Tag Archives: Heaven

Too Good to be True

Grace 101

Let’s face it.  If we are pointing out enemies of grace, particularly those areas where the path is hard from years of tradition and wrong thinking, we don’t have to go any farther than our own minds.  I define the flesh as the system we developed to handle life.  Perhaps we could broaden that to simply the things we learned and accepted about life from the world, our family, and the devil.  I have written several entries about the flesh, but it is worth pointing it out again here.

Most of us learned that life worked a certain way.  We were told that hard work and integrity paid off in the long run.  We were shown how to manipulate the system to avoid some of both.  And we learned that life had a certain “cause and effect” law that had to be acknowledged.  If you played the game, you had a chance at winning, or maybe just at staying alive.

We learned that behavior and performance were keys to success.  If you didn’t rock the boat and performed well, you would be accepted.  If you met the expectations of your parents, teachers, boss, etc, you would succeed, or at least be left alone.  Everything was about doing.

And, since that was what we already believed about life and ourselves, we opened ourselves to a religion that taught the same thing.  If we were good enough, maybe God would accept us.  We would have to play the game and see.

Then along comes this message from God.  He says that He loves you just as you are and that you could never change enough to please Him because 1) you are too messed up even to know how to change and 2) He will make whatever changes He wants to see in you.  His love isn’t about your performance or behavior.  It’s about His love.

He says He will do whatever it takes to get you to Heaven forever; in fact, He has already done it in Jesus.  He says that all your sins are already washed away and you can’t keep them even if you want to.  He says you are good enough right now to be accepted by Him because He loves you already.  No amount of service or sacrifice, obedience or devotion, will make you more acceptable or more loved.

But that message doesn’t fit with what we thought we already knew.  The ground around our thinking is already hardened by a system of performance and behavior.  We like the message of grace, but it is just too good to be true.  So, in our hearts and minds, we resist.  We want to believe, but we also want the message of grace to fit with our fleshly ideas.

Remember that sin you would like to forget?  Of course you do.  When God tells you that He loves you, does that old sin come to your mind?  Do you miss the joy of His love because you want so badly for that sin to be gone?  God says He doesn’t even remember it.

Maybe that old sin is something you still do.  Does that make it even harder to believe that God doesn’t see it?  Is it hard to believe that there is no sin on your account before God, no matter what you did this morning?  This is the truth about grace that doesn’t fit with the flesh.

“There is a price to pay for doing wrong and there is a reward for doing right.”  That has been hammered into us for so long that we believe it without thinking.  When God says that Jesus paid the price for your wrong and that no amount of right will earn you the love He has for you, it’s hard to accept.

Accept it anyway.  It’s the truth.  That’s grace.

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Filed under Grace 101, Legalism, Relationship

Tax Day

 

I was born a citizen of the United States.  My parents and grand-parents and back several generations were also citizens.  Yet, if I want to stay out of jail, I had better get my taxes sent in.  Sometimes it feels like I have to pay to live here, even though this is my home.

Now, I understand the argument in favor of taxes.  There are services I expect to receive and those services cost money.  The taxes I pay, all political griping to the contrary, are simply participatory.  Because I participate in the benefits, I participate in the cost.  The idea seems reasonable.  Of course, if everyone were free to contribute whatever they wanted, the government wouldn’t have enough to cover the costs of the programs we expect.  So taxes are basically forced financial participation.

It is interesting that people who are so willing to accept citizenship in Heaven as a free gift are also willing to accept participatory costs in maintaining that citizenship.  In other words, you have to do a certain amount of good works and stay away from a certain amount of bad things if you really want to stay in the system.   Some say you can actually lose your citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ if you don’t do what you are supposed to do.  Others won’t go that far, but infer that there will be some kind of punishment if you don’t participate in the work of the Kingdom.

So, how do you like paying taxes?  Most of us do so a little grudgingly.  In fact, taxes are nerve-racking, intrusive, demanding, and costly.  A lot like religion.  It has certainly been my observation that few “religious” people are happy.  They are so bound up in trying to meet the requirements that they feel burdened and discouraged.   They reach the end of their lives hoping they have done enough, much like we hope things are right when we mail our tax forms.

I know that the Bible speaks of citizenship in Heaven and life in the Kingdom of God.  But there is another metaphor that is actually more important and helpful.  We are part of a family!

I don’t pay taxes to be in my family.  My family exists because of blood and love.  We need each other.  We participate for the good of the family.  If someone in the family doesn’t participate, we care and try to encourage, but the rest of us go on and keep the door open.  A brother or sister doesn’t stop being a brother or sister.

We are taught to call God our Father.  Jesus is our brother.  We are brothers and sisters in Him.  His life is our life.  We share with each other and love each other because we are family.  Sometimes we fuss at each other, but we are still family.

And no taxes/good works are necessary in order for us to remain part of the family.  We don’t have dues or membership fees or “godly expectations.”  We have each other in Jesus.

On Tax Day I give thanks that my part in Christ has been secured forever by His work and His payment!

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Filed under Freedom, heart, Relationship

Jesus or Nothing

I see it and I recognize it, but I’m going to step in it anyway.  There is a serious debate going on about the connection between behavior and salvation.  The particular question is whether practicing homosexuals can go to Heaven.  Recently the leader of a group known as “Exodus” has made some statements that disturb the system.  In an interview with Lisa Ling, and in reference to people who continue to live in a homosexual lifestyle, Alan Chambers said, “I do believe they will be in heaven with me … if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

This perspective has gotten Chambers into trouble.  People are saying that he should step down from his leadership position.  People are saying that he is a heretic.

But notice what he did not say.  He did not say that a homosexual lifestyle was good or even “acceptable” for a Christian.  He did not say that homosexual behavior was without negative consequences or that it was not sin.  He did not say that homosexuals should not seek to change.  He also did not say that homosexuals were “good enough” to get into Heaven.  He said nothing positive about homosexuality.

What he said was that anyone who has a relationship with Jesus, and I take that to mean a saving relationship based on accepting the love of God in the life and sacrifice of Jesus, will be in Heaven.  His idea of salvation appears to be centered on Jesus, rather than the behavior of people, even people who claim to know Jesus.

So now the question is: Can a gay Christian go to Heaven?  Good grief!

Two things:  First, the gay lifestyle is a search for love.   Yes, it is broken and aberrant and, from the perspective of most of us, disturbing.  But the feelings within the hearts of gay people are usually very deep reactions to the world in which they grew up.  The flesh of the gay person is just as confused and just as wrongly wired as that of the rest of us.

For some people, acceptance and love are found in food.  Some find it in buying things.  Others find it in serving people or recognition at work or in pets or in collecting things.  We do these things because they make us feel what we want to feel.  This is what the flesh is all about—finding ways to feel the way we want.  Some feel much better about themselves in fantasies and indulge in p-rn or romance fiction.  Some go from partner to partner seeking that special feeling.  And some feel better in a close relationship with someone of the same gender.

Feelings lead to actions.  A person addicted to buying things in order to feel good might be tempted to do wrong things to get enough money to continue buying.  A person who eats to feel good can damage his health and become a glutton.  Wrong thinking leads to wrong doing.  Whether it is homosexual behavior or a critical spirit, it comes from wrong thinking.

And, whether we like to admit it or not, we carry a bunch of wrong thinking into our Christian life.  And wrong doing.  I know that I didn’t think and act in the way I thought I should or in the way I wanted when I became a believer.  I still don’t.  And, I’d be willing to bet, neither do you.  It is certainly possible to overcome our feelings, to not let them dictate our actions—but it is hard work and we all know it.  The simple truth is that we didn’t come to Christ by perfect behavior and we don’t have to behave perfectly to remain in Christ.  The only behavior that brings and keeps salvation is Jesus’ behavior.

So is it possible for practicing homosexual Christians to go to Heaven?  Here’s my second point, and it’s important: Christians go to Heaven.  The one requirement for Heaven is eternal life in Jesus.  Those who come to Jesus and place their hope and trust in Him will find Him faithful—even when they are not.  Christians go to Heaven.  Imperfect in this world, broken and struggling and hurting and confused and compromised and sad and wrong and burdened, but Christians.  Just like you and me.

Let’s be honest.  If people who still practice homosexuality, but have a relationship with Jesus, cannot go to Heaven because of their behavior, then there is no hope for any of us.  It is either Jesus, and Jesus alone, or we have nothing.

More tomorrow…

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Relationship

Living in the Sonshine!

Most of us like a good motivational speaker.  And a good motivational speaker will agree with my statement from last week:  your past does not determine your future—your present determines your future.

Of course, the motivational speaker will say that the decision you make today is the one that really matters because it can change the future.  Just because you were lazy or foolish or whatever in the past does not mean you have to continue that way.  Make a decision today to change your future, they say.

But that’s not what I am saying.  Because you have eternal life, your future is already in your present.  In Christ, you already own what God will give you in the future.  The “mansion on the hilltop,” if you like that image, is already yours.

So what?  If I am not living in the mansion now, in this world, then what difference does it make to know that it is already mine?  Well, it makes a lot of difference.

Living in eternal life is the difference between striving and resting.  Eternal life is the difference between wishing and thanking.  It is the difference between desire and assurance.  You don’t have to strive to measure up, to win the love of God, to deserve Heaven.  You don’t have to worry about what lies in store for you after you leave this world.  You don’t have to be content with wishes and hopes because you already live there.

We are, according to Ephesians 2:6, already seated with Christ in “the heavenly places.”  We are with Him forever.  No one can snatch us out of His hand.  The kingdom of God is already in us and we are already citizens of it.

Apart from the message of grace and the understanding of what we have received in Christ, many people struggle with assurance.  They fear the future and worry whether they are good enough for the judgment.  They long for the day this life will be over and they can enter into hope and promise.

But not you and me.  We know that eternal life means we are secure in Christ.  Because He has loved us, He has given us all things.  Heaven is ours—we will never die.  We do not fear the evil one and his lies, nor the eternal hell that is his.  We do not strive to earn what is already ours.

And, best of all, we are beginning to see glimpses of eternity today.  The Son is shining through!

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Tomorrow is Today

What is the difference between someone who is mature in the faith and someone who has just opened his heart to Jesus?  When the church teaches about leaders and elders and pastors, is there any substantive difference between those positions and that of a new believer?  Is the 90-year-old believer who has been in Christ for 85 years any different than the five-year-old who has just asked Jesus to take his life?

We want to point out the differences, don’t we?  After all, there are mature believers and immature believers and that means something.  But all it means is that some have had the time or the inclination to receive more of what Christ has already given them.  In other words, all of Christ is available to anyone in Christ.  Nationality, gender, age—these things make no difference in the spiritual nature of the individual.

I have always enjoyed the teaching of Major Ian Thomas.  He said it like this: the Christian life is the process of becoming who you are.  Yes, there is growth, but it is growth in understanding the riches in Christ that are already yours.  All that you will ever have is yours today in Jesus.

Why?  Because you have entered into eternal life.  The life that will be yours in the future is yours today.  There is much that you and I don’t understand and we will learn much more, but nothing will really change for us.  Even when we die, the only change will be that we will become even more of what we already are.

Eternal life brings the past into the present and redeems us as whole people.  Eternal life also brings the future into the present and sanctifies us in Christ forever.  We belong to Jesus just as much today as we ever will.  Our sins are washed away and we are whole.

When you think of your life in Heaven, don’t you think of it as a relief, a rest from the labors and frustrations of today?  Haven’t we been taught that life in Heaven will be good, while this life is evil?  But what if that was not true?  What if this life, the life we have in Christ, is just as good as life in Heaven will be?  What if the victory over sin that we long for and expect in Heaven is already ours in Jesus?  What if the reconciliation and peace we look toward is already available to us today?  This is what eternal life means.

All that you look forward to is already yours.  The more you look to Jesus and away from the struggles and distractions of this world, the more you will understand that peace He has already given.  The struggles and distractions are the things that will no longer be in the life to come because they are inconsistent with who He is and who you are.

The joy of the Christian life is already ours.  The forgiveness, the reconciliation, the acceptance, the love—these are all ours now.  We just have to begin to understand who we are and what Jesus has done for us.  He has given us eternal life.

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It’s All Good

We have learned all our lives to think of time according to the simple formula of “past, present, future.”  I suppose we really have no choice, since that’s pretty much how we experience life.  But when someone tells us about eternal life, we then assume it somehow fits into our basic formula.

Last week I wrote about the past and how the past, even those sins and mistakes we did, have been redeemed by the present in Jesus.  Because of Him, we live in the present—always.  Just like He does.

Remember the name God gave Moses?  I AM!  Not: I was and I will be.  Just: I Am.  In the present.  Right now.  Right here.

He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph—not was.  And Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I Am.”  When you and I received eternal life, this is the life we received—life in the present.  We do not live in the past.  The things of our past are part of us in the present—redeemed, forgiven, loved.

We often wonder how God can see everything and know everything at once.  I have had people deny the full deity of Jesus because they didn’t believe that He could be everywhere at once.  But all of that misses the point.  God is present.  Wherever you are, He is there.  And He is here.  He is with all of His people at the same time—in the present.  It doesn’t matter if they lived 2000 years ago, or they live in some far away land, or they haven’t yet been born.  He is with them.  That’s His promise.  And He can do it in His eternal present.

The ramifications of this are nothing less than astounding.  It means that there is no time in my life when I was without Him.  Once I entered into eternal life (or eternal life entered into me) my past, present and future became a single point, the present.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not one of those who think that all people are already saved.  I believe that personal faith is a choice and is necessary.  But when you and I came to Jesus, we were saved “to the uttermost,” from beginning to end.

So I never have to deal with my past again, in terms of spiritual repentance or compensation.  And whatever consequences continue with me today, even the simple memories, are part of who I am in Christ and it is all good.

Now here’s a thought to chew on:  Your past does not determine your future.  Your present determines your future.

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Live Today!

My past doesn’t feel gone.  So when the preacher tells me that my past is washed away, that those things belong to a different person, or that God has removed them from me, I struggle.  I still remember those things.  I still suffer consequences from those things.  It is hard to say that they are gone.  The message is wonderful, but is it true?

One of my favorite stories about Abraham Lincoln is about a time, just after the end of the Civil War, when Lincoln welcomed a man into his office who had been on the side of the South.  They talked and parted as friends.  When others saw Lincoln’s openness to the man, they criticized him.  They said, “Don’t you remember that this man was your enemy?  You should destroy your enemies!”  Lincoln answered in his simple logic, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Perhaps the most powerful way to wash away sins and overcome mistakes is to change their purpose.  What once was meant for evil is now used for good.  What once was stained like scarlet is now white as snow.  If the evil of your past works together with everything else for good in your life, then that evil is truly gone.

You see, we do remember those things and why should we try to act as though they didn’t happen?  Some of us live with consequences for the rest of our lives after the things we did.  We are stuck with remembering.  But our Lord does not want us to look back and relive the shame and guilt.  He does not want us to place new accountability on ourselves when we remember.  He wants us to know that we are forgiven and those things have been made new.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not saying that sin is not evil.  I am not saying that we (or anyone) should just go do whatever we want because God will work it into good somehow.  Sin still has consequences.

But the Lord has taken the sins and errors of your past and has given them a purpose in your present.  They have worked together to bring you here.  Those things no longer bring shame and guilt because they no longer need to do that.  Now they are simply part of the path you walked as Jesus brought you to Him.

Today you belong to Jesus.  Today you are free and clean and victorious.  Today you are alive.  Live today!

Tell me what you think…

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Filed under Relationship, Theology and mystery