Narrow Gates

I’m at Starbucks this morning with a great cup of the bold blend. Ahhh! Got me to thinking about what life is like after death – or what Christians call Eternal Life.

The Hell by Coppo di Marcovaldo circa 1301

When Jesus started his ministry, he took his chosen twelve and a bunch of other people up on the side of a mountain and gave what we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:5 NRSV). “If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God…” (note 1). Jesus talked about adultery, divorce, loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you (Matthew 4-7). Then he states the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

As a Christian I took this lesson very seriously. These were clear instructions that we should be following every day – if we are to be a Jesus follower. To me, these instructions were very frightening because I was almost certain that I could not meet all the criteria from his great sermon. But what really scares me is the Narrow Gate passage (Matthew 7:13-14):

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Holy crap! Can you see what Jesus is saying? To paraphrase, he’s basically saying that most of us will enter through the wide gates leading to hell (to destruction) and very few of us will get to walk through the narrow gates leading to heaven (that leads to life). That’s a lot for me to digest. Let’s see…

I looked at the statistics (note 2) – only one third of the world’s population practice Christianity, which means two thirds or 66% of the world are going through the gates that lead to destruction automatically. And Jesus told the crowd on that mountainside that only a few of those that heard his words will enter the “narrow gates.” That makes me think again. The statistics also say that there are over 43,000 different denominations in the world. I’m almost certain that each denomination might have a slightly different formula for being saved (salvation). I’m hoping that I am lucky enough to have chosen the correct denomination.

And then I got to thinking – what if I was absolutely sure of my salvation? I have that ticket to paradise in my back pocket. Now what? What is heaven like? The Bible is not clear as to what I could expect. Is it all-inclusive? Is there free tv and internet? Would I have a roommate? Vegan food? Eternal is a long time! It’s forever plus one! What would I do for the first 1,000 years? The next million years? If I didn’t like it, could I change my mind? What if God changed his mind, like he did with Noah?

A lot to think about. Time for a second cup. I wonder if Mahatma Ghandi or Buddha drink coffee. Have a wonderful day!

Notes: ============================================================

1. What is the Sermon on the Mount?. (2017). GotQuestions.org. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.gotquestions.org/sermon-on-the-mount.html

2. (2017). Gordonconwell.edu. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pdf

3. Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 7 – New Revised Standard Version. (2017). Bible Gateway. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7&version=NRSV

A River Runs Through It

How does anyone live without coffee?  My Christian friend and I were talking about the sacrament of Baptism so I thought I would talk about it this morning.

Baptism has always been a mystery to me.  And once again, baptism is one of those things that Christian sects just can’t seem to get a handle on.  Should we baptize babies or is it for believers only?  Does sprinkling work or is immersion the only way?  Is baptism just symbolic or does it actually save us?  These are just a few of the questions that separate Christians and yet many apologists still claim that the Bible is clear about baptism.  Here’s a quote from one Christian apologist:

“In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9).  So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation is a faulty interpretation.”

And here’s another view from a different Christian apologist:

“Believing and being baptized to be saved, as Mark 16:16 says, does not nullify the grace of God, but it activates it…  Baptism is a very serious matter.  According to the Bible, baptism is for the purpose of salvation.”

These are just two examples out of a multitude of ideas about baptism.  You’ll notice that each author is basing their interpretation from one passage of Scripture.  By choosing which scripture is true, aren’t you saying that the other parts of the Bible are not correct?  Or are you saying that man has not interpreted Scripture correctly – and who’s interpretation is correct?

I believe that it is man’s nature to try and figure out how everything works.  But when it comes to God, who is an omni-God, can we really say why, when or who about anything He says or does?  Life is a mystery.  Nature is a beautiful mystery.  Love is an exciting mystery.  Can we not let it be – just a mystery?

I think that I will immerse myself in another cup, please.

“But I Say to You…”

As a teacher, I always try very hard to simplify things.  Over my first cup of coffee this morning I wanted to see if I could simplify Jesus’ teachings by jotting them down briefly on a sheet of paper.  I thought the Gospel of Matthew was a good place to start since Jesus did a lot of teaching from a mountainside.

He starts out with what we call the Beatitudes (5:1-11), or the “Blessed are” statements.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  That’s a tough one to live up to.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Then he says in 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  He says that if we break “any” of the old Jewish commandments or causes others to break one, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But, here’s the shocker.  “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:21 starts out with what I call the “But I say to you…” statements.  For instance, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  And adultery was forbidden by Jesus.

Jesus sums it up in Matthew 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Amen to that.  Very few I would say.

To enter the kingdom heaven, according to Jesus, is a very difficult thing to do.  But wait a minute.  Paul saw a vision on his way to Damascus.  The bright light that blinds him on that road turns out to be Jesus.  Paul, a Jewish Pharisee, immediately converts from an executor of Christians to a faithful follower of Jesus.  He dedicates his life in the teachings of Jesus.  Most Christians will say that he started the Christian movement.

Now, the hard part for me to understand is that Paul appears to “simplify” the teachings of Jesus.  He claims that all you have to do is believe in Christ and that he was risen – no works necessary.  Matthew’s Jesus was all about works – how you conduct yourself and how you treat others.  It appears that Paul’s teachings were at odds with what Jesus taught on the mountainside.  Did Jesus, aka God, change his mind about what he taught earlier?

Oh well.  Another mystery goes unsolved – at least in my mind.  So, I’ll just have another cup of coffee.