What makes heaven, heaven?

There are, no doubt, many answers to this question, all of them true to some degree. Obviously we cannot fully comprehend the gloriousness of heaven in this life, but there was one thing that struck me today, a fragment of the answer, that I found quite profound.

I was praying through the Lord’s prayer and paused at the line “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” One of the things that makes heaven, heaven, is that God’s will is always done there.

It is impossible that a by-product of God’s will could be a state of hellishness. The execution of His will must, as a reflection of His nature, lead increasingly to a state of heavenly greatness and perfection.

It is important to note that this certainly does not mean that, on this broken and corrupted earth, it is never God’s will that we should suffer. That is clearly not true; He willed that His own Son should suffer. What it does mean though, is that any suffering that is a part of his will, is only so, because of the deeper, greater, more wonderful good that it can achieve.

If God’s will is always done in heaven, and if indeed that is one of the things that truly makes heaven, heaven, then I must be careful never to balk at his will on earth, no matter how challenging it may seem in the present moment.

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Christians aren’t moral because they’re afraid of going to hell.

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A while back I wrote about something I heard on the radio regarding Christians not stealing music. It got me thinking. I mean, it’s not like Christians are the only moral people around. Plenty of atheists and muslims and i-don’t-really-believe-in-anyting-but–like-the-whole-do-unto-others people are quite moral.

So why are Christians often highlighted as the do-gooders, or the moral, law abiding ones (and conversely slammed for being hypocrites whenever they’re not).

I’m guessing to most people the answer would be fairly clear. They believe in hell. Christians have to be good, because they want to get to heaven, and they don’t dare be ‘bad’ for fear of going to hell.

And therein lies the most common misconception about Christianity. Christians aren’t moral because they’re afraid of going to hell. They know hell was a certainty, and that Jesus died to save them. And Jesus is moral. And when you’re so in love with someone for what they’ve done for you, you want to be just like them. And when that someone is God, He has the power to help you become more and more like that. That’s pretty much it.

The moment God can’t wait to show me

Do you ever daydream about what it will be like to meet Jesus face to face? About what he’ll look like, and how you’ll react, and how you’ll feel?

Sometimes I do.

Do you think God does? I mean, does he imagine what it will be like to meet me?

I found myself pondering this question the other day, and what I got out of it is gold. Full of creative license, yes, but I still think true to God’s character, and therefore gold.happy-boy-1434104

See, God doesn’t have to imagine it. He’s outside time, so he can see it. He can visit that moment whenever he wants, and you know what? I bet he absolutely cannot wait to show it to me.

I mean, God knows me. He knows me inside out, but I bet he’s just chafing at the bit for me to know him. I reckon he’s like a parent, who just bought the most epic present for their kid, and who can’t wait to see their face on Christmas morning.

I think it fills him with the most bubbling joy. Just even the thought of how, in that moment, all my pain and sadness and the weight of this life will suddenly be blown away and that I, with one look into his face, will be consumed with the deepest fulfillment and most tremendous joy just because I’m meeting him… I think he gets the biggest kick out of that.

I bet he can’t wait to show it to me.

Don’t have Jesus as your backup plan

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Do you realize you don’t have to do anything good to get to heaven?

I’m so blessed to go to a church that is very focused on the Gospel. We are constantly reminded that we are saved by grace, not by works, and the more I am reminded of this, the more I realize I need to hear it.

Because the Gospel of Grace is completely counter intuitive

I was sitting in church last night while a friend preached from Hebrews 11 about the righteous being justified by faith. He reminded us that when we die and come before a Holy God, we will have nothing to commend ourselves other than our faith in the righteousness of Christ and his ability to cover our sin.

I found, in that moment, sin in my heart.

You see, I kind of treat Jesus like my back up plan.

I do good things to gain approval with God, and entrance to heaven, and when I fall far short (which I inevitably will), Jesus covers the rest.

WRONG

Jesus covers it all.

It’s hard for me to accept, and may take a lifetime to grasp, but Jesus isn’t filling the gaps where we’re lacking, he’s doing it all. He’s taking the dead (both spiritually and literally) and bringing them back to life.

When I stand before God, I will have nothing to recommend myself, just faith in the fact that Jesus will speak for me.

He’s no backup plan. He’s all or nothing.

What if God hadn’t told us what happens after death?

corridor-sky--hallway_19-104567My Nanna died last week. She was old, and it was not unexpected, but still the quiet, grey cloud of grief has hung over me.

On the evening after her funeral I sat quietly at home, not sure what to do with myself. I read my Bible and just sat, feeling sad.

After a while I looked at my heater, glowing red and warm and I felt suddenly grateful. I knelt on the floor and thanked God. For the heater and for the many other blessings in my life, including my Nanna: who she was, and how long she was given to me. Not everyone gets their Nanna for 29 years.

I thanked God for looking after her, even now. For cherishing her soul and filling her with joy. I thanked God that I could trust Him with her.

Suddenly I realized something deeper to be thankful for: God’s revelation of the mystery of life after death. If He’d said nothing about life beyond the grave, he could still be trusted. Heaven would be real whether we knew of it or not. God would still be good, even in His silence. But He is not silent, and what comfort that brings us

I don’t blindly trust God with my Nanna, I trust him having been told exactly what will happen to her. Death will have no victory; she will be raised and given a new, imperishable body. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Programmed to respond to greatness

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I was thinking yesterday about how God is surrounded by mysterious living creatures who never cease, day and night, to say “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” (Rev 4)

Why do they do that? Are they just mindless, broken-record-like beings that God has programmed to praise Him? It’s easy to think of them this way.

Much as I know very little about them, I think it’s probably more like this: These heavenly beings were created to respond to greatness.

On their creation, when they first encountered God, their immediate and natural response was worship; constant, intense, passionate worship, because they were so captured by His glory.

It makes me wonder, what is wrong with us? Were we not also programmed to respond to greatness?

We were, but we were given a choice too. We have left behind the wisdom of the heavenly creatures and are captivated with things of far inferior worth. Through the fall of man, it became possible for us to be passionately captivated by that which is not great, while completely ignoring that which is.

Claiming to be wise, we have become fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1: 22-23)

We would do well to learn a lesson from the heavenly beings, and not waste our worship on that which is not worthy of it to the highest degree.

The Pain of an Unfulfiled Life

624265_93192944No matter how awesome your life is, you know the pain of unfulfilment. You know what it’s like to be sitting in that dark, lonely place, with the aching knowledge that something is missing from your life.

It hurts.

Most of the time you get over it. You move on and focus on other things. But it will be back.

Is that a bad thing?

What if this life wasn’t meant to fulfil you? What if the depths of your soul and your personality couldn’t be fulfilled by material things, or even by people? What if your dreams were never going to be in reach?

Could you be ok with that?

I think I could. But only if one thing is true: Only if this is not all there is.

Because if this is not all there is, then my temporal fulfilment no longer matters.

If this is not all there is, then this is not my only chance at happiness, and maybe I can be willing to give up that which I cannot keep, to gain that which I cannot lose.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

sleep_2480539When I first got sick, I received a lot of really unhelpful advice. One thing that I heard a couple of times, when I was leaving a function early to go home and go to bed, was that I should ‘toughen up, ‘cos I could sleep when I’m dead.’
(Surely the insensitivity of this is obvious since I actually felt like I was dying and was trying hard to avoid it??)

 Anyway, much as Bon Jovi’s song is very poor advice to give to a sick person, and much as we totally have a responsibility to take care of our bodies, I’m actually starting to think that maybe he’s got a point.

 Last night one of our pastors spoke on Hebrews 4. He began by acknowledging that this life is tough. So many of us are tired, so much of the time, and life can get overwhelming. Monday mornings seem to come around so much quicker than Friday afternoons, and so often our weakness and humanity overshadows the greatness of our calling. But therein lies the point. We have an amazing calling on earth, and an even more amazing future awaiting us in heaven.

This life is tough, but there remains for us a Sabbath rest.

I’m going to spend my eternity resting and rejoicing in the presence of Jesus, but while I’m here, there’s work to do.

 We may be exhausted, but God provides the strength for us to do His will and the promise that we can rest in Him.

Why I don’t think people returned from Heaven.

My last blog post (When Heaven is for Real becomes a movie- and it’s my final straw) raised some questions that I think it would be remiss of me not to address.

While I am committed to keeping my posts short, and am not afraid of raising questions, there is always the risk that with such a concise amount of words I will be either misinterpreted or unclear in my meaning or the thinking behind my posts.

I think it is dangerous to criticize the experiences and motives of fellow Christians, but I also believe there are times when it is equally dangerous not to.

I am no great Bible scholar, in fact I’m a novice, and I may stand to be corrected, but I would like to take this opportunity to convey the basis for my conclusions.

First, I’d like to address the comment that I’ve received that if these stories cause people to think about Heaven, then they’re beneficial. I don’t agree with that reasoning. There is no doubt in my mind that God can use them for good. In fact, we live in a world in which God is daily using all manner of things for good and for his purposes (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t mean they’re right (God’s use of Solomon as a great King and part of the lineage of Christ does not justify David and Bathsheba’s sin).

Yes, these books may give some people hope, and cause others to re-consider the reality of heaven. But that does not by definition mean that the experiences conveyed are scriptural or accurate. God may use them for good, but it doesn’t alter the accountability of the ‘preacher.’

Second I’d like to address my specific gripe with the book that I began reading, “Heaven is so Real” by Choo Thomas. (Different from that which is being relased as a movie, which is “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo)
I’ll admit straight up, that it has been a long time since I read the book, and while I do recall the description of heaven being different to that described in Scripture, I don’t have specific memories of it. There are a few things, however, that I distinctly remember. First, the relationship between the author and Jesus was not one consistent with John’s visit to heaven in the Bible (more on that later) and was very human focused. The author was frequently referred to as Jesus’ ‘special daughter,’ which after a few visits began to have quite worldly and humanistic applications including promises of earthly prosperity, which culminated in the promise of an elite red sports car (soon after this I stopped reading).

I will mention as an aside that the feeling of oppression and (dare I say) demonic presence that I felt as I was reading this book was unparalleled to almost any other book I’ve read. I say that as an aside though. I believe it is important that my argument be based primarily on Scripture rather than personal experience or feelings.

Finally I’d like to address my Biblical reasoning for being sceptical of these ‘heavenly visit’ stories.

My first point comes from the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazurus. (Luke 16:19-31) Jesus (through the character of Abraham) makes an interesting point at the end of the story. The rich man is begging Abraham to send Lazarus back to his family because if ‘someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.’ Abraham refuses his request saying that ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them’ and that ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Jesus himself was later to die and rise again and appear to many, and yet many have still not believed. The world has Moses, and the prophets and the Son of God who returned from the grave. If people will not hear them, I cannot see, from this Scripture, that God would be sending others to them from the dead. Let them believe the testimony of Jesus.

There were several people who were raised from the dead at the time of Christ, the most prominent of whom was Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus from the parable.) On none of these occasions was there any testimony of them having experienced heaven (even though Lazarus was in the grave for several days, far longer than any of the people in these books). The focus was completely on Jesus and his work. Furthermore, Jesus did say to Nicodemus in John 3:13 that ‘no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.’

My second point comes from the testimony of John, Jesus’ disciple, who, in Revelation chapter 1, was given a vision of heaven for the purpose of scriptural revelation. While Jesus was on earth, John was his closest friend. If anyone knew Jesus it was him, and yet, when John was taken ‘in the Spirit’ (read- not dead), to Heaven, he saw Jesus as he now is, in His glorified state, and ‘fell at his feet as though dead.’ Meeting our glorified Lord in heaven is no matter of pleasant conversation, camaraderie or even comfort. It is the experience of coming face to face with the living God, who said himself to Moses that ‘man shall not see me and live.’

My third point follows from this and centres around the focus of those who supposedly went to heaven. From my quick perusal of the synopses of these books, much of the focus (and validation) of the experiences concerns meeting people in heaven who they once knew. While I have no doubt that we will be reunited with loved ones who had accepted Jesus as their saviour on earth, my problem with these recounts is twofold. First, in any biblical description of any person ascending to heaven (to my knowledge, always in the spirit or a vision, never dead, eg: John (Rev 1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6)) the person concerned was always completely captivated by the Glory and majesty of God. There was no mention of anything secondary, and no mention of meeting loved ones. From my understanding, meeting loved ones was a primary focus in this book. (For an interesting unpacking of this, see my post entitled ‘What if you got to Heaven… and God wasn’t there’

Furthermore, there is almost no scriptural evidence that anyone can meet with people who have already died. In fact, the scriptural evidence is quite to the contrary. In Deuteronomy 18:11 it refers to communication with the dead as an abomination to God. The only accounts I can think of where anything akin to this took place in the Bible was first when King Saul used a sear to call on Samuel (things didn’t work out too well for him) and the presence of Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration (clearly a very different situation to what we see today.)

My third point concerns the human focused nature of these heaven stories. My knowledge of them is limited, but the focus does seem to be on reassurance to people of the existence of heaven and the care of God, and the promise of earthly blessings. I would argue that any ‘trip to heaven,’ (which I believe, based on the above scriptures is unlikely if not completely unscriptural in our time), should be characterized by complete awe and worship of God, together with an unrivaled mantra of ‘worthy is the Lamb that was slain,’ and ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord.’

I’d like to finish by qualifying what I’ve said with a few short points.

I do believe in the value of personal testimony that testifies to the outworking of the promises of God, as outlined in the scriptures. I do not believe in further revelation from God, to a particular individual, that adds to the words of the Bible.

I do believe that God (in His triune form) does convict, lead, guide, impress upon, and, by his Word, individually communicate with His people. I do not believe that He takes them to Heaven and then returns them to earth, with the mandate to share their experiences.

I do believe that it is possible that God, may give a person a vision, dream, angelic visit or even near death experience for the purpose of leading them or bringing them comfort, but that any such experience will not bring them face to face with the living God, nor will it give them any message that adds to, contradicts or goes beyond the revelation of Scripture, nor is it to be used as a method of doing so.

Finally I’d like to finish with what may be the most controversial comment I’ve made so far: As Christians, we must be careful not to be deceived. We must not look at something that appears innocent, pleasant and harmless and assume that it is so. The Bible tells us that the devil himself masquerades as an angel of light, and that we are to be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The doctrines and stories most dangerous to the church are not those that are blatantly opposed to it, but those that work their way in under the disguise of something that is good. If the experience of ANY person contradicts the teachings of scripture, we are to disown it, not tolerate it as harmless. I’d argue that the most harmful divisions in the church (including the development of cults) have been caused by those who add to the teaching of scripture with their own experiences and ‘words from the Lord’, and by those who have tolerated it.

I hope that this helps clarify some of my thoughts on this topic.

As I said, I’m no scholar, and I’m sure there is much to be said on this topic that I’ve missed. It is also not my job to judge the hearts and minds of these authors, but rather to be discerning in what we accept as from God and what we reject as not of Him.

May God be glorified always above all things, and may His word be given the place of authority that it deserves.

When ‘Heaven is for Real’ becomes a movie (and it’s my final straw.)

‘The time I went to heaven’ books have both captivated and divided audiences in recent years.

 I’ve avoided the debate, but yesterday something inside me clicked. I noticed that ‘Heaven if for Real’ is coming to cinemas. With something akin to anger, I decided ‘enough is enough’ and I wrote the title of this post.

 Then I chickened out.stairway-to-the-sky_18-6364

 But I’m back.

 Because sometimes we have to call it as we see it.

 A while back a friend loaned me the book ‘Heaven is so Real.’ I was a skeptic, but I started reading anyway. I was not prepared for what I found.

 Her stories were interesting, but they just weren’t right. Not only did they differ from the teachings of Scripture, but they became narcissistic. I felt a real sense of oppression in my spirit, and I had no doubt: This message was not from God.

 It’s the only book I’ve read on the topic, so I can’t speak for them all, but I can say this: Scripture must be our authority on Heaven and nothing else. I take offense to people returning from momentary ‘death’ and proclaiming triumphantly “Heaven actually IS real!” as though their experience gives it more credibility than the promises of Christ.

 I’m not here to judge the motives of those who wrote these books, but I would exhort those who consider reading them: On the topic of Heaven, consult the Bible and make that your authority, not a few people with some weird experiences.

My follow up Blog ‘Why I don’t believe people returned from Heaven‘ articulates my reasoning for this viewpoint in more detail.