Sunday, December 20, 2009

Preparing for Eternity

Is.57:15 - For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity...

Only God is eternal in both directions, but He has chosen to share futuristic eternity in His creations. Why, we can only surmise, but it must be woven throughout the unfathomable character and love of the Creator God. And with eternity as the backdrop, the redemptive story sheds its earthly ties and soars past Adam, past David, past Bethlehem, past Calvary, past Revelation, and lifts up on eagles wings flying into the loving certainty of the Heavenly Father's care. And when the Eternal One Himself says, "What should it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul", well, Jesus accentuates the eternal as opposed to the temporal. The Holy Spirit through Paul tells us to "look on the things that are not seen, not the things that are seen" and "the things that are seen are temporal and the things that are not seen are eternal".

Just the length of this life compared with the life to come separates the greater from the lesser. The Scriptures themselves describe this life as a “vapor, here today and gone tomorrow". Being a child of the sixties I can remember the growing emphasis on social issues and earthly relationships, all of which were a "show of will worship but only to the satisfying to the flesh". It was well intentioned and intoxicating, but not eternal. If a man slips over a cliff and is hanging on to a little bush trying not to fall into the abyss, and if someone recognizes his plight and rushes to his aid, leans over the cliff, and lowers him a cold drink, and while he watches him quench his thirst the man slips to his death, what good did he do? There is a giant, sixties like movement within the church to bring humanitarian and social justice issues to the forefront at the expense of the everlasting gospel.

For the record, the American church is in the hedonistic bed of capitalism and greed, building great buildings with state of the art everything and with every micro-ministry to each segment of the western church. All the while Christians and unbelievers alike starve and are in great want throughout the world, but most churches now have large screens within the sanctuary so as not to miss the most entertaining vantage point. God wants our children to have large gymnasiums but he declines to feed His African children. And which God would that be?

It is to our shame that we live such lavish lives consumed with consuming and busy about the business of making our lives “better”? Where is the compassion that is revealed in the life ministry of Jesus? And if we have no such compassion concerning the staggering suffering around the world, can we not at least use humanitarian deeds for the purpose of evangelism? Many of us in the west live a video game life that can click on any channel and see how others agonize and are in desperate need, but we are able to click on another channel and enter another more pleasant and entertaining reality. We are a culture of enormous hedonism.

Now several movements have recognized this colossal waste, and in the process of attempting to right the ship they have left the gospel message, which is "that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life". Christ did not die on a Roman cross to pay for a better and more productive earthly life, and in some cases men and women were significantly better off in this world before they became followers of Jesus. We now are hearing people "put into context" the eternal consequences of heaven and hell, you do your own definition. Let us agree that whatever the particulars of heaven and hell after death, they are forever and heaven is infinitely more desirable than hell. People go to great lengths to remove any apprehension and fear of their coming eternity and in that they do a great disservice to people and disdain to the cross of Christ. Word studies, cultural compromise, new understandings, and a wider definition of God's mercy that doesn't even include the name of Jesus, is the theology du jour.

And the truth is no one wants to think about eternity because this life and this world are front and center and a rearranging of salvation parameters is necessary to remove the archaic moorings that have suffocated the church for centuries. It is now a "roll of the dice" and from so many corners teachers today have more questions than Biblical answers. And here we stand, two thousand years later, and we still are hashing over the paramount question of the ages, "What must I do to be saved?" And if the answer to that question is so intricate and complex, and if it depends on the situation, and if it must be extracted from the intellectual writings of the modern literary theologians, then we are doomed. All have a view, all have a doctrine, all have a question, and all can pull the rug out from under the sturdy and proven foothold of orthodox redemptive teachings with just philosophical words that present hypotheticals which leverage uncertainty. Great essays, great literature, great philosophy, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So here it is, simply told by a simpleton. Does every person born exist for eternity in either heaven or hell? If the answer is yes, then the question becomes how can I arrive in heaven? If the answer is "it depends" then save your breath because it depends upon you and your interpretation. And if all the different emerging streams of thought concerning salvation only muddy the waters and expose our departure from basic historical teachings concerning the born again experience, then let us quit being hypocrites and publicly go on television and say like the Pharisees said to Jesus "We cannot tell". At least we will have honesty as a foundation. But if we are convinced that as much as within us lies, that the road to eternal life passes directly and only through faith in the finished work of the Person of Jesus the Christ, then let us lovingly, powerfully, and exclusively proclaim that to a desperately needy and dark world. And let us guard against allowing all the other fragmented issues cloud the eternal message of hope itself.

The church is the ark of the New Covenant, and our responsibility is infinitely greater than rearranging the chairs of this Earthly Titanic without offering a life saving course correction. Eternity is the high prize than can only be won through the Eternal One, Jesus the Christ. And six quintillion years from today, as we are gathered in worship before the unspeakable sight of the glorious majesty of the Risen Lion of the Tribe of Judah, will we not realize that all was vanity and vexation of spirit - except the knowledge of Him?

So how does one prepare for eternity? There are Sunday School classes for a wide and varied range of subjects. Finances, relationships, marriage, prophecy, and all sorts of subjects have a class, but where is the class that teaches us how to prepare for eternity? Of course we are living in eternity now, but there is coming a life on the other side of this one in which we now live. What does it mean to prepare for eternity?

The first step, of course, is to trust the Lord Jesus with all your heart as the only Savior and Lord. We must see Him as the exclusive door to eternal life and His sacrifice as unique and without equal or even different. When a sinner believes on Christ he becomes a new creature and his entire life is no longer his, and he is now on an obedient journey to be with His Lord.

The New Testament is replete with admonitions and warnings for believers to be watchful, vigilant, and prepared to meet the Lord Jesus. We are on a direct journey to eternity and we should not be distracted by anything in this world. If you are married, it is imperative that you both are lovingly committed to the same journey. You may not fully agree on all the particulars, but you must encourage one another in looking toward the eternal and using the temporal in moderation and gratefulness. If you are not both in spiritual agreement it will affect both your spiritual walk as well as your relationship with each other. On the other hand, if you are unconditionally committed to hear and obey the Lord Jesus personally and for your family, there is almost nothing as strong for God’s kingdom as a committed marriage relationship.

The Scriptures command us to purify our hearts. Many times Bible teachers concentrate exclusively on the purification from the obvious sins, but they miss the broader implications contained in that and other exhortations. So much of the church is chained to this world, and so many spend much time on the cultural, financial, and political rat race. The western lifestyle and the accepted capitalistic construct, if examined by the light of Scripture, is decidedly against the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. Not one of them pursued wealth or even their own comfort.

This is a significant mental bondage in America. One of the main reasons we are so bound to lifestyle lies is that most believers, to say nothing of entire fellowships, will ever even consider the prospect that Jesus has something to say about how we live and what we pursue. And even amidst massive debt and discontentment among believers we still refuse to take inventory of our overall principle of living. And most local churches model an unbiblical example by borrowing vast amounts of money from the unbeliever in order to finance buildings (not missions, etc.), and they even have special “financial evangelists” come in whose “calling” is to organize gigantic building campaigns and giving increases that are usually leveraged with “faith promises” in direct violation of “let your yea be yea” teachings as well as the warning concerning vows.

All of this and more stems from an insatiable need for bigger, better, and newer. And it is that desire that places families in financial bondage and pressure, and many times it is that very financial pressure that leads to divorce. Picture a man that has a rope around his neck; the rope goes up and over a tree branch and comes down again and is held by that same man’s own hand. The rope begins to tighten around his neck, but that man suddenly realizes that it is his own hand that is pulling on the rope and hanging himself. And so it is with so many problems such a divorce and debt in the church; we are hanging ourselves.
How can you prepare for eternity? Let go of this world.
Col.3:1-3 - If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
These are not helpful words designed to help you get through the day; these are profound truths that should, when believed and implemented, change the course and pattern of all who profess to be obedient following of Jesus. When the lives and thought patterns of believers are indistinguishable from those who do not know Christ, then we have become believers in the historical Jesus but not His Word. That paradox is not only hypocritical and fallacious, but the implications are frightening. And can you see the church in these words:

Lk.6:46-49 -And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
Could it be, brothers and sisters, that the reason the church of Jesus Christ is in such disarray and even apostasy is that we have wandered so far from believing, much less obeying, the words of our Lord that we have crumbled? Have we been carried off to Babylon and now are deceived into believing that the Babylonian way of life is what God desires from His people? Have we settled down into a comfortable lifestyle that has no sacrifice, no inconvenience, no passion, and are we contented to have no contentment? When the Spirit tells us to be content with food and clothing do we actually pretend to believe that?

Please do not search for inconsistencies in my life to soften the message, for I do not speak the words of Frueh, God forbid. If all I do is preach what I perfectly exhibit I would have much less to say, but my words come as a challenge to us all. Let us readily admit that if the church remains upon the same course she will soon exist in spiritual oblivion, if in fact she hasn’t walked through that door already. Either way, our only hope is a revival that seethes with repentance, humility, prayer, and a shedding of the grave clothes we now wear with pride. You see, preparing for eternity is much more than singing “When we all get to Heaven” at church with smiles on our faces and lunch plans already dancing in our heads. Preparing for eternity is like a cocaine addict whose has become proficient at doing his work while his mind is elsewhere.

A limited metaphor, I know, but it gives us a glimpse into what we as believers should be like. We should attend to our earthly lives with faithfulness, but our hearts must be attending things above. Every decision we make, whether it be financial, physical, or anything, must be made in the light of eternity and held up against the Word of God. One slogan that has captured many believers is “What Would Jesus Do?” But so often that means avoiding things like stealing or lying or adultery. But if we are to embrace that principle it will dig much deeper than that. And while avoiding the self righteous trappings of legalism, we must change, or at least start looking for, areas of fallow ground in our lives that are incongruous with an eternity bound saint.
Perhaps I will again revisit this subject, but for now, I personally have addressed my own life with much more than I can say grace over. Turn your eyes upon Jesus…

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

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