Saturday, March 31, 2007

If You Were to Die Today, Would You Go to Heaven?

What a question. Some would call it THE question. In the past two weeks I’ve had five different conversations with five different people about the subject of eternal life and being rightly connected to God. Each person initiated the conversation with me.

How would you answer the question, “If you were to die today, would you go to heaven?”

One might wonder, who is asking such a question? Is it soldiers who are about to ship off to Iraq? Is it people who are in the ER or about to undergo serious surgery?

Actually, a recent survey shows that 1 out of every 5 respondents wonder daily about the certainty of going to heaven; 13% think about it weekly; 12% monthly; 9% consider the question at least once a year. Less than half (44%) claim that they never think about eternal destiny.

For the record, the Bible has a lot to say about the subject.

What is eternal life?
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3

Who is in danger of not having eternal life?
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
“For the wages of sin is death...” Romans 6:23

How does one gain eternal life?
“…The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
“Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

Can one really know if they have eternal life and are going to heaven?
“I write these things to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13

Friend, this is the heart of the Easter event and experience. Everyone has sinned. Sin separates us from God. We need a Savior who will forgive our sin and restore us to a relationship with God.

Jesus is the Savior. Jesus gives us the gift of relationship with God and eternal life. We receive His gift by confessing (He’s Lord) and believing (God raised Him from the dead) and asking Jesus to save us.

Does that make sense? Have you taken that kind of step of faith? I consider the reading of today’s post to be a divine appointment between you and God. What will you do with this special moment of reflection?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Teach Religion In Public Schools?

Can you name the four gospels of the New Testament? Can you list five of the 10 Commandments from the Old Testament? What is the Golden Rule?* If you’re scratching your head and a little embarrassed that you don’t know, author Stephen Prothero wants you to turn your embarrassment into commitment to learn something about Christianity….and Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

Prothero is Chairman of the Religion Department at Boston University and contends that what Americans don’t know about religion is killing us. Prothero’s new book, "Religious Literacy", points out that around 90% of Americans say they believe in God, yet only a tiny portion of them knows anything about religion. In a world where nearly every political conflict has religious underpinnings, Prothero writes that Americans are selling themselves short by remaining ignorant about basic religious history and texts. For example, if one doesn’t know the difference between a Sunni and Shiite and the foundational beliefs of Islam, one will not grasp what is going on in Iraq and Iran and America’s relationship with them both.

In Newsweek Prothero said, “Given a political environment where religion is increasingly important, it’s increasingly important to know something about religion.”

The book proposes a controversial solution: teach religion in public schools. According to Prothero every high school student should be required to take a Bible course and a world religion course. The purpose would not be to catechize or evangelize but to educate. Prothero believes that Harvard’s recent decision to not make religion a part of its core curriculum was a mistake.

Prothero calls for time-pressed adults to sample holy books and history texts. His book includes a 90-page dictionary of key words and concepts from Abraham to Zen. There’s also a 15-question quiz that his students fail every year. To sample the quiz and read more commentary on this subject see the USA Today article, “Americans Get An ‘F’ in Religion.”

What’s your reflection on Prothero’s idea? Is it a good idea to teach children about religion in public schools? Is it practical or even possible?

(*Answers for the first paragraph: Matthew, Mark, Luke & John; Exodus 20:1-17; Luke 6:31)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bill Gates Getting His Harvard Degree

In 1973 Bill Gates entered Harvard University in order to get an education. Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975 in order to join with childhood friend, Paul Allen, and together they founded a little business and the rest is history.

Microsoft is the world’s largest maker of computer software with annual revenues of $44 billion in 2006. Gates and his wife Melinda created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, which is now the world’s largest philanthropic foundation with an endowment of about $33 billion. The foundation concentrates on promoting global health, ending poverty and hunger and enhancing education.

Forbes magazine estimates Gates’ personal worth at $56 billion, making him the world’s richest person.

So, Harvard has decided to award their “dropout” an honorary degree and will honor him at their June commencement. Gates will also address the graduating class of 2007.

Many have reduced the idea of getting a degree down to getting equipped to do a job and make a living. Obviously Gates didn’t get the degree but he did learn how to do a job and make a living. As you know, many have gotten the former and missed the latter.

This reversal is what happens so often when it comes to matters of faith in Christ. Did you complete catechism or confirmation? Did you check all the appropriate boxes on the _____________ (insert name of any church’s) card for praying, worshipping, giving, etc.? Did those experiences result in you learning how to build a relationship with God and make a life?

If not, then your “degree” means very little. The single purpose of learning theology, church history, spiritual disciplines such as prayer, service and giving, is so that you can build a relationship with God and make a life with Him.

A life with Christ builds up “treasure in heaven”. Some of the wealthiest people you’ll ever meet will never appear on the Forbes list. These “prosperous” and “successful” people give away their lives on a daily basis by loving the difficult to love, caring for those forgotten, and restoring to others of what life’s hardships have stolen. In so doing Christ followers become “rich toward God” and receive their reward in a life to come.

The days of Lent and Easter are a perfect time to re-enter the relational arena with God. Harvard is having “dropout” Bill Gates return to address their graduates and bring a word of reality and inspiration. If you know anyone who lives the Christ-life well, invite them to speak into your life and share with you something of what it is like to build a life with Christ.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Experiencing God Through Music

Most of you have probably had the experience of music making God seem close or the message of a song communicating a truth to a deep place in your heart.

This past Sunday a song by Jeremy Riddle was introduced to our church during worship entitled “Sweetly Broken”. If you want to hear it click here. The chorus of this song has lodged itself in me so that its lyrics are repeated over and over in my mind. Its melody continues to play in my heart. Literally I woke up this morning and my first thoughts were these lyrics and melody.

Here’s the message that God’s Spirit is not letting me escape.
“At the cross
You beckon me.
You draw me gently
To my knees,
And I am
Lost for words, so lost in love.
I’m sweetly broken,
Wholly surrendered.”

The cross is the place of God’s greatest manifestation of His love for us. Though horrific and cruel, from that place of sacrifice Jesus beckons us. To approach His cross is to be brought to your knees as you begin to comprehend who He is and what He has done for you. Words fail you as you become embraced, transformed and transported in His love. This reality breaks your heart with sorrow over your sin that placed Him there, yet births your heart into new life. All you can do is yield your life to His gracious Lordship.

This is the Good News message of Easter. Can you hear the Music? Has the Song beckoned you?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Transformation vs. Makeover

I had been sitting in my study reading for too long. I knew that I needed to go in to the family room and be with my wife for a while. I entered and found her watching a television program about “makeovers”. It was very educational :)

I discovered that a woman can instantly “lose” ten pounds by changing the style, pattern and color of clothing. A haircut, some makeup and a little whitening of the teeth and presto, you have a new woman.

The “before” and “after” shots were remarkable.

Meanwhile, in the real world I’m privileged to live in a community of faith where men and women are seriously following after Jesus Christ. Every week friends who are not focusing on their external appearance but rather their internal character inspire me. Every week I’m seeing transformation, not just an image adjustment.

Do you know what I mean? Have you seen someone who was afraid to trust or to risk loving someone or to invest themselves in caring for someone hurting, step out of their comfort zone, receive grace and power from above, and become a different person!

I’ve seen severely wounded people become able to forgive and release resentments. I’ve seen hopeless, despairing people become full of life and confidence and joy. I’ve seen people trapped in a grinding existence break free into living with meaning and purpose.

I watched the makeover television program and thought, “I wish that I could capture and show the world the transformations I get to see.” Transformation is not television friendly. You can’t put on some new clothes and makeup and in 30 minutes bring the “changed” person before an applauding audience.

Transformation takes time, it takes work, and it takes a faith-based relationship with a living God. I’m glad for those that enjoy a makeover. However, I recommend transformation.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Practicing" The Faith

Recently some friends invited me to attend a “Late Nite Catechism”. The evening features a “Sister” who holds class with a roomful of “students” (audience) as “lessons” of faith are imparted. This is the longest continuous running theatric production in Seattle in its 11th year.

The evening is highly interactive as Sister asks questions of her students and then has a lot of fun at their expense on how they answer (or don’t answer) her questions. The room was diverse as we discovered there were a few Catholics, former Catholics (Sister claims there is no such thing!), various Protestants and self-proclaimed “spiritual” people.

When students give correct answers they are given a prize and when they give incorrect answers we’re all given laughs as Sister good-naturedly makes fun.

One of the things that remained with me later as I reflected was the way Sister would ask someone, “Are you a practicing Catholic?” If the answer was no, she would then ask, “What do you practice?”

A musician knows what it means to practice. An athlete knows what it means to practice. Unfortunately I don’t think many people who wander into a church “get it” that faith is also practiced.

No one is born able to masterfully play a song or wondrously score in a game. They have to learn how to experience music or sport and the learning involves practice. So it is with faith. One practices praying until they become able to converse with God. One practices generosity, service, forgiveness and patience and with repetition they find in time they are more often virtuous than not.

Belief in God and trust in His goodness, His guidance and His provision involve some work on the part of the believer. Not work in order to earn or gain something from God. God gives because He is full of grace. Rather the work or practice develops in us a capacity to trust and receive from God.

What do you practice?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Why Another Jesus Distortion Story?

At the center of a controversial documentary scheduled to be seen on the Discovery Channel is Academy Award winner James Cameron. The director of “Titanic” has now created another sinking ship of a story, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”.

Cameron’s story will contend that a first century tomb discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb did contain the remains of Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, his mother Mary and his son, Judah. Also released at this time is a book about the tomb that has already climbed up the bestseller list to number five.

Scholars and religious leaders, liberal and conservative, have lined up to debunk the film’s claims. That of course leads to the question, “If every credible scholar and archeologist has debunked the finding and conclusions, why are so many people buying the book and ready to tune in to see the documentary?”

I asked the same question when 50 million copies of “The DaVinci Code” were sold and then turned into a blockbuster movie.

The reality is that there is a market for stories that contradict the truth about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dan Brown is tremendously wealthy because of “The DaVinci Code”. Cameron will make a lot of money.

But aside from the money I see another factor behind Jesus distortions. Obviously if Jesus was buried in a tomb where one can find his DNA and he married and had children, then the Gospel account of Jesus being divine, a substitutional and atoning sacrifice for our sins who conquered death and rose from the grave, is a myth. If the Gospel is a myth then it has no moral power over our lives.

If Judeo-Christian teachings (10 Commandments, Golden Rule, Heaven & Hell, etc.) are in fact based upon ancient myths then there would be no good reasons for most of the moral values, restraints and guidelines that are still a part of our culture and way of life. There would be no sanctity of life, no absolutes about right and wrong, and no promise of an afterlife of blessing and rewards. Does this remind you of a worldview and agenda of a powerful segment of our society that just happens to be well represented in Hollywood?

Yes, Jesus distortions sell. But Jesus distortions also advance a way of thinking and a way of life that is insidious.
April 13 UPDATE:
Several prominent scholars who were interviewed for the documentary are now revising their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Jerusalem Post has the complete story.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Remembering Those Who Have Died

This week has been an unusual week of reflection for me. My wife was flipping through the pages of my college alumni magazine and on the back page was a brief obituary of a dear friend of mine. Keith Snyder was a pastor in St. Louis. We went to college and seminary together, drilled each other on Hebrew words, debated theology, competed over grades and ate a lot of popcorn during some lean years in our early 20’s. Keith had a malignant brain tumor that had responded well to surgery and chemotherapy but in the end his body just couldn’t hold out.

As a pastor he was in the public view. Many witnessed his battle with cancer. His friends and church members not only got to see someone live well but die well.

This is in the same week that my colleague, Jerry Chambers, lost his father in a horrific car accident in Nashville. Jim Chambers was 71 years young, still in love with his sweetheart of 47 years, and thoroughly connected with God, family and friends. He began following Christ at a young age, served God all of his life and died well. Over 500 attended his memorial service to testify of their love for Jim and the impact he had on their lives.

Those that know and love Keith and Jim celebrate their lives. They are now in the presence of God experiencing His glory and the wonders of heaven.

Meanwhile I open USA Today and find out that Anna Nicole Smith will finally have her memorial service Friday in the Bahamas. We’re told that she’ll be buried in a custom made gown next to her 20-year old son in front of about 300 attending. Of course all of the media will cover the story and give more commentary about the unusual life of Ms. Smith.

One day I’ll be leaving this world. One day you’ll be leaving this world. We don’t really get to choose that date of departure. Will we live and die well?

If the Bible is correct that this world is temporary, a place where we just pitch a tent, and that the afterlife is eternal, where we will live for all eternity, then there is nothing more important than using this life to prepare for the next. I’m not sure Ms. Smith was prepared. She experienced a lot of attention and celebrity in this life. Millions recognize her face and know something of her story. I’m not very optimistic about what’s next for her.

In contrast, Keith and Jim lived in virtual obscurity. Their departure from this world had no TV cameras, tabloids or talk show coverage. But the reception they received on “the other side” was so brilliant, spectacular and joyous it would make the New Year’s Eve fireworks at the Space Needle in Seattle look like a child’s sparkler.

My cyberspace friend, today’s post is an invitation from God for you to reflect on matters of life and death.