Posted in Christian Living, Faith

God Has This

I love it when my Bible reading lines up with the current season of my life, when I read a story or verse that speaks right to the situation with which I currently struggle. Like Gibb’s Rule 39 on NCIS, I don’t believe these times are a coincidence, but God intervening to communicate with me when I need it most.

For a long time, despite my faith, despite all the work I put into trying to be otherwise, I’ve found myself bogged down with sometimes debilitating anxiety. I’m not talking about increased stress. I have a mind that views the world through a lens of constant worry. If I find a moment of calm, I am already thinking about the next thing that will cause me trouble.

If you don’t have anxiety disorder, you might find it difficult to imagine a day in my life. But since we all face times of extreme stress or worry, everyone can relate to needing coping mechanisms for those moments in our lives when we feel out of control or in danger.

David certainly knew the challenge of keeping strong in his faith even though the world seemed to be against him. King Saul, the God-appointed king David had been named by God to replace one day, meanwhile sought to kill his erstwhile successor. On more than one occasion, David had the opportunity to kill Saul before David could be killed. But, each time David refrained from taking Saul’s life.

The reason David will not kill the current king is simple. David knows God has anointed Saul king, and David trusts that God alone will remove Saul from the throne in order to put David in his place. Even though a mighty king wants to kill him, David has faith that God has the situation under control. David leans into trusting that God’s will prevails instead of leaning into anxiety.

One episode in David’s story seems slightly out of place, until you consider it in the light of this trust, that God has all under control. This episode is the story of Nabal and Abigail.

One of the places David and his men have hidden is on the lands belonging to Nabal, a selfish man who married well. Because David and his men have protected Nabal’s shepherds, when it comes time for shearing, David requests a share of the harvest. Nabal denies David out of hand. Nabal’s denial makes David immediately angry. Unlike the times when he overlooks Saul’s attempts on his life because Saul is the God-ordained king, David immediately sets out to take revenge on Nabal for the insult he has given David and his men by refusing to share some of his bounty.

In the meantime, Nabal’s servants, knowing David’s wrath will come upon them all, run to their mistress, Abigail, to tell her the entire story. Being wise, she loads up two hundred mules with goods for David and his men. She meets David on the road, humbly offering her goods in thanks for the services David and his men have rendered to Nabal.

Moved by her gift, David turns away from seeking revenge on Nabal and his entire household. In the end, Nabal gets struck down by an illness and soon dies, allowing David to acquire Abigail as a wife.

This episode shows us that David has the personality to seek his own revenge. He isn’t the type of person to take an insult and just turn the other cheek. So, when David refuses to take revenge on King Saul, even when he knows God has told him David will some day be king, we know that David is truly putting the fate of his future in God’s hands, trusting wholly that God is in control of his destiny.

Reading this story for the fifth or tenth time in my life in these last weeks, this truth imprinted itself on me. Why do I let anxiety keep me from facing each day knowing that GOD HAS THIS? If I believe that God controls my destiny, and I do, then why let all the tiny things that worry my anxiety-riddled brain get to me? Remembering that God Has This when I start to worry or fret has helped me get a better hold on my anxiety.

God loves me. As a good friend reminded me this week, He has “searched me and known me. [He] know[s] when I sit and when I rise; [He] understand[s] my thoughts from afar. [He] search[es] out my path and my lying down; [He is] aware of all my ways” (Psalm 139: 1-3). I don’t have to be great like David (who has his share of sins recorded in God’s word, by the way). God loves all of us, from the best to the worst. If we submit to His will, He controls our destiny.

GOD HAS THIS! Try reminding yourself of this truth the next time you face a challenge. I am confident it will make a big difference.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living

Free From

 

Natural, whatever that means, is in. People all around the world search daily for products and ways of doing things that are as clean and simple as possible. Being free of synthetic chemicals or genetically-manufactured ingredients, eliminating waste by recycling and switching to re-usable instead of disposable packaging are all growing trends on this planet that seems to shrink minute by minute.

We seek to be free from other things as well, things like pain and discipline and hard choices. Instead of sitting in the quiet of our mind, we sit with our eyes glued to electronic screens, streaming cat videos even as we wait in line at the supermarket. We long to be free from confrontation so that we embrace a live and let live way of doing things. We trade momentary comforts for the much longer-lasting future of our eternal home. Why don’t we humans realize that in seeking to be free from so many of these hard things, we also free ourselves of the many blessings available to us when we fully embrace God?

I have heard it said that hell is God’s way of giving non-believers just what they have asked for, an existence without Him. But, even we believers sometimes live as if there is no God without realizing all the implications of a world free from His ever-present love.

Without God, life’s challenges amplify. We have no knowledge of salvation to lean upon. A world without God, without a master Creator, has no grand plan, only a kind of chaos that can give and take without rhyme or reason, without purpose. The bad things that happen only teach us the pain of bad things. The good things of this earth are the limit of the good things we will ever know. We let our own minds define good and bad so that my definition of right ultimately ends up being someone else’s definition of great pain.

When we face the world on the world’s terms, we accept as okay behaviors and attitudes that break God’s heart. We allow the world to think there is nothing wrong with sexual immorality, making any relationship acceptable, negating the importance of marriage and faithfulness. We allow our words to be foul and hurtful and mean, even when we think we are doing right. Worse, we hold back words that need said in order to avoid offending a world that thinks it wants to be free from God.

But living always and in all ways in full knowing of God’s omnipotence offers a different kind of free from. The things we are free from when we fully embrace God are the most important things of all.

With God, all things are possible, which means that even when the worst things happen to us, God finds a way to bring something positive out of the bad. Maybe, we learn to slow down and appreciate the little things in each day that build into a peaceful life. When I find myself worrying about things that might happen, turning to God instead and putting my mind to thanking Him for the smell of honeysuckle in the air or the slick fur beneath my fingers of a kitty cat purring in my lap helps me feel centered and less stressed.

Believing in and following God also gives me freedom from judging, myself as well as the people around me. Only through a God-inspired lens do I tap into the ability to empathize and see life from multiple perspectives. I am free from a self-centered reality that only leads to loneliness and emptiness when I fill myself up with the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when He came to live among us.

Jesus tells us to come to Him because His yoke is light. Because His grace is a present for all who believe, we are released from the burden of always being perfect. Salvation under the law means that breaking even one of God’s rules puts you in breach of the entire contract. Salvation under grace means that as long as we recognize our stumbles and repent of them, we maintain our wonderful, personal relationship with our God. Being free from the burden of the law frees us to embrace living Christ day to day.

Be free from the fear of your future, free from the fear of losing out on forgiveness, free from the impossible expectations of a greedy world. Turn to your personal, omnipotent Creator. Love and live Jesus and be free from everything except the only things that matter.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Love

God Is Love: The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

God IS Love

In our enthusiasm for a cause, we humans very easily lose sight of an objective perspective. We go to extremes that push people further away instead of potentially helping them see things from our point of view.

Take for example the issue commonly referred to as Pro-Life. Whenever I see people outside a clinic with signs that point fingers, calling people baby killers and more, I wonder where this approach to attempt change comes from. Would Jesus, who refused to judge the adulteress until someone was willing to throw the first stone and even then merely helped her see the truth about herself admonishing her to sin no more, stand outside a planned parenthood building with a sign that condemned the scared, hurting women walking through the doors?

When we attempt to support God the way we think we should because we are so enthusiastic about the cause instead of taking serious time to reflect on God’s approach to the issue, are we really serving God the way we think we are?

I may be a slow learner, so forgive the revelation that came to me recently if you’ve known it all along, but when we push God to others based on strict guidelines of right and wrong, we leave non-believers with the impression that God is the God of punishment. We inadvertently make Him out to be a God who is primarily interested in seeing people suffer for their transgressions.

It’s easy enough to see God this way, especially if you do a pick and choose approach to the Bible. Many times, God makes His awesome wrath known, going so far as to wipe out the entire planet in a flood with only Noah and his family as survivors to begin again.

But God is NOT interested in punishing. Let me say this again, because I think most of us operate on the opposite assumption. God’s main focus in this life is NOT to punish those who defy Him but to LOVE and BE LOVED.

You’re wrong, you tell me. God lives to punish bad behavior. He swallowed thousands of people whole in the desert. He sent plagues upon Egypt the likes of which no one in our modern world has ever witnessed. His revelation portrays a coming end that will have no rival in pain and misery and suffering, not even in the best apocalyptic blockbuster. God takes pleasure in sinners’ pain.

Fickle, proud humans that we are, we perpetually grab on to the idea that we can understand the ways of an omnipotent power. Because some of His actions seem awful and cruel, we find it easy to label God as such. But looking at the history of God and man, we can see that God really deals with us from an entirely different perspective. Only a God who loves beyond human knowing could explain how He continues to give us chances to do better, even when history reveals that God can’t seem to win when it comes to the fickleness of the human mind.

Despite God’s worst punishments, His people continue to stray from His commandments. Like a mad roller coaster ride, the story of the Israelite people shows them growing closer to and then farther away from God over and over again. When He blesses them with much, their gratitude from being saved from the latest disaster dissipates all too soon. Look at David. This King who had a heart like God’s, lived to praise Him, but David also failed God, breaking His commandments to give in to his own lusts. Whether God deals with us humans in love or in mighty power, we fall short of giving Him the praise and love He deserves.

But God is not coming from a place of punishment. Instead, even in punishment, God always comes from a place of love. Only God’s love for us explains how any of us are still walking around breathing. Annie Dillard puts it this way:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk

The Creator looks down upon a world in which His creations flit about as if they are not tiny ants dodging the giant shoe always dangling above them and does not choose to wipe us out to begin the entire, wretched experiment over again. If that is not some over-arcing love for us, then what is?

Even for Christians, who believe that God humbled Himself to become merely a man in order to sacrifice Himself for our very souls, walk through our days as if we are drugged by our own indifference. We judge others. We create black and white scenarios as if we have no beams in our eyes, always in search of specks. We mock God’s love by taking actions in His name that go so far from doing His will they break His heart.

God is all heart. If you read the Bible beginning with this assumption, you will see it everywhere. God postpones punishment. He is willing to bargain for delayed justice, saving entire cities for the sake of one good man, if such can be found. He puts up with fickleness, blasphemy and disbelief and yet still performs miracles for His people.

God believes in second chances, and third, and fourth. In fact, He tells us to forgive seventy times seven in part because He too never tires of welcoming the return of even one lost sheep.

What a disservice we do for non-believers when our actions reflect a God who favors vengeance over mercy. Whenever we act other than from the root of a love that runs deep in us, all the way back to Adam and Eve, we show the world the God they want to believe in, the God whose actions look spiteful and mean instead of patient and kind.

God wants every one of us to believe in Him: “This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God’s love for us never ends: (for) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

Like a puppy who finds full joy in the presence of his master, we Christians owe it to God and our fellow humans to approach our Christian life in love, as God loves us. Instead of looking for the faults in others, we would be much better served to find the strength in all of us, those traits we share that make our Creator God put up with us instead of smashing us to pieces.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus tells us (John 15:13). In laying down His life for us, Jesus showed us the greatest love of all.

The next time we are tempted to draw a permanent marker line in the concrete, we should consider what Jesus would do. Unless you are willing to become part of a person’s solution, to really become a part of it, not just pay lip service to it, why are you pointing out their problem?

God loves. If that isn’t the God you are presenting to the world, if that isn’t the God you carry in your heart every moment of every day, what blessings you are keeping from your self and others.

Don’t know where to start? One of the things God loves most is our thankfulness. Look for the things you can be thankful for in a day and in others, especially others you may be tempted to judge instead. Give your thankfulness a voice in prayer to your Holy Maker. If you give Him the opening, God, who can do anything, will definitely accomplish the rest.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Never Too Busy For Us

Jesus is my Superhero

Spring is a whirlwind of activity in my other life, the one where I go to health food industry conventions and visit manufacturing facilities. I get back from one trip just in time to head out for another one.  As March fades into May, my house increasingly reflects the chaos of my mind and body. Dishes pile up in the sink, cat toys lay strewn where they’ve been batted by furry paws, my carpets bear the marks of heavy living without their regular vacuuming.

My travels take an equal toll on my body. My diet, always a challenge, flies out the window in the midst of the stress and upset routine of travel. My sugar intake skyrockets. I give in with increasing consistency to my comfort foods: chicken fried steak coated in creamy gravy, baked potatoes swimming in butter and sour cream, Tex-Mex enchiladas, and tortilla chips, and salsa. My usual, six-day workouts dwindle to catch-as-catch-can.

My mind struggles to function with my travel schedule and my poor habits. Stress, my forever friend, comes for a sleepover and sticks around like three-day-old fish. I find it hard to relax or to calm my mind, so that my thoughts run over and over, making it difficult for me to fall asleep or rest.

Most importantly, if I do not work at staying close to God, my spiritual house can become as untidy as my physical and mental houses. This year, my usual steadfast habit of Bible reading and study each morning has given way to last-minute catch-up items, oversleeping, and generally running out of time to do it. I have no valid excuse for this failure. God should always come first. But, I am supremely human, thankful for mercy, and wholly dependent on grace, and my inadequacy only underscores my abject need for God.

I remember one night this Spring lying in bed and realizing something powerful. No matter how bad things have gotten in my life, I’ve always made it through the bad times because God is there with me. Why, then, do I waste so much time being afraid about what might happen or is even likely to happen? As I embraced the idea that I can always call on Jesus and He will never be too busy to hear me, I felt such a sense of empowerment and peace.

But epiphanies that happen in the middle of the night can quickly fade in the harsh light of day, especially when you don’t make concerted efforts to build on your relationship with God and nurture your faith. Too often this Spring, my anxiety has won out over my faith. Instead of focusing on Jesus, I’ve focused on deadlines and bills, on health issues and work routines.

How grateful I am that God, the Creator of all things, is never too busy for me, even when I fall into the bad habits that make me “too busy” for Him. How do I know this? Jesus tells us: “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).  Paul assures Timothy, “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). No matter that we use His name in vain, that we mock Him in word and deed, that we ignore Him on a daily basis, God is always waiting patiently for us to believe.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Jesus asks us (Matthew 6:27). When I truly embrace the truth that God is always with me, that when I call out to Him, He allows me to feel His presence, I understand the truth of that question. Jesus is like the ultimate superhero in my pocket. What do I have to fear?

As Summer fast approaches, I am glad to put paid to another busy Spring. I will spend this Summer getting back into my regular reading of the Word. I will make God an active participant in my daily life by seeking Him often, not just when I feel desperate or totally alone, but when I am happy as well as sad, when things are going well along with when they seem to be falling apart.

Sometimes a busy life is just busy. But making God the center of your life, that’s the kind of powerful stuff that leads to prosperous living no matter how busy or inactive you may be.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

For Such A Time As This

For such a time as this

I love the story of Esther and Mordecai. Every time I read it, I learn something new that I can apply to my life. This week, the lesson that stood out most for me was Mordecai’s argument with his niece, then the queen, as he convinced her to risk her life for the sake of the greater good.

Esther’s life was never easy. She was an orphaned Jewish girl, living far from her people’s homeland, along with all the other exiles. Her uncle, Mordecai, takes her in to raise her. She grows up learning the lessons about boundaries and injustice that plague all defeated nationalities.

Imagine her surprise when she is asked to come to the palace to compete for the position of queen! Even this “blessing” is not as wonderful as it seems.  Because her people are foreigners in the land of their conquerors, she doesn’t tell anyone who doesn’t already know that she is a Jew. Instead of having free access to the outside world and childhood friends around her, Esther must get used to a household staff led by eunuchs as she is shielded during her preparation for the big day, her one and only chance to make a good impression on King Xerxes.

Sure, Esther gets special beauty treatments, has servants, and eats a special diet while she’s in the palace. But, she’s taken from the only home she has ever known, objectified for almost an entire year without even meeting the king, and must perpetually worry about what will happen whether or not the king chooses her. After all, the queen Esther might be replacing was cut off by the king just because she didn’t feel like going to dance in front of a group of drunk royalty at the snap of the king’s inebriated fingers.

At the point in Esther’s story when Mordecai uses his lesson-giving argument, she is finally queen, but the Jewish people are in even more serious trouble than the usual. The Persian king has allowed one of his minions to declare a day for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai wants his niece to go to the king unannounced and beg for a reprieve from the death sentence.

Esther hesitates. Nobody in the palace knows that she is even a Jew. She hasn’t been called to the king in a month as it is, so could the king even be interested in seeing her? And, here’s the kicker: if she walks into the room where the king is unbidden and he doesn’t reach out his scepter to her, Esther faces an immediate penalty of death.

My absolute favorite lesson in this story is Mordecai’s argument to Esther that she should take the chance for her people because how does she not know that God made her queen for “such a time as this.” But, this week when I was reading the story again, another aspect of Mordecai’s argument with Esther at this critical moment stood out for me.

Mordecai assures Esther that God will save the Jews one way or another, with or without her. Didn’t Esther want to be a part of God’s plan? He tells her:

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Mordecai’s unwavering assurance that God’s will always will be done reminds me of all the times I don’t give God enough credit as I go through each day. Because I know that bad things happen in a fallen world, I sometimes get into the mindset of forgetting that God still has His hand on everything, often by helping to create something good out of the bad that is happening all around us.

How inspiring is it to understand that God will love, will provide whether we are an instrument of that provision or not? It gives us not only encouragement but actual courage to know that God is not limited by our human capacity or even the necessary parameters of a fallen world. I need that courage, especially when living my faith means doing things that are way outside my comfort zone, like interacting in large groups or going to places I’m unfamiliar with in order to be of service to someone.

What happens next in Esther’s story is also an important reminder. Before going before the king and risking her life, Esther fasts for three days and asks that the rest of her people join her in the fast. She wants to be sure that she is honoring God, following His will, and walking in assurance that He is with her. We must be sure we are walking in God’s will if we want to be able to lean into the assurance of His help in our endeavors.

We Christians long to do the will of God always and in all ways. Remembering that He accomplishes His will whether we serve as an instrument of His design or not is sometimes vital to stepping forward in faith. No one who loves God wants to fail Him. Esther’s faith in God saves not only the Jews, but also teaches us that walking in faith helps us to fulfill the times like this that God places us on this earth for in the first place.

 

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

GOD is NOT a Capitalist

Give God your best

It’s that time of year again at our church, the time when the church leaders are trying to finalize the current budget and get the congregation’s commitments for the tithe.

The tithe, that ten percent of my net worth that should be given to God, usually makes me think in terms of dollar signs. But the church, and most especially God, is not primarily concerned with me opening my wallet. Yes, in our modern world, there are the practical concerns for a church like having electricity and paying support staff, but the idea of the tithe has never been, or ever was, just about money–in so many ways.

Abraham gave a tenth of all he had to pay homage to the Lord. God told the Israelites, “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God” (Ex. 23:19). The Levitical law declared: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30). The Proverbs remind us to “honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (3:9).

As important as it is to offer to God the first fruits of our labors, which in our economy equates to dollars and cents, the tithe should be a time to also remind ourselves how important it is to God that we honor Him with, not a specific percentage of our worldly goods, but with the best of us, the best of all that we are. 

How often do I give God not the best of me, not the part of me that rolls out of my warm bed mostly ready to face, and maybe even conquer, the world each morning, but rather the what’s left of me, the worn, half-asleep me that has faced the world and found myself wanting? How often do I come to Him only after I have exhausted all my personal resources, as if I have control over anything at all?

Why should it surprise me that God wants the very best of me when He gave me the very best of Himself? Not only did Christ come to earth as man in order to die for my sins, He left behind the Holy Spirit to function inside of me as a believer in the One and Only. Shouldn’t God expect me to begin and end not only my day, but my each breath, with thoughts of praise, with thankfulness for His power in my life, a power I am supposed to be acknowledging instead of trying to take on the world all by myself?

Giving God the first parts of me, the best parts of me, means praying often, especially when I least feel like it, humbling myself to admit that my problems are truly God’s problems, that I cannot worry myself out of any situation but that God can see me through all the things bound to happen to me in a fallen world.

When I was very young and admittedly not too bright, I took my favorite teddy bear, the one smooshed from being held by me through many a long night, and laid him on a makeshift slab bench in our back yard. My uncle, a young man, was dying from cancer not even a year after my grandfather had died. In the shade of our fruitless mulberry tree, I prayed that God would take my teddy bear and make my uncle better.

Since I didn’t have access to matches, I guess I expected my teddy bear to be struck by lightening or simply disappear. In my childish mind, giving up one of my favorite things seemed like a decent trade. But nothing happened, and a few months later, my uncle died anyway.

I didn’t understand then that Jesus had already made the ultimate sacrifice for the only thing that truly mattered, my eternal soul, my uncle’s eternal soul. As A. E. Houseman proclaims, “life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose.” It’s taken me almost four decades to truly understand how important it is that I offer myself to God, not objects, but my whole self no longer tied to the objects on this earth, in order to be close to Him, in order to walk a more Christ-like walk.

Sometimes, I think it’s easier to give God money than concentrate on the things He really wants, like our lives free from sin, our humbleness, our gratitude.  But giving to God means being our best selves in light of our need for our Holy Father. I thank Him for His patience with us. I love Him because He forgives me when I often stumble. And I give Him money from my wallet because my firstfruits include all of me, even the dollars in my bank account.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Here, Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Know the Word of God and Heed It

Why are we surprised when armchair theology leads us to believe that all decent people somehow wind up in a good place when they die? We’ve raised several generations now of children who have been taught that to participate, even if that participation means wearing the jersey and watching the birds fly overhead in the outfield all season, means being awarded. In an effort to make all children feel good about themselves, we’ve managed to decimate all standards, leaving open to a loosey-goosey interpretation the ideal of perfection.

When did it become wrong to declare that something is slipshod, especially when it comes to human behavior? Do we really think that God would suddenly change His mind about thousands of years of teaching on morality and virtue, He who valued His standards of virtue so much that He was willing to die on a cross, laid bare and humiliated, in order to provide a means for imperfect humans to be in relationship with perfection?

Getting trophies all the time just because you breathe air must make it difficult to realize there are places and times when you actually have to work on being your best self in order to thrive. When the authority figures in your life have always lauded you, no matter how little effort you put into something, it must be even more difficult to visualize a Creator God who might actually see boundaries and strict guidelines as for your greater good, rather than just being angry and mean.

In a world that is grossly unfair, how hard it must be to enter adult life after being buffered against the pitfalls of reality with false accolades to realize that you actually don’t always get what you want, to learn the hard lessons of knowing the difference between needing and wanting. Because you have rarely been called to account for your actions, or lack thereof, you most likely fail to see that the problem resides in your own attitudes. You either turn from God because He seems like a cruel taskmaster that doesn’t line up with your reality of authority figures who are always willing to say good job even when you know something was not your best effort, or you re-create God into an image of yourself, a guy who, if he does exist, surely understands your struggles and cuts you the slack you crave.

But, because God is very real and so very much more than any of us can imagine, we are wise to heed His definitions of what is right and good, to follow His road map to an afterlife spent in His presence instead of wallowing in the misery of hell. In Luke 16, Christ tells the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus which illustrates the importance of heeding God’s Word rather than making up your own, feel-good theology.

The poor man, Lazarus, hovels just outside the gate of the rich man, living a life of half-starved misery, so miserable, in fact, that his only medical attention comes from the dogs who lick at his oozing sores. The rich man, enjoying his great wealth, his friends, his lavish lifestyle, does nothing to comfort the poor man just outside his gates. When they die, Lazarus is brought into the bosom of his ancestor Abraham to enjoy all the peace and luxury he was denied during his earthly life. The rich man, on the other hand, wallows in misery in hell, looking up to heaven to see Lazarus, whom he recognizes, living the life the rich man now longs for.

When the rich man complains, he’s reminded of the luxuries he experienced in his earthly life, but more importantly, he is reminded of the words of Moses and the prophets that the rich man never heeded. When the rich man begs to have a ghost return to the living to warn his brothers against their fate if they do not change their ways, God assures the rich man that the words of Moses and the prophets should be enough for his brothers, just as it should have sufficed for the rich man.

 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,” Jesus tells us, “and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (John 6:44-45). God speaks to us through His Word, which, contrary to popular belief, does not teach that all good people go to heaven. “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you,” James admonishes (1:21).  That Word teaches that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory, but that the blood of Christ can redeem us.

Christianity is not a license to do bad things. It is the freedom to know that when we stumble, God is ready, willing and able to forgive us instead of condemning us. But Christian freedom does not include living as if sin doesn’t matter. Get rid of moral filth and evil, the Word says. Be humble.

These lessons are so in contrast to our trophy-loving world. I pray that Christians young and old embrace the Word of God, applying its lessons of love and peace, fellowship and humility, so that none of us, like the rich man, enjoy the pleasures of this life without looking toward the treasures we should be storing in the heavens.

God is good, and in His goodness and greatness He alone understands why we must have boundaries to our behaviors, why being a pretty decent fellow isn’t enough to escape the eternal damnation of a non-existent relationship with our loving Creator. Only by accepting Christ as your Savior, by taking on His much lighter yoke of a life lived no longer as a slave to the sinful nature, will any of us hope to see Abraham on the other side of those pearly gates.

I want to be Lazarus, even if it means great suffering in this life. I want to know that when I finally face God, I have the hope of hearing those words which are the greatest trophy of all, WELL DONE.

In Christ,
Ramona