Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Last Word on Life

We all live with some kind of hope. We hope it won‘t be too hot today. We hope we will get a raise. We hope our candidate will win the election this fall. We hope to shoot par on at least one hole. But what is hope? The Bible tells us that it is more than just wishful thinking. It is “he assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen“ according to Hebrews 11:1. When the Bible talks about the “hope of heaven,” it isn't talking about hoping we get into heaven, but rather the hope that comes for the reality of heaven.

Do you live with calm assurance that God will do what He says He will do? Maybe you feel that God has let you down in the past. Maybe you have been hurt by folks in your relationships or in business. Everyone that you thought you could count on has let you down. That is the way it seems sometimes. And in fact that may be your experience.

At a time of such uncertainty in the world, people are looking for something or someone to believe in. They want to feel secure, but then the stock market plummets and gas goes to more than $4.00 per gallon. People just want to be happy, but happiness seems so dependent upon our circumstances. They want to be independent, but then they realize that they do not have the resources for today and tomorrow. They want to trust, but their own feelings betray them. Self-help books and prosperity teachers are a dime a dozen.

Why did God make it possible for us to spend eternity in heaven? Was it because of our goodness? Or was it because of His mercy and His grace?

Well, if it is because of His mercy and grace, and He is never changing and never failing, then we can have hope for today and for tomorrow.

“Living hope“ means that it isn‘t something that we store away for the future. It is alive. The hope that we have empowers us to live today the way that God intended us to live it -- in holiness. What we hope for won‘t fade away, rust, or shrink in significance because it is “incorruptible and undefiled.”

The Apostle Peter went on to explain further that our faith is secured not by us, but by almighty God. When we experience true salvation and turn to Christ in repentance, we have a place prepared for us in heaven. John 14: 2 and 3 are fairly clear. No one, not even Satan himself, can take it away from us.

Now this doesn't mean that life will be easy or without trials. Peter acknowledged this but still assured his readers that the opportunity to spend eternity in heaven is worth whatever the struggles are here on earth.

Have you ever camped outside a store in order to be there when the doors opened in order to get the big sale item? Have you ever stood in line for the chance to buy concert or playoff tickets? I remember getting up before dawn once to be in line to get one of the first Teddy Ruxpin animated talking bears. (Some of you are too old to have had one and too young to remember buying them for your children!)

We get so mixed up in our priorities. We make important the things that are so fleeting. And we minimize the things that have eternal implications. We go to a lot of trouble for what pleases us for a moment. But we ignore the things that will provide peace for today and a hope for tomorrow. We live in the present and yet we are created for eternity.

Jesus has been to Bethlehem, wearing barn rags and hearing sheep bleating and cows chewing. He took His first sips of milk shivering at the feet of animals. God had come to earth in the form of a helpless baby. Countless who face the chill of empty pockets, face the fear of uncertainty or face the tragedies of everyday life turn to Jesus Christ. Why?

Because He has been there.

He has been to Nazareth where he toiled in the hot sun of Palestine; to Galilee where He recruited some who would turn and run when He needed them most; to Jerusalem where He was assaulted by the religious leaders of the day and was ultimately put to death on a cruel Roman cross.

You and I have our Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem. So why turn to Jesus? Because He‘s been there!

And He‘s been somewhere you and I have not been yet. He has been to the grave. Not as a visitor. He was a resident for a time. But death and the grave could not hold Him.

So, in this walk of faith, in whom do you put your faith and in whom do hope? Why not place your trust in the One who has been there before you and who has gone before you to prepare a place for you in heaven?

Just a thought . . .

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Place MUCH Better than My Last Post

Heaven -- The mention of the word probably brings as many images to our mind as last weeks topic, hell. Again, pop culture may have influenced us more regarding heaven than the Bible.

Maybe you don’t even think much about heaven. Maybe you are busy enough in your everyday life with your countless activities such that you don’t feel you have time to even contemplate heaven. However, the thought of spending eternity in heaven can bring peace in the midst of despair and in the tumult of life. But heaven isn’t about us wearing white robes, sitting on a little cloud and playing a little harp. In fact, it isn’t about us at all! It is about spending eternity in His presence.

Have you ever thought about living in a perfect world? Think about that for a little bit. There would be no need to lock your doors. You wouldn‘t need central air or heat. Doctors would be unnecessary as would lawyers. The list of things that would be different is long. For me, I would be 6' 2", thin and the best bass singer gospel music has ever known!

The truth is that you and I can live in a perfect world. Just not today. But there is coming a day when that will be possible. No matter how bad life gets today, we can look forward to a place of eternal perfection - heaven.

Look at our study passage in Revelation 21:1-26. John was given a glimpse of what no man had seen before and no one has seen since. The entire book of Revelation draws a picture of what the end times will look like and tells us about life beyond this earthly journey. The descriptions are the best that John could come up with. He saw the unbelievable and indescribable. And he tried to describe it to both Christians and non-Christians.

Not an easy job! Especially considering the task of trying to describe the indescribable using earthly words and images.

In the 21st chapter of Revelation, John begins by pointing out that the “first earth had passed away.” Staying on this planet doesn‘t seem to be an option, does it? It looks like we will relocate somewhere for eternity. And John saw a new location for those who are forgiven and are in a right relationship with Jesus Christ. He saw a new city in which God and man will live together in peace similarly to the way they did once before in the Garden of Eden.

Those who fail to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and choose Heaven will, by default, choose eternity in the “lake of fire.” But choosing Jesus Christ and Heaven is much more than getting a free pass or “fire insurance”. It is all about allowing God and His Holy Spirit to live in us and through us until that time that we reach the end of our earthly journey. It is an abundant life now and an unbelievable life after that.

John goes on to say that there will not even be a temple in heaven. Imagine that. God's own Heaven and it doesn't have a temple.

How about this as a concept. . . . Heaven, by definition, will be a place of worship! After all, that‘s what worship is. It is a natural response to being in God‘s presence. And we will be in His presence always and forever. There will be nothing to distract us from worship and from praising Him and celebrating being in His presence.

Go back and read Genesis 1. In the beginning, God designed a place where everything was good and perfect. But man messed it up by his sin and his disobedience. man chose to believe the serpent instead of the Creator who walked with him in the cool of the evening.

Since that time, we have tried to redefine good. We have equated good with big houses, fast cars and high-powered jobs. We have lowered the standard of goodness so that we can experience things that we believe to be good. But good isn‘t good unless it is Godly.

When the things we define as good can be made better, we have missed God’s concept of good. For God, good was the supreme expression of His creation. He looked at Adam and Eve and He said that it was good. God had no better. When God declared that that creation was good, He didn’t mean that it was good enough until something better came along. It was perfect and that is just what heaven will be like.

Do you want to spend eternity in the place that God calls good?

If so, then you can. Simply confess your sins and ask God to forgive you. If you have done that, then ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to indwell you and empower you to live a life of what Wesley called, “Christian perfection.” And allow the Holy Spirit to work in you to bring about a life worthy of heaven and a life that is pleasing to God and that will allow you to anticipate heaven and anticipate being in God’s presence with absolute peace.

This is the abundant life that God offers. Would you like a life like that?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

H - E - Double hockey sticks

I've been told to go there. People make jokes about it. It has been depicted many different ways in film or on TV. Some folks have chosen to just ignore it. Some would tell you that it doesn't even really exist.

What is it?


And many times we never even give it a second thought until Halloween rolls around. But even then, we make light of it.

So why do we try to make light of it or minimize it? It just might be because if we dare to acknowledge that it exists, then we have to deal with some criteria for getting in to it or staying out of it. And if we seriously consider that criteria we may find we are more “qualified” or closer to the admission criteria for hell than for heaven!

For some folks, salvation is little more than “fire insurance.” They bought it one night at a revival or at the conclusion of a scary “turn or burn” sermon. Maybe it was purchased one night at teen camp when they showed one of those scary end-times movies that they inevitably showed us.

Some folks even say that they might prefer hell over heaven because that’s where their friends will be. So let’s be clear about this. Hell is not a place for companionship. Heaven is not the Ritz Carlton and hell is just the Motel 6! Hell will be experienced in agony and alone. In fact, it is eternal separation from God and everyone else in heaven. It is eternal punishment with fire. There will be absolutely no respite from the torment.

Read Matthew 7:13-23. Entering the city through the narrow gate meant leaving all of your possessions outside. It is interesting that Jesus compared salvation in that way. Imagine walking up to the entrance: In your backpack are all of your possessions and all the good things that you have done. Maybe you have your checkbook in there and your laptop. Behind yourself you are pulling a big suitcase with all the trophies of your accomplishments. Inside are your diplomas and the souvenirs of your great worldly accomplishments. Only one problem, the gate is too narrow for both you and the baggage to pass through. You either stay outside with your “stuff” or you put them down and enter alone. The cool thing is that once you get inside, you come to realize that all the stuff that you thought was valuable is now behind you and you are left to stand in awe before God on your own. All the stuff that you accumulated and accomplished is now insignificant. And you are left with nothing but your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Heaven and hell are real. Your choices in this life have eternal implications. You can “want to go to heaven” all you want to, but if you don’t have a right relationship with God it will never happen. And a relationship with God requires some things from you relative to your sin, relative to His will and relative to our obedience to His commands. And God operates on a completely different value system than you and I do prior to becoming a Christian.

Whenever we are operating on a different value system than God, we are living in disobedience to God. In other words, we are holding on to that backpack while trying to squeeze through the narrow gate. We are like Winnie the Pooh in the popular children‘s book -- we are unable to get through the opening.

And false spirituality is no spirituality at all. Read Matthew 7:15-20. Real faith is revealed in changed lives. When we are living for God, we say Godly things and think Godly thoughts. We do the things that are important to God. Jesus warned people to steer clear of folks whose faith doesn't call for or produce a changed life.

Hell is very real. It is not just a sub-standard eternal resting place. The Bible says that it is a place of eternal agony for those who have refused God's love and His offer of forgiveness. In our focus verse for this summer, John 3:16, the idea “perish” is equated with eternal torment and punishment. Those are the two choices: eternity in heaven or eternity in hell. Either way it is eternity.

How will you face death? Will you face it with joy and anticipation? As the Apostle Paul said, “For me to die is gain . . .” Or is death something that you dread? Now I am not looking for folks to be anxious to die. God has placed us here for a time and for a reason. Esther in the Old Testament stated it best when she proclaimed that she was here “for such a time as this” as she found herself in the royal court and in a place of great influence.

For many of us, there are many years to come ahead. And God expects us to live it for Him and with great enthusiasm He expects us to do all that we can to take as many folks on to heaven with us as we can. Yet, when our life here on earth is over, we will face eternity based upon the choice that we made while we were alive. The good news is that you can have peace here and now. And you can face the future with peace and assurance that you will spend eternity at the feet of Jesus. The choice is yours and yours alone.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

In His grip -- And oh that smell . . .

I hated Saturday mornings when I was very young. That was the morning my mom went to the beauty shop and dragged me along. And I will never forget the smell of a beauty shop. It was the smell of women getting permanents.

Getting a permanent (a.k.a. “perm“) done to your hair might be one of the strangest concepts ever -- after all, if it‘s “permanent“ why does it have to be redone every three to six months? One comedian has even asked the question - Shouldn’t it be renamed a “temporary“?

This temporary nature of permanence spills over into theology and doctrine today. Some people have applied it to their spiritual lives, wandering if God might change His mind. Some have wandered away from God or they have wriggled loose from His grip, applying that temporary / permanence to their commitment to God.

Jesus says that eternal life is something that He gives to us; it isn‘t something that we have earned or deserved. Jesus did for us what we are incapable of doing for ourselves. The legalistic faith of first-century Judaism had become cumbersome and confusing. They spent more times counting the steps someone took on the Sabbath than they did counting the cost of Christ and His death on the cross or the cost of discipleship. And today‘s “theology“ as seen by perusing the bookshelves at your favorite bookstore is equally confusing. One book tells you your problem is your diet. Another tells you it is your past experiences, and yet another tells you it is the lack of positive thinking. A better you is just around the corner.

Now throw into the mix the simple concept of salvation as a function of God‘s grace and some people get really confused. Solutions to major problems usually require a summit meeting by the world's leaders or at least a committee or telethon, right?

Read John 10:22-30. We live in a culture where nothing is permanent. Everything we believe to be permanent is really hanging by a thread, so it seems. It is easy to see how people might apply worldly reasoning to spiritual conditions and have that push us to one side or another theologically. With marriages disintegrating and the collapse of the family unit it is hard to believe that God‘s love is eternal. The tenuous nature of our jobs makes it hard for us to believe that God won‘t discard us in the same way our employers do.

The key is this -- salvation‘s permanence isn‘t based on my ability to keep it, but on God‘s ability to sustain it. When I doubt my salvation, then I am expressing doubt of God‘s ability and desire to preserve our relationship. And when I return to my old sinful ways, the Bible clearly states that I “fall away“ as in Luke 8:11-15 and Hebrews 6:4-6. And the result of that is that we deny His power to forgive us and cleanse from unrighteousness.

Now that doesn’t mean that we won’t have spiritual highs and lows. Some days are better than others. Some days we sense His presence more than others. But this I know for sure -- If I feel distant from God, it is me that has moved away, not God!

Jesus pointed out the problem. Take a look at verse 26 of John 10. It points out one reason that I would doubt God’s ability to save me and keep me -- I am not one of His sheep. These are harsh words, but they speak more to patterns of sin than moments of doubt. It is one thing to acknowledge Jesus’s existence; it is another thing altogether to put your faith in Him and move forward in obedience as He draws us deeper and deeper into a relationship with Him.

Read Colossians 2:6-10. Receiving and believing are companion concepts. When writing to the Colossians, Paul referred to believing as “walking.” The idea is that faith is intertwined with action. Action reaffirms faith. Reaffirmed faith spills over into action. This is the idea expressed as being “established in the faith.” It is the same as being rooted or firmly planted. Your daily walk reveals the strength of your faith.

If a casual observer followed you around for a day, would your actions reveal a dynamic, growing faith in God or would that person be convinced that God lacks the power to hold on to your life?

Look at that -- we are the ones not walking in faith and yet God will get the blame for it from that casual observer.

Oh Lord, may it never be in my life. May I not crucify you again.

Believing and Receiving -- Presto Change-o

Belief. Now, there is a word that we use with relative ease but we exercise with caution. True belief will be followed by some kind of action related to that belief. You can say that you believe a boat can safely transport you from shore to shore, but your belief is merely speculation until you actually step foot on the boat. In much the same way, believing and receiving are cause and effect statements.

For instance, we believe the Texans will have a great season. We believe our jobs are secure. We believe that gas will eventually go down in price. We believe that this year will be better than last year. But sometimes the things we believe are little more than hopes based on wishful thinking. There is a line between wishes and beliefs. Wishes are based on desires; beliefs are based on facts.

Is your place in Heaven something you hope for or something that you know to be a fact?

Read 1 John 1:1-10. John’s letter wasn’t based on wishful thinking; it was based on his personal experiences with Jesus. This was John the disciple -- the very same John who wrote the Gospel of John and was one of the closest companions of Jesus Christ.

Modern history books tell us stories of people we’ve never met and we can’t really prove ever existed. Our money memorializes individuals that we accept to be factually accurate based upon the testimony of generations. Few doubt the leadership of George Washington, the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, or the courage of Abraham Lincoln. Yet no one who is alive today has ever encountered one of these men in the flesh. We simply accept their existence because history tells us they lived and we can see their fingerprints of their accomplishments in our world today.

So, why don’t people believe that Jesus existed when the Biblical and extra-biblical testimonies offer the same proof as that of the historical figures from our nation’s history? The sad fact is that they don’t want to believe. If you want to believe in Jesus, there is ample evidence to support your belief. However, if you want to ignore Jesus, you can certainly find articulate arguments to support your lack of faith. It really comes down to a question of your whether or not you want to believe.

In 1 John 1:6, John draws a line in the sand. The claim of discipleship must be supported in action. That must have been a problem in the first century; I think you will agree that it still is a problem today. Walking in darkness can be explained forever as not “living what we claim” as it says in The Message. But, what does this mean in everyday life? It means not making spending time with God a priority. In means greedily holding on to what rightfully belongs to God. It means seeking our own pleasure rather than seeking to serve God. It means living for our own purposes and pleasure rather than for God’s purposes and pleasure.

Think of it this way. If you hang out around a car lot, you don’t become a car. Likewise, if you hang out around believers, you don’t become a believer (although it certainly helps!) Becoming a believer is an act of your will. You become a believer when you take Jesus at His word, seek His forgiveness, turn from sin in true repentance, accept His control over your daily life and act in obedience to His will.

In 1 John 1:9, we see the formula for establishing a right relationship with God. Confess your sins. Confession is an acknowledgement. It is a formal agreement with God about our state or condition. We can confess only when we stop making excuses for what we do. We must see ourselves from God’s perspective. Once we see our lives from His perspective, it is inevitable that we will be broken and disappointed in ourselves. We will then seek God’s forgiveness and He will forgive us. His Word says so. Read the end of 1 John 1:9 again. The verses say that He will “purify us from all unrighteousness.” Then, and only then, will we be ready, or able, to have the kind of life that God intended for us to have.

Are you living proof of God’s love and forgiveness or are you trapped in your sin? Real belief is followed by real change. And when it comes to God, rest assured, it is you and I who are required to change. We are not the person that we once were. At least we are not supposed to be!

Heaven's "Whoever" Policy

Whoever in the Bible is a pretty all-inclusive term. In other words, no one has to be left out. The worst sinner, the vilest offender, the most despicable character, and the most hard-hearted person are all included in the potentiality wrapped up in that whoever statement. I am also included in the whoever statements. The next time you are reading the Bible, substitute your name for the word whoever.

Some folks find it hard to believe that they are desirable to God.


They obviously recognize God‘s holiness and they can see their own personal depravity. They see the great gulf that separates them from God and they see no way to cross from the depraved side to the Godly side.

Been there!

For many, it is easy to recognize our need for God, but often difficult to comprehend God‘s desire for a relationship with us. We can‘t add anything to God that He doesn't already have or that He needs. So, why does God desire to have a relationship with us and why did He allow His Son to be sacrificed so that the relationship could be made possible? It‘s because of His love for his creation. Remember the theme of all of this? - - - "For God SO LOVED the world . . . "

God’s "Whoever Policy" includes you and me and everyone else on planet Earth. And as Christians, it is our responsibility to:
  • point people to God’s love and,
  • not stand in the way of them seeing God’s love.

So, here is a question for you to consider:

Is it easier for you to point people to God’s love or to control your actions and attitudes so that you don’t become a stumbling block to others?

The very reason many people out there in the world fail to accept God‘s offer of salvation is because of their encounters with people who are “Christians.” How often has someone told you about those hypocrites in the church? If that is how they view Christians, do you really blame them for not wanting to be one? I don't!

One final question to consider:

When people encounter you, are they encouraged or disgusted? Are you a good advertisement for God’s “whoever” policy?

Lord, help me to be a good example of what it is to be a Christian.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Been very busy lately . . .

. . . and haven't blogged as much as I wanted to lately.

I have been on vacation. And I have been travelling for business purposes. But, I plan to get caught up this week-end. I plan to cut and paste some from my other blog that I am using to augment my Sunday School teaching.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.