The Ultimate Readme
by Joel Havian
All of us human beings each go through this cycle called "life". Each of us is born at some point in time. Next, we generally experience many of the things that living in this world has to offer. Then this life of ours comes to an end. Have you ever wondered ultimately why we go through this life the way we do, and then it ends? And have you ever wondered if we possibly experience anything after that? And if we do experience something, what is it? What, if anything, is following the grave??
Sometimes this can be a touchy topic. You may have heard or read about a couple of often-mentioned afterlife (after earthly life, that is) places, one known as "heaven" and the other known as "hell". But perhaps you may have not wanted to discuss this subject (perhaps it was too offensive, e.g., "politically incorrect", for you or for somebody very close to you). In particular, if you have been content with your present (earthly) life and had somehow been turned off by "religion", there may be a likelihood that you did not want to deal any further with this issue.
On the other hand, maybe you have had at least some kind of curiosity or concern in this area. Chances are, there have been times in life when someone like yourself has given consideration to something that might have been unpopular to many others. Some have taken risks in areas such as political activism, monetary gambling, pre-marital sex, cigarette smoking, business entrepreneurship, "doing" drugs and waging war, just to name a few. So even if the discussion of eternity or "religion" might have been offensive to some, perhaps you still may have wanted to look into the possible benefits here.
So what is the meaning of this present life? Is there an afterlife? Is there a God? Is religion (or something like it) really all that bad? Or is it rather an excellent, but rather well-kept, secret? Is the topic of eternity beneficial even to those who already have "got it made" in this current life? And is it possible that some religions have been falsely presented?? Is a certain faith actually a lot more loving, compassionate and beneficial than the media or some illegitimate clergy/followers (misrepresenting this faith) have portrayed it?? Which is the true faith? Does it include benefits in this present life as well as in the afterlife?
You may have heard someone of a given faith say that if you do not believe in that particular faith that you are going to end up spending eternity in hell. That is a very bold, blunt saying. And it's obviously not "politically correct". This statement can be offensive to many people. Inasmuch as this saying is unpopular, is it true? What is your personal priority? Are you more interested in ensuring yourself an eternity that excludes unbearable pain (and that instead possibly includes nonstop, joyful bliss)? Or is political correctness in this life more important to you? You must make this decision yourself. Nobody else can make it for you. Too many times one has probably considered the costs of pursuing the "religious" belief, as well as the benefits of being politically correct. But the benefits of this faith/religion (and not just heavenly either, but earthly benefits as well), as well as the costs of political correctness, are likely often overlooked.
Anyway, what would indeed happen to you if you were to die suddenly? Will you spend eternity in heaven? In hell? In a state of complete "nothingness" (where you would not experience anything)? Are you SURE about your post-earthly-life outcome? WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE SURE about this outcome? Yes, you are making a very serious "bet" with your eternity here. From time to time you may have heard people say, "You bet your life!" as an expression of affirmation. Well, a variant on that, "You bet your eternity!", comes to my mind here. And it's not to be taken lightly either. The life on earth is only temporary. What follows is permanent.
Perhaps one or more of the following reflects your stance:
"I don't believe in anything!"
"There is no such thing as religion!"
"I believe in evolution, not creation!"
"There is no god!"
"I don't know if there are any gods at all!"
"I don't believe this stuff, and I don't want to waste my present life on it!"
"I don't know what happens after I die, and I don't care!"
Keep in mind that if any of the above sayings describes your attitude, then--whether you know it or not--you do have faith, by default, in the following statement:
"I TRUST that the current course of my earthly life will not result in an afterlife that I would find so objectionable (e.g., unbearable, painful, torturous) that I would end up severely regretting the course of my earthly life that I had taken."
Your faith in this statement may possibly be very small (or close to nonexistent), but you are still willing to bet your eternity (particularly the well-being of your eternity) on it.
What is this thing or place called "hell" anyway?? And what exactly is heaven all about?
Many have portrayed heaven as the ultimate paradise. Conversely, hell has been portrayed as an unbearably painful place of suffering. Given all this, do you still want to dodge the true-faith/afterlife issue? Or do you have at least a hint of concern about your well-being?
Okay, if you are concerned, you will want to not only "bet" on the winning faith. Wouldn't it be nice to also know (i.e., have confidence) that you have chosen the right faith? This can make you feel better than placing a "blind" bet.
A number of years back, I saw a movie, Back to the Future, Part II. One of the scenes involved a character named Biff. But this 1955 scene included this guy in two forms, his present self and his 2015 self. The Biff of 2015 had, in that early 21st century year, taken a discarded sports almanac, which was published, from what I best recall, well after 1955, and so it contained records of who won what in 1955 and a number of other years around that time. This 2015 Biff had also stolen a scientist's time machine and used it to go back (taking the almanac with him!) to his younger self in 1955. He successfully convinced the 1955 Biff to accept this almanac and use it to his advantage. In this way, the younger Biff could place sports bets and win every time! A saying that sticks in my mind from this incident is what the older Biff said to the younger. It was something like, "Just bet on the winner, and you can't lose." Well you can probably infer from this scene that whenever the younger Biff bet a lot of money on sports, he did not do so in an unsure way. He placed his bets with confidence. Why? Because the sports almanac, which he used when betting, supplied him with confidently accurate outcomes of sporting events that initially, to him, did not yet take place. Indeed, this led to Biff becoming immensely rich within the next few decades (by 1985)!
Would you like to have such a comfortably high assurance about which faith is the right one? "But which faith?" you might ask. May I suggest to you a faith that many refer to as true, Biblical Christianity (belief in Jesus)? (Perhaps you had in mind here that each person would be able to get to heaven by some other means, or by his or her own preferred religion or belief.) A number of different "religions" have been referred to as "Christianity", one way or another, but this particular Christianity (which should not be mistaken for some kind of money-hungry television preacher, an overzealous religious terrorist or a racial bigot) is based, of course, upon the Bible (more specifically referred to as the Holy Bible). In fact, this faith is not a religion (i.e., a ceremonial/ritual system), but rather a personal relationship with God through Jesus. God's love for you is a key feature of this faith. "Which God?" you might ask. I am referring to the God of Israel, also known as:
The God of the Holy Bible (the same Bible which contains the Old and New Testaments, as used by Christians and also, at least in part, by many Jewish people).
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The same God that America has traditionally referred to back in the days when this country had higher moral and traditional family values (in many ways referred to as "Judeo-Christian" values), with classroom prayer in the public schools.
You might also ask, "And who is Jesus?" He is a person who was physically present on this earth nearly 2,000 years ago as a man from Nazareth, in Israel. He is also known as:
The Son of God (God's only begotten Son).
King of kings and Lord of lords.
The Savior (for those believing in Him).
The Anointed One (i.e., the Messiah, the Christ).
The Lamb of God (who died as a sacrifice for the world's wrongs--but also came back to life on the third day).
These are just a few descriptions, but I think you get the idea.
The Bible itself that I am referring to is a well-known, ancient (but still extremely useful for today) collection of works. This same Bible has been used extensively by churches in at least western civilization (e.g., the United States, Canada, Western Europe). This book contains two major sections. The first is commonly referred to as the Old Testament. The second one, which gives a lot more details about Jesus, is commonly referred to as the New Testament. Each of these two sections is further divided into smaller "books" (the Old and New Testaments contain a total of 66 of them).
If you live in western society, chances are highly likely that you have seen the Holy Bible before. Maybe you have seen many copies of it in a church when you attended a wedding or a holiday service (like Easter or Christmas). You may have seen Old-Testament-only copies in a synagogue. In a Catholic church, you may have seen books containing both the Old and New Testaments along with additional material (but I am only recommending the two Testaments here, especially the New Testament). In a hotel room, you may have also seen a copy of the Bible that was placed there by an organization known as the Gideons. The wordings from one English language Bible to another may have had minor variations, due to different English translations (a modern version's "you's" vs. an older version's "thee's" and "thou's", for example). Get the idea?
Now perhaps you might have considered today's popular media sources, like the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, the Wall Street Journal or a major broadcast network (like ABC, CBS or NBC) as useful for gathering information about God or Jesus. You may have gotten such information from newscasts, movies or other TV shows. You may have taken into account the behavior of several people who called themselves "Christians" (or at least seemed to be religious). And perhaps a number of these things just mentioned may have led to your being "turned off" to Christianity or "religion". Unfortunately, the Bible itself has often been overlooked, and that is a tragic mistake made by too many people today. I strongly recommend a good, honest look into this book as a far superior, more accurate source--one which has been around much longer than the others just mentioned (in fact, the Bible has been around for several centuries).
With this Christian faith being suggested, the next question, if you are not already convinced (convicted) that this particular belief is true, is "How do I find out about whether or not it is true?"
Let's seek the truth!
The Bible contains an interesting passage in the book of Jeremiah. The 29th chapter contains a letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. It includes the following:
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'"
While this was directed to these exiles, do you think that God would confine such a kind message only to them? I don't think so. Consider this passage:
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
2 Peter 3:9
And also consider this passage:
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
Based upon these last two passages, particularly the one from Hebrews, you don't have to be one of the aforementioned exiles in order to get God's favorable response upon sincerely seeking Him.
Okay, but how does one seek God? What is a true, genuine way to seek Him? A suggested "seeker's prayer" follows (remember to pray this prayer with a sincere attitude--let God know that you really are serious about this matter):
Dear God, I do not know if you exist (or I do not know if Christianity is the right faith). I get various claims concerning you (or Christianity). I am serious about avoiding the possibility of going to a very unpleasant place forever after I die, but I am also afraid of devoting all my earthly life resources to something that turns out to be an untruthful waste. If you are real, please reveal yourself to me, and also reveal to me the proper faith/religion that I should follow in order to avoid an unpleasant afterlife (and furthermore provide me with the necessary abilities to meet your requirements, as well as confidence that, by my living my earthly life for you, I am doing so, not in vain, but rather for an eternally pleasant reward that is easily worth my following you). Amen.
Here is a helpful tip. In seeking God, it is advisable to not only pray the above, but to also use a Bible for reading. Keep a reasonably open mind. Perhaps a good starting point is the New Testament, particularly the Gospel of John (a book often simply called, "John", not to be confused with "1 John", "2 John" or "3 John", which are John's epistles, or letters), unless, of course, you reasonably sense God leading you somewhere else.
I have read about somebody who found God by seeking Him through reasonable signs. Such a person "tested" God, but he did so in what I feel were fair, reasonable ways. In addition, or alternatively, you might sometimes ask others around you during your searching efforts, and you may get various answers. You should not be excessively naive or gullible. But, at the same time, you should not be closed-minded either. As I said before, keep a reasonably open mind. A discerning mind and a sincere heart make a valuable combination.
How long can such a search take? I myself am not sure. It can vary from one person to another. Perhaps a few weeks or just a few days comes to my mind, based to some extent upon my reading a couple of stories of people seeking truths about God and Jesus. But it's worth taking the time. Let's face it: people take chances on other things, so why not this divine search as well? What have you really got to lose here? Furthermore, given that God somehow reveals Himself to you even a little bit at the start, you will likely be willing to put some more effort into your search. This can lead to God revealing Himself to you even more, which can in turn lead to your searching Him out all the more. And this cycle can continue to build up to the point of your finally becoming sufficiently convinced about Him.
Personally speaking, my beliefs are upheld in large part by inner conviction. But the fact that I believe in, of all various "gods", the God of Israel in particular--as opposed to some other god--is upheld significantly by Israel itself. How come the tiny state of Israel is not easily squished by its huge hostile neighbors? In fact, despite a number of attacks against it, this little nation prevails onward. Hard as Israel's large enemies try, they fail to destroy this small nation. Why? My best answer is: Because, ultimately, there is a pro-Israel, supernatural force involved, specifically the God of Israel.
Are you convinced? Okay, then, just what is the crucial stuff concerning God and Jesus all about? There are five important facts that you should know.
1. God loves us (that's you, me and the rest of us human beings), and He wants each of us to have a satisfying, abundant life.
God intended for the human race to have such ideal living in the first place. When God created man and woman, He created them as He meant them to be--very good, instead of all messed up.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them...God saw all that he had made, and it was very good..."
Genesis 1:27, 31
And so, when God finished His creation work, life on this earth was ideal as He intended it. Even today, He still offers a meaningful life to you.
"You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
So, if God wants mankind to enjoy a pleasant lifestyle, then why is life in this world so bad??
2. The problem is with mankind's falling short of God's standard.
The problem began with an incident of disobeying God's command, as told about in the 3rd chapter of Genesis. This chapter is about the fall of mankind, brought on by the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, eating fruit from a certain tree which God had clearly prohibited. Things had gotten worse since then.
God insists that mankind be holy ("set apart" in accordance with God's way, particularly for His service), just like God Himself is.
"But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
1 Peter 1:15-16 (See also Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7)
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord."
God created man and woman to have a relationship of intimate fellowship with Him. Unfortunately, mankind has clearly fallen short of God's holy standard. This deviation is characterized by the human race's stubborn self-will, disobedience, rebellion, indifference, etc. All these flaws are collectively known as what is called sin.
"God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one."
"There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins."
"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."
And so, we, the human race, are living in such a messed up world, because all of us have sinned. And God is not happy about it. He must judge and reject sin. This leads to mankind's spiritual death and separation from God.
But can't we "make up" for our sins by our own good deeds, such as charity, religion, good behavior, etc.? No. God's standard is overwhelmingly higher than that. Our good deeds just don't "make it" (they might "make it" by human standards but not by God's).
"No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him--the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough--that he should live on forever and not see decay."
Whoa! That's a pretty hefty price tag that sin carries!
"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
Well, then, how can the problem of sin be solved?? If mankind can't do it, who can?
This leaves God Himself to provide a solution to this problem, because the human race itself can't do it. But how?
3. God has made available the solution to the sin problem through faith and atonement.
Faith, i.e., trusting, in God greatly pleases Him. If Adam and Eve reacted with obedient faith--instead of disobedient unfaithfulness--to God's word against eating fruit from the prohibited tree mentioned earlier, this couple would have obviously been so much better off. But they blew it! And we inherited their sin. But the punitive consequence of sin--death--does not have to be our ultimate final destiny. Faith, on God's terms, can lead us back to Him!
"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal."
Abraham (who earlier was called Abram) was an excellent example of a man trusting in God.
"Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness."
The 11th chapter of Hebrews points out Abraham and others as heroic faith examples. It also includes this verse on the importance of faith:
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
While faith is essential, blood atonement is necessary as well. As mentioned earlier, sin carries a hefty price tag. And meeting the high cost is no simple matter. The required blood of atonement has to be provided in a way that it meets God's exact standards.
"For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life."
"In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the
shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
The blood of atonement came from sacrifices. Back in Israel's earlier history, during Old Testament times, these sacrifices were performed by killing animals under a temple/priesthood system. But how can there be any sacrifices today (and hence the blood of atonement) without this system being in place?
Even with this ancient Israeli temple/priesthood system, the sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again. To whatever extent these sacrifices covered up one's sins, there was still a problem in regard to completely removing them.
"...it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."
How, then, can we obtain the required atonement for our sins today??
4. God has provided the necessary blood of atonement for today through Jesus.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, God Himself gave for the entire human race a much superior sacrifice that is able to take away all of one's sins--past, present and future. He accomplished this through the sacrificial offering of His Son, Jesus Christ (known throughout history also as Jesus of Nazareth).
"Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again...But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people..."
Hebrews 9:25-26, 28
"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but He came back to life afterward.
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..."
1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Just as He was raised from death, we also can be raised to a heavenly afterlife with Him.
Because of Jesus, the necessary blood of atonement for the human race's sins has been provided. But there is still the other requirement, as mentioned earlier, which also must be met in order to successfully overcome the sin barrier. Meeting that requirement--faith--is our responsibility.
5. We must receive Jesus by faith in order to have the satisfying, worthwhile life that God intended for us.
God has done His part--the blood of atonement. We must do our part--faith on His terms. That means believing in His Son, Jesus (this is not just a mere belief that He died to atone for mankind's sin and afterwards rose from the dead; it also includes repenting of--i.e., turning our attitudes away from--our sins).
"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Not only does trusting in Jesus make life on this earth better. More importantly, it guarantees a pleasant, heavenly eternity afterward.
This act of faith (and therefore receiving God's salvation which delivers us from sin's penalty) is done on an individual basis. One person's receiving Jesus and believing in Him is not dependent on someone else doing the same thing. Whether or not a given individual performs this act of faith--given the opportunity to do so--is solely that person's responsibility, not somebody else's (not even that of a parent or a spouse). I myself--the one presenting this information to you, the recipient--give you that opportunity to receive Jesus the Messiah as your Lord and Savior.
What, more precisely, does this mean?
It means surrendering your life to Him (letting Jesus be your Lord, i.e. "boss", as well trusting Him to save you from your sins). Don't be afraid of letting Him take charge of your life--He is not unreasonable. While Jesus will want you to be willing to take certain chances (see, for example, Matthew 13:44-46, 16:24-26), He also says:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Your eternity alone is worth giving your earthly life to Him. This is what believing in Jesus is about. It is more than merely giving intellectual affirmation to His claims (for example, see James 2:14-26). It's a moral decision to turn from your own ways to God's (repentance), as well as trusting Jesus to come into your life, forgive your sins and establish a righteous relationship between you and God. Becoming a member of an everlasting, heavenly family is a valuable benefit of accepting Jesus.
"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..."
No matter how much you have sinned, Jesus is still willing to come into your life and have all your sins be forgiven. No matter what your background has been (e.g., religious, national, racial, creed--even "sexual orientation" or criminal), you are still eligible for the salvation that He offers. He says:
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
Accept Jesus, and He will come into your life and work on making you a better person.
Summing things up:
1. God loves you and wants you to have a satisfying, abundant life.
2. Your sins have stopped you from having such a good life (they have separated you from God).
3. God has graciously provided Jesus as the atoning solution to the sin problem.
4. What you must do is put your trust in Jesus in order to have the worthwhile life that God wants you to have.
Would you like to receive Jesus by faith right now? You can do so through prayer.
Here is a suggested prayer. If it reflects the attitude of your heart, say the following:
Dear God, I admit that I am a sinner who needs Your Son, Jesus. I acknowledge that whatever "good deeds" are accomplished on my part cannot take my sins away but that Jesus' sacrifice can. I believe that He died for me--that He shed His blood to atone for my sins--and that He afterward arose from death. I am willing to turn from my sins and let Him take over my life. Lord Jesus, I now invite You into my life to be my Lord and personal Savior. Please make me the kind of person that You want me to be, and help me to live the way that You want. I thank You for coming into my life and forgiving me. In Your name, Jesus, I pray, Amen.
You can trust Jesus to keep His promise and come into your life if you receive Him by faith. Have you done so just now? If so, what does this mean, now that you have prayed to and received Him?
1. Jesus came into your life (Revelation 3:20).
2. All your sins have been forgiven (Colossians 2:13).
3. You are now a child of God's (John 1:12)--welcome to our family!
4. You've got a new, far superior life (John 5:24, 10:10, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 John 5:11-13).
So, what's next? Now that you're a believer in Jesus Christ, you should live a lifestyle that is appropriate for the new life that He has given you. Here are some useful suggestions:
1. Communicate with God each day. Read His Word, the Bible (Acts 17:11, 1 Peter 2:2). The book of John (i.e., the Gospel according to John--it's the fourth book in the New Testament) is a recommended starting point. In addition to God talking to you through His written Word, it is very important that you talk to Him through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7).
2. Join with other believers. Get together in a Bible-believing church (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 10:25), i.e., a congregation which regards the Holy Bible (the one that consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament--66 books in all, no more, no less) as the final authority (particularly when it comes to important issues such as this congregation's doctrine, mission and preaching).
3. Spread the Word--let others know about Jesus (Acts 1:8). When doing this, remember to do so by your lifestyle (Matthew 4:19, John 15:8) as well as by your words.
E-mail me if you need help in areas such as finding a good church.
May God richly bless you in your new life with Him through His Son, Jesus!
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society (Biblica). Note: I have also added emphasis (i.e., bold/italic) myself in some places (for relevant discussion purposes, of course) when quoting these passages. I highly recommend the New International Version (NIV), a well-known, excellent, English language Bible translation for today's use.
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