My own personal stance against religious hypocrisy - both my own, and any others who seek to hurt people in the name of God.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Are You Rich or Are You Poor

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Mark 10:17 Revised Standard Version

It's a question many of us have asked. Some continue to ask it. Oh, maybe we don't use those words, but the question is there. How do I get to heaven?

The punchline answer is, "die". But that's actually the last step, not the first. If you're not on your way there before you die, you certainly won't be after.

So what do you (do I) have to do to get to heaven?

Do you pick up the arrogance in the question? There's an assumption there which is an affront to God. Fortunately, he knows we are flesh and silly and will treat with us on our level, so we can understand him. That's why he became flesh. So we could understand.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:1-3 New King James Version

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 New King James Version

The assumption, of course, is that we can somehow "earn" our way into heaven. We can purchase the right through some deed, or series of deeds, on our part. And that if we were to accomplish these deeds, God would have no choice but to let us in. In effect, we would have more power than God. I think that's what Lucifer tried to do. Just look what happened to him.

Now the truth is, there is something we can do to get to heaven. We can obey God. But that's reactive, not proactive. God speaks to our spirits, and how we respond to him will ultimately determine our future.

This story of the rich young ruler is repeated in the Book of Matthew. There, Jesus' response to the young man is recorded thus:

So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." Matthew 19:17 New King James Version.

Keep the commandments. Of course, we can guess the young man's response to that, and Matthew also records that.

He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 19:18-19 New King James Version

That pretty much covers all commandments from God. The key to remember here is, "from God," not from man. We mortals have a tendency to add and subtract from God's commandments.

The young man felt he had achieved all of this, but he still wanted to hear it from Jesus. Why? Because somewhere inside himself he probably still felt empty and unsure. His next question supports this theory, for it suggests he senses he is still lacking something. He was.

The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:20-24 New King James Version

When people are rich they have a difficult, if not impossible, task of understanding their need for God, forgiveness, and mercy. Heaven is not a concern. Either they assume they are going, or they don't care one way or another.

I think it is important to point out that a person can be rich in things other than money, and that those other riches can be just as much a deterrent to seeing heaven as money itself. In the movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean", Jack Sparrow accuses Will Turner of being obsessed with treasure. Turner gets indignant and denies it. Then Sparrow says something profound: "Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate." He's right. It's not.

A lot of people who have little, or no, money are rich in other things. Perhaps it's their spouse. Their children. Their fame. Their power. Their friends. Could be anything, really. If we focus on those other things, and money is included in this list, to the point where God is falling out of his place of importance in our lives, there is an excellent chance that God will make us "poor" in order to make us understand where our needs really lie.

It's a horrible experience to lose money, people, prestige, possessions, talent, health, whatever. But if we allow the experience to turn our hearts and thoughts to God, it will ultimately be for our own good. And in due time we will regain those things, people, abilities that we lost. How do we regain someone who has died? But biding our time and living our life until such time that God reunites us in heaven.

It's horrible, and we go through a very natural phase of being very angry with God. Don't get too bent out of shape about getting angry with God. He understands. And he's not intimidated by our anger. He will not respond in kind. He will respond in kindness.

Psalm 103 New King James Version

[1] Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!

[2] Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:

[3] Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases,

[4] who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,

[5] who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

[6] The LORD executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

[7] He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.

[8] The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.

[9] He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.

[10] He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.

[11] For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

[12] as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

[13] As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him.

[14] For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

[15] As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

[16] For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

[17] But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children,

[18] to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.

[19] The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.

[20] Bless the LORD, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word.

[21] Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure.

[22] Bless the LORD, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

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