Choosing Correctly

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

Growing up, I remember my parents using maps to plan out trips to new destinations. They would spend time determining the best routes. Today, we no longer rely on paper maps and atlases but use GPS and the maps on our phones. If you use Google maps, it will give you a few alternative courses to choose from. The shortest or quickest route is the main one which Google recommends. Choosing the correct route can be important as we maneuver through our journeys.

The passage from Matthew is part of a series of teachings given by Jesus which has become known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks to the people about making a right choice. Jesus tells the people to pick carefully which gate and path they choose. One choice will lead to destruction, the other to life.

In our lives we face choices in regards to a variety of aspects of life. Some of these choices are more difficult because they may require more from us. It is a great temptation to pick what appears to be easier and less demanding. Yet Jesus’s words should cause us to pause as we make choices. The wide gate and broad road is definitely the easiest route but the outcome will be less favorable.

Life and Death

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10 (NIV)

Almost thirty years ago, Disney released an animated movie entitled The Lion King. A major theme of this movie revolved around the concept of the circle of life. Mufasa, the Lion King at the time, is speaking to his son and future king, Simba. Mufasa tells Simba, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” There is even a major song in the movie by the name Circle of Life. Nature has a way of taking death and using it to bring forth life, from death comes life.

The passage for today takes life and death in a different direction. We are told first that we are to no longer sin because we are now dead to sin through the power of Christ. Sin has brought death into the would but Christ overcame death and sin from his death on the cross. In baptism we are joined to Christ so we share in his triumphant death and resurrected life. Sin cannot have power over us anymore.

The challenge placed before us is how to refrain from sinning and live as ones who are dead to sin. There is no magic formula or a guidebook to give us steps to achieve this. Working toward this goal requires continuous effort on a daily basis. Failure will be a part of this journey. Grace as given by the Lord will allow us to move through our failure. No matter how we do, the continued effort will allow us to improve. God’s love will never abandon us in our successes and failures.

The Path and Father

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:1-7 (NIV)

Remember a time before GPS and navigation systems when you had to be able to read a paper map on your journeys? This past week a person posted on social media that this is how we came to call the passenger to the right of the driver the navigator. Whoever sat in that seat had the responsibility to follow the route on the map so the driver knew which turns to make and which roads to be on in order to arrive at the destination. Today we use GPS and applications such as Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps on our phones. Some newer vehicles come with navigation systems built into them. All of this allows us to know the path which we must take to get to the place we are going.

Prior to Jesus’s arrest, he is having a conversation with his closest disciples. He has been trying to prepare them for his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. They are becoming very unsettled and confused as the tension is building in Jerusalem. Jesus starts by trying to bring them comfort. He assures them that they can believe in him just as they believe in God. He tells them that he will return for them to take them to the place which the Father has prepared. Jesus even says they know the way to get to the place. Thomas assures Jesus that they cannot navigate to the place because they do not even know the destination. Then Jesus shows them the road map. Jesus is the road map. Since they know Jesus, they not only know the way but they also know the Father.

Thomas speaks so often on our behalf. We may feel like we have no idea how to get to the place which God has prepared for us. We do not know which road map to grab or what to put in our navigation system. How can we know the place when we do not even know the one who has prepared it and invited us? Yet Jesus tells Thomas and us that we do know how to get there and we do know the one who has prepared us a place. By knowing Jesus, we know this information and we know the Father. How we know Jesus is by hearing and reading the stories found in the Gospels. We expand our understanding of who Jesus is through conversations with other believers and with the Lord in prayer. When we know Jesus, we know the way, the truth, the life, and the Father.

New Life

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Spring is a wonderful time of year because of all the new life which surrounds us. During winter the fields lay fallow, trees are barren of leaves, and grass, along with other plants, become brown. It is easy to perceive everything as being dead. With the arrival of spring flowering plants shoot out of the ground, buds which will burst out as leaves on the trees, and the green color returning to the grass and plants signal that life now exists where death seemed to reign.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus with words about death and life. In our sins and transgressions we were dead. We followed the ways of the world and the spirit of disobedience. But God made us alive in Christ because God loves us. God has raised us to the heavenly realms where we sit with Christ. This is grace which has saved us. We have been created and prepared by God to do good works in Christ. In Christ, what was perceived as dead is truly alive.

Like creation gets a new life in the spring, we are given new life. We can put behind us those behaviors of our past which were killing our spirits. Because of God’s love for each one of us, we were not left in death but instead we have been resurrected into a new life. With new life, new opportunities exist. There are opportunities to serve others, establish mutually nourishing relationships, and discover the wonders of God’s love and grace. Embrace this new life given to you in Jesus Christ.

Afterlife Truth

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

I have had the privilege to assist families and friends when someone who they are close to has died. I call it a privilege because being with individuals at such an intimate time is not something everybody gets to do. When you work with people who are grieving the death of an individual, you often see their raw emotions. A person in my position would usually get a good indication how someone perceives death, resurrection and the afterlife. Grief is a very individualistic emotion and never the same twice. Those who trust in the Lord’s promise of the resurrection and an afterlife in God’s presence grieve but you also notice a sense of hope in their response to death.

Paul writes to the believers in Thessaloniki regarding resurrection, ascension and hope. He states that he wants them to understand the truth of the resurrection so they can grieve with hope. Paul tells these believers that when the Lord shouts the command, there will be a voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet call. At this time those who have died will be resurrected and join the Lord. Then those still living will also join the Lord. Living and dead will be united in the presence of the Lord. This assurance brings hope and not fear.

There are limited details in Scripture regarding our death and resurrection. We tend to fear what we do not know or understand. However, if we listen to the promises of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, we know that our earthly life is not the only life. Death is not an ultimate ending, we continue. God has provided a way that when our earthly life ends, we begin our spiritual life fully in God’s presence. Paul speaks of the day when our earthly body becomes our resurrected body and is rejoined with our spirit. This truth gives us hope in the face of our mortality.

Where Is Hope

For me, a benefit of believing in Jesus Christ is that I have hope. Hope is truly an interesting word. Much like the word love, hope has such a varied number of meanings depending on the context in which it is used. I can hope that the Hawkeyes will win their football game. Right now, rain is something I hope for in the area in which I live. I have hope that I will stay healthy and active for many years into the future. I am confident in the hope of Jesus’ promises. Each example is a different understanding of hope since the focus of that hope changes.

Having hope does not mean there are not times of discouragement, disappointment, and a level of despair. A person who has hope does not experience any fewer hardships in life than one who lacks hope. The difference is that a person who leans upon hope responds to the hardships much differently.

I recall a situation during my ministry when I was called to the emergency room of a hospital. A person in the community had been found hanging by a belt in his garage. Upon arriving at a local hospital, the medical staff attempted to revive the man but were not successful and pronounced him dead. The partner refused to leave the body so the staff requested I talk with him and convince him to leave in order for them to finish preparing the body to be transported. After much conversation, I was able to get the partner to leave the room. In talking with him and the family of the victim, I quickly realized that the issue which was causing problems was they lacked hope. This became clear again after the funeral service which they asked me to officiate. They would not leave the room where we had the service because they were convinced that this would be the last time any of them would ever see the dead man again. They had no hope in Jesus Christ, no hope in the resurrection, and no hope in life beyond death.

Hope is not always an easy thing to maintain. There are times in which I need others to remind me of the reason to hope. I need to hear words of reassurance. I need prompted by the Spirit to read passages of Scripture which speaks of the hope found in Jesus Christ. Rereading the promises which Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles set before us is a great way for me to replenish hope in my life.

Faith and hope are strongly linked. Being able to hope in the promises of God requires having faith in God. A person must believe that what we read in Scripture regarding the love and the sustaining presence of the Lord is true. This requires us to have faith in not a physical reality but in a spiritual truth. This faith is the source of our hope.

Looking around the events in our world today, or even specific times in our own lives, it can become easy to lose touch with hope. Life can have some very depressing realities. Difficulties can mount and appear insurmountable. Messages which we often hear can lead a person to despair, grief, and a sense of abandonment. For some, this all piles upon each other to lead the individual in believing that there is no hope. Yet, let me declare to you that there is always hope. This hope is not sustainable in trusting of any human or human institution. This unfailing hope can only be found in Jesus, the Christ.

Hope in the Lord. It has never failed me yet.

Not Just For Easter

Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed!!!!

For centuries, this has been a greeting often used during the Easter season, especially on Easter morning, in the church. Not a lot of words but words with a profound meaning. Yet what do these words mean? Why do we say them? Do we believe them?

At first glance, these words easily appear absolute absurdity. One of my friends who is not a strong believer struggles with these words. He reminds me that no physical proof exists for these words. He reminds me that all we know about the human body and the rules of nature indicate that this is not a possibility. So how can one respond to a set of logical facts like these? Well, my response is grounded in faith. At first, I agree with my friend because according to logic and our understanding of the world, my declaration of Jesus’ resurrection is not supported. But since I believe in the God who created all logic and all that is in the world, I believe that was is impossible according to human standards is not impossible for God. So if God chooses to resurrect Jesus, then it can (and did) happen.

Another notable aspect of these words are that they are said with enthusiasm, hence the exclamation points above. Why should such words cause this type of response? Well, the reality of what those words proclaim is something that causes tremendous joy in those who believe them. For we know that since Jesus was resurrected, death no longer has any power. We also know that we share in that resurrection which means that life here on earth is not the only life. Our life here is a portion of our complete life. We will share in a never-ending life with our Lord. The joy that comes from this truth is one that cannot, and should not, be contained. Christians should be shouting from the rooftops. Our lives should show this great joy.

However, this prompts two important questions for me. Do I live my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in these words? Second, do I limit my expressing of this belief to one Sunday a year?

The Church made a decision hundreds of years ago to refer to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. People began to think of the Lord’s Day as their sabbath. In fact, not that long ago in the history of the United States businesses were closed on Sunday, it was unacceptable to mow your lawn or hang out laundry on a Sunday, and only essential human/animal care need providers were allowed to work on Sunday. The Christian Church had adopted many of the rules of the sabbath from their spiritual ancestors, the Hebrew people. All this because Sunday was intended to be a day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Not one Sunday a year, but every Sunday. This leads me to wonder why in worship services we do not declare the same statement which we tend to use on Easter morning.

Taking the above thought a step farther, why do we limit the greeting to Sundays alone. If I truly believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on Easter morning, and if this belief is something which brings me great joy and benefit, why would I not live every day in a way which demonstrates my belief. I will be honest, I am not truly sure how that might look since I have never tried to live this way before. I suffer from a behavior pattern which other believers seem to suffer from as well. I tend to compartmentalize my life so much that I have certain times for faith matters.

What would it look like if I lived my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

This is a question to which I would enjoy hearing your responses. I will ponder this some and it will be the topic of a future blog. Please give me your ideas as catalyst to my future post.