The Importance of Stress Relief: Meditation and Looking Unto the Hills

I wrote a few years ago about attending a lecture at Harvard’s Annual Intensive Review of Internal Medicine on the importance of daily meditation as one of the medically verifiable “best practices” for Mind-Body health. In our world of frenetic activity, meditation has almost become a lost art, but I want to stress (??) the importance of this ancient practice and encourage all of us to pursue meditation, particularly during our time of world crisis.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” ( Psalm 121:1-2).

According to the gurus from Harvard, even twenty minutes per day makes a statistically significant difference in a person’s emotional/physical health. A healthy immune system is our first line of defense against COVID-19 (and myriad other infections), and long-term stress and fatigue clearly reduce the human body’s ability to fight off infections. SO, we not only need to practice “sheltering in place,” but we also need to eat right, sleep enough, exercise, and as much as possible reduce stress and learn how to relax.

The Harvard research group studied the health benefits of meditation on people from various religious persuasions, but because I am a Christian, I am going to explain meditation from a Christian perspective, which has been my personal approach for the past 55 years. Meditation, by definition, is contemplation on a subject. Unlike some Eastern religions, which teach that people are to clear their minds and “think about NOTHING,” Christian meditation has as its goal to focus our attention on God and find our rest and peace in Him.

Yesterday I got a note from a dear friend who returned from visiting India (her homeland) recently with double vision. Mayo Clinic was able to determine that her problem is caused by a palsy of her sixth cranial nerve with no “pill” to ameliorate the symptoms. She has to wait six months to see if her nerve will heal spontaneously, but if it does not, she will need surgery by a neuro-ophthamologist. Meanwhile, one of her friends recommended that she practice an ancient Indian Ayurveda exercise called “Trataka,” where the person sits quietly, intently focusing her gaze on the tip of a candle flame. After doing this exercise for a few days, my friend feels like this is actually helping!

This is a perfect example of spiritual mediation on God and His Word. As we focus intently on God, our blurry, double spiritual vision becomes clearer. God instructs us to meditate daily on the Bible: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). Want a promise to cling to in this troubled time? I’ve been clinging to this one since I first learned it!!

How does one meditate? I usually try to memorize a verse or passage on which to focus, and as part of that process, I pray and ask God to teach me what it means for me at this time in my life. As a girl, I was taught that meditation is like cogitating on a thought the way a cow ruminates on its cud. The cow chews its food, then swallows it, where it is fermented by microbial activity in a specialized stomach before being regurgitated as a “cud.” The cow continues to chew on the cud for a while before eventually swallowing it again (and so on) until it is finally digested.

This is what God wants us to do daily! Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The Bible is our daily spiritual bread, and God wants us to munch on it . . . chew on it . . . think and rethink on it . . . focus on it . . . feed on it, until it is absorbed into our very being to strengthen us! Meditating on the truths in the Bible feeds our spirits! (It also helps reduce stress and relax us as we’re able to trust God to help us with our burdens.) My girlfriend who’s been struggling with double vision has a lifetime mantra that she also passed on to me: “Feed your faith and your fears will starve.”

Feeling fearful and stressed under all the pressure? I am! Let’s lift up our eyes and focus our hearts and minds on the flame of God’s love. Let’s meditate on our heavenly Father, who is our creator, our sustainer, and our help!

Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Prescription for Health by Martin Luther

Perhaps you’ve already seen this wise, practical approach to dealing with a plague. It was written half a millennium ago by Martin Luther to his friend, Reverend Dr. John Hess, while Europe was still trying to recover from the Black Plague that swept Eurasia during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, killing an estimated 75-200 million people. Luther’s letter is entitled “Whether one my flee from a Deadly Plague.” I think the advice is still as useful for COVID-19 as it was 500 years ago:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529 (Public Domain)

For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth . . . that my name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exodus 9:14,16).

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.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (70): 7-Eleven Knocking

7-Eleven stores are not only popular in America, where there are thousands of these little convenience stores attached to gas stations, but there are now more 68,000 “7-Eleven” stores in seventeen different countries around the world! The stores first used the name 7-Eleven because they were open between 7:00 am -11:00 pm, but now most locations provide 24-hour access to food, gasoline, and various small necessities you might discover a need for in the middle of the night when other stores aren’t open.

In Matthew 7 and Luke 11 (7-Eleven), Jesus gives three invitations with promises attached: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” As I pondered Jesus’s teaching, I couldn’t help but notice the 7-Eleven theme—on several counts! First, the teaching is found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 7-Eleven (which makes it easy to remember)! 🙂 Second, Jesus’s seemingly carte blanche statement is so much more extravagant than what any 7-Eleven store could possibly hope to provide! Third, these promises follow Jesus’s teaching on prayer and are couched between two parables in Luke’s gospel, the first of which is a story about a man needing something in the middle of the night:

Jesus Knocking at the Door of our Heart by Warner Sallman (1892-1968)

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:5-10).

Jesus Knocking at the Door. German Steel engraving

Back in the time of Christ, you couldn’t just head to your local 7-Eleven store in the middle of the night if you needed something, so you had to bother your closest neighbor instead. As Jesus explains, even your favorite friend is unlikely to be thrilled if you show up on his doorstep at midnight looking for food. However, if you persist (and he doesn’t heave a rock out his window to drive you off 🙂 )—since he really is your friend—he will get up and give you what you need. He won’t actually throw stones, he will give you bread. If you ask for a fish, he’ll check out his fridge and share his leftover fish’n’chips. He won’t fish around in the dark corners of his house looking for a spare snake or scorpion to pawn off on you instead. True? Yes! Tired and cranky and selfish as we are, most of us will come to the aid of those we love if they ask.

Jesus starts by recommending perseverance in making a clamor until we get the help we need, and he ends by assuring us that our heavenly Father is a kinder, more compassionate, more capable, and more generous giver than the best earthly father. “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13).

The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt. 1851-56.
Manchester Art Gallery.

There are two seemingly insignificant codicils at the end of Jesus’s statement that are actually immeasurably important. The first is a reminder that the best gifts are spiritual, and the second is that we must ask! If aren’t humble enough to ask, at some point, God may withhold His graces. Why? Because God loves us too much to continue showering us with his daily benefits while we blindly refuse to recognize his bounty for what it is—love gifts intended to draw us to Himself! God wants us to seek for him like we would search for hidden treasure, and if we will, He promises that He will reveal himself to us! But, if we refuse to acknowledge His existence or obey the quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit, at some point He may withdraw such that we no longer recognize him for the great and wonderful God that He is! Why? Because he is better than buried treasure, and He doesn’t want us to continue callously through life without recognizing him as the source of all goodness. God wants us to knock, and knock, and knock until He answers. Why? Because He wants us to trust Him. To love Him. To wait on Him. To know that He is good, even when things are going wrong and we’re in great pain. Can you believe this? Are you willing to ask?

The second point that’s probably overlooked (at least, I’ve tended to over the years) is that God offers to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. What’s that? Who’s He? Why do we need the Holy Spirit? God gives us the Holy Spirit, but it is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we are actually born again and receive eternal life. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive all spiritual blessings and graces! Blessed Holy Comforter and Guide! The One who seals us and insures our safe delivery to heaven! Don’t miss out! There’s something greater than even our need for daily bread, health, and security!

One last thought . . . but perhaps the most touching of all to me. In Revelation 3:20 we see Jesus reaching out to us too, knocking patiently at the door of our hearts: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 3:17-22). Will you ask? Will you seek? Will you knock? Will you open the door?

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:7-11 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Also: Luke 11:5-13, as quoted above.

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.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (69): Seeking and Finding So Much More!

It’s easy to ask for something, but it’s a lot more work to search for something, right? Stop for a second and think with me. Is there anything you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to search for it—forever if need be? Last week we talked about asking and receiving. God invites us to ask him for many good things and says he’ll give them to us, such as guidance, grace, and strength to follow him. But, when it comes to apprehending God himself, we are told to “seek” him . . . which is a great deal harder!

Oh, to know God! Even trying to completely understand a spouse takes more than a lifetime. So, it makes perfect sense to me that finding God is not a simple “ask and receive” offer, because understanding the infinite, transcendent God is without a doubt an eternal pursuit. As Einstein posited it: “I want to know God’s thoughts—the rest are details.”  I’m not sure if a love relationship with God is the one goal you’ve been spending your life seeking, but it is definitely the pursuit of my life, and God is THE love of my life!

Why? I guess because I fell in love with him the first time I heard that he loves me (and you . . . and every one of us)! Why? I don’t know! I’m not sure there’s a real answer to “why” someone loves another person . . . true love, that is! We appreciate those who do good things for us or benefit us in some way, but that’s different from loving them! To love someone is to willingly sacrifice ourselves for their benefit. It’s the energizing power to bless them apart from their benefiting us, and there’s no logical “why” to that in my mind. Still, I want to say that although I fell in love with God initially as a response to experiencing his love for me, I have been hugely benefited from his love ever since.

What are some of the blessings that I have experienced and are available to all who are willing to seek the Lord?
*Salvation and faith.For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
*Liberty.I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45).
*Peace.Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
*Hope. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
*Love. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).
*Joy and strength. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
*Eternal life.And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
*Goodness and other gifts given by the Holy Spirit.But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).  

Is there anybody on this earth who wouldn’t love to experience all these blessings? However, these gifts are given to “those who belong to Christ Jesus [and] have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). Living a life crucified with Christ is a lifelong pursuit of God and his holiness! “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s not an easy “ask and receive” fix; it’s a lifelong commitment to seeking God with all our hearts.

Thankfully, we don’t have to do it all on our own, because Jesus is also pursuing us! “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He loves us so much more than we will ever be able to comprehend! Do you know that? Are you responding to his love by daily seeking him with all your heart? “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified” (Psalm 40:16). Amen? Amen!!

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:7, “Seek, and ye shall find.” Matthew 7:8, “He that seeketh findeth.” Luke 11:9-10, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

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?