Who Needs A Savior?


John MacArthur, president of the Master’s Seminary here in SoCal, has begun airing a series of sermons on his radio program, Grace to You, about parenting. He’s said more than once in these early broadcasts that parents’ number one job is to help their children understand they are sinners. OK, that seems wrong.

Until I reflect on my own experience as a young child, trying to reason my way out of being part of the all in “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” I didn’t want that to be descriptive of me! I figured, if I could just think of one person in the Bible who had not sinned (besides Jesus, because I understood He was God), then maybe I could be like that person. I hadn’t really dealt with what any sins I’d committed up to that point, made me.

So, yes, in my own experience, I needed convincing that I am indeed a sinner.

But why is that important?

Without an understanding of my situation—that I am a sinner, separated from God, destined for hell—I won’t comprehend my need for a Savior. Why would someone who is not drowning need to be pulled from the pool? Why would someone without a heart problem need a heart transplant? Why would someone not incapacitated by debt need debt relief?

Simply put, only those who recognize their problem will also recognize they need an answer to that problem.

To be honest, this great cultural shift we have experienced in the postmodern and post-truth era has harmed the gospel more than we may realize. People now a days have argued with me that no, we are not sinners. Never mind the clear evidence. Never mind that we have not stopped saying, “Nobody’s perfect.” Never mind that the logical deduction from the simple Biblical statement, “The wages of sin is death,” can only be that we are all sinners, because we all die.

But believing the lie that humankind is actually good, not sinful, not in need of a rescue plan, the idea of a Savior seems old-fashioned, out of date, unnecessary, quaint.

I’ll admit, I don’t like it, but I think MacArthur is right. Children, and adults, need to be convinced they are sinners.

Sadly, some people consider telling a child about hell to be a form of child abuse. After all, they might have nightmares, they might not be able to fall asleep at night, they might begin to worry and fear the future.

Well, children can also get nightmares, have a hard time falling asleep, and worry or fear the future, if we tell them they will be going to school when they turn six. In other words, just because something they must face may have unpleasant consequences, we should not pretend it doesn’t exist, that it won’t happen. School happens to kids in one form or another. We would not be helping a child by saying, don’t be anxious about school, don’t stay awake at night thinking about it, put it out of your mind because school is a non-issue—it’s somebody’s idea of a sick joke, and they should be prosecuted for child abuse if they told you anything else.

The good parent does not withhold information about hard things. They prepare their child for them instead. They pass along the secrets that will make their school experience a plesant and productive one. And they walk through the difficulties with them.

Why would a parent do less when it comes to their children’s eternal destiny? “Let’s not talk about it” is not an answer to the need of a child’s heart.

Am I a sinner? Do sinners suffer death as a result? Can I escape this fate?

I remember one night crying. I was sick and I had begun to think about death. My mom came to my bedside, wanting to comfort me. Why are you crying, she wanted to know. Because I don’t want to die. Oh, Becky, she said, you’re not going to die.How relieved I was! Until I realized she was referring to me dying from my present illness. But I meant, I don’t want to die, ever! The comfort I felt moments before was snatched from me. I didn’t have an answer to my problem.

Who needs a Savior? The better question is, who doesn’t? Who won’t face death? Who isn’t a slave to sin? Who has hope for eternal life without a Savior?

Nobody, no one, none of us.

So are we doing children any favors by withholding the truth and in the process withholding the hope that having a Savior brings?

I think not. The sooner we realize the situation of our eternal souls, the better, I think. Hard as it sounds, we simply cannot get to grace without first coming face to face with our need for grace. We cannot accpt God’s forgiveness until we realize we need to be forgiven.

We all need a Savior, and I think telling a child they are just like the rest of us, is a good thing.

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Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 5:21 pm  Comments (6)  
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Clinging To Wilting Flowers — A Reprise


Eight years ago, before the 2010 mid-term elections, I heard about a book by Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Mind you, I haven’t read the book, but I heard him speak on Family Life Today. As part of his talk, Mr. Grudem “debunked” the idea that some Christian teachers express—namely, that the Christian should not focus on the political arena because the way to change culture is to make disciples.

Both guest and hosts chuckled at this view, apparently because of the reality, that no matter what we do to present Christ, not everyone will accept Him. The implication clearly was, This view is not a practical way to impact the culture. Interestingly, Mr. Grudem made no effort to portray this position as unbiblical.

And how could he, for it seems to me to be thoroughly biblical, perhaps the only biblical approach to politics. Yes, we should vote. Yes, we should be informed. Yes, some Christians will be called by God to serve Him and others by holding elected office, which necessitates involvement in politics. But what about the rest of us? Should we be manning the picket lines, attending the rallies, writing our congressmen?

I don’t think any of that is wrong, but we believers need to be sure we aren’t clinging to wilting flowers. What do I mean?

James 1:11 says

For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

And Isaiah 40:7 says

The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.

Life here on earth is as wilting flowers. Later James says our lives are like fog. So why would we put an overemphasis on holding on to that which is so temporary?

Paul spells it out in Philippians. In talking about false teachers, he says in 3:19-20

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Emphasis mine)

So I wonder if too many of us Christians don’t have our citizenship status mixed up. I wonder how many of us are actually eagerly waiting for Jesus.

I first got a glimpse of what citizenship in heaven would look like in comparison to citizenship on earth when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Here’s a sample.

I got out. The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference. I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got “out” in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair …

At first, of course, my attention was caught by my fellow passengers, who were still grouped about in the neighbourhood of the omnibus, though beginning some of them, to walk forward into the landscape with hesitating steps. I gasped when I saw them. Now that they were in the light, they were transparent—fully transparent when they stood between me and it, smudgy and imperfectly opaque when they stood in the shadow of some tree. They were, in fact, ghosts … I noticed that the grass did not bend under their feet: even the dew drops were not disturbed.

Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focussing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond.

No wilting flower, that. So why would I cling to the passing-away kind?

Published in: on April 12, 2018 at 5:15 pm  Comments Off on Clinging To Wilting Flowers — A Reprise  
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When The Roll Is Called—A Reprise


In 1893 a pastor named James Black wrote a simple chorus entitled “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” prompted by the absence of a girl named Bessie who was too sick to attend one of the youth meetings. For those who may be unfamiliar with the words, now in the public domain, I’ve copied them here:

1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

Chorus:
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!

Lyrics: James Milton Black
Music: James Milton Black

If you read the story behind the song, you learn that Pastor Black had a heart for the lost.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing belief today that there will be no “lost.” The ideas behind “universalism”—usually traced back to Origen of Alexandria (c.185-284), an influential early Church Father and writer who believed in the ultimate salvation and reconciliation with God of all moral beings, including Satan and his demons—seem to have gained more acceptance starting in the 1800s. Today it seems the majority of people, East or West, embrace some form of this view.

Some believe all religions are true (different rivers flowing into the same ocean) whereas some believe all are saved through Jesus Christ.

Chances are, if someone asks, “When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there?” the answer is most likely, “I hope so.”

I hope so? That answer is a pretty good indication that the person doesn’t know what is involved in getting there and they just don’t realize it.

The sad thing about this is that people who don’t know they’re lost have no particular interest in being found. And those who don’t believe anyone else is lost aren’t very concerned about mapping out the way back home.

For me there’s not a sadder scene in the Bible than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, declaring that He would have gathered them to Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be gathered. They didn’t want to be found.

These are the people Paul was talking about when he said,

For many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
– Phil. 3:18-19

At the heart of the deception that all are going to heaven (whatever you believe that to be for you – 🙄 ), is the denial that God is a righteous, just, sovereign Judge; that He makes the rules and He determines the consequences and He metes out equitable rewards or punishments.

Why is it so hard to believe that the One in charge gets to do that?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in February, 2011.

Published in: on April 4, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on When The Roll Is Called—A Reprise  
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Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?


This post first appeared here in May, 2013.
– – – – –
I read two intriguing articles today, and yet when I put them together, the picture I see is rather murky. The first, “Why so many people–including scientists–suddenly believe in an afterlife,” is a lengthy look at the attitude of western culture toward the afterlife.

In a poll taken in the US in 2011, 81% said they believed in heaven and 71% believed in hell. Honestly, that second number surprised me because it was so high. A 2010 Canadian poll indicated half believed in heaven and fewer than a third believed in hell. That’s closer to what I expected.

Apparently, with the increase in the number of near-death experiences–a result of advanced technology that brings people back after their physical functions qualify them as dead–there have also been an increase in reports about those experiences, the majority recounting details we normally associate with heaven.

More and more people are convinced, apparently, that heaven does actually exist. Even Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote Proof of Heaven, the account of his own near-death experience, has defied his scientific community, declaring that his anecdotal account is evidence of the afterlife.

And not just any old afterlife. It seems the majority of these experiences show a peaceful, loving place, without judgment.

Segue to the second article, one discussing another trend–that of stories with anti-heroes instead of heroes: “The Rise of the Anti-Hero.” In this piece, the author, Jonathan Michael, identifies a new love for characters in our entertainment who are flawed. Some, such as the protagonist in the TV show 24, do bad things for a good end. Others, however, are drunks or cheats or vengeful, and the audience doesn’t seem to mind, or is willing to forgive. Michael explains this:

Characters who shine as morally pure and upright don’t ring true to us anymore, because it’s not who we see around us in the world. Neither is it what we see when we look in the mirror.

My first thought was, When have we ever seen morally pure and upright around us or in the mirror? However, I think we used to be ashamed at these moral failings, our own and our society’s. Now we seem to have a higher value–that of authenticity. You can be the scum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, but good for you, you admit who you are! The only shame is in trying to pretend you’re better than you are.

Now, I’m left with putting these two articles together. From bottom to top this is what I find: we acknowledge and even embrace the fact that none of us is morally pure, but we believe in heaven, more than in hell. Which implies, no matter what happens in this life, there’s happiness waiting in the next one.

This view dovetails with the beliefs of such universalists as Rob Bell and Paul Young. It also fits in so well with the popular message going out to kids: Everyone’s a winner. You show up, you play. You play, you get a trophy.

So why wouldn’t we think we’re all going to heaven, no matter how we lived our lives?

Of course, the real secret is that how we live our lives isn’t the factor that determines our destiny. So by completely missing the target, most people have actually knocked away a false premise that haunted Western culture for a good long time: that by doing good we can earn our way to heaven.

However, today’s popular conclusion–that we don’t need to earn our way because heaven will be ours even though we didn’t do anything to deserve it–is equally false.

Unfortunately, metaphysics isn’t like algebra in which two negatives make a positive. There really is a right and no amount of positive thought can change it, no number of witnesses glimpsing into heaven, can undo it.

Honestly, I find it encouraging that so many people believe in heaven. I even find it encouraging that apparently people recognize themselves to be morally flawed. That’s the perfect set up actually for the critical question: how do morally flawed people end up in a morally perfect place?

But that immediately creates the question: do people who believe in heaven believe it to be a morally perfect place? If not, then I wonder what makes it heaven. I mean, if people can still lie, cheat, steal, and kill, what makes it a desirable place to spend eternity?

And if morally flawed people can’t do those morally flawed things, what keeps them from it? I mean we haven’t been so successful at stopping rape and murder and war and slavery in the here and now. What will make a difference then?

But lets say we agree that heaven is a morally perfect place, how is it that any of us deserve to be there? I think that’s the going assumption–not that we’ve done anything special but that by our very existence we ARE special. We deserve heaven . . . morally flawed though we may be.

Anyone else see a problem with this line of thought?

The problem is, until we get rid of this “we deserve” attitude, we won’t be interested in the solution to the dilemma of squeezing morally imperfect people into a morally perfect place. Oh, yeah, with a morally perfect God as the sovereign ruler.

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hope For What We Do Not See



Photo by Wu Jianxiong on Unsplash

In all likelihood atheists would call hoping for what we do not see, blind faith. Consequently I’ve been accused more than once of having the equivalent of blind faith because I believe in and hope for heaven.

The apostle Paul took a very different view of hoping for what we do not see when he wrote this to the church in Rome: “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25).

When I was a little kid, I hoped for all kinds of things without actually seeing them until the minute they arrived. I hoped for, longed for, anticipated my birthday and Christmas and outings to the mountains and visiting our old malt shop where we could buy real malts and recess and summer. I could legitimately hope for those things because someone I trusted told me they were on the horizon.

I pretty much believed the authorities in my life. So when my dad held my hand when we crossed the street, I didn’t feel the need to research whether or not it was safer to walk in tandem or to run across on my own. When my parents said to look both ways before crossing when I was a little older, I didn’t feel the need to take a count of the number of cars on that street coming from the left and the number from the right. When I was really young and my mom said, “Don’t put that in your mouth,” I didn’t stop to take an analysis of the germs that might be on whatever I was planning to sample.

The fact is, I trusted my parents’ determination of the situation. They were older, wiser, understood the world and the way it works far better than I did. Certainly I hoped that holding my dad’s hand would bring me safely across the street, that looking both ways would keep me from being hit by a car, that by putting down the dirty whatever, something I could put in my mouth would eventually appear.

In the same way, we all accept certain authorities and we listen to them, believe them, trust them, hope for what they say will happen.

The hope of heaven, the hope of salvation, the hope of mercy and forgiveness is no different. We Christians have the most credible source for what we believe—the revelation given us by Omniscience. God who knows all things has given us a peek at Himself and at His plans, and asks us to trust Him for the rest.

The secret as Paul explained, is perseverance. So many Old Testament believers hoped for the coming of the Messiah. But they died before He arrived. Was their hope in vain? Not at all. Because the hope of salvation is a present and a future event. We who put our faith in God have peace with God and we will have peace on earth with our Messiah King on the throne.

So because Christ came, because He paid the price for sin, we who believe in Him have forgiveness of sins, but we also long for and look forward to the day when He will begin His eternal reign.

We hope for what we do not see. We have a credible source for our hope, but if we give up and stop hoping, the question arises—did we actually ever believe? If we had believed, wouldn’t we still believe?

It’s kind of like a marriage. When a bride and groom exchange vows, they undoubtedly believe each other. So when they say something like, “for rich or for poor, in sickness or in health” they hope that, come what may, their spouse will be by their side. They don’t see the reality ahead of time. But the husband or the wife believes the other to be credible.

But what if one spouse turns and runs as soon as something hard happens? Isn’t the first question about the truthfulness of her commitment? Or his? Did he ever really love me?

That’s pretty much where we are with God. We hope for what we do not see, and we keep on hoping, not because we see heaven growing closer, but because our love for God grows. We trusted Him when we came to Him in repentance, and the longer we walk with Him, the more we trust Him. Why? Perseverance on our part. But more importantly, God’s faithfulness. He gives us reason to persevere, just as He gives us reason to hope in the first place.

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 5:53 pm  Comments (9)  
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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise


christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

This article first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 6, 2017 at 3:52 pm  Comments Off on Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise  
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Grieving, With Hope


charleston_service0741434744851One of the things that sets Christians apart from people of other religions or of no religion is the hope we have of life after this life. Because of God’s grace extended through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, those who believe in Him have life. Though we die, yet shall we live.

Of course there are people who believe in an afterlife besides Christians. Some think we will be reincarnated, but they don’t know for sure in what form they will be re-born, and of course they have no assurance that they’ll remember anything of their past life. So, in essence, they will be lost, swallowed up by a new life, one that may be better or may be worse. They simply do not know.

Religious Jews and Muslims both believe that there is life after this life, but they can’t be sure how they’ll be received. Both believe their rewards and punishments depend on what they did or did not do in this life. They have no assurance that the good they did outweighs the bad.

Only Christians can answer with any assurance about our destination when we leave this life. To be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

Elsewhere Paul calls death “gain” because it means departing and being with Christ (see Phil. 1:21-23).

Furthermore Psalm 116 tells us

Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones. (v 15)

I immediately think of the Good Shepherd off hunting for the lost sheep, or the father watching for his prodigal son to return, then running to him, embracing him, and preparing a feast for him.

Death for the Christian is bitter-sweet. It means leaving what we know, saying goodbye, however temporarily, to those we love, but beginning an adventure with God—in His presence, with the veil pulled back so that we will know even as He now knows us.

It’s a sadness and a celebration.

Consequently, I honestly don’t know how to react to the shooting deaths of those believers gathered together for a weekday prayer service. Maybe because Elisabeth Elliot so recently died, I can’t help but compare the nine Christian martyrs in South Carolina to the five men who died all those years ago in Ecuador at the hand of men who feared and hated.

The deaths seem so senseless, the violence so heinous, the grief so palpable. These were loved mothers and fathers serving God, as those missionaries were husbands and fathers serving God. The only difference I see is that one group chose to go to another part of the world and the other group chose to stay as witnesses to their own community.

The loved ones of both groups grieve. Children did or will grow up without a parent. They lost much, and yet because they have the hope of heaven and the love of Christ, like Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint who went to the Ecuadorian tribe and told them about Jesus, family members of the nine South Carolina martyrs extended forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones.

In an emotional courtroom encounter here, a mother and daughter, a sister and grandson, among others, spoke directly to Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged Friday with nine counts of murder. He appeared for the bond hearing from jail through closed-circuit television.

. . . some said they forgave him, and, recalling the spirit of the venue where he staged his attack, pledged to pray for his soul. (“From victims’ families, forgiveness,” Washington Post

Only because Christians know our future is sure, that this life’s tragedies are not the end, that death has been defeated, can this kind of forgiveness take place. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so sad for their loss. They must now play the hard part, but their loved ones will not have died in vain because of their testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.

I can’t get over the fact that the hateful young man who wanted to start a race war went to a church. Not to a gang hang out. Not to the inner city streets. To a church, where people gathered to pray. How ignorant of him, to think that Christians everywhere who believe as Paul wrote, that there aren’t distinctions between Greek and Jew, religious law abiders and those who ignore the religious Jewish law, between people from one part of the world and another, between people of one economic class and another, would not rally behind our brothers and sisters. Because Christ is all and in all. You prick one, we all bleed.

So now, we grieve, but with hope. May the impact of the nine South Carolina martyrs have the same impact on this generation as did the deaths of the five missionaries in Ecuador on earlier generations.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven


christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?


1395122_sunburst_in_cloudy_skyI read two intriguing articles today, and yet when I put them together, the picture I see is rather murky. The first, “Why so many people–including scientists–suddenly believe in an afterlife,” is a lengthy look at the attitude of western culture toward the afterlife.

In a poll taken in the US in 2011, 81% said they believed in heaven and 71% believed in hell. Honestly, that second number surprised me because it was so high. A 2010 Canadian poll indicated half believed in heaven and fewer than a third believed in hell. That’s closer to what I expected.

Apparently, with the increase in the number of near-death experiences–a result of advanced technology that brings people back after their physical functions qualify them as dead–there have also been an increase in reports about those experiences, the majority recounting details we normally associate with heaven.

More and more people are convinced, apparently, that heaven does actually exist. Even Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote Proof of Heaven, the account of his own near-death experience, has defied his scientific community, declaring that his anecdotal account is evidence of the afterlife.

And not just any old afterlife. It seems the majority of these experiences show a peaceful, loving place, without judgment.

Segue to the second article, one discussing another trend–that of stories with anti-heroes instead of heroes: “The Rise of the Anti-Hero.” In this piece, the author, Jonathan Michael, identifies a new love for characters in our entertainment who are flawed. Some, such as the protagonist in the TV show 24, do bad things for a good end. Others, however, are drunks or cheats or vengeful, and the audience doesn’t seem to mind, or is willing to forgive. Michael explains this:

Characters who shine as morally pure and upright don’t ring true to us anymore, because it’s not who we see around us in the world. Neither is it what we see when we look in the mirror.

My first thought was, When have we ever seen morally pure and upright around us or in the mirror? However, I think we used to be ashamed at these moral failings, our own and our society’s. Now we seem to have a higher value–that of authenticity. You can be the scum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, but good for you, you admit who you are! The only shame is in trying to pretend you’re better than you are.

Now, I’m left with putting these two articles together. From bottom to top this is what I find: we acknowledge and even embrace the fact that none of us is morally pure, but we believe in heaven, more than in hell. Which implies, no matter what happens in this life, there’s happiness waiting in the next one.

This view dovetails with the beliefs of such universalists as Rob Bell and Paul Young. It also fits in so well with the popular message going out to kids: Everyone’s a winner. You show up, you play. You play, you get a trophy.

So why wouldn’t we think we’re all going to heaven, no matter how we lived our lives?

Of course, the real secret is that how we live our lives isn’t the factor that determines our destiny. So by completely missing the target, most people have actually knocked away a false premise that haunted Western culture for a good long time: that by doing good we can earn our way to heaven.

However, today’s popular conclusion–that we don’t need to earn our way because heaven will be ours even though we didn’t do anything to deserve it–is equally false.

Unfortunately, metaphysics isn’t like algebra in which two negatives make a positive. There really is a right and no amount of positive thought can change it, no number of witnesses glimpsing into heaven, can undo it.

Honestly, I find it encouraging that so many people believe in heaven. I even find it encouraging that apparently people recognize themselves to be morally flawed. That’s the perfect set up actually for the critical question: how do morally flawed people end up in a morally perfect place?

But that immediately creates the question: do people who believe in heaven believe it to be a morally perfect place? If not, then I wonder what makes it heaven. I mean, if people can still lie, cheat, steal, and kill, what makes it a desirable place to spend eternity?

And if morally flawed people can’t do those morally flawed things, what keeps them from it? I mean we haven’t been so successful at stopping rape and murder and war and slavery in the here and now. What will make a difference then?

But lets say we agree that heaven is a morally perfect place, how is it that any of us deserve to be there? I think that’s the going assumption–not that we’ve done anything special but that by our very existence we ARE special. We deserve heaven . . . morally flawed though we may be.

Anyone else see a problem with this line of thought?

The problem is, until we get rid of this “we deserve” attitude, we won’t be interested in the solution to the dilemma of squeezing morally imperfect people into a morally perfect place. Oh, yeah, with a morally perfect God as the sovereign ruler.

Published in: on May 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm  Comments Off on Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?  
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Heaven And Breakable Lines


ABC rebroadcast a Barbara Walters special about heaven the other day. In her research she questioned a number of people from various religious persuasions–the Dalai Lama, an Imam, a Rabbi, a Cardinal, a Mormon (who adamantly said Mormons are Christians), a pastor of an inner city Baptist church, and Joel Osteen, apparently the “conservative Evangelical” representative.

One reviewer’s remarks about Mr. Osteen:

A slicker preacher I’ve yet to find. He totally preaches the prosperity gospel, and does not even begin to be a true Man of God as he admits himself that he avoids anything controversial in his sermons. That man is gonna have a lot of explaining to do with the Lord one of these days.

That person is more tactful than I am. The only word that came to my mind after listening to Mr. Osteen was smarmy. He seemed ingratiating, mostly concerned about not stepping on anyone’s toes, and happiest when he could talk about prosperity. So when Barbara Walters came right out and asked him if he believed Jesus was the only way to heaven, he seemed genuinely apologetic that yes, believing in Jesus was the only way.

How sad! Christ and God’s promise of eternal life is not something to apologize for!

If I could explain it to Barbara Walters, I’d use a word picture.

Suppose you fell into a swift river. You’re being swept along toward a waterfall that will surely mean your death. A rescue boat reaches you and wants to throw you a line.

“Not that one,” you call. “Throw me the pretty orange one or that fluffy cotton one.”

“Those won’t hold your weight,” the skipper answers. “You need this solid line.”

“But it will be too rough on my hands. Throw me something that won’t hurt so much.”

“This is the only one that is strong enough. Here.” And he heaves the rope toward you.

“Never mind,” you say. “I see a branch sticking out of the water. I’ll grab that and hold on until someone throws me a better rope.”

“That branch is attached to a log headed for the waterfall, same as you.”

“Better then that prickly old rope.”

Please, Barbara, I’d conclude, understand that Christians don’t say Jesus is the only way to heaven because we’re being spiteful, exclusive, or judgmental. We say He’s the only way because nothing else solves our sin problem. All of us. With the sin problem. In need of a way to salvation.

Sadly, Mr. Osteen had a chance to declare before a national television audience the great love of God who sent His Son to rescue sinners who have no other means out of the destruction we face, and all he could say was, I’m afraid He’s the only way.

I wish Barbara had interviewed someone who had actually asked the very questions she was addressing, from a similar perspective. Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, comes to mind. He actually was a an investigative reporter, an atheist, and he made the decision to dig out the facts about the claims of Christ in the same way he’d go after any other subject he wanted to uncover.

The result was inescapable truth that led Mr. Strobel to faith in the One Way Mr. Osteen was so hesitant to discuss.