What A Place!

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:1-2

Today’s verse talks about where we are going: Heaven. Heaven is a real place. Indeed, it is the ‘placiest’ place of all. It is not a “state of mind”. Hell is a state of mind: it is the mind and soul locked into the furnace of Self.

But Heaven is where we encounter God in all fullness. And wherever encounter happens, there is a “place”. Place is different from mere “location”. Location is something out of mathematics or physics. It’s a mere point on a chart somewhere. But when an encounter with God or another person happens, a mere mathematical location is transfigured into a place. A house becomes a Home. Four walls becomes a sanctuary. A geographical elevation becomes Mt. Sinai.

And all these little encounters with another are foretastes of our Final Encounter with Another which is Heaven. That’s why Heaven’s so ‘placey’. We don’t know exactly what it will be like since “eye hath not seen nor ear heard.” And yet, in another sense, Heaven shall not be alien to us, but the greatest Homecoming we have ever known, for in becoming “like him” we shall at last be fully ourselves too.

How Do You See Your Life?

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

How do you see your life? You will discover that there are as many different answers to that question as there are people. I’ve been told life is a circus, a minefield, a roller coaster, a puzzle, a symphony, a journey, and a dance. People have said, “life is a carousel: Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and sometimes you just go round and round.”

If I asked how you picture life, what image would come to your mind? That image is your life metaphor. For instance, if you think life is a party, your primary value in life will be having fun. If you see life as a race, you will value speed and will probably be in a hurry much of the time. If you see life as a battle or a game, winning will be very important to you.

The Bible offers three metaphors that teach us God’s view of life: Life is a test, life is a trust, and life is a temporary assignment.

Life on earth is a test. God continually tests people’s character, faith, obedience, love, integrity, and loyalty. Words like trials, temptations, refining, and testing occur more than 200 times in the Bible.

Life on earth is trust. Our time on earth and our energy, intelligence, opportunities, relationships, and resources are all gifts from God that he has entrusted to our care and management. This concept of stewardship begins with the recognition that God is the owner of everything and everyone on earth.

Life on earth is a temporary assignment. Repeatedly the Bible compares life on earth to temporarily living in a foreign country. This is not your permanent home or final destination. You’re just passing through, just visiting earth.

Life is a test and a trust, and the more God gives you, the more responsible he expects you to be. And remember, you are not home yet.
( From ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ by Rick Warren )

Live In Hope!

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:2-5

We hope, not because we are not certain, but because we have a faith that transcends mere certainty. We hope, not because heaven is far away and we are stuck on earth, but because in the Incarnation, heaven was born in the form of a baby in Bethlehem, was crucified, died, and rose again.

We hope because the very worst thing that can possibly happen has already happened. There is no need to worry about anything leading to cosmic despair. Jesus has led the way to life from dead and has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

If God is for us, who can be against us? If God can bring eternal life for a race of murderers out of the death of his own murdered Son, what possible limits can there be to his mercy? None, except for our refusal to receive that mercy.

Do You Believe?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

Well, do you? This is the core of our Christian belief, and yet many of those who identify themselves as Christians shy away from this premise on the basis that it is intolerant and inherently exclusivist. Well, yes that’s true, but that’s how truth operates. It is infallible and the rest is opinion, conjecture, etc. Isn’t that what our soul desires … something we can hang our spiritual hats on? I think it’s what we all yearn for, believers and unbelievers alike, but our society has countered truth with a myriad of other “relative truths.” It markets them like snake oil at a sideshow. This, by the way, is how Satan can get the job done, even going so far as to convince us that he really doesn’t exist. When was the last time you heard about Satan from the pulpit?

Of course there are absolutes! There have to be; what else can be a point of reference, but the irrefutable truth? Either understand that now or spend the rest of eternity [by choice, no less] separated from God. And who said that recognizing the truth made an individual intolerant? Plenty of people have staked their lives on it, literally. These folks were no more blind than Christ, who believed it so thoroughly that, unless He died in vain, was willing to die a horrible death for it … and us! Decide who you would rather trust, and know that your decision here will be one that has eternal consequences. I’ll bet my life on Jesus Christ … Lord of Lords. It’s a risk we can’t afford NOT to take.

A Solid Foundation

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with you God. Micah 6:8

Periodically, somebody comes up with a brand new religion or philosophy or theory of ethics they claim is “ground-breaking” or “revolutionary”. But trying to come up with a truly “new morality” is pretty much like trying to come up with a new primary color.

It’s like the king in Dr. Seuss’ ‘Bartholomew and the Ooblek’. He, fool that he was, grew tired of the same rain, sun and snow coming down out of the sky and commanded the court magicians to make something new come down. Result: they summon “ooblek” which is some kind of green goo that falls and gums up everything. Finally, the King gets a clue and realizes that change is not the only good and that “radical change” can often be a prelude to disaster.

In morality, it is the same thing. There can be moral growth and improvement (as there was in the development from the Old Testament morality of “Love your friend and hate your enemy” to the New Testament command to “Love your enemy.”) But we cannot reject the very basis of morality without catastrophe. It is one thing to grow from the simple justice of the Old Testament toward the charity which commands “Love your enemy” in the New Testament. It is another things to propose hating everybody including your friends simply because it’s a novelty.

That is why the New Testament builds on, but never rebuts the moral teaching of the Old. The basic, no-brainer teaching of the Old Testament remains true everywhere and at all times: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. No dimestore philosopher on a talk show has ever built a better foundation for life than that. No one ever will.

Abundant Mercy

When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord you God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. Deuteronomy 4:30-31

The mercy of God is his greatest attribute. Our greatest fear when we sin is that God will act as so many people do, clucking the tongue and saying, “You expect me to forgive after you did that?” But the reality is that God really and truly does promise forgiveness of all our sins, if we will only turn to him for mercy.

People are made in the image of God, to be sure. But people are fallen too. Our failure to be merciful is not a sign that God is like us, it is a sign of how far we have fallen away from the God of mercy. So don’t let the rejection of people in the past make you fearful of seeking God’s mercy. Ask for mercy and he will surely give it.

If he can forgive those who crucified him, he can forgive any other sin for which we ask pardon and he can give us the grace to forgive those who have had no mercy on us.

Fulfill His Command

Praise the Lord. . . Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. . .lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, . . . Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. Psalm 148

The difference between lightning, hail, snow, clouds and stormy winds on the one hand, and us on the other, is that these things have no choice about obeying God’s commands. But we do have a choice. They are, so to speak, purely earthly. When God says “Burn” to carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in the presence of sufficient heat, there just has to be flame. The atoms have no choice but to do what they are created to do. But when God tries to spark the flame of the Holy Spirit in the human heart, we have the option of saying yes or no. It is our dignity to say yes, it is our fault if we say no.

Today, say yes to God with all your heart and fulfill his command by your willing cooperation with his grace.

The Table of the Lord

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23: 5

One wag has suggested a sort of “negative evangelism” campaign with a bumper sticker that reads: “Satan Hates You and Has a Terrible Plan for Your Life”. It’s a whimsical idea and one that is not entirely without foundation in Scripture. For the fact is, we do have an Enemy in the fallen angel who is Satan. And, as unpleasant as it sounds, it doesn’t matter if we disbelieve in him, he still believes in us and hates us because he hates God.

In the unthinkable choice made before all worlds to make himself and not God the center of his existence, Satan rejected once and for all not only God but all that God loves. Satan, being infinitely less than God, can never defeat God. But, in a parody of divine charity, he can stoop to the smallest viciousness just as God stoops to do the smallest kindness.

And so, from the very start, Satan has sought to destroy that creature made in the image of God for the same reason any cruel man would kill the son or daughter of his enemy, because they are dearer to the enemy than his own life. And so, Satan tempted our first parents to reject God and embrace death. But God became man and embraced death himself, destroying it from the inside out.
And now, with every communion he prepares a banquet before us in the presence of our Enemy. In every baptism and confession of His name, he anoints our head with oil. That is why St. Paul tells us that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”

The Enemy of God has succeeded only in putting himself outside in the dark looking in through the kitchen window. Even his schemes have only made sure that God has died for our sins and established the eternal marriage supper of the Lamb.

Self-Esteem or Self-Love ?

Psalm 47:7 For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding. (KJV)
Psalm 49:7 None of them by any means can redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him. (KJV)
John 8:36 “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (KJV)

What we have today is a culture that is attempting to heal itself rather than seeking God’s healing. The results speak for themselves. This does not exclude necessary support, counseling and therapy, but at some point we must (sooner rather than later, I believe) avail ourselves of God’s divine healing power. That doesn’t mean waiting around for a lightning strike type of miracle, but to use the miracle of God’s Word and direction to begin the process of healing and sane living. It really isn’t magic, but a practical method of improving your life, my life, and the lives of those around us by imitating Jesus Christ’s behavior.

As Arno Froese says in his book, How Democracy will Elect the Antichrist, “Psychology Repairs – Jesus Renews” …the chapter entitled Self Love: Babylon says, “It is no longer acceptable in the religious world to teach that a man is corrupt, lost, unable to help himself, and on his way to eternal damnation. That idea is contrary to what the world teaches and also professing Christianity at large. In fact, today’s society is being taught to over-emphasize man’s nobility, to think positive, and to do everything in his power to build up a person’s self-esteem. According [to numerous reports] self-love is the very reason for criminal behavior.”

Out of this self-love comes the sin of justification and rationalization. Obviously, being rational and just are not sinful activities, but what we are able to convince ourselves, and others of, is sinful because of the far reaching results of such thinking. If you justify stealing from your company because you spent your money unwisely or rationalize cheating on your taxes because you’ve convinced yourself that the government is stealing anyway, does it absolve you of the consequences? And, if we can justify one sin, then it will be easier to rationalize greater and greater sin. Once the foundation is laid the stacking of bricks upon it is an easy task.

What Is A False Religion?

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. Isaiah 5:21

A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper. Proverbs 28:25

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify your selves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly prized among men is detestable to God.” Luke: 16:15

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. 2 Peter 2:1

Since Lucifer fell, and for as long as man has had the benefit of choice, there have been gods and demons vying for our worship. I suggest that any alternatives to God through Jesus Christ are spin offs of the theological misstep taken by Eve (and affirmed by Adam) in the Garden of Eden. Our gift of choice gave rise to gods and goddesses of all shapes, sizes and levels of influence.

So … what in our culture passes for a false religion? Of course there are the cults led by Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon and David Koresh, but those are the obvious. What about partisan politics that suggests we are not a true believers unless we align with the most moral party? What about cults of personality that, like those surrounding John Lennon and the Beatles, create a massive following and make pronouncements about their popularity being greater than Jesus Christ? What about those who don’t say it, but operate as though it were also true about them? What names would come to mind? What about the mainstream media and state government effort to establish homosexuality as a normal behavior by maintaining that same sex marriages are acceptable and that straight folks can’t be fashion experts? And, yes are we not “clever in our own eyes.”