Sometimes the old stuff is still relevant

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

I had to memorize this before I joined a church for the first time in high school. It’s an ancient statement of Christian beliefs called the Apostles’ Creed.

I grew up in formal Protestant churches that were liturgical. We recited the Apostles’ Creed frequently. It’s not a perfect statement of faith, but it’s pretty good. There’s a lot of excellent theology in it.

I attend a non-liturgical church now. We don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer or any other liturgical statement, ever. Well, hardly ever.

I miss it. We want to be all modern and new, but sometimes the old stuff is still relevant.

What is a Christian supposed to believe, anyway? Do we even know any more? Every denomination, every church (whether denominational or not), every group of believers of all types, issues a statement of beliefs. Based on what?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Well, OK. The Apostles’ Creed wasn’t around at the beginning. The first version was written about 390 AD. It’s old, but not quite Bible-times old.

Is the Apostles’ Creed worth remembering today?

I think it is. There’s plenty of good Biblical truth in there that often gets lost in 21st century America.

 

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

 

Can we agree on the opening line? Do all Christians believe God made Heaven and Earth? The Bible begins, in the first words of Genesis, with this truth. If we disregard this, we disregard everything that follows it – both in the Bible and in the creed.

Did God create the Earth in six literal days, or did those six days represent a longer timeline? We weren’t around then, so we have to study evidence we discover about the Creation. Whatever your interpretation, God created Earth – and all that’s in it, including us. That’s ground zero.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

 

Yes or no. Is Jesus God’s only Son, and is He our Lord – which means we serve Him with our daily lives?

 

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

 

Was Jesus both God and man? If he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, then the living God is his father. If he was born of Mary, then he was a man, a human being.

This is an impossible concept to fully grasp, and yet it’s true. God himself came to Earth to connect with us on our level, as one of us.

 

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.

 

Many versions of the Apostles’ Creed omit that last line, because it’s controversial. How could the living God descend into hell?

Here’s the best explanation of that I’ve heard (I don’t remember where I heard this first):

In Heaven, we are fully with God. In Hell, we are completely separated from God. (We experience parts of both on Earth, which is why we have such a struggle between good and evil.) When Jesus took our sins, yours and mine, on his shoulders on the cross, God the Father abandoned his Son there – because God cannot even look at sin, much less accept it in any form. Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1), was a literal question. At that instant, when the Father and Son were separated, Jesus descended into hell.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story.

 

On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

God the Father forgave all the sin that Jesus had become on our behalf – and by extension, God has forgiven us of all the sins we have committed, are committing and will commit. This is mind-blowing, life-changing, and absolutely true.

This is the definition of unconditional love.

zoo lights 8

All we have to do is accept it, and our sins are forgiven. We can’t earn forgiveness. It’s a gift. We have to say yes, and thank you.

And one day, Jesus will judge us, not for all the good or bad we’ve done or not done, but only on whether we’ve accepted the gift of his forgiveness or not.

Our present and future lives should reflect our thanks to God for this gift. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t talk about this, but if we think we have encountered the living God and our lives don’t change at all because of it, then we haven’t encountered the living God.

This is basic Christianity.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

The creed ends with several theological statements:

  • The Holy Spirit lives in each believer. The Spirit is God, giving us insight into the Father and Son. Again, this is impossible to fully understand, but we will one day.
  • The holy catholic Church refers to all believers around the world. “Catholic” is lowercase; it does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Communion of saints refers to the universal salvation of all believers past, present and future. We are all brothers and sisters, “saints,” in Christ.
  • God forgives sins. He does not excuse or ignore them. Forgiveness requires a huge cost: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • Our bodies will be resurrected one day – as perfect heavenly bodies. Again, I can’t explain how this will happen, but the Bible says it will, and Christians look forward to it.
  • Everlasting means forever. We have a beginning, but no end. Earthly death is a temporary thing, a transition to a better life that will be everlasting. This is our hope. Death is hard, especially on those of us remaining on Earth, but we all will face it one day. No exceptions. Are we ready?
  • Amen means “so be it.”

With all kinds of ideas out there about what it means to be a Christian, sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. The Apostles’ Creed is based on the Bible itself.

It’s a good refresher. Hope this encourages you.

Going home

Very few of us can time our deaths the way our births are timed.

Nine months from conception, there’s a due date. With a natural birth, that’s a pretty good ballpark estimate. For a Cesarean section, the parents get to choose the specific date of birth.

Rarely does that happen on the other side of life.

Every death is sudden, even if it’s expected.

The guarantee

In the span of two days last weekend, five friends or acquaintances breathed their last breath.

They ranged in age from 81 to 43. Four of them had long-term conditions; two were in such severe pain, I’m sure their loved ones saw their passing as relief.

But still.

The fifth friend shocked everybody. He was healthy, to my knowledge – no one saw his death coming. He was 62. (I’m 58; he’s my generation.)

Two of them lived in Northeast Ohio, the other three in mid-Michigan (my old stomping grounds).

Death is guaranteed for each of us.

Later rather than sooner, we hope.

Unexpected deaths are the ones that make the news – traffic fatalities, drug overdoses, crime victims, that sort of thing. Most of us won’t leave Earth like that, thankfully, but there’s no guarantees about that, either.

Another friend’s granddaughter died about two weeks ago. She suffered numerous health issues from the day she was born. She was 21.

No one ever said life was fair.

Homegoing

Sometimes, those who suffer have the best dispositions. They are thankful for the blessings they have, even if good health isn’t one of them. Our 81-year-old friend was like that. He had debilitating headaches his entire adult life, but he looked on the bright side every day.

His strong faith allowed him to do that.

He is in heaven now with his savior, Jesus. He knows that with certainty. So does his wife. They were married 61 years.

We visited her yesterday afternoon to offer our condolences. She said she’s not planning a funeral for him, but a homegoing. We knew what she meant.

Funerals are sad. We mourn the loss of our loved one. Rightfully so. But that’s where the focus remains.

With a homegoing, family members and friends know that death is temporary – just a transition to a better life. Healing is promised in heaven. Physical, emotional and every other kind of healing that each of us needs.

The end of time

We mourn the loss of our loved one here on Earth and we miss him or her terribly, but we know we will see him or her again.

Earth is a temporary home, full of pain and struggle, as well as joy and laughter. We know this. Good vs. evil. Unconditional love vs. selfishness. Right vs. wrong.

These battles are fought in the human heart and mind, aren’t they?

We play them out in society, but the real battles take places inside each of us.

When eternity comes, those struggles will end. For better or worse.

We’ll either stand with God in heaven, or we’ll spend forever without Him. The Bible talks about a lake of fire. I wonder also if hell will be a lonely place. We may not see our friends and family any more. Ever again.

I can’t imagine a worse fate than that.

My choice, your choice

We get to choose where we live forever. We determine our own fate, really.

I can’t choose for you, and you can’t choose for me. This is personal, and it’s individual. I can give you chapter and verse, but you must decide whether to accept the gift of life forever or not.

Life is a gift.

Life on Earth is a gift. Each of us must thank our parents, both mother and father, for giving us life. You and I had nothing to do with it.

Life forever is a similar principle. There won’t be marriage in heaven, but we will have a Father. He’s the one who offers us that gift of life eternal.

Most of my friends who just died will receive a homegoing, a celebration of life on Earth and the promise of a wonderful, perfect forever future in heaven.

We can’t wrap our minds around forever. The end of time. No more alarm clocks or deadlnes.

Nor can we fathom perfection. Beauty for beauty’s sake. No hidden agendas. No secrets. No pain or suffering, of any type. No getting tired at night. Never a cold or fever, much less any other sickness or injury.

Mental illness? No such thing any more.

The big picture

One day, we will see the big picture of life. We don’t now. Each of us sees only our small part in this big universe. There’s so much of life I can’t see or understand. I write to try to make sense of it all, but as the Bible says, now I see in a mirror dimly, but then (in heaven) face to face.

I have strong views on certain subjects, and you may have a differing viewpoint on those same subjects. We both might be right, because we see the issue from different perspectives. Neither of us understands the big picture. We try, but we just cannot.

That’s why we need to talk, to listen, to respect each other, to learn from each other.

One day, all the issues we wrestle with will come together. The God of the universe, the One who created us and everything else in it, will reveal all to us.

For now, God has given us earthly minds to learn and grow. None of us can know everything about life.

We desperately need this perspective today.

We need each other.

We NEED each other.

We can’t make this life work without each other. Even though we try.

Oh, we try.

The more I learn, the more I discover how much I don’t know. Keep teaching me, each one of you. I’ll do the same for you.

Meanwhile, as we do that, I’m ready for my homegoing, when all will be well. I’m not expecting it any time soon – I’m still relatively young and in excellent health, if I can say that. No guarantees, of course, except that I will die one day. But whenever the day comes, I hope you’ll celebrate it with me.

And I’d love to celebrate yours, too.

Just not for awhile.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate this life on Earth together. And remember with gratitude those who are already home.

Giving thanks

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 118:1

 

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good time to remind ourselves what we’re thankful for. Some years I make a list. It gets long, including family, good health, friends, plenty of comforts of life, and many other things.

I am thankful for all of that. I never want to take any of those people, including you, and things for granted.

This Bible verse gives a slightly different take on thanksgiving. It reminds us where all of our blessings come from.

So often we keep our eyes on things of this world. That’s a downer for me. It’s easy to see the divisions, crimes, political correctness (in every area of life, including sports) and self-centeredness that dominate American culture.

Children and teens abuse cell phones. The internet features judgmentalism and pornography. Television shows off plenty of flesh and violence. So do the movies, adding cussing as routine language far too often.

But phones, computers, TVs and movie screens are inanimate objects. Technology itself is neither bad nor good.

What we do with them determines their usefulness to us.

Can we be thankful for our technology?

I’m thankful for my laptop, because that’s how I connect with many of you. I value your friendship, even if it’s primarily online.

I don’t have to agree with you politically or in other ways to keep you as a friend. I look for common ground, even if we see life differently.

How can I do that? Because the God of the universe created us both. You are my brother or sister, really. We have the same Father, even as we have different fathers.

I am thankful for that this holiday season. More unites us than separates us, if we choose to see life that way.

Every one of us entered this world the same way, and each of us will return to dust. We do many things to prolong our lives, but the end is inevitable.

That’s not morbid. That’s fact. Indeed, that’s a good thing, from my perspective. I often see this world as a downer; heaven is the opposite. I’m excited to get there one day.

The LORD is good, the verse from Psalm 118 says. Many of us don’t believe that, but I do. When looking solely at this world, we can’t trust anyone anymore, can we? No one is good.

But the living God is.

How do I know? Because his steadfast love endures forever. That wonderful sentence is repeated throughout the Psalms.

Steadfast: Not subject to change.

Love: Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.

Endures: To remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding.

Forever: For a limitless time.

Aren’t those definitions worth giving thanks for? They came from the Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, copyright 1991.

The sentence came from God, the definitions from a secular dictionary. They go together, don’t they? That’s the way God works.

Steadfast

With people, change is good – because we know we have messed up our lives. Even if we won’t admit it to each other, we know it’s true. To worship a God who never – never – messes up is beyond our comprehension, really.

No temptation affects Him. No anger forces Him to lose His temper. Judgment, yes; condemnation, no.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus was around before time began (John 1:1), and He will be around after time ends (read the book of Revelation). As our creator, He knows our deepest needs and wants to meet them – if we let Him.

Love

Love takes many forms, of course – most of them selfish. We give hoping or expecting to receive something in return. That’s why we hurt each other; there’s no way another person can meet our deepest needs and desires.

That’s why we need to look up. I give thanks to the God who loves me the way I need to be loved.

And because His love is steadfast, it’s there even when I don’t feel it.

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus, in Mark 3:35

Kinship is bestowed on those of us who do what God wants us to do. As kin, we will receive an inheritance one day.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ …

Romans 8:15-17

We are adopted children. Parents who adopt choose to do so; in the same way, God has chosen us. The inheritance He offers us is far better than anything our parents can bestow on us, because material things won’t last forever. Neither will we, on Earth.

We know this, don’t we?

Endures

The dictionary definition of endure is eye-opening: “To remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding.”

It’s not keeping the same job for 40 years, or the same marriage for 50. Endurance requires suffering.

A good friend has had debilitating headaches since he was 14. He’s in his early 80s now. Several of you endure chronic pain with no end in sight. I cannot imagine that kind of endurance.

When Jesus Christ suffered taunting, a crown of thorns, 40 lashes and death by crucifixion, He suffered in ways we can’t begin to understand.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

Jesus, in Luke 22:42

To willingly accept suffering on our behalf, even when He knew it would kill Him, is steadfast love that endures.

Forever

We don’t think of the afterlife this way, but we should. Our time on Earth is finite; again, we know this, if we’ll stop and think about it.

Then what?

Is this all there is? Really?

Such a downer that would be.

There is more. So much more.

“… he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

John, in Revelation 21:4

This is only the beginning of what heaven will be like. It’s a pretty good start, isn’t it?

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

his steadfast love endures forever!

This is what I’m thankful for this week.

Bonus: I’m now ready for Christmas.

The reason to live

President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un recently traded barbs about who had the largest “nuclear button.”

Soon after, an emergency missile alert accidentally went out to everyone in Hawaii, sparking panic as thousands of people, assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones.

Mudslides in southern California killed at least 20 people.

And there was a fatal school shooting in Kentucky.

Lots of fear. Life at times flashes before us, unexpectedly.

Which leads me to this question: Are we ready to die?

What if one such emergency visited your neighborhood?

No guarantees …

We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. None of us is.

We know this.

We eat nutritious foods, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle to try to prolong a happy, healthy time on Earth. Often it works.

I’ve been blessed with a healthy body, which I don’t take for granted. I enjoy ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie as much as anyone, but I don’t overindulge in them. I try to get some exercise once or twice a week.

All things in moderation.

It’s worth the effort. I rarely call in sick to work. I don’t sit on the sidelines because my body won’t let me do what I enjoy doing. I know many of you can’t say this. Each of us does our best with what we’ve been given.

… except death

But even in the best of situations, it won’t last forever. Our bodies eventually will wear out. It’s inevitable.

I am ready to die today. I’m not hoping to die or expecting to die; I’m not fatalistic about it.

But I’m ready.

It might not happen for another 40 years. That’s great, too. I’ll serve God on this Earth for as long as I’m here.

We all think about what might happen in the next life. We’re wired that way. We know we’re mortal. Some of us try to suppress those thoughts, but we all have them.

Especially as death nears, so I’ve heard.

Preparing for forever

Why wait until then to address the issue? There are things we can do now to prepare for forever.

I will be with Jesus Christ in heaven when I die. This I know. Whether it’s today or 40 years from now, it will happen.

The God of the Bible is not the same as the gods of any other religion or belief system. We do not have our own truth. Sorry, Oprah. There’s a bigger picture here, one that men and women must adhere to. (Men who abuse women will not be excused in the next life, that is certain. Even if justice isn’t served on Earth, it will be in heaven.)

The God of the Bible is the only god who cares about our welfare – on Earth as well as in the next life. That’s why we should look at this issue now, before we reach our deathbed.

 

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

 

We don’t have to follow a list of rules before God will accept us. He takes us just as we are. Christians aren’t perfect people – far from it. We don’t have our act together, necessarily.

What makes us different?

We are forgiven. That’s all.

 

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

 

That’s it. There’s no magic formula or ritual that must be followed.

Living forever

Of course, living that out isn’t easy. That’s why we attend church every week, and why we should participate in Sunday school or a small group for support and encouragement. It’s why we should read the Bible often – every day, if possible – to learn what’s in there.

Even Bible scholars, which I am not, have plenty of things to learn about God.

Does that turn you off?

It should excite you.

God is bigger than we can possibly imagine. At the same time, He is smaller than the tiniest detail of our lives.

He cares. To the point of death. His death. Our deaths.

His life. And our lives.

Am I weak or ignorant if I say that there are things I know about God, but there’s plenty I don’t know?

“Salvation” is knowable. That’s one thing we can be certain about.

Why does God save some and not others? That we will never know on this Earth.

All of us are sinners. No one deserves “salvation.” No one earns it.

Why God saves some, why He shows mercy, proves that He loves us and wants the best for us.

Including you.

Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, we should ask:

Why do good things happen to bad people?

All of us, every single one of us, is “bad.” You can find fault with me rather easily, and a few of you do. I could find fault with you as well if I wanted to look at you that way.

How do we break that cycle?

Only by following God’s example.

He sees the good in each of us, and wants to draw that out. He offers “salvation” as a gift.

But it’s not a gift until we accept it.

I can offer you a Christmas present, but if you return it to the store, you’ve rejected it. So, it’s not a gift.

God doesn’t do that. He offers us “salvation” even though we don’t deserve it.

Then, we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better.

It’s worth the effort.