Who Is Going to Heaven?

LORD, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?

He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoreth them that fear the LORD.

Psalms 15:1-4, KJV

 

The question "who is going to heaven?" has been one that men have asked since the time of the creation. It is clear from reading the Bible that God has had specific things that men were required to do for each of the three specific eras that men have lived in since the time of our creation. On different occasions during the time spanning from Adam and Eve through the giving of the Law with its Ten Commandments - men have named this the "Patriarchal Age" - God spoke directly to men and women to let them know what He wanted. During the second era, the "Mosaic Age", God put in writing the laws and requirements by which the descendants of Abraham and Isaac (the Jews) were to walk before Him. He did not leave the rest of the world's population to be lost during this time, as the New Testament revealed that the Gentiles (non Jews) who did by nature what was right were acceptable to God.

 

In the the third and final era, the Christian Age, God revealed that all men would be saved through His only begotten Son, Jesus, and that all men would now be subject to one set of standards through the end of this physical world. But whether the laws were given orally to the various people, or carved in stone, or revealed in the New Testament and to be taken off of the pages of God's holy Word and written on the hearts of men and women, God's standards were basically the same. Though the specifics in the way men and women entered into a covenant with God and in the way that they were to  worship Him during these three distinct eras, the basics of loving God and our fellow man have never changed.  

 

And while the way to eternal life has always been clearly revealed by our Creator, there are few places in Scripture wherein the answer to the question "How do we get to heaven?" is given so simply and yet so eloquently as it was in the 15th Psalm that we read above. What does God require? That we live the right way before Him. That we speak the truth. That we don't speak or act harmfully against our neighbor. That we understand the difference between right and wrong and as a result we hold the ones who do God's will in honor, while at the same time holding those accountable who do not live according to God's rules.

 

David, through inspiration, is revealing that God really does have standards and He really does require that we uphold and maintain them. God reveals through David's writings that there really is a right way to live and, by necessary contrast, a wrong way to live. These are such basic concepts that they  probably shouldn't have to be stated, but God knew that men would struggle with even the basics so He had them repeated often throughout each age of mankind. 

 

And the bottom line has been made very clear through every era that man has lived since the Creation: Live well and walk in obedience to God's commandments, motivated to do so by your love for both God and man, and you will do well. You will not only get to live with God now, but for all eternity. But, should we reject His ways and fail to repent of doing so in the span of this life that God has given us, then the offer of dwelling with Him will no longer be available. It's a simple and fair standard that has not changed since the beginning. 

 

The only question that remains to be answered then is "will we live by it?" For those who do will surely be in Heaven forever. It will of course be by the grace of God and the sacrifice of our loving Savior, but we have always had our part to do. The good news is that our part is quite pleasant. And as God had David reveal in the passage above, it's really not at all that complicated... it just has to be done! 

Why Do We Cheer for Our Kids?

"I see friends shaking hands, saying 'How do you do?' What they're really saying is 'I love you.'"

Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World'

Love one another deeply, from the heart.

I Peter 1:22, NIV

 

Why do we cheer so hard, for our kids? We go to basketball games, baseball games, football games, and soccer. The kids run around, half the time not even seeming to know what they are doing, yet we sit in the stands and holler for them as if they are competing in the Olympics. Why do we do that?

 

It's the graduation season and our kids are about to have their commencement ceremony. Some will "commence" to jobs, others will commence to trade schools and college, others will just commence doing whatever it is they do when they are not in school. We will go to their graduation and cheer madly when they get that little piece of paper that signifies that they are, in fact, ready to commence. Why is that?

 

We go to band concerts and awards ceremonies and school plays and we cheer and cheer and cheer again. But the same question always comes back: Why do we cheer so hard for our kids?

 

I think the simple thought contained in Louis Armstrong's wonderful song says it all. It is an extension of the Apostle Peter's inspired commandment to all people of faith. When we do these things - whenever we go out to support our kids at whatever they are doing - it is because we love them. In my small community we might even go a little overboard. While not everyone has kids to cheer for when the Friday night game arrives, the stands are still packed with those who go to cheer for those they have "adopted" for this week's game. 

 

And we do so as if it's the most important thing that is going on in the world at that time. Each yard gained is a mountain successfully climbed. Each fumble or interception our side makes is deeply mourned. Each penalty called against our side is a result of clear conspiracy by men in striped shirts who have nothing better to do than show up from other towns to persecute our babies. And each touchdown scored is an event so monumental that we just know it's memory will live through the ages with the historical significance on the level of a Presidential election or the discovery of a new land. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit. We all know that the results of an election are not nearly as important as what our teams do on the football fields each week. Sometimes I just get carried away...

 

But that's the point, isn't it? We cheer so wildly for our kids because we are so wild for them. We love them, but it would not seem fitting to stand up and yell this from the top of our lungs from the midst of the stands. So we cheer and whoop and holler for them instead. We say things like, "way to go" and "that's what I'm talking about" but what we are really saying, when we drill down deep to the core of our affections and motivations is just this: "I love you."

 

And we do so because we truly do love our kids deeply, from the heart, but sometimes it is just too awkward to say it out loud. But we do love them, deeply, and we are privileged to find any excuse to gather at any event so that we can cheer for them. And while we may not be saying the private words in the public places I think that our kids know in their hearts that we really are proud of them for everything that they do, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem to others. 

 

So we will keep on gathering together for these special events to give out our "attaboys" and "attagirls". But just like Louis Armstrong knew way back when, we too know very well now. What we are really saying is "I love you!"

Old Photographs

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Psalms 90:12, KJV

 

In my office I have an old photograph. It is of a family in the early 1900's. The husband and wife are likely in their early thirties, but look much older due to the harshness of just existing in that era. There are three girls and a boy of about two. Looking at the picture you would assume that there are four girls because the boy is clothed in a hand-me-down dress since that was the style of the day and likely all that the couple could afford. The oldest girl is clearly sad. The reason for this is that in her haste to bring out her pet potbellied pig, he wriggled our of her arms and met with an untimely fate. The fact that he would have eventually ended up as ham and bacon anyway appeared to have done little to console her.

 

The wife is the descendent of what you might refer to as American royalty. Her great-grandfather was a personal friend of George Washington, a Revolutionary War veteran, a signer of the Constitution, and the first Governor of Tennessee. But as fate would have it, she is now posing for a family picture, not from the comfortable indoors of a Governor's mansion in Tennessee, but from the outside of a dugout house in the Oklahoma and Indian Territories.

 

The husband and wife are my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, the three girls would later become my great-aunts, and the man would become known to me as Uncle Percy. I can remember going to his and my Aunt Retta's 50th wedding anniversary in Green River, Wyoming in the late 1960's.

 

While each of these individuals had their own unique life-story to tell, it is for another purpose that I wanted to talk to you about today, and that purpose is this: Though the picture is of six people who were young and had their whole lives ahead of them, most of whom were to reach the ripe old age of 80 and beyond, the fact is that all are now dead and were buried long ago. Each one, at the moment this photo was taken, was in the beginning of a life that would be filled with their own ambitions and dreams and problems and everything else that life comes fully equipped with, but each one is now long passed.

 

And while each one had their own joys and sorrows and accomplishments, the only thing that mattered to them when their life came to an end was whether or not they were saved. And that's the thing that you and I have in common with these six people.

 

At the present time we are living with the same prospects that these six had. We too have our ambitions and dreams and problems. We too have full-scheduled days that keep us occupied with our own joys and sorrows. It is a good life, for the most part, and we are truly blessed to have it. But someday, just as surely as time caught up to my six ancestors in the picture, it will eventually catch up to us as well. The wise person will ask himself, "what then?" 

 

Now, I don't want to be depressing for I believe that God wants us to enjoy life to the full. Jesus Himself pointed out that He had come into this world so that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). This life when lived right can be one filled with blessing and hope. God wants us to experience that, but He also wants us to "number our days" so that we can keep the proper perspective. I suppose that is one of the reasons I keep this old picture in my office: It helps to remind me that regardless of the fact that I feel at times that I will live on this earth forever, I am mortal. The fact that I can look at six people from a day in their life over a century ago proves it, as does the fact that a quarter of a century has passed since I first put that picture on my desk.

 

Now please don't get me wrong. I am not reluctant to get older at all (well, I do miss getting to play basketball when my knees were younger). The older I get, the more that I realize that most of my physical pursuits have not been nearly as important as they seemed at the time. The things that matter more and more to me now are the same things that mattered to the six in the picture when their time approached. Am I saved? Are those I love saved? Have I been pleasing to God?

 

The reason that God wants us to number our days is not to lesson the quality of our life - just the opposite. He wants us to be thinking of our mortality now so that we can enjoy immortality later. He has placed before each one of us the very real possibility of a long and full life, so we should enjoy that. But at the same time we need to be keeping first things first, for our mortal lives have the same purpose that our eternal lives do. We are here to serve God forever! If we can keep that perspective, I believe that our lives will be enhanced, not diminished. We are going to Heaven someday if we are prepared to do so. It will of course be the result of the grace of God and the shed blood of Christ, but we surely have our end of the bargain to uphold. And part of that is to number our days now, so that we can enjoy endless days forever.

 

Are you numbering your days? 

Saying Goodbye to Another Senior Class

Tonight was the Senior dinner, our congregation's annual party for the graduating seniors of Happy High School. It is always a bittersweet occasion, saying goodbye to kids most of whom we have known for thirteen years as they have advanced from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. This class, like most, is generously made up of talented young people who have extremely bright futures. So we are sad to see them go, but we are excited to see who they will become as they cross that threshold from school kids to real life adults. I think this class is particularly likely to excel in many areas. 

 

As I looked at the faces of these young men and women this evening, I could not help but think back to the first time I got to know most of them when they were only kindergartners. For this group, it was in Champions, a basketball skills team that showed off their incredible talents at the half time of the High School basketball games. I had the privilege of teaching them when they were little more than babies. They learned to "plant their pivot feet", dribble between their legs, and some even attempted to spin the ball on one finger. They started when they were but five years old, and most came back every year to participate on these teams until they finished 6th grade. Looking at them tonight on the brink of going out into the real world, I have to admit that it made me more than a little sad. After all, I had practically raised them from pups. Of course, their parents, teachers, and coaches helped some too.

 

I have had this particular privilege of speaking to the Senior class for some 28 years now. I have given the same speech every year but one, and that year I was told by a school board president that I needed to go back to the original talk entitled, "It's Your Turn". I am proud to admit that I stole the idea for this talk from someone much more skilled at speaking than I, and I have been pleased with the kids' response to the message each time it has been given. The gist of the talk is obviously that it is now their turn, and that they can do anything they want. Having said that, there is a path that God is pleased with and a path that disappoints Him, so they need to be careful about which path they choose during "their turn".

 

I always try to point out that they will make mistakes during their turn - welcome to the club - but that they don't have to give up and wallow in past mistakes. They are 18 years old, and life is a fresh page for each one of them. If they will do their best to live according to God's direction then they will likely have a good life. But, failing that, it will likely be one that is inferior to what they want and frankly expect of themselves. It's a good thing for all of us to think about, I believe, no matter what age we are during our own particular turn.

 

But now the time has come for me to pass the task of the annual graduation speech onto someone younger and more capable than I. I have loved the privilege of having a moment to advise these kids on things I wish I had been more serious about when I was at their stage. Even more than that, I have loved these kids, each one of them in each of these 28 classes over the years. And while I will definitely miss these opportunities to talk one last time with these kids that I started out with in grade school, I will always have the satisfaction of seeing their every growing accomplishments, as these babies have turned into men and women of character and excellence. 

 

I have had a wonderful life here in Happy, and it is in large part due to the impact these young people have had on that life. They have kept me young at heart and old in body for more years than I can keep up with. But it's their turn now, and I cannot wait to see what marvelous things these amazing men and women will accomplish in life. Congratulations, indeed, to the graduating class of 2024. May you ever keep God in your hearts, and may God go with you as you do your best to live for both the Father and the Son during your turn. I love you guys!

 

 

Can You Reason?

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse.

Romans 1:19-20, NIV

 

One of the things common to most people is that we hate it when people play dumb. By that I mean that there are things that people clearly understand or should understand, but they pretend that they don't. An example is when I worked at a restaurant and a manager told someone to wash the dishes. We might just wash one or two and when the manager got onto us we would act as if we didn't know that he wanted to wash all of them. The reason we didn't wasn't because we lacked the mental acuity to understand, we were just being stubborn and lazy.

 

Another attribute that most find unadmirable is when people are so biased on a certain topic that they refuse to look at any evidence that contradicts their opinion. These are the people who will vote for one party out of a strict and mindless devotion, regardless of the fact that they might be opposed in principle to what their guy actually stands for. Such people make lousy jurors because they have already made up their minds and cannot be shaken from their predetermined opinions despite overwhelming facts to the contrary.

 

And then there are the ones who know that they are wrong, but will still go in that direction due to peer pressure. The people that they want to be friends with and curry favor with expect them to believe and act in a certain way, so they do.

 

In all these examples we have one obvious common theme: These types of people have lost (or never developed in the first place) their ability to reason. They are the ideologues and blind devotees that will follow any wrong path without a single qualm. Don't try to use logic with them, because this is not a quality that they admire nor do they understand it. Such people will often have ill thought out prejudices and preconceived notions from which they cannot be moved. They believe that our nation's founders were all hateful colonialists who only wanted to enslave all men of different color and race from their own. They believe that the problems with society are not caused by sinful activities, but by those who call such activities sin.

 

And they believe that the world was formed by a series of random, cosmic accidents, explosions of eternal gasses, and that we all came from primordial "ooze" that evolved into everything from slimy slugs, redwood trees, and intelligent mankind. They certainly don't believe in anything as immature and superstitious as an eternal God, intelligent design, and an expectation by that Creator for His creation to act in a moral and just way. And why do they believe in an eternal gas but not in the eternal God? It's because they have lost the ability to reason.

 

In short, they are playing dumb. And while this type of playacting might win them influential friends, get their political candidates elected despite their obvious feebleness of mind, make them feel superior to the "fools" who came before them, and perhaps even get them hired at major universities, they are still without excuse. Furthermore, they will someday answer for their unreasoned prejudices and their mindless following of the popular crowds, if they do not change.

 

The sobering thing for us is that we too have found ourselves in that very position. There have been times that our preconceived ideas have convicted the innocent, that our blind devotions have created terrible problems, and that our playing dumb has left important work undone. And, if we will admit it, there have been too many times that we have failed to believe important things about God and His way for no other reason than we have been to lazy or stubborn to see the truth.

 

This is why it is so important for us to read the Word of God and to do what it says. If we fail to do this we can attempt to plead ignorance on that Final Day, but God has already told us in advance that a failure to correctly reason with the fine mind He has given us will render us without excuse.

 

So, what is the solution? How can we prevent ourselves from being without excuse someday? The answer is obvious, isn't it? We can begin to seek His will through His Word and then we can begin to employ that seemingly long lost art of reason. And, I think you will agree, this old world needs men and women of reason if it is to ever become something that is pleasing in the sight of our Lord.