Month: February 2021

To my Friends of all Faiths and Those with No Particular Faith

This letter has been many years in coming. It is a hard letter for me to write, because I love all of you so much and I would never want to offend you. But I feel compelled to write these words, because of that love – I want to see you in heaven.

If you know me, you know I have always been respectful of those who hold different beliefs from me. I have been so blessed to have made friends from many different countries and the most joyful times of my life have been getting to know people from cultures very different from my own.

Anyone who knows me, also knows I am a Christian. I do not take my commitment to being a Christian casually. While I am not always successful, I do my best to live according to God’s instructions in the Bible. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” My hope and desire is that my daily actions reflect the love of Christ to those around me.

Some important things to know about Christianity:

A Christian believes that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. In other words, whatever it says has come from God and is true. What I read in the Bible, I can trust.

God loves EVERYONE. Really, it’s true! It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past – you can’t change the fact that God loves you and He wants to be in relationship with you – that is why He created you! If you are worried because you have done bad things, sadly we all have. That’s called sin and it separates us from God, because He is holy and without sin. But the good news is, no one is so far from God, that they can’t be forgiven and enter into His family. God’s love is unconditional. It’s important to know that God’s grace is offered to all, but He gives us a choice. The only requirement is for a person to choose to accept it by believing in His Son, that Jesus came to Earth, died for our sins (taking the penalty of sin in our place), and was raised from the dead, giving victory over death and a place in heaven for those who believe in Him. If you do, your life will never be the same! You will have entered into a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. Our God is a God of relationship. He wants to have conversations with you. He wants you to depend on Him. He is always available to you. In fact, His Holy Spirit provides both guidance and comfort to those who believe. The Holy Spirit also convicts us, helping us to live a life pleasing to God. Mind-boggling, I know. It’s hard to comprehend, but it’s true!

We read in the Bible in John 14:6, Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

So from a Christian perspective, one must have a personal relationship with Jesus in order to “come to the Father” and gain entrance into heaven. In order to do that, they must ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, and trust in Him for their salvation. Thus, my dilemma. I believe that in order to have salvation, one must accept the same things I believe, even if you come from a different country and/or was raised in another religion, or no religion at all. Even if you try to be a good person. No other religion meets this requirement and no one is good enough to get into heaven by their own efforts. Salvation is a free gift, but a person must choose to accept it and place their faith in Jesus. Knowing I believe this, if I am truly your friend and I love you like I say I do, I must be concerned about your eternal destiny. How can I not share this with you?

Putting myself in your shoes – my first reaction might be – how unfair! How exclusive! Why can’t all paths lead to heaven? Why does a Christian think they are better than everybody else?

My answer to the last question starts us on our journey: A true Christian KNOWS they are no better than anyone else. It is the same desperate need that we all have to be cleansed from our sin that makes us all equally in need of a Savior. Sin separates us from God. We can’t fix our situation – only Jesus can, by taking the penalty of our sin for us. Jesus offers to do that for each and every one of us. No other path provides the atonement required to satisfy God’s wrath because of our sin. No other path forms a bridge over the yawning chasm of our sin, so that we can enjoy God’s presence for eternity.

While the entrance to heaven is exclusively for those who call upon the Name of Jesus, Christianity is far from exclusive. God wants EVERYONE to be reconciled to Him. It doesn’t matter where you are from, your cultural background, what color you are, or what language you speak, ALL are welcome.

Does this seem unfair? I personally am grateful to Jesus that I am not treated fairly, because if I were, I would have to suffer for my sin. I am grateful that God so loved the world that He created a way for us to enter heaven by being unfair: He sent His only Son to die for us, in our place. In the Bible, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” THE WORLD – all of us!

I can tell you about my own relationship with Jesus – how He has changed everything in my life for the better and walks alongside me, comforting and helping me through my greatest trials. How He is faithful even when I’m not, and He loves me despite all of my sin. I also know I am going to heaven with certainty, because I have placed my trust in Him.

When I expressed my concern to a dear friend of mine who is Muslim, regarding his eternal destiny, he responded: “Perhaps God will open my heart to Jesus. It is up to Him.” His words were so wise! That reminded me that I am not the one who can convince you about who Jesus is and the grace that He offers each one of us, that is up to the Holy Spirit to move in your heart. It is my prayer that He is moving, even now. I love you.

If you have read this, and I managed to offend you, I am truly sorry. But from my perspective, your eternal life is at stake. If I truly love you, I have to at least try to share this with you. If you are curious and have questions, I would be glad to answer them and if I don’t know, I will find out. Whatever you choose, ultimately the decision is yours and regardless, I will always be your friend. Thank you for allowing me to share my heart with you.

If you find yourself wanting to learn more – the video below is an amazing message because it teaches us about the incredible, extravagant, incomparable love God has for us, and it also explains the cross – something that puzzles many people. If you have ever wondered why the Son of God would allow Himself to be crucified on a cross – this is a great sermon to listen to. Spoiler Alert: It has everything to do with God’s love for us!

If you are short on time, the sermon begins at approximately 20 minutes. However, I think you’ll be especially blessed if you have the time to watch the entire service. God tells us in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” My prayer for you is that you find God and rest in His extravagant love for you. Amen

A Lenten Valentine’s Day (Revisited)

I wrote this blog post three years ago when Valentine’s Day fell precisely on Ash Wednesday. While that is not the case this year, Ash Wednesday is this week and I think this post is well-worth revisiting. While Phil and I are certainly celebrating the love we have for each other today, it is also appropriate to celebrate God’s love: the relentless, incomprehensible, sacrificial, and unconditional love He has for each one of us. For those of you unfamiliar with Lent, it is explained in the post. I hope these words bless you! Happy Valentine’s Day!

ashwedI woke up this morning thinking about how to reconcile celebrating Valentine’s Day with observing Ash Wednesday, when I realized that there isn’t any need for reconciliation; the two events complement each other beautifully. As we reflect solemnly on our sinful state and the admonition that Ash Wednesday brings to the forefront in Genesis 3:19, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” it is certainly a time of repentance. But it is also a time to draw us closer to experiencing God’s love through the Gospel.

heart2018So let me explain the correlation I think we have between these two seemingly dissimilar events. To begin with, it would be good to get a better understanding of the word love. In the English language we use one word to describe many things. We can love our brothers and sisters, we can have a more intimate love for our spouses, we can even love hamburgers, but none of these describes the love that God has for us. When we go back to the original Greek, we see that all of these types of love have a different word assigned to it. Family love or love of an object may fall under Storge στοργή. The brotherly love of friendship is expressed as Philia φιλία, and sexual love as Eros ἔρως. The love of God for man has its own word too. It is called Agape ἀγάπη. God’s love for us is relentless, incomprehensible, sacrificial and unconditional.

I read a quote about Agape love by Paulo Coelho that beautifully expresses the magnitude of God’s love for us: “This was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of man’s history.”

Godslove

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of love. The Scriptures tell us in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Ash Wednesday is a stark reminder as to why each of us needs that love. In Ash Wednesday we remember our mortality, that we are dust and will return to dust. We are reminded of our sin, but the Gospel message tells us we have victory over our sin if we repent and believe. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 gives us hope:

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:8 proclaims, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” The message is clear. We are to love one another. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 22:37-39 “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Today is a day we can celebrate love in all of its facets: the love that God has for us, and the different types of love that we have for one another. Today, Phil and I will contemplate the incredible love that God has for us as sinful mortals with gratefulness and repentance, and we will also celebrate the love we have as husband and wife. When you think about it, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that celebrates romantic love, but what could be more romantic than sacrificial love? Ultimately that is the type of love that lasts when the trappings of Valentine’s Day fades into the busyness of life.

JesusdesertAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and we have the season of Lent ahead of us. Another Lenten tradition for some folks is to “give something up” for Lent. The purpose is to recognize and share in Jesus’ sacrifice as he withdrew into the desert and fasted for 40 days. Another way we can share in this tradition is rather than give something up, we can commit to do something, as an expression of sacrificial love. For me, I choose to write one card of encouragement each day of Lent (to the person God puts on my heart that day), and mail it. One has to be intentional, and carve out time to do this. Not a great sacrifice perhaps, but it serves the purpose of giving time to God to bless someone else. Just another way to show that ultimately, Ash Wednesday and Lent, while a season of repentance, is grounded in the greatest love of all and is a great way to live out the command Jesus gave us in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

handheartAnother GREAT thing to do today is to forgive someone if you have been allowing bitterness to fester in your heart. I know many people who struggle with forgiveness, in that they are either unable to forgive themselves for something they have done or they are unable to forgive someone else for hurting them. When I think about God’s limitless grace and that it is through Christ’s sacrifice at the cross that we have received forgiveness for all of our transgressions – what is even more amazing is that God initiated it, we read in Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died for us knowing we were a mess, yet loving us anyway. His forgiveness heals us and if we are unable to forgive ourselves, or others, we are unable to fully experience the peace that comes from the healing power of Christ. If you are in this category, you can read more at my blog post: Forgiving Ourselves and Forgiving Others.

There are all sorts of ways we can live out loving one another. A friend of mine is planning on choosing one item each day from her family’s clothing closets, so that at the end of Lent she will have 40 gently used items to donate to those in need. Sounds like both a sacrificial and practical plan to me! May you find special blessings each day as you spend this time preparing your heart for celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. And if you have never participated in Lent before, you might want to give it a try. It’s a wonderful way to deepen your spiritual journey.

Happy Lenten Valentine’s Day!