Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘New Testament’

Will We be Judged in Heaven?

Forgiveness must be permanent.  When you offer another human being forgiveness, you cannot drag that same offense back out a few days later when your mood is different.  Temporary forgiveness is unacceptable among human beings, and yet some Christians suggest God’s grace works that way.

There are church people, some of whom I respect, who believe that God’s forgiveness has an expiration date.  They are convinced that people who turn to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance are instantly forgiven of all their sins.  But once those saints arrive in Heaven, we’re told that everything changes.  Their sins are back on the agenda and every new arrival must appear before an angry judge who has a tape recorder with all the evidence!  You might wonder where people get such an idea about God.  In fact, they base it on a statement written by Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, it does say, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  But the context for this verse is Paul’s exclamation that he is eager to finally reach Heaven.  Do you really believe he looks forward to Heaven because all his sins will be exhumed and thrown back in his face by a disappointed God?  Think again!  The Greek word that is translated “judgment seat,” actually has several shades of meaning.  Basically, it denotes a platform with stairs. In one context, it describes the place where a judge sits.  In other contexts, it refers to a royal platform where the King rests on his throne.  But in other legit circumstances, it speaks of a winner’s platform where Olympians are awarded the trophies they have won.

I am convinced Paul is looking forward to a heavenly awards ceremony where God rewards lives of service and surrender.  I believe that because it fits the context of 2 Corinthians 5.  I also believe it because Paul confesses the same sentiment in other texts that are not in dispute.  For example, just before his execution in 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul expresses his confidence that he has fought the good fight and finished the race.  “And now the prize awaits me- the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on the day of his return.”

Paul is not looking forward to having an angry judge review his old, dead sins.  Rather, he can’t wait to arrive in Heaven and experience the Awards Ceremony where God acknowledges lives of faith poured out for the glory of God by the saints of all the ages.  2 Corinthians 5 speaks of  the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics; not the return of a verdict in a courtroom.

Elsewhere in the scriptures, it is clear that God’s grace is permanently bestowed.  Psalm 103:12 reminds us, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”  Do the East and West ever meet?  Of course not!  Romans 8:1 contains Paul’s assurance, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  Because of Christ, we will never again be condemned.  For believers, that happened when the Holy Spirit convicted us of sin and led us to faith in Christ.

My life could never compare to Paul’s amazing life, and yet I think I know how he felt.  I can’t wait to experience the splendor of Heaven.  From everything I read, there will ultimately be this amazing Awards Ceremony in that Kingdom of Light.  And there will finally be a moment when I stand before the Heavenly Father, who will express his approval of sacrifices I made and ministry I accomplished for Him.  Scripture suggests there will be some kind of laurel or crown presented to me.  And that will allow me to express my endless gratitude one more time- by placing that crown at the feet of the One who rescued me from destruction.

In closing, I do believe there is something like a “divine tape recorder,” where all the sins and failures of life are recorded.  I’ll share it with you next time, because this blog is already too long.  I think you’ll be surprised and inspired.  So come back next week for the rest of the story.  But in the meantime, if you go to Heaven before we’re together again, don’t be anxious.  God doesn’t have a guilty verdict or a lightning bolt to hurl your way when you finally arrive.  Rather, there will be an Awards Ceremony that will take your breath away- figuratively speaking, of course!  I don’t know if we actually need to breathe in Heaven, but there will be much to celebrate.

Lift up the Cross!

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Latter Day Saints & Present Day Politics

Some Christians are so eager to elect Mitt Romney that they’d like to adopt him as well.  That is, some godly Americans believe they can only elect Christians to political office, so they’re wondering, “Mormons are actually Christians, aren’t they?”  Of course, the answer is “No.”  The Church of the Latter Day Saints is not a Christian denomination.

In terms of theology, Latter Day Saints utterly reject the biblical ideal of One True God.  To the contrary, they believe that there are many gods and that devout Mormons who marry well will eventually become gods, procreate and revel in their own divine glory throughout eternity. (This core idea is explicit in their Doctrines & Covenants 132: 18 – 21.)  In addition, they teach that faith is insufficient for salvation.  Good deeds and religious acts are essential in earning a foothold in eternity. (Doctrines & Covenants 20:14)

In terms of authority, Mormons clearly teach that the Holy Bible is insufficient.  While orthodox Christianity is rooted entirely in the life and teachings of Christ in the New Testament, Latter Day Saints also rely on other recent books which they regard as sacred scriptures.  Those other texts would include the Book of Mormon,  the Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants.  Anyone wondering how Mormonism fits into orthodox Christianity should simply read the Book of Mormon.  The fact that the LDS are not in sync with the teachings of Christ will become apparent.

Historically, the Mormons insist that Joseph Smith restored the True Church when he launched his movement.  In other words, between the Age of the Apostles and  1829, there was no True Church on the Planet Earth.  Until the 1970’s, Mormon missionaries did not even present themselves as Christians.  Rather, their goal was to convert Christians to Mormonism.  It was not until a new and enlarged public relations movement launched an expensive television advertising campaign in the 1970’s that Latter Day Saints began to emphasize the King James Bible and identify themselves as Christians.

So there’s no serious question about whether or not Latter Day Saints are a Christian sect or denomination.  They are not.  But this raises two other important questions.

1. How should we feel about Latter Day Saints?  The simple answer is, we should love them.  The commandment of Christ is that his followers must be agents of love.  We even love our enemies, in hopes that we can reach them with the Gospel.  Just because Mormons are a non-Christian religion doesn’t mean we should love them less.  It means we should pray for them more.

2. Can a Christian vote for an electoral candidate who is a Mormon?  Only you can make that decision for yourself.  But there’s nothing in the US Constitution or the Bible that stipulates believers can only vote for other Christians.  Even a superficial reading of history suggests there have been other occupants of the White House over the years who were not really Christians.  The odds are that most of us have already voted for a ringer or two.   Hence, should a Latter Day Saint be elected President of the USA in November, he would not be the first non-Christian ever sworn into office.

Lift up the Cross!

Sexual Positions

Atlanta Pastor Andy Stanley ignited a firestorm a couple of weeks ago with a bizarre sermon illustration.  He apparently wanted to convey the complexity of the moral questions Christians must answer in 2012.  So he shared a true story about a couple who were not allowed to accept leadership roles at his church because one of the two men was not officially divorced.  By denying the man a role of leadership due to “good old fashioned adultery,” Pastor Stanley skated right past the problem that the men were carrying on a homosexual affair.  It left the impression that the Southern Baptist pastor was extending acceptance of gay sex.  Friends of Stanley argued that the charge is outrageous:  homosexuality was not the point of the sermon.   But who honestly knows what the mega-church pastor was thinking?

That’s the problem with the current rush from judgment that is underway in churches all across the land.  Research and personal experience tell us that young people are broadly accepting of gay and lesbian relationships.  Can we honestly hope to reach the next generation if we insist on rigid doctrines while they demand compassion and authenticity?  One could argue that the future of the American Church is not being written in black and white anymore.  Indeed, the ministry narrative of the future will be written with fat, colorful marker pens and the storyline will feature the teenager who is dropped off for Bible Study every Sunday by his lesbian Mom and his transgender Dad.  How do you help a kid like that?  Don’t worry about it: the Minister to Students can sort if all out, right?

That’s why the idea of ‘triangulation,’ once a political strategy, is fast becoming a doctrine of church growth.  Whenever you have two competing moral positions and one is popular while the other is biblical, what does a pastor do?  A faithful pastor upholds the biblical position.  But a ‘sensitive’ pastor hammers out a third position– an ambiguous one that is somewhere to the left of one and the right of the other.

  • If abortion is legal but the sanctity of life is biblical, give a quick nod to cute babies but preach on keeping the gospel positive.
  • If divorce is popular but lifetime marriage is biblical, concede that divorce is painful, but rail against hateful Christianity.
  • When Darwinism is rising even though Creationism is scriptural, ponder both sides while you denounce ignorant legalism.
  • If homosexuality is trending but heterosexual marriage is biblical, pivot to the hypocrisy of adultery in marriage.

As a pastor, I sympathize with the concerned voices who ask, “Can we ever reach them with the Gospel if they think we’re hateful, bigoted prudes and homophobes?”  It’s a great question!  But I identify more with Paul who asks in Romans 10:14, ” How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

Whenever I share the Gospel with a man who uses excessive profanity or a couple who are shacking  up, it’s true I don’t call out their specific sins.  I share the Gospel and point them to Jesus.  And if they turn to Christ in faith, I ask them to read their Bible, pray and meet with me again in a few days.  And I am often amazed at how , in my absence, the Holy Spirit has brought conviction of sins I never pointed out.  But if the Spirit hasn’t spoken by the time we meet again, I gently explain all the things that repentance and faith will require of them.  It’s my job to disciple them.

So I would agree that it’s true- one sermon can’t possibly address every moral evil.  And even the most eloquent preacher cannot clarify every implication of a simple illustration in a 25 minute sermon.   But in an age when homosexuality is being widely celebrated as an alternate lifestyle, it’s dishonest and disingenuous to try and reach young people with ambiguous stories.  Paul would argue, “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”

We’ll be fighting this battle for a generation.  Let’s be certain the sound of the bugle is clear.

And lift up the Cross!

Survival Skills

 

Bear Grylls has survived being stranded on a mountain, being swamped in a blizzard, and being abandoned in a rain forest.  Clearly, this is a man who knows how to take care of himself.  That’s why a recent interview in Mens’s Fitness Magazine is so revealing.

An editor asked Bear, “What are your backpack essentials?”

Grylls replied, “Definitely a phone, water-proofed with double, zip-locked bags.  Tell people where you’re going and when you’re due back.  One of my knives- the one I always use on the show is called the Ultimate Knife.  I always take a laminated picture of my wife and my three kids, which I tuck into the sole of my shoe.  And my grandfather’s New Testament.”

Just a few years ago, the highly knowledgeable adventurer realized he didn’t have a clue about surviving the Earth and making his way through eternity.  He enrolled in the Alpha Course in Great Britain where he ultimately became a follower of Jesus Christ.  So it’s not surprising that he never leaves home without his New Testament.

We’re confident that the Discovery Channel will never find a wilderness that Bear Grylls can’t survive.  But if they do and things go south, the hero of Man Vs Wild is confident that Jesus Christ will get him safely home.  There’s a lesson here somewhere.  You can always find something to eat, even if it’s only bark or beetles.  However, man cannot live by bark and insects alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Lift up the Cross!

Lost in Space

Christians carry on the goofiest conversations about Heaven.  Just think about  it: we are convinced that there is a utopian paradise where people who love God will live forever.  We say we believe something as exciting and mind-bending as that, and then we make these outrageous and uninformed comments.  We believe in a real place where God reigns for all eternity, and then we become utterly lost in space.   We say things like:

  • “Will we have pets in Heaven?  If my dog can’t be there, I could never be happy.”
  • “I think I’ll get bored sitting around playing a harp all day!  There will surely be sports and games in Heaven, won’t there?”
  • “You know there will be sex in Heaven!  How could we ever be happy without being married and having sex?”
  • “I hope Heaven looks like a painting by Thomas Kinkeade!  Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a place like that?”
  • “Do you think we’ll all have mansions?  Do you really believe the streets are paved with gold?”

Even as we affirm the existence of Heaven, we utterly miss the point!  The most important thing about Heaven is that God is there in all his glory, in all his fulness.  We will be in God’s presence, seeing him face to face, for all the ages to come and beyond!  We will see more of his power, understand more of his character, experience more in worship than we ever have before.  Who cares whether the streets are 28kt gold or just 14kt?  Why would I quibble about being asked to play a harp or an oboe?  What’s the difference if we eat pomegranates or T-bone steaks brushed with white chocolate?  The Almighty God is there and people who love him get to live there in paradise forever!

Sunday morning in Bible Study, I reminded a good friend of mine that he and his wife have lived in 10 different cities over the course of his career.  They really enjoyed some of those cities and didn’t care at all for a couple.  But they were happy in all those places.  My friend’s wife never quibbled about the variety of restaurants or the standard of living or even the crime rate in any of those places before moving there.  She cheerfully relocated to every single city and enjoyed being there because she could be with the love of her life; and he would be with her.  Everything else was inconsequential compared to being with the one you love most.

In Heaven we will get to be with God in all his glory.  That’s the point.  That’s why godly martyrs in every age have gladly exchanged life here for life eternal there!  It’s about God, not the paving materials used for highways.  If I inherit a mansion or a shack in the woods, I couldn’t care less.  If I am asked to be a worship leader or a spiritual garbage collector, it doesn’t matter.  If there’s chocolate there, I will smile; but if sugary foods are prohibited in Heaven, I’ll be happy all the same.  Because after all these years of loving God through a glass darkly,  I will finally see him face to face… forever.

That’s why Heaven is special.  Never lose sight of who really makes that Kingdom truly unique.

And lift up the Cross!

Friends Forever

This blog is tenth in a series on relationship rescue.  If you made a list of the ten most powerful New Testament principles for healthy relationships, what would they be?  Pastor Tim’s list is at number nine.

#9: Thou shalt build up thy friends in the faith, and encourage them to press toward the mark of God’s high calling in Christ.

The best gift you can give a good friend is to introduce him to Jesus Christ.  If your friend is already a believer, the most loving thing you can do for her is to encourage her to seek the Lord more intently and allow him to grow her in faith.  That’s what Paul has in mind in 1 Thessalonians 5:11.  “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

We have this quirky idea about relationships.  We tend to think relationships are all about getting something.  Buds share my good times.  Siblings give us honesty.  Parents give us guidance…and money!  Coworkers give us loyalty.  Husbands and wives give us intimacy.  Quite often, we think of ourselves as “The Beloved.”  I’m special and other people are supposed to revolve around me and my needs, right?

This week, try a different paradigm.  Envision yourself as God’s Special Agent.  Your job is to use your relationships to nudge as many people toward faith in Christ as possible.  If you friends and co-workers are believers, encourage them to talk about their faith with you.  If they’re unbelievers, encourage them to talk about their hopes and dreams… and then their fears and questions.  Then share your hopes and dreams with them.  Presumably, you’re dreaming of going to Heaven and taking as many people with you as possible.

Scripture reminds us that just like iron sharpening iron, one man or woman sharpens another.  When my friends spend time with me, I want their spiritual edges to be sharper; not soft and dull.  So I look for ways to motivate them toward the cross.

Some friends have no higher ambition than sharing an evening out, or a movie, or a good laugh.  Paul was all about sharing Christ, building bonds of faith, and growing the Christian community.  I’m with Paul.

Lift up the cross!

Nobody’s Gettin’ Enough

This blog is the ninth in a series on relationship rescue.  We’re looking for the most powerful New Testament principles for healthy relationships. Pastor Tim’s Top Ten:

According to John Maxwell, “Man does not live by bread alone.  Sometimes he needs a little buttering up.”  We’re not talking about flattery here.  We’re talking about encouragement.  Everybody needs it- including your friends and loved ones.

#8: Thou shalt catch others in the act of doing something good. (And tell them!)

Encouragement is so rare that almost no one gets enough.  Not long ago, a rugged male friend of mine lost a lot of weight.  It not only changed his appearance, but it changed the way he felt and acted.  He was even more energetic, more positive.  The first time I mentioned how great he looked, his face broke into a big smile.  “I’ve lost 20 pounds,” he commented.  “You’re the first person who’s noticed!”

My friend has always been healthy, successful and athletic.  I’m guessing nobody bothered to comment because they figured he’s so together that he doesn’t need a good word.  In fact, everybody needs encouragement and we need it a lot.  It’s so important that God’s Word reminds us to be intentional.

Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

In our self-centered, therapeutic culture, many of us have assumed that the mark of true friendship is someone’s willingness to listen to all my sorrows, anxieties and frustrations.  Maybe, but most people aren’t really looking for a friend because they enjoy depressing conversations.  Most people want friends because the people we love can add value to our lives.  They hang with us.  They laugh with us.  They understand us.  And if I’m one of those really lucky individuals, they notice when I do things right, and let me know.

Want to build more positive friendships?  Practice this simple trick for two weeks and you’ll be amazed at the results.  Be intentional about listening.  Hone in on some things your friends are doing right.  Or take note of some strengths and personal talents.  Then be deliberate in telling the people you love some of the reasons why you love them.  Encourage them to keep on doing the things they do so well.  You’ll become a more attractive person, and you’ll be handing out a prescription everybody needs.

Lift up the Cross!

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