There was a time in my life that I found it very hard to put into perspective what I was going through, the circumstances I was in and much of what I had been taught in church about God. In fact, my skewed view of God was actually “religion” without the relationship. As I started studying Scripture I realized that there are many “stereotypes” of truth in Christian thought. many of these things are essentially true but leave out other truths taught in Scripture. I hope to address some of these things here.
I recently had a friend send me this and ask me these question:
“If a person believes when you die, you die, your spirit is taken else where…….I believe in heaven, I believe in hell, good and evil. I believe in the holy spirit. I am not baptized in water. The whole concept of everyone meeting again someday in a better place, has me blown away, and has for many years. I prefer to only let God judge me at the end, and HE will, but I feel I have reasons for my mistakes, (right or wrong reasons) shouldn`t that be between God and myself? The being alive and better, pure,no sins I can`t grip….why? Sorry dude just my mind wondering…too deep?”
Then my friend shared with me,
“From a very young age,(4-6) children are taught certian things, one is GOD, satan, ten commandments, the pledge, ect, ect.–I really hate to put this this way but—How do you really, really know if you don`t touch, see, or feel it? I would hate to think MY beliefs would cast me to hell or somewhere in between. (but is heaven, heaven?)”
First, I would like to address the last question, “Too deep?” No, your questions are not to deep, in fact, they are thoughts and questions that I hear and see often. I hope to have some good news for you.
Let me start with saying that unfortunately, I believe that religion has focused on religous things–and often has missed the true message of Jesus. Jesus was asked by a teacher of the Law what the MOST IMPORTANT commandment is………hmmmmm…..I want to hear this too! What will Jesus say?
Mark 12:28-30 (TNIV)
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
I always tell people that this is where the E.F. Hutton people step into the Bible; all activity stops, it gets deathly quiet, and hands go to ears so that what Jesus says can be heard. The tension builds, whatever Jesus says will be profound, there are over 600 commandments in the Old Testament, what is the MOST IMPORTANT commandment?
Something I want to point out here is this: Jesus is not merely interested in answers to questions (you said, “From a very young age,4-6 children are taught certian things, one is GOD, satan, ten commandments, the pledge, ect, ect.”) You can see in His answer that Jesus is less concerned about knowledge and most concerned about your heart and your commitment to God. He is most interested in your relationships. The first and most important being your “vertical” relationship with Him (indeed, with God). Knowledge, interestingly enough, can be it own worst reward–but love…..your heart–that’s a different story!
I would say that belief is important and knowledge can help our belief. However, what is most important is the heart behind all that knowledge and the application of it to our life. In His answer, Jesus is clearly saying that the “most important” thing is to love God. This is relational based– not knowledge based.
What does it mean to love God, to love Jesus? Indeed, we must surrender ourselves to Jesus. What does that mean? I love my wife with all my heart and I have surrendered to her. I am not in any opposition to her, I recognize that she loves me and I love her, I seek ways to please her and am thankful for the time that we have together. I wake up wanting to see her and go to sleep with an, “I love you” on my lips. I have to say that much like I love my wife, my children and my grandchildren (an even more)…….my love for God involves every aspect of my being. Just like my love for her, I wake up each day with a thankfulness in my heart and end my day with an “I love you” on my lips as I drift off to sleep.
There were over 600 commandments in the Old Testament. The weight of each was debated over and over by the Pharisees (religous leaders) and the teachers of the law. But–debate all you want–Jesus boiled it all down to one thing! I saw it best expressed this way: “What mattered were not laws and their relative importance; what mattered was a relationship with the one true God.” Indeed, what MATTERS, is a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus!
The next question might be, “What is the secret to a fulfilled life?” Is it to build good karma? Is the secret to be good, and do good things? Is the secret to live by all the rules and laws of the land? Or is the secret to win at any cost, to gain as much “stuff” as possible in life and to look important? Is the secret to have control over everything around you?
Well, I believe that when jesus was asked what the important commandment was, that His answer was also the secret to a fullfilled life. Now, let’s see what else Jesus has to say:
Mark 12:31 (TNIV)
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
The key is this, if we join that VERTICAL relationship of loving God, indeed, loving Jesus (and it is the bigger of the two), if we join this relationship with the HORIZONTAL relationships of loving all people as we love ourselves…….what do we get? We get the CROSS–and it is in the CROSS that we find a fulfilled life!
There are two Greek words translated as “love” in the New Testament. One is “phileo” [fil-eh-o]. This word has a deeper meaning of a “friendship” type of love. However, this is not the word that Jesus uses here. He uses the word “agapao” [ag-ap-ah-o] which is strong in the meaning of “totally unselfish love”, “finding one’s joy in someone” or, to sum it up., “to love with strong affection, favor, goodwill and benevolence”. Not only does God want our love for Him to be as His love for us (unselfish and with affection), He wants us to love others the same way.
When you love God completely, with all of your heart, and care for others as you care for yourself, you have fulfilled the intent of the Ten Commandments and other laws of the Old Testament!
The truth is, we can’t maintain a good VERTICAL relationship with Jesus without also caring for our neighbor (HORIZONTAL relationships with our fellow human beings in general).
“But Pastor Jan,” you say, “this isn’t easy! How do I find fulfillment in life simply through loving God and loving everyone around me?”
I remember a time in my life when I did not have a relationship with Jesus…..I was on my own in a big way. Oh yeah, there were some good times. They came and went. But down at the center of my heart I was unfulfilled, there was something missing and nothing I could do would fill that hole. I was bitter over what people had done to me, I was angry at how my life was turning out, I thought about ME first and foremost. Yep! The hole just got bigger, the circle that I was running in just got longer and there seemed to be no end to the pain.
Here is the point. When I started daily, living with Jesus in my heart and recognized the sacrifice that was made for me on the Cross, when I started to seek and love Jesus in my life–things started to change. When I started to apply His wisdom and to struggle through forgiveness (leaving NO ONE out); when I started to focus on the people around me and caring for them and when I focused less on me and my needs–that is when I started to get it. His love washed over me like a wave in the ocean, it cleansed me in my daily being.
Before that, I was thinking mainly of myself and wanted to be first….but ended up last. I started loving Jesus and caring for those around me as I would care for myself…..and you would think that I would then be last…..but no…I’m not last. How can I be last when I have found true fulfillment in life?
“But Pastor Jan, it’s not easy!” Yes, you are right….the path is not an easy one, nor is is a “short” path. The other path isn’t easy either, is it? And pain last a long time doesn’t it?
VERTICAL and HORIZONTAL love–the CROSS–you can’t have the cross, nor the fulfillment in life without BOTH. Love Jesus, love each other!
I have four grandsons. Yes, they are here with me, I can see them and touch them. My love for them however, cannot be seen, only the product of it can. If I were unable to have a relationship with them, my love, something that can’t be seen, would be just as real as if they were right in here in front of me.
In Hebrews 11:1 we are told by the writer,
Hebrews 11:1 (TNIV)
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Additionally, I would say that far to often we seem to have a need to definitavely, without a shadow of a doubt, prove God’s existence. In fact I see God in everything around me and as I have come into a deep love relationship with Him I can only describe what I feel as something I can see, feel, exerience and touch.
One of the things, belive it or not, that WE ALL STRUGGLE WITH, if we are honest with ourselves, is FAITH. Not faith as in, “Do I believe that Jesus is my Lord and Savior?” That is “belief”. You can believe and not have faith…..however, you can’t have faith with unbelief. They are closely related yet subtly different, entwined together like a two vines. Faith is not something we necessarily “achieve”; it is not stored away and therefore builds up so that we have an abundance of it. No, faith is a CONSTANT growing process–a daily renewing of our trust and love for Jesus! And, I believe, it can not be obtained, nor maintained, without help. “Lord, help me in my unbelief (faith)!”
Mark 9:21-24 (TNIV)
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
From these Scriptures in Mark, I want to point out that this father is in a place where everything has not been working out to well. The disciples were unable to heal his son. That word translated as “believes” in verse 23 is the Greek word, “pisteuonti” which is a form of the word “pisteuo” [pist-yoo-o]. In its fuller sense, this word means, “believe to the extent of complete trust”.
So, today and all days, ask God to help you in your unbelief, to help you believe to the extent of complete trust! I ask Him every day, and I am a pastor. “Lord, help me stay grounded in you. Help me trust in your will, not mine. Help me in my unbelief!” And this brings us again full circle to What was said in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
You asked some questions about heaven. “The whole concept of everyone meeting again someday in a better place, has me blown away, and has for many years.” My thoughts would again rest in a different place because I have abandonded religosity and embraced a relationship with Jesus as he described. You also asked, ” I would hate to think MY beliefs would cast me to hell or somewhere in between. (but is heaven, heaven?)”
Let me first start with Heaven. Misguided religous thought tells us that heaven is simply a place that we go when we die. While there is truth in that, there is a much fuller picture that Jesus paints in what he teaches. Jesus states many times that the kingdom of God/Heaven is here right now (Luke 17:21, Luke 22:29) and He makes it very clear that it extends into eternity.
Luke 17:20-21 (TNIV)
20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God [heaven] is in your midst.”
Truth is, this is hard to understand in view of the fact that we have always been taught that heaven is a place we go when we die. Yes, heaven extends into eternity……but that is not where it starts. As we follow Jesus, love him with all our heart and as we additionally start loving each other and forgiving ALL people in our lives we find ourselves living in that kingdom of heaven right here. The kingdom of heaven is indeed right here in our midst and indeed, it extends into eternity. As far as “The whole concept of everyone meeting again someday in a better place”, I saw it best said this way, “I believe, God’s declared intention within the revelation of Scripture that we will know one another in heaven, and we will relate to one another. After all, we are relational beings. God created us as social creatures.”
You also asked, “I prefer to only let God judge me at the end, and HE will, but I feel I have reasons for my mistakes, (right or wrong reasons) shouldn`t that be between God and myself? The being alive and better, pure,no sins I can`t grip….why?”
Here is the Good News, God, indeed Jesus, is the only one who will judge us in the end. The better news is that Jesus died for ALL of our sins, past, present and future. God tells us throughout scripture that as we repent of our sin, He will no longer even remember it. Case closed.
Hebrews 8:12 (TNIV)
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Isaiah 43:25 (TNIV)
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
Jesus died for our sins. If God remembers our sin no more, we are able to move on and grow, to be alive once again. I believe that the reason that maybe you can’t get a grip on this is because religiosity has drilled into us quite a bit of “angry judgement”.
My daughter made some mistakes as a teenager. At the time I was mad, angry, upset and some trust was lost. However, I love her (God loves us), she saw the error of her ways, asked for forgiviness (we call this repentance), and I can say this: I remember those actions no more. Trust has been restored. I didn’t say I “forgot” anything. But I choose to no longer “remember” those things. They have no bearing on today. I hope that helps understand God’s heart and love for us.
I know that probably what I have shared here leads to many more questions than answers. That’s a good thing. I pray that you will pray and ask God to help you understand His love and to understand Him. The key is less about the knowledge of religious things and more about a realtionship with our creator, God, indeed, a relationship with Jesus. I recognize also that a “relationship” with someone you can’t see sounds abstract and is hard to understand. However, I also KNOW that it is as real as the relationship with my wife and those I love around me.