Naughty or Nice?

It hangs over us all year long, but the magnitude of “The List” grows as Christmas Day approaches. And so it has been for our entire lives. We joke about it as adults, but the meaning behind it remains firmly entrenched in our moral code – a moral code that seems to tap dance its way through and around the very Word of God. While the Bible is full of instances where justice reigned down on those who did evil in the sight of God (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah, Ananias and Sapphira) and while the Bible admonishes us to choose good over evil, it seems that without careful thought we can step into a belief system where we determine our destiny by our own actions and, in so doing, ignore the way God loves those who are naughty AND nice.

In something of a playful way, we use the naughty and nice concept to control the behavior of children. In a much more serious sense, we use the naughty and nice concept to control our own behaviors and the behaviors of those in our society. Unfortunately, most religions rely heavily on the concept of naughty and nice to sustain their moral code – a practice that is ultimately futile since all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. No one can measure up but the belief system (religion) continues with the never-ending pursuit of perfection. If you will just do enough “do’s” and avoid enough “don’ts” then you will end up on the nice list and go to Heaven, but if you fail to do the do’s and you are very adept at doing the don’ts then it’s the naughty list for you and a one-way, expense paid trip to Hell. That’s the way religion works – always has and always will because we as humans want to control our own destiny and most religions provide just such a tool for us to do that. It’s a win-win. We get to control our lives and religion profits by helping us do it.

However, God laid out a different plan through His Son, Jesus. God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son, Jesus, so that all who believed in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) For it is by grace we are saved and not because we are on the nice list. Otherwise, we would tend to boast about being on the nice list instead of rejoicing that we know the One Who put us there in the first place. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Naughty or Nice? God declares us righteous through the blood of Jesus. (Romans 5:9) God declares that we are on the Nice List because of Him. And not only that – He takes the list of the bad things we have done and drops them into the Sea of Forgetfulness and remembers them no more. (Micah 7:19) Again, it’s not because of what we have done or haven’t done, but it’s solely because of Who He Is.

I enjoy the fun of Santa and I don’t have a problem with teasing folks about the naughty or nice list. However, if you’re talking naughty or nice – you’re naughty. God said so and your actions back Him up. But because of Jesus you can be on the Nice List. How sweet is that? Sweeter than any Christmas candy or any sugar plum you can imagine.

The difference between Hell and Heaven is not Naughty or Nice. The difference between Hell and Heaven is a Savior – Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Who or What Do You Fear?

From the Back Porch

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

There is so much fear controlling our thoughts, actions, and relationships. And perhaps the greatest nexus of that fear is the corona virus. People run from one pundit to another, from one politician to another, and from one fact-checker to another hoping to find something that will put their minds at ease. Then, when people arrive at a perceived solution, they respond in fear to those who have arrived at a different solution. For example, consider the vaxxers and the anti-vaxxers. One group is fearful that the other group will help sustain the pandemic causing more people to die while one group is fearful that the other group will kill them with masks full of germs or the vaccines themselves. However, it doesn’t ultimately matter what the talking points of each group may be, because the ultimate issue is death.

The central focus of the COVID-19 story has been death. Death rates and daily death counts have been on every news station and the totals of cases and hospitalizations are given as precursors to death. Haven’t you heard the reports that death statistics lag behind case and hospitalization statistics? The only reason for making such a statement is to say, “Death is coming and coming soon.” Well, here’s some news – if you don’t die from COVID, you’re going to die from something else. Ain’t none of us getting out of this thing alive.

Taking precautions against the things that can sicken us or even kill us are good – no one wants to get sick, much less get sick and then die. No argument there. Even God instituted many laws for the Israelites that pertained only to their health and physical well being. We should be mindful to care for the bodies God has given us so that we can serve Him and honor Him more completely. My thoughts here are not about health practices, but perspective.

So whether you choose to vax or not vax, mask or not mask, distance yourself or crowd up at a sporting event, you need to consider this. How you die is not nearly as important as what happens after you die. God has established hell as a place for Satan and his followers. (Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4) It’s real. Jesus talked about hell (yes, He believed in hell) in Matthew 10:28. Often we like to refer to “fear” in the Bible as reverence or respect, but here Jesus is saying, “Be afraid – be very afraid.” He goes on to talk about God’s love and care, but the point is made. We need to be afraid of what is truly fearful and trust God for our very lives both now and when we die. God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. And for those who would say that He hasn’t done anything yet, I would encourage you to consider 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (NLT) Failure to trust Him should fill us with a sense of impending doom because that is what our future holds without Christ.

I respect your decisions concerning how you will respond to the corona virus. Furthermore, I understand your desire to convince those you love of what you have found to be the best response. But while we’re at it, we should wake up to the real life or death question that we all face. There is a point in time when each of us will die. (Hebrews 9:27) We should take this opportunity to look honestly at that which we fear – death – in order to find peace. And peace can only be found in Jesus. “While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:4 NLT) “ For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (2 Corinthians 15:53-55 NLT) As excited as we were when the hope of a vaccine was declared on the news, how much more should we be excited when the scripture declares that Jesus offers the hope of eternal life? Jesus Himself said, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 HCS)

Is death a reality? Yes. Can we experience victory over death? Yes – in Jesus.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NAS)