Things That Keep Me Up at Night: Heaven

Monday, March 25, 2019

(This post is part 3 of my 5 part series on things that keep me up at night. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

There are a few things that keep me up into the wee hours of the night, and one of those things is "heaven."

When I was a preteen, I went on a youth retreat at a cabin in the woods. I remember waking up early one morning with some other kids and the youth leader, and we watched the sun rise from our vantage point on a hill. It was magnificent. Until the youth leader said something along the lines of, "This is so beautiful, but we have to remember that God is going to come back and destroy it one day."

Perfect moment ruined. Suddenly, this sunrise didn't feel so beautiful anymore. I remember being overcome with strong feelings of foreboding and sorrow. Most of my youth group memories consist of rapture theology and legalistic sexual ethics, so I guess that this traumatic moment is just one more thing I need to work out in therapy.

I wrestled with this "end time" theology all throughout my teen years. I spent a year reading through the entire Old Testament during my freshman year, and low and behold, a major theological thread surprised me:

God was committed not just to God's people, but also to God's creation. 

That God would abandon his mission to save the entire world was troubling. God spent thousands of years committed to the redemption of heaven and earth - why would he then abruptly destroy everything that he had deemed "good"?

Answer: God wouldn't. And he won't.

Thank God.

Both the Old and the New Testaments agree: God has in mind to renew the entire cosmos, starting with the resurrection of our physical bodies. And yet, our Christian language and theology of "heaven" has persisted. It's everywhere, from the bestseller's list to our Sunday school classes to the American church's "Roman's road" to salvation.

This is the tension that keeps me up at night. I don't necessarily deny that this conscious, intermediate state with Jesus exists after we die, but the problem is just that: this "heaven" is a temporary state. Our theologies make heaven the final destination for the redeemed, when it isn't.

The term "heaven" is never used in Scripture for the final eschaton (end) that God has in mind for his people, and I fear that our continued misuse of "heaven" as such has caused us to overlook God's plan to redeem all things.

This tension was especially manifested when I served in children's ministry. When the Gospel was presented to kids, both preschoolers and elementary students alike, God's endgame was always presented as "dying and going to heaven." There was no mention of God's plan to restore the world, nor was there any mention of the resurrection of our bodies. I worried over what theological pitfalls would arise because of our neglect to present ALL of God's good news. How do we communicate this life after life after death to children in responsible and appropriate ways so that they don’t have to unlearn their concept of “heaven” when they grow up? And how do we do it without scaring them?

I still haven't quite figured it out, friends. I'd hate to mess someone up the way I was messed up as a kid (I already have enough things to keep me up at night). But here's what I've got so far:

"Because of our sin, we are all going to die. But the good news is that Jesus loves you so much that he made a way so that you can be with him when you die. But wait! It gets better! Jesus has a plan to save the entire world, and he's going to make all the wrong things in this world right again. He's going to fix everything, and just like Jesus rose from the dead, he's going to raise you from the dead, too."

I can't help but to think that lots of adults need to hear this, too.

I hope that one of these sleepless nights I'll be able to come up with a better way to articulate this final hope we have in Jesus. In the meantime, I've repented of the ways that I've previously used "heaven" to describe God's final plan.

God has something far better than "heaven" in mind: God's love for us is so fierce, he loves us bodies and all. He will never abandon us, even when our bodies have seen decay.

Now go enjoy that sunrise.

For further reading:

  • A New Heaven and a New Earth by J. Richard Middleton
  • Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
  • God Dwells Among Us by G.K. Beale
  • Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder

Things That Keep Me Up at Night: Uncertainty

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

(This post is part 2 of my 5 part series on things that keep me up at night. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

There are a few things that keep me up into the wee hours of the night, and one of those things is my uncertainty.

The Christian culture I grew up in during the early 2000's was all about being certain. There were "proofs" for every single tenant of Christianity, and it was imperative that I, a teenager, could explain the evidence for my faith in depth. The worldview I grew up in maintained that the Bible was infallible and the only reliable source. Science was viewed with suspicion and even straight-out animosity. Everyone who wasn't a believer was dogmatic and immoral. And if you couldn't argue your beliefs with the "enemy," then you were part of the problem.

One day, I came across an article by an apologist that argued that the Bible was scientifically accurate. He reasoned that Jesus' proclamation of the coming kingdom in Luke 17:34-35 demonstrated that the Bible maintained a Copernican view of the world. That someone could be asleep in bed at night and another could be grinding grain during the day proved that the Bible portrays a round earth (?).

I remember reading this argument, plus many others, with great wariness. It seemed like this was reading way more into the text than the Gospel writers intended us to. There was no way that the biblical writers could have ascribed to modern scientific views, and I frankly didn't think that their ancient views of a flat earth really even mattered. I started to doubt, and this uncertainty caused me to deconstruct many of the ideas that I had been taught about the relationship between the Bible and science.

Since then, I've deconstructed many beliefs I've previously held. I've torn them apart and put them back together with the new truth I've discovered. It's quite liberating, actually.

Yet, there are some nights when I lie in bed awake at night, worried that I've either gone too far or not far enough.

I worry about Jesus' call to nonviolent resistance and what that looks like practically. Is it even practical at all? Is it okay if it's not? Has Jesus called me to be "successful" or "faithful?" And if my life were ever threatened, would I stick with my convictions to radically love my enemy?

I worry about human sexuality and the complex nature of identity. I worry about how divided the Church at large is, and how she typically sides on either legalism or license. And what if I'm on the wrong "side?" I wish I didn't even have to pick a side.

I worry about whether I will immediately be with Jesus when I die or whether I'll remain "asleep," waiting for the final resurrection and redemption of all things. The thought of even being without Jesus for a conscious moment terrifies me.

I worry about whether I'm being faithful to my calling. I wonder if there is something different that I should be doing. I wonder if I've made the wrong decisions in the past, and whether these decisions have a bearing on my future.

I worry that I don't speak out prophetically enough. I worry that I've remained too silent.

I worry about things that are too vulnerable and too fragile to voice publicly. I whisper them in the stillness of the night, when I can hide in the cloak of darkness.

Uncertainty is hard. It's easier to be certain than uncertain, and sometimes in our rush to escape the awkwardness of uncertainty we make up or accept simple, contrite answers to our questions.

We live in a culture where we are expected to have an opinion or belief on everything, from the latest political policy to the most recent viral video. When asked about our beliefs, we have the tendency to make up an answer and bullcrap our way through a conversation. We choose saving face over hesitation; we choose the comfort of having an answer, any answer, over the tension of uncertainty.

But there is something beautiful about being able to honestly voice our doubts and say, "I don't know." 

"I don't know" recognizes that not all problems can be categorized as black or white, yes or no.

"I don't know" admits that I still have things to sort through.

"I don't know" acknowledges that I'm willing to sit in the awkward, to sit in the tension, and pursue a conviction worth having.

The pursuit of truth is a process that takes time; it can't be rushed. I'm learning to lie awake at night and accept the tension that comes with my uncertainty, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide me into all truth in his time. I'm learning that the only thing worse than contrite answers is silence, so I voice my uncertainty to other believers who are on the journey with me. I'm learning that God can handle any uncertainty I may have, and he will never be disappointed in me for questioning and wondering.

I don't know... And maybe that's okay for now.

Into the Wilderness: Lent 2019

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The wilderness sucks.

Detours? Pain? Suffering? Solitude? Death? No, thank you.

When God brought the Israelites to the wilderness, they wallowed in misery. “'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!' (Numb. 21:5).”

Even the food in the wilderness sucks, folks. Nothing to see here. Move along.

And me? When I was brought to the wilderness last month, I went into it kicking and screaming. Quite literally, actually. I've had wilderness trials before, but this one may have been the hardest one I've ever had to endure. I wanted a way out. I laid in bed every night, sleepless and sobbing, begging for a way out.

There's something fearsome about the wilderness. Very rarely do we enter into its terrain willingly.

The remarkable thing is that Jesus began his ministry in the desolate terrain of the wilderness. In fact, the Gospel of Mark tells us that the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness.

Jesus went into the wilderness willingly.

For Jesus, the wilderness was a time of trial and suffering. He fasted for 40-days in a place of isolation and loneliness. But the wilderness was also an opportunity for Jesus to experience the grace of God. Just as he did for the Israelites, God provided for and sustained his Son with his loving presence.

Let me be completely honest, friends. I avoid the wilderness at all costs. I flee at the first chance I get. But by diverting my path around the wilderness instead of through it, I just might be missing out on an opportunity to receive God's grace.

Sometimes the wilderness is forced upon us by the sinful choices of other people. Sometimes the wilderness is a result of our own sinful choices. And sometimes, like me, the wilderness creeps up on its own, defying all logic and reason. However you may find yourself in the wilderness, the good news that Jesus whispered and shouted to me over and over last month is this:

Jesus tamed the wilderness.

Jesus confronted the evil powers that resided in the wilderness... and he won. That trial you may currently be going through? He's already won. That temptation you may be facing? Jesus has conquered it.

This Lent, I encourage you to journey into the wilderness with Jesus for 40-days. Look for signs of God's grace and provision. Pray that God sustains you. And trust that, in his loving kindness and steadfast love, Jesus will never leave you nor abandon you in the wilderness, but will tame and command it to his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

(P.S. Before I entered into the wilderness myself, I wrote this Wilderness Lent Devotional. I hope it can be a source of hope and comfort for those who are facing the wilderness this Lent season, too.)

Resources for Lent 2019

Monday, March 4, 2019

Lent is my favorite time in the Church calendar. Maybe it's because I'm an Enneagram 1 or maybe it's because the period ends with Resurrection Sunday, but there is something about this time of repentance, contemplation, and humility that stirs my heart to become attuned to God's presence. Lent reminds me that, because of my sin, I am going to die. From dust I was formed, and to dust I will return.

But Lent also reminds me that the crucified and resurrected Christ will never leave me nor forsake me, not even in death. 

Death will come, but life will prevail.

There have been a few years where I didn't observe Lent, and I've noticed that I wasn't ready for the work of resurrection that God wanted to do in me come Easter. Easter was a quick blip on the calendar, just another Sunday in the year. It came and went so quickly, leaving me completely unprepared spiritually.

In our rush to get to the joy of the resurrection, we tend to skip over this period of suffering. We want the empty tomb, but we don't want the painful crucifixion. We certainly don't want to heed Jesus' invitation to follow him to the cross in self-denial. But repentance needs to come before forgiveness.

New life can only be realized when we allow the things within us that are not of the heart and mind of Christ to die.

Maybe you've never observed Lent before and wonder what the fuss is all about. Maybe you grew up fasting something for 40 days and have grown to disdain the practice. Or maybe you've tried it before but aren't sure whether it had any merit. Whatever camp you may fall in, I strongly encourage you to try it this year. Don't be unprepared for the work of resurrection that Christ wants to do in you this Easter.

Start by reading Scripture and praying everyday. Here are some of my favorite resources to guide you through the Lent season:

Wilderness Lent Devotional - My first assignment in my new position as an adult discipleship pastor was to write a devotional in conjunction with the church's sermon series. Because of its themes of testing, trial, and fidelity, I chose to write a 40-day devotional on the Gospel of Mark. There is also an accompanying small group guide and video series. Ironically, I wrote this right before I entered into my own wilderness trial. Reading back through it after writing it is extremely personal... I realize that I had written this for my future (current) self. I am now more confident in these truths from the Gospel of Mark than I was when I first wrote about it.

Breathe Lent Reader - I poured my heart and soul into writing this Lent reader last year. In many ways, this devotional felt like my guts were spilled out in red ink on paper. This devotional connects themes from the Old Testament with the promises of Jesus, inviting us as a Church to live into the new life we have in his life, death, and resurrection. There is a hard copy of this available for purchase here.

The Repentance Project - This is the Lent guide I'm using this year. Written from the perspective of people of color, the daily texts call God's people, especially those who live in the United States, to repent of our deep-seated prejudices and seek racial reconciliation.

A Way Other Than Our Own - Walter Brueggemann is by far my favorite Old Testament scholar, and this book is a treasure trove of wisdom and insight. His scholarship is compelling, but its his poetic and moving presentation that seals the deal for me.

Lent for Everyone - It's written by N.T. Wright. Need I say more? Bonus: he has a book for each Church year (A, B, C) to correspond with the lectionary.

Lent Playlist - This is a list of all of my favorite Lent-related songs that I use to center my thoughts and soothe my soul.

What resources would you add to this list? What are some practices you do to make the most out of the Lent season? What are some old habits you would like to let go or some new habits you would like to add this year?

Latest Instagrams

© Christina Bohn. Design by FCD.