Bee Still

Have you ever been stung by a bee? Have you ever been stung by a bee eight times all at once? This was my unfortunate experience last week on a long run. I was on a wide path bordered by the most beautiful flowering bushes when all of a sudden, I felt as though I had been pierced in the hip by a poison blow dart. It was excruciating. Then the sensation repeated itself seven more times as the vicious agent of hell continued to attack, landing on my neck, arms, back, and even my face. I kept running and took my hat off to swat at it, to no avail. I may or may not have spewed a string of words that no clergy member should even know, much less say.

Worst of all, it happened at mile 5 in a 10-mile run with no way to get home except to run. I should have just stopped and called an Uber.

The aftereffects stayed with me for days. I was nauseated, dizzy, itchy, and generally felt puny. I developed roving hives for 24 hours that would appear and disappear in different places on my body at will. I still have a small crater on my cheek and red patches that haven’t faded.

That nasty bee sure did leave its sting!

But praise be to God, death won’t.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote these beautiful and cherished words about the impotence of death in the face of the strength of Christ:

1 Corinthians 15 (Contemporary English Version)

50 My friends, I want you to know that our bodies of flesh and blood will decay. This means they cannot share in God’s kingdom, which lasts forever. 51  I will explain a mystery to you. Not every one of us will die, but we will all be changed. 52 It will happen suddenly, quicker than the blink of an eye. At the sound of the last trumpet the dead will be raised. We will all be changed, so we will never die again. 53 Our dead and decaying bodies will be changed into bodies that won’t die or decay. 54  The bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal. Then the Scriptures will come true,

“Death has lost the battle!
55 Where is its victory?
    Where is its sting?”

This is a passage that is read often at funerals, and it brings much comfort to the bereaved. The mystery of God’s prevenient gift of eternal life is something we can cling to when our loved ones die. It is a lifeboat of hope when we contemplate our own passing. God gave Jesus the victory over death itself, and we can stake our very lives on that fact.

56 Sin is what gives death its sting, and the Law is the power behind sin. 57 But thank God for letting our Lord Jesus Christ give us the victory!

58 My dear friends, stand firm and don’t be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile.

So, keep working toward that day. Don’t be shaken! Keep singing, praising, worshipping, studying, and being busy for God. All of this will soon pass away, but the love of the Lord lasts forever.

Just keep running.

Bee Still by Kathy Schumacher

Seed Birth

My generous neighbor left me four beautiful plants as she returned to her permanent home last month. I am the happy recipient of rosemary, basil, cilantro, and mint.

They are already dying.

I neglected to tell her that when it comes to plants, I have a black thumb. I have actually been known to kill plastic plants. Kid you not. I either over-water or under-water, but in the end, no plant has ever survived my care.

I take heart in knowing that in general, a plant has to die before it can be reborn. That is exactly how seeds work. The seed is the dormant product of a thriving plant, and once planted in the ground, it becomes a thriving plant as well. Perhaps I can collect the seeds of these plants to give to her when she returns.

Thanks be to God, that is exactly how it works when we die, too:

1 Corinthians 15 (Common English Bible)

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come back?” 36 Look, fool! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t come back to life unless it dies. 37 What you put in the ground doesn’t have the shape that it will have, but it’s a bare grain of wheat or some other seed. 38 God gives it the sort of shape that he chooses, and he gives each of the seeds its own shape. 39 All flesh isn’t alike. Humans have one kind of flesh, animals have another kind of flesh, birds have another kind of flesh, and fish have another kind. 

When we die and are buried, we exchange our earthly bodies for heavenly ones. Paul teaches us that both types have a kind of glory:

40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The heavenly bodies have one kind of glory, and the earthly bodies have another kind of glory. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, the moon has another kind of glory, and the stars have another kind of glory (but one star is different from another star in its glory). 42 It’s the same with the resurrection of the dead: a rotting body is put into the ground, but what is raised won’t ever decay. 43 It’s degraded when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in glory. It’s weak when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in power. 44 It’s a physical body when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised as a spiritual body.

Take a look at the beautiful language in verse 47. Paul said that the Adam was made from dust, but the last Adam, Jesus, is made from heaven. Our resurrected, spiritual bodies come from heaven above! Like Jesus, our resurrected bodies will walk and eat, but will not be bound by the constraints of the earth. I am so relieved about the eating part.

If there’s a physical body, there’s also a spiritual body. 45 So it is also written, the first human, Adam, became a living person, and the last Adam became a spirit that gives life. 46 But the physical body comes first, not the spiritual one—the spiritual body comes afterward. 47 The first human was from the earth made from dust; the second human is from heaven. 48 The nature of the person made of dust is shared by people who are made of dust, and the nature of the heavenly person is shared by heavenly people. 49 We will look like the heavenly person in the same way as we have looked like the person made from dust.

As you contemplate this idea of your glorified, heavenly body, give thanks to God for the gift of the resurrection. We need not fear death. Death is but a transition to a glory unknown, thanks be to God.

Morning Glory by Vic Miles

The Truth Is

A friend of mine has written a Bible study called “Believe.” It is an exploration of the pillars of the Christian faith and serves as a kind of “Christianity 101.” One of her chapters explores the Apostles Creed, which is a kind of Reader’s Digest version of centuries of Christian thought in one lovely statement.

If you take a moment to unpack it (rather than say it by rote, as we all tend to do), you will find all of the foundations of what we believe. God as creator. Jesus as his son. Mary as a virgin. Jesus crucified, dead and buried. And then on the third day, he arose from the dead. It’s all in there:

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The early church began to struggle with the notion of the resurrection of the body. Paul dealt with this in the church in Corinth. (Lord have mercy! Paul dealt with EVERYTHING at the church in Corinth!) Secular thinking had infiltrated the community of faith, pointing out the ridiculous notion of a bodily resurrection for both Jesus and his followers.

So Paul fights back:

1 Corinthians 15 (The Message)

12-15 Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.

16-20 If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.

But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

The truth is that Christ was raised up. There were witnesses! And if we trust that, and we do, then we can trust in our own resurrection. It is indeed ridiculous. And miraculous. And unbelievable.
And true.

When I officiate a funeral, I encourage the mourners to hang their hats on this one unshakable truth. Because Jesus lives, you shall live also. And at the other end of all of this is a great heavenly reunion with all who have gone before us.

I believe, and I can’t wait. How about you?

Over the Rainbow by Michelle Robertson

By Grace

I know a young woman who has made a remarkable journey from a normal, upper middle class upbringing to a normal, upper middle class college education to living on the streets for five years as a heroin addict. Today she is fully recovered. She owns her own business, enjoys a happy marriage, and is a strong and passionate voice for others dealing with drug use. Her pain, suffering, and struggles are now employed in helping others understand addiction and recovery. To me, she embodies the possibility of complete and total transformation that comes through the grace of God. We do recover!

I thought of her this morning as I read Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. Paul underwent a tremendous transformation of his own, going from being a murdering persecutor of Christ’s church to being one of its strongest advocates. Most of what we understand about theology comes from Paul’s letters, and his work in taking the gospel all over the known world speaks for itself. He is the reason we have the church today, and his words still have relevance thousands of years after he wrote them.

1 Corinthians 15 (Common English Bible)

15 Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. 

I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. 

10 I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. 11 So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

“I am what I am because of God’s grace.” Can’t we all say that? Where would you be without it? I know I would be lost. Paul gives God credit for the hard work he put in, realizing that is grace alone that enables us to do good works.

Is God calling you to transform some aspect of your life? Are you engaging in something harmful that requires a stepping away and giving it over to him? Are your relationships in need of repair? Do you need God’s grace to move on with your life in a new direction?

Lucky for us, God’s grace is abundant, amazing, and free to all who seek it. If addicts can recover and murderers can be redeemed, your situation can be changed if you yield to his will and his mercy. You are not alone!

God’s grace is ENOUGH.

Enough by Michelle Robertson