The Eternal Consequences of Denial

eternity

Fifty-eight young, healthy people planned on a fun-filled night of music and hanging with friends and family.  Just a few hours later fifty-eight people stepped unexpectedly into eternity. A man in his thirties sits down for a meal and chokes on some food with no one around and discovers his own eternity.  Just this morning five workers entered their workplace in Maryland as they always do.  A disgruntled former employee sent three of them into their eternity, leaving two closely behind.

We see and hear the stories so often it seldom warrants a second thought.  Another weekend in Chicago leaves ten people dead.  With the exception of mass tragedies like that here recently in Las Vegas, these sudden and premature deaths are back-page stories or a simple line item entry in the city stats notices.  And yet families are faced with each unexpected passing with the grim reality of eternity.  And many questions arise.

What lies beyond death has been the subject of scholars and philosophers for centuries as we wrestle with the unknown. Humanists will tell you that life is the here and now-you only live once, and when you die, you are merely an entry on a family tree.  Others profess a belief in a reincarnation, that all living organisms return to life after death in some alternative form to go through the whole process once more. Believers and followers of Christ have their hopes pinned to the holy scriptures and the promises of eternal fellowship with each other and in the pesence of Christ.  Who’s rght?  What proof has been or could ever be presented of what really lies beyond this earthly existence?

I could not imagine the hopelessness of living a life, knowing that however good or bad it is, it is in fact all there is and that death is it’s own finality. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letters to the church in Corinth:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

The one thing we know with certainty if we are but paying attention, is that none of us are guaranteed of tomorrow.  The probabilities of a young health person waking up tomorrow are high, but checck your local news outlets and witness how many people who were alive and vital yesterday are now in an eternal dimension through an unexpected passing. No one is protected from an act of evil, the path of another vehicle, an undetected medical episode or even a piece of food having deadly consequences.  This is in no way to be insensitive but rather to acknowledge the obvious-death is not just for the aged!

As it relates to our approach to living our lives, we really have but two aternatives.  Alternative #1 believes that this life is all there is and that there is no higher power or deity wating for us upon our last breath-live your best life, go for the gusto and deny yourself nothing.  Aternative #2 says that this life should belived to the fullest in full ackowledgment that we are to, in the process, love our neighbors and love our God and live in such a way that we are insuring our eternal destiny with the hope we live and believe.  So what consequence is there if #1 is correct and #2 is wrong?  Person #2 will have lived a life mindful of others and and will simply sleep to rise no more. But, what if person #1 is wrong? That person will have lived a life in denial of the very being he now stands before with no recourse and no “do-over”. In which scenario would you prefer to be wrong about eternity?

I am persuaded that life is more than what we experience on earth, and that time is only measured in the earthly realm and ceases to exist in eternity.  I believe St. Augustine said that eternity is the absence of time, and that nothing exists but a never-ending now. I have made so many wrong choices in my life that I would never dare to leave eternity up to my flawed thought processes.  I choose to believe in an eternal God and His written Word so that should the time come unexpectedly for me as it has for so many just this year, I am not caught in remorse over choosing the wrong alternative after life. And so should it be with you.

 

 

Advertisements

The Healthy Fear of a Sovereign God

images

As a young boy much bigger for may age than average, there was little I was afraid of, at least from my peers. I got into very little trouble growing up. It might have been that I was in church so much there was little down time to get into any mischief. Or it may have been the one thing I did fear-those six words that evoked the fire of God whenever I heard them-“just wait until your dad gets home”. You see, at 6’8″ and 300 lbs my dad too was bigger than average! For greater impact I would hear my mom relaying the details of my latest waywardness to my dad when he called while on break, so I knew he would be planning my punishment for several hours before ha came home and played the role of disciplinarian. In every single case the wait was more dreaded and effective than the punishment.

As a believer I am grateful for a God who we can approach as Abba Father-one who is often described as loving, gracious, merciful kind, forgiving, patient-all attributes which are scriptural and true. We are told and can bet our life on the scriptures that tell us nothing can separate us from the unconditional love of God.  But, I wonder if the church, both the institutional church and the body of believers that make up the church, have so embraced the message of grace that we have completely disregarded the unchallenged sovereignty of God. We don’t want to consider the Old Testament God of jealousy , vengeance and wrath because it doesn’t fit into our 2015 definition of a more tolerant, sociable, politically correct, changing with the times God that we have created to better fit our conscious-one that allows us to fit in and be more widely accepted and considered for office, for promotion and for more likes on our social media outlets.

It’s ironic that those who oppose or deny the concept of God are first to point out accurately that God killed people in the Old testament simply because they did not follow His commands. The Mega-churches have apparently lost that section of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong-I believe that those who are looking for the truth and for eternal hope should not be scared into salvation at the thought of an angry God just for eternal insurance purposes alone. The message of the cross is one of forgiveness, of hope, of reconciliation and restoration of a sinful people to a loving, caring God whose desire is that none should perish needlessly. But to properly appreciate the loving and merciful side of God one must balance it against the judging, jealous and total rule of the same God who created a race of people to worship Him and Him alone and to fear Him who has no equals.

The stories of God’s wrath against an unruly people are too numerous to list. There were complete cities destroyed for their shameless disobedience. The armies of Israel were often decimated when they turned their backs on God.  Even Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised land because of a procedural error.  God was and is a stern God who demands fear, allegiance and obedience-nothing has changed in His expectations.  The difference today is God’s gift of His Son who took our sin punishment on the cross and acts as our advocate by covering us who accept Him with His righteousness so that the wrath of God is thwarted before being administered.

We are living in a time of great arrogance and brazen boldness as a church in general and as a nation as it relates to the issues and spiritual challenges of the day.  In order to boost attendance and keep our nonprofit status we have put forth a God who more resembles a Disney character than a God who is described in Revelation having hair white as wool and eyes blazing like fire-with feet like burning bronze and a tongue like a double edged sword. When I was younger and in church I hated always hearing sermons about hell-about how you could leave the church building and be struck by a car and enter into eternity.  The message left me uncomfortable and uneasy about the true motive for following in the path of Christ.  But the message was and is that God can’t be ignored forever just because His ways and laws are inconvenient to us or socially irrelative to the current culture.

In Him there is a life of abundance. But outside of Him, there is danger-there is peril-there is judgment. Some might ask “why would God do that” or how does a loving God allow this or that”. And my answer would be simply, I don’t always know.  He is God, I’m not. He’s in charge-I’m under His loving rule. I don’t try to argue with God.  I have many questions, but who Am I to demand answers or justification from God. I accept my role and love the promise of what is waiting.  And yes, I fear God.  Not in a panic fear but in the realization that apart from Christ, I am worthy of no less than the punishment I read about in the Old Testament.

We are living in perilous times. The Word of God is being dissected and voided of all hateful appearing verbiage. The Government is trying to tell us how we can interpret and practice our faith in complete defiance of the first Amendment to practice without interference. The entertainment, educational and political systems are lining up against the church in what will eventually play itself out as a major war for the saints that may change the face of the church as we know it now.  It is time like never before to have or develop a healthy fear of God, His word, His commands and His judgment.  The popular t-shirt is so right on-“Only God Can Judge Me”. What a horrible notion for those living in opposition to His nature and His sovereignty.

Eye Has Not Seen…

las_vegas_strip

 

It is called by many names, the city where I reside.  It is most commonly known as Sin City. Not sure why we get that exclusive title with the implication that other cities are sin-free.  Maybe it’s that whole ‘what happens here stays here’ campaign. Some call it Lost Wages after a weekend of losing money in casinos where the House usually wins. Some know us as the City of Lights because of millions of colored lights always on display down the Strip.  Some have referred to us as the city that never sleeps, although we share that title with at least one other city.  However you refer to us, you can’t deny we are one unique metropolis known around the world as the number one party destination.

I moved here from Indiana and have been here almost twenty-two years now.  Personally I can take it or leave it.  To come for a weekend visit one can get lost in the twenty-four hour culture of lights, gaming and entertainment.  There is literally something here for everyone-yes, everyone.  If it exists, it can be purchased here.  It’s a town built as an adult playground with each property trying to outdo another to capture the tourist attention and revenue. Nothing is too big, too extravagant or too expensive here if it leads to gaming revenue.  Just consider some of these lesser known facts about Las Vegas.

*Fifteen of the world’s twenty-five largest hotels by room count are located here on the strip, and     represent 62,000 rooms.

     *There are a total of well over 150,000 rooms here between the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.  On most major holidays, we are sold out!  

     *We have an average of over 40 million visitors come to Las Vegas annually.

     *It is estimated that there are over 15,000 miles of neon tubing just on the strip.

     *The beam from the Luxor is one of two man made features that can be seen from space, with over 1 million candle power light.

*The Venetian-Palazzo has over 8000 rooms alone. Yes we build it big.

Las Vegas is in the middle of nowhere, the high and dark desert.  I do have to admit that driving in to Las Vegas at night from out of town is breathtaking. We are surrounded by mountains so the two major roads leading in from the north or from the south are secluded from seeing the city until you reach the apex of the terrain.  On either of the routes at night you feel like you are driving through an eternal tunnel of darkness until you reach that point where the road clears the hills and suddenly, laid out before you is this spectacular blanket of sparkling lights that looks like Oz.  As far as the eyes can see there are lights and a glow that against the desert black night is hard to put into words.  After all these years of living here I’m still impressed when I see the lights of the city at night.  It is like strings of colored diamonds laid out on a black velvet spread.

I’m certainly not trying to impress you with our fair city-I’m laying out a backdrop for something far greater than even this for the believer. I have seen some beautiful places and visited some of God’s best works of creation.  As awestruck as I have been in these places there is coming a day when these places will be no more. Jesus, creator of our universe and all that is in it, told hid disciples “I’m going away to prepare a place for you”. We aren’t told where this new place or heaven is.  We are only given a glimpse of how spectacular our new home will be.  1 Corinthians reads this:

“It is Written that the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.”

When I saw Las Vegas for the first time I could not imagine a place more spectacular.  But this city can’t compare with God’s city, our new home.  The Bible gives us some clues as to what we can expect.

Revelation 21:18-19; “The material of the wall was jasper; and the entire city was like pure gold, like clear glass.  The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone.”

Verse 21; “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, with each gate being made of one single pearl, and the streets of the city were pure gold, like clear glass.”

Revelation 22;1; “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.”

NEW-JERUSALEM-COMING-DOWN-IN-GLO-1

I have quite the imagination but I can’t fathom pure gold being used for building materials and paving! Nor can I fathom the size of the oyster that produced a pearl large enough to create a city gate!  The things we count as precious and valuable here in our earthly quest for riches and success and portfolio security will be common and ordinary in our new home, putting even Las Vegas to shame.  But even more spectacular than this is the promise of what life will be like.

Revelation 21;3-4; “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 will wipe away all tears from their eyes; and their will be no more death, now any sorrow, nor crying; neither will there be any more pain, the all the former things (that we are accustomed to here on earth) will be no more.”

Now, I’m impressed! I truly believe that God never grants us complete satisfaction or contentment here on earth so that we will be constantly looking forward and yearning for that which our eyes have not seen and our ears have not heard of, but our spirits have confirmed for those who love God and live lives committed to Christ the Lamb!

There was a popular movie out years back titled Heaven Can Wait.  What a farce! I can’t wait for Heaven!

The Unfathomable Reality of Eternity

Echoes-in-eternity

Eternity. Unfathomable, inconceivable, inexplicable, uncontainable, incomprehensible, indescribable, infinitely unreasonable.  It’s a term that gets thrown about often without much thought-“I waited for what seemed like an eternity”; “they rode off into eternity”; “he passed on into eternity”.  It’s a theological term to those of the faith that brings great hope for us and great sorrow for those we hold dear who don’t share our faith.  It’s a mystical term because it represents something our limited experience can’t quite grasp even when serious attempts are made to do so.

It’s word origin simply means without beginning or end.  It is defined as a state in which time has no application, no meaning and no purpose; no tomorrows, no yesterdays, no next year.  It is that state into which the soul passes upon mortal death whose eternal condition is based on how the minuscule measure of time called life was lived.  Understanding eternity is not unlike trying to understand the scope of the unending universe.  It’s difficult because we use measurements for everything from recipes to weight to speed to time, and can’t wrap our minds around something being immeasurable or without limit.  Still I have attempted to put into terms we can understand how undefined eternity is.

If you were to combine the sands from every known desert and beach on the earth so that one of those grains of sand represented your life span, the remaining grains of sand would not be indicative of the measurable beginning of eternity. Similarly, if you could combine all the salt water oceans that cover the surface of the earth and somehow extract one molecule of salt from all the waters represented, the remaining molecules would not accurately represent the beginning of an eternal state. And if you could take every loud mouthed belligerent nagging wife or ex and give them all to one man for his entire lifetime, it still wouldn’t represent eternity, though some might argue it would be close!

Forever means forever. As Christians in the faith the thought that we will be with our Creator forever is comforting-it drives us and helps us keep the trials of this life in perspective in as much as we can see the big picture, though at times our vision may be temporarily blurred. There are a host of Biblical references to the notion of eternity that can bring us great pleasure as we anticipate the return of our Lord;

Psalm 23:6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

Lamentations 5:19 You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.

John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

1 Thessalonians 4:17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever

1 John 2:17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

The flip side of eternity brings with it much sorrow and grieves the hearts of those who long for their loved ones to accept the reality of the person of Jesus Christ as Lord eternal.  The story told for us in the Bible of the rich man and Lazarus gives implication that we may indeed be aware of those we shared life with but are not sharing eternity with.  It is very clear through scripture that there will be no sorrow or regret in Heaven but the suggestion that we will have an awareness of souls lost for eternity remains a possibility.

There exists particularly among the younger generations a sense of invulnerability.  And yet in this day with all the things happening around the world we know that no one is guaranteed tomorrow.  The workers who entered into the World Trade Center had no idea they would not be exiting that fateful day. The High School kids on the recent ship tragedy had no idea they were spending their last few precious moments on earth.  The young professional broad sided by a speeding car, the bartender caught in the crossfire of a gun fight, the athlete who collapses due to a previously unknown heart condition and on and on. No one knows for sure what the day brings and when our measurable mortal time ends and our unfathomable eternity begins.

James 4:13 gives us this warning:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

A mist, a vapor, a puff of smoke that vanishes and is blown away by the wind-our mortal life and its temporal nature.  And yet the choices we make here in our measured span of time, our vapor, the way we live our lives and most importantly the way we handled the truth and reality of one Jesus Christ, our acceptance through faith or our denial through humanism, will ultimately determine the quality of our bliss or the horrors of our torment for all eternity.  This concept is even lost on the church at times.  We must get back to teaching the fundamental truth of eternity in as much as we can wrap our spiritual minds around it, for our sake and the eternal sake of those we love lest all be lost forever by our unwillingness to acknowledge what our minds can barely conceive.