Life . . . It’s What Happens

I’m not sure why we expect our day to day to be perfect. Why do we get disappointed, surprised and even angry when life happens? I’ve not found any promises for a perfect and/or easy life. Here’s what I have found:

I’ve found that Adam and Eve couldn’t follow directions so God promised pain and toil as long as we walk on this earth.

I’ve found that humans have suffered persecution and disease ever since the fall

I’ve found that
Noah was probably persecuted for his faith, and that year on the boat had to feel like it would never end. I’m guessing he even lost some family and friends in that flood. He was responsible for feeding and cleaning up after 100’s of animals. Think about how hard that year was physically, mentally and emotionally.

Job . . . there isn’t room here to talk about Job.

Abraham was afraid.

Lot was afraid.

Isaac couldn’t see and could hardly hear when he got old

Jacob lied. He lived away from his family for 20 years or more. His own father-in-law cheated him many times.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Every time he thought he was going to get a break someone let him down. He was in prison for a long time.

Moses couldn’t talk right. He killed someone. He never did admit to his faults. He missed going into the promised land.

David was afraid for his life. First his best friend’s dad wanted him dead and later his own son. And that doesn’t begin to touch all the battles he fought. He lived with shame.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are more stories in the Bible and even more from outside scripture that describe heartache, destruction, pain and all sorts of evil falling upon humans.

Consider:
The holocaust.
The hunger in third world countries.
Human Trafficking

That’s life.

So why do we expect better?

First of all, I think that in developed countries we have it too easy. We’re used to instant gratification and an easy life. So, the minute life gets hard, we get angry or depressed. Some of the things that happen to us, if we’d put it in perspective, would look a little less horrific. I don’t want to minimize anyone’s pain. And I know it’s all relative, one person’s trial is another person’s growth moment. But seriously, if you put your bad day on a scale and weighed it next to a day as a prisoner in Auschwitz, would it look a bit different?

Second, I believe that within each of us is the memory of the Garden of Eden. Somewhere deep inside we know heaven exists. Otherwise, reflecting back on history why wouldn’t we just look at hardship and tragedy as “part of life” and move on. What is there that keeps us hoping for a better day, a more positive outcome, a cushy life? The only thing I can find that would give us any indication that we are destined for something good is the fact we are created in the image of God. We have the knowledge deep inside of us that we were made for something more.

You see we were created for the Garden. We were designed for heavenly perfection. It’s what humans were meant to have, to know. And deep inside our intricate DNA that knowledge remains. It’s passed from generation to generation and it continually strives for a truth we know to be true, but one that cannot be grasped on this side of eternity.

We have the power to make this life better. When we make Christ our Savior and allow the Holy Spirit to work inside of us we have the capability to make it more bearable for those around us. But even in the midst of a hundred folks all striving to be more like Christ, there will still be disease and the effects of persecution from those outside the circle. That’s life.

Even so, when we truly trust in Jesus Christ we can have peace in this life. It may not come in the way we want it to. A perfect life doesn’t always bring peace, but the Spirit of Christ does. When we trust in Him and believe in the promises of God, we can be like David. Even when his enemies were coming against him and he faced betrayal and abandonment, he said with confidence, “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27)

Why Bible Study and Sunday School?

About 1/2 the folks in our church come to Sunday School and/or Bible Study. I get it that mid-week is difficult for working moms and folks who work way more overtime than they’d like. But I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t come an hour early on Sunday Morning. I’ve heard “It’s my only morning to sleep in”, but really . . . you can’t get up by 9 AM to be at Sunday School by 10 AM? I like to sleep in . . . but seriously?!?!

Today, as I prepared for Wednesday evening’s discussion, I wondered how many folks don’t realize what they’re missing by only coming out on Sundays for the sermon. So here’s a little bit of explanation and a little info about how your “reasons” for not coming are really just lame excuses:

REASON 1 – I Don’t Know Enough To Come to Sunday School
Truthfully, this is the lamest of all excuses.
Would you let your 7th grader skip school because he didn’t know enough math to go to math class? There will always be people who know a bit more than you do (if not how would we learn), but there will also always be people who can learn from you. And in Bible classes that can sometimes be the person who you thought knew more than you. It’s amazing the things God has taught me from people who didn’t know much at all about the Bible. Sometimes it’s even the question they ask. Sometimes they ask something I’d never even thought to wonder about before, and it causes me to dig and pray. So, dump this excuse and join a small group somewhere.

REASON 2 – Everything I need to Know I’ve Heard in a Sermon at Somepoint
Maybe this is true . . . but I doubt it.
When I was preparing today, I realized why this excuse is invalid. I just printed out a copy of four parallel passages of scripture. We’re going to look at how the story is the same and different in each gospel and why all four gospel authors thought it was important. PLUS, someone will have a question that I didn’t even think to ask, I’m certain of it. Your pastor can not possibly cover everything in the scripture on Sunday mornings. Plus, he or she can only go so deep because there are hopefully always newbies in your midst. Bible Study and Sunday small groups offer an opportunity to look a little deeper, hear other’s opinions and questions and ask questions yourself. Look around, it’s the folks in these small groups who are growing in the faith the fastest.

Stoic or Christian

Did you know there’s a difference?

I recently read a book by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye about the Doctor and Historian Luke. It was a work of fiction and assumed that Luke was a Stoic before Christ found him. 

Most people don’t even know what a Stoic is; however, after getting to know Stoicism a bit better, I’ve come to the conclusion many people who call themselves Christian are truly Stoic.

Wikipedia says Stocism is “predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.” 

Stoicism is being accepting of everyone just they way they are (a very Christian principle). Stoics respect creation and want to be fair and just. If you looked at a stoic’s life, you might assume they were Christian. The values and lifestyle seem very similar.

But it’s the heart of the two that separate them. 

You see, at the heart of Stoicism is self. A Stoic works hard to make himself a better person. His lifestyle is all about self-denial and self-control. While noble and commendable, it’s nearly impossible. One of the greatest problems in the whole lifestyle is the lack of joy. The process of becoming “good” doesn’t bring happiness. In fact it’s more likely to create inner turmoil because as hard as we try to live this lofty life, we’re likely to have thoughts that don’t line up with our Stoic views. For a true Stoic the selfish thoughts cause him to question himself. There is no peace, just hard work to be a great person. Oh, there will be some who will succeed because their personality just lends itself to Stoicism, but those who are more realistic than altruistic will fail almost every time. 

On the other hand at the heart of Christianity is Christ. True Christianity is based on the Holy Spirit doing all the work, cleaning, changing, transforming. The person doesn’t have to do the work, just be willing to allow the Spirit to do the work. Most things that don’t change in the Christian are because she didn’t really want to change that aspect, or she was trying to do it on her own. When we allow Christ’s Spirit to do the work, there is peace and freedom. No rules. A life for Christ does the right thing out of love for a Savior, not out of regulations or self-discipline. 

The Christian bases his goodness on the righteousness of Christ and allows the Spirit to do the work, there is no self involved. The Stoic strives her whole life to be good on her own, an impossible task.

I hope this short article will encourage you to look at your life and decide if you’re truly a Christian or really a Stoic. While Stoic’s are tremendously good people, they’re missing out on the best part of Christianity. And at the end of this life, they’ll live eternally in Hell. I don’t want that for you. 

As a Christian I have admitted I am not good enough for heaven. It just can’t happen. I have accepted that Jesus Christ made the sacrifice to make me good enough and taken His righteousness as my own. And finally, I have invited the Holy Spirit to change me. It’s a slow process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I am free from guilt and shame, and I have peace while the change is happening. I delight in Christ and am blessed because my Father in Heaven Loves ME!

The Devil is a Liar

It’s true . . . The Devil is a Liar.

But you probably knew that.

I’m pretty sure everyone has heard that Lucifer lies, and for the most part, I think Christians, even nominal ones, believe it. But something I’ve learned over the years is that humans don’t often live what they say they believe.

Many years ago I attended a retreat once or twice a year. We were not allowed to mention occupations during the entire retreat, so at the end we had to tell folks our name and something about ourselves. I remember one time a bunch of clergy wives were there. The first one said her name and said, “I sleep with my pastor!” The room busted, and several of us followed suit, “I sleep with my pastor, too!” It was fun!  We also went on to tell about our day job or our children.

I’ve had a number of day jobs, from waitress to receptionist, store clerk, layout designer and more.  But at the time I wanted to sing. I was performing a few times each month with a band, and soon after I was doing solo concerts. So I decided to start introducing myself like that, “Hi, I’m Lynne. I’m a singer/songwriter.” I knew if I wanted that to be who I was I needed to embrace that identity myself. I obviously wouldn’t e able to convince anyone else I was a singer/songwriter if I didn’t believe it.

I think we Christians need to do the same thing.

We need to embrace our identity in Christ and begin to say it out loud even if we don’t believe it.

The enemy reminds us constantly of our faults and failures. We bury the past, and he digs it up like a dog that’s found a bone in the backyard. That bully can smell our insecurities, and he plays on them.

But just like a human bully, the best thing we can do is ignore him or stand up to him.

When you hear your spiritual bully whisper those lies in your ear, I want you to ask yourself, “What do I know to be true?”

Here are a few truths to get your started:

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light

Colossians 1:21-22 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation

1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I am near God. I am Light. I am holy. I have no blemishes. No one has any reason to accuse me of anything (not even me). I’ve received mercy and pardon. I am loved by the Creator of the Universe.

The enemy needs reminded often of these truths. When we hear the lies of the enemy, it’s imperative we begin to speak these truths over our lives. Say them out loud so the enemy can hear! Remind him of whose you are!

And until you believe you are who Christ says you are, perhaps listening to this song over and over will help you:  Matthew West, Child of the One True King

 

How To Make Sure We’re Blessed

This is the manuscript from a sermon I preached on November 5, 2017

We who live in the Upper Ohio Valley are blessed. With all the natural disasters that have happened in the last few months, if you don’t feel blessed, there’s a good chance you aren’t paying attention. Five hurricanes, two earthquakes, wildfires, and we’ve been safe. We get very little flooding and tornados and blizzards are rare. Why are we so blessed? Is it because we’re better people? Does God love us more?

I really don’t think so. These hills we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with protect us from the severe weather, and we live too far away from the ocean to get much trouble from hurricanes. I believe we are weather blessed because we have positioned ourselves in a place to be blessed.

And it’s really the same way with the Christian life. Everyone wants to live under the protection of God’s blessings, but very few want to move to a place where they can be blessed. Yesterday when I was reading my devotions by John Wesley, he pretty much said we shouldn’t even tell people about God’s blessings until they are ready to live where God is blessing. He said, Those who “pour out their souls before God . . . these are the person unto whom we are to apply the great and precious promises. Not to the ignorant [those who are knew to the faith] . . . Much less to the impenitent sinner.”

So, our job is to make sure we aren’t “ignorant.” We have to learn how to position ourselves so we can receive all of God’s blessings.

God started telling people how to be blessed from the beginning. Adam and Eve just had to stay away from that one tree. The tree seemed innocent, but God knew it wasn’t good for them. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve didn’t trust that God knew what was best. They didn’t love Him enough to obey and get the blessing.

Over and over God told His people how to be blessed. In the bulletin, I put a list of just some of the Bible verses that tell us how to be blessed. Listen to what He told people about being blessed.

12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14 You will be blessed more than any other people – Deuteronomy 7:12-14

God starts out talking about the Ten Commandments. If we honor Him, worship Him, Trust Him and Him alone; if we don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t murder and more then we will be blessed. And it extends to other commands God gives us. But did you catch verse 14?

14 You will be blessed more than any other people

And God repeated this several more times in Deuteronomy.
Then 100’s of years later King David wrote about what it means to be blessed.

1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the LORD does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit. – Psalm 32:1-2

One of the cool things about King David is that as far as I can tell, He was the first person to truly repent. He was narcissistic and deceitful. He committed adultery and schemed to kill a friend to cover it up. Up until King David, everyone just made excuses for their sin, including Moses and Abraham. David however, was the first to say, “I have sinned against God.” He made no excuses, he repented and God said, “You are forgiven.”

I’m not sure whether David wrote this before or after his encounter with Bathsheba, but either way, the man knew the best way to be blessed. He understood that the one who was forgiven was blessed. The one who has no deceit is blessed. That’s what John Wesley was talking about. “Those who pour out their souls before God are the ones who the promises are for . . . “ When we are obedient and repentant we begin to experience the blessings of God.

But there’s more ! Jeremiah 17:7 says:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. – Jeremiah 17:7

Do you fully trust in God? It’s a difficult thing to do, to just put your life in the hands of Jesus Christ, but that’s what it takes if you want all of the blessings of God.
One way to tell if you are fully trusting God is to see how you handle your finances. That’s one of the most difficult places to trust Him.

But it says in Malachi:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. – Malachi 3:10

Do you trust God with your tithe? Can you bring 10% of your total income into the house of the Lord? Tithing is a measure of trust. We don’t tithe because God needs our money. We tithe to learn to trust God, to show Him we trust Him. And God promises that when we trust Him enough to give bring 10% into His house He will pour out so much blessing there won’t be enough room to store it.

And that’s just in the Old Testament. You’ll recognize these verses from the New Testament

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5: 3-11

That short passage can be a whole sermon in itself. But in a nutshell . . .
You are blessed when you realize you are spiritually poor, when you grieve because of your spiritual poverty and when it humbles you. When you can’t get enough of scripture, prayer and growing in Christ, you are blessed. When you have mercy for people who used to cause you to judge and when you are considerate of others so there’s more peace, you are blessed.

Blessed doesn’t mean problems won’t come. We still have to live on this earth, so we’ll still face troubles. But James tells us:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

When you keep going even during the trials and trust Jesus to get you through them, you are blessed!
And James 1:25

But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. – James 1:25

James goes right back to what we talked about at the beginning. God needs us to obey the law. He knows that the rules He’s created are for our own good. Everyone whose ever taken care of a child has set down a rule that the kid didn’t like, but it was in the child’s best interest. That’s what God does for us, and when we obey His rules, when we don’t forget the things He’s told us, we have freedom and we are blessed.

There are times you won’t feel blessed even when you’re completely devoted to following Christ. But we can’t trust our feelings and sometimes we have to look for the blessings.
We also have to remember that sin has consequences, and sometimes the consequences follow us. Even King David, the man after God’s own heart, faced the consequences of his sin until the day he died. And his sin effected his children.

Disobedience steals your blessings and it effects those around you. In fact some of the trials you face are the result of someone else’s sin. Sometimes when we feel less than blessed it’s because those we’ve positioned around us aren’t walking in a way that God will bless.

I want to be blessed and I want you to be blessed. One of the things I’ve become convinced of as I read scripture is that if we want to be blessed we have to be obedient. The more I trust Christ, the more I receive blessing. And as John Wesley said, if we’re ignorant about what God’s requirements are, all of those promises Christians brag about aren’t for us. We need to know what the scripture says if we want to be really blessed.

The Bible is clear. Salvation is for everyone who asks, and you can lived the “just saved” life and probably make it to heaven. But it’s still a hard life . . . not the one God intended for us. We were created to walk in the Garden with Him. Sin messed that up, but more than anything else God wants to have a relationship with us. Jesus died so we can have more than just heaven. He came to restore our relationship with the Father.

Whose side is God on?

Joshua 5:13-14a Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

I’ve often wondered about these two verses. The angel of the Lord is on neither side. How can it be the messenger of the Almighty is not by default on the side of the Israelites? They are, after all, the chosen people of the living God!

But the angel is clear . . . he’s not there to take sides.

Yet, if the angels didn’t take sides, how did the walls of Jericho fall so easily? Why did nearly every battle in the book of Joshua fall to the Israelites without much of a fight?

Tonight I had this thought . . .

Ephesians 6:12 tells me my “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” As much as humans disturb me, fight me and seem to be against my Father, my struggle is not against them. God is not “against” any of His creation. How could He be? How could anyone purposely be against something they created in perfection with their own hands? And even if you and I could, does that really fit the description of the perfect, complete and Holy God we’re getting to know more and more every day?

Even in the Old Testament, the place where the “wrath of God” seems so evident, God did not take human sides. Our Father’s battle has always been against the one who set himself up as the enemy, Lucifer, AKA Satan, the accuser, the devil. The Holy Trinity was fighting against Satan even then.

Here’s the thing . . .

Just as in war here on earth, in the Spiritual realm there are unwitting casualties of war. People who align themselves with the losing side out of misguided loyalty, false promises, the quest for power and more are lost in battle while the leader who started the whole thing sits in his comfy war-staging room and watches the battle play out.

That’s what the enemy has been doing all along. The people of Jericho had aligned themselves with our enemy. They didn’t even realize they were on the side of evil. The enemy had spewed lies to them just like he does to his followers today. It sounds good, but they have no idea they’re pawns in his little game.

When Israel took Jericho, it was only because the “evil of Canaan had reached its fullness.” The enemy had taken control of the area, and the spiritual power he wielded there had to be wiped out. We read about the ground battle in the book of Joshua, but I wonder what the heavenly battle looked like. It happened over and over again in the Old Testament. It continues to happen today. Even when the enemy thinks he wins by destroying the human flesh of one of God’s children, he’s lost. Because the only thing he does by taking the human life of someone who loves Christ is to prematurely allow that person to be in the presence of the Almighty. And the beauty of that thought is those who are human casualties on the side of the Lord of the Universe don’t lose! They just get their ultimate reward!

God doesn’t take sides . . . not the human kind. The Creator’s only enemy is the one who continually tries to usurp the Sovereign’s power. God is on your side. Will you be on His?

angel
The angel of the Lord does not take sides

Heaven Isn’t A GPS Location

My mother-in-law recently passed. We appreciated everyone who came out to show love and support. Most offered condolences, but the truth is we lost “Mom” a couple of years ago, so the grieving process had, for the most part, run its course. So, my standard answer when someone assumed we were having a hard time was to say, “She’s so much better now. She knew Jesus.” Because she did. She was quiet about her faith, but my husband can remember the day she gave her life to Christ, and I watched her grow through Sunday School, Bible Study and church attendance and I know she read her Bible faithfully. How can I be sad when I’m sure she’s in the Ultimate Vacation Spot!?!

But one reply to my “standard response” was this, “But what’s important is Jesus knew her.” This troubled me . . .

I can’t help but wonder, does the person who said this think that everyone has a ticket to heaven? Does he believe that all good people get to be with Jesus someday? How many folks think the Kingdom of Heaven is someplace everyone can find, like programming Pittsburgh into the GPS?

It’s not that our friend was wrong. The Bible does say at one time Jesus will someday say to some, “I never knew you.” So obviously having Jesus know you is important; however, check out Matthew 7! He is going to say that to GOOD PEOPLE! Jesus is going to say, “I never knew you,” to people who were doing things in HIS name.

And I believe Jesus is going to say, “I never knew you,” to people who never really knew Him.

There are a lot of people who THINK they know Jesus, but they don’t, they only know ABOUT Him. They know when we celebrate His birth. They know He died and rose again. They may even be able to quote scripture and go through all the motions of a “good Christian.” But they don’t know Jesus.

It’s like the parables of Matthew 25. Bridesmaids should know the groom, but what if the bride met the guy in college or while traveling abroad, and they didn’t get to come home until it was time for the wedding? Those bridesmaids would know all about the guy from letters their friend had written, but they wouldn’t really know him. They wouldn’t know his demeanor or be able to always tell when he was joking. They’d know ABOUT him, but they wouldn’t KNOW him. Half of the bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable didn’t know the bridegroom well enough to know he might be longer than they anticipated. If they’d have really known him, they’d have brought enough oil to wait it out.

Jesus says multiple times, “If you love me . . .” He told us if we love Him, we’ll keep His commands (John 14:15) and feed His sheep (John 21:17). First John 2 says if we claim to know Him but don’t follow His commands we are liars.

And Jesus was clear. He said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Paul, who was the master at following the “commands” before he actually met Jesus, tells us in at least five places that we can not earn salvation. Our place in heaven is not reserved because of any good we do, but because we have faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was God’s answer for Isaiah 64:6 because anything we might try to do that might appear to be righteous looks like dirty rags to God. Without Christ, we have no hope. The Bible is clear.

Yes, my friend was right, the important thing is that Jesus knew Mom. But I am afraid my friend doesn’t understand Jesus has chosen to only know those who get to know Him. He wants to know us all! Peter tells us He doesn’t want anyone to go to eternal death. Yes, Jesus wants to know us, but unless we accept the gift of life He offers by accepting what He did on the cross as payment for our sins, we can’t get to know Him.

Don’t be fooled by those who try to convince people that everyone gets to heaven, you just have to be good. That’s the enemy’s favorite lie. Christ has gone to make a room for us, but those rooms are for the people who’ve gotten to know Him . . . really know Him.

Good . . . when is it good ENOUGH?

There’s a conversation on Facebook right now that started with a friend upset by a pious pastor condemning kids to Hell because they believe in Santa. Seriously, if you are a Christian and you’re doing that kind of thing, stop! Just Stop! Believing in Santa is NOT anti-Christian. It’s not straight from Satan. There was a Saint, a man who followed Christ and did so much good the Catholics canonized him, named Nicholas who lived in the region of Turkey and did kind things for others. He has many legends surrounding him, including putting gifts in stockings hung to dry at a fire. Somewhere, someone, took the legendary Saint and gave him a home at the North Pole, and sometime in the early 1900’s Coca Cola gave him a red suit and made him a heavy, jolly fellow. I don’t have a problem with Saint Nicholas or any of his pseudonyms. We don’t bring him into our church because he already gets enough press, so we try to keep the focus on Christ. It doesn’t mean we don’t like Santa.

However, the conversation quickly turned (my fault . . . completely my fault). My friend assumed that these young ones the pastor was condemning automatically had a spot in heaven because they were younger than 13. I have a problem with that theology and said so (I know, I can’t help myself). And my comments began to stir up some controversy. So I decided to put my thoughts here instead of clogging up that Facebook post.

First, will someone please show me in scripture where there’s an age of accountability? I simply can’t find it. I’ve read the whole book through at least twenty times and been in it daily for close to thirty years. I’ve never seen that magic number or even that phrase. We lie when we tell teens and younger they aren’t accountable for their actions and thoughts.

Second, I need some Bible scholar to show me where God condemns people to Hell. Again, all of those years of reading and it’s not until AFTER Jesus comes again that I can find any record of condemnation on God’s part. In fact in John 3:17, Jesus says He wasn’t sent to condemn the world but to save it! Job said it was his mouth that condemned him (Job 9:20), and Jesus said our own words would condemn us (Matthew 12:37). King David requested condemnation for his enemies in the Psalms a LOT. He even predicted the condemnation of the enemies of righteousness as well as those who plot wicked . . . but there’s no mention of Hell. Jesus said the Queen of Sheba would be condemning those who didn’t believe in Him. Jesus did say that the Pharisees were going to have a hard time escaping condemnation from Hell, but when you read it in context, you find our Savior saddened because He longed to gather them under His wings like a hen gathers her chickens. Jesus wasn’t condemning them. He knew they were not going to be able to escape the condemnation at the last days because of their hard hearts. And the most telling verse about condemnation is John 3:18. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” God isn’t condemning (remember, this is the verse right after the first one in this paragraph). Whoever does not believe stands condemned. Through their unbelief they condemn themselves.

And finally, there’s the issue of the good going to heaven. I used to buy into that theology, but it doesn’t stand up to scripture. There’s no guarantee that the “good” have a place in heaven. If I believe that, then what do I do Isaiah 64:6 “all of their righteous acts are like filthy rags.”? And where does Hosea 6:6 – “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (quoted later by Jesus) fit into the “good equals heaven” theology? Why did Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden for merely eating a piece of fruit if God overlooks those who don’t love Him enough to do what He asks?

In Deuteronomy Moses warned the people they would stray from God, they would seek their own goodness and make their own holiness. He told them when that happened they’d lose the blessing of God, but if they turned their hearts back to their Creator He would rescue them. When we try to set up our own degree of “goodness” we make a mockery of the goodness of God. We can not be good enough!

Romans 3:10 says no one is righteous, yet the scripture is clear that only the righteous will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Romans 3:20 says “no one will be declared righteous by following the law.” And Paul goes on to say righteousness is given to those who believe. It’s a heart thing. Only those who believe in Christ are declared righteous enough for heaven. Paul tells us that everyone is entitled to this gift! No one will be left out. God does not condemn us to life apart from Him. But as Jesus told us in the parable of the wedding feast, some will choose to be left out. By choosing anything . . . ANYTHING . . . good or bad over Christ, we condemn ourselves, we turn down the invitation.

What about children? I don’t find any special dispensation for children other than 2 Corinthians 7:14 . . . the children of a believing mother or father are considered holy. I know that’s harsh. Now, I don’t find anyplace where it specifically says the young children of a non-believer who die end up in hell either, so I’m not going there! That’s up to God, and I prefer to think as long as a child has that innocence he or she is born with that child has a spot in heaven. But let’s face it, when I stack it up against scripture, that’s just what I prefer to think.

I’m not saying I know it all or everything I believe is correct, I’m just asking you to take your thought preferences and hold them up to scripture. That’s what I do. Some of it isn’t spelled out. So I hold on to what I believe with the knowledge that I could be wrong and understanding that God is bigger and knows better than I do.

Our Father has created a perfect heaven, a place we were given a peak into in the Garden of Eden and the book of Revelation. It’s a place with no room for those who aren’t willing to completely obey their Creator (yep, that’s what He was basically saying in Genesis 3). It’s a place for those with a heart seeking God first and foremost. It’s not a place for the good, it’s a place for the righteous. I don’t want anyone left out of heaven! So I certainly can’t tell “good” people, “It’s OK, you are such a kind good person, I know there’s a place for you.”

What if God meant what He said that only the righteous can dwell with Him? What if He meant it when He said no one is righteous without the blood of Jesus? If after all my years of reading and studying scripture I’m wrong, I will apologize to the masses who are in heaven whom I didn’t expect to see there. But I’d rather do that than stand in front of my Savior trying to explain why I helped a man into hell because I didn’t tell Him the good news of Jesus Christ who came to make us righteous if we only follow Him with all our heart.

Punishment or Pronouncement

I was thinking about Genesis 3 today. Most of the time people think of Genesis 3:14-19 as a word of punishment from God. But I wondered today if it was more of just a pronouncement of what was going to happen in the future.

In the NIV and the KJV, only God’s word to the serpent, “I will put enmity . . .” and his first words to Eve, “I will increase you pain . . .” include words that indicate God might be punishing. The rest of the passage makes it sound as if the sin released into the world caused the problem. “Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” Are those words of punishment, or a pronouncement of the consequences of sin?

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Punishment or pronouncement? When I read the first two chapters of Genesis, I get the feeling that God meant for husband and wife to be equal partners, to make one another better. But what if sin unleashed caused men through the ages to use the physical strength God gifted them with at creation to “rule over” the women, created with less physical strength, but different strengths to compliment the men’s strengths.

Much of the evil and bad things that happen today are primarily consequences of sin. Some, consequences for the person who created the evil. For others, their pain is the consequence of another’s sin. God doesn’t need to “punish” per se . . . we bring on trouble ourselves simply by stepping out of God’s will.

Hebrews 12 talks about God disciplining those He loves. Some would argue this means that God punishes, but discipline does not always mean punishment. Discipline more often means learning a lesson or doing a task to improve a skill. Discipline makes us a better person.

So . . . the whole thought process makes me wonder . . . did God tell Adam and Eve they were being punished or did He merely pronounce what He knew would happen because sin had been unleashed on the world?

What is a Christian?

I’m not going to call myself a Christian anymore. Instead I’d rather be known as a “close friend of Jesus Christ.” Everyone who has ever stepped foot in a church calls themselves a Christian, yet I wonder if many of them really know Jesus at all. You see, Jesus called those who do God’s will His brothers and sisters.

It made me think of the show “Blue Bloods.” The show is based around an Italian family whose “family business” is law enforcement. Even though the matriarchs of the family are both gone (mom and grandma have died), the entire extended family, sons, daughters, in-laws and grandchildren, gathers at least once a week for a family meal. They don’t miss unless they are working or on vacation. Nothing takes precedence over the family meal.

My family had a similar gathering pattern. As a child, I spent time with my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents at least weekly before they died. And my siblings and I were well aware we would be going to my paternal grandparents at least two Sundays a month. Grandma Meyer always had at least half a dozen pies waiting because all of the local aunts, uncles and cousins would be there by late afternoon.

The body of Christ is called to be a family. We are to be more than what the modern day church calls “Christian.” Hebrews 10 tells us to make sure we keep meeting together. I don’t want anyone to ever think that “marking attendance” is more important than a relationship with Jesus Christ, but the honest truth is part of the way we can measure how close we are to Christ is the priority we give to meeting with the “family.” If the following list was the criteria for for measuring your relationship, what would your category be?

Close Family or best friend – attends every Sunday plus Bible Study – corresponds to the Bible Apostles
Second cousin or casual friend – attends 75% of the time – corresponds to the Bible disciples
Close enough I should go to the funeral – attends 50% of the time – corresponds to the Bible followers
Comes to the annual family reunion – has a church to call home and goes when it’s convenient – corresponds to the Bible crowd

As you can tell by the third column, a lack of commitment by people who call themselves Christian has been going on since Jesus started His ministry. I’m sure the folks in the “crowd” thought they knew Jesus. They’d heard Him preach and eaten with Him on more than one occasion. These are the ones who lined the streets when they heard He was coming to town, but because they didn’t know Him like they thought they did, they are the same ones who stood in front of Pilate yelling, “Crucify Him!”

In case you’re wondering about the difference in disciples and followers, Mark 10 says that when they headed toward Jerusalem, the disciples were astonished, but the followers were afraid. Both groups knew that Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Jesus to be. Everyone was aware that the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead. So the disciples were surprised that Jesus was walking right into their headquarters, but they weren’t afraid. The disciples knew that Jesus had it under control. They’d not only seen Him work miracles, they believed that He could do things they couldn’t imagine. They weren’t afraid because they knew they were friends with the Son of God.

The followers on the other hand were frightened. What was going to happen to them if someone in Jerusalem found out they were following Christ? Should they keep it under wraps? Would they be better off distancing themselves from this man who calls Himself the Messiah? Following was a fun thing to do sometimes, the company of Jesus was an exciting place to be, but it wasn’t a priority. It is easy for a follower to fall away because the commitment level just isn’t there.

But if you read Mark 10:32 closely you see that the highest level of commitment is where we all should want to be. Jesus “took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen.” They had the inside scoop. The apostles were Christ’s closest friends, His confidants! That is the circle I want to be in. It’s the circle Joshua chose thousands of years before (Joshua 24:15). It’s the circle Moses and Abraham walked in. This is the circle founded by those folks from Hebrews 11.

This is why the leadership of our church (and probably yours) emphasizes church attendance. We don’t care about the numbers. It’s not a notch on our belt or bragging rights. We don’t want you to come because we want your money. We want you to be in worship and Bible Study because we know that’s where the Apostles are. We want you to be in the inner circle, the core, the ones closest to Christ. We want you to be the first ones to get a Word from Him, we want you to be His confidants.
All four of those categories (and even a few who think they are “good people” but don’t even have a church home) call themselves Christian. Yes, I am a Christian, but I prefer that you think of me as Jesus’ closest friend, His confidant, His family.