18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. 21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
Romans chapter 1, verses 18 through 21, from The New Living Translation
There is a Finish Line for just about everything in life. It’s where we want to be–call it–a goal! It’s where we want to end up at. Be it a sports competition or a career–and everything else in between. The goal is to reach that predetermined finish line! And most folks know where their finish line is located. So, off we go to reach that finish line! But where is the Starting Line?
If one wants to be a doctor, they don’t start by hanging up a shingle and opening an office. If you want to be a business owner, you don’t start by renting a building and putting up a “Grand Opening” sign. All races have a Starting Line! And participants do not get to choose their own Staring Line–the rules determine it for them. All football games start at Zero-To-Zero! This is, call it, The Rule In Life! You can’t have a finish line unless you also have a Starting Line! And if it’s true in this physical life (and it is!) then it is also true in our Spiritual Life!
Where You Start Matters! In life and in your spiritual life! We cannot get around this. Think about field and track events–oh, say–the 100 yard dash. The winner is the first one to cross the Finish Line, right? But suppose a runner decides to start at a different place, say 50 yards closer to the Finish Line. They will cross the Finish Line first, but they won’t win the race. Why? Because they cheated, goofy!
So, where does everyone Start in their spiritual journey for a relationship with God? And here’s the point of contention in my United Methodist Tribe, and many others. Many in life (and in my Tribe) want the Starting Line to be, what I would call, An Assumptive Ascertion–that
we arrive in life completely in God’s Design
we are free to correct misunderstandings about the Bible
and we are capable of figuring out what is and what isn’t “sin”
However, there’s these pesky verses from Paul to the church in Rome. While the finish line is for us to have eternal life and joy with The Father, the Starting Line is that we are sinners. Paul’s letter to the Romans is his systematic theology. Here he describes what life in Christ is all about–from Start to Finish! We enter this world perfectly innocent. But inside all of us is that seed of sin. And at some point, that seed begins to grow and eventually it corrupts us through and through. Sin is like Kudzu; it starts small but eventually takes over everything.
The finish line in the spiritual journal is to be exactly like Jesus. You know, the one in whose image we are created. But we will never get there until we have the right Starting Line! The Bible clearly teaches us what is and is not a sin. And while it may sound mean and cruel to some, admitting that sin is in control of us, it’s really the place of hope. We can’t know the Savior until we know we are first sinners! Only sinners can recognize how much God loves us. We sinners see clearly that love on the Cross! The only way God’s Grace can restore us back to our Original Design is to admit we are sinners, that Jesus died to atone for our sins, that we need His help both NOW, and for the rest of the journey to the Finish Line. So, if your Spiritual Journey is making you unhappy and miserable, then clearly you haven’t started at the right place. It matters where you start!
Good morning and welcome to some more insights from the Book formerly known as The Acts Of The Apostles but now known as Acts Of The Holy Spirit I Surrendered People. I’m still in chapter 2 and what caught my attention is Verse 36.
“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”
I’ve read this so many times and have believed its truth with all my heart. But this time when I got to the end of verse 36, the Spirit said, “Stop!” So I did, carefully reading each word slowly so as to take in every breath. Then it hit me. Immediately I started thinking about my culture, my Tribe, and the issue facing this Tribe. It was those last 6 words: “to be both Lord and Messiah”.
I see a lot of people in our culture who love the idea of a Messiah–someone who will come to help us out of our messes we’ve made. After all, who doesn’t want to get out of the pain, despair and everything else that goes along with the messes we make of life. It’s a new way of saying what I heard a long time ago: “Some people just want Jesus to save them from hell, and nothing else.” The crowd of Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters definitely fit in here. Can you blame them? I mean, who wants to spend an eternity in fire and brimstone.
And I seen this among the Progressives (formerly known as liberals) in my church Tribe. They advocate a new definition of sexuality and insist (may I add without scientific evidence and solid exegesis) that God created some to be gay. They add that the birth parents even gave them the wrong physical gender. So, to get rid of the mess, they want The Messiah, The Savior, but not the Lord.
To want only the Messiah but not the Lord??? That’s like ordering a deluxe bacon cheeseburger but saying, “I want the Deluxe but hold the onions.” What makes it the Deluxe is all that other stuff they add to that burger and bun. You’re denying yourself the full experience of “The Deluxe”.
But here, when the Body of Christ was born, Peter insists (under the inspiration of the Wind and Fire of the Holy Spirit, I might add) that it is not enough to declare Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus must also be Lord! In this good old U.S. of A. that just doesn’t sit well. We are a democracy, not a nation of lemmings. Actually, we are not a democracy–we are a representative republic. I’ll let you do your own research on this statement.
Even as I’m writing, I see something else. It’s the order of those words, “Lord” and “Messiah”. Here’s the truth that Colonel Jessup (A Few Good Me) would say to so many today: “You can’t handle the truth!” The truth that many today refuse to handle is that before Jesus can become your Messiah, your Savior, He must first be your Lord.
It’s difficult to admit that there are some things–correct that–many things we cannot handle on our own. And unless we acknowledge and surrender to Jesus as our Lord, we will never find Jesus as our Messiah. We can find warm fuzzy feelings of love and plenty of ways to justify our lives, and if we are told that enough times, say it enough times, we will believe the lie–and miss out on the Savior.
But in order to enter into that realm of God’s Grace, we must first acquiesce to the fact we NEED The Lord. Let unto our own devices and logic, it is a train wreck about to happen. The only way He can be our Lord, is that we surrender to His Authority and Rule. Not just once. Not just every day. But every moment of every day choose again to make Jesus you Lord. And unlike absolute rulers today and throughout history, Jesus is a Good Lord. He’s trustworthy to make the best decisions for your life. After all, in order to show that we can trust Him to be our Lord, He allowed Himself to be crucified on That Cross–for me…..and for you…..
Don’t forget, my friends….Love Jesus with all your heart. Love others the way He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.
For a child
is born to us, a son is given to us. The
government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called: Wonderful
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never
end. He will rule with fairness and
justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike. And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route. I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west. I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home. Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure. We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again. We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?” She said, “No, where are we?” And I said, “I haven’t a clue.” She replied, “No, really, where are we?” And I said, “Really, I don’t know. But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.” I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.
to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever,
considering a different route. Now that
Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and
all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to
go back to the dull routines of everyday life.
We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us.
But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty. More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!” And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.
In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message: The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us. Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah: For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us. These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation. In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus. Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us!
And at the same moment The Son Is GivenTo Us—Jesus Is Also Divine. The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem. The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine. The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus.
this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals
His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son! The Mystery is that
God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that
stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.
If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it: He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US! God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens. God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on. He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory. God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.
And the government will rest on His
shoulders. Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of
God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus. There was more than the weight of the Cross
on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to
us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of
all peoples in all ages.
felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders? Ever felt like the weight of a project at
work was on your shoulders? But try to
imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on
your shoulders. God’s eternal purpose is
carried on the shoulders of Jesus. God
has no plan “B”!
in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives,
we encounter the mystery of grace.
Isaiah says, “He will be called”
and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter.
We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful! It really is
an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace!
We Encounter The Counselor! The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is
placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world.
We Encounter The Mighty God! We come face to face with Him who holds all
power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love!
We Encounter The Everlasting Father! We encounter the only one who will never ever
give up on us! Love, grace and mercy
that is Never Ending!
We Encounter The Prince Of Peace! He gives us peace not because of what we have
done, but because of everything that He has done for us.
There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.
In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life.
God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him.
In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness.
In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast.
In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.
Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.
is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us. Now, you have a choice. You can go back the way you came into this
encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back
to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us. Or, you can go back into the real world, a
Think about those Wise Men. In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)—They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person. When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about? The sand storms they faced? The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey? The beautiful palace of Herod? That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem? The wonderful eating places they found? Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?
don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and
believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that
was given, and The Son that they saw in person.
And it should be the same for us.
This morning you are faced with a choice. Go back to the old life, the usual things,
the ordinary things.
Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person. Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works. Then spend some time at the Cross.
on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.
Focus on the nails. Focus on the
crown of thorns that pierced His head.
Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says
“Father, forgive them.” Now, how can you
be the same person who walked in that door this morning?
This Child, This Son who is Wonderful,
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is
the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they
encountered. And when they encountered
Him they went home a different way. It
was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People.
people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way. The
mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed
the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world! And It
Ought To Change Us!
Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known
They went home a different way because they were different people. The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery: He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us. This Different Way changes everything. 3 things should change in our lives:
1. It Changes How We Think About Life!
is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks. Life is meant to be about relationship—with
God first and then in relationships with others. Because of The Child, because of The Son,
life isn’t about us and what we want.
It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.
2. It Changes How We See Life!
See your life in light of what God can do, not what
you can accomplish. Start looking at
situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth. Start seeing people the way God sees them—people
in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love. Stop Seeing
Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.
3. It Changes How We Live Life!
Make your life an offering to
God. Make every thought, form every
word, make every choice as an offering to God.
Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)
Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled: The Road Not Taken. He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path. Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled. In the last verse he writes these famous words: “I shall be telling this with a sigh. Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” You are about to go home, back into the world, your world. Which way will you go?
Your Next Step
Decide if you will go back to life the
same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a
Well, here we are at the end of this semester. I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans. I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question: How Do You Get Into Heaven? Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans. So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven? Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some. If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart: How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God? With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:
We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan: To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now! And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens: Be Born Again
Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian? This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy. It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again. If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian. You don’t have to say it both ways. Here’s a diamond of Truth: You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again. Not now—not ever! But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!
This was the source of confusion for Nicodemus. Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means? Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought. And this is the one thing you need to remember today: You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again! We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people. Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.
None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again. So, how are we born again? It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.
1. WeDie! Die to all that you have been. If it’s your goodness, then die. If it’s your sense of failures, die. If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die. If it’s your fears, die. Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God. Philippians 3:8-9—
8Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God. This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.
2. Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God. Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives. But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.
Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.
This is what repentance means and looks like. We turn away from that old life and into the new Life. We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do. You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward. What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.
3. Be Born By The Spirit. The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life. It’s the only power for people who are Born Again. People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.
2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)—They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power. Stay away from people like these!
This is what walking by faith means. This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God. You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit. This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you. It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam. Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3
How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again. The Final Exam has only 2 questions:
1. Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away? Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?
2. Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost? It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.
Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world. At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher: PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!
And remember…love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY He loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!
So here we are, the next to the last class. I hope you are learning something valuable here. Yesterday we looked at the Rules Plan and its shortcomings. Hopefully by now you know that God is not the Cosmic Warden, but that He sends The Good Shepherd to search for us. Take really good notes as we now look at:
Now this plan acknowledges that we don’t always get it right. But hey, it’s not our fault. There’s always a reason and good excuse for whatever we do wrong. For extra reading I encourage you to obtain the book Yes Lord I Have Sinned: But I Have Several Excellent Excuse. The best part of this plan is that it challenges our “creative” side to be able to justify our sins. And if you come up with an excuse that sounds good to you–then you get into heaven.
Another bonus to this plan is that if we want to be lazy and not find an excellent excuse, then there’s someone else to blame. It’s called “playing the victim” card. This plan works off of a truth: That Life Isn’t Fair. But hey, life should be fair, am I right? It’s about getting what we rightfully deserve, and usually without much if any effort.
In This Plan Consequences Are Inconsequential. Either by justification (coming up with an excellent excuse) or by playing the victim card, surely God won’t keep us out of heaven. It would not be reasonable of God to keep us out of heaven when there’s so much bad stuff out there. It is His creation. All He has to do is make life fair. Yet because of the evil and unfairness in this world, God will not hole us responsible. There are no consequences, so we get in.
But there are consequences to our choices and actions. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death. It doesn’t say, Unless you have a good excuse. That’s not how it works. Sin is sin regardless of our intentions or beliefs. Our intentions may have been good, our beliefs may have been sincere, but sin pays the same dividend every time—death! So, this plan doesn’t work either. This is perhaps, the riskiest plan of all. I say this because deep down inside us, we know there are consequences. It’s called shame, guilt or that nagging sense of personal failure.
Well, class, that’s the last plan. Tomorrow we will look at the Plan, the ONLY plan that will work. It tripped up Nicodemus, but maybe it won’t trip you up. And remember….love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY God loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him! By the way, don’t forget there will be a final exam.
Welcome back class. We’re already half-way through this subject. Yesterday we talked about The Sponge Plan where God is The Cosmic Observer who hopes that we are in the right place at the right time. In case I didn’t mention it, The Cosmic Observer doesn’t seek us for transformation, but hopes we find the right information.
God is the Cosmic Santa. The nitty-gritty of the Santa Claus Plan is that there is a naughty and a nice list. We just need to be sure we get in on the nice list. But here’s the thing about the Santa Plan—everyone still gets Christmas presents. The naughty list is just something to try to get us to behave a little better when we get sick or get old. It’s what they call at cemeteries, excuse me, seminaries, Universal Salvation. Universal Salvation says that there is no hell and that In The End, We All Get In.
Don’t sweat it or worry about it. Dying is Christmas Day—we’re going to get a present after all. No, we don’t! In James 1:15 you can read—These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. Maybe James is overreacting here, but I don’t think so. Sin will consume and destroy us and keep us out of heaven. Even Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” gets in. In this plan, the death of Jesus is applied to us whether we want the Gift or not.
Our purpose in life is to hopefully make this world a little better place until God brings the Final Kingdom. This plan says we are just waiting around. Whatever “mistakes” we make, really don’t matter. Even if you believe that In The End We All Get In, the thing about sin is that it is overpowering and thus destroys the Image of our Creator. This plan is a lie from the pits of hell designed to keep you from the loving relationship God longs to have with you.
That’s it for today. Review your notes for THE Final Exam. And remember…love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him. See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.
Good Morning Class, or whatever time of the day it is you are reading this. I’m so glad you decided to return. Remember there will be a Final Exam on this class of How Do You Get To Heaven? I cannot tell you when it will be because, well I don’t know. This test will be administered at some point, not by me, but by the Head Master. So pay close attention to this lesson.
As you remember from our last session this question about getting into heaven is really about this question: How Do I Have A Relationship With God? Remember from our text book, John 3 that it is this guy named Nicodemus who posed this question to Jesus. So let’s proceed with today’s lesson with one of the ways some people think they can get into heaven. Each of these “ways” has a name, that I cleverly came up with; well, truthfully, it was the Holy Spirit that gave me these names. Here is the first plan:
This one is really easy to understand. Raise your hands if you have a checking account or savings account. OK, you’ve got this plan. God keeps a set of books with debits and credits—good things we do and bad things we do. God is the Cosmic Accountant keeping tabs on us. At the end of each business day, The Cosmic Account runs a tally of your life. And if we do more good things than bad things, we get into heaven. The good things we do help cover the costs of the bad things we do.
Now this is very appealing to many folks. It’s relatively simple. Some days you make a lot of deposits because you are kind and helpful. That’s good because some days, well some days you are not so good. So the Cosmic Accountant subtracts from your good things. You just have to make sure you have more “good things” deposited to your account that “bad things” that are taken away from your account.
But Sin is more than just a “bad” thing—Sin is rebellion against God, against our Creator, against His design and purposes. And then there’s what Jesus said God demands from us. Matthew 5:20—But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Now these teachers of the law and Pharisees, man they had a lot of deposits. Don’t misunderstand me–they had their “withdrawals” as well. But they certainly had more virtuous deeds than bad deeds. But–you don’t get into Heaven because you think you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.
God is MORE than the Cosmic Accountant. He IS the Righteous God who expects nothing less from us that Righteousness. He IS the Holy God who demands nothings less from us that holiness. Were this so, then it was a waste of time for Jesus to become our flesh. If it were so, then the death of Jesus on that Cross was a tragedy. But His life AND death were neither a waste of time, nor was it a tragedy.
Well, that’s it for today class. I hope you took good notes because there will be a test at the time determined for you by the Head Master. Until tomorrow…..remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
This, and the following posts, are not about Heaven, what it’s like or what you will see. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Heaven is like and what you will see. I don’t have enough time right now to straighten out bad theology. But I do have a question for you. The most important question you will ever be asked is this: How Do You Get To Heaven? Your answer has consequences beyond what you could ever imagine.
Talk about a lot of misinformation and confusion, just listen to how people will answer that question. I will give this warning—I may make you mad with the answer that the Bible gives us. OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, look at this picture.
Do you see anything wrong with this picture or is it OK? Raise your hand if you think something isn’t quite right with these signs. It’s obvious. If you want to get to I-4 or Florida Highway 482 East or West, you must turn left. HOWEVER, that other sign, “Right Turn Only” says that you can’t get there from here.
When looking for direction signs on how to get to heaven, it can be as confusing as these road signs. So today my only goal is to help you lift the fog of confusion and see the only answer to that question. Look at John 3:1-12 (NLT)
1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” 3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” 9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
10Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
Have you ever been taught by the Holy Spirit? You really should try it sometimes if you haven’t. The Holy Spirit has been teaching me so much these past 4 years, especially when it comes to the art of preaching and teaching. Normally when I’m preaching, at this point I would say, “And if you can remember only 1 thing from the message, this is it.” But the Holy Spirit wants me to save that 1 thing until the end of these thoughts; so, I will.
Another way of asking the question of how to get to heaven, is to ask: How Do We Find God? Now here’s where it gets confusing. Some say there are many ways to find God. They insist that it’s like taking a trip to New York City. We could take different routes, different modes of transportation; but we all still end up in New York City. But what works with maps doesn’t work with the human heart and spirituality.
There’s a wide diversity of thoughts and feelings on this subject. It’s this thing of pluralism—that there can be a multitude of ways to God. And this isn’t about Christianity versus Islam versus Hindu versus Buddhism versus New Age versus Judaism. It’s not about Christianity versus Baptists versus Methodists versus Church of Christ versus Presbyterians versus Church of God versus Whatever Name is out there. The longing of the heart for heaven is really the longing of the human heart for a connection with God.
So, let’s look at some ways people think they can be saved and get into heaven, and why they can’t get there from here. I’ve even managed to come up with some names for some of these different ways people are trying to get to heaven. Check in tomorrow for some of the ways people think you get to heaven, and why you can’t get there from here.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Yesterday afternoon I was at the Opening Session for our Tribe’s thing called “Annual Conference”. It was my 43rd consecutive Conference. For “outsiders”, Annual Conference is this thing that when all is said and done, more is said than done. Bishop Sharma Lewis preached for our opening Worship, and normally I would have considered it a great and powerful message. She chose the passage from Colossians 3, verse 12 and it was about putting on the new clothes of love and she presented us with a great question: What are you wearing?
Normally, I know there’s nothing normal about me in many folks eyes, but that’s their problem, I would have really been inspired by the message. I mean, what’s better than wearing the new clothes of love. Or, as The Message puts it:
Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.
But this crisis that the United Methodist Tribe is facing, has caused me to have this deep-seated thought that Bishop Lewis was only telling half of the story–literally a half-truth. And a half-truth is at its root and core, a lie! As I was talking to God about this “disappointment” in my heart, it hit me. She, like so many in our culture today, didn’t talk about the first part of Paul’s letter. Yes, be clothed in God’s love–after all, it’s His personal label. But….
But these new clothes don’t fit or look well as long as you keep wearing the “old” clothes underneath them. He starts off in Verses 1-2
So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.
It’s one of the few things I remember from my cemetery, excuse me, seminary days–that a text without its context is only a pretext. Bishop Lewis never mentioned verses 1 and 2. And there’s more to the context, and it’s summed up in verse 5
And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.
Our Tribe is being asked to change our church polity and order to accommodate what is now called “Progressive” theology. We are being asked to give up the traditional view of human sexuality in order to not only accommodate our culture–but here’s the BIG LIE–but because of God’s love, it’s OK to be “gay”. Progressive theology on human sexuality says that God created some people “gay”, ergo, it’s no longer a sin. Just wear love!
Yet how can anyone put on God’s love, wear these perfectly fitting clothes, IF we continue to wearing the old clothes? The truth is, the painful truth is, you can’t! In the south we would say it like this, and for you poor unfortunate souls who aren’t in the south, I will help translate this for you: Put a silk dress on a sow (NOUN: a female pig) and she’s still a sow, and she’ll get that silk dress muddy. And we cannot wear God’s New Designer Label of Love until we get rid of the old clothes of sin.
I say this not from the “high ground” of being morally superior to others, but from the “low ground” of realizing that I still have sin in me. I admit that I’m broken and am always turning back to God to help put shed off the old clothes so that I can be fitted with the right clothes. Those who insist that sexuality outside of the husband (man) and wife (woman), in other words, being “gay”, is their identity. There is no offer of personal transformation into the identity that has nothing to do with sex–but everything to do with The Creator.
Progressives offer no hope for a new identity–just put on the new clothes of love without ever taking off the old clothes of, as The Message puts it, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.” I am wondering now, could it be that the suicide rate is above average in the LBGTQI community, especially among teens who feel or believe they are gay, because they are not offered Hope–hope for not just a new identity–but their TRUE identity. A person’s true identity is found in their relationship with God–NOT with whom they are having sex.
And my heart breaks for the LBGTQI community because they have been told to believe that there is no way to shed their old clothes for the new designer clothes. As long as we try to wear the Divine Designer Clothes of Love OVER the old clothes doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy you will never be able to wear them as they are designed.
I’m not saying homosexuality is the worst sin. And it certainly isn’t the only thing that can be called an abomination. Proverbs 6:16-19 (NLT) describes those things this way:
17 There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, 18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, 19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.
One time I was asked, “Bro. Randy, what do you think is the worst sin? Rejecting Jesus?” I think my response shocked her. I said, “No, even that’s not the worst sin. I believe that the worst sin is the one that makes God want to vomit–and that is being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). No other condition, no other sin that I can find in the Bible makes God want to puke. I just noticed something–3:16. One 3:16 tells us we can have eternal life (John 3:16). This other 3:16 says we make God want to puke, and thus, be eternally separated from Him.
I am smart enough, wise enough, and humble enough to know that I still have times when I try to wear God’s Designer Jeans over my filthy yard clothes. They don’t fit, they don’t look good because that’s not the way these “Designer Jeans” are “DESIGNED” to be worn. We have to put off the old in order to wear the new. So I pray, pray hard first for me to be sure I’m not trying to wear the new over the old. Second, I pray hard for the LBGTQI community to stop believing the Great Lie. And third, I pray for those who are deceiving the LBGTQI community WITH the Great Lie.
Before new life happens–before we can experience the Resurrection Life–there are things that need to, MUST die in all of us. Otherwise, we’re just an old sow wearing a silk dress. That’s not how this works!
(This is part 2 of my current sermon series called “The Hard Sayings Of Jesus”)
Let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way:
OK, we are looking at the hard sayings of Jesus. Let’s briefly go over again how Jesus communicated the Truth. He told stories/parables about Kingdom Truth. He spoke some things with authority—in other words, things we need to take literally. But then Jesus sometimes used hyperbole—over exaggeration. And there is a process that we can use to determine is Jesus speaking literally or using hyperbole. 2 Steps:
Is It Possible? If it’s not possible, then it’s hyperbole.
Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus never contradicts Himself. If it contradicts the Message and Principles of the Kingdom it is hyperbole
If the either answer is NO, more than likely Jesus is using hyperbole. But if the answer for both questions is YES, then Jesus is speaking literally with authority. Let’s look at another of Jesus’ hard sayings. It’s found in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
If you can remember only one thing from this message, it must be this: Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven. This is what Jesus is really saying here. Some of those who say “Lord” do not get into heaven. These are good, moral and honest people. This isn’t the thieves, murderers and liars. These are the people who talk a good game. Some even go the church more than at Easter and Christmas. So, is Jesus serious here? OK, let’s apply the 2 questions and determine is it a hyperbole or an authoritative word:
Is It Possible?
One of the many times that Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees, who were by our world’s definition good folks, was a parable; a sinner and a Pharisee went to church. The Pharisee talked about how good he was—the tax collector wept for how bad he was. And Jesus said in Luke 18:14—“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
The first time Peter and John were arrested they said to the really religious people in Acts 4:12—“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
Think about this: Is it possible to do a lot of good things without Jesus being your Savior and Lord? It happens every day.
Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?
Jesus said after the conversion of Nicodemus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10—“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Lost meaning no heaven.
And Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Heaven is a gift not a reward.
Since the answers are both yes to our “litmus” test, then we need to see this as a literal authoritative word that we need to obey and follow. If we think about it, Jesus is sounding really hard on this issue of good people not getting into heaven.
But shouldn’t our goodness, our good deeds, even our good thoughts count for something? I mean, it’s not like we’ve committed murder or been physically abusive to others. It’s not like we’ve been chronic or pathological liars. For the most part, we’ve not used any power we might have to our advantage. We pay our taxes, express gratitude, and from time to time we help others.
Then why isn’t this enough? I mean, we have been known on rare moments to apologize when we’ve done wrong. We helped our neighbor a few times. Shouldn’t this be enough? To our normal and natural thinking, sure—it’s enough. If we do more good things than bad things—hey! We should be able to get in. Makes human sense, doesn’t it. After all, it’s good enough for the bank—if we put in a little more than we take out—it’s all good. It works in accounting, but not at judgment. Why doesn’t it work at judgment?
Because Heaven Isn’t A Reward For Good Behavior But The Result Of Being Righteous.
The Kingdom is God’s realm. And entrance into that Kingdom is dependent upon righteousness. Now how righteous are we to be? Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 (NIV)—“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” How righteous were they? Well, they were as righteous as a person could get on their own. They had come to be the epitome of human achievement in religion. They were obsessed with religious function. As far as the people around them knew, they were exceedingly righteous.
They seemed to do all the right things like praying and giving and fasting. They seemed to have all the right standards like not murdering and not committing adultery and making sure they kept every meticulous element of the law. It appears they were the ones who were exceedingly righteous and yet the righteousness that Christ demands must far exceeds theirs.
God requires a righteousness that is beyond a person’s capacity, a divine righteousness that comes from God, a standard that none of us are able to accomplish. Nothing is more dangerous than thinking that if we sincerely believe the right things, then that makes us a true Disciple of Jesus. So why can’t good people simply get into heaven?
1) The Problem Of Sin
Romans 3:23—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all flawed somewhere, broken deep inside. John Wesley called it “Original Sin”. We have inherited from Adam and Eve that broken nature. It’s just waiting for the right time to come to the surface and take over our life.
The Greek word for sin means to miss the mark. We miss the mark when it comes to personal holiness. We miss the mark when it comes to judging others. We miss the mark when it comes to showing grace and mercy. We miss the mark when it comes to doing the things that God wants done. Not all the time, mind you—but we do miss the mark of what God wants of us and from us.
Sin is serious because of the penalty—death and separation from God. In James 2:10—For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. The Law of God is one single Law. Just because someone put as the heading “The Ten Commandments” doesn’t make it 10 separate laws. When we break God’s Law, we become broken from the relationship we are designed to experience. All us of are broken somewhere—and we cannot fix it.
2) The Issue Of Holiness
1 Peter 1:15-16—“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our God exists as complete and absolutely perfect holiness. We were created to be exactly like Him—but remember point One—Sin! When compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah said in 64:6 that our best acts are nothing but filthy rags.
We are made in His image so that we can reflect His Image. God is absolutely Holy and since we are infected with sin, there is no way we can stand before or in the presence of God. Heaven exists in pure and inexplicable glory where nothing of sin can exist or remain. Being good is different from being Holy. Being good is acting nice to others for the most part. Being good is acting joyful for the most part. Being good is acting grateful for the most part. Being good is going to church on most Sundays. Being good is reading your Bible for the most part. Being good is helping someone from time to time. Being good is paying the bills on time. Being good is NOT telling someone what a moron they are. Being good is doing our best even though we have flaws and faults.
The issue for God is not about being good but being Holy.
Being Holy is being exactly like God in every detail.
No exceptions and no exclusions. Holy is being sinless, and we already established that every single one of us is a sinner. Heaven is God’s realm; it belongs to Him and Him alone. And He is the one who determines what it takes to get it.
3) The Need For Righteousness
Romans 4:3—What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Righteousness means at the core, being in right standing with God. But because of sin—plain and simply stated—we are not in the right standing with God. And we never will by our best efforts. So God had a plan—that plan was for Jesus to live the Perfect Life and them become the perfect sin-offering by placing upon Himself every sin of every sinner. In doing so, He paid the price was should have been ours to pay—separation from God. Then, if we do as Abraham did, believe that His sacrifice alone atones for our sins and removes it from being our responsibility to pay—then God forgives us and puts us in that right relationship.
Righteousness is received in two acts. The first one is done by God and the second one is done by us.
Righteousness is first imputed, then righteousness must be imparted.
Imputed Righteousness comes when we put our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on the Cross. It’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness. By Grace—Through Faith
But Imputed Righteousness is only the beginning. Righteousness must also become that Imparted Righteousness. Imparted Righteousness is what we receive from God in those moments we actually get it right. It’s the reason for: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It happens when we give up our ways for the will of God. It happens when we get involved with what God is doing. It happens when we live out the what someone called The 4 GREATS.
The Great Invitation—deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus
The Great Love For God—with all your life
The Great Love For Others—putting their needs ahead of your own
The Great Commission—leading people to Jesus
Getting into heaven isn’t about being good. It is about being connected to the One who IS Completely Good. So, how do you get into heaven? It’s by obeying. Listen again to verse 21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” What is that Will Jesus is speaking about?
Confess And Repent: Confess doesn’t mean name all your sins. Confess means that you agree with God’s perfect judgment that YOU are a sinner. Repent means then to turn away from that old life and follow Jesus into the New Life.
Trust And Believe: Trust that God will provide everything you need and believe that He will never give up on you.
Surrender And Follow: Surrender your will and Follow His Will.
Learn And Do: Be a disciple and learn what Jesus is teaching. Then do the things you have learned. In other words, obey Jesus.