Do All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“You must be born again”  John 3:7

Years ago, down in the South, two children were going at it on the grassy front yard; yelling, scratching and pulling hair. After several minutes of this mayhem, the front door opened and their mother called to them in a melodious, magnolia-infused voice, “Y’all play sweet now.”

Many people seem to think that this scenario represents God’s attitude toward us. After all, He wouldn’t want to offend or insult any of His creations would He? Or would He?

“God helps those who help themselves” is one quote attributed to God which, if followed, makes us equal partners with God. We work hard at helping ourselves and God comes along to give us a reward and a pat on the back. God becomes our buddy, our helper, who is anxious that we should have whatever we want. This idea of God is non-threatening and easy to get along with. After all, God is love! Right?

John 3:16  For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.

“Familiarity breeds contempt” is an old quote not heard much anymore. However, it speaks truth to most relationship situations. For example, when we read the Bible verse, John 3:16 over and over, year in and year out the words lose their power. We become contemptuous of what God is saying through this easily spoken series of words: “God loved the world so much he gave his only Son, so if we believe in him we won’t die!” Cool.

If all roads lead to God then why in the world would God have given His only Son to die for all people everywhere? What would be the point of such a drastic measure if every religious belief system leads people to God?

Consider the harsh reality of the words in John 3:16—He gave his only Son. Gave his only son? Did God give Jesus something? How serious is this? If you know history at all then you probably know that Jesus was falsely arrested, beaten nearly to death and then forced to drag his own cross through the streets—to the place of his death—where nails were driven through his hands and feet, attaching him to the cross. Yes, large spikes driven through his already torn, bloody and ripped flesh. A sledge hammer was used to pound the spikes through his hands and feet. This represents God’s love!

Because the world is so familiar with those words, “God loved the world so much…” we have come to a place of treating them with little respect or comprehension. God loves you and I so much that He put the sins of all the world on His only Son, Jesus. Jesus became sin for you and me. My sins are forgiven when I understand that Jesus died for them. Truly beyond our human understanding. However, I have faith that it happened. And my faith has transformed my life…both now and forever.

So, is God our buddy who is not really too worried about what road we take to heaven? Not really. Why would God bring Christ to the world to die as a sacrifice for sins and then casually say, “Hey, don’t worry about your faith or belief. It’s all good.”

All roads do not lead to the same destination. Neither in this world or the next.

Matthew 7:13-14  Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate! The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way. But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.

Acts 4:12  Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.

John 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Ephesians 2:8-10  Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.

Romans 10:9-10, 13  For if you tell others with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is your Lord and believe in your own heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in his heart that a man becomes right with God; and with his mouth he tells others of his faith, confirming his salvation. Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

So then, do all roads lead to heaven? No! However, God has done everything possible, including the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, to provide a way for us to spend eternity with Him. Faith in Christ brings forgiveness and eternal life.

Hope Springs Eternal

Sitting in their third-floor apartment, the couple dreaded what awaited in the mailbox below. Either a check sent from a friend in California, or the reality of an eviction. They were befuddled and discouraged. Neither had jobs yet but knew in their hearts that God had given them the stamp of approval to move to Oregon. 

 Their friends were mostly perplexed when they said, “No, we don’t have jobs and don’t know yet where we will live, but God has promised us that He will provide all our needs. Just like He told Abram to move to a land that He would show him, He has said the same to us.” And now what of their former testimony? What will their friends think of God who they said would be their provider?  

Well, it was time to face the mailbox, to see if God chose to provide through a restaurant owner in California. He was too agitated to go so she trekked downstairs alone. As soon as she entered the apartment, he knew the check had not arrived. His final hope flew out the window. He was crushed. Devastated. Discouraged. She hated to see her husband like this. Her normally upbeat, encouraging, man of faith was sitting head-in-hands on the couch, lifeless.  

Shaking his head back and forth, he muttered, “What will we do now? What happened to God’s promises, His provision?” And then it happened, slowly his head raised up, his eyes focused and he said, “I’ve got to remind myself of Gods promises to us. What does His word say about who we are, who He is in our lives, and that He will provide for us. I must come against this feeling of failure and discouragement and take courage from God’s words to us. Oh, forgive me Lord. Let me remind myself of your precious promises that never fail or fall short.”  

And that was it. He leaped off the couch, headed for his bookshelf and took his Bible to the dining room table. And there he sat until he was washed from head to toe with God’s never-failing promises and words of encouragement. And some of them that spoke to his heart were as follows:  

And by the time the rent was due again, his wife was employed. And another month later, he was starting a new job too. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1 

What Is God’s Will?

 “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” ~Mark 3:35 

Many Christians spend countless hours on their knees, begging God for an idea as to His will for their lives. Thousands of sermons have been preached, books written and website columns produced, advising believers of the 10 best steps to finding His will (often there is a fee for the book or website subscription).  

Considering the extreme measure God has taken for our forgiveness and eternal salvation (death, burial and resurrection of Jesus), is it reasonable to think He would hide His will for our lives? Would God take a perverse pleasure in watching us grovel around begging Him to reveal His purpose and direction instead of joyfully directing our lives to follow a path He alone has created just for us? No secret password needed fellow Christians, God reveals aspects of His will sprinkled throughout the Bible—His love letter to us.  

Just as a building needs a foundation for support, God has provided the necessary spiritual support to guide us into the understanding of His will. He gave us the Holy Spirit.  

John 14:16-17, 26  ~And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.  

John 14:26  ~But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. 

1 John 2:27  ~You have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ. 

Romans 12:1-2  ~And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  ~Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 

Colossians 1:9-10  ~So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 

So you see, God has provided everything we need to hear His voice, and live according to His will. Romans establishes steps that open the door for the realization of His will in our lives: 

1. Give our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice which is true worship. 

2. Don’t copy the world (be separate). 

3. Let God transform our thoughts which gives birth to the understanding of His good and pleasing and perfect will for our lives. 

I call out to God, “Oh God, show me your perfect will for my life.” 

God replies, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances!” 

2020 Recap!

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

I’m not one for writing an Annual Letter. So this is not one. Rather it is an end of year journal entry of sorts. As Leann works diligently in the kitchen, preparing her special magic cookie bars (she does not like the descriptive name, magic) for friends and neighbors, I am sitting at one of our portable tables in the living room, listening to Ottmar Liebert’s, Poets and Angels © 1990 album. Ottmar plays the acoustic guitar.

He is playing O Holy Night now: “Oh, night divine, Oh, night when Christ Was born. Christ is the Lord! Oh, praise His name forever; His power and glory evermore proclaim!”

According to the seemingly endless stream of news and information available, we’ve had a challenging, life-altering 2020 replete with natural and viral disasters. We are running out of money, hope, reason and solutions. Life seems to suck at this point since the formidable Pandemic has quarantined us with masks and social distancing.

“Masks don’t work. All we are doing is breathing the same air in and out. We are suffocating ourselves,” some say.

“Masks are essential to preventing the spread of this virus. Anyone caught without a mask will be punished for not caring about their fellow man (or woman),” say others.

In addition to Covid, our summer brought raging wildfires across much of the West. And wild those flames became, consuming homes in record fashion, deterred by nothing designed to help. Caravans of families climbed into  cars and trucks filled with special memories and headed for safe havens as the flames intensified. and overpowering clouds of smoke filled the air, attacking our respiratory systems. Oh God, help us. We cannot last in this calamity. Is this the end times God? Are these our final days?

As it turned out, these were not the Biblical final days for all mankind. Perhaps a foretaste. Certainly worse than many of us anticipated. As the warnings grew more urgent and threat levels reached evacuation stages, we found ourselves overcoming our fear and grabbing a few worldly possessions and jamming them into the car after we called a friend who had space for us outside the danger area. 

Driving away from our home brought temporary relief and hope. Silent prayers were constant in my mind. And then I had a strange thought. What if God is not sending a rescue ship to whisk us away to a better place where the sun is shining, the air is pure and flowers abound. What if this becomes a more serious trial and greater tribulation which brings us to the brink of death? Will I praise God for this? Will I proclaim how wonderful my Savior is in the midst of total destruction? After five days, the calamity lessened, so I am not sure what I would have done. As the days passed, I prayed for strength to undergo whatever trial He set before me. I really meant it.

Time passed. Life slowly resumed as before the fires. With one major exception: Coronavirus! Otherwise known as COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease of 2019.

Raging fires. Worldwide pandemic. Financial ruin. Businesses forcefully closed. Schools are closed. Wearing masks mandatory and an increase in thoughts of suicide. The government has newfound powers to control life.

“Since the coronavirus arrived, depression and anxiety in America have become rampant. Federal surveys show that 40 percent of Americans are now grappling with at least one mental health or drug-related problem. But young adults have been hit harder than any other age group, with 75 percent struggling.” (The Washington Post).

Is there any hope at all? The answer seems to be a resounding, NO! Not really. But that is not true. Hope is as close as your heart calling out to God: “Lord please save my soul. I am lost, confused, frightened and full of fear.” What does the Bible have to say about our hope?

Romans 8:31-39  “If God is for us, who can be against us? Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.”

In case we’ve allowed fear of fire, financial ruin, and covid to send us into a downward spiral of depression, remember these verses, these promises of God that He will always be with us and absolutely nothing can separate us from Him.

Isaiah 41:10  Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.

Weakness!

“I am glad to boast about my weaknesses!” Apostle Paul

Apostle Paul: “Three times I begged the Lord to take (his thorn in the flesh) away. Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT 

Rediscovering this section of scripture this morning pierced my heart! Re-reading these words of Paul also reminds me of the incredible patience and mercy of the Lord. He knows how much patience and mercy are necessary in my life daily. Thank you, Lord.

How can I show strength in weakness, Lord? I ask. A man needs to be strong to face the world and its hardships and obstacles. Men have to show strength as an example to those they lead; their families and children. Men stand with shoulders squared, heads up and eyes fixed on the prize, the future, their success. It seems to me that weakness has no place in a man’s life.  

Then slowly, as a distant light becomes evident after a long, dark tunnel, I  realized that God’s weakness is not the same as man’s; that His weakness is stronger than man’s strength. And, finally—God’s weakness, the weakness described and displayed by the Apostle Paul, is far removed from the image we conjure up. 

2 Corinthians 13:4  “Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power.”

2 Corinthians 6:4. “In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.”

Philippians 4:11-13 “ I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

The Apostle Paul learned an important secret; and that is trusting that God will provide as He sees fit. Paul learned how to be content with any circumstance. As we read Paul’s description of depending on God for everything, we may bristle a little at the idea of not taking care of everything ourselves. But how can we demonstrate our faith in the Lord, appearing weak to onlookers, without trusting in Christ? 

“The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” ~George Muller

Covid Christmas

Luke 2:9-12 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the  glory of the Lord shone around them; and they… | A christmas story, Lds  art, Bible pictures

“She wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough” Luke 2:7

This will be the world’s first Covid Christmas. Instead of families driving and flying across the land to spend a precious weekend or week together, sharing those special moments around the table that is laden with bowls and platters of all our favorite foods, we shall be limited to another couple or, depending on your state, a maximum of seven people.

It’s not fair, we think, after all, it’s our own family and we wear masks and keep social distances. The fear of spreading this virus has ruined the most special time of the year. 

But has it? Has it really? Or are we like a child, pouting because we can’t get our way?

Although not every family celebrates the birth of Christ as the central focus of Christmas, any family considers this a special, loving, hopeful time of year. An opportunity to come together with friends and family. For some, a time to take food to others less fortunate, sharing delicious plates and bowls of nourishment in the name of love; the name of Christ.

The actual birth of Christ seems to have been less than festive with less than perfect circumstances. God decided His Son, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, should be born in a stable, in a feeding trough, in anonymity. And, in keeping with God’s often mysterious ways, He sent an angel to announce Christ’s birth to a few shepherds out in a field. 

Imagine, if you will, a few isolated men, watching over their flocks, accustomed to a solitary existence, perhaps sitting around a fire cooking dinner when this happened, “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified!”

Scared out of their wits, they hear the angel say, “Don’t be afraid, for I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

As the shepherds are processing what the angel said, God dazzles them further, “Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!

These men had never seen such a magnificent display of God’s power and yet, judging by their response, it seems they had processed this astonishing event well.

“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.

“They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby lying in the manger. After seeing him the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” ~Luke, Chapter 2

Today, more than 2,000 years after Christ’s birth, God is still speaking to His followers and giving us encouragement, even if it is anonymously out in a field somewhere. Covid has changed most of the world but cannot alter our faith in Christ the Savior. Let us celebrate His birth this Christmas.

A Child Is Born

“A child is born to us, a son is given to us”  Isaiah 9:6 

Amidst the various Christmas decorations we see popping up each year stand a variety of what we call Nativity or Manger scenes representing the birth of Christ. These range in size from tabletop to life size. Some even have what are called, Living Nativity scenes with people dressed in costume representing that singular moment in history. 

And what is the impact of seeing these scenes year after year after year? Perhaps we have come to see these reminders as ordinary, routine, a bit of tradition. There is an old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt!” Contempt may be too strong a word for our feelings but routine would surely fit. As we dust off our manger figurines and place them carefully on the table or shelf, are we stirred by the Spirit of God? Are we moved to worship Christ the Lord?  

When Jesus was born, it was a time of Kings and mighty rulers wielding their power for good or evil. Surely God would bring the Messiah from the loins of one such mighty man. He would be born to Royalty; a prince, a handsome, strong child, bred in the manner and customs of the Jewish people. 

In keeping with His own creative ideas, Almighty God selected a virgin to bear His Son; an unthinkable idea, beyond human understanding. And so it was…beginning with Mary’s impregnation, every step of the way for Jesus, our Lord, was unique. Born in a manger instead of a magnificent palatial bedroom on silken sheets surrounded by servants. An ordinary baby born to ordinary parents, or so it seemed. 

No palace with pomp and circumstance for Jesus, verifying his standing as Messiah. God instead chose humble circumstances to represent His love for all of us, dramatically pronouncing the Savior’s birth to innocuous shepherds away from all notice. These men had ringside seats to a spectacular, glorious, radiant angelic announcement of The Savior’s birth which included the armies of heaven praising God. Out in the fields, away from notice, God demonstrates His awesome power, proclaiming the most important birth in the history of our world to a few solitary shepherds.  

Isaiah 7:14  “The virgin  will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” 

Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor,  Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. 
“He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David  for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the  Lord  of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” 

About 800 years after Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in a manner not at all in keeping with how we think the Savior of all mankind should be born.

Matthew 1:18-25  “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement  quietly. 

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus*,  for he will save his people from their sins.” *[The Lord Saves]

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet*: 

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child. She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” *Isaiah 7:14

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.  But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” 

Luke 2:1-20  “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. 

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,  but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” 

This year, as we read and remember what God has set in place through the extraordinary yet humble birth of His only Son, Jesus Christ, let’s take time to imagine how we might have reacted to this astonishing event and then thank our Heavenly Father for paving the way to unmerited forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe. 

Revelation

Revelation 19:1-10

The Living Bible

After this I heard the shouting of a vast crowd in heaven, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Salvation is from our God. Honor and authority belong to him alone; for his judgments are just and true.

Then I heard again what sounded like the shouting of a huge crowd, or like the waves of a hundred oceans crashing on the shore, or like the mighty rolling of great thunder, “Praise the Lord. For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice and honor him; for the time has come for the wedding banquet of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. She is permitted to wear the cleanest and whitest and finest of linens.” (Fine linen represents the good deeds done by the people of God.)

And the angel dictated this sentence to me: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “God himself has stated this.”*

Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No! Don’t! For I am a servant of God just as you are, and as your brother Christians are, who testify of their faith in Jesus. Worship God. The purpose of all prophecy and of all I have shown you is to tell about Jesus.”[a]

  1. Revelation 19:10 The purpose of all prophecy . . . is to tell about Jesus, literally, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

Glory to God!

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) | Courageous Christian Father

Soli Deo gloria is a Latin term for Glory to God alone. It has been used by artists like Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Christoph Graupner to signify that the work was produced for the sake of praising God. … Christians are to be motivated and inspired by God’s glory and not their own.