Sunday, November 29, 2015

How we are saved?

In my capacity as an estate planning attorney, I have the honor of providing some guidance as to how remaining assets are distributed to and among family members, friends or charities following death. Recently, I worked with a client who expressed a desire to provide a certain amount of assets to the church for the purpose of saying "masses" on behalf of herself and deceased family members. This client wants to name numerous churches as the recipients of certain sums, with the hope that each of them would say a sufficient number of masses that would "save" her from enduring purgatory. Her questions prompted me to give some thought to how we are saved, and what assurance we can have for Heaven, following death. Below is an excerpt from a recent response to this client: ...Our recent conversations regarding purgatory and your hope of heaven prompted me to review the Holy Bible, and its teachings regarding how we are “saved” from purgatory and to an eternal existence with God. Since both of us share a belief in the Holy Bible as the infallible and authoritative Word of God, I pray that it may be helpful to pass along some encouragement to you from the Bible about the hope we can have for eternal life. In particular, I wanted to pass along the words from Hebrews 7:26-28. There, the author says, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a son who has been made perfect forever.” In this passage, the author of Hebrews is contrasting the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as our high priest with the “imperfect” nature of anyone but Jesus. In the Old Testament times, priests were appointed within the nation of Israel to serve as mediators between Israel and God. However, because each and every one of these priests was imperfect, so also this entire system suffered by reason of the fact that the mediators were imperfect. In some sense, the ability to be “heard” by God was dependent upon the ability (or more likely, fallibility) of the priest himself. In contrast to these Old Testament priests, as well as the imperfect ability of any of our fellow saints of the faith, now in heaven, consider the absolute perfection of our new mediator, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews notes that, because of how perfect Christ is as our new mediator, we need no one else, even if the mediator in question has been canonized as a saint, to have the assurance of being “heard” by God. If you believe in Jesus Christ as God, if you believe that he took the penalty of death on your behalf, then His sacrifice on your behalf is already perfected. There is no need to have the church offer additional masses on your behalf. Your desire to make gifts to the church following your death is itself a laudable desire. However, neither these gifts nor your lifetime of good deeds will be sufficient to avoid purgatory. The Bible clearly teaches that no amount of good deeds cause us to gain God’s approval. (See also Ephesians 2:8-9). If these actions and deeds were sufficient, there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to be condemned as a sinner and die a terrible and agonizing death on the cross. It is Jesus Christ who will save you from punishment following death, not your good deeds or the prayers of any saints. If you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, you have a Great High Priest. If you have such a Great High Priest, then both now and in the very waning moments of your earthly existence, you can be free of any anxiety of whether you are accepted. Because Jesus now stands as your Great High Priest and ready to receive you as His child, you can have complete assurance of where you stand before Him.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Overcoming Anxiety

There is no end to the list of things for which we, as parents, can worry about on behalf of our children. Especially for those of us who have lost children, we seem to find every reasonable opportunity, and many unreasonable ones, to worry about our children. Whether in parenting, work, or even ministry, we can lose sight of the “big picture.” We can lose sight of our relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ, in the midst of life’s busyness. I have recently been impacted by the reconciling of two passages found adjacent to one another in Luke 10. First, Jesus give us the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus shows the person whom the audience would least consider to be a “righteous” person, the Samaritan, to be the one carrying out God’s law, and not one of the two types of people that the audience would expect (either the Levite or the priest). Specifically, the Samaritan was “good” because he was carrying out God’s law by taking action on behalf of a distressed neighbor. Second, in the very next passage in Luke 10, we are provided a glimpse of an interaction between Jesus, Martha and Mary. Martha welcomed Jesus, his disciples and perhaps numerous others into her home. While Martha was busy providing for Jesus and all the other visitors, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, enjoying fellowship with Him. In light of Jesus’ teaching on the Good Samaritan, one can easily resonate with Martha’s concerns expressed here. Like Martha, we ask Jesus, “Jesus, I am loving my neighbors and taking action by serving you and our guests. Jesus, can’t you tell her my lazy sister Mary to “take action?” In this teaching moment, Jesus unravels Martha’s motives, as well as our own. Jesus tells Martha, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” In her social and historical context, she certainly would have been expected to wait upon these guests. Mary demonstrated a love for Jesus and His presence by shunning these social pressures and seeking that one thing that is necessary—to love Jesus and commune with God. Without the centrality of Jesus Christ in our lives, our “to do” lists become so overwhelming that we lose sight of the very purpose for which we are undertaking our “lists.” The point of the story with Mary and Martha is that we are called to love God first, and then only after centering our affections in Christ leverage that affection for God into action by loving our neighbor. Like Mary, we ought to be mindful of everything that we put in our own lives to “busy” ourselves, so that we do not lost sight of that central love which should captivate our hearts—a love for Jesus. Otherwise, we will suffer from numerous and various forms of unnecessary anxiety. To name three: (1) We think we have to take certain actions, on our own, or else these tasks will not get done. But while God certainly uses us, God says that He does not need us. God is able to accomplish more than we can ask or think. Ephesians 3:20. While we think our own actions are indispensable, God’s ways are above ours. (2) We are inpatient in waiting on an answer from God, and try to take matters into our own hands. But only when we “let go” will we receive the very things that we seek from God. “We are anxious about what we will wear and eat. And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. …your father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Luke 12:29-31. (3) We push tomorrow’s problems into today. We wonder how we will pay for future expenses, for college, or deal with a spouse’s illness. Because all “these things” will be added to you whether we are anxious or not, “…do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Mathew 6:34. Are we like Martha, constantly striving to do our “duty,” as we think of it? As we do our self-perceived duties, we take on more and more, and often lose sight of relationships in our midst. In particular, we can lose sight of the fact that our loving our neighbors as ourselves only comes from and after our relationship with Jesus. Let us not lose sight of our love for Jesus and, by reason of His great love for us, our need to rest from anxiety and busyness.