Birthdays


I like birthdays (mine is today, in case you were wondering why this topic came up). I have for as long as I can remember. Not surprise birthday parties, mind you. I’ve had a few of those.

When I was in third grade, my family was planning a surprise party, but I felt so left out with all the whispering and secrets — and I was completely ignorant about the whole surprise party thing — that I ended up in tears, so my mom told me the plan. Ruined the party for everyone who had worked so hard to keep it quiet.

When I was teaching, our room moms gave us “surprise” parties, which only worked the first year I taught. Then I truly was surprised, but after that I knew the party was coming. As I recall, in the early years of my teaching experience, the party came during lunch time, which wasn’t necessarily a great birthday gift for a tired teacher. 😉

Now in my writing years, birthday parties are all well planned, but they feel more like get togethers with a reason. I have a group of friends I meet with for each of our birthdays. We exchange simple gifts, have dinner together, share prayer requests. It’s perfect.

Of course, I have family — spread out as we are — who celebrate with me in varying degrees. Then there’s a dear friend I’ve known since I first started teaching, who always takes me out for dinner to celebrate my birthday. Another one who lives in Colorado makes a point to call every year.

The cool thing is, these things don’t all happen exactly on my birthday, so it feels more like a birth celebrating season than a birth day.

I got my first birthday card — which I’m cherishing because I think they are a dying breed — a week ago. This morning at 7:30 I got my first birthday phone call — from my sister who calls every morning on my birthday to sing the traditional song. I don’t think it would be my birthday without her call. 😀

But the most amazing thing that has change in the last two years is Facebook. Now I’m getting birthday wishes from people I knew years ago, friends I’ve met on line but not in person, and writing professionals I’m acquainted with. It’s an amazing world when all these different threads of life — students I taught in Guatemala and ones I taught in Southern California, family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, pastors — come together on this particular day.

I suspect this is a teensy bit what heaven will be like.

BTW, if you’d like to read a post with a little more substance (not promising a lot, but at least a little more), stop by Spec Faith and read my article there — “Sentimentality And Christian Fiction.”

And just so you know, this post is not a solicitation for birthday wishes. I have a great group of wonderful visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, many who comment often. In no way am I interested in wringing more comments from you all. (Now cash would be nice! 😆 )

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 6:20 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

Heaven And Hell And The Book By Rob Bell


Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived by Rob Bell the founding pastor of the Mars Hills Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has created a stir. Or should I say, the book’s promotional video has. Lines are being drawn, camps are being set up, all in the name of God. All we’re missing is bloodshed. People supporting Pastor Bell are sadly shaking their heads at the nay-sayers and vice versa.

One blogger at least, Rachel Held Evans, realizes that the issue is bigger than this particular controversy or the personalities involved. You see, people want to know about heaven … and to a lesser degree, about hell. I realized that again yesterday when I scanned the NY Times best-seller list and saw another “heaven” book ensconced in the top ten.

This should be no surprise. The Baby Boomers are growing old, and death has been known to follow aging. What comes after death? so many want to know.

Now, along comes Rob Bell’s book, with a subtitle that brings the questions to the surface and a promotion video slanted toward universalism, and we have a controversy over a topic virtually everyone wants to know about.

The thing that stands out most to me is what seems to be missing in Pastor Bell’s promotion. Here’s part of the transcript as provided by Kevin DeYoung in his post “Two Thoughts on the Rob Bell Brouhaha”

Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say or what you do or who you know or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated or take a class or converted or being born again? How does one become one of these few?

The focus of his compassion seems to stem from the physical pain and suffering ascribed to hell, but the greatest loss is actually God. He is love and people going to hell will be separated from love. He is holy, and they will have no part in holiness. He is just and they will have nothing to do with justice.

Their torment will be self-inflicted to a degree, just as Scripture describes it.

Can a throne of destruction be allied with You,
One which devises mischief by decree?
They band themselves together against the life of the righteous
And condemn the innocent to death.
But the LORD has been my stronghold,
And my God the rock of my refuge.
He has brought back their wickedness upon them
And will destroy them in their evil;
The LORD our God will destroy them.
– Psalm 94:23 (emphasis mine)

Granted, this Psalm is referring to God’s intervention in this life, but I don’t see why He won’t work in a similar way in the judgment. Yes, He will punish. But in a place without His restraining hand, where wickedness is unchecked, how much worse will that punishment be?

I’m reminded of what Corrie ten Boom wrote about her imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. The conditions were deplorable, but when her sister Betsy showed the love of Christ, she brought peace where chaos had reigned.

Hell will know no peace.

How can we accuse God of wrong doing when His absence alone would make a place hell? And who is it that suffers His absence? The wicked who reject Him.

Last point: how can anyone accuse Omniscience of getting it wrong that those He declares to be wicked, actually are?

Published in: on March 1, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Comments (10)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Believe In Jesus


I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t sit under some of the Bible teaching I’ve heard lately. Don’t get me wrong. I respect the preachers and I believe what they say, but it’s not what I needed to hear as a young, immature Christian who often doubted my salvation.

The message these pastors are giving is a counter to “easy believe-ism.” This false teaching wasn’t familiar to me, but apparently some people claim that as long as you say “the sinner’s prayer” you’re going to heaven no matter what you do thereafter. It sounds sort of like a “works” salvation, with “works” reduced to one — saying a prayer “accepting Jesus into your heart.”

I understand why pastors are standing against this approach to salvation. There’s so much it leaves out. Where’s the part about repentance, about taking up our cross and following Christ, about entering into a relationship with Him, about obeying God, loving Him first and loving our neighbor more than ourselves?

The truth is, though, I became a Christian by asking Jesus into my heart.

I was young, a small child. I don’t remember the specific time I first prayed to receive Christ (yes, first — I’ll get to that in a bit), but I do remember asking a Sunday school teacher how Jesus, pictured as a man on a flannel graph, could fit into my heart.

Chuckle if you must, but I think that’s a good question. It’s not normal to invite a person “into your heart.” Anyone who does so without understanding what he’s doing, very well might not actually be doing it.

That poor, dear, wonderful teacher did her best to explain that it wasn’t Jesus’s body that would come live inside me but His Spirit. So, I wondered, why don’t we say we’re accepting the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think I actually asked that question, possibly because the teacher explained that it was Jesus who died for me, Jesus who paid for my sins.

I got it. But I had another question. Again, I don’t have a clear recollection of the sequence of these events, but at some point when I was six or seven, I wasn’t so sure if I agreed that all had sinned and come short of God’s standard. I knew a few Bible stories by this time, so I figured if I could just think of one person in the Bible who hadn’t sinned, then maybe I could be like him. (I shared a little more about this incident in a post last fall, “My Deceitful Heart.”) I mean, what evil had I done, at six? Obviously I hadn’t yet learned about pride and self-righteousness.

I was probably in fifth grade, maybe fourth, when I came across John 3:18. I was playing alone in my room, pretending to be a preacher (I hadn’t learned yet what the Bible says about women and teaching in the church, either 😉 ). I opened my Bible to about the only passage I knew by heart, John 3:16, and started in explaining what it all meant to my pretend congregation. But when I got through that verse, I had more sermon I wanted to preach, so I went on to verse 17, then verse 18. And when I explained the part about Jesus not coming to condemn but that those who didn’t believe in Him were condemned already because they didn’t believe, I got it.

Salvation wasn’t about toeing the line, because none of us could. We were all condemned. Believing in Jesus gave us a pardon.

I was still confused about a lot of things — most particularly why I continued to sin. It gave me no end of doubt about my salvation and contributed to my “accepting Jesus” any number of times because I just didn’t know if it was enough that I meant it when I said it but later acted like I didn’t.

What was it I meant? That I knew I was a sinner, that I knew Jesus had died in my place, that He would forgive me if I believed in Him, and that I would have everlasting life, which meant I’d go to heaven.

I didn’t want to go to heaven particularly. Everything I heard about it made it sound kind of boring, but I knew I didn’t want to go to hell, so I pretty much just wanted to keep living on earth.

That changed, many years later when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce and came to understand that eternal life is Real Life.

I could go on and tell how one by one God added to my understanding and corrected my misunderstanding. But the point is, my “faith journey” — actually my walk with Christ — started because someone asked me if I wanted to pray to accept Jesus into my heart.

Are there false conversions, people who prayed “the prayer” and who have not continued with Christ? I’m sure there are. That’s what Jesus said in the parable about the sower and the seed. Some seed sprang up, but weeds choked it. Some seed fell on the side of the road and was trampled or the birds snatched it away (Luke 8:5-7). Jesus explained it this way:

Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
– Luke 8:12-14

So who, then, believes in Jesus? I’m convinced I was “born again” when I first put my trust in Him as a small child. My faith wasn’t grounded in theology and it wasn’t mature. It didn’t need to be. It only need to be, because the work wasn’t mine. It was and is Christ’s.

After all, that’s what Scripture says:

but these [signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
– John 20:31

And after [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved
– Act 16:30-31a

Published in: on February 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm  Comments (28)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

When The Roll Is Called


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.”

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?

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

Clinging To Wilting Flowers


Just a reminder that voting for the November Top Tour Blogger is underway. We have lots of eligible participants to choose from, so we need your help to pick the winner.

– – –

A few days before the elections, I mentioned 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—at least not now. 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 beyond the “make disciples” level. 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 over emphasis 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?

%d bloggers like this: