Intimacy and Infinity

So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Luke 16:22-26

University of Texas Tower, Austin, Texas

As college freshmen, a friend and I spent some evenings handing out booklets about Jesus. Walking up and down Guadalupe Street next to the University of Texas campus, the reactions we encountered ranged from genuine interest (rare) to open hostility (common). We were ignored. Called names. Threatened. Some self-designated “Satanists” even tried to hex us.

Carved into the side of the iconic UT Tower in Austin, John 8:32 is clearly visible.  Every day hundreds of students pass by these words of Jesus: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” As a way of launching a conversation, we often posed the question, “Do you know what’s inscribed on the Tower and who said it?” Some said Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt. A few said Gandhi or Buddha. On discovering it was Jesus, most were surprised, and a few would stop and talk with us awhile.

As one guy exited a bar, clearly having had too much to drink, I walked with him for a few steps and gave him a booklet. As he staggered away, I said “Hey, do you know what will happen to you after you die?

The man hollered back over his shoulder, “I haven’t planned on that yet. I’ll decide when the time comes.”

A few weeks earlier in the Jester Center cafeteria, I was washing dishes side-by-side with a Buddhist co-worker from Taiwan. When I mentioned the possibility of spending eternity in heaven, he said, “Eternity? That’s living forever and ever in heaven?

Yes! Heaven is a place where there is no more death, only life,” I replied.

Sounds very boring to me,” he said flatly. Well, that was not what I expected to hear, but I realized later he was right. I had left Jesus out of my description of heaven! A heaven without Jesus would be boring.

Two conversations with two very different young men were causing me to think more deeply about my relationship with Jesus. My Buddhist buddy made me realize that it is the presence of God that makes heaven amazing. The guy out on Guadalupe Street assumed he could maintain his personal autonomy after death. As I thought about that, I realized he was right. You can do this life — and eternity — without Jesus. You can. But you’ll regret it. It is the absence of God that creates hell.

If I asked you to describe what life is like with someone who loves you, you would probably describe your relationship in terms of a series of experiences and effects. He makes me feel safe. She makes me laugh. He makes me happy. She makes me want to do my best. You can live without that person, but your life wouldn’t be the same.

When you have a relationship with Jesus, He impacts your life in the same way. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Knowing Him intimately and personally dramatically affects your life, and because the relationship is eternal, so is the quality of life Jesus described. A relationship with a friend or spouse may falter and fail, causing you to lose the life you enjoyed with that person. Not so with Jesus.

God is an infinite Being, perfect and measureless in all that He is. To have a relationship means that any experience with Him — the byproducts of being in communion with Him — will also be infinite. Infinite meaning… and joy… and completion… and satisfaction. It is impossible to enter into an open and intimate exchange with God, and not experience eternity as an endless succession of these things. This is heaven.

The booklet we were giving away in 1979…

But what if you do NOT have a relationship with Him? Instead of infinite intimacy with God, you are exposing yourself to the effects of an infinite “non-intimacy.” Your sense of loss and isolation will never be erased by His nearness. Your pain and sorrow will never be eliminated by His healing and comfort. Your sin and selfishness will never meet His grace and the transforming presence of His Holy Spirit. Your anger and resentment will never be melted away by the unceasing revelation of His justice and mercy.

Before you die, you can know something of the love and goodness of God that He has hardwired into creation, without having any connection to Him. But if you die like that — never entering into a relationship with Him by placing your faith in His Son — you will discover that those earthly hints of God’s presence are all gone. The god you served in life will be the only god you have in eternity… just you. The only resources available to you will be those you are able to provide for yourself, like a drifting soul in a limitless ocean with no relief in sight. This is hell.

The great gulf between heaven and hell is the eternal gap between experiencing or not experiencing an infinitely abundant relationship with God — the difference between life in His kingdom, and life within the boundaries of your own kingdom. Hell is a place of your choosing. A soul fortress composed of walls you construct… a place where you can call the shots… a kingdom with exactly one citizen, one companion, one preoccupation, and one sovereign: self.


Want to know more about how to have a relationship with God? Start here: How Jesus Changed My Life

What God Starts, God Finishes

“…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:6

Does the Bible really say that? I was stunned sitting in that pew on a Sunday night… and deeply moved.

A few months earlier I had been sitting in my dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin, when someone knocked on my door. David Procter, a staff member from Hyde Park Baptist Church, had dropped by to invite me to their college ministry. He later introduced me to a deacon, Alphonce Brown, who soon started picking me up for church on Sundays. As a year-old Christian, I had nothing to offer the church, but they invested time in me. Their love for Jesus was infectious… and their influence on me would last for decades.

So that’s how I came to be sitting in that pew on a Sunday night. That was the moment when I heard our pastor, Ralph Smith, mention a verse of scripture I had not heard before. I don’t recall anything else about the sermon, except I couldn’t wait to figure out where that verse was located in the Bible. After the service, I moved down to the front, surprised that no one else was lined up to speak to Dr. Smith (usually there was).

Pastor,” I asked, “you quoted a verse… something about God completing a work that He begins.” He smiled. I was one of those who regularly queried him after his sermons. With a notebook in hand, I wasn’t challenging anything he said, but I always had questions. He told me where to find Philippians 1:6 and then, as we briefly discussed what it means, a truth formed in my heart that has never left: what God starts, God finishes! I really needed to hear that.

As a young believer, all I could see were my ongoing struggles with sin and my failed attempts to live for Him. I wanted to get it right, but it seemed like I was always getting it wrong. I was focusing on what I wanted to do for God, instead of what God was already doing in me. I needed to understand that when I first trusted Jesus, God began a work in me that is unstoppable. What God starts, God finishes!

In me — just me — nothing good dwells (Romans 7:18). On my own, I will always stumble and fall.

Dr. Ralph Smith

Every failure reminds me that I cannot live without Him. Jesus Himself said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Today, I am thankful that He never fails to finish what He starts, and that He long ago started to work in me. Steadily, unfailingly, and relentlessly…

He is finishing what He started.


“Things are not as bad as they seem, things could get worse, but they will get better.” ~ Ralph Smith (1931-2017)

Dr. Smith was the pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas for 36 years. Click here for a brief account of his life from the Austin-American Statesman newspaper.

Conquered

“… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The kingdom of God is not an amusement park seeking to distract me occasionally from the daily grind. His kingdom is not a self-improvement program, working to make me a superior person, and the world a better place.

No. It’s a kingdom arising from a battlefield.

In any KINGdom there can only be one King! Not two. To enter His kingdom means I have been defeated, captured, and owned. Won by love and grace, I have surrendered my little “kingdom” and laid down my arms, abandoning my role in the ancient, ongoing rebellion. Christ the Victor has taken my heart as His dwelling place.

Yes, He is “mine.” But, more significantly, it must be underscored that I AM HIS! Won as precious spoil in a bloody battle for souls.

Rest in Christ

The secret of resting in Christ — and experiencing the peace He wants to give me in every circumstance — lies in abandoning myself into His control and care.

I am not resting in Him if I am clinging to the illusion that I can manage my life, relegating Him to the role of a mere adviser. He is my loving and gracious Lord who intends to work actively in and through me.

He is not calling me to a life of self-sufficiency, but rather to a life of soul rest and simple obedience: a life of overflowing abundance received only when I surrender my meager alternative.

He does not sit on a distant throne waiting for my arrival in heaven. He lives in me at this very moment and is waiting for me to draw near, releasing my infantile grip on my needs for significance and survival, and falling helplessly into His infinite care and purposes for my life.

Jesus says…

Come to Me,
    all you who labor and are heavy laden,
    and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
    for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
    and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

The Inner Vision

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” ~ Hebrews 12:2-3

When your heart is dry, and life seems to hold little promise of joy, and your passion is burning low, what is happening and what can you do?

The causes of your spiritual and emotional malaise may be complex, but the effect is the same… your inner world becomes a mess. The entire vision of your soul is filled with the immediate demands of the latest wave of distress. You see no way forward. You can’t see beyond this moment. Darkness settles in.

Jesus faced the very worst circumstances and people. He was criticized and betrayed. He was attacked and falsely accused. He was insulted and threatened.

Yet, even in the moments before His death, He had a way of looking past the hurt and pain. The writer of Hebrews says it this way: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” He preoccupied Himself with the joy that lay just ahead… a joy so great that it flooded his present existence with meaning. He kept on. Not out of duty or discipline, but from a controlling vision of reality — the truth about His life and identity and His relationship to the Father — that became a vast reservoir of hope in His soul.

What you “see” in your heart controls your inner thoughts and emotions. When the “eyes” of your heart are distracted from Jesus, you will “grow weary or fainthearted” within your soul (Heb. 12:3). That’s why the writer calls us to look to Jesus… to “consider Him.” The options are clear: look at everything but Jesus, and grow weary in soul, or look to Him only and gain a new vision.

He wants you to stop and turn to Him with your weary and overloaded  life. He invites you to come now… with your very real and imperfect self (Matthew 11:28-29; Psalm 27:8). He is not a set of religious beliefs and practices; He is a Person. And knowing Him personally is the only way that any life gets real and dense with meaning (John 17:3).

Where can you see Him? Pick up a New Testament and read the historical accounts of those who walked with Him (found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Rediscover the language of His heart by reading His Words. Watch how He moved among people then… He has not changed. Hear His words and place yourself into the stories. Lose yourself at His feet. Allow Him to invade every moment of this day. Discover the reality of His presence with you and in you. Abandon yourself to His authority and mission. Yield to the gentle pressure of His Spirit. Then you’ll see.

Seeing Him changes everything.

“Pray like this…”

2016-06-13 21.28.56 - CopyMy Father
Unseen, but always seeing me

Your name… let it be deeply revered by all

Your kingdom… let it come, Your ruling Presence

Your will… let it be fully expressed
on earth in my circumstances
as it is in heaven where Your will is unopposed

Today

Here are my needs, I leave them all with You
the One who cares for me

Oh…
cancel the mountain of wrongs inflicted by me
and with fear and trembling
I ask You to pour out Your mercy shown to me…
Your grace freely flowing through me…
drenching every person who owes me

As You walk before me into every moment, I am at rest in You
leaning in and listening
as You shelter me in Your shadow
during the enemy’s vicious attempts to destroy me

You are the glorious King… and I am so privileged
to be Your child!

Amen.

(one expression of His outline for prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 ~ DP)

The Coasting Christian

Drifting-boat“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” ~ Hebrews 2:1

You and I need to beware of “coasting” as a Christian… like a ship without an anchor, a Christian can “drift away” from a life lived by faith. Why?

  1. Coasting is effortless. Coasting happens to you (“drift” = passive voice) – not because of anything you have done, but because of your inactivity.
  2. Coasting is inevitable. The inactivity that makes coasting effortless also makes it inevitable. It will happen if you consistently do nothing to exercise faith and engage Jesus in your daily life and decisions. Secular and irreligious forces in the world are constantly demanding your attention and response. If you are not yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will tend to do life according to the popular consensus and worldview of your culture.
  3. Coasting is a threat to every believer. The author includes himself in the warning “lest WE drift away.” No one is immune to coasting.
  4. Coasting is rarely done alone. The writer addresses the recipients collectively (2PPL), suggesting they were prone to coasting as a group. Not only will a casual Christian negatively influence other Christians, other casual Christians will also negatively influence him. Together, they will lull themselves into thinking all is well in their relationship with God.
  5. Coasting is always away from Jesus. We don’t “drift” into greater intimacy and obedience with God – we drift away from Him.

What can we do to combat this natural tendency? Growing as a mature follower of Jesus requires intentionality: a continuous steering and a conscious submission of the heart towards the indwelling Master! Will you pause and turn to Him right now and do that? At age 22, Robert Robinson was battling coasting in his own life when he penned these words in 1757…

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
~ Robert Robinson (1735 – 1790)