Meditating on the Commands of Christ (84): Sow, Reap, and Weep—Or Sow, Weep, and Reap!

“You’ll reap what you sow” is foundational, not only to farmers but to all of us as humans. Not only physically, but spiritually. That’s doubtless why Jesus urged us in Matthew 13:18 to “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.”

Reaper by Victor Borisov-Musatov, 1897. Public Domain

What was that parable? “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

What did Jesus want his disciples to understand? “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

If you’re a believer, then the message for us is to sow the Word of God (the Bible and the Gospel of Christ) liberally, everywhere, to everyone, without worrying about whether or not it will always be successfully received.

As a case in point, I eagerly received Jesus as my Savior the first time I ever heard the Gospel, which was at a Youth for Christ rally when I was twelve. The next day, I started trying to explain the great, good news to Jocey, who took clarinet lessons with me at our junior high school. “Oh, I’m already a Christian,” she replied casually. “I got saved when I was four.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “Then why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Because I didn’t think you were the type.”

Fifty-seven years later, I’m still pondering that one. Who is “the type?” I don’t think any of us can tell who might or might not respond to the wonderful news that God loved us so much that He sent his uniquely begotten Son (Jesus) to die in our place so that we can have our sins forgiven, be reconciled to God, and become his children—receiving his eternal life and being assured of going to heaven to be with Christ when we die.

Therefore, Jesus tells us to share the living seed of the Word of God freely. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). The Bible also gives us several wonderful promises to encourage us in our task:

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). So, beyond the “sow and reap” principle, there’s the even better, “sow, weep, and reap with joy” principle.

Contrarily, there’s the “sow, reap, and weep principle: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:8-9). How much better to continue in patiently sowing the Word of God despite persecution, belittlement, and weariness. God promises to bless us with everlasting life, and I think in this context, He’s not saying our own. Our own promise of everlasting life was secured for us when we committed our lives to Christ. The promise of Galatians is that we will reap the joy of seeing many other people receive everlasting life if we don’t give up!

Do you ever get frustrated and tired of sharing the glory of God with those who don’t believe a word of what you say and think you’re nuts? Don’t grow weary! Don’t give up sharing the blessed Good News of the Gospel! “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

God wants us to keep sowing the good seed of the Kingdom of God so that some day we will be overwhelmed by the joy of seeing multitudes experiencing the bliss of heaven with us. Beloved, keep sowing and weeping. We may never know in this life the effects of our scattering God’s Word, but someday, in heaven, we will reap with joy!

The reaper after millet by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Public Domain

(P.S.—As a tribute to Jocey, she became a wonderful friend, and her mother patiently drove both my sister and me to church several times a week for over two years until my sister got her driver’s license and we could get there on our own!)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (82): TRUE Clean

COVID is spreading like a sinister wildfire smoldering its way around the world. It’s a time when we’re all very concerned about being “clean” and washing properly, so I think the account of Jesus failing to wash up before dinner is particularly noteworthy today. Jesus had been invited to a Pharisee’s home for dinner but was looked at critically for not washing up according to code before the meal.

Was Jesus simply too busy, or did he intentionally choose not to wash up in order to make a point? Either way, his statement (as was so often the case) seems like a skew line from the issue: “”Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Luke 11:40-41). The apparent issue was personal cleanliness, but like God, his Father, Jesus didn’t look on the outward appearance. Jesus looked on the heart. In a room full of well dressed and carefully manicured guests, who actually qualified as being “clean”?

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner). This thought kept coming back to me as I pondered giving alms and the question of what is truly clean. The answer? Not those who have washed up, but those who have given out. Not those who have mastered social graces, but those who are actively following God’s call to meet the world’s deep hunger by giving “alms” out of their personal storehouse of deep gladness.

Do you know what “alms” are? I always thought the term was synonymous with “money,” but I was wrong! The term alms is only used 14 times in the Bible (New Testament), and the Old Testament sequel, “tzedakah,” literally means “righteousness.” It refers to doing what is right more than giving charitable monetary gifts. In fact, the Jewish wise man, Maimonides, rated “enabling the recipient to become self-reliant” as the highest form of tzedakah possible.

Jesus was the perfect example of this. There is no record of his giving money to help the poor, although he healed many people, enabling them to become self-sufficient and whole . . . a much greater benefit! This was also true of Jesus’s disciples: “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

In the light of this, it’s not surprising that Jesus told the Pharisees to give alms “of such things as ye have.” What do you suppose they had? If they had wisdom to share or the power to heal, what gifts those would be! If they were truly just and righteous in their dealings with others (rather than being self-serving and oppressive, which is what angered Jesus about the Pharisees in Matthew 21) . . . well, that would have been wonderful too! If the deep gladness of their hearts had been a recognition of Jesus as the Messiah who had come to save the world from sin and set us free . . . what a blessing they could bestow on others!

Sadly, the Pharisees had none of these gifts to share. All they had was money, and they were careful to tithe, but not to use their money to care for others. Jesus had this scathing rebuke to offer them: “Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness” (Luke 11:39), and a few verses later he adds, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them” (Luke 11:44).

Just a question, but is there any chance you’re reading this and sense hypocrisy deep within your heart? Do you look pure, clean, and polished on the outside but know that on the inside you’re as dead as an unmarked grave? God does have a remedy, which is rebirth through faith in Christ. (Click on the “Coming to Christ” tab at the top of this page if you’re not sure what that means.) Jesus cleans us from the inside out. He can give us a gladness deep in our heart that becomes like a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14). Out of that heart of joy will flow a desire to love others, pursue justice, and “give alms of such things as ye have.”

What are the “such things” that you and I have? Well, they are doubtless different, but God wants us to give to others out of the abundance of our hearts. “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” (Proverbs 28:27). It might be money to meet a need, it might be volunteering time to help teach, it might be writing a song, singing, sewing masks for COVID patients, knitting hats for cancer patients . . . there is no end to human need and no end to human creativity to help meet those needs. God wants us all to be “busy about our Father’s business” reaching out to others. I love the promise at the end of this command: “give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.

Yes, COVID is spreading like a sinister wildfire smoldering its way around the world, and we’re all very concerned about being “clean” and washing properly! Yes, it’s a time when “reaching out” physically is much more limited, but we can still reach out spiritually, and if we want to bring joy to our Father—and still be as safe as we can be—if we want to be truly “clean”—then let’s share from the deep place of gladness in our hearts with those who are experiencing deep hunger! It’s important to keep washing the “outside of the cup.” (I sanitize and socially distance for sure, and Jesus said that tithing is good.) But, let’s remember that TRUE CLEAN is on the inside, in our hearts, and that’s what matters the most!

Text for this meditation: Luke 11:37-44, “And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.38 And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.39 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.44 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”

(*Photo used by permission of http://Havenlight.com )

God’s Not Dead

Speaking of confusing light and darkness:

If you’re struggling over whether or not to believe in God, I’d like to recommend the series of movies God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2, and God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.

God’s Not Dead came out in 2014 and got such a poor rating (4.7) that we didn’t watch it, but we watched it this past week and realized that the movie is actually excellent, and I’m convinced the low rating is simply a reflection of Hollywood and movie critics in general disliking Christian themes and material.

The first movie contains some helpful information concerning the origins of Earth and the universe and a clear gospel message.

God’s Not Dead 2 takes us to a courtroom, where a high school teacher is charged for answering a question about Jesus in her AP history class.

In this movie, Lee Strobel and Jim Wallace, both capable defenders of the Christian faith, show up on the witness stand. I’m in the midst of listening my way through Warren’s fascinating series on Christianity, written from his perspective as a cold-case detective on the Los Angeles police force, so I’m doubly a fan.

In both movies, the Newsboys make appearances, sharing faith and singing. If you’re not familiar with the Newsboys, they’re a Christian rock band from Australia that’s released 17 albums, 6 certified gold, and their catchy, clever lyrics have been captivating kids since 1985.

According to Wiki, Michael Tait (who now leads the Newsboys) “expressed excitement about the film to The Global Dispatch during an interview, saying that ‘The movie is powerful because of the whole stance of it…just trying to prove God’s existence…sharing the gospel, living the lifestyle, changing the mindset of people around them in this college, in this university’.”

“Duncan Phillips added in a similar interview that ‘Disney’s Shane Harper plays a college student whose faith is challenged by his professor, played by Kevin Sorbo from Hercules.

Dean Cain from Superman is in it, too. So we got to hang out with a bunch of superheroes. The movie raises a lot of questions and a lot of eyebrows from a culture that questions if there is a God’.”

So, the acting is excellent, the message is great . . . what’s not to love? I guess only the fact that the movies stand up for Christ and the Gospel in the midst of a culture that has become often openly hostile to people expressing their faith in Christ.

In God’s Not Dead 2, the lawyer (played by Jesse Metcalfe) points out that the term “separation of Church and State” is not in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. In fact, it first appears in a letter sent by Thomas Jefferson to a baptist congregation, explaining that they should have no fear of signing America’s formative legal documents because they guarantee religious freedom—which is the right for people to practice their religious faith without persecution. (Many of the first pilgrims came from Europe because they were persecuted for their faith in their European settings.) Somehow, America has inverted freedom OF religion to mean freedom FROM religion by excluding any and all religious expressions (at least Christian religious practices) from public spaces.

Talk about failing to discern right from wrong and good from evil!

God’s Not Dead Composed and Sung by The Newboys

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (81): Confusing Light and Darkness

Trying to navigate this COVID pandemic is the perfect time to learn how to walk in the light rather stumble in the dark, don’t you think? “Shall I go here or there, or stay home?” “Shall I allow my children to visit or ask them not to come yet?” So many decisions, and one false move could literally cost us our lives! In today’s passage, Jesus warns us that we can think we’re doing what’s right when in reality we are doing just the opposite: “Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35). How can we be sure what we think is a good idea is not really a bad choice, and what we think of as right is not really wrong?

For those who believe the Bible is true, there is an answer: “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God” (Isaiah 50:10). If you’re not sure what you’re thinking about doing is “the right” thing to do, and if you are willing to obey God, then simply pray and ask Him for guidance. In my experience, God gives me a sense of peace if I’m pursuing “the right” path or a sense of disquiet and restlessness if I am not. If your heart is restless, then “trust in the name of the Lord” and wait patiently for Him to direct you. Don’t rush ahead and do whatever. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). Be patient. Keep praying for the Lord to guide you. Don’t make a decision before you really have to, but when it’s time, make the best decision you can, trusting that the Lord is leading you (which He will be doing if you are willing to follow).

Jesus taught: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). This is a promise, but it is made to those who are following him. If you have not been following Jesus, then you may not be able to make wise decisions or discern good from a very bad mistake. In fact, you may have walked so far away from God that you have totally inverted right and wrong. As humans, we are capable of “doing that which is right” in our own eyes even though we are doing great evil (Joshua 17:6).

It is possible that our conscience will alert us if we’re heading into trouble, but if we continue ignoring the warnings, we can become hardened in sin. Isaiah 59 relates this grim warning: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear . . . The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness” (Isaiah 59:1-2,8-9).

What can we do if sense that our hearts are dark and we have no peace or direction? The Apostle Paul had an answer for this: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Paul was writing to the Church at Ephesus, so these were believers. Even those who believe in Christ and have been followers of Him can (often through inattention) lose their sense of direction. If you find that over time you’ve mindlessly walked out of the light and are now groping around in the darkness, come back to the light: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:6-9).

There’s a lot of instruction here, and it may feel like bitter medicine to swallow, but this is God’s remedy for sin and lostness for both those who have become children of God through faith in Christ and those who have not yet. #1. Get honest with ourselves and admit to what we know we’re doing that is wrong. #2. Confess our sins to God and stop “pretending” that everything is okay. #3. Ask God to cleanse us and restore us to spiritual health and wholeness. #4. Walk in the light that God provides through the Holy Spirit, through the example of Jesus, and through the Word of God.

If you’ve been feeling very much in the dark and this message resonates in your heart, please join me in praying this prayer written by King David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). If you have never asked Jesus Christ to save you and become your Lord, please do so now! He is the Light of the World and promises to give you the Light of Life to guide you! Wouldn’t you love to have a heart full of light and someone leading you safely from here to heaven? Jesus will do just that if you’ll let him!

Text for today’s meditation: “And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.30 For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.31 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.32 The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.33 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.34 The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.35 Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.36 If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light (Luke 11:29-36).

I Do

“How beautiful the sorrow
How exquisite all the pain
Without these tools of mercy
I could not have known your name

“For in my senseless journey
Strong needs were driving me
Each path I chose brought heartache
And still…I couldn’t see

“Your higher purpose for my life
The plans you had in mind
You saw the things that I would see
When I became un-blind

“Relentless love…O violent grace
Sweet heart of love so true
My tears were merely stones that
Paved the pathway back to you

“Royal groom…your very blood
Bought back your faithless bride
A marriage contract sealed the day
That you were crucified

“Thank you for our pain Lord
That betrothed my soul to you
I LOVE you Jesus … Savior. … God
I do . . . I do . . . I do !!!”  

—Composed and shared by a blog follower and sister in the Lord, Carol Simpkins Floyd, while reflecting on Hosea 2 and Revelation 21:9. Copyright 2011.

And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Revelation 21:9).      

And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord. And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:19-20 and 23).

Good Friday Reflection: How the COVID Grinch Hopes to Steal Easter

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been so focused on the COVID crisis that I haven’t really been meditating on the passion of Christ—his last week of life here on earth—the way I usually do. With church services being cancelled, commuted, or online, and all hope for family gatherings gone, somehow I’d been unconsciously allowing the COVID Grinch to steal Passion Week. However, I was deeply moved by reading Amy Carmichael’s thoughts on the last act of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Do you know the last thing Jesus did before his hands were tied? He healed: “And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him” (Luke 22:50-51). “Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him” (John 18:12).

Isn’t that incredible? If I were about to be murdered by a band of outlaws, I’m pretty sure my mind would be focused on how to escape, not on healing one of the men set on killing me . . . and in the chaos of someone having his ear sliced off, I’m afraid my gut reaction would be to try to make a run for it—like you see the “good guys” do in the movies. Instead, Jesus was totally at peace and resolved to do his Father’s will, which was to suffer crucifixion. He didn’t run for it. He asked the soldiers to let his companions (disciples) go free and willingly surrendered himself to the will of these merciless men—because he knew that this was all a part of God’s plan for him. Instead of protecting himself, he healed someone who was hurting.

As we ponder Good Friday and head into this weekend, let’s make sure we don’t allow the COVID crisis to absorb all our attention. I need to refocus on my precious Lord! My guess is that the lion’s share of our concern over COVID is “What if I get sick and die?” Well, Jesus knew he was about to die, but it didn’t distract him from continuing to live exactly as he always had—obediently loving God and caring for others! Listen to these encouraging words from Amy Carmichael: “Our Lord Jesus spent much time in healing sick people, and in the natural course of events, it happened that the last thing He did with His kind hands was to heal a bad cut. (I wonder how they could have the heart to bind His hands after that.) In this, as in everything, He left us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). Do the thing that this next minute, this next hour brings you—faithfully and lovingly and patiently: and then the last thing you do, before power to do is taken from you (if that should be), will be only the continuation of all that went before” (—from Amy Carmichael’s devotional book, Edges of His Ways, for April 7th).

Let’s not let the COVID Grinch steal our Easter! We may have to hold hands “virtually” and call on the phone or email our friends to say, “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed,” but may the world join together in singing and praising God for resurrecting our Lord Jesus Christ! Yes, Jesus died on the cross for us, but God raised him from the dead, and now Christ “is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (1 Peter 3:22).

Do we need to fear what may happen to us and our loved ones during the COVID crisis? Not if we belong to Jesus: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth” (Psalm 46:7-9). No, we don’t have to fear: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). God is with us, as he was with Jesus, who told the thief on the cross, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). If we have believed in Jesus, the “worst” thing COVID can do is kill our body, which will release our spirit to be forever with God. What’s to fear in that?!

Passover Prayer

Have you ever thought of praying for the Lord to “pass over” your family as the tidal wave of COVID sweeps our world? I know some people don’t believe COVID is a significant threat, since many people are asymptomatic and 80% of those who get infected are able to recover without hospitalization. Others believe the whole pandemic is really some sort of conspiracy to take over the world and destroy human rights and freedoms, citing the officers in Colorado who handcuffed a 33-year-old man who was playing T-ball with his six-year-old daughter.

I don’t look at COVID as trumped up hype or conspiracy. I look at it as something akin to the plague nearly 3,500 years ago when God sent his Death Angel to kill the firstborn in every family throughout Egypt except those families which had smeared the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their homes, as God had directed them to do: “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13).

Last night began the week long Passover festival to commemorate God’s deliverance, which faithful Jews still celebrate today. I know God has not told us to pray for God to “pass over” us today concerning the COVID-19 plague, but I also see no reason why we can’t ask if he will! Maybe he will be gracious and deliver us, as he did the Israelites so long ago.

On the other hand, God absolutely tells us to apply the blood of the Lamb to the doorposts of our hearts so that we will be delivered from spiritual death and receive eternal life. If you read through both the Old and New Testaments, you will see that God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, although at the last minute, God provided a ram instead: “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8).

About four hundred years later, God told the Israelites to sacrifice lambs so that the Death Angel would pass over them. This “Passover” was a literal reality which saved them from literal, physical death, but it also occurred to teach a greater spiritual truth to the entire world—the necessity of a blood sacrifice to save us from spiritual death. It wasn’t until Jesus died on the Passover about 1,500 years later (2020 years ago) that God revealed to the world that he was willing to sacrifice his “uniquely begotten son”—God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ—as the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. As John the Baptist exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Do you think the stories about Jesus are trumped up hype and his resurrection just some sort of conspiracy theory, or have you beheld the Lamb of God? I am praying for people to recognize the true plague that sin is and acknowledge its power to kill us. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23). Unlike COVID, sin will cause the death of 100% of us. Have you asked Jesus to take away your sins and deliver you from spiritual death?

Painting by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlightministries.com

Will you behold the Lamb of God and pray with me? “Dear God and Father, I understand that you are the Almighty God who has created heaven and earth, and all that is within, including me. I acknowledge my sin and ask you to forgive me based on the sacrificial death of Christ, who was and is the perfect, sinless Lamb of God. Christ died for the sins of the world, and for all who will believe in him, he freely offers spiritual rebirth. I accept this gift, knowing that I therefore become your child—a child of God—and possess eternal life through Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord. Thank you for saving me from spiritual death. I also ask you to save my family! I am asking today—on this Passover—almost 3,500 years since the first Passover—that you might pass over my home and family and deliver us from death via COVID-19. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).

And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (Revelation 15:3).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (72): Finding the Strait Gate

I cannot read Jesus’ admonition to enter the “strait gate” without thinking of “every man” from Pilgrim’s Progress.

This man was so burdened by what he’d read in the Book that he left his hometown in search of the Celestial City.

However, he quickly discovered that he had to enter through a special gate before he could find the narrow path that would actually lead him to the great city.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus explained it this way, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Have you found and entered the Strait Gate that leads to heaven?

In Pilgrim’s Progress, a man named Evangelist points “every man” to the gate where he can be relieved from his burden.

But, it’s a difficult climb to get to the gate, and along the way, he meets a man named Obstinate, who refuses to make the climb, choosing rather to attempt reaching the Celestial City by traveling one of the many easier, wider, less restrictive paths.

This part of the story is very sad, of course, because no one can actually get to the Celestial City unless they are willing to pass through the Strait Gate first. It’s not that the gate is hard to find, or that people won’t be allowed in after they find it. All they have to do is knock, and the gate door will be opened, but most people are too proud to ask, and so they wander off trying to find some other way across the chasm of death to everlasting life.

My father became a believer shortly before he died, but for most of his life, he preferred quoting this poem:

Invictus
—William Ernest Henley, 1875

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

It is with great relief and joy I can share with you that just a few years before he died, my father decided to enter in through the Strait Gate, drop his burden of sin at the foot of the cross, and begin his journey to the Celestial City. As his youngest daughter, and the one who had the privilege of pilgriming beside him during those last years, I observed that he was a much more peaceful, pleasant companion after he gave up trying to be the captain of his own soul.

Is your head still “bloody, but unbowed”? If so, will you bow your head today and let Jesus forgive your sins and heal your heart? Will you join with the millions of us who are pilgrims on the narrow road that leads to life everlasting? Don’t be angry with God! He loves us. He provided a way for us to be reconciled to him through the blood of Christ. He offers eternal life for “whosoever will” believe. Will you take him at his word and begin your journey through the Strait Gate to the Celestial City?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Fostering Hope: “You Can’t Scare Me with Heaven!”

Last month, a new baby was born into my world of joys, and her parents named her “Hope.” Don’t you love it?! When was the last time you met someone with such an uplifting name? I think we’re living in a world that’s in desperate need of hope. Yesterday I hoped to sit with two different friends (coincidentally at the same hospital and close in time!) while their spouses had surgery to have tumors removed. (Although, I couldn’t find one of them! 😦 ) One is about my age, so in a sense having a tumor isn’t out of the range of normal possibilities (albeit still frightening), but the other person is a young woman who is like a spiritual daughter to me . . . so “way too young” (at least in my mind) to be going through what might be a life-threatening medical issue.

Last Sunday Alan and I went Northridge Church with our daughter Kathy and her family. As always, we heard an excellent message from their lead pastor, Brad Powell. Their current series is about going back to Square One in our lives, and this week’s topic was “Hope.”

Brad reminded us that Jesus Christ is our only hope, and He alone has the power to forgive and redeem our past, provide eternal purpose and power in the present, and guarantee the promise of resurrection and eternal life after death. If you are not a Christian, then feel free to disagree and tell me if you’ve found something that meets these needs in your life even better . . . but for me, I totally agreed with Brad’s assessment!

Near the end of the message, Brad shared a wonderful story about his father, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had survived a lot of hard things in his life, so even though he was given a very poor prognosis, he lived in hope, and he lived much longer than expected! However, eventually it was obvious that he was dying and there was no hope of his surviving much longer. Brad’s father went from active to passive and died within a few days. All hope for his survival was gone, and he had no interest in prolonging his death.

But, not all hope was gone. Brad’s father still retained a bright hope for life after death, and when Brad went to visit, lamenting the fact that his father was dying, his dad was still able to manage a twinkle: “You can’t scare me with heaven!” No, death was not scary to Brad’s father, because he knew that the death of his physical body was just the segue to heaven and being in the presence of Christ forever! “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Are you scared of death? I’m not. (Pain and the process . . . yes, but not my body being dead.) If you believe in Jesus, you needn’t be afraid of dying, and I hope nobody can scare you with the prospects of your going to heaven!!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13).

(P.S.—If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll go to heaven when you die but would like to know, please click on the “Coming to Christ” icon at the top of this page. It will take you to a place that explains how to enter into a covenant with God whereby you can know for sure you will go to heaven when you die.)

Would You Like Answers to Forty Questions About Heaven and Hell?

If so, what questions would you ask?

Alan Gomes has written the most exhaustive and scholarly book about heaven and hell that I’ve ever read, and given the pervasive interest in all things spiritual among people today, I think it’s well worth the hard work to study through it, whether or not you think there is an afterlife (which more than 70% of Americans affirm), and whether or not you think you’re heading straight to heaven after you die (which two-thirds of Americans believe is their destiny) or hell (which only 0.5% of Americans presume). And, what of the 30% who aren’t sure if there’s a heaven or hell—or if it’s even possible to know how to get to heaven if such a place exists . . . or if they’ll go to heaven or hell or nowhere after they die?

If you’d like to know exactly what the Bible has to say about heaven and hell, and how to get there, please read this book! I can’t begin—in a short post—to pass along the wealth of research that Gomes presents, but it was a book I had trouble putting down! (Which is saying a lot for someone who normally falls asleep trying to read a gripping novel. 🙂 )

In a systematic and thoughtful way, Alan Gomes presents the scriptures related to forty of the most commonly asked questions concerning our makeup as spiritual beings and the afterlife, including various theories from the major schools of interpretation. He starts by defining such common terms as “soul,” “spirit,” “heaven,” and “hell,” taking the various Hebrew and Greek words and walking us through how they are used in the Scripture. For instance, what do the various terms “hell,” “sheol,” “hades,” “gehnna” and “the lake of fire” mean and how do they relate? (Later he discusses many other words, such as “eternal” and “everlasting,” and how those terms help us understand the final state of those who have died.) He explains the concepts of “resurrection” and the basis for “eternal life.” He explains what the “universalists” and “annihilationists” believe, and whether or not all dogs (or any dogs) go to heaven. Seriously!

Here is a short list of some of the questions that most interested me:
*What happens to infants who die?
*Is it possible to communicate with the dead?
*Is there such a place as purgatory?
*Does God give people an opportunity for conversion after they die?
*On what is the final judgment based?
*How could a God of love send people to an eternal hell? (Does he?)
*What should we conclude about those who claim to have seen heaven or hell?

I wish I could answer all those questions simply in this post, but the answers are mostly stitched together after a thorough study of all relevant scriptures. Instead, I’ll just urge you to explore the book for yourself. However, I’ll confine this blog to sharing a few thoughts from the book on what heaven is and how to get there.

“Heaven” is not the final home of believers but is rather the abode of God where believers go when they die. “To be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Rather than spending all day as disembodied spirits floating on clouds playing harps, the eternal state (ES) of believers is actually to live with Christ in a literal, physical “new Jerusalem” on a “new earth” with resurrected and glorified bodies that are sinless and immortal. But, this occurs after the Millennial Reign of Christ and the final judgment, not immediately upon death. (All of this is clearly detailed in the book.)

Although my next remark goes beyond the scriptures (and a bit beyond Gomes’ book), it sounds possible to me that we’ll be living life as ever expanding people who worship, fellowship, explore, create, learn, and progress in all things good and beautiful. I do know for sure that everyone will be supremely happy, and all sorrow will be gone: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Is it possible to know we’re going to heaven when we die? If so, how can we know, given that there is to be a “final judgment?” We read in Revelation 20:12 about a vision the Apostle John had concerning the end of the ages: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

But, I thought we are going to be judged according to our faith, isn’t that true? “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? . . . For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:20,26). It is through our good works that faith is evident. So, if it’s a matter of good works, and we’re being weighed in the balance, what “good works” will weigh enough to declare us “good enough”? Will we just have to try our hardest and hope for the best when we stand before God at the judgment?

Thankfully, Jesus gives us the answer in John 6:29, “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” It isn’t really our own personal good works that balance the scales or serve as some sort of golden ticket admission pass. It is utter dependence on the good work of Jesus, who died as a propitiation for our sins so that we can be forgiven for our sins and pass from death to life spiritually. Although our body will die, when we repent of our sins and surrender to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, our spirit is “born again” into the eternal life of Christ. At the judgment seat of Christ, when the books are opened, we will be judged as righteous, not based on our good works but on the merit of Christ, who lived a perfect life of good works and whose death was the complete payment for our sins.

So, according to the Bible, there is certainly a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. God made a way for every person in the world to be assured of passing from this life immediately into the presence of God and heaven if they so choose. The vicarious death of Christ for us provides everything we need to be assured of heaven, but we must accept this gift of eternal life. Not everyone will be saved, but everyone is offered the free gift of salvation. It’s as if there is a cure for cancer offered to everyone, but not everyone will be cured, because not everyone will believe the cure will work and will therefore take the cure. Except, it’s not cancer we’re talking about; it’s death. Not everyone needs a cure for cancer, but everyone needs a cure for death. This is it: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

For those who don’t take the cure, then they will be judged according to their own personal works, but the verdict is already out on whether or not anybody will be “good enough” to get to heaven on their own merit. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Who will be condemned? “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). However, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Do all dogs go to heaven? Well, you might want to read Gomes’ book to figure that one out, but I will tell you, every person on this earth is invited to go to heaven based on faith in our Lord Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Will you believe on Jesus?