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.

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Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 5:53 pm  Comments (7)  
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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  Leave a Comment  
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What Does “Believe In Jesus” Mean?


woman-praying-840879-mI’m glad I didn’t sit under some of the Bible teaching as a young person that I’ve heard as an adult. 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 undoubtedly intended to counter “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 we do 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 this post: “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).

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in February 20011.

The Problem With Salvation


In the previous three posts (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday), I addressed the reality of sin and the need each of us has for the good news, that God has rescued us from the mess of our own making. But that’s only part of the story. More than what God has saved us from is the reality of what God has saved us to.

I addressed this in a post a number of years ago, and I want to reprise that article today.

– – – – –

When I was a kid, growing up in a Christian home, I attended Sunday school regularly. My first recollection of an explanation about sin and salvation is tied to heaven and hell.

Later I attended a Bible club and received a Wordless Book that reinforced the concepts.

Clearly, I did not want to go to Hell. If Heaven was the only alternative, then that’s where I wanted to go, and if Jesus could get me there, then I wanted to accept Him “into my heart.”

I had to get past the idea of a shrunken version of Jesus fitting into my heart, and one Sunday school teacher was able to explain, the Holy Spirit was actually the One who would live in my heart.

Why didn’t they just say so, I thought. I had a vague understanding of the Holy Spirit because a lot of hymns called Him the Holy Ghost. Ghosts didn’t sound holy to me, so I had already asked my parents about that one. I don’t remember what they told me, but it must have been adequate for a child’s understanding because I wasn’t troubled by further questions until much later.

But I digress. From my own experience, from listening to others tell their testimony and to some venting about unhappy religious backgrounds, I see confusion when it comes to the issue of salvation.

In part I think this is because some of us never grow up in our understanding of God. But another contributing factor, I think, is that I had an experience of being saved from Hell rather than an experience of being saved to God.

Any teacher, coach, and most parents will tell you that part of training involves laying out consequences. God deals with us the same way. He tells us what the wages of sin is, just as He warned Adam what would happen if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So Sunday school teachers who spoke of Hell were not inventing something or using scare tactics. They were telling the truth.

However, escape from Hell isn’t all that great in and of itself. For years I worried about boredom sitting on those clouds, playing a miniature harp for all of eternity.

Eventually my understanding began to grow and my relationship with God began to develop, but it took years.

I had one friend in college who had serious questions about God, in part because she had questions about eternity. My answers were woeful and unbiblical, and she dismissed Christianity in the face of them.

That experience drove me to ask more questions.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  1. Salvation seems to be less important to some people than their efforts to earn it.
  2. Salvation is much more about being in God’s company than anything else. The real terror isn’t Hell. It’s separation from God. Conversely, Heaven is only great because God makes it great.
  3. Christ provides the only access to God.
  4. Because salvation is really a relationship, it is dynamic.
  5. I don’t have to wait for “later” to experience the joy of my salvation.
  6. The relationship I now have with God grows like any other relationship. If I spend time with Him, I am close to Him. If I don’t, I’m not.
  7. Right now, my relationship with God is more like an Internet friendship. I know Him in part, in the ways He’s revealed Himself to me. Someday, I’ll know Him in person.

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in August, 2009.

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm  Comments Off on The Problem With Salvation  
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Peace On Earth


AdventCandles2 To a large extend the Christmas carols and cards that declare peace on earth or the nativity plays that repeat the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, including the angelic host shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace” have been relegated to the mythology heap. They are nice sentiments reminding us of traditions of old, but there’s no connection to reality.

Further, the words are so familiar, we’ve stopped really listening to them, stopped thinking what exactly they mean. They are part of the Christmas trappings, not something real that’s meant to be believed in the twenty-first century.

Right?

Not at all. Those words, unlike some of the other lyrics in the songs, are straight from Scripture.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

    Glory to God in the highest,
    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased
    .”

(Luke 2:8-14, emphasis added)

Scripture, all of it, is inspired by God. It’s profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness. There are no verses designed to make us feel good during the holidays. There is power in what God says.

Recently our Sunday teacher said something about the passage we know as the Lord’s prayer. He specifically mentioned what comes right after the opening address:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

God has a specific will which is actualized in Heaven. What happens here on earth is a mixed bag, a result of our made-in-God’s-image personhood but our fallen-and-rebellious nature. We are not yet what we will be.

But we are to pray for God’s will here and now.

Christ’s coming has made this prayer possible. With His birth came glory to God and peace to those reconciled to God.

Like all the gifts of God, however, they aren’t dispensed with a wave of His magic wand. Peace first starts with us confessing our rebellion against God because the true absence of peace is our declaration of war against God.

Oh, few people actually say, I’m going to war against God. Most do so through subtle means—ignoring Him, His Word, His way. It’s really quite passive aggressive. A few declare war on God by asserting His nonexistence. Whichever, all of us like sheep have gone astray. That’s us, at enmity with God. He says, Over here. This way. Follow me. And we say, I didn’t hear anything, did you? Nope. Nothing at all. Probably there’s no one there. Besides, I didn’t want to go that way. I want to go this way.

When we confess that we’ve gone our own way, and turn to follow Him by trusting in the fact that Jesus has paid for our rebellion and we are forgiven because of His shed blood, then we become those men with whom He is well pleased. We become those who enjoy the peace the angels trumpeted.

Too many people assume Jesus’s coming was supposed to put an end to wars and domestic violence and bickering and hatred and prejudice and murders and terrorism and arguments and all forms of non-peaceful behavior. In reality, if all people believed in Him, that’s exactly what would happen. God would give all people His forgiveness, which prompts us to turn around and forgive those who offend us.

And if all people were praying, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and all people were offering themselves to God to be instruments of that peace, then we would see peace on earth in all its completeness.

The reality is, so many are still straying like sheep. They haven’t sought out the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls. They haven’t humbled themselves before Him and come to Him to be gathered in His arms, to be carried in His bosom.

So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men, Romans 12:18 says. It’s not up to us so many times. If it were up to me, I’d sit down with the fighters in Syria and tell them about Jesus, the One who sacrificed His life for them. I’d tell the abortion doctors about how God values life so that they’d stop raining terror down on the smallest, most helpless babies.

So far as it depends on me, I’d bring world peace. But of course, those things don’t depend on me and I can do little to affect change.

Nevertheless, there are things I can do—like praying for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Like loving my neighbor and forgiving those who misuse and abuse and badmouth me.

After all, peace with God puts all the stuff I’m inclined to fight about into perspective.

Published in: on December 10, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (4)  
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Advent, Week 1 – Hope


Salem_United_Methodist_Church_and_cemeteryA good friend of mine attended a funeral today. The woman who passed away was a member of her church, a member of the group of ladies who go to Sunday lunch together after the service. And as it happens, this was the sixth member of that small congregation to die this year. My friend is not alone. Others have lost loved ones this year, too.

On a national scale, we have protests in Chicago and a(nother) shooting in Colorado. We have Presidential candidates saying divisive things (not just Donald Trump; Hilliary Clinton merrily declared Republicans to be her enemies in the first Democratic Presidential debate.) Then there is the tightened security around . . . well, wherever people gather together. Here in SoCal there was a Festival of Lights in Riverside that had beefed up security because of the crowd the event would draw. I mean, Riverside? Do most people even know there is a Riverside, let alone where it is? Apparently, no matter where we live, we’re facing this terrorist threat in one way or another.

Internationally there’s the scramble to contain/destabilize/degrade/destroy (pick your verb) ISIS, aka ISIL, aka Daesh. (Am I the only one concerned that our government continues to call the terrorist organization one thing when the rest of us call it something else and the people fighting them use a third name? I mean, we can’t even agree on their name?)

But this is the beginning of Advent. Christians are turning our focus on hope.

Despite personal, national, or international concerns, it’s right that we cling to hope first and foremost during the Christmas season, and beyond. But how do we get there?

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, or fear, or worry to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here, or because this event happened or could happen again.

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 forever 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 peace, the safety, 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 an end to the worries and fears. That is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmastime and some may worry or fear, 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, our worry and fear to joy and peace.

We of all people have hope beyond the temporary merryness of the season because we look to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Published in: on December 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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Collectibles


BabeRuthGoudeycard2I suppose it’s a sign of affluence when a society becomes enamored with collecting things. Not so long ago collecting baseball cards–except they weren’t limited to baseball–became all the rage once again. People who found a stash of old cards in their grandpa’s attic hit pay dirt. But everyone was collecting and trading–NBA cards, NFL, you name it.

My first brush with collectibles came when I was in fifth grade. My brother had a stamp collection, and I wanted one too–except, at the time, all the first class stamps were exactly the same. I had nothing particular to collect. If only I had had a starter set of stamps, I realized some years later, I would have had a little hope and maybe given it a try. I determined then I’d start saving stamps with the idea that someday I could pass them on to someone in need of a starter set of stamps. I still have them, though now stamp collection has morphed into saving unused stamps (though I heard a rumor that the used ones were again coming into collection favor).

I’ve saved some coins too–not many and nothing that shows up as valuable every time I check one of those coin books. But I heard recently that Canada is planning to stop producing one cent coins, maybe nickles too. I wonder if the US will soon follow suit. So perhaps keeping pennies might be a good collectible move.

When my sister and I returned from our year in Africa, stopping in a number of European countries on the way, we decided to do some souvenir collecting. My sister picked silver spoons. I chose key chains. I still have my collection which I’ve added to, but I’ve never figured out how to display them. And would anyone else really care about my key chains?

With the Great Recession, any number of people looked to make money by selling off their collectibles. People who had money were only to eager to buy. Gold, coins, antiques … all looked like a better investment than stocks and bonds, and nobody was saving money–not a big enough return.

I suppose there are two basic reasons people collect. One is the desire to own. Collectibles can be displayed so that others can see them, or they can be privately enjoyed the way old Scrooge McDuck used to enjoy his hoarded millions from time to time by diving into his large vats of cash or playing with it in some other way.

Collectibles also serve as an investment–Grandma’s china or silver or antique lamp might bring in a pretty penny at the next Antique Roadshow.

The thing about collecting is that a person never knows what will or won’t end up being valuable at some point down the road. What looks like junk sold at a yard sale for a small pittance often ends up being a rare item collectors are willing to pay thousands for.

In the US, I think we must be collecting more and more, despite the slow economy, because rent-a-space storage places continue to spring up all over. We can no longer fit all our junk into our garages or sheds, so we rent some place off site to store the overflow.

Collecting is a way to connect to the past. Old letters, photos, even books and music (sheet or vinyl) can become collectibles. They help preserve fond memories and remind us of people we loved.

But at some point, a person and his collectibles will be parted, and all that matters will be those treasures stored up in heaven.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:20-21)

So how do we go about finding heavenly collectibles? Apparently by giving away the earthly ones. Jesus told the rich young ruler who asked him what he lacked to sell his stuff so he’d have treasures in heaven.

Paul mentioned this too in his first letter to Timothy, but he was more expansive:

Instruct them [“those who are rich in this present world”] to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:18-19)

So I wonder what it would look like to become a collector of good works instead of key chains or stamps or baseball cards.

Published in: on February 8, 2013 at 6:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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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.