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Posts Tagged ‘Eternal Life’

While Scripture passages such as Romans 8:31-39 assure us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is always the temptation for us to accept God’s eternal salvation in which our sins are forgiven and we are assured a place in heaven, yet be reluctant to go deeper in our walk with Jesus because he might demand too much of us in this life.

We enjoy the benefits of our Christian faith and participate occasionally in church events—Sunday services, Easter and Christmas celebrations, weddings, baptisms, funerals or memorials—but often avoid commitments that demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Unwilling to move out of our comfort zone, we give minimally of our time, our resources, and ourselves to God, the church, and to others, leaving the bulk of God’s Kingdom work to the very few dedicated souls among us.

To all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, he says, as he did to his disciples:

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49; see also Matt. 7:24-27)

Jesus is not comparing Christians and unbelievers, but two types of Christians—those who listen to his teachings and obey them, and those who listen to his teachings but do not obey them.

What we do with the words of Jesus—especially his Sermon on the Mount teachings about the characteristics of being his disciples (Matthew 5-7)—determines how we respond to life’s hurricanes of crises:

• Obedience to Christ’s teachings creates a strong foundation that will withstand life’s crises.

• Disobedience to Christ’s teachings inevitably leads to major collapses amid life’s crises.

While life’s storms and hurricanes are sure to strike every one of us at some time or another, obedience leads to protection in the midst of these crises. Disobedience doesn’t.

When we read Matthew 5-7 and understand what Jesus teaches and what he calls us to become and to do as his followers, we soon realize that he is calling us to be a unique people whose values are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems.

For example:

• Jesus calls us to both care for people who are poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, and be willing ourselves to be poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, for to such belong the kingdom of God. However, those who are not poor in spirit—the proud, the self-assured, the powerful, the arrogant—are not in God’s kingdom.

• Jesus blesses those who are gentle, meek, and lowly. But the world rejects such qualities as weakness, and places no value on such people.

• Jesus teaches us to seek God’s praise. The world teaches to seek its praise.

• Jesus calls us to seek the Father’s eternal treasures. The world entices us with money, fame, and earthly success that soon fade.

• Jesus calls us to purity of heart and truth. The world persecutes the pure of heart and opposes the truth.

How seriously do we consider such teachings of Jesus? Do we see them as impractical in today’s fast-paced, complex, and sophisticated world? Do we see them as unrealistic? Irrelevant? Too hard?

Or do we, like Peter, consider Jesus’ teachings and respond, “Lord, you alone have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Yes, through the love, grace, and mercy of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, we have eternal life—now and forever. And yes, we have Jesus’ assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28).

But we must never forget that not only do the words of Jesus give eternal life, they also contain many warnings to those of us who are prone to ignore them.

There is grace in “once saved always saved,” but there is also the caveat: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

The Christian journey, therefore, involves the duality of living with both certainty and caution; assurance of eternal salvation and warnings; balancing God’s gift of grace with our individual responsibility to live obediently in response to that grace.

This duality is expressed beautifully by the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes:

“Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”

May we embrace the duality of following Jesus as today’s disciples—assured of our salvation but always careful to live obediently with deep reverence and fear.

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A blogger, whose 16-year-old daughter recently lost a young friend to suicide, commented, “I asked God to help me understand why they [who take their lives] go to Hell. I am no one to question God, but I need an answer. I can’t find one—yet.”

Although the Bible doesn’t use the word “suicide,” it provides four incidents of individuals taking their lives—I Sam. 31:4-5; II Sam. 17:23; I Kings 16:18; and Matt. 27:5.

However, the Bible does not address the eternal future of those who commit suicide, nor does it specifically prohibit or condemn the act.

What the Bible provides are inferences regarding the high value of the human life. These include Acts 16: 27-28 where Paul stops his prison guard from killing himself, and such verses as:

Do not murder.” –Exodus 20:13

For we are not our own master when we live or when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.” –Rom. 14:7-9

Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” –I Cor. 6:19-20

No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.” –Eph. 5:30

Along with the grief and emotional devastation experienced by family and friends when their loved one commits suicide, there is usually a variety of difficult and troubling questions, including the one about hell.

As someone who lost a family member to suicide, and knows of two Christian leaders who ended their own lives, I have found hope and encouragement about their eternal future from Scripture, though I am careful to not apply this to all suicides.

First, these were suicides that occurred while these individuals were suffering from chronic and debilitating bouts of sadness, pain, and depression. The causes ranged from life-shattering events, medication problems, illnesses, diseases, and severe mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. Such bouts sometimes lasted for years and were so severe that the individuals lost hope and finally gave up on life.

Second, I don’t believe that they were rational or in their right minds when they ended their lives. They were in mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown and bankruptcy—totally crushed in their inner beings—and in such a state, Jesus’ pronouncement of blessings can be applied to them when he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Matt. 5:3-4 (New International Version, NIV)

Based on these verses, I believe that the kingdom of God is a gift of grace, mercy, hope, and comfort to those who are destitute in spirit and who mourn from within the depths of their despair—even to those of his children who commit suicide.

Third, Scripture assures us that our salvation in Jesus Christ can never be broken or taken away from us:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high in the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Rom. 8: 35, 37-39

And what of those who never acknowledged or accepted God or Jesus Christ into their lives before their suicides? There is no such assurance of their place in his heavenly kingdom or that they will be comforted.

Still, there is the possibility that some of them might have cried out to God from within their death throes. Might God, in his compassion, grace, love, and mercy have forgiven them?

I believe he might have, for just as he expressed through Jesus his compassion, forgiveness, and healing for the sick, the crippled in body and mind, the tormented, and sinners—even the dying thief on the cross—so he might have had compassion and forgiveness for such ones who realized their need for him at the last moment.

And I believe that we might be surprised to see who will be—and who won’t be—in his kingdom on Judgment Day (Matt. 25:31-46).

*****

All Bible references are from the New Living Translation (NLT), except the noted NIV reference.

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None of us has escaped those passages of life during which we are troubled, confused, drained of all vitality and direction, or plagued by self-doubt and ineffectiveness.

Recently I have been suffering from writer’s block as I try to work on both a novel and this blog. Among the doubts that seem to be blocking my efforts to write are: Am I good enough? Do I have anything significant to say? Will people read what I write? Will my writing inspire people to journey with Jesus Christ? Will my life or my work for Christ matter?

I was therefore encouraged when I came across I Corinthians 15:58:

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (New Living Translation, NLT)

This verse comes at the end of the 15th chapter in which the Apostle Paul responds to critics who claim that the resurrection of Christ is a lie and that the Christian faith is empty and useless.

Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that:

• The resurrection was factual—that Jesus was crucified and died for our sins, that he was buried in a tomb, that God raised him to life on the third day, that he was seen by Peter and the disciples as well as over 500 people, including James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul himself. (I Cor. 15:1-10)

• Because Jesus was raised from the dead, all who are related to Jesus by faith will also be raised from the dead. (verse 22)

• Because Jesus overcame death and ascended into heaven with a new heavenly body, all who are in Jesus Christ will also be resurrected with new bodies fit for his heavenly kingdom. (verses 42-53)

• Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death is no longer a source of dread or fear for those who follow him, for he has defeated death and gives us hope and assurance for life beyond the grave. (verses 54-56)

For all these reasons, Paul insists that nothing we do is useless in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have each been called to share the good news of his life and resurrection in all areas of our lives, and we should not be discouraged during those passages of life when we are troubled, confused, drained of all vitality and direction, or plagued by self-doubt.

Instead, Paul encourages us to be strong, steadfast, and enthusiastic in all that we do—for it is by remembering and celebrating Christ’s resurrection that we find meaning , strength, and reason to face the challenges of our lives.

We should not worry about the results of what we do for Christ, for that’s up to our Lord. Our responsibility is to be obedient to the Lord and to the tasks or call that he has given each one of us.

It is enough for us to be assured that nothing that we do for him is useless or in vain.

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That was the title of a Los Angeles Times article announcing the release of Kris Kristofferson’s new CD, “Feeling Mortal,” in which the 76-year-old actor/singer/songwriter looks unflinchingly in the face of death and is comfortable with what he sees.

Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson

For instance, in Kristofferson’s opening track from which he pulls his album title, he writes:

Here today and gone tomorrow
That’s the way it’s got to be
With an empty blue horizon
For as far as I can see

In the same track Kristofferson wonders if he is where he ought to be (presumably in his relationship with God), thanks God for making him the kind of man he turned out to be (faults and all), and then ends the song with an expression of satisfaction:

Soon or later I’ll be leaving
I’m a winner either way
For the laughter and the loving
That I’m living with today

Randy Lewis, the writer of the article, states that despite Kristofferson’s outstanding legacy in country-western music and rock and roll, mainstream radio programmers most likely would not give much airplay to “Feeling Mortal,” the implication being that listeners do not want to be reminded of their own mortality.

But what is likely true for radio listeners and society at large should not be true for those of us who follow Jesus Christ. We should not be afraid of where we are going.

And where are we going when we die? We’re going immediately into the presence of Jesus Christ, fully aware of our savior and ourselves.

The apostle Paul expresses it this way:

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. That is why we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.
–2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (New Living Translation, NLT)

Or, as the New King James Version (NKJV) translates verse 8:

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

And in his letter to the Philippian Church, Paul expresses his conflicting desires between living and dying:

For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better. Yet, if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don’t know which is better. I am torn between two desires: Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ. That would be far better for me, but it is better for you that I live. – Philippians 1:21-24 (NLT)

Paul longs for death because it is the gateway into the glorious presence and eternal life of Christ himself.

Paul understands that life and death, the present and the future, are gifts from God to us who follow Jesus Christ. The gift of death is only the beginning of eternal life with God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

Like Paul, we are also torn between this life and going home to be with the Lord. We want to live long, healthy, and happy lives, enjoying our families and loved ones, and accomplishing our goals and dreams. And although we know that death is inevitable, we are reluctant to leave loved ones behind, and we fear that someday no one will remember us.

While some of us are enjoying financial success, fulfilling careers, beautiful homes, and happy families, and are in no hurry to go home to be with the Lord, there are others of us who are struggling with pain, illnesses, financial hardships, and a host of problems that so suck the vitality out of living that death might indeed seem like a welcome gift that leads us into a new life free from sorrow and pain.

Jesus experienced both grief and joy at his own impending death. He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, telling his disciples, “my soul is crushed with grief to the point of death . . .” for he was about to take upon himself the sins of the entire human race (Matthew 26:38).

Yet Jesus ultimately faced his death joyfully, for he knew that his upcoming death was the doorway that would take him back to God and the glory they shared before all creation (John 17:5), so he submitted to God’s will (Matthew 26:42) and endured his crucifixion “because of the joy he knew would be his afterward” (Hebrews 12:2, NLT).

His death and resurrection make it possible for us to pass from death to life, from our temporary home on earth to our real and eternal home that our Father has prepared for us in heaven (John 14:2-3).

That is why we, who have committed our lives to following Christ, must evaluate our lives and live each day from the perspective of eternity. Wherever we are in life—whether we are young in age or young in our faith, whether we’re going through our mid-life journey or facing our senior years—we are called to live joyfully each day because we are not afraid of where we’re going!

Hear, then, the words and sentiment of another country and western singer, Tim McGraw, as he encourages us to “Live like you were dying.”

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In the present climate of political campaigning in which a single word or phrase can impact a candidate’s poll numbers positively or negatively, I’m reminded of an incident in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John in which Jesus lost almost all his disciples when they took offense at his invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

The difference today is that while a candidate’s words might have local or national political consequences for a time, Jesus’ words have eternal consequences for every living person on this planet.

A throng of five thousand men and perhaps as many as five to fifteen thousand women and children had been following Jesus for days because he had used five bread loaves and two fish to miraculously feed them until they were full.

Like today’s throngs who flock to hear preachers with “prosperity gospel” messages that promise health, wealth, and the good life if they follow Jesus, the throngs that followed Jesus that day were only interested in the good life of his miracle food.

He warned them that they shouldn’t be so concerned about perishable things like food, but that they should seek the true bread of heaven that God was offering through him.

“Sir,” they replied, “give us that bread every day of our lives.” (John 6:34, New Living Translation, NLT)

At which, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)

But the people didn’t believe that he was from heaven, for they knew him only as the son of Joseph, the carpenter.

Then Jesus dropped a bombshell:

“I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them at the last day. For my flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. All who eat my flesh and drink my blood remain in me, and I in them.” (John 6:53-56)

This seemingly cannibalistic invitation offended his listeners that day, including many of his own disciples who deserted him.

So turning to the remaining twelve disciples, Jesus asked, “Are you going to leave, too?”

To which Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus was not inviting people to literally eat his flesh and drink his blood. He was inviting them to partake of the spiritual nourishment and eternal life that is gifted to those who believe in him and are united in a personal relationship with God through him.

As with people in the time of Jesus, there are those today who reject Jesus because he offends them with his claims that:

• No one comes to God except through him (John 14:6).

• Forgiveness of sin and salvation to eternal life are found in no one else but him (Acts 4:12)

• Love for him must be greater than love for family and friends (Matthew 10:37)

• They must put aside their selfish ambitions, shoulder their cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23)

• They must leave their life of sin (John 5:14; 8:11)

• They must be willing to suffer for him (Matthew 10:24-26; Acts 20:24; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 3:13-17)

Jesus knew that not only would his own Jewish people reject him (John 1:10-11) but so would the vast majority of mankind, for he said:

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT)

Yes, only a few entered that narrow gate in the beginning—Simon Peter, ten of the remaining disciples, and a group of women who believed in Jesus and funded his ministry during the three years that he preached.

And after his crucifixion, death, resurrection from the dead, and his ascension back to heaven, many more people believed and chose to follow Jesus into the Kingdom of God, especially after God empowered them with the Holy Spirit to spread the good news that:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:16, NLT)

Today, two thousand and twelve years later, countless numbers continue to enter that Narrow Gate through which they experience eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, and find nourishment of their souls as they fellowship with the living Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.

So, among the many questions and choices that we must make in the next few days and weeks, including for whom will we be voting to lead our nation, here are three far more eternally significant questions that each of us must answer for ourselves:

Am I among the few who have entered the Narrow Gate to eternal life that Jesus provides?

Am I willing to partake of his flesh and blood and be nourished spiritually?

Is my heart-felt response to Jesus, “Lord, to whom would I go? You alone have the words that give eternal life . . . ”?

I pray that your answer will be “Yes” to all three.

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She dropped in midway through our church’s 12-week workshop, “EXPERIENCING GOD: Knowing and Doing the Will of God,” and sat beside me at our table.  She had never been to our church before and had been invited to the workshop by one of our members to learn about the will of God.

But we were not far into that evening’s session when our visitor became agitated and began to mutter in disagreement with what was being said about Terry, one of our congregation’s outstanding Bible teachers and leaders, who had died the week before at the age of 57, less than four months after doctors discovered that he had a brain tumor.

Terry had been very successful in business, including the founding and operating of a very profitable sportswear company.  He lived an affluent life and was a highly respected and effective Bible teacher and leader at our church.

But in the 1990s, Terry suffered financial setbacks and lost his business.  For several years he was unable to find work and eventually lost his beautiful home.  Throughout his years of financial setbacks and ordeals, Terry continued to witness and teach about God’s faithfulness, love, and amazing grace – even after his brain tumor was discovered in July 2000, and even after he knew that he was going to die.  Despite our fervent prayers for Terry’s healing, he died within months, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

This discussion disturbed our visitor.  She had become a Christian nearly two years before, with the expectation that not only would Christ save her soul but that he would bless her abundantly in all aspects of life – including her finances, love life, health, and with long life.

When we started to discuss the possibility that the premature death – and not the healing of Terry – might have been God’s will, she became so disturbed that she got up from the table and left the workshop.

As I watched her leave, I suddenly thought of the words and tune of a 1970s pop song by Joe South:

I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden,
Along with the sunshine
There’s gotta be a little rain sometime.

Our visitor expected her new faith in Jesus to be the key to life’s rose garden, but she was unwilling to accept the possibility that along with the beauty of roses could come thorns, storms, droughts, setbacks, failures, and things that kill.

She had apparently embraced the “prosperity gospel” brand of Christianity but couldn’t handle the reality that “s – – t happens” to even those who follow Christ.

And even more significant, she freaked out at the idea that God would allow such things to happen to his followers!

So she ran.

As we begin 2011 and look forward to the coming months, we naturally hope and pray that it will be a great year in which we’ll enjoy the good things of life – health, financial stability and success, happiness, pleasure, and loving relationships, all part of achieving the desires of our heart.

But what if bad things were to intrude into our carefully planned lives?  How do we, as Christians, deal with life in crisis?

There are several principles in Romans 8 that our brother Paul lays out to help us face life’s difficulties:

First, remember who we are and to whom we belong.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. (vv. 1, 2; these and the following verses quoted are from the New Living Translation)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.  And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by the same Spirit living within you. (v. 11)

So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family – calling him “father, dear Father.” For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children. (vv. 15, 16)

Second, we share God’s glorious treasures – as well as his suffering.

And since we are his children, we will share his treasures – for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. (vv. 17, 18)

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. (vv. 22, 23a)

Third, the Holy Spirit sustains us and intercedes for us in the midst of our hardships and sufferings.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (vv. 26, 27)

Fourth, God works in every circumstance – even the bad ones – for our long-range good and to fulfill his purpose for us.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (v. 28)

Fifth, nothing can separate us from God’s love – so live with confidence and joy.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 35-39)

I sometimes think about our visitor who walked away from our workshop that night, and I’ve prayed that she has since come to a deeper understanding of her relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

No, God did not promise her a rose garden, but something far better – himself, with all the richness and fullness of his indwelling presence that enables her to live life powerfully, confidently, and joyfully because of his gift of Jesus Christ.

And he promises that, too, to all of us who believe, trust, and follow Christ.

******

I welcome your comments:

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