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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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.

The Problem With Salvation

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 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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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)  
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If Love Wins, How Come Earthquakes Happen?

Rob Bell, author of the controversial book Love Wins, is doing the news show/talk show circuit. I saw him on ABC yesterday, only to find out that he also appeared on MSNBC, and apparently the video of that latter interview has gone viral.

I can understand why. Martin Bashir, the MSNBC interviewer, asked pointed theological questions Mr. Bell struggled to answer. His talking points on the ABC appearance had to do with the kingdom of God being here and now, while people can create a hell for themselves because of their hateful attitudes and actions.

All of which does not address Man’s eternal destiny or God’s role as a judge or where He is in the midst of the suffering so poignantly playing before the world in Japan.

Tell the father who watched helplessly as his family washed out to sea that Love wins. Tell that to the nine-year-old who watches the bodies of his parents unearthed from the rubble that had been his home. Tell the people fleeing the radiation cloud that Love wins.

God wins, that is a fact. But the idea that in the here and now, love conquers all, seems naive.

The fact is, ever since sin entered the world, God never promised that love would win here on earth. Rather the opposite. He said the ground would be cursed and Man would survive by the sweat of his brow. What’s more, Man would die because the wages of sin is death. And in the here and now Man must grapple with this knowledge of good and evil, deal with Satan, and live with gender conflict. (See Genesis 3.)

Love wins?


Love wins because this world is not all there is.

Love wins because God didn’t abandon or forsake fallen Man.

Love wins because God so love the world.

Love wins because Jesus bore the sins of the world.

Yet, just as surely as Love wins, God will not be mocked.

Sadly, Rob Bell wants to make a case for love winning because Man can make a better world for himself here and now rather than the hell of hatred so many have locked themselves in.

This way of looking at heaven and hell sounds so good, but is so incomplete. And hurtful to the people who had no control over the shaking earth or surging water.

Their hope, according to Mr. Bell, is his speculation that after death they will confront Love and be won to Him. Never mind what the Bible says.

How can we not shout out to the watching world that God gives a greater hope because His Son took on the suffering due sinners, if only we believe? How can we cry peace, peace unless we make it clear that Jesus is the only source of peace?

Undoubtedly, the conversation about Love and heaven and hell is just getting started. It’s important and relevant and necessary. But if the hard-hitting MSNBC interview is any indication what is coming, I hope we all find a good Solid Rock on which to stand. 😀

Published in: on March 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm  Comments (13)  
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Does God Mean What He Says?

I read another article on what the author characterized as the Bell/Piper divide, referring to the ideas set forth in Rob Bell’s promotional video for his book Love Wins and John Piper’s Twitter response. The author’s conclusion was that the debate which centers on heaven, hell, and who is saved, depends on hermeneutics, or how one goes about interpreting the Bible.

Probably so.

I’ll admit, it’s not my field. I took a look at the article about this discipline the blogger referred to, and quickly felt overwhelmed. It seems our understanding of the Bible depends on our philosophical outlook, our cultural background, and the ideologies we embrace.


How does faith like that of a child which Jesus referred to, fit in with hermeneutics?

Is the Bible too hard for the average person to grasp, or is its meaning ever changing because it is part of a “living tradition,” one that “is fundamentally a matter of perceiving a moving horizon, engaging a strand of dialogue that is an on-going re-articulation of the dynamically historical nature of all human thought.”

Perhaps all human thought is moving and changing, but God’s thoughts are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Or so He says about Himself in the Bible. Did He mean it?

As I look at this issue, it seems to me we may believe either that the Bible did indeed come from the inspiration of God’s Spirit and reveals what He wants Mankind to know about His person, His plan, and His work in the world, or we can believe the Bible is a book many authors wrote about their perceived experiences with God.

The latter is open to much interpretation. Some portions of it might be myth or conjecture. And what we do with what the Bible says is determined in part by how it impacts each individual.

The former establishes the Bible as the authoritative source to which we can go when we want to know about things like heaven, hell, and who can be saved.

But here’s the thing we must not lose sight of. If God wrote it, He wrote it all. We can’t isolate verses and camp on them as the One Truth by which we live. I’ve seen people do that. Last year I wrangled with another blogger because he believed his Christianity called him to ridicule false teachers. Not love his neighbor or his enemy or treat all men with gentleness—none of the things Jesus commanded His followers to do. Somehow he rationalized away his disregard for those scriptures and focused on just that One Thing.

I’ve seen other take a handful of verses and explain away any contradictions, thus formulating a doctrine that a plain reading of Scripture can’t sustain.

Did God mean what He said, or did He speak in code or perhaps symbology, so that “narrow way” actually means “broad” and “separate” actually means “unite”? Perhaps “accursed ones” mean “beautiful children” and “eternal fire” means “everlasting bliss.”

Or did Jesus really mean what He said:

Then [the King] will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
– Matt. 25:41, 46

Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm  Comments (7)  
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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)  
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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)  
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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!

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)  
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