Monday, October 27, 2008

There Goes the Sun- poetry written as the sun appeared

The following is a poem I wrote about a year ago at the end of a dark season of doubt, just as I began to emerge out of it. I still have something coming on hell in the next couple days.

There Goes the Sun
Matthew Richey

As darkness slowly drives out the dying day,
My mind is slowly poisoned by the miserable musings of my mouth,
Damn my life! Damn my misery! Why does God hate this lump of clay?
I look for signs, any sign, that God cares for my soul. I see no such sign.
Prepared beforehand for glory? Or for destruction? He doesn’t say.
Oh God have mercy on my poor soul! Have pity for I am weak and helpless.
I want to please you but am unable. It’s not my fault, you refuse to help me when I pray.
Blame me all you want. We both know I sin and fall because you refuse to interfere.
I am wandering and I am lost but you could help, but you will not show me the way.

What is my answer?

Where is my reply?

I hear no one.

I see nothing

I cannot continue in despair.
I cannot understand this God who made me for He is unknowable.
Kill thy son. I will obey. I will not ask why.
I will follow His precepts. I will obey His commandments.
Reject thy will. Sell all you have. Follow
All I have will go to the poor. I will turn from my greed.
Love thy neighbor. I will love.
I will put the needs of others before my own.
Love thy God. If you love me you will obey me.
I will love by my obedience.
Forsake thy ignorance. Embrace my truth.
Instruct me and I will learn.

Suddenly the sun rises and the darkness recedes.
I do not know where she came from or where she was hiding but she has returned.
I do not understand why she had to go down or how she rose again.
But though his death killed me, his rising has raised me.
His rising has given me meaning through mystery.
His death proves his love
His rising his power
I begin to understand.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apologizing for hell or an apology of hell?

So far this blog has been devoted to the eternal state. We will now continue this subject but from the other side. I am not by any means done with the positive angle. I am sure I will return to it often in the coming weeks.

This post will not serve as my 'apology for hell' but more as an introduction to my thoughts and feelings about hell and why I believe what I believe about it. This foundation will help (hopefully) as we look more deeply into the subject and I introduce the novel I've been toying with writing. Your comments and interaction would be appreciated as I write. (Many of you have made comments on facebook or in person about my blogs but are not subscribers! Shame on you! Subscribe and interact! I need more feedback!!)

The short blurb about my least favorite verses has some bearing here. Of all of the Bible's difficult teachings the one I dislike the most, the one I am most embarrassed to mention, most terrified to preach about, most eager to renounce, and (perhaps) least understand, is the doctrine of the eternal, conscious, torture of the unsaved in the place we know of as hell.

Many preachers have been accused of being hellfire and damnation preachers. These guys make preaching about hell a central theme of their message. When they preach the gospel they do not focus upon the beauty of a renewed fellowship with God or even (sometimes) the death and resurrection of Christ. Instead they tell of the terrors of a lake of literal fire. Imagine, they urge you, to imagine a place of complete darkness. They ask you if you have ever been burnt, ever felt what being burned with fire feels like. Now imagine that all over your whole body, but not for an instant, forever and ever and ever. This is what is coming to you if you do not say these magic words and receive Jesus into your heart (whatever the heck that means). Take out a policy from Jesus' Premium Fire Insurance and you'll never get burned. Escape hell with the repetition of these simple words. Its so easy to escape and the consequences so frightening that it makes no sense not to repeat the simplistic phrases he gives you to repeat. When you're done, he tells you that your coverage is good forever and you don't have to worry about it anymore. You can go through life now and never have to think about it again.

Although this may be something of an exaggerated depiction of a certain stripe of preachers, the picture is not really very extreme. Not only have I heard these guys many times (not only in fundamentalist baptist circles btw) but an inordinate amount of peoples' testimonies that I hear will point to a fear of hell being the motivating factor in their 'praying the sinners prayer' and 'receiving Jesus into their heart'. I'll lay off my hatred of these phrases for now.

The problems with this approach are too many to list, but I'll attempt it anyway. 1) This approach is the raping of the gospel by abandoning the central focus. 2) It takes the focus off of sin and places it upon punishment, consequently causing the hearer to focus upon God's wrath and anger instead of his mercy and grace. 3)This approach motivates people by a fear of punishment without the requirement of a real commitment to following Jesus Christ. 4) This approach results in a huge population of insincere and uncommitted Christians (or supposed Christians) who have little or no understanding of the gospel and little or no intention of living out the implications of a gospel to which they've never been exposed. 5) This approach misses the real point of hell and makes it a place of primarily physical torment. 6) This approach simplifies the Bible's teaching on hell and does not think deeply about some of the more complex issues.

I'm not this guy. I don't often (if ever) mention hell when I present the gospel. I heavily emphasize sin and the need for grace, but I make no attempt to scare people to Jesus or sell them fire insurance. I avoid the issue in conversation, witnessing, and teaching whenever possible. I am ashamed of hell. My discussion of hell tends to be an attempt to apologize for hell. I too am out of balance. If God made hell, then it is just. If Scripture teaches us about hell, then I ought to teach it. If hell is real, I ought not to pretend it doesn't exist. Subsequent blogs will be an attempt to quit apologizing for hell with an apology (defense) of hell.

This issue is important to me for some very personal reasons. I have struggled with accepting and understanding this doctrine. I have had a very close friend abandon Christ, in large part, because of what Scripture teaches on the subject. I have close friends and relatives who are, according to my understanding of the doctrine, bound for eternity in this place. I pray that my writing will be beneficial and corrective not only to whoever reads, but to my own life and ministry.

Interspersed throughout my discussions on this topic will be more on the New Jerusalem and the blessings of an eternity with the Savior. This subject is too dark to embark upon without an occasional sunbreak.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My least favorite verses in the Bible

We all have our favorite verses of Scripture for our own reasons. But is there a verse you don't particularly like? Is there a verse that gives your theology trouble? Does it, perhaps, convict you of something that you are content to continue in? I have several verses I don't particularly like. Some I don't know what to do with. Some I don't want to apply. Some I don't want to be true. Some I am secretly, perhaps, embarrassed of. So let's take off our masks and share our least favorite verses. Some of mine follow:

I Timothy 6:8 "but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content."
Try applying that in our society! Even better, try preaching it!

I Corinthians 11:10 "That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels." a) I'm embarrassed of it. b) It's confusing (because of the angels???) c) I don't know how to apply it (or encourage others to apply it) and d) I really don't ever want to have to preach it.

Matthew 22:30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." This is my least favorite. I don't like the implications of this. If I ever finally find a wife, marry her, live the rest of my 'this earthly' existence with her, endure the trials and difficulties to a marriage that are brought on by living in a sinful world, upon finally entering a sinfree world, I find that marriage is no more. It messes with my theology on so many levels. It gives my postribulational leanings trouble. It ties my understanding of life in the new earth as something of a restoration of what humans were meant to be in knots. It takes something that I look forward to and see as right and beautiful and makes in temporary. And what is really irritating is that this verse is kind of by itself. Without it, all of these problems would go away. And dagnab it all, it reads fairly clearly. I can't effectively explain it away (yet- I'll think of something).

What verses do you dislike the most?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Picture of New Jerusalem

A quick word about format. I will publish a blog once a week on either Monday or Tuesday, for sure. Throughout the week I may publish short observations about culture, Scripture etc... but they will not be that extensive. For the time being, I will keep my weekly blogs related to the topic of the eternal state until I feel the need to change topics.

A while ago I wrote this short poetic essay about the New Jerusalem. I have shown it to some of you but I would like to share it again. I have reworked parts of it and hopefully it's a bit better. I would like your feedback.

Last night I dreamed I was walking towards a city that I saw in the distance, vast, beautiful, and glorious to behold. I could not avert my eyes for they were mesmerized by the complexities of the messages communicated in her construction. The king of this city must have been a great king indeed. ‘Great’ is a common enough word in our vocabulary and I believed that I understood the word before, but now I do not think I did. I would have described Seattle or New York or Los Angeles as great cities prior to this experience, but no more. In ancient history Rome would have been described as great, Nineveh, Babylon, perhaps in the days of Solomon, Jerusalem too would have matched this description. I have never seen these in their days of glory but I cannot imagine that they can compare. When I saw this city, I was impressed by her greatness but my awe and admiration was more for the greatness of the king who must have built her. She was so vast, the materials with which she was composed were so exquisite, her walls were so strong and impenetrable, her gates were so wide and inviting that only the mightiest and most powerful king could have orchestrated her construction or afforded her material.
The light of the city was so overpowering that my eyes burned as I stared at her, but still I could not look away. I do not say that there were lights, for I could but distinguish a single light, equally bright throughout the city. Day and night would have no meaning for the brilliance of this light overpowered the rays of the sun. I could not tell what time it was, for it was equally bright after the sun set as it was when she was at her full height. The city is intensely viewable from a great distance and all who see her from outside her walls have no need of the heavenly lights for she provides all of the light that they need.
As I drew nearer to the city, I began to distinguish colors within the glow she produced. The colors I have known previous are but shades of grey in comparison. Reds, blues, and greens sparkle from her, in shades innumerable and with peerless brilliance. Her shape is as the highest of mountains. From the top of this city-mountain spiraled a river, clear and clean, providing refreshment and life to all of her inhabitants. In the middle of the river was a tree that defied my very definition of tree, shaming any that I had seen previously. Her roots were in the midst of the river and upon her branches grew various fruits that do not correlate to any that I have ever seen in beauty and substance. The leaves of the tree were green. This is an inadequate description, but I cannot better it. They were green as green was meant to be. All plant life I had seen previously and thought green would look brown and withered next to the least leaf on the tree or blade of grass surrounding her. The water of the river was pure and gave life, both to the tree and the inhabitants of the city. The fruit of the tree sustained life and her leaves would have healed the dying and diseased, if there could be such in so great a city.
And then my dream shifted and the city was no longer a city but a woman. She was adorned as a bride and was awaiting her bridegroom. She was so beautiful that I could not stop looking at her but she was so pure that she forbade any semblance of lust. Her eyes were bright like those of a young girl but shown with wisdom, one knew she had seen and experienced much. She was ageless. She possessed all of the stunning beauty of youth and the subtle beauty of an older woman. She wore a dress of the purest white. The dress had no adornment because the fabric of the dress was so radiant that diamonds would have dimmed its glow and lace would have been an annoying distraction. Looking at the dress, I knew that the wearer was without blemish or impurity. White is often said to symbolize innocence. But for the white adorning this dress, this is too shallow and simplistic. The white did remind one of the pure innocence of a young virgin, but also of the whiteness of the aged and the wise. This woman had all of the purity of a young virgin, but without the ignorance often associated therewith. She had all of the wisdom and understanding of an elderly scholar but without the deterioration and fading associated with age.
But this woman did not marvel at her own stunning beauty or the brilliance of her dress. All of her thoughts were upon her bridegroom. She had kept herself pure only and completely for him. She had adorned herself as a statement of love for her future husband’s pleasure, with no thought to receive attention or admiration herself.
As I waited for her husband to appear, the dream shifted again. The woman became a great multitude of people. Like the woman, they were dressed in pure white. They too were ageless, with all of the vitality of youth and the wisdom and knowledge of age. Upon their faces were written love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They looked incapable of sadness, anger, or cruelty. When I saw them I knew what human beings were meant to be. They were all perfect in physique and their faces were without defect, but yet they all looked quite different from one another. Each was the perfect specimen of a human being by himself, but together each was more beautiful than he was alone. They all had one single focus: singing and praising and celebrating their master. Although every one of them was awesome to look at, none had a thought as to her own glory or greatness but was intent upon making known the greatness of her master. They were not only willing but joyous slaves of the same Lord and master and it was their duty and their desire to serve Him and make known His goodness and greatness.
My dream then shifted for the last time. I saw Him. I saw the king of the city, the bridegroom of the bride, and the master of the slaves. I experienced a fear and a terror that so far surpassed all fear and terror that I had ever felt that I have difficulty identifying it as such. As terrifying as He was to look at, I was so awed that I could not look away. He was the embodiment of love and compassion and of justice and wrath, without any contradiction. I fell to my face in death but He caught me and my fear was transformed to peace. I knew that in His arms, there was nothing that could harm or hurt me. He touched my face and I knew that my sorrows were over. In his face, I saw my Savior, my Friend, my Master, my King, and my God. When He had helped me up, I fell back to my face, not in weakness but in worship. I wanted nothing else, nothing seemed more proper, more fulfilling to the purpose of my existence, than to declare His awesome might and power, to rejoice in and enjoy forever His goodness, justice and love.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

You will not be in heaven forever and why this matters

When you read my title, depending upon who you are and what is your theological background, you might have immediately branded me a heretic, became panicky, or were instantly bored with old and irrelevant theology. All three reactions are wrong and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
  • If you reacted by assuming that I was a heretic, mistaken, unbiblical, or confused, you may have misunderstood the teachings of Scripture on the eternal state. The Bible does not teach that we will spend eternity in heaven. Our hope instead is based in our future bodily resurrection, made possible by the bodily resurrection of Jesus (I Corinthians 15). Romans reminds us the we look forward to 'the redemption of our body'. So we are raised bodily- I guess I knew that- but what does that have to do with heaven? Just like we are not headed for an eternity away from the body, neither are we headed for an eternity away from God's physical creation, the earth. We, and the earth, are looking forward to the day when the flawed will again become perfect, as God created it to be. As we look to the day when we will no longer sin, age, or die, so we look forward to the day when the earth will be without the curse, recreated back in line with God's original assessment: good. Romans 8, Isaiah 65, and Revelation 21 make it clear that there will come a day when God's physical creation will be freed from the effects of sin and God will create a new heavens and a new earth. It is here where we will dwell for eternity and rule with Christ, not in the celestial realm lounging on a cloud with our harps and halos.
  • If you began panicking at the thought of not spending eternity in heaven, don't! This is a good thing not a bad thing. This does not mean that we will away from God's presence, God's presence will be more obvious and enjoyable than ever before. Revelation 21:3 declares that, "...the tabernacle of God is among men and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them." This magnificent passage continues with the well known and often quoted verse, "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." This is not a description of heaven, as we so often assume, but of life on the new earth! The new earth will be beautiful beyond description and unmatched by any place we have ever experienced. Try and imagine life without death, pain, and evil. Attempt to describe a place without the effects of sin and the curse. We have no idea what this means because we are so used to living with these things. They've become what we think of as normal, yet this was not what God intended to be normative. What will life be like there? Something like life was supposed to be here before Adam and/or Eve (whomever you prefer to blame) messed it all up, only better. No longer will sin rear its ugly head or Satan entice us to rebel against our Maker. We will have pure and unhindered fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.
  • The third reaction is a common reaction to theological truths, but it is perhaps the most wrongheaded of all. We are tempted (myself included) to think that theology doesn't matter or that it has no relevancy to our daily lives. Perhaps this is partly the fault of theologians and pastors whose approach to theology makes it seem so, but if this is you, you're wrong. As a professor of mine says, you always live your theology, whether you are aware of it or not. Here are several reasons I think it is important that we understand our 'earthly eternity':
  1. If we think and speak of our eternity as merely a heavenly one, we may believe, or at least communicate to others, that our destiny is merely spiritual and not physical. We may be tempted to believe that the physical does not matter because 'it's all going to burn anyway'. The physical is important to God. God created us as physical beings in a physical world with physical realities. How we handle our bodies and our world matters.
  2. We should not view or accept sin and death and pain as normal but as a perversion of God's creation. All creation groans because of the effects of sin and death; we ought to groan with it.
  3. All creation eagerly awaits the redemption of the physical, so also we ought to live in anticipation of not only a new earth, but a new us. I Corinthians 15 again: "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." But doesn't this reinforce the idea that our physical bodies are of no importance in the here and now? Doesn't the belief that there will be a new heavens and earth support the idea that the heavens and earth we have now matters little? No more than the belief in that our justification and the forgiveness of our sins allows us to live however we want. We recognize that the way that God intended life and the way that God created the world is how it should be and what is best. Someone who lives life fleeing God's intended purpose for her will not be satisfied in her pursuits. They will all be vain and empty. A life lived as God intended and designed will come the nearest to true satisfaction in fulfilling one's purpose in this life.
  4. Living with eternity in mind ought to remind us that how God created us and the earth to be originally and how it and we will be in eternity is best also in the present. We ought to take care of this earth because God originally set us as caretakers over it. We ought to take care of our physical bodies because God created us as physical beings and our bodies are good and gifts from our Father. We ought to treat them as such. This does not that we become narcissists who worship ourselves for our own beauty nor pagans who worship the creation of the Creator; but that we are thankful, appreciative, and good stewards of God's gifts and entrusted responsibility.
  5. The last reason is similar to the second: We ought never to forget that we are not fighting a losing battle. As a premillenialist, I may be tempted with or accused of the 'its all going to pot' mentality, but this is wrongheaded thinking. God will redeem the physical. Our efforts on this earth will not end in defeat. Creation will once again be beautiful as God's original design was beautiful. Our primary mission on this earth is to 'make disciples'. This will have lasting value, not only in our temporary holding place (heaven), but upon our eternal dwelling, the new earth. We need not work with a defeatist attitude but with the realization that one day, creation will worship her creator without the effects of sin's intrusion. The work we do in this life on this earth will reverberate in the next life and upon the new earth. We are not fighting a losing battle, only a very long battle with only apparent defeats along the way.
I wish to close this with Paul's exhortation from the last verse of I Corinthians 15:

"Therefore, my brothers (and sisters), be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Beginning a Blog

How does one distinguish himself in an arena packed full of self-proclaimed experts without editor, oversight, or authority in an era of 'discovering one's own truth', no matter how unfounded or tested this 'truth' may be? In a culture where everyone's opinion is of equal worth, how can anyone write anything worth reading? In a sphere without oversight, how can one know he has accomplished his task or stated goals? Do I have a greater purpose in writing than expressing my own opinions and hear myself talk (or see myself write)? Why does anyone need another blog to read and another blogger to write?

My goal in entering the blogging world is growth. I hope to grow by interacting with others' ideas and I hope to help others grow by their interaction with my thoughts. As a seminary student (and graduate) I will have a good deal to say on theology, praxis, and Biblical interpretation. As a youth pastor I will have some thoughts about practical ministry. As a Christian I will blog about what that means and entails in a postchristian culture. As an aspiring poet and writer, I may share some poems or stories that I am working on. Whatever it is that I am writing, the goal is the interchange of and interaction with the ideas of others. But this goal is subservient to my life's goal of honoring and serving Jesus Christ. I hope that this will facilitate this in my life and in the lives of others.

Looking forward to our interchanges!
I am etc...
Matthew C. Richey

About Me

My photo
Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul