, trees, mountains - it waits in eager expectation for it to happen. The Hebrew literally says that creation "cranes its neck forward." One translation says that creation "stands on tiptoe" waiting to see what God is going to do in His children. 

Paul goes on to say that creation was "subjected to frustration" - a reference to the curse upon the ground in Genesis 3. But that God subjected it in hope, meaning that He didn't curse the ground out of cruelty, or to be destructive. He did it with a plan to one day redeem it. One day, creation will be "liberated from its bondage to decay." God will abolish the law of entropy! No longer will things naturally break down and decay.

2. The universe will one day be governed by a new law. A better law.

Paul goes on to say that creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay to be "brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." When I read this, I tend to picture the children of God being brought into the freedom and glory of a new creation. But that's not what it says. Creation will be brought into the freedom and glory of God's children. What does that mean? 

Have you ever stood in awe at a landscape? An ocean view, a mountain scene, or a sunset? In high school, I traveled to Europe and got to see the Swiss Alps. I remember stepping off a gondola and taking in a breathtaking view of a mountain. I was stunned. There are no words that can describe the beauty I saw. And there are no words to describe just how small I felt. I think this passage means that one day, creation will feel that way looking at God's children. 

3. When God renovates the universe, He'll start with His children.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 says, "For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him." The passage goes on, "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven... and so we will be with the Lord forever." That's our forever! Jesus will return, and those who have placed their faith in Him will be raised just like He was and receive a new, incorruptible, immortal body just like He did. 

4. God's first step will be to give us a new body, one that doesn't ache or break down or sputter out.

God has an incredible plan for His children. All creation is standing on tiptoe waiting to see it unfold. Shouldn't we live with a sense of anticipation? One of the craziest lies that Satan could throw at us is that heaven could be boring. Can we just admit how absurd that is? Everything good about our lives will only get better in heaven. Everything bad about our lives will cease to exist. 

If we don't live with our destination in mind, we will inevitably become discouraged or distracted along the way. Our hope is far too sure and far too glorious to become enamored with or disheartened by this old place. 

The trip you can't afford to miss (part one)

Think back to your childhood. What are your most vivid memories?

I would guess that many of your clearest recollections are from trips you've taken. Most great stories are about a "quest" - Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, King Arthur in Monty Python... the reason these stories resonate so deeply is that they represent the story. 

We're all on a quest. Many of us just don't know it. 

Our van broken down in Bishop, CA in July 2002. 

Our van broken down in Bishop, CA in July 2002. 

2002 was a big year for me. I got married in April, graduated from Louisiana Tech in May, and hit the road in June. (I spent a number of years as part of a group called The Common Ground Band along with our student pastor Jason Howell.) We were invited to lead worship at an event in Seattle that summer. They offered to fly four band members up, but there were five people in the band. We proposed a compromise: pay us the amount that the airfare would cost, and we would use that money for an epic, cross-country pilgrimage to Seattle. They agreed!

One hot summer afternoon, we left Ruston headed west. We had a "gig" lined up in Denver on the way, which ended up being more of a practice since there were more people in the band than in the crowd! The life of a rock star. From Denver, we would drive to Seattle through Wyoming and Montana, then head home down the Pacific Coastline. 

That trip turned out to be one of the great experiences of my life. It did not, however, come without some speed bumps.

The first great miscalculation of my young marriage was assuming that my wonderful bride would want to participate in the trip in the first place. What 23-year-old female would not want to spend two weeks with seven guys in a sweltering van? I had a lot to learn. 

Our "tour bus" was a fifteen passenger 1990 Dodge Van. The speedometer was broken; we surmised that it topped out around 60 mph. Something was wrong with the exhaust, so the floor board would get so hot on long trips that we literally could not put our feet on the floor, even wearing flip-flops! We could not run the A/C for long without the van overheating.

Our trip had all the makings of a fairy tale!

On these long cross-country trips, there are moments when you wonder what are we doing? That happened for me about 30 minutes past Denton, TX. "Are we there yet? Seattle is a long way from here." West Texas is tough. The roads are long, straight, dusty, and boring. It's disorienting. You find yourself looking forward to Dairy Queens. You long for a place called Amarillo, which boasts the smell of cow manure and a restaurant that sells overpriced steaks. People actually write songs about Amarillo after driving through Texas! 

We got a speeding ticket in Wyoming. It had been hours since we had seen another living thing, and we passed a cop hiding behind a cactus. Really, officer? We did, however, learn that our trusty van went a lot faster than 60 mph! 

In California, we ran out of money. I hit a lady's car in a parking garage in San Francisco. Then our van broke down (didn't see that coming!) for three days in the desert town of Bishop, California (see picture). Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong on that trip. And yet it became one of my great memories. 

Any one of these experiences would have ruined my day under any other circumstances. But because we were going to Seattle, they were bearable, even fun. In fact, the Pacific looked even bluer after driving through West Texas. 

A great destination changes everything. 

If you're a Christ-follower, you have an amazing destination - a destination that changes everything about the journey we're on. But lots of Christians don't really understand what the Bible teaches about our future hope. Over the next couple of posts, I'll explore a few things about that destination that we learn from Romans chapter 8. Stay tuned!