God

Distorting the Gospel

cross

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8

As you read through these three verses, the thing that immediately stands out if you are familiar with Paul’s writings in his other letters is the firmness with which Paul is writing. Paul is not coming to the Galatians with a gentle rebuke. Paul is upset, and it shows.

Usually Paul would open his letters with some form of thanksgiving to those whom he was writing. But there is no such thanksgiving found in this letter. Paul gets right down to business.

As Paul writes this letter he is a lot like a parent whose child has gone off track or has gone astray. Many of us have children. Have your kids ever done something wrong, and honestly done something so stupid that you were just flabbergasted by it?

I know I’ve looked at my kids many times and just been dumbfounded as to why they would do something like that. They know better! I’ve taught them better than that! And that is sort of what Paul is saying here. Paul is saying, “I can’t believe you! Why would you do this? You know better!”

And why is Paul so upset? These believers were turning away from the true Gospel.

For those of us who have young children, if one of our kids were to take off running towards the road we wouldn’t gently call them back. No, we are going to raise our voices. We are going to yell at the top of our lungs for them to come back. We are willing to do anything, to say anything to keep our children safe and secure. Our child’s safety is a matter of life and death. And so is the Gospel…

This is Paul’s heart as he writes these verses.

In these verses Paul is astonished, he is angry, and he is grieved. It is clear that Paul has the heart of a Pastor. Paul is grieved that the Galatian believers would so quickly turn from the Gospel of grace that he has preached to them, in order to follow those who would distort the Gospel of Christ.

And friends I can so identify with Paul here.

Nothing grieves me more as a pastor, than seeing sweet people who have a real and sincere desire to follow God end up under teaching that distorts the biblical Gospel.

As we talk about this thought of distorting the Gospel, let’s look at some ways in which the Gospel gets distorted in our day. As we will see, this happens in both subtle and non-subtle ways.

First, there is this idea that many Christians have, or they have been taught that, yes they are saved through their surrender to Christ, but THEN they also have to have the right beliefs or the right behaviors to go along with this surrender.

This sounds almost right. And you might be hearing that and say, “Well, I don’t see the problem.” And I’ll give it to you, this is almost the gospel…but, almost the gospel isn’t the Gospel.

There are also times we will hear folks say, or challenge us to “give your life to Jesus” or “ask Jesus into your heart or life” and then we will be saved. Again, this sounds biblical. But here is the problem. When we say things in this way, or believe that this is the order in which things happen, we miss the fact that it is “grace first.” Here is what I mean.

You aren’t saved by your strong belief in God, or even our level of trust in God. Your level of faith or the strength of your faith isn’t the measure of whether or not you are saved. You don’t need to manufacture strong feelings or desire for God in order to feel secure in your standing with God.

Here’s the key. You aren’t saved BY your faith. You are saved THROUGH faith. If we think we are saved “BY” our faith then that means we are making our performance our savior. But when we understand that we are saved “THROUGH” faith, we make it clear that Christ is our Savior.

The Gospel is also sometimes distorted by those that teach it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are a “good” person. (As if there was such a thing. We may be good compared to other people, but compared to a Holy and perfectly righteous God whose standard is complete holiness, we fall quite short)

Now on some level this sounds good. I think a lot of us would like to believe that everyone who is a good person was saved. We all probably know some folks who we would call “good people”, yet they don’t know Christ. It grieves us to think that perhaps these people if they don’t come to know Christ may end up in hell. So, I think a lot of us probably wish that we could be saved simply by being good.

But the problem is, it’s simply not the case. The Bible is clear that we are saved by Christ and Christ alone.

Again, this way of thinking that we can be saved by doing good works, is simply not true. If it were true that we could be saved based on our own goodness then Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die. There would have been no need for the cross. But hopefully we all know that we were in desperate need of the cross. We needed to be rescued, for apart from Christ we have no hope.

But not only would this teaching mean that Christ died for no reason, but what does it say about “bad” people? If “good” people can be saved, where does that leave bad people? I guess it damns them all to hell, with little or no chance of redemption.

But this clearly contradicts Scripture and even Jesus himself, most notably Matthew 9:10-13. Jesus tells us in those verses that He didn’t come for “good” people. Jesus says that He didn’t come to call “righteous” people. Jesus came for sinners, and he came to save sinners. Sinners like you and me!

So trusting in our own works completely misses and distorts the Bible.

There are also those who would tell you, (both professing believers and even unbelievers) if you were to ask them about heaven or how they get there, they would say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”

But friends, being sincere won’t get you saved. I have a friend who is very sincere that she doesn’t need to believe in Jesus to be saved. But she’s just as lost as she can be. A runner can be very sincere about wanting to win a race. But if he goes the wrong way he’s never going to get to where he needs to be. You have to know the way, and Jesus and Jesus alone is the way. Sincerity isn’t enough. Only Jesus is enough.

There is also another way that the Gospel gets distorted, and I think this is probably the one that most of us are familiar with. There are a lot of churches that are very intolerant of small differences, or what I would call secondary (non-essential) beliefs.

I’ve seen this in some churches who say you can only use a particular Bible translation. Some churches say you can have to dress a certain way, or you have to have your hair a certain length. Other churches elevate certain spiritual gifts to the point of making them a condition of salvation, or perhaps maybe a higher level of salvation…

But the problem is, none of these things are in the Bible. So what these folks are doing is adding to what the Word of God says. They are being more strict about certain issues than God himself is, which I think is a problem. We must be very careful not to speak where God hasn’t, or to shout when God has only whispered. We must put emphasis where God has put emphasis, not where it suits our fancies.

As believers our emphasis must always be on the “gospel of Christ” that the Apostle Paul spoke of. This is the one and only Gospel we see taught in the Bible, and we must be very careful to neither add to it nor to take away from it. We must never, ever, lose sight of this Gospel or the Jesus it points us to.

The God Who Mourns

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One thing my family and I try to do is have a time of family worship in which we spend some time reading and talking about the Bible, and praying. Normally my kids love this time we spend together, and love hearing about Jesus and what God has to say to us through His Word.

Recently however, my 4 year old daughter didn’t want to have Bible Study. She wanted to play with her older sister. Even though I told her we were going to talk about Jesus, and how it was so important because Jesus loves us, she still wanted no part of our worship time. Even though I told her that the Bible tells us all about God, and how we can love God better, at that moment she had zero interest in hearing what the Bible had to say. (This sounds a lot like some adults I know also.)

After several minutes of me trying to encourage my daughter to join us, she finally got frustrated and blurted out, “I don’t like Jesus! I don’t want Him! I don’t want to know about God!”

Now, I understand that she is 4 years old and she really doesn’t understand what she is saying. I understand that she doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand that when we read the Bible, and read about Jesus, and when we choose to receive it as truth or reject it…there are eternal consequences. But nevertheless, when she blurted out those words, I was crushed. My feelings were hurt, and my heart agonized hearing such harsh words come from the lips of my little girl.

Her words got me to thinking though. If those words crushed me – If hearing the voice of my little girl reject Jesus and the things of God affect me so powerfully – How much more does it hurt the heart of God when He is rejected?

How it must pain Him when He hears people say they don’t want Him. How it must cause Him to mourn when people reject His Word. How it must grieve the heart of God when He sees people turn away from His Son Jesus, and the salvation that He brings. Sadly, there are times when even those who profess to love Him still choose to reject Him…either with their lips, or with their actions.

Now, this idea of God mourning over the words or the actions of people may strike some as odd. God is sovereign, He has perfect foreknowledge…so, does God really grieve over the actions of men, or how they choose to respond to Him and His love? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “Yes!”

Colossians tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (1:15) This means that if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Jesus Himself says this exact thing in John 14:9. Jesus was God in human flesh, and perfectly reveals God and His character and personality to us. This being true, if we want to know how God feels about something, or how He would react to a particular scenario…all we have to do is look to Jesus.

So, how did Jesus respond to being rejected? He wept and He mourned. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says of Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 19:41 tells us that when Jesus drew near and saw the city, “…he wept over it.”

I don’t know about you the reader, but as I read these words and think about the heart of God, I am amazed. To think that God loves us so much and longs to bring us to Himself is amazing. To think that God grieves when we choose to reject Him with either our words or our actions, is a powerful thought.

Friends, God loves you. God longs to be with you. We know this because He sent His Son Jesus to tell us so. God loves you and longs to be with you so much, that He sent Jesus to the cross to make it possible. Jesus took upon Himself your sin, and my sin, so that we could be forgiven and no longer separated from Him. There is no questioning the love of God for His people, or His desire to be with us. The only question is…how will you respond to His love?

My prayer is that none of us would foolishly echo the words of my young daughter. She spoke out of youthful ignorance. If you are reading these words, you don’t have that excuse. Jesus loves you, I pray that you will love Him back. Jesus wants you, I pray that you want Him as well. God knows all about you, do you have the desire to know Him? I hope that you do.

Dear reader, don’t grieve the heart of God by rejecting so great a love. Run to Him. Desire more of Him. Learn all you can about Him, learn how to love Him better, and rest in His precious saving grace.

All Scripture

Bible

 

Let’s be honest. When most of us open our Bibles to read, there are some books, some passages, and some verses we like and read more than others. More times than not, I would bet we spend most of our time in the New Testament. If we do spend time in the Old Testament, we probably read the Psalms or maybe Proverbs. Those books are very poetic, and contain such practical wisdom! Who wouldn’t love reading them?

Now, if I were to ask us why we read the New Testament more than the Old, we would probably say something like, “Well, that’s where Jesus is,” or, “Well, I like to read about the Gospel…and the New Testament is where we read all about the Gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Just to illustrate this point, friend of mine told me recently about visiting a church, and a pastor glanced at the Bible that was on the table in the sanctuary – which was opened to and Old Testament passage – and the minister said something like, “I don’t know why the Bible is opened to that book, this is a NEW TESTAMENT Church!”

Now, most of us probably wouldn’t be so blunt…but I have a feeling, that even if we wouldn’t verbalize things quite that way, I think practically in our personal study of the Scriptures, that’s how we approach the Bible.

Take for instance a book like Leviticus. Most of us probably wouldn’t associate the book of Leviticus with the Gospel. Leviticus is one of the five books of Moses that we call the Law. Normally when we start our yearly Bible reading plans, IF we start a yearly Bible reading plan, or if we’ve ever attempted to read through the bible in its entirety…I would imagine that more times than not, Leviticus is the book that we end up getting bogged down in.

And there are probably many reasons for that. As you read through the book you’ll find that basically the entire book is instructions in regards to the various offerings and sacrifices that the people were supposed to offer to God.

In this book we see Moses talking about burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings…and on and on it goes. So, as we read through this book, it can be quite easy to get a bit bored (Let’s just say it)…especially because as we read through this book, we really don’t see how it applies to us.

We don’t have to offer these types of offerings. We are no longer bound by the Law. We don’t have to offer sacrifices. We are now under the new covenant, we have Jesus…so, the question we probably bring to the Bible as we read through a book like Leviticus, is “Why in the world should I read this? What the heck does this have to do with me?”

I would love to take the time to tell us all about how these various offerings and sacrifices all point us to Jesus and see His Gospel, but for now time doesn’t allow.

But, let me say first and foremost, the reason we should read a book like Leviticus in particular, and the Old Testament in general…is because it’s the Word of God. And as the inspired, God breathed Word of God, it ought to be important to us!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that, “ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

These words by Paul, do not simply apply to the New Testament, though they do…but we have to remember, that when many of the Apostles and their associates were writing their letters and going around from town to town preaching the Gospel and planting churches…the New Testament as we have it didn’t exist. They, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit were in the process of writing it and putting it together.

But yet, we see God working powerfully through their preaching. And what Scripture were they primarily teaching and preaching, and appealing to in order to make their case that Jesus was the Messiah? It was the Old Testament!

Jesus did the same thing as he preached…When Jesus first began his ministry, we read in Luke 4:17-21 how Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, and told them that the Scriptures were fulfilled in Him. But maybe even more clearly, look at Luke 24:25-27:

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses (which no doubt includes the book of Leviticus) and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

So, when Jesus was preaching Jesus, what did he do? He went back to the Old Testament and he preached the Scriptures.

My point is this, the Sacred Scriptures for the Christian doesn’t start in the New Testament with the book of Matthew. But Jesus himself tells us over and over again that the entirety of the Bible, including the Old Testament and the books of the Law are about Him. There is not a book in the Old Testament (Or the New) that we can’t see Jesus, teach Jesus, preach Jesus, and glory in the Gospel, because the entirety of the Old Testament was written to testify to the Jesus that is beautifully revealed to us in the New Testament.

 

Life’s Big Question

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Animals die. People die. This is a certainty. Death is inevitable. It happens to us all. This reality should cause us all to ask a very important question, and I think for most of us it does. This is also the question that King Solomon was asking in Ecclesiastes 3:21-22. Solomon asks, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?”

Solomon is asking the question here: Is there life after death? He said, who knows? And like I said, this is a question I think that we all deal with at one time or another in one way or another. It’s a question that most people have.

The inevitability of death is one thing. But here is the real kicker – and if you don’t believe me just read the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes – if this life is all there is, then life IS meaningless. And if this life is all there is, and if life is meaningless, then we all should despair, because that is a terrifying thought.

BUT, if there is life after death, then everything changes doesn’t it? That’s the game changer!

Solomon wants the answer to this most important question, he asks, “Who can know?” And it is true, in one sense, that there is a limit to what we can know about what happens after we die. Yes, we can hear stories or read books about folks who have had near death experiences, but still, there isn’t anyone who has ever been dead for a long period of time, and then came back and told us what the after-life is all about. We have no truly first-hand accounts of all of the details….

Still, we want them! And that’s why books about people going to heaven, and their tales (and I would say tall tales) are so popular to people. Because we want the details about what happens when we die. We want to know what we can expect. Because the unknown is scary. But in and of ourselves, our knowledge of life is pretty limited to our present state. In and of ourselves, we don’t know what happens beyond the grave. This bothered Solomon, and I think it bothers many people.

So Solomon says we might as well just enjoy our present existence, and enjoy life all we can. And IF we are uncertain about our eternities, then I guess this IS the best plan, to simply enjoy life while you can and to get as much joy out of this life while you can…

But the question I have for all of us is this: Do we have to be uncertain about our eternity? I don’t think so. Solomon himself would figure this out too. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 he says of man, “…the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

But even better than this, we have a great advantage over Solomon, don’t we? Why? Because we know Christ. We KNOW the one who can, as Solomon says in verse 22, “…bring him to see what will be after him.” We KNOW the one whom Solomon was longing for.

We KNOW the one who has been through death, and yet came out victorious. We KNOW the one who came down from heaven to reveal the truths of eternity to us. We KNOW Jesus the Son of God who was put to death on a cross.

But He didn’t stay dead did he?

We know that on the third day he conquered death and was raised. He is now in glory at the right hand of God! And now all who believe in Him will rise again to the better life that Hebrews 11:35 tells us about. Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a better place for us, so that we can be where He is. That’s what John 14:3 says. And because of these things we can be certain of our eternities, and we can have the blessed assurance that we sing about so often.

Jesus has revealed eternity to us, and He has won it FOR us…and all we have to do is receive it, and trust and rest in Him.

Follow Me: The Danger of Comparison

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On a recent Sunday as I was recovering from some minor surgery, I was home and therefore had an opportunity to listen in to various church services led by other pastors. For the most part this was a very positive experience and very uplifting.  To listen to other pastors as they expound the Word of God is such an encouragement, and something I enjoy tremendously. As a preacher, one of the ways I improve my craft is by listening in to how other guys approach the art of preaching. Of course anytime you hear the Word of God proclaimed, it should drive your heart to worship, and on this Sunday I was certainly moved to worship by many of my fellow laborers in the Word.

That being said, I was also reminded of something that I all too easily forget. Comparison isn’t always a good thing for a Christian, and very often it can be a dangerous thing. Let me explain.

As I listened to some very gifted preachers boldly speak of the truths of God’s Word, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this guy is a great preacher. I sure wish I could preach like that.” This might sound innocent enough to most of us, and I too am tempted to just shrug it off…but I think there is a bigger problem here than we might think. The problem as I see it, is that if I can hear a man proclaiming the amazing truths of the Scriptures, and all I can do is wonder if the guy is a better preacher than me…then I have a problem. How can I hear about the beauty of our God and the wonderful acts of our savior, and instead of being driven to worship…be driven to compare myself to another of God’s servants while wondering who the better preacher is?

Sadly, this isn’t something that is limited to this particular Sunday. It happens quite often. I find myself on many a Sunday afternoon scrolling social media and reading about what God is doing through other Pastors and other churches, and I often find myself questioning why God doesn’t seem to be blessing me and my church in the same way he might be blessing others.

But, comparison isn’t just a bad thing because it brings out our insecurities. It can also lead to pride.

You see, on this same Sunday I heard other guys totally miss the point of the text they were preaching. I heard others say things that were completely false. I saw some guys being just plain silly. I picked up on others who had weird quirks or mannerisms. I could go on, but you get the point and can probably tell where this is going. Just as previously I was questioning myself, and feeling very insecure about my gifts as a preacher…when I listened to others, I found myself feeling pretty good about myself and getting puffed up with pride.

It’s really quite silly. But, whether most pastors want to admit it or not, this is a problem for many of us. I know, because I have a lot of friends who are pastors and I know the conversations that we have.

Now, a lot of you are probably reading this and thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with me? I’m not a pastor. Why should I care about your weird insecurities?”

The reason I think you should care is because I don’t think this is a problem limited to pastors. I think all of us look around at other Christians from time to time and wonder why God is or isn’t blessing us like he is blessing them. Perhaps we look at how God has gifted someone else to serve Him, and we wish that we had that gift. Maybe we wish we could pray like someone else. It could be that we would like to teach that Sunday school class. It might even be the fact that we look at one of our brothers or sisters who have such an outgoing personality that the ability to witness or evangelize seems to come so easy to them, and we wish that God had given us that gift. It could be any number of things.

Perhaps this isn’t you, but maybe you are the one whom God has gifted in one of these ways. Do you ever look down on other Christians because they don’t have the same abilities that you do? Do you ever find yourself feeling superior to other Christians because you have the ability to pray in public or the gift of teaching, or because you’ve done so many great things for Jesus while others haven’t? Surely, none of us would want to admit to this…but in our most honest moments, are those feelings there?

Maybe no one else has ever had these feelings, and I’m just a bigger sinner than everyone else…but I tend to doubt it. I think all of us have a tendency to want to compare ourselves to others and gauge where we are in the Christian life by our perception of where someone else might be.

In John 21:18-19 Jesus tells Peter not just that he would die in service to God, but he tells him how he would die and glorify God in his death. He then tells Peter, “Follow me.” Upon hearing this, Peter looks around and sees John. Peter then questions Jesus by saying basically, “Well, what about him?!?” Jesus’ response to Peter are words of wisdom that we all need to take to heart. Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that you? You follow me!”

Friends, we aren’t called to compare ourselves to others. We aren’t called to question why we have some gifts and others don’t. We aren’t called to wonder why God may be blessing someone else one way, while our blessings don’t seem so obvious. The fact is, God has gifted us all differently and called each of us to serve him in unique ways. My service to God won’t look the same as yours, and yours may not look the same as mine…and that is okay.

The fact is, we all have one calling in common, and that is to follow Jesus. We all would be well served by worrying less about how God is using others and comparing ourselves to them, and instead focusing more on our Lord who has called us to follow Him…no matter how he chooses to use us to glorify Himself.

Suicide, Forgiveness, and God’s Redeeming Power

 

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Suicide is a tragedy that has touched many families. For those who have lost loved ones in such a tragic way, there are often wounds that last a lifetime. Suicide is a tragedy that has touched many people from all walks of lives, and it doesn’t discriminate – people of all races, economic classes, educational backgrounds, you name it – almost everyone has loved ones, or has known someone who has taken their own life.

I remember a few years back, a pastor that I knew from a distance took his own life. I was struggling with how this sort of thing can happen, so I was speaking with someone very close to me about it. As we were discussing, this person made the comment, “I’ll bet he’s really wishing he didn’t do that now.” The implication here was that this pastor was in hell.

I’ve often heard, and I believe many of us have heard, because I believe it’s a misconception that many people have, that if you commit suicide, you automatically end up in hell. I tried to explain to my friend that I didn’t believe suicide does automatically send you to hell. They simply said, “Well, I think it does.” When asked for a theological or biblical reason behind their answer, they didn’t have one…it’s just what they’ve always been told, and the belief they’ve always held. I used to believe this also, for the same reasons…it’s just what I’ve always been told. But just because you’ve always been told something, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

As I’ve studied this subject however, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe it to be true that suicide automatically sends someone to hell. First of all, there is the case of Samson who we know killed himself along with many Philistines in Judges 16, yet is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a model of faith. I believe even more though, we need to look to the overwhelming teaching of Scripture which is this: If you are in Christ, and I have no reason to doubt that many who commit suicide are, then you can be assured of your salvation. If you are in Christ, all of your sins past, present, and future are forgiven. (Acts 10:43, Colossians 1:14) I believe this is especially pointed to also in Psalm 103:10-14. Romans 7 and Hebrews 10:14 also certainly give us a picture of the “already-not yet” aspect of salvation.

I think people have arrived at this faulty conclusion because they have this idea that you have to confess every single sin, in order to be forgiven of every single sin. But that just isn’t the case. Can you imagine trying to remember every sin you commit throughout the day? What about the sins you commit without even thinking about it? Following this faulty logic, none of us would or could receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Not only that, our salvation would become dependent on a work, which again the Bible tells us is not the case.

Certainly we are to confess our sins as soon as we are reminded of them, or see that we have sinned, but none of us are so perfect that we will remember each and every one of our sins, and confess them to our Lord. We are all sinners and must confess that to Christ on a regular basis, and repent of the sins we see in our lives. But unfortunately all of our sins won’t be clear to us.

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, the Bible only speaks of one unpardonable, or one unforgivable sin. What is it? Jesus tells us Himself in Mark 3:22-30 & Matthew 12:31-32. The only sin Jesus tells us we cannot be forgiven of is blaspheming, or speaking against the Holy Spirit. I believe what Jesus is speaking of here in these verses is the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation, ultimately denying who Christ is and denying Him as Savior. If we deny Christ as Savior, then we cannot be forgiven of that sin, or any sins for that matter. Once we do confess Christ as Savior however, then all of our sins past, present, and future can and will be forgiven as I talked about earlier. (Also see Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13)

So am I saying it’s okay to commit suicide? NO! NEVER!

Our bodies are the temple of God. (1 Corinthians 6:19) There is no situation so bad, so tragic, that it should make us want to harm ourselves knowing that our bodies belong to God. There is no situation so lacking in hope that we shouldn’t put our faith, hope, and trust in Christ to redeem that situation. That being said, all of us are prone to act irrationally at times. I know I myself have done more than one stupid thing in an act of anger or distress. The actions of those who take their own lives just happen to have greater consequences than the things I’ve done. Yet my actions were sinful, just as their acts are. Whatever situation it is that leads folks to take their own lives, I would like to think that I would always act differently, or do things differently than they have…if not for my own sake, but for the sake of my wife and children. As I’ve said, I can’t even imagine what folks who have lost loved ones to suicide go through. But, until we walk in someone else’s shoes, we can’t truly know what we would do, or how we would respond.

I do think though, there is some truth in what the friend I was speaking to said. I do think as folks who take their own life give an account to God, they do mourn for what they did. The Bible tells us that we all must give an account for the things we do. (Hebrews 4:13, Romans 14:12, and especially 2 Corinthians 5:10) So while I do believe we are forgiven for all our sins as believers, and won’t have to suffer hell because of them, we all will give an account, and there will be consequences for all of our actions.

My heartfelt prayers go out anyone who has lost someone they love dearly to suicide. I can’t begin to imagine what they go through. What I do know though, is that we have a God who can and will redeem any situation, and will glorify Himself through it. I’m sure it’s often hard for them to see that, heck it’s hard for me to see how He will do it even from a distance.  Still I know it’s true, and I pray that perhaps somehow, they will be able to cling to this fact in the midst of their pain.

I’d Rather Have Jesus

rather-have-jesus

Jesus asks the question in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” The answer, of course, is nothing. There is no profit, no matter how much you gain in this world and in this life if you lose your soul. If you lose your soul…then you lose everything. If you lose your soul, then you lose eternity.

As I contemplate this question from Jesus and the powerful implications, I’m reminded of King Solomon. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes talks at length about his pursuit of meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimate satisfaction. Solomon in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes talks about how he pursued meaning in laughter, having a good time, alcohol, his work, possessions, wealth, wisdom, and even sexual pleasure. Yet, in spite of all his pursuits, Solomon arrived at the conclusion that ultimately all of these things he pursued were empty and meaningless. Listen to his own words in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all ALL WAS VANITY AND A STRIVING AFTER WIND, and there was NOTHING TO BE GAINED UNDER THE SUN.”

Solomon is basically telling us in these few verses, and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes, “I’ve done it all, I’ve tried it all, and I had it all…yet in spite of all I did and all I had, I found it completely meaningless.” All of Solomon’s pursuits left him empty. He found no lasting and ultimate satisfaction in any of it.

I think the question we all have to ask ourselves in light of these revelations from Solomon is, why.  Why can Solomon not find meaning or satisfaction in any of his earthly pursuits? Well, it’s for the same reason that you or I can’t.

You nor I won’t ever have the wealth of a King Solomon. (Just guessing) You nor I won’t ever possess the earthly wisdom of a King Solomon. You nor I won’t ever have the means to pursue the many things that King Solomon does as we read about his life in Scripture. But the same conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the book of Ecclesiastes are just as true for us as they were for him. You and I won’t ever find ultimate satisfaction, meaning, or purpose in the things of this world.

Why is this? Very simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by the things of this world.

This doesn’t mean that everything in this world is bad. Laughter and fun is a wonderful thing. Most of us could use more of it in our lives. But it’s not an ultimate thing. It’s not why we were created. A nice house, more money, a lot of possessions can be good things. Wisdom is certainly something that we should all strive for. Even sexual pleasure is a gift from God. But all good gifts must be enjoyed in their proper context and with a proper perspective. The good gifts God gives us must not overshadow the God who has given us the gifts.

Is this because God is some cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want us to have fun? Absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. It’s why he gives us good gifts. But ultimately those gifts are meant to point us to the ultimate good, which is God himself. God doesn’t want us to settle for the inferior pleasures of this world when he himself offers us the greatest of all pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We know from Scripture that at the right hand of God is Jesus. So it is in and through Christ that we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is the greatest good, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest joy. Only in a life focused and centered on God will we find true and ultimate meaning, and all of this is found in Christ. These things being true, I find the words of the well-known hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” especially pertinent, and my prayer for all of us is that these words would truly be the cry of our hearts:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather have Jesus than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;

I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today.

 

May these words be true for all of us, and may we all live our lives as if it were so.