Instead of Wondering if your Dead Dog Will be in Heaven, Maybe you Should Wonder if You Will Be In Heaven

There are times when reading the Bible where I sit back and think, “Wow, really? Is anyone making it to heaven?”

This was, in fact, the response that people had to much of Jesus’ teaching.

When Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, He was met with “Who then can be saved?”

One of His listeners asked, “Lord, are there few that be saved?His answer was, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” In other words: yup, few are saved.

Jesus said at one point, “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Even Jesus doesn’t think heaven will be highly populated.

All this is ironic when each of us assumes that our kids are saved, and all our dead relatives are in heaven, and, of course, everyone in our church is good to go (although we do know those Catholics are in trouble).

Ever since we “said the prayer” we ceased to consider whether we were saved. Of course I am. If I’m not, who would be?

Rather than consider who we are in light of God’s Word, or the person of Christ, we compare ourselves to others. “Well, that guy is in heaven and he was a jerk, so I’m good.” The reality is that we have no idea who is in heaven.

When you consider seriously what God’s Word asks of us and then analyze what our lives are filled with, what expectation should we have of heaven?

However, you can just call me a legalist, or trump my case with some theological theory about the words of Christ being for first century Jews, and don’t worry about it.

But, when was the last time you actually listened to God’s Word and let it do a number on ya?

When was the last time you trembled?

For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

On Bashing Legalism

Christians like to bash on legalism. “Legalism” is an interesting word, one never used in the Bible. When people call others “legalistic,” it’s hard to tell what they mean exactly.

For most, it seems that “legalism” is defined as “keeping rules.” Christians like to talk about grace and liberty, and avoid rule-talk like the plague.

However, let it be noted, avoiding rules thus becomes a rule. I have met many a grace-fanatic who had just as much legalism than those they accused of being legalistic.

Tell a grace-fanatic you read the Sermon on the Mount and you’ll find out right quick how legalistic they are! I thought we had liberty to read what we wanted?

Here’s a quote I saw on the internets the other day by a guy bashing legalism. This is said snarkily, using sarcasm.

“Do you want to be loved of Christ? Do you want to be loved of the Father? The Lord Jesus said ‘well, keep my rules.'”

The snarky point is this: we just love Christ and you can’t do that by rule following.

I will grant the point that following someone’s rules does not mean that you love them. No argument there. However, here is where many go off the deep end.

Apparently, to many “non-legalists,” since we love Jesus we don’t have to follow His rules.

Unfortunately, the Bible is a pesky book, always throwing stuff in there to keep you from goofy extremes, if you let it.

Speaking of love, Jesus once said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

So, there you go! Jesus loves us. He proved it by dying for us. The End. No rules.

Until you read the very next verse, which says, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”

Make sure you get that one. A conclusion easily drawn from these two verses is that Jesus didn’t lay down His life for people who don’t keep His commandments. People who don’t keep His commandments show they have no interest in understanding or benefiting from the death of Christ.

I know this is inconvenient to your theories about grace and legalism, but alas, He who brought grace and truth done said it.

Jesus also said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John said that those who love God keep His commandments and His commandments are not grievous.

No, you don’t get saved by works. We are saved by God’s grace when we respond through faith. Faith means hearing God’s Word, which is more than whether or not your ears work. Faith is acting on God’s Word as shown by Hebrews 11 and many other passages.

When you love God, you don’t mind obeying Him. Anyone who fights the command to obey God is revealing they lack love for Him. We know God loves us, therefore, we need not fear obeying Him.

Come alive to that, the liberty of obedience to Christ. Drop the legalism charge, there are very few legalists in the world, they aren’t the biggest problem facing us.

Faith works. Go let your faith work.

Is Ebola God’s Judgment on America? 8 Points

I was waiting for it, and now I need wait no more!

I heard a Christian propose the theory that Ebola has entered the US because of our acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.

Ah yes. It used to be just weirdos made these “God is judging you” statements, but now it seems everyone must jump aboard the judgment bandwagon.

Here’s the deal, I don’t think so. Here are the main reasons why I don’t think God is judging ‘Merica with Ebola.

1) When God judged nations it was rather devastating. Thousands of people normally died, like 20,000’s of people. This was in nations that numbered over a couple million people. Percentage wise, huge swaths of the nation were wiped out. If America were going through similar judgment, you would expect a million or so people to die. As far as I know, one guy has died from Ebola in the US. And he wasn’t gay.

2) God announced His judgment. There was no guesswork when God was judging. People know. God has a way of getting His points across.

3) Guessing God’s judgment has been wrong before. One of the ways God announced His judgment is through faithful prophets who were always right because they directly spoke for God. They were never wrong. There was no guessing. No revisions of prophecies to fit reality. Typically the prophets predicted judgment was coming. God is willing to forgive. He announces judgment that people might repent so He can then not judge.

4) Judgment is God’s strange work. This is stated in Isaiah 28. God would rather pardon than judge. Judgment is rare, not something He does all the time. Katrina, tornadoes, 9/11, Ebola, and who knows how many other disasters have been attributed to God’s judgment. People who make these statements believe that judgment is God’s favorite thing to do. He can hardly stop Himself from judging in a multitude of ways. They believe judgment is God’s typical work.

5) People who feel God is judging others are people who are not effected by that particular malady. Humans are excellent at feeling superior. Pride is our worst fault. It’s fun to note others who are suffering and rejoice because we aren’t, and then conclude that we must be better, that God likes us best. This is one reason why Jesus had nothing but venom for Pharisees. Yet here we are, being more like Pharisees than Jesus.

6) Judgment is usually on sin the hopeful judger is not guilty of. Why are Katrina, 9/11, and Ebola all judgments against homosexuality and not against lying or gossip or other sins the Bible talks about a lot more? I know, Sodom and Gomorrah. But hey, read the OT. The demise of Israel was largely because they worshiped God with a wrong heart.

7) If the sufferings of others is God’s judgment, I don’t have to help them. If we spent more time loving people than judging them, we might be better off. Most Christians feel guilt over how useful they are to others. We know we’re supposed to be nice and loving, compassionate and caring, but it’s so hard and messy. We can let ourselves off the hook if we conclude that God caused their suffering. Don’t want to undo what God has done, amen?!

8) Poor understanding of Covenants on display. The large portion of people who look at disasters as being God’s judgment against homosexuals are also people who theologically don’t see a difference between Israel and the Church. They tend to look at the Church as having replaced Israel. Israel Part 2, if you will. There is also a tendency to see America as new Israel. All in all, there is very bad biblical understanding of God’s special plan for the nation of Israel and how He intervened in their history.

The Church needs to spend more time in the Book of Job. You don’t want to be Job’s friends, analyzing others and their problems.

Next time you feel like telling a sufferer that God is judging them: It is sometimes those who are suffering who are the most pleasing to God.

Christians: Stop Trying to Fix People!

I was recently asked, “How else can I encourage you?”

I felt bad because “else” implies I was previously encouraged by this individual and apparently I missed that.

There is a pompousness to many Christians. It’s the Spiritual Guru mentality.

“I have it all figured out. Allow me to fix you and point out the faults you don’t know you have but I can clearly point out in you based on the four minutes of conversation we’ve had together in all our lifetime.”

This attitude was one of the things that irritated me most about Christian college and Seminary. Around every corner lurked some spiritual guy who wanted to fix me.

Good Lord, man, I’m just walking to Intro. to Sociology class, I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.

No matter how much you try to deflect their questions and send very clear signals you want nothing more to do with the psycho-analyzation process, they use your words against you.

“Oh, I see by your discomfort that my questions have revealed your inner pride that is causing Jesus to not be able to use you in a greater way.”

It is always amazing to me how these guys with all their insight can’t read body language and dismissive sarcasm.

And, woe unto you if you run into a Charismatic with the “gift of prophecy.” Talk about a sarcasm dead zone.

Pharisees always know everyone’s problems and their solutions. They are more than happy to tell you what is wrong with you, to let you know how many things you’ve done wrong. They can also let you know how you can fix them by telling you how awesomely they fixed themselves.

“Be ready always to give an answer” is in the Bible. So is, “foolish and unlearned questions avoid.”

Don’t run around the country looking for people to fix. Don’t run around asking testing questions to gain the upper hand in analyzing problems.

Jesus Christ is the Great Physician, you’re just another patient in His ward. Humble up. Let’s walk with each other, not trip each other.

Patience is a Result of a Life of Vanity

Life lasts a long time. Life is also vain. Life is just a long stretch of vain stuff.

Vain, in this context, means worthless, empty, good for nothing.

Few people find this encouraging news. I find it to be awesome.

What better way to eliminate self-conscious fear and worry?

Patience is supposed to be one of those things that marks the believer.

It is clichéd to say, “Don’t ask God for patience, because He’ll nail you with problems.”

That always sounded silly to me. Life has problems whether you ask for patience or not!

Tribulation works patience. That’s kind of how it happens.

“Tribulation” is basically life not going how you wanted it to.

Life is vain. When life doesn’t go how you wanted it to, you get taught about the vanity of life.

My dad died. That was a bummer for me. My dad was a good man. When he died I was angry. I told God I thought it was stupid that so many jerks were still alive and yet my dad was dead.

It was tribulation. It showed me that life is vain. I have grown in faith and in patience since then.

Steve Taylor, a Christian musician who wrote quirky songs that bothered a lot of Christians and who obviously I found to be enjoyable because of that (!), had a song lyric that said, “Since I gave up hope, I feel a lot better.”

Once you give up on your plans for life, once you resign yourself to life in the Spirit where you don’t know where you came from or where you are going, you feel better. Patience begins to happen.

Instead of temporal hope in our plans (I hope my kids turn out right, I hope my money lasts, I hope my church grows, etc.), we begin to set our affections on things above. We put our treasure in heaven. We let go of temporal hope and replace it with eternal hope.

Struggle with patience? Suffer more. Learn to give up on your ideas and plans, they’re probably dumb anyway. Embrace the vanity of life and live for eternity instead.

Patience grows out of that.

If Ecclesiastes isn’t one of your favorite books in the Bible, I daresay you are missing the point.

Faith is Obedience

Most people define sin as “Not obeying or doing God’s will.” It’s a standard definition.

Paul tells us that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Therefore, by default, even though few will admit it, faith is doing God’s will.

Many have the idea that faith is agreeing with something in your head. You heard the facts and conclude, “Yeah, ok, I can go with that.”

But faith leads to action. The root word, in the Greek, actually includes the idea of being persuaded to the point of obedience.

Hebrews 11, all about biblical characters who had faith, all DID something–mainly, they did what God told them to do.

We all inherently know this, it just makes too much sense. Faith is not proven by saying you believe, nor by raising your hand, nor by having someone dunk you in water.

Faith is proved by works, by the new life that comes that looks like Christ and not like a sinner.

However, in recent years, Christianity has gotten wimpy and backed off this point entirely. We’re afraid of works-righteousness and sounding like we’re saying people are saved by works.

As much as I sympathize with the concern, I believe we’ve gone too far in the opposite direction. To the extent that some have said you are still saved by faith even if you grow to deny Christ and become an atheist.

That is complete idiocy.

Paul speaks in Romans of the “obedience of faith.” Disobedience is sometimes used in the Bible as the antithesis of believing.

Faith is obeying God’s Word. How do you know you are saved by faith? Because the just shall live by faith.

Christ has done everything necessary to make you right with God and to remove your sin. You believe He died on the cross, was buried and rose again.

This isn’t just a head knowledge of facts about Christ; it’s an identification (according to Romans 6 and many other passages) with His crucifixion, burial and resurrection. We are raised up to newness of life. A life that is yielded no more to sin but to righteousness.

As Paul says, “Faith which worketh by love.” Faith works. It does stuff. You know you believe when you grow in obedience to God’s Word.

On Death: Five Points

For most, death is THE enemy. For the Believer in Jesus Christ, death is victory.

That being said, one way you can tell the veracity of a person’s faith is observing their view of death. Perhaps better said: the best way to see if you have faith is to examine your view of death.

1) Death is victory; the process of dying is agony. In no way do I mean to minimize the reality of what death is and does to a person. Being concerned with how you will die, how you will bear up under pain, the slow decay of the body and its functions, is no fun. Death is the ultimate delivery from agony, for the Believer. But until death occurs, life might stink.

2) Fear of death is bondage. Being afraid to die binds us to maintain life here, keeps us in slavery to keeping ourselves alive. In many respects, it keeps us from living. If you don’t want to die, will you maintain your witness before hostile multitudes? People who obsess over healthy living to stay alive as long as possible, are in bondage to rules and regulations that frequently suck the joy out of eating, which often sucks the joy out of company. Nothing more disastrous for a party than a health-nut lecturing everyone about sugar.

3) Wanting to die aint all bad. As I’ve said before, many big-name Bible characters wanted to die (Moses, Job, Elijah). Paul had a desire to depart, which is FAR BETTER. We’re not talking about a morbid, depressed, suicidal tendency. It’s a rejoicing in what is to come, which brings a realization of how far short this life is from ultimate glory. The issue is not just that you’re tired of living, that you wish physical existence was more pleasurable, the desire is to be with the Lord and to leave sin behind.

4) Death is sad, even for believers. There are some who take a verse like “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope,” and try to make it mean that Christians can’t cry at funerals, that we have to “be strong” and “put on a happy face because of Jesus.” Most of this is hooey and a fixation on your reputation before people. Death is sad. Cry. Weep. Mourn. Weep with those who weep, don’t judge them for “not having enough hope.” Take your time. Cancel plans. Weep. Let your heart cry out to God. This is sin’s biggest weapon and it’s ugly. Yes, there is hope and there is a pressing on. But the death of others hurts. Let it hurt. Let that hurt drive you to Christ where we have hope.

5) Go to funerals. Weep with those who weep. Funerals give you perspective. Funerals teach. Funerals make you wise. Many have told me, “I don’t like funerals.” Stop it. Get over it. Go to them. Go to them as much as possible. Think long and hard about the fact that yours might be next. Especially go to them if it is family. Many regrets are had by those who skip family funerals. Do the right thing. Go. Be humble. Be quiet. Weep. Learn. Think. Ponder. Death is on its way to you. Our world is distracting you from this truth. The world covers it up. Three kids shot by their drunk dad is followed up in the news by a story about a small mouse dressed up to eat burritos.

Death. It’s real. It must be dealt with. Get ready now.