Have you ever heard that saying, “Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die?” In the last couple of years we’ve lost 5 family members and none of them were really looking forward to dying, though two of them had lived for God and were ready for that transition from earth living to living in heaven. The other three? I pray for them as they await their day when “…we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10).”
You know, it’s easy to die and go to, somewhere–people are doing it everyday– but the challenge is to live for God and then go to heaven so that when you are asked to give an account of why you should be allowed in you have a sort of good answer. Living for God is a price not many are wanting to pay. And in my thinking it’s well worth the price. After all, if you aren’t going to die and go to heaven, where exactly are you going to go after you die? There aren’t any choices that compare to heaven.
This whole business of our salvation goes way back to the time of Moses in Egypt and the bringing out of Israel from within that country. Egypt wasn’t that bad a place to live, though being a slave isn’t really what you want to be. At least in Egypt they got 3 meals a day and job security–might have even included health care. Trouble is, Egypt was to the Israelites as the “world” is to Christians. God called the Israelites to leave so they could go to a place far better, but it cost them their security, homes, jobs–everything–to obey Him. That call from God to Christians is no less. Sure, salvation is free–“for by grace are you saved… .” Yet Jesus told us that to follow Him–to be taken out of Egypt (the world)–we must be willing to give up our lives, take up Jesus’ cross, and follow Him. That will cost you a ton. Jesus took up His cross to do the Father’s will and it cost Him His reputation, security, job and eventually His life. Still think it’s free? Let’s look at what it cost Peter.
Remember when Jesus asked the disciples who people were saying He was and Peter said, “You are the Christ, the son of God.” Jesus said “Way to go, Peter, you are getting it (paraphrased obviously).” Then a few verses later Jesus was telling the apostles that He was going to be crucified and such and Peter said, “No way, that won’t happen to you.” Then Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan… .” Evidently Peter was having problems with his faith so Jesus led Him to a more complete understanding, though it cost Peter dearly. He led Peter up to the Garden and told him to pray, and he went to sleep. Oops. Then when the soldiers came and arrested him, Peter got brave and whacked a slave with his sword and Jesus told him to put the sword away–that wasn’t the way to fulfill God’s will. Oops again. Then Jesus led Peter to the campfire where he was challenged by a servant girl about knowing Jesus and Peter denied it three times. Double oops again. Can you imagine the shame and guilt Peter must have felt for the next few days? Jesus was dead and the last thing Peter did with Him was to deny Him. Later on we find Peter at the lakeshore fishing when Jesus came along and bid him to come in from fishing and have some breakfast. It was here Jesus restored Peter in his faith by asking him three times if he really loved Him. From there Jesus led Peter and the others to the upper room where they all received the Holy Spirit and began in earnest their lives of service in missionary work. Do you see how Peter was being transformed? It cost him his self-confidence, his strength to get things done (remember the sword), his pride about being the smart one who knew who Jesus was (Get behind me, Satan) and in the end it cost him his life when he was martyred by being crucified upside down.
I’m certain we are called to be the same kind of person Peter was. So there’s the challenge. What do I have to do to be like Peter? I don’t even own a sword. The easy answer, though not easily done, is to empty out all the Bob stuff that has been and is being tainted by the passions of my self-styled living plan. How do I do that? Not easily, that’s for sure. It starts by remembering where I came from. In 1971 I was living in Encinitas, California hanging out with my friends, getting wasted by night and surfing as much as possible by day while trying to work out my “spiritual” path through eastern religious thought. Our Father drew me to Christ and somehow, by grace obviously, I knew to open my heart up to the knocking of Jesus Who wanted in. I was living in sin, sinning with great fervor and purpose and, still, Jesus died for me so I could be freed. The process continues in remembering Jesus throughout the day, every waking moment of the day remembering how great a love He has for me (and you!). Remembering that heaven is more real, which I can’t see, than this earth with all its pleasures and distractions that I can see. When there’s a choice to make, I must make it in light of Jesus and what would please Him.
Growing in this relationship takes time and sacrifice. Am I willing? I say I am. Do I do it all the time? Oops, can’t say I do. So what’s the problem? Me. I’m the problem. Paul had it too, this problem–wanting to do what is right and then doing what is not right (Romans 7, remember?). I change by going back to 1971, seeing how much God loved and loves me, and taking hold of that old zeal and reconnecting with it. I do that through Christ, of course. He wants that too. He wants me to be His because He knows that when I do that my life works so much better. So He gave me the Holy Spirit as He did Peter and says, “Live in the Spirit and you won’t fulfill the desires of self-want” (another paraphrase). When Paul challenged Peter for being a bit hypocritical Peter didn’t fold up and quit–He must have repented and walked on because we know how well He finished the race to apprehend Him Who apprehended us. Don’t quit. That’s my motto for now. I used to like to borrow the Nike one of “Just do it,” and I guess it could mean about the same thing, but I’ve seen so many of my friends who once followed after God single-mindedly who still got distracted along the way and gave up the race. Don’t quit. You there–don’t quit. Renew that first love. Take long times of togetherness with just you and Jesus and talk to Him about your life and how it’s going. Don’t you think He wants you to succeed? I know He does. You know what else He wants? He wants you to do this with your brothers and sisters in church. We need one another. Let me quote a page out of a book written by a dear friend of mine who is now pastoring a church in New Zealand (yea, I’m envious too):
1) Remember Who He is. Think about the fact that He is the one who made your entire universe. A famous preacher was very nervous when he was young and so each evening before he went to the pulpit he would step out into the darkness and look up at the night sky, “Lord,” he would say as he surveyed the stars, “if you can hold them up, you can uphold me.”
2) Remember what He has done. Think of the mighty love He has already demonstrated at the cross and remind yourself–it was you He loved. Think of the empty tomb. This One you serve and Who wants you to “walk in Him” has done what no one else ever did, or could do–He conquered death! We sometimes talk about people who “cheated death”–people who apparently ought to have died but didn’t. That’s not Jesus. He died! He didn’t beat death, He whipped it.
3) Remember what He has promised. He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And there will never be a moment or an experience in your life when Jesus is not there with you in it. He has said that His strength is made perfect in weakness and is adequate for every eventuality. He has said that He will never allow you to be tempted beyond your powers of endurance. He has said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms–I go to prepare a place for you…and will come and take you home with me.”
4) Remember where He is. Seated on the Throne of God, He is the forever Lord of Lords. Enthroned in your heart He is the indwelling life of your life, the One Who is able to strengthen you with might in the inner man, the breath of your breath the source of all true joy and the giver of every good and perfect gift. “Your sins are forgiven. Arise and walk (Matthew 9:5).”
Don’t quit! The man who wrote those 4 points is Duncan Leighton and the book is WALKING WITH GOD, The Journey of a Life Time. He writes under the name of A.B. Lever. In “British” English “Lever” rhymes with “Cleaver.” Get it, A Believer. Ha. A.B Lever. Anyway, if you want the book I think it is on Amazon. I like it and it’s encouraging me to go back to the beginning and keep on remembering all God has done, is doing and will do for me. I pray you will join me in this life-long walk.