Tag Archives: eternal life

Pay or Pray?

Here’s some good news: you can be released from a spiritual death sentence if you send televangelist, Paula White, pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, a mere $1144.  That’s what she said so it must be true.  She’ll even through in a prayer cloth with magical powers.  Better yet, I’ll give you a discount; I’ll knock off $144.  I don’t have the prayer cloths, but my promise of spiritual life is every bit as reliable and valuable as hers.  What a bargain…

I wonder if Ms. White knows about this event:

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”  (Matthew 21:12-13)

When you pray, at a house of prayer or back home in private, you ask God to provide.  Money changers set up booths in the temple to make a profit (possibly an exorbitant profit) in order to provide for themselves.  If Jesus got so worked up about those guys, calling them “robbers,” how do you suppose He would respond to Paula’s offer to sell spiritual life for $1144?

If she charged 50 cents, it would be a ripoff.  Jesus gives spiritual life, eternal life away for free.  You don’t pay for it.  You pray for it.

What’s Your Response?

Imagine a lush banquet with copious quantities of the best of food and drink.  That’s how God symbolically described the Kingdom He would establish.  Of course His people yearned for that Kingdom to arrive, especially since He also promised to wipe away tears and banish death forever.  If you are not familiar with that prophecy, I’ll print it below.  But in Jesus’ day, they knew it and yearned for it to be fulfilled.

So, when someone mentioned the Kingdom to Jesus, and He responded with a parable about a great banquet, the small hairs on the back of their necks stood to attention.  Making it more electrifying was the “servant” in the parable, who comes to tell people the banquet is ready.  One of Isaiah’s most common expressions for God’s Messiah was “the Servant.” (e.g. See Isaiah 42:1)

Here’s how He began the parable:

… “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’  (Luke 14:16b-18)

Those who had “ears to hear” sensed that Jesus was telling them He was the Messiah-Servant, sent by God to announce the Kingdom, proclaiming “everything is now ready.”  The tragedy was that most of those who had been waiting and yearning for that announcement then decided that the busyness of their regular lives was more pressing and important than the opportunity to join God in His Kingdom for eternal life.

Don’t compound the tragedy; Jesus still speaks those same words of invitation to each of us today.  “Come, for everything is now ready.”  What is your response?  Are you wanting to be excused?  Consider carefully.

Here’s Isaiah’s prophecy:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever;and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Recognizing the Holy Spirit in You

Late one night, at the Apple warehouse, a box of new iPhones were engaged in a casual competition to see which one of them was the best.  Unexpectedly, one of the phones was connected to a cell phone signal and then to the WiFi.  The other phones sensed something was amiss and asked him, “What’s that goofy look on your face; what’s going on?”  “I don’t know how to explain what I’m experiencing, but it is almost as though I came to life for the first time.”  The other phones considered him weird and ostracized him.

Okay, maybe that didn’t really happen, but it illustrates the problem of answering the question we posed last time (See: Who is in Control?): “How do I know when I have received the Holy Spirit?”  If you have received Him, you probably agree it’s pretty hard to find words to describe the experience.  But a pretty good start is to say it feels a bit like coming to life in a new way and for the first time.

Some will tell you that receiving the Holy Spirit is always accompanied by speaking in unknown languages, or by falling down and twitching, by hysterical laughter or even barking like a dog.  Perhaps all of these things have occurred to some as they received this mysterious and powerful new life, but it is nonsense to insist that everyone will respond in the same way.  Paul made that point in an extended argument you can read in 1 Corinthians 12 through 14.

Let me suggest a couple of telltale signs  of new life in God’s Spirit.  The first one is that you will begin to notice basic changes in how you think, what you see, what kinds of things are most important, etc.  You may think to yourself, “Well, that wasn’t like me…”  One of the changes I noticed pretty quickly was a desire to read the Bible, when I formerly had found it incredibly dull.  That wasn’t like me.  The changes might be very subtle, and even more noticeable to others.  The night I crossed the line of faith and received the Spirit, when I walked in the front door, my wife looked up and said, “Something is different about you; what’s going on?”   I don’t know what she saw or sensed.

Secondly, these changes will not fade over time but, instead, will grow.  They are not simply temporary emotional responses, such as what you might experience if you get a promotion, but living and growing changes, as you gradually become more attuned to the life of God’s Spirit within you.

Eventually, the life of the Holy Spirit will produce fruit.  Jesus spoke of the difference between a superficial religious experience and one that was genuine.  He said, those who genuinely come to new life in Him don’t wither away when trouble comes but continue to grow and produce fruit (see: Matthew 13:1-23).  What does this fruit look like?  Paul says it looks like this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”  –  Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV84)

And you think, “Whoa…  that’s not like me!” Notice that these “fruit” changes are external, they impact others around us.  The changes and then the fruit grow as the Spirit changes our character and attitudes to more closely resemble God’s.

Eventually, the Spirit gives us new aptitudes and abilities –  gifts of the Spirit.  And we’ll take that up next time.

P.S.  –  If you are concerned about your situation and need to run some questions past someone, I strongly encourage you to seek out a local pastor, one who is comfortable with the concept of what it means to be born again.

If You Dare

There’s no way Robert Johnson could have sold his soul to the Devil, in exchange for the ability to play guitar exceptionally well.  He couldn’t have sold his soul because he didn’t own it.  We may feel like our souls belong to us, but in reality, Jesus taught, they have already been sold to Satan.  They are being held for ransom.  That is why Jesus posed this haunting question:

“…what can a man give in exchange for his soul? ” –  (Matthew 16:26b)

No matter how much you would pay, it would not be enough.  The cost is impossibly high.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is this: Jesus has already paid the ransom and offers freedom and life for our souls.   He extends the offer to anyone willing to abandon the cage that holds them and dare to follow Him.  But a hostage rescue only works if the hostages dare to follow their rescuer.  That’s a tough choice for those hostages who have gotten used to captivity and may actually feel more secure staying where they are!  Sometimes cages feel like life.

That’s why Jesus said:

“… whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. –  (Matthew 16:25b)

Warning: Offensive Words

“We don’t say ____; someone might be offended.”  You may think that is a new attitude of our hyper-sensitive times, but in fact, they said similar things to Jesus. He paid no attention.  Jesus constantly said things that offended people.  So much so, they killed Him.  Roughly paraphrased, He said, “I am God.”  I don’t think anyone would be offended by that today. 

But there are two words Jesus said that still offend people deeply today.  I think the offensiveness of the two words has a lot to do with why so many people reject Him.  The two words?  “Deny himself.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” –  (Matthew 16:24)

We don’t say “deny himself” or “deny yourself” today.  People definitely get offended.  We say, “find yourself,” “express yourself,” “help yourself,” “be yourself,” “love yourself” and “protect yourself.”  But not that D word…  “Take up your cross?”  No problem.  That phrase no longer contains any horror for us.  Not like denying my self

Jesus’ offensive truth is this: You cannot follow Him and follow your “self” at the same time.  And to choose your “self” over following Him is to forfeit your eternal soul. I know, I know, we don’t say that.  We don’t want to get anyone’s feathers ruffled.  But Jesus not only said it, He explained it:

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.   What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?…”   –  (Matthew 16:25-26a)

It sounds like heresy in our “Me” world.  But instead of being offended, why not spend some time considering whether Jesus might have been telling the truth?

A Glimpse

A few months before she died, my wife was awakened suddenly, in the middle of the night.  The next morning she struggled to find words for what happened next.  She said God impressed upon her a sense of absolute peace and joy unlike anything she had ever experienced.  She was laughing and weeping as she tried to explain what it was like.  She said she was sure He was encouraging her with a foretaste of Heaven.  That sudden “download” was a source of great strength and peace to her – and to me – as her time grew short.

I’ve recently learned that Blaise Pascal experienced something similar on November 23, 1654, a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey.  His epiphany lasted a couple of hours, during which time he scribbled notes to himself, including these words, found hidden in his jacket after he died:

Certitude, certitude, Emotion, Joy, Peace.  God of Jesus Christ  …  Oblivion of the world and of everything except God.  Righteous father, the world has not known You,  But I have known You.  Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy, Jesus Christ ___________ Jesus Christ 

This morning, I reread the account of Jesus’ transfiguration.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. –  (Matthew 17:1–3 (NIV84))

I’ve always interpreted this strange episode as an instructive encouragement for the two disciples.  I wonder if it was not also given to strengthen and encourage Jesus.  A reminder of things impossible to fully comprehend in this earthly plane.  It occurred shortly after Jesus began to teach His disciples that He must be put to death.   Jesus struggled greatly as His death became imminent. He silenced Peter abruptly when he said such a death would never happen.  He agonized in prayer in Gethsemane.  Perhaps that glimpse of the reality of Heaven was a gracious gift for Him.

I don’t know.  I wonder.  But of this I am sure:  the circumstances awaiting those who die as believers and followers of Jesus are so astonishingly wonderful, we have no words to fully express them.  We also have no currency capable of expressing the value of being welcomed into such an environment of joy and peace.  The best Jesus could manage was an analogy:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.   Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  –  (Matthew 13:44–46 (NIV84))

 

Necessary Power

Do you know why they yell, “Clear!” when they apply paddles to get someone’s heart going?  It is because the tremendous power needed would be dangerous if you were touching the body.  If that’s the kind of power necessary to restart a heart, how much power would be needed to bring a dead body back to life, one that had been dead for days?  We humans have never harnessed that kind of power.  We know how much power it takes to kill a person, but not to resurrect.  That power belongs to God alone.

And yet, that power is offered to everyone who will trust Jesus.  God applies His power that we might be:

“… raised with him [Jesus] through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12b- with my added explanation)

I pulled out that half-sentence from a lengthy and somewhat confusing description of what happens to those who trust Jesus for salvation, to highlight the power of God, necessary to bring dead people back to life.  Without that power applied, we all are dead.  We feel alive because our hearts are beating, but it takes much more to be fully alive.  We say someone whose heart beats but who has no brain activity is “brain dead.”  God considers us dead if our hearts and brains function but we do not have His Spirit living in our souls.  Without His living Spirit, we are missing the essential ingredient for the full life God intended when He designed and created us.  We humans lost that Spirit, that Eternal Life, when we rejected God and embraced sin.

By His power, God offers to restore us to full life.  This can only happen to those whose sin has been completely paid for and forgiven.  Because sin caused our spiritual death, the just penalty for sin is physical death and separation from God, a price we cannot pay.  But Jesus willingly paid the full price on our behalf, with His life.  God, by His great power raised Him back to life.  If you accept this payment for your sins and trust the One Who paid it, then you, too, are raised to life by God’s power.

“When you were dead in your sins … God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,” (Colossians 2:13 excerpt)

 

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.