Eternal Life – It’s not what you might think.

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Who would like to live forever?  But what if you had to live forever in this same shell of a body?  Then probably not so much, right?  But, most Christians don’t really worry about this because they’re convinced that once they finish up this life they’re GOING to have an “Eternal Life.”

For God so loved the world…

Most all of us have heard this scripture, 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  What verse is that?  John 3:16 right!

This is a beautiful message. Jesus repeated that to all that had ears to hear.   It’s a message we can easily tune into.  I see that verse plastered all over the place.  Tim Tebow had it under his eyes when he played a national championship football game.  Do you know that during that game 94 million people Googled John 3:16?   That message really resonates with people.

Now, here is how most people interpret that verse.  Something like this – “I believe Christ died for my sins, therefore I will live forever.  And on my day of deliverance I will be with the lord in Heaven forever for an “eternal life”  That sound about right?

Most believe that is what John 3:16 is telling us.  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  I’ve looked real hard and I don’t see in this verse where it says we’re going to live forever?  Maybe people got confused by the verse just before that one. 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

But, I don’t see anything there about living for eternity.  Let’s go all the way down to the bottom of John 3 and see if it’s there. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

Nope, not there either.  Wait, I know what you’re thinking.  David, you darn fool.  It says right there “eternal life.”   Really?  Is that what it says, or is that what you have heard?

The mistake people make when reading this scripture is that somehow, they conclude that “eternal life” means that you live forever?  The reality is, everyone has lives forever.  You either go up, or you go down – for eternity.  Adolf Hitler is living an eternal existence.  It’s just that his zip code starts with 666.

This is where we make the mistake – the phrase about “Eternal life” is not about the duration of our life, it’s about quality of life.  In the original biblical text eternal is referring to the time needed to accomplish the purposes of God.  However long that may be.

The Greek translation for “Eternal Life” is “aeōnios zoé ” (ai-ō-ne-ōs + zoé).  The word for “eternal” here is aeōnios and translates to something like “age lasting.” You have probably heard the root word “Eon’s.”  When we think of Eons, we don’t think of it as forever, it’s more like “that dogs been gone for eons.” A duration of time.

And the word for life is “zoé.”  In this context it does not mean life in the biological – coming into existence context.  It’s more like, “the way we should go through life” “our demeanor,” the way of life.  Zoé is the vigor or vitality of life in truth.

Eternal life means quality of life, not a duration.  Does that make sense for you? The larger point here is, Jesus’ is telling us to live through him in abundance.  In fact, in most places where you find the phrase “Eternal Life” you can substitute “abundant life.”

In John 17:3 we find a definition provided by Christ.  This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 

This would read: “This is an abundant life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

As Christians, when we are reborn in New Birth through our faith in Christ alone, Sola Fide.  WE don’t have to do anything for it – it is a gift given by Christ on the Cross – and we are to have a life of abundance.

In John 10:10 Jesus says,  The thief  [that would be the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  This gift of “abundance” is not something to save for the future.  It’s for now!  To have “Eternal Life” is to know Christ in your life and to live today as the Holy Spirit guides you.  To live with an abundance of life here in Gods Kingdom here on Earth.

Let me ask you this one simple question.  What is the difference between a Christian and a Non-Christian?   The one physical – and I will call it physical – difference?  Here’s a hint.  Remember that Jesus, the man from Galilee did not have the Holy Spirit until he was baptized by John and the dove descended.  When Jesus received the Holy Spirit – THAT is when he began his mission to return all of us in flesh back to God the Father.

A Christian literally has something non-Christians do not.  The Holy Spirit!  We have the escape from death card!  And all we need to do to get one is to believe that Christ is our savior!  You see. That my friends, is the secret to knowing your living in the Kingdom of God right now. God expects us to be living our lives on Earth – just as they do in Heaven.   Isn’t that how Jesus taught us to pray!  “On Earth as it is in Heaven!”  God expects us to be learning right now the appropriate behavior for life in Heaven.  We are supposed to be using this “eternal life” stuff to prepare us for Heaven.

Right here you might be saying, “OK, I get the abundance part, but how can we know how they live in Heaven?” That’s easy.  Jesus told us when he created the 11th Commandment.  Who knows the 11th Commandment?  Turn to John 13:34-35 – it is right there in red letters.

John 13:34 “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

The eleventh commandment!  “you must love one another.”  Jesus is telling us that the language of Heaven is Love.  Christ came down and took human form to show us what love looks like. Why?  Because that is the language we need to learn to speak.  That is the language that reflect God’s image back upon him.  That is the language of our true character.  That is the language of how we are to treat one another and all creation.  We must learn the language of Heaven before we arrive.

Back in the late 1990’s I moved to Brussels Belgium to work.  I rented an apartment and had to go to the government office and get my electricity turned on.  Here’s the problem, I didn’t speak French very well.  Me no parlez-vous that francais.

When I got to the office, I was waiting in line nervously and watched as a young lady was processing applications.  Next to her was a big burly Germanic looking dude.  He was obviously training the new girl.  When it was finally my turn the first thing I did was to apologize for my bad French. I said “Je ne parlez pas Francais tres bien.”  I don’t speak French very well.

The big dude looked up and shouted at me – “Why?”  It was obvious he was trying to impress the young girl.  He started pointing at me, “In our country you can choose three languages, French, German or Flemish.  We give you three choices and you can’t speak none?”

Well, I was in a pickle.  This guy was between me and having lights on my apartment.  In typical David fashion I responded.  “Can I tell you a joke?”  He said “Ya!”  I said, “If you can speak three languages that’s called trilingual!” He said, “Ya.”  I then said, “If you can speak two language you’re bilingual.”  He said “Ya!”  Is said what is it called when you can only speak on language?”  He wrinkled his face and shook his head.  I said, “American!”  He busted our laughing, Ya, Ya, Ya!   And I managed to get my electricity turned on.

Here’s the moral of that story.  Who was I to go to another country and expect to live there and not know the language.  If we plan on taking up residence in Heaven someday it would behoove us all to learn the language we need to speak before arrival.   The eleventh commandment “Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another.”  You may not have any other chance but now to learn the language.  St. Peter may not like dumb American jokes.

I know most of us are very loving and we try to obey all the commandments.  But here we are, living in the Kingdom of God, with this abundance of life given to us, and we might not speak the language very well.  God was nice enough to turn on our electricity, but he expects us to become fluent in the “language of love,” ASAP!

What is the best way to learn a language.  By immersion.  Right – jump right in.  We need to learn the language of love, so we are fluent before we get to Heaven.  Perhaps we can find an immersion program right here in our community.  The trick is finding the right teachers.

Each year Tim Tebow promotes the Night to Shine event?  This is an event for “people of special needs.”  It is literally a Prom and every person was named King or Queen of the Prom.  My wife was a volunteer last year and told me that every person at the event was permanently affected by the love that was present.  It was a big ol’ barn overflowing with love and compassion for those in need.

But here is the immersion part I was talking about – the love was returned to the volunteers by more than ten-times what they each gave.  How ironic is it that, those who we call “of special needs” were the teachers?  When it came to Love – the volunteers were not nearly as fluent!

Those at that event had an immersion course in the language of love.  Jesus told Nicodemus “Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen” (John 3:11).  Everyone at that event is still testifying to what they saw and felt.  Those that attended have harnessed those emotions, and the love for God that was inside that barn, and have taken it outside the barn door into the community.

That was just one event.  How many other persons of need could we find that will teach you the next lesson of love?   John 5:24: “Very Truly I tell you anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”  Jesus does not say “will have,” but uses the present tense. “has eternal life.”  The quality of our lives will change forever!

Who wants to live forever?  Who cares?  I want Eternal Life?  You can choose to go one of two ways.  But the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). 

And here is the kicker – you don’t get eternal life when you die – you get it right now. If you do not have a relationship with Christ – or maybe it is not where it should be.  This morning – this exact moment – is a good time to let Christ be fully present in your heart, soul and mind. The only way to the Father is through the Son.  Let him in!

Amen

Giving Faith a Tune Up

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How do you know if your Faith is real?  When you find your Faith being tested, and it will be tested, does it start to slip away?   And if your Faith begins to fade what happens to your confidence in your belief systems?  And if you start to wonder if your beliefs are somehow corrupted – what does that do for your trust in everything; God, family, the world in general.

Indeed, when we begin to waver in our Faith, it can become a very slippery slope to living an existence outside our relationship with God.

How many here have ever climbed into your car only to discover it wouldn’t start?  Probably everyone at least once.  I lived most of my life with clunker cars – so I had to learn how to diagnose the problem and try to fix it.   Some become experts in car repair– and I suspect it was mostly all trial and error!

Up until a few weeks ago, I had an old Ford Tractor.  It was a 1952 Ford 8n.  Great tractor, but sometimes I had problems getting it started.   I would turn the key and absolutely nothing happened – no noise, nothing.  I learned that meant the problem was likely electrical.  A disconnected wire or something.  Other times, I turned the key and it made a faint whirring sound, grrrun, grrrun, grrrun.  That was often because my battery didn’t have enough juice.  So, I jumped it or put the battery on a charger.   Then, at other times, that old tractor would start right up, but after a few minutes, it would die on me.  Well, this turned out to be a problem with the engine not getting enough fuel.  When I cleaned out my fuel filter, I was up and running.

Diagnosing problems with our Faith is very much like getting my old tractor back up and running.  We need to do some troubleshooting to trace the issues.

What I’d like to propose now is sort of a dummies guide for diagnosing problems in our Faith.  I’m going to assume that not everyone understands what constitutes our Faith, and one needs to know what Faith “is,” to diagnose any problems.

But first, let me tell you what Faith is not.  When someone says they “Believe in God” that is not the same as having “Faith.” One can “believe” something but still not act upon it.  If I choose to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, that requires no action on my part – I just wait for it to happen.  But for me to believe that the Son of God rose – that takes Faith!  Belief is not the same as Faith.

What about “acceptance.”  If I say I have accepted Christ as my savior, isn’t that the same as Faith?  No, millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions around the world, have accepted Christ as their savior. But they lack Faith!  When Billy Graham had his many gospel crusades, it’s estimated that 215 million people heard him live and that 2.2 million people responded to the invitations to become a Christian.[1]  But get this next part:

“In a 1990 interview with PBS, Billy Graham himself stated his belief that only about 25% of those who come forward at one of his events actually became Christians. In recent years, studies have shown that only 6% of people who “come forward” at an evangelistic crusade are any different in their beliefs or behavior one year later.”

Wow – and that was with Billy Graham as the witness for Christ![2]

Belief is not Faith, and Acceptance is not Faith.

What if I say I “Trust” in the Lord.  Isn’t that the same as Faith?  Nope, all it means is that I trust that God is responsible for everything that happens.  In fact, I can get quite cynical and start blaming God when things to go as I planned. I am observing what happens, and assigning God as the source of my consequences, but not really accepting the outcome.

Belief is not Faith. Acceptance is not Faith.  Trust is not Faith.  By now you must be wondering, okay then, what is Faith?

Faith is when Belief, Acceptance, and Trust all come together as one resident process to transform us.  You see, Faith requires a belief based in knowledge.  Faith requires an Acceptance of Christ thorough an emotional assurance of his presence, and lastly, Faith requires a Trust such that you put yourself entirely into the “custody” of Christ.

As Christians, having Faith is not something we do blindly – it is something we become.  Unfortunately, the word Faith as used in the bible has been corrupted by secularist. We are mocked as being irrational because we have “Blind Faith.”  But that is not what the Bible means when it discusses Faith.  There is nothing Blind about “Faith in Christ,.”

When the Apostle Paul describes “pistis Christou” (Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16), his meaning doesn’t require an abandoning of reason.  In fact, it needs a reason!  Once we develop this biblical “Faith in Christ” it becomes centering and transformative.

Paul describes how “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)

And as followers of Christ, we know that we must exist through our “Faith in Christ.”

This is what Jesus was talking about in John’s Gospel when he said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:5)

Without Faith in Christ, we cannot do anything.  Without living in Faith our beliefs systems crumble, our assurance in our values rattle, and our trust in humanity begins to sink like stones in the water.

But what should we do when we have a crisis of Faith?  When we are having a crisis in our Faith what do we do to restore it?  That brings us back full circle to my antique tractor.  How do I get my Faith, like my tractor, to start and keep it running?

Just like the tractor, we need to look at the individual parts that make it run.  Let’s start with the part of Faith that comes from Belief based in Knowledge – it’s a lot like the wiring in a vehicle.

If we think about the wiring as the circuitry the tractor needs to operate, that’s like our core body of knowledge that we carry within us that shapes our beliefs.  Don’t we even use that expression – “That’s how we are wired?”  Are religious beliefs are wired according to the wiring diagrams found in our biblical texts.  If your Faith doesn’t turn on – look to how your wiring is affecting your beliefs.

Has your confidence in the bible been hijacked?  Or maybe you’ve been walking on eggshells about this whole thing around the Bible as “inerrant,” the Bible as “infallible.”  Perhaps you read what seems to be contradictions in scripture.  Or, maybe you choose to believe part of the Bible and ignore other parts – that’s some crossed wires right there.  If one lacks confidence in the bible – the electrical circuit needed to guide Faith – they might be headed for a meltdown.

How does one fix that?  Easy, we need to find the shorts.  We need to find the faults in the wiring.  That is why we need Bible Study and Sunday School, and even more critical is the need to read our Bibles on a regular basis.  This is a time when we learn to navigate those difficult passages.  The reality is when a person reads the bible long enough and often enough – they discover new interpretations all the time.  Once the short circuits are fixed, and our wiring back in order, we are ready to operate our Faith at peak performance.  We get back to “firing on all cylinders” as a mechanic might say!

By the way, if you are overwhelmed by the Bible (as most of us can be), let me tell a little secret.  God gives us knowledge as we are ready to accept and digest it.  Many people do not realize that, as Methodist, we are not taught that the bible is inerrant?  We do not have a doctrine of infallibility.  It would never have occurred to John Wesley because it was never really considered.  Instead, Article IV of our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, with the wording from the Evangelical United Brethren Church, says this:  “We believe the Holy Bible, Old, and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation.” 

Our doctrine says don’t sweat it.  God will lead you.  He will help us organize the wiring- harness.  If you are having a crisis of Faith and you can’t even get started – check your wiring.  Just open the Bible, and God will work with you to reveal all that is necessary for your salvation.

Now, what if your Faith is like my Tractor when it is trying to turn over, and it goes, grrrun grrrun, grrrun.  You’re not getting a spark.  Your Faith is a bit run down.  Faith runs on emotion.  It is our spark, our enthusiasm.   This sounds just like my tractor battery.  You see, we might have proper wiring, but if our battery is almost dead – we can get going.   In Hebrews 11:1 we read: “Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”   That conviction is a spark that ignites the fuel of our Faith.    If we want assurance, we need a spark.

When I was folks about their conversion story,  I often hear about a spark or light that shined.  Now, some people don’t have a big conversion story – they just felt a spark of the Holy Spirit working through them.  This is very common.  Most people do not realize that John Wesley was a Christian for twenty-two years before he felt his spark of assurance.  He tells of how he felt his heart strangely warmed (at Aldersgate).  That sounds like a glow plug in a diesel engine that finally ignite.  His internal fuel combusted, and he was granted the assurance he wanted.  We even sing a hymn called Blessed Assurance – it talks about how we are confident that Christ is within us.  We need assurance to sustain our Faith.

How do we create that spark?  Easy, let’s look at my old tractor – when my battery is weak, I put it on a charger.  I harness the power of other sources to reenergize it.  That is what the Christian community – your larger church family is for.  This is also why John Wesley insisted that the Methodist Church deploy small groups.  It is in these small groups we are held accountable and encouraged in our Faith.  We keep one another’s batteries charged up.

Isn’t that another expression we use at times when we are invigorated by a revival or a good sermon – “I got my battery charged?”

Finally, let’s look at what happens to us when our Faith begins to waiver because things are just not turning out how we expected.  Maybe the trust meter is declining.  This happens when we encounter hypocrisy in our own church.  Or when we are forced to witness awful things done in the name of Jesus.  I won’t even discuss the latest Priest scandal because it is so tragic for those abused children.  We all have our own stories, and experiences, maybe even right here in this church.   Our Faith in one another can erode when we start to lose trust in our community and our family.  Or maybe we merely just think God has abandoned us.  We wonder, where is God?

I like the story of Daniel and how the King decreed that no one could pray to anyone but him for thirty days.  When Daniel refused to stop praying three times a day to YHWH, the King was forced to put him in the lion’s den.  Now, if I was Daniel, I might have felt compelled to think – what is going on here?  I pray morning, noon, and night.  I worship God with all my Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind and look where I end up.  I’m served up as Dinner.

But Daniel did not let this clog up his fuel lines of Trust.  He kept right on praying, and God sent an Angel to close the mouths of the Lions.  Daniel 6:23 says that “The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”  

Daniel never stopped Trusting in God.  To keep our Faith fully intact we also must sustain our Trust.  How do we do that?  Just like in my old tractor, we find out what is clogging the fuel lines.  What is blocking our ability to have a conversation with God and to discern his plans?

Does anyone here know why a fuel filter gets clogged up?  Because there is junk that gets into the fuel.   How does Junk get into our lives that block us from communicating with God?  It’s easy because we are swimming in junk.  The secular world is flooding our world with garbage through all forms of media.  Movies, music, culture, and even education.  Our children are the most vulnerable – and social media is corrupting civil discourse.

The only defense we have, to keep our fuel lines unblocked, is to avoid the junk as best as we can.  Limit our exposure to negative influences.  We can also put a little hi-test into our tanks!  Let’s feed on good sources of Christian music, and culture, and conversation.  But even more than that, go right to the source for your fill-ups.

Go to God in prayer as often as you can.  Let him fill your tank with his gift of Grace.

I started this conversation by asking the question – how do you know if your Faith is real?  The answer is simple – you don’t unless you run a diagnostic:

  • Check that your wiring is free of short circuits – avoid crossing your wires of scripture. And remember, you only need the wire harness that’s fitted for you.  God will let you know what is sufficient for your salvation.
  • Make sure your battery stays charged. When your running low – don’t avoid others – get around them.  Let them recharge that spark of emotions – that Blessed assurance of the Holy Spirit.
  • And finally, make sure your fuel lines are not clogged by all the garbage in the world. We are not designed to run on ethanol – we need Hi-Test right from the source of God through prayer.

The Apostle Paul was clear when he told us “For in [the Good News] the righteousness of God is revealed through Faith for Faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by Faith.” (Romans 1:17)  We cannot live – if we don’t fully understand that Faith in Christ – is not Blind.  It needs Knowledge, Assurance, and Trust.  And it’s on us to us to keep our Faith tuned up and running at full capacity.  Just as Jesus said, this is the only way we can live.

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

Amen

[1] https://factsandtrends.net/2018/02/21/billy-grahams-life-ministry-by-the-numbers/

[2] https://redeeminggod.com/crusade-evangelism-effective/