So, what does the road to heaven actually look like? If you look across the wide spectrum of Christian beliefs you will find far more variety in the answer than you might have thought. You would expect all of the answers to include believing in Jesus - and that's a good start. However, the Bible gives us several other qualifiers for being on the road to heaven, and this is where the confusion begins. The fact is, going to heaven is NOT merely about what one believes. As a matter of fact, being on this journey is not something we can just one day decide to do! Heaven IS possible, but what steps must be taken?
Life is often measured by time. Our society is hyperfocused on immediate gratification, which means we don’t want to have to wait. We don’t want to have any interval pass before we get what we want. We have scheduled events, appointments, work hours, lunch breaks and periods for sleep. All of these things are time-driven. We celebrate birthdays, holidays and vacations - all of which are driven by the calendar – a tool for measuring time. With such a complete dependency on the clock, what would make us think God’s plan for humanity is any different? How often do we hear people complain that if God exists and is all powerful, why doesn’t He….? Let’s look at time, seasons and ages and what parts they play in God’s master plan!
Yup! It’s another New Year and that means another opportunity to start some things that are new, different and good for us! It also means we consider stopping (or at least reducing) those things in life that aren’t so good for us. It all sounds so easy, except for one little detail that can be expressed in one little word: habits. Breaking old and establishing new habits is one of the hardest challenges most individuals face. This is difficult because, by definition, making and breaking habits is making and breaking instinctive behavior. The first thing we need to do is to know what to change and why. While this is an important beginning, the next step is to know how to change, and that is where our work and focus actually begins.
When we talk about the “spirit” of something, we are trying to describe what that something was intended to look like or result in. Let’s take the spirit of a law. Whatever that law may be interpreted as meaning, or however it might be applied, needs to be checked against what the law was actually intended to allow. It is far too easy to have a personal agenda and take the words of that law, rationalizing them into fitting what we want them to mean. This is an unfortunate result of selfish thinking. The same is true with Christmas. The lights, the movies, the decorations, gifts, fanfare and food all tend to take away from the simplicity of the true spirit of Christmas. So, what is the true intention of the Christmas holiday, and how do we pay our highest respect to it?
To live is to decide. No matter who you are and what environment you live in, you will most likely be pressed with making an untold number of decisions. These will directly influence how your life will unfold. This can be a scary thought because no one wants to make bad decisions! Yet, most of us don’t seriously put in the time and effort to be sure our decisions are good. How can this be? Much has to do with the way our minds work, social pressure and our desire for comfort. As Christians, we need to be keenly aware of these challenges, because our decisions are supposed to always be in line with God’s will and Jesus’ footsteps. How must we think and what must we do in order to keep our decisions in line with all that would bring glory to God?
Right is right and wrong is wrong! A few generations ago, morality and ethics seemed simple. There were things you knew you should and should not do. There were principles you knew needed to be present when it came down to making appropriate decisions. There were societal consequences for stepping outside of those lines. Now morality seems to have gone rogue and the idea of ethics seems to have been redefined to fit personal preference. When we say right is right now, we really mean, right is what I feel is right for me and wrong – well there isn’t much that is wrong, except when you try and infringe on my personal feeling of what’s right! What happened? Does the whole concept of sin need to be re-evaluated?
We are going about our lives doing the best we can when suddenly we are criticized for our talk, dress, actions or beliefs. Now what? Are we immediately defensive? Do we hurl back insults and accusations? Or do we cave internally, feeling really bad about ourselves and finding it hard to recover and move forward? Not wanting to change stops our growth process. Defensiveness might come from either pride or insecurity – both of which need to be recognized and managed. We know we can always get better, so how do we take the pain of a jarring critique NOT as a roadblock or defeat, but use it as a tool to build our Christian character?
This of the most basic manners we teach our kids. We generally start by instructing them how to appropriately make a request for something and how to graciously receive it. How do you ask? “Please!” What do you say? “Thank you!” These two simple communication tools (which incidentally seem to have been misplaced in our social media world) are not merely expressions of good manners, they are declarations of good character! As we approach the American holiday of Thanksgiving, we want to focus on being thankful in a way that goes beyond typical platitudes. How can we be truly and deeply thankful - even when our life experiences are difficult and harsh? How can we make true thankfulness a way of life and not just words of praise?
It’s funny how certain fanciful images make their way into the human mind and somehow become a part of our belief foundation. Case in point – someone dies and the next thing we know, we visualize them standing before those massive and ornate “pearly gates” of heaven. Once issued their wings and harp, we see them as having “made it” into eternal bliss. Or how about the common and comforting idea that someone who has passed is now an angel looking down on us and protecting us? Do human beings REALLY turn into angels when they die? What about angels - can they ever turn into people? Are these ideas based on the Bible or do the Scriptures tell us something else about life after death?
As Christians we follow Jesus. His life story is told in the New Testament of the Bible and we rightfully focus on those books. Sometimes though, our focus brings us away from the rest of the story – the Old Testament. We think, why do we need all of that Jewish history? Why do we need to know who conquered whom and how all the rituals worked that God required of the Jewish nation to show their loyalty to Him? The fact is, we NEED the Old Testament and we need it badly! This need is dramatically illustrated in the Tabernacle – the portable tent and furnishings the Jews carried with them during their 40-year wilderness experience. The story the Tabernacle tells is a breathtaking example of God’s care and His foresight. It is like a treasure map – let’s see where it leads!