Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘grace’

What Happens in Heaven

Last week, I shared the scriptural truth about what happens when saints arrive in Heaven.  Though some folks misquote 2 Corinthians 5:10 and insist that we must all be confronted with our sins at the judgment seat of God, that’s not what the Bible actually says.  Instead, the Greek language is clear that Paul has the awards ceremonies of the Greek Games in mind.  We will all stand before God’s platform in Heaven where the impact of our ministry will be evaluated.  What did we do that resulted in lasting fruit?  What did we do that was simply wasted?  A prize will be awarded to every saint who has sacrificed, made a difference, and brought glory to God.

Paul has the very same scene in mind in 2 Timothy 5:8, when he writes, “And now the prize awaits me- the crown which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on the day of his return.”  The Apostle isn’t worried about being confronted with his sins and shame once again when he arrives in Heaven.  Instead, he’s looking forward to sharing in a grand awards ceremony with all the saints of all the ages.

A friend has asked, “But what about 1 Corinthians 3:9-15?  Paul is writing to Christians and he clearly teaches our works will be tried by fire, right?”  Of course, that’s the point.  Our performance of ministry will be evaluated.  Some things we’ve done won’t endure. Other things we’ve done are priceless and timeless.  The eternally significant sacrifices will be rewarded.  But this has nothing to do with sin, condemnation or being rebuked.  It’s all about the Lord God judging our performance at the Finish Line of life.  Verse 8 in that context is clear: each Christian servant will receive his own reward for his labor.

Have you ever experienced one of those awful moments when your life flashes before your eyes?  Years ago, my Jeep hydroplaned as I was driving one rainy day.  Within seconds, my vehicle was rocketing out of control, sliding across the median and into lanes of incoming traffic.  As the automobile spun, I literally experienced my life rushing through my mind.  Everything was in slow motion! Even as I watched my hands gripping the steering wheel, I saw images from childhood and teen-aged years.  Happily, no other vehicles struck mine, and the Jeep finally came to rest atop a fence by the highway.  Later I learned others have had similar experiences.

Why is it so common when we are in peril of death to experience that sensation- life flashing before our eyes?  And why is so much space in the human brain set aside for stored memories which are otherwise irretrievable?  I believe this is God’s mechanism for preparing us for Eternity.  At the moment of my death, I will suddenly have the opportunity to review my life one more time.  Instantly and perhaps in slo-mo, I can relive all those moments of my life when I refused God, turned from his plan, refused to accept him, hurt other people, and lived for my self.  All my sins and transgressions are apparently stored there along with everything else, all waiting the day of my departure from the Earth.

I believe the purpose is this: at the time of my death, I will quickly be able to evaluate my whole life; the race I’ve run.  In doing so, I will be reminded of the fact that I never deserved Heaven.  Not only did I never do anything to earn it, but my life is littered with corruption that should disqualify me altogether.  Only because of Jesus will I arrive on those splendid shores.  Only through his death and resurrection will my sinful eyes ever behold the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only through his pierced and resurrected hands and feet will my sorry soles ever tread the streets of that Eternal Kingdom.  So when I finally stand at those golden gates, all my sins and transgressions fresh in my mind, I will have no trouble falling down on my knees and pouring out my gratitude to the Lamb of God.  Psalm 100 reminds us we must “enter into His gates with thanksgiving;  his courts with praise.”

God really does have a tape recorder with all the disgusting moments of my life safely preserved.  But the Lord will never replay that tape.  All my sins have been removed as far from his mind as the East is from the West.  In the privacy of my own mind, I will be able to rapidly replay my life one last time.  And I will tearfully confess once again that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And I will thank Him through all Eternity.

Lift up the Cross!


How to Wage Peace

This blog is the last in a series on relationship rescue.  Have you ever tried to identify the ten most important New Testament principles for healthy relationships?  Pastor Tim did and here are his Ten Commandments of New Testament Relationships.

Mention relationship issues and we instantly think of marriage conflicts, disagreements among friends, or run-ins at the office.  But those aren’t the most difficult relationships for most people.  I would submit that the most dysfunctional relationships for the majority of us are those with people who hate and resent us.  That’s right!  I’m talking about your enemies; to which you might say, “But my enemies don’t count as relationships!  They aren’t people I love!”  And God would reply, “Oh, really?”

In Matthew 5:44, Christ directs his followers: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Later, he explains that we prove nothing by simply loving people who love us.  Even pagans do that!  Jesus People are supposed to love as our heavenly Father loves.  That is, he loves people who hate him, ignore him, and disrespect him.  He sends sunshine into their lives and rain for their gardens anyway.

Sometimes I act as though it’s incredibly difficult to forgive a loved one who wrongs me and eventually apologizes.  That just shows how little practice I have doing the really hard stuff: forgiving people who wrong me and never apologize!  Remember that famous prayer Christ uttered on the cross?  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”  We call that an “example.”

#10. Thou shalt love thy enemies and pray for people who dislike you.

I’ve found that church people tend to have a very distorted view of forgiveness.  When Jesus concludes the parable of the unforgiving debtor, he reminds us that we too must forgive people who fail to keep their promises; and we must forgive them from the heart.  (Matthew 18:35.)  The Greek word translated “forgive” can also be interpreted to divorce, to renounce, or to send away.  In regard to the offenses and failures of others, forgiveness means I must simply set them aside and refuse to harbor ill will or act on feelings of anger.  It means I refuse to resent; I declare peace.

Notably, forgiveness doesn’t mean that I must forget what has happened or treat the offender as I treat my closest friends.  After a husband’s third affair and subsequent apology, a long suffering wife may forgive him completely, yet she may decline to continue the marriage.  Christ commands that she must put away the hard feelings and pray for God’s will in his life.  The same is true of a friend who deceives me by squandering money he had promised to invest for me.  Should he finally ask for forgiveness, I am under orders to set aside my anger and resentment.  If he’s utterly bankrupt, I must forgive the debt.  But I am not obligated to trust him with my kids’ college fund.

On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of assuming that an apology is the same thing as repentance.  Americans in 2012 offer bland apologies for everything: I’m sorry you feel that way; I’m sorry for my little mistake; I’m sorry things worked out the way they did; etc.  The Bible nowhere recommends apologies.  Look it up in your concordance sometime.  Instead, the Bible prescribes “repentance” in response to wrong doing.  True repentance has fruits that spring from it.  Repentance means I accept responsibility; I am ashamed of my behavior; I make no excuses; I blame no one else; I will wait patiently while you find it in your heart to respect me again.  Repentance is humble and patient.

Most Americans know little or nothing of authentic repentance.  We prefer to paper things over with noncommittal words of apology.  That’s too bad.  But when failed human beings bring those apologies to you or me, we are obligated to put away the anger, renounce our rights to revenge, and give them another chance to live in peace.  Revoking anger and choosing to live in peace with someone who wronged you is the essence of Christ-likeness.  It is precious and uncommon. It borders on the miraculous.

Lift up the cross!

The Search for the Prodigal

Why is it that prodigal daughters never come home?  In fact, they actually do.  Pastor Jim Cymbala recalls the night when months of tearful prayers were answered through a phone call from his long lost daughter.  She did indeed come home to her dad and eventually her heavenly father, but she was never called prodigal.  That’s because we only use the term for rebellious young males.  What’s more, we most commonly use the word incorrectly!

Not long ago, I read a review of the popular motion picture, Warrior.  The article explained that the martial arts film “tells the familiar story of a prodigal son.”  How would you define that term?  Most of us would reply that it’s a lad who rebels and leaves home, only to return later to make peace with his family and start anew.  Right? Wrong.

This common mistake serves to illustrate the amazing power of God’s Word.  We all know the term prodigal son only because of the familiar story in the Gospel of Luke.  An ungrateful young adult insults his father and demands his inheritance in advance.  When his kindly dad gives him his way, the young man takes all that wealth to a distant land where he squanders it all in decadence and immorality.  Waking up one day to discover he is friendless, penniless, and hopeless, he comes to his senses and returns home.  There he begs his father’s forgiveness, insisting that he is no longer worthy to be called a son, and asks only that his father might hire him and pay him as a servant.

Hence, almost everyone in the Western world and many far beyond have come to assume that prodigal has something to do with a young man who runs away, realizes his error, and finally returns home to his father.  That’s not what the word means.  Our word prodigal goes back to the Latin term prodigus.  It doesn’t mean rebellious or wayward or even repentant.  It means wasteful or excessively extravagant!  The prodigal son earned his title when he blew his entire fortune overnight.  The full account is found in Luke 15: 11-32.

But here’s another funny little fact.  The word prodigal is never found in the parable.  Luke simply refers to the wastrel as the younger son.  The term prodigal is only found in captions and headings dating back to the earliest English translation of the Bible.  Some suggest it is first found in the Douay-Rheims Bible from 1582.  A few scholars believe it goes back to the Latin Vulgate, where it would have been expressed filius prodigus.  So while Luke never included the word prodigal, our mistaken assumption comes from the caption added later.

That’s how deeply the Bible is imbedded in the subconscious of most Western men and women.  Even those who never read the Word of God find its words and ideas are mentally  imported through stories and conversation from culture and conversation.  For instance, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is full of terms from the Bible.  Over a year ago, I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with a friend who had grown up in Japan just after World War II.  Although she was raised as a Buddhist, her parents had sent her to a Catholic School as a child so that she could enjoy the advantage of speaking English.  Many of the English texts she learned to read were from the Holy Bible.  She grew up, married, and remained a Buddhist for most of her adult life.  After her Christian husband passed away, she came to my office and asked how she, too, could become a believer.  And as I began to share verses from the Bible, I noticed her lips moving quietly, reciting the words with me.  She hadn’t thought about them for decades but they had been there since elementary school, deeply rooted and waiting to bear fruit.

Our mistaken notion of that odd word prodigal reminds us that the Bible is still a defining voice in the lives of secular Americans.  One day the Holy Spirit will fan revival into flames and we will see those kernels of truth popping open and bringing faith and righteousness, fluffy and white and salty, into lives we had thought were lost forever.

Go back and read Luke 15 again.  And lift up the cross!


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