Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How Do I Receive An Afterlife of Reward? – Part 2



Christianity – Reformed Protestant


Reformed Protestants believe that salvation is solely a function of God’s grace excluding human works of any form (Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5). They believe that all humans are born spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3), as a result of being descendants of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12-21), and can do nothing of their own accord to bring themselves to life, thereby excluding them from an afterlife of reward. But they also believe that God, by his own will, has chosen to give some people eternal life with him in a place called heaven (John 15:16, Ephesians 1:4-5, Romans 9:6-24). Reformed Protestants believe that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth as a human being and suffered God’s divine wrath on the cross as a substitution for his people in order to raise them to life (Romans 3:24-25, Ephesians 2:4-5, 1 John 4:10). They believe that God draws all of his chosen people to him and there’s nothing they can do to resist his calling, meaning that if God has chosen to give them salvation, there’s nothing they can do to lose it (John 6:35-71).

Reformed Protestants believe that the reward found in the afterlife is perfect union with God where they will praise him day and night for all of eternity (Revelation 4:8-11). Since the Bible, their religious book, is unclear on the precise details of heaven, they do not attempt to define it in detail.

Christianity – Mormon


Mormons believe that people’s spirits have existed for all of eternity with God. But God sends his people to earth to “progress beyond what was possible in the spirit world” as part of the lifelong salvation journey. God sent his son Jesus to provide a way to overcome sin and death, but this gift must be accepted by his people.[1] Beyond accepting this gift, Mormons believe that in order to receive an afterlife of reward, people must repent of their sins, be baptized into the LDS church, receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and live a life that is worthy of the gift by striving to become more like God by perfecting themselves.[2]

Mormons believe that their spirits will continue to exist in the afterlife with God. They believe that when Jesus returns to setup his earthly millennial kingdom, the spirits of the dead will be reunited with their perfected resurrected bodies. Glory will be assigned to each person based on the degree of glory which was earned in this life. The greater the glory received, the closer to God a person will be for all of eternity.[3]

Christianity – Jehovah’s Witness


Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that salvation is offered to all humanity through Jesus’s death on the cross (a stake rather than two beams), but is only effective in those who exercise faith in Jesus’s ransom sacrifice will actually receive salvation. This faith people have in Jesus must not merely be something they say they believe, but must be demonstrated through their actions, namely through their obedience to Jesus’s commands.[4] Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that people must be a part of the Jehovah’s Witness organization in order to receive salvation.[5]

A saved person will go to one of two places after he dies. Some saved people, 144,000 of them (from Revelation 14:1-4), will go to heaven where they will rule with Jesus in his heavenly kingdom. The other saved people will die a physical death, but will be resurrected into Jesus’s earthly millennial kingdom where they will be given an opportunity to formally accept Jesus.[6]


[1] “Plan of Salvation”, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, accessed February 20, 2017, https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/plan-of-salvation.
[2] “Baptism”, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, accessed February 20, 2017, https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/baptism.
[3] “Life After Death”, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, accessed February 20, 2017, https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/life-after-death.
[4] “What Is Salvation,” Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, accessed February 27, 2017, https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/what-is-salvation/.
[5] "Do You Appreciate Jehovah’s Organization?", The Watchtower, June 15, 1998.
[6] “How to Get to Heaven: What Are the Ideas from the Different Religions,” n.d., accessed February 13, 2017, https://www.gotquestions.org/how-to-get-to-heaven.html.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why Do Bad Things Happen to People?



I intended to spend this post sharing three more perspectives on how to receive an afterlife of reward, but a situation came up this past week which I decided to write about instead because of its relevance in all of our lives.

One of our friends has a friend whose son recently passed away. What's up with that? Why would God allow something like this to happen? Why would God allow a little boy to pass away? Furthermore, why would God allow so many things to happen in this world which are happening every day? Why would God allow a premature baby to be born at 24 weeks and be tied to a breathing machine for the first two years of his life? Why would God allow a young couple who desperately wants to have children to not have children? Why would God allow children in South Africa to live in a landfill, scrounging around for rotten scraps of food just to stay alive?

When we experience extremely painful situations like this, sometimes our initial reaction is to be angry with God. Many of us have been told our whole lives that God is all-powerful and in control of everything. If God really is all-powerful and in control of everything, then naturally we reason that he could’ve chosen to do something differently, but apparently he chose not to. That doesn’t settle well with most of us. In response, some people have chosen to believe that God really isn’t in control of everything, and therefore, really couldn’t do anything about it. Some people have chosen to stay mad at God for their entire lives because he didn’t do anything to relieve them of their painful situations. Others, on the other hand, have taken a completely different approach which has given them hope in the midst of the pain they experience.

The biblical story of a guy named Job is a great example of a person who experienced the loss of everything except his wife and his life. In the beginning of the story, Job is portrayed as a very wealthy man who was blameless, upright, and worshiped God. But then Job began to systematically lose everything including his ten children, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and his health. To put it in modern-day terms, Job’s multi-million dollar house burned to the ground, his children were killed in the fire, everything he owned, including his Lamborghini, was burned in the fire, he lost his job, and he became extremely ill, all in the matter of a few days. Yet, Job’s response was unfathomable:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed by the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. – Job 1:21-22

Job grasped something about God that’s extremely critical to understand. God doesn’t do what God does for our glory; God does what he does for his glory and his glory alone. As he spoke through the prophet Isaiah:

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. – Isaiah 43:6-7 (emphasis mine)

The Bible tells us that God didn’t create humans so that he would have someone to love and be loved by in return; God created humans for his glory. The reason God does everything he does, including rescuing some people from eternal destruction, is for his glory (Romans 9:20-23). According to the writer of Psalms:

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. – Psalm 115:3

How is the realization that “God does all that he does for his glory” supposed to make us feel better about the bad situations that happen in our lives? Sometimes it seems like this knowledge just makes things worse because somehow God seems to be benefiting at the expense of others. I remember asking this question in high school about a story I read in John 9 where Jesus said that the man had been born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3). I couldn’t understand why God would allow someone to suffer blindness for many years in order for him to demonstrate his power. It seemed completely wrong. Yet, over and over again, the Bible is crystal clear about the fact that God does everything he does for his glory.

I finally decided that the reason it must’ve seemed wrong was because I was thinking about it the wrong way. I was too busy dwelling on the pain people were experiencing in the midst of the situations rather than the ultimate good which was coming out of these situations. This is what led me to discover a deeper level of truth in scripture which still sticks with me today, even when I’m going through an extremely painful situation. Look at what the writer of Romans said:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

The Bible tells us that God works all things for good for his people, even in the midst of the painful stuff. When we’re told that God works all things for “good,” that doesn’t mean that God makes all his people healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. Instead, what it means is that God has promised to transform his people into the image of Jesus and unite them to him for all of eternity (see Romans 8:29-30). The hope found in the midst of this is that no matter what pain we experience in this life, God is working in and through it to mold us into the image of Jesus. In other words, God is looking out for our best interests, even if we don’t realize that those things are best for us. We can trust God to always be working in and through everything that takes place in our lives for good, even in situations when we experience deep levels of pain.

This is how Job was able to respond to the catastrophic circumstances in his life by saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed by the name of the LORD.” He had hope that God was working in and through everything that was taking place for good. Rather than blaming God for ruining his life, he demonstrated his trust in God. Job came out of this fiery trial looking more like Jesus than he did went he went into it. And the same thing is happening to us today: We come out of every fiery trial looking more and more like Jesus.


How do you respond when faced with a painful situation? How have you experienced God working things for good in the midst of the pain you’ve experienced?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How Do I Receive an Afterlife of Reward? - Part 1



What happens to us when we die? Do we cease to exist or does a part of us continue to exist in an afterlife? According to a study done by Lifeway Research, 82 percent of young adults in America believe that people’s spirits continues to exist in an afterlife after they die. This same study observed that 77 percent of young adults in America believe in the existence of a place of reward in the afterlife. And 63 percent of young adults in America say that their belief about the existence (or inexistence) of an afterlife has an impact on the way they live.[1]

We can conclude, from this data, that the majority of young adults in America not only believe in an afterlife of reward, but are also seeking to inherit it when they die, meaning that they are asking the question, “How do I receive an afterlife of reward?” To some degree, every major world religion claims to have the answer to this question. And all of their answers differ to one degree or another. Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to be writing a series of posts which summarize the answers given by various world religions on how to inherit an afterlife of reward.

Judaism


Jews believe that in Genesis, God chose Abram (Abraham) and his descendants, through his son Isaac, to be his people. According to their religious book, the Torah (the Old Testament), they were the only people who were promised to receive an afterlife of reward. Although God chose all Jews to be his people, they believe that they can still choose to reject God by failing to obey God’s commands as written in the Torah and thus, miss out on the eternal reward. The way to guarantee entrance into heaven is to rule over sin by obeying the entire Torah.[2]

Since the Torah isn’t clear on the specifics of what the afterlife of reward will look like, Judaism doesn’t take a definitive stance on the characteristics of heaven.

Islam


Muslims believe in an eternal afterlife of reward called Janna. Anyone who believes in Allah (God) and does good deeds will go to Janna when they die (Surah 2:25). Some of the good deeds people can perform are praying in congregation in the mosque, attending funerals and offering the funeral prayer, praising Allah by saying, “There is not god but Allah alone, with no partner or associate; His is the Dominion, to Him be all praise, and He is able to do all things” one hundred times each day, upholding the ties of kinship, observing voluntary fasts, visiting the sick, giving to charity, and reading the Quran, their religious book.[3] Although all these deeds are good, the only deed which will guarantee a person’s entrance into Janna is to be a martyr for Allah.[4]

The Quran describes the rewards for men in Janna in great detail such as being a place of peace where sin no longer exists (Surah 56:25-26), the opportunity to sit on ornamental thrones of happiness (Surah 56:15-16), being accompanied by their earthly wives (Surah 56:34-39), being served by young boys (Surah 56:17), and encountering many young, beautiful virgins (Surah 55:70-74). Some Muslims interpret Surah 44:51-55 and 52:17-20 to say that they will be married to some of these beautiful young virgins.[5]

Christianity – Catholic


The next religion I will address is Christianity. However, I have decided to break Christianity into four sub-groupings for two reasons: (1) the majority of people in America claim to be associated with Christianity and (2) all four of these groups share varying beliefs about heaven. In this post, I will be addressing Roman Catholicism and in my next post, I’ll be addressing Protestantism, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witness.

Going to heaven in Roman Catholicism is a function of both grace and works. Catholics believe that Jesus died on the cross to offer grace to all people by forgiving their sins, but his forgiveness only takes effect in people who respond in faith, which is an act of one’s free will. To respond in faith is defined as believing in Jesus, repenting of one’s sins, and being baptized.[6] Beyond the initial acts of faith, one must remain in communion with God and the church and not hold onto any unconfessed mortal sins. Only the person who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).

Catholics believe that when a purified person dies (or a person who has been refined in purgatory), he will enter “communion [heaven] of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed.” They believe this is “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”[7]


How about you? Have you asked this question? What conclusions have you drawn? Are there other perspectives you’d like to hear about?


[1] Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 42.
[2] Mordechai Housman, “How Does a Jew Attain Salvation?”, n.d., accessed February 13, 2017, http://www.beingjewish.com/toshuv/salvation.html.
[3] “Examples of Good Deeds We Can Do Every Day to Increase Our Hasanaat,” February 19, 2009, accessed February 13, 2017, https://islamqa.info/en/36546.
[4] “How to Get to Heaven: What Are the Ideas from the Different Religions,” n.d., accessed February 13, 2017, https://www.gotquestions.org/how-to-get-to-heaven.html.
[5] B. A. Robinson, “About Islam: The Rewards of Paradise,” Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, December 13, 2005, accessed February 13, 2017, http://www.religioustolerance.org/isl_para.htm.
[6] John 3:5, 3:16, Matthew 28:19-20, and Acts 2:38 are used to support this belief.
[7] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 1023.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

6 Lessons from Playing Sports - Part 3



After writing last week’s post, I thought of a few more life lessons I’ve learned from sports, so I decided to extend this topic one more week. Thus far, I have shared the following life lessons: (1) success looks different to different people, (2) winning isn’t everything, (3) we all need me time, (4) blue ribbons require sacrifice, (5) there will always be ball hogs, and (6) do what’s in the best interest of the team. This week, I’ll be sharing three final life lessons I’ve learned from playing sports.

7. Just Keep Swimming


After a few years of swimming over the summer, I decided to join the high school swim team. Every year, Coach Gueltig would sign up everyone on the team (against most of our wills) to swim the 500 yard freestyle event once during the season. I always dreaded this event. It was long and hard, and I got rewarded with the same number of ribbons I would’ve gotten for swimming the 50 yard freestyle event. It just didn’t seem worth the extra effort. But I think our coach was trying to teach us something. Swimming 500 yards without stopping was physically draining. As a result, we were forced to learn how to mentally overcome the physical challenges and keep on swimming, even when we felt like giving up.

Life Lesson: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…There are times when life gets really tough. In these moments, we wish we could throw up our hands and give up, resorting to something easier. But swimming the 500 yard freestyle event all four years of high school taught me to keep on swimming, even when it hurts. Afterwards, I was a much better swimmer and had learned the skill of perseverance, a skill which is highly prized in our lives.

8. The Water Bottle Belongs to the Team


I grew up dreaming of one day getting a chance to play ice hockey. When Amy and I moved to Findlay, my dream finally came true: I signed up to play in the Findlay beginner’s hockey league. After a few seasons of learning how to play, I decided I was up for a huge challenge, so I signed up to play on a team with a bunch of guys who had been playing hockey all their lives. It was a great learning experience for me, but it was probably frustrating for them. During the first game of the season, I went through my normal routine of filling up my water bottle and placing it on the bench. It didn’t take long for some of the other guys on my team to ask me if they could have a swig. As the season went on, they began helping themselves to my water without even asking. The first thought that went through my head was, “If you wanted water, you should’ve brought your own.”

Life Lesson: The water bottle belongs to the team. As I reflected on this frustrating situation, I began to realize something I hadn’t seen before. Every one of these guys was a very good hockey player, but none of them were puck hogs. They all shared the puck like it didn’t belong to any of them, but rather, that it belonged to the team as a whole. I decided that they must’ve been applying the same principle to the water: the water was not my water, but rather, it was the team’s water. In life, we tend to view things in our possession as belonging solely to us. But they don’t always belong solely to us; they belong to the team we’re on, whether that’s an athletic team, a husband and wife team, or a team at work. In order for a team to function at its highest capacity, every person on the team must see everything it possesses as belonging to the team, not to specific individuals on the team.

9. Teach Others How to Play


After learning tons of hockey strategy from playing with that elite group of guys, I decided to find ways to pass this knowledge of hockey on to some of the new beginners. How were they going to learn the game unless someone took the time to teach them? Although I continued playing in the higher league, I decided to start playing goalie in the beginner’s league so that I could continue to have a connection with the guys I had skated with previously. I began scheduling some time over lunch every couple weeks to go to the ice rink with a couple of the guys so that I could help them move their games to the next level. And wouldn’t you know it; one of these guys now scores more goals than me!

Life Lesson: Teach others how to play. Part of the fun in learning the things I’ve learned about hockey is that I’ve been able to teach others the same things in order to help them become better players as well. Regardless of what you’re doing in life, there will always be people in your life who you can add value to by teaching them how to do the same things you enjoy doing. Take advantage of these opportunities, even if it means that they may become better athletes, workers, or leaders than you.




Is there a particular lesson that stands out to you? Are there any life lessons you’ve learned from playing sports that you’d be willing to share?