This week marked the first week of nightly Bible Study devoted to the End Times. We began by taking care of the most important business first: SALVATION. That sounds like a simple enough term, doesn't it? But when eternal life hangs in the balance, that word should rank as the most important term for discussion in all of our lives and in all of history as well.
How many of you could rattle off, without much thought, the reason you know that you know that you know you are saved and marked for eternal life? Interesting thought, huh? How many of you came up with those thoughts on your own, based on an in-depth study of scripture joined with hours of study in history, to make certain your beliefs are based on as much factual evidence as possible? And how many of you would be willing to argue vehemently, threatening family relationships and friendships, over those beliefs?
OK, Baptists and Pentecostals (I can say that because my family and hometown was loaded with Baptists and Pentecostals), I can already hear your reply: "Salvation comes through FAITH! I don't need a bunch of facts."
Sure, faith is a key component of salvation since it revolves around the belief in One we cannot see with our eyes, audibly hear with our ears, or physically touch. However, it should not be overlooked that the Bible is full of pertinent facts, and recorded history can serve to back those facts, but it can also occasionally challenge them. It is for this reason, I believe, there are so many different religions, cults, sects, and denominations in our world. Say whatever you want to say, but everyone on earth believes something. And most either embrace what their family believed because it was such a positive experience for them, or they turn away from what they were taught as a child because they witnessed hypocrisy of some sort, making the beliefs they were taught unauthentic.
While Scripture is mysteriously timeless and unchanging, as we mature through our life experiences, the meaning of scripture often changes too. In other words, as our life perspective is altered, we essentially develop ideas and thought through a brand new lens. I have a recent example:
As a teenager, I read the book: "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. I read it again in December. One of the most famous quotes from the book: "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a Mockingbird."
If asked when I was seventeen, I would have told you the book was written about the issue of prejudice surrounding blacks and whites. I remember feeling sad when Tom was killed in the book, and outraged by the injustice of his guilt sentencing. If I had been asked why the author gave the book such a title, I would have replied that Tom Robinson was the Mockingbird, and it was unfair for him to be shot and killed just because he was a black man.
My perspective had changed so much by the time I read the book 25 years later, I was stunned by it! Literally, it was like I was reading a completely different book. Through my new life lens, I was startled to realize the strange Boo Radley I had seen as an out of control boy in need of discipline when I was seventeen had turned into a mentally frail and disabled fellow who had become sucked into the wrong crowd as a young teen and was being parented by an overbearing father who was ashamed of him....Mrs Dubose, the old witch of a woman with a haughty spirit who had screamed at poor little Scout and Jem when I was seventeen became a drug addicted woman fighting with everything she could muster to be set free from drugs before she died....and Tom Robinson, the wonderful black man in the book, part of his arm had been cut off in a cotton gin accident leaving him with only part of an arm that didn't work at all....as a teenager, his having only one arm made his innocence of rape a stark reality even though the jury still found him guilty, and this made me angry. But as a teen, I missed the fact that Tom was both handicapped AND a minority.
The difference? I wasn't mom to three disabled children, and I was still blind. (It is interesting to note Harper Lee's mother was mentally handicapped and stayed shut in their family home most all of Lee's life.)
"To Kill A Mockingbird" is a book written about being open to accepting all people....being willing to look past the outer layers into the heart of a person.....especially the "least of these" who might be physically handicapped, mentally handicapped, part of a minority, or a person addicted to a substance or behavior. At seventeen, I had mastered the foundation of racism in the book with tremendous pride, but I had missed the intricate detail that had been masterfully woven into the very fibers of the foundation.
I wonder if we are guilty of the same thing when we read scripture? when we speak negatively about religious doctrine that differs from our own? when we turn our face away from the needy because they aren't easy to look at or to deal with? Have we been so religious that we have missed the intricate fibers that have been masterfully woven into the foundation....the very foundation of the world? Have we been so entrenched with promoting doctrine that we have too often missed the key to "the book of all books"..... "LOVE"?
For argument sake, Chappy and I discussed many of the different religions of the world with our children this week. The word "religion" is derived from the latin word: religio (verb: religare), meaning "to bind" or "place an obligation on". From a purely websterial standpoint, then, religion is simply a group of people who come together and obligate themselves to believe the same things...their similar beliefs is what "binds" them.
This week, instead of discussing the many ways world religions differ, our family worked to find a similar thread between all of the major religions. Of course there are many differences, but in order to see things from a "new lens", we focused on trying to find a common thread that might "bind" us all in some way:
Judaism: The Jews (named after the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel) follow the teachings of the Torah and the Talmud. Jews believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.
Christianity: The Christians, encompassing all followers of Jesus Christ, follow the Old and New Testament of the Holy Bible (the Old translated from Hebrew and the New translated from Greek). Christians believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.
Islam: The Muslims, encompassing all followers of the teachings of the prophet Muhammed, study the Q'ran and follow its principles. They believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.
Mormonism: The Mormons, encompassing all followers of the teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, study the Book of Mormonism, the Bible, and other revelations of Joseph Smith. Mormons believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.
Hinduism: Originally believed to be rooted in Hebrew Scripture when European tribes invaded India and introduced the new religion, Hinduism is a belief in one ultimate supreme God. Hindus accept the worship of many "gods" and "goddesses"; however, they believe each of these "deities" are ultimately lower manifistations (different representations) of the ONE true God.
(Buddhism: Many Buddhists believe in God, but Buddhism is not a religion. Buddhism is a formalized practice of working toward denying oneself of all human desires in order to find true peace and happiness.)
So what's the point of all this, right? The point is the human race is more alike than different and ALL people are searching for salvation and freedom from sin in one way or another...they use different words to describe their journey, but we are all on the same journey. Another interesting point to note: each of the religions listed above follow guidelines that are eerily similar to the Old Testament Ten Commandments, because the majority of mankind desires for their lives to have order, to have purpose, and to be honorable.
Our End Times study will be taken from a scriptural standpoint only, but I welcome thoughts from any of the religions listed above. Here are scripture passages we discussed this week as we discussed the epic theme of SALVATION:
2 Timothy 2:15: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
Isaiah 64:6: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags."
Isaiah 61:10: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels."
Philipians 2:12: "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
Luke 18:7-8: "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
James 2:19-20: "You believe there is one God, you do well. Even the demons believe and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?"
John 14:23-24: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My commandments; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my commandments; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me."
Matthew 7:21-23: "Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who doeth the will of my father in heaven. Many will say to me that day: 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name and in your name have cast out devils and in thy name done many wonderful works?' And then I will profess to them: "I never knew you, depart from me, you that work iniquity."
John 3:16-21: "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
Psalm 32:1-2: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit."
Open our hearts, Father, to Your Will and Your Way! Amen.