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Saturday

Will God let everybody into Heaven?




This earnest question comes up again and again. Theologians and philosophers have debated it longer than history can record.

How can a loving God refuse to welcome anyone into Heaven?

Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. I used to ask this question a lot. Then, rather suddenly, a thought stopped me cold.

Bear with me, while I unpack this.

God is love. The Bible says so in hundreds of ways. (See 1 John 4:8 and 4:16.) He created man in His own image for relationship. (See Genesis 1:27.)

God doesn’t want anyone to miss out on Heaven. (See 2 Peter 3:9.) Yep, that’s because He loves us. And He wants nothing more than for us to love Him back.

But love can’t be forced. It’s gotta be a choice, or it’s not really love.

Imagine a lover that sets his sight on the object of his affection. He captures his beloved and drags her into his home to live with him forever. Is that love? (It sounds sort of scary.)

What if God did that?

Would a truly loving God snatch us against our will and hold us as prisoners, even in such a magnificent spot as Heaven is sure to be? If God really loves us, how could He insist that we spend eternity with Him, if we don’t want to?

God’s invitation has already been issued.

First, Heaven is God’s. The whole thing is totally up to Him, no matter how we try to wrangle the possibilities.

Yet, in His great love, God offers Heaven to all who earnestly desire to recognize our fallenness, accept His immeasurable gift of extravagant grace (bought by the Lord’s own sacrifice), and look forward to everlasting life in His presence.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16, NIV)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10, NIV)

What about hell?

Despite its many depictions in art, books, movies, and other media, we don’t actually know a lot about what hell is like. (Maybe we don’t need to.) What is hell, but the total absence of God and all that is beautiful and good and loving and pure and right?

We don’t have a clear image of Heaven yet, either. Still, no matter how we try to paint pictures of Paradise, its most important feature is the glorious presence of the Ancient of Days. Nothing else matters.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19, NIV)

It seems the choice is pretty straightforward. Each person must decide: Do I want to spend eternity with God or without Him? Do I want to love Him and be loved by Him or go it alone, wherever that leads?

Image/s:
Adapted from public domain artwork


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Friday

What if we had to wear our sins like labels?




It’s hard to graduate from high school without reading The Scarlet Letter. Many have seen movie adaptations of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel. That’s the story in which Hester Prynne was made to wear a bright red “A” on the front of her clothing to display her sin of adultery. (Her partner in crime, so to speak, had not been found out, so he was not subject to the same public shaming.) As if Hester’s protruding pregnant belly did not sufficiently telegraph her condition, the dreaded scarlet letter made her situation clear to all.

All around her, the presumably pious turned up their noses at Hester, pointing their fingers and wagging their tongues at her visible sinfulness.

It’s easy to hear such a story without personalizing it. We can skim along, turning the pages, and thinking we are altogether different. We like to think we are world's apart from Hester and the haughty townspeople.

But we’re not. Maybe we carry less obvious sins. But any one of us could wear a letter or two.  How about “E” for envy? “G” for greed?  “P” for pride?



What if we all wore our sins for all to see?

Thank God we do not. In His mercy, He does not expose us in such a way. At least, He usually doesn’t. Most often, He draws us back with kindness. If we don't respond to that, He follows up with  loving discipline, aiming to restore us to walking with Him.

And we are relieved when our sins have not been broadcast.

But we wonder about the really wicked people. We recoil from those who do the most dastardly deeds and seem to get away with their crimes. Why is hypocrisy so often kept covered? Why doesn’t God expose sinners for who they really are?

Ouch. Maybe that’s all of us –to some degree.

God doesn’t measure righteousness in degrees. Either we’re righteous, or we’re not. And we’re not – not on our own.

Although we may take comfort in keeping certain sins private, the Bible clearly says no sin is hidden from God. He is fully aware of everything we do, every word we speak, and every thought we roll about in our minds. He knows our attitudes, whether or not they come out in our actions.

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13, NIV)

In vain, we try to stash our rebellions, refusing to confess them to the Almighty. Because of His absolute righteousness, sin cannot fellowship with Him. We may fool ourselves, and we may even fool one another, but we’re not fooling God.

 My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. (Jeremiah 16:17, NIV)

We’ve gotta have grace.

Truth does come out in time – in God’s time.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8, NIV)

Why does God seem to allow sin to be secret, even for a time?

Maybe He refrains from trumpeting our sins all about because He graciously awaits our turning to Him. And it’s a fair bet He doesn’t want to give sin any extra airtime.

But I am pretty sure the Lord knows us all well enough to know that we’d likely judge one another even more harshly, if we wore our most secret sins like nametags. Then we’d all have to wear extra name tags that read:

“holier-than-thou hypocrite”

“Pharisee wannabee”

 “pretender at perfection”

“self-appointed judge”

and the like.

The world would run out of nametags.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Glory to God, who tears up the nametags of sin, when we come to Him. He writes His own Name on our hearts (see Hebrews 8:10) and writes our names in His heavenly Book of Life (see Revelation 13:9). And He calls us by much better names that those dirty old sin labels. He calls each of us:

blood-bought

child of the living God

healed

joint heir with Christ

loved

precious

ransomed

redeemed

restored

saved

and so much more.

Image/s:
Adapted from public domain artwork


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Wednesday

Arms up or up in arms?




As a visually oriented person, I especially love the Bible passage that recounts Israel’s victory over the Amalekites at Rephidim in the Sinai region. (It’s found in Exodus 17:8-16.) Moses sent Joshua and his men out to the battle. Then Moses took Aaron and Hur up to a nearby hill to observe the scene. When Moses held his hands up, Israel had the upper hand in battle. When he lowered them, they began to lose. So Moses kept his arms up.

Eventually, Moses grew tired. Maybe his arms were sore from striking the rock at Horeb with his staff earlier (in the same chapter), when the Lord sent water from the rock to answer the people’s complaints of thirst.

As Moses grew fatigued, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of him and held his hands up for the entire day. And Joshua’s men triumphed for Israel.

The lesson seems straightforward. Hands up meant victory. Hands down led to defeat. Hands up again, and they won the day. Maybe God was trying to paint a picture for all of us to grasp this truth of faith.

Taken out of context, this may seem like a tricky topic to get our arms around, depending upon our denominational persuasions.

I’m not going all sectarian here. I’m not claiming one form of worship is more noble than another. In fact, I’m just the sort to put my hands down, if someone stands up and instructs the whole congregation to throw them up in the air. (Hey, isn’t that sort of like arm-twisting?) On another occasion, I might spontaneously lift ‘em up.

We praise God in all sorts of ways, don’t we?

  • Hands raised or hands folded?
  • Chin up or head bowed?
  • In song or in silence?
  • On our feet or kneeling on the ground?
  • In devotion or in deed?
  • Solo or corporately?

Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions here.

Isn’t the One we worship vastly more valid than the many ways we feebly express our adoration and awe of Him?

However we honor our great God, the gist is great. Praising the Almighty One is a powerful thing. Because God is powerful. He is Jehovah Nissi. The Lord is our Banner.

When we raise our arms to Him, figuratively or literally, are we not actually saluting the one who bids His heavenly armies to act on our behalf?

Here’s the other thing I love about this story from Scripture.

Moses had trouble keeping his hands up before the Lord. I gotta admit it: I draw some comfort from that. Moses, the famous and highly revered patriarch, needed a couple of friends to bookend him and lend their strength. 

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe. But he sort of ran out of steam after a while.

Oh, I have been there.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled in the woods and broke one of my arms. The orthopedic surgeon put an extremely tight cast on it, with an aim towards totally immobilizing the bone. Unfortunately, that meant it grew pretty snug when the arm swelled, as it was wont to do. What was the solution? If I held my arm up over my head, the swelling eventually subsided, and I found relief from the pressure.

At the same time, I've needed (and learned to accept) a fair amount of help to lift and carry and push and pull and fasten and open and tie and untie and otherwise accomplish all sorts of mundane tasks. I've appreciated each person who gave me a hand during this season.

That experience brought me right back to Moses and Aaron and Hur and the Amalekites.

Sometimes the solution is pretty clear.

Let’s raise the banner, honoring Jehovah Nissi. Instead of wringing our hands, we can raise our hands and hearts to the One who has already proven His triumph. And we can help each other to keep up the praise.

Watch for the victory. It’s close at hand.


“And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner.’” (Exodus 17:15, ESV)


Image/s:
Adapted from public domain artwork
and
Victory O Lord
by John Everett Millais
19th Century


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