Monday, September 30, 2013

Does God grade on the curve?

How good do you think you have to be in order to go to heaven? You may have wondered about this from time to time. Thinking about things of eternity is healthy. It’s heavy, too. We’re so often caught up in just getting through the day that we hardly have time to think deeply. We’re so ingrained in our culture toward the 20-second sound bites, reading headlines, scanning Facebook posts or 140-characters or less tweets, that’s it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep our minds engaged in weighty matters without getting easily distracted. But heaven is a topic worth contemplating long and hard.

So, how good do you think one has to be? Does God grade on the curve? Everyone knows that no one is perfect, so do you just have to be better than most? Or, as long as you’re good most of the time, isn’t that good enough? If you’re a faithful spouse, a loving parent, a productive employee or a model citizen, is that good enough to go to heaven? Or does it take all that plus volunteering at the blood drive, working at the food pantry, coaching your kid’s soccer team, helping with 4-H and giving money to charity?

How good is good enough for God? Is regular church attendance good enough? What about serving on the missions committee or teaching a Sunday School class? What about ministering at the nursing home or chaperoning the next youth group outing? Now that ought to earn you a special seat in heaven if anything will, right?!

It’s impossible to be perfectly good, but surely, at least if you don’t do anything terrible like killing someone or abusing children or robbing a bank that ought to score some points you can cash in for eternal rewards. Won’t there be some kind of heavenly scales with all your good deeds going on one side and your bad deeds on the other, and whichever outweighs the other will determine whether you go to heaven or not?

Somebody once jokingly said, “My greatest fear is standing behind Mother Theresa in the Final Judgment line and hearing God say to her, ‘You know, you really should have done more.’” 

Friend, let me tell you what the Bible says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God says that because we have all sinned, we all fall short of His glory. That is to say, that no one can be good enough to go to heaven. You can list every good work on your resume and hand it to God at the gate, but it won’t be enough. God is perfectly holy and righteous, and we’re not. There is no amount of good things we can do to earn a seat in heaven. In fact, because of our sin, what we really deserve is death, eternal separation from God in hell.

But here’s the good news: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)! Whosoever! That’s you! That’s me! In His great love and mercy and grace, God has made a way possible for us to be saved from death and hell and saved to eternal life in heaven. That way is by believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life. That means repenting of your sins and trusting in the forgiveness Jesus offers to you by His death in your place on the cross and in His triumphant victory over the grave.

The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), but no matter what your past has been like or what your present condition, you can be made righteous in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus and through Him only. And no, even Mother Theresa won’t get in based on what she’s done. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Neither you nor I can be good enough to go heaven, but we can receive by faith the “gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Why not come to Jesus today?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back to Church

If you haven’t been to church lately, why not come this Sunday? Whether that’s the First Baptist Church, or the one you belong to but, you know, it’s been awhile since you’ve been there, matters not, as long as they worship Jesus as Lord and Savior, teach truth from the Bible and don’t serve lethal doses of red Kool-aide.

What are you doing this Sunday anyway that’s more important than encountering Almighty God in worship? Oh, you have a good excuse for not going to church? I totally get where you’re coming from. Here’s why I stopped going to ballgames:

1)      Whenever I go to a game, they ask for money.

2)      The other fans don’t seem to care about me.

3)      The seats are too hard.

4)      The weather is too cold/hot/rainy/windy.

5)      The coach never visits me.

6)      The referee makes calls I don’t agree with.

7) Some of the games go into overtime and make me late for dinner.

8)      The band plays songs I don’t know.

9)      My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

10)  I know more than the coaches do anyway.

11)  I can be just as good a fan at the lake.

[* For the record: This list is not my own. It's out there in many variations in various places. I would cite the original source if I knew it.]

Okay, you’re right. I haven’t stopped going to ballgames. It would make me a hypocrite to say one thing and do another, and I don’t really want to give you any more ammunition to skip church because of all the hypocrites there.

I’ve read of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar inviting a friend to go to church with him. The man answered, “Well, I’d like to go, but the church is so full of hypocrites.” Ziglar responded, “That’s okay. There’s always room for one more.”

So, what’s your best excuse for not going to church? Any of the above sound familiar? Or, do you have a real, valid reason, like, “Someone in the church offended me”? Here’s my tender, kind-hearted, pastoral response to such an excuse: “Get over it.”

Seriously. Get over it. Forgive them and go on with life. Don’t let one person keep you from a right relationship with God. “But I love God,” you say. “It’s just that I can’t stand to be around His children.” And if that’s your attitude, then let me ask you how many friends you have who can’t stand your own children? I didn’t think so.

The Bible commands us to forgive one another. That’s not optional, nor conditional. I’m not saying your hurt isn’t real or that the wound is not deep. But your love for the Lord is revealed in your obedience to His commands, and your disobedience to the Lord reveals your lack of love. Regardless of whether the other person has admitted wrong or apologized, your job is to obey, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Nobody said following Jesus would be easy.

Let me challenge you to stop making excuses and come back to church. If you’re a professing Christian, you do need to be part of the fellowship of God’s people. You need the church body and the body needs you! (See 1 Corinthians 12 for details.)

Here’s what will happen. You will be welcomed with love and joy, not loathing and judgment. Whether you’ve been away for years or have never set foot inside the doors of the church for fear the walls will cave in, go to church this Sunday.

To be upfront, it’s not merely church attendance we want for you. We want you to know and love Jesus, love His people and get in on His mission to reach others with the gospel. That happens in the context of church. Come, encounter God in worship!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What's your story?

Well, it’s only taken two years, but I finally got a tire swing hung up for Toby over the weekend. I should have done it two years ago. That was one of his favorite things to do at our previous house, and he was disappointed to not have a place for one here. So after lopping off a few low hanging branches, we found a place for it. I don’t like to get in a big hurry about things.

Two years, though, is how long we’ve been in Petersburg now. Some days it seems we just unpacked yesterday, and other days it feels like we’ve been here for years. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but didn’t I have a full head of hair when we arrived?

Seriously, it does take some time to adjust to a new environment, but the church has received us as family in the Lord, and the community has welcomed us well. We’ve made an effort to get involved in some community events, and certainly our children’s school activities have given us many opportunities to get to know people.

If I haven’t yet met you, I’m sorry. Juggling church-related ministry, home life and all the extra-curriculars proves to be challenging and time-consuming. Feel free to come up and introduce yourself, though, if you see me out and about. I’d love to chat with you and hear your story.

Everyone has a story. Your upbringing, your circumstances, your experiences, your passions, your decisions, your attitudes, your worldview, your investments, your family, your friends, your work, and more, all weave together in creating the narrative of your life. Each story is unique. Some are pleasant, some are painful. Some are inspiring, some are tiring. Some are full of light and truth, some are full of darkness and deception.  

What’s your story like? How have you arrived at the place where you are today? Are you happy with what’s been written so far? Grateful? Angry? Encouraged? Disappointed?

Think about what’s already happened. You can’t change the past nor can you relive it. Maybe you’d like to, but what’s been done can’t be undone or duplicated. The next chapter starts with a blank page, just waiting to be written. What will it say? How will your choices and reactions and attitudes contribute to what the future holds?

Listen, I don’t know your past. I probably don’t know much about your present, and I certainly don’t know what’s in your immediate future. But I do know your eternal destiny will come down to this: Those who repent from sin, embrace Jesus as the Son of God and follow Him as Lord and Savior will be forever with Him in heaven, while those who reject Jesus are condemned already because of their unbelief.

The final outcome of your story does not have to be dictated by your past. If you’ve not yet come to a point of turning away from sin and believing in the good news that Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth, died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and rose to everlasting life, then let me urge you run to Him in faith today.

No matter what your life’s been like so far, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus is the Savior we need and for which our souls long to embrace. Jesus is the light of the world, and whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).

Why not start that next chapter with an opening line something like this: “And then Jesus came to my rescue.” Then see how the light starts shattering the darkness.

That’s my story. And if I can help you along the way, please let me know. That’s what we’re here for as a church. Don’t waste another day. Do what you should have done two years ago, or more. Some things are worth getting in a hurry about.

Been awhile...

I see that I haven't posted anything here for over two months! Not that I've been flooded with e-mail from loyal readers wondering what's going on. But for those interested, I'll try to get back on track.

Most of what I do post comes directly from what I submit to the Petersburg Observer, our weekly newspaper, which they are kind enough to publish. So if you do not receive that paper, or just prefer reading online anyway, then here you go.

And, yes, feel free to respond with comments. I'd love to hear from either one of my readers.