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Archive for October, 2014

What Is The Most Important Thing?

Most will care about the types of relationships than jobs we had at the end of our lives here on earth. Jesus’ basic message was to love God and love others as we wish to be loved (Luke 10:27). This does not make God an egomaniac. Loving parents seek the admiration and respect of their children so they might consider their guidance. God could have overpowered others to change the world; instead, God loved others culminating at the Cross. We will have the greatest impact and fewest regrets in life when we love others as radically as Jesus lived out.

Beliefs matters. I began studying the Bible and writing what I thought God was really like many years ago, as I had problems with the God I was taught about growing up. I want other to reconsider their views, if preventing them from representing and knowing God as I know God. But, Jesus did not come as a theologian. Jesus came to love others so they might consider His ways for their best interest.

I consider God to be the ideal Lover. God does not control but attempts to persuade. Forced love is neither authentic nor desirable. Understanding God’s unconditional love for us inspires acts of selfless love toward others. God seeks to influence us through a relationship for our own good, as any loving parent does with their own children. The fear of punishment can deter but doesn’t lead to life transformations. Gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor does not conquer battles against self-centeredness or long-standing habitual sins in our lives. Intimacy with God inspires one to follow in the path of wisdom for one’s one good.

I am certain I treat others better than I would without God’s help. But, I fail to show consistent love almost on a daily basis. I love my wife dearly, but my love toward her is hardly as radical as I care to admit. We mustn’t give up but our influence is only as great as our love is toward others. Efforts vary but God’s unconditional love doesn’t. We can start off each day feeling accepted rather than rejected. Jesus encouraged others to just follow Him. Jesus knew their thirst would be satisfied if they did so.

We must not get discouraged because we fail to live up to our or God’s standards always but keep striving to make this world a better place. Some have opportunities to influence hundreds of people if they are the pastor or CEO of a large church or company. We simply need to use the gifts we have with the current opportunities available to make a difference. God changes the world one follower, one heart, one action at a time. Live in the moment relationally expecting interruptions to help others:

  • Encourage others as often as you can
  • Support civility and defend the defenseless
  • Donate to charities that make a difference
  • Backup up your car from the crosswalk to allow walkers to cross
  • Help an elderly person with their groceries
  • Let the person behind you go first in a long line
  • Hold the door always for others
  • Let cars in front of you to curb road rage
  • Write a letter to a veteran or someone that you are grateful to for their service
  • Tip well if you can afford it or speak to one’s manager to tell them how great the service was
  • Pick up trash wherever you are
  • Give your parking space to someone else
  • Check “yes” to become an organ donor
  • Change the subject gently when gossiping begin
  • Read to kids at school that need help with reading
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What Does The Bible Really Say About Heaven And Life After Death?

The Bible may not say as much about heaven as we think. This can be discouraging but most want to understand Scriptures correctly. The word Heaven, which appears hundreds of times in the Bible, refers to that which is above and the abode of God. Heaven cannot contain God obviously. It seems that Old Testament believers went into the grave to be resurrected at a later time into the presence of God. Job only hoped to die and go to a “place of darkness” (Sheol) to escape his suffering (Job 10:21-22).  King David also describes Sheol as a place of darkness for those who are dead (Ps. 143:3). Enoch and Elijah, who did not suffer death, may have immediately entered God’s presence (Gen. 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11).

The New Testament suggests Jesus’ resurrection enabled a different destiny for all believers. The “last days” referred to in the NT are commonly thought to be in the future of us readers. But, the NT writers spoke of the last days happening in the generation of their readers. The last days were not the end of the world but the Old Covenant and temple system passing away. The New Covenant ushered in believers going straight to heaven as Jesus overcame the grave for all by resurrecting from His grave. The NT makes promises that the OT did not. Jesus was said to have destroyed death and brought in immorality (2 Tim 1:10). John says Jesus brought no more death (Jn. 8:51), and whoever believes in me will never die (11:25).

There are different views of when the events in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 were to take place, but this passage strongly suggest those who died before Jesus’ arrival did not have the same hope as those who died after Jesus’ arrival (see also I Cor. 15). Jesus’ resurrection proved that Jesus could and did overcome death not only for those who died before Him but also now for those who lived in His lifetime and are born in the future. God can and has conquered the grave as our final destiny.  I believe this passage speaks of an event that has already taken place as most think believers today enter Heaven after death.

If we have the hope of heaven and eternal life now, what does Scriptures say about our new abode? The word heaven appears about 272 times in the NT. It is referred to over 80 times in Matthew in references to the “kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says the Kingdom of God is coming in His readers’ lifetime (Mt. 16: 28). Thus, we are presently living in the kingdom of heaven. The second most frequent time the word heaven appears in the NT, after Matthew, is about fifty times in the book of Revelation. It is commonly thought that the book of Revelation speaks of events far in the future but the writer speaks of events taking place soon (Rev 1:1; 22:6). Daniel was told to close up and seal his words as the fulfillment was in the future (Daniel 12:4, 9). John in Revelation was told to leave his book unsealed (Rev. 22:10), because his words were to be fulfilled soon.

The new heaven and earth spoken of in Revelation (21:1-2) is not speaking about a time in the future when God will destroy the earth and come down to reign. John was telling believers soon they can begin to experience Heaven on earth, because of the new spiritual reality coming: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down of heaven from God….”(Rev. 21:1-2). Revelation is not describing what Heaven away from earth is like. It is describing a fulfillment of Jesus’ words in the generation of his readers (Mt. 24:35). The old heaven and earth passing away is fulfillment of the Old Covenant and promise of the New Covenant. The grave no longer holds people after they die as it did before Jesus came. Revelation 21:4 that speaks of no more tears, death, crying, or pain is referring to the fact that the grave is no longer our destination but instead we enter God’s presence immediately after death.

The Bible also does not say much about Heaven by way of speaking of the destiny of those who don’t want to spend eternity with God. Does the Bible really portray God as a sadistic torturer? HELL, NO! The popular concept of hell, where God is involved in the endless torture of people, is nowhere in the Scriptures. Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. In some translations you will not even find the word Hell, or you will notice Bible translations vary greatly in terms of how often the word Hell is used. Hell was an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience.

The Hebrew word Sheol in the OT often translated as “Hell” was simply a region or place of darkness occupied by the dead regardless of beliefs. As mentioned Job desired to go there to escape his tremendous suffering (Job 10:21-22). The Greek word Gehenna in the New Testament translated as “Hell” was the name of a real, literal, valley nearby Jerusalem that had a history. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago. Scriptures only says after death that believers and unbelieves are judged by our merciful God

We can imagine though what Heaven may be like. Our imaginations may do greater justice to what Heaven will be like than descriptions of reality we have never experienced. The Apostle Paul does tells us that our eventual citizenship after death here on earth will be in heaven where we will have transformed bodies (Philippians 3:20-21). Heaven may be like the Garden of Eve before we rejected God’s oversight. There was no death or loss of loved ones. Streams came up from the earth and watered the ground (2:6), trees grew out of the ground that were beautiful and provided plenty of food (2: 9), humans and animals live among one another without fear (2:19), and then of course God created naked woman (2:25). If we accept God’s oversight we can hope for no personal evil as men will not take advantage or rule women (3:16), and no natural evil as the ground will not produce thorns or thistles (3:18).

The Bible does promise us eternal life. Most hope for something beyond life on this earth and a reunion with their loved ones. God seemed to want to encourage us to begin living with an eternal perspective while here on earth. John 3:36 is like many other Johannine passages which advises readers that eternal life can began immediately. One will pass through death eventually but one can enter a new life now when they shun evil which involves loving our neighbors as we wish to be loved (3:20). We can begin to have abundant life now her on earth (Jn. 10:10). Salvation is not being saved from Hell or only about entering Heaven sometime in the future after death. Salvation is healing, deliverance, or rescue on earth from the stranglehold of self-centeredness. We can begin living a life that will have less regrets when we pass from this earth. We no longer have to be bound but our desires for sin but look to God’s ways for true happiness.

How Do We Really Receive Eternal Life Or Immortality?

When one looks in the Bible to learn how we get to heaven they may look for verses that talk about inheriting eternal life or being saved. Many readers heard growing up that one gets to heaven when they understand the wages of sins is death but the gift of God is eternal life (Rm. 6:23), and if you believe in God you will be saved (Rm. 10:9). Preachers often suggest a prayer for salvation: “Dear God, I am a sinner that deserves death. I confess my sins and believe Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins and accept Jesus into my heart.”

Many familiar with the Bible may be surprised to learn that when someone asked directly how to have eternal life Jesus said simply to love God and love others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). Jesus didn’t advise one to get on their knees, confess their sins, and never look back. Jesus was suggesting one can have the hope of immortality by beginning to live by the golden rule. No one stops being selfish after beginning to follow God. Jesus was simply conveying that one begins to live forever when they look toward God and not their own ways. Getting to heaven after death according to Jesus is much simpler than many may have thought.

One misconception of eternal life is that Scriptures mostly refers to our future after death. The Bible though speaks of eternal life in quantity of life as well as quality of life here on earth. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. Paul shortly thereafter says sin put him to death but Paul remained alive (Rm. 7:11). Paul was suggesting sins lead to spiritual death but we can begin living eternally here on earth when one follows God’s way than their own selfish desires. The word heaven appears about 272 times in the NT. It is referred to over 80 times in Matthew in references to the “kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says the Kingdom of God is coming in His readers’ lifetime (Mt. 16: 28). Thus, we are now living in the kingdom of heaven and can now overcome the temptation of sin in our lives with God’s help.

John in his Gospel refers to the term “life” more than any other book in the NT. In John life and eternal life were practically interchangeable (i.e. 5:39 with 5:40, 6:53 with 6:54). One is described as either being spiritually dead or eternally alive. John 3:15 refers to eternal life as being in Christ, thus referring to a quality than future destiny. John 3:36 is like many other Johannine passages that advises his readers who believe that eternal life begins immediately. One will pass through death to heaven, but one enters a new life now when they shun evil (3:20).  We can begin to have abundant life now her on earth (Jn. 10:10).

Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus before preparing to enter Jerusalem and face death (Mt. 19:1-10) lets us know how Jesus encouraged one to be saved.  Zacchaeus was a tax collector and had cheated many people out of their money. Zacchaeus had clearly reflected on his actions and told Jesus he intended to payback four times the amount he had stolen from others. Jesus responded to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house….the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  There was no formal confession. Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus he must be baptized though believers were being baptized. Jesus simply praised Zacchaeus for seeing his need to begin a journey that Jesus wanted for everyone.

The Apostle Paul did give hope that our eventual citizenship after death here on earth will be in heaven where God will transforms our bodies (Philippians 3:20). But, Jesus emphasis was His desire for us to begin living with an eternal perspective while on earth. Salvation is not being saved from Hell or only about entering heaven sometime in the future after death. Salvation is healing, deliverance, or rescue on earth from the stranglehold of self-centeredness. We can begin living a life that will have less regrets when we pass from this earth. We no longer have to be bound but our desires for sin but look to God’s ways for true happiness. We can have the hope of inherit eternal life when we begin to get to know, follow, and trust in Jesus.

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