I have been fascinated by the growth and popularity of competitive poker matches on television. It has morphed from back room, smoke-filled, cheesy looking environs populated by questionable characters into luxurious casino-type surroundings attracting major movie stars dressed to the nines airing on major cable networks.
With all the upgrades in window dressing, though, one thing doesn’t change. The nature of the game. Someone wins. Everyone else loses. Nothing is guaranteed except insecurity. In the end, it’s all still a game. A gamble.
Aside from my college days when a bunch of us in our dorm would play gin rummy or poker with penny ante stakes, I only gambled one other time in my life. A bunch of us went to the track at the New Jersey Meadowlands one night and bet on the horses. I didn’t know much about horses other than watching Mr. Ed or Fury on television when I was a kid. And I had this picture of me when I was about five sitting on pony looking like a miniature Roy Rogers on Trigger.
Anyway, my more knowledgeable friends helped me through the night, and I won a couple races, but lost more than I won. Overall, I came out $2 in the red that night. It was at least a cheaper night out than going bowling, or something like that.
Okay, where am I going with this.
Simply, as I was flipping through channels one night and came across one of those televised poker games, I was struck by the realization that all of us gamble with something in our lives. With some, it’s our money. Or a relationship. For others, it’s our bodies when we smoke, or do drugs. With many of us, though, it’s with our eternal destiny. And that’s when it hit me hard.
Our politically correct world would have us believe that we can gamble with the most important aspect of lives—our spiritual future--and always win. We can roll the dice, and they will always “come up seven, goin’ to heaven.” Or we hope.
If you ask people why they should be allowed into heaven, or how does one get to heaven, the answer is usually that one has to be “good” or do “good” works or be a “good” person. That has become the politically correct mantra. We measure how God should act by how we would like Him to act. And then try to measure up to the ground rules we create. I think there’s a conflict of interest here!
Jesus tackles that thinking head on in Matthew 19 when a rich young ruler approaches Him with his question about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. He asked Jesus “what good thing must I do to get eternal life.” Sounds like a sound question, right
Jesus responds rather strangely that no one is good except God. Meaning, of course, that goodness was not a trait that man can attribute to himself.
Jesus continues. (I’m paraphrasing here, so give me a little latitude) “And by the way, rich young ruler, you have to obey all the commandments to secure your future. And, while you’re at it, go and give away everything you own to the poor, and maybe then you will get eternal life!”
Oops. “Now I’m really in trouble,” thought the young man. He finally understood what many of us fail to understand even today…that while it may be politically correct to accept goodness as a measure of how one enters the Kingdom, Jesus dispels that summarily by saying that it’s humanly impossible to achieve the degree of goodness required by God to warrant our entrance into the Kingdom.
The Old Testament is a bit stronger, and earthier, about describing men’s “goodness.” It says that our righteousness is literally like a filthy menstrual rag. (Isaiah 64.6) Ouch! That hurts.
Scripture says that the young man went away stunned (again my paraphrase, but you get the picture.)
His disciples are equally stunned by that realization, and they respond with the obvious question, “who then can be saved?”
And Jesus responds by saying that with man it’s impossible, but with God, all things are possible. Jesus squarely takes it out of the hands of man to determine how to get to heaven and places it right where He wanted it..on His shoulders. He said He was the way, the door, the path to eternal life. (John 14:6)
Now that statement really annoys the pc police because it sounds too exclusive. You can almost hear the politically correct say “What do you mean I’m not good enough to get to heaven?” Talk about a burr under your saddle!
Well, let me tell you that I am sure happy that getting into heaven is not about being good. I mean, who is going to measure how good you have to be to be good enough? Who’s in charge of that deal? That scares me.
As I said, I’m not a betting man, and betting on the hope that my “goodness” will outweigh my “badness” sounds like something from one of those poker games. You’ll often hear someone say, when placing a bet, that they have a “good” hand. Unfortunately, it’s not “as good” as the next guy with the winning hand.
I want a winning hand when it comes to heaven. I want certainty. I just don’t want to THINK I’m good enough, only to find out one day that it was not quite good enough. Jesus meets us in the middle of the poker game and says that getting into heaven needn’t be a craps shoot. That’s just one of many reasons why the Gospel is good news.
Now, the REALLY good news is that Jesus substitutes the word “good” for the word “grace.” Grace is unmerited favor, which means we did nothing to get into the game and a seat at the table. And, when the cards are dealt, we are given the winning hand. All the time. That’s grace. I like that.
Uncertainly leaves me a bit fearful. Certainty is a sign of real love. Now, that sounds more like a loving God.
Quite frankly, I’d rather not gamble on eternity. If there’s one thing in this world I want to be sure of, that’s it! Can there be greater news than that!
I don’t want to wake up someday being politically correct, but eternally wrong.
How about you?