Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heaven, anyone?

“Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Matthew 5:12 (NIV)

Are you afraid to go Heaven? Somewhere out there the world has convinced everyone that Heaven is a place where people become angels and sit around on clouds all day with harps looking down on the earth. I have heard more times than I care to admit “if that is what Heaven is like, I would be bored and I don’t want to go there.” Well, I would dare to say that God is not going to allow us to just sit around and be “bored.” I also cannot find any references in the Bible to sitting on clouds and playing harps, so what does God tell us about Heaven?

Heaven is God’s dwelling place. Acts says “Heaven is my throne, and earth is the footstool of my feet” (7:49). I would certainly rather be in the presence of a throne than a footstool. Thrones are beautiful seats made especially for a King that reveal His glory and honor. Typically in older cultures, those who were seated were in a position of honor and authority. All of the courtiers stood around the king on his throne. And when Jesus prayed to God he said “pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Jesus knew where God was-He was in heaven. Jesus had come down from heaven himself to earth to bring salvation to its fallen and sinful inhabitants (John 6:41).

Heaven is filled with rewards for the righteous. Matthew 5:12 says “rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” And Peter writes “in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4). So whatever rewards and treasures we may have here on earth that can be taken away and perish, nothing compares to the ones waiting for us in heaven that cannot be stolen or fade.

Heaven will not have any sin or sadness. “For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5). Won’t it be wonderful to go to a place where there is no sin, evil, harm, tears, greed, impurity, sickness, disease or any other bad things?

Heaven and Hell are actual places that exist and each person on earth will one day reside in one or the other for eternity. Heaven is for true believers who are sanctified by God and Hell for the unbeliever who refuses God’s grace of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that eternal life in either of these places is a deliberate choice by the person.

So what is our alternative? Jesus says in Matthew 13 “the Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (41-42). And in Matthew 25 “then he will say to those on his left, ‘depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (41). So it looks like the alternative to the beautiful dwelling place of God with many rooms and righteous people (John 14:2) will be an eternal fire where we can share space with the devil himself and all his minions where there is much pain, suffering, and gnashing of teeth. Hmmm…that one is kind of a “no-brainer” to me. I think I will put my faith in Jesus Christ and live for Him so that I can dwell eternally with the Almighty God, Creator of the Universe. How about you?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Refined by Fire

“For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.” Psalm 66:10 (NIV)

When we look upon the trials that we face in our lives with dismay, we should remember that everything that happens to us today will influence who we become tomorrow. James writes “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (1:2). When we are faced with all kinds of troubles in our lives with money, people, illness, or work, we are being honed for the future. We are constantly being prepared for future tests and learning to cope with the resources that God has entrusted to us. We are charged to be good stewards of our resources and to treat our fellow servants of Christ with respect and courtesy. How we think and react to our troubles determine our testimony for the ways that Christ says to live. James goes on to say “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (1:3). These trials will give us perseverance in our faith and bring us closer to God.

In the past year I have had two of my sisters diagnosed with breast cancer. Each has been through surgery, chemo, and all of the pain and uncertainty that goes along with the disease. Even though I have not personally undergone what each of them has, I have spent many hours in prayer trying to discern what God would have people to learn from their experiences, including myself. Each person who is touched by their lives will have some sort of reaction to the news. Would they react with drama and dismay and fear for their own life? Would they react with shock and wonder how they would feel in the same situation? How would I handle this test? What would I do? What decisions would I make? I just pray that I would challenge myself each new day to discern what God would have me to reveal about myself to those around me. How He alone has gotten me through the uncertainty and challenges, even though I am surrounded by family and friends to help me.

And in our trials, may we remember that anything that drives us closer to God is good for us. Even though it may seem like punishment in the beginning, if you look at trouble as an opportunity to be refined and molded into the image of Jesus Christ then it is all worth it. “These [trials] have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Children of God

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God." 1 John 3:1 (NIV)

What does it mean to be a child of someone? In my family, it meant that the parents were in charge of the home, that the children were obedient, and everyone loved each other and lived in harmony. I was very fortunate to belong to parents who truly wanted and loved each and every child that they had. But other homes are not so fortunate to have loving parents who desire the best for their children. Then there are those parents who want a child so desperately that they have to adopt a child that was ultimately born to someone else. They take them in as their own and love them as their own. In God's family, his children belong to Him as his creation AND they are loved as children who are adopted.

For God loves each and every one of us so much that He was willing to sacrifice his ONLY son that not one of us should perish into the eternal flames of damnation (John 3:16-17). If you are a parent, would you sacrifice your only child to save the world? How about a community? How about a family of four? God sacrificed His son to save each person individually. If there would have only been one person who needed saving, He still would have sent Jesus. Abraham bartered with God over the saving of Sodom. He asked God to save the city if there were only 50 righteous men in it, and God agreed to save it. When Abraham finished the questioning of God, the Holy Lord agreed to save the city if there were only 10 righteous men in it! And, of course, there was not because Sodom was consumed in flames.

It is difficult to understand the magnitude with which God loves us. His all-knowing, all-powerful Spirit understands the thoughts and hearts of each of us. He is all that is good within us! Psalm 147 says “great is the Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (5) and “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (10-11). I will put my hope in the unfailing love of God the Father, because He cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). God’s plan is always perfect for us (Isaiah 25:1), even though we cannot see the outcome for some potential discomfort on the front side.

So may we live in perfect peace, understanding that God’s love will keep us and protect us (Isaiah 26:3) as we are HIS children and heirs to the kingdom and co-heirs with Christ our brother (Romans 8:17).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Effects of Prayer

“The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16 (NIV)

We are a means to an end.

Prayer changes things.

God ordains the final outcome, but our prayers can influence the situation.

We hear the statements above, but do we truly believe them? The Holy Spirit urges us to pray for others and ourselves. Our prayers are the only way to truly communicate with God. Of course, He knows our every thought and deed, but he longs for us to WANT to communicate with Him. And as saints of God, it should be our desire as well. In a society that cannot go into another room without taking a cell or cordless phone, we do not seem to be communicating with the One that matters most. If we want to be in constant communication with our work, our friends, and our families, why don’t we want to be constantly communicating with the most important Person we will ever know? The Bible says “pray without ceasing” but we can hardly pray without allowing ourselves to be interrupted by other less important things. Would it not make sense that Satan would use our desire for communion to our demise? Being able to constantly talk to and listen to other humans keeps us distracted from talking and listening to God. And don’t the humans usually take precedent since they are actually here on earth and are much easier to “reach out and touch” as the old phone commercial says? God does not give into our “instant gratification” that we can satisfy with a quick phone call or text message. He requires earnest prayer and inquiry, rather than shallow, trite drivel.

So when was the last time that you actually prayed to God? Today, yesterday, a week, or a month ago? Allow the Holy Spirit to take you by the heart and lead you to that magnificent place of communion with God. Not the shallow “thank you for this food” but the genuine praise that accompanies moving into the presence of the Almighty Creator God.

David knew the importance of prayer. His psalms are written prayers to the Almighty Father set to music. He spent times of war, want, abundance and glory in praise to God.

The apostle Paul knew that the prayers of the saints were powerful. He counted on them to help deliver him through the trials he faced while preaching the gospel. He often asked for prayers and also offered his prayers to others.

Jesus knew the importance of prayer more than anyone. He taught the disciples how to pray in our model Lord’s Prayer in Matthew. He spent early mornings before the rising of the sun in prayer and spent the night before his crucifixion praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

We should understand that God wants to hear our prayers. Revelation 5 speaks of golden bowls of incense which are the “prayers of the saints.” God gathers and keeps our prayers as beautiful offerings to be cherished. Let us pray for each other and ourselves understanding that God is waiting to hear from us and longs to communicate back through His blessings and answered prayers.