Tag Archive | Heaven

One Benefit of Being a Sinner

Over the weekend, a teacher at my church blew my mind. Allow me to plagiarize him so your mind can be blown too. (It’s okay, he probably read this idea in a book he didn’t write.)

He said when Christ comes back and establishes the new earth, it will not be a “return to Eden” type of situation. Yes, He will wipe out sin, there will be no more pain, etc., but it will be even better than the pre-Fall Eden was.

Why?

Because before the Fall, Adam and Eve were clueless about at least one characteristic of God (and I suspect many more). Without sin in their lives, they were unable to experience God as Redeemer. There was nothing from which He needed to rescue them. All was well.

Not so with us.

Because we’ve committed more sin and experienced more effects of sin than we can quantify, we are perfectly positioned to experience God as Redeemer. And, if we make it to Heaven, we definitely will have experienced God as Redeemer in at least one way: His saving us from the death our sin deserves.

So, when we’re standing there in Heaven, enjoying the complete absence of all things bad and the complete fulfillment of our souls, our memories of our lives on Earth will stand in stark contrast to our experiences in our eternal home. No doubt, our hearts will swell with thankfulness and appreciation of our God, our Redeemer.

I’m taking this idea a step further and saying we don’t have to wait until Heaven to appreciate this aspect of God.

Psalm 130:5 (NIV) reads, “I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

Read a couple different translations for different nuances.

“I am counting on the LORD; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word,” (NLT).

“I hoped [for] Jehovah — hoped hath my soul, And for His word I have waited,” (YLT).

The psalmist isn’t hanging out in a hard circumstance, playing Solitaire, flipping through a magazine, waiting for God to do something. No, the writer is hopefully expectant of God, confident God will come through, according to His Word.

In other words, the psalmist believes God is the Redeemer. The writer has read about God acting as Israel’s Redeemer in the past. He’s read about God’s promise to be Israel’s Redeemer in the future. He’s choosing to believe God will come through.

We need to do that, too.

God has redeemed us from hard, broken situations in the past. His Word says He is redeeming us from current painful circumstances right now (Romans 8:28). And He will redeem us in the grandest of fashions when Christ returns (Revelation 21).

Count on the Lord. Hopefully expect the redemption His Word promises you.

 

Why I Think Judas is in Heaven

Today is Good Friday, the day Christians mark the anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion. To focus my heart on the event, I cracked open Matthew 27 to read about the details. I got 5 verses in and stopped to ponder Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders who wanted Him dead.

I think a lot of Christians assume Judas is in hell. After all, he betrayed God. That’s kind of a big deal sin. He also committed suicide, which some brands of Christians wrongly consider an unforgivable sin. For these reasons, I think if you polled your church, the majority would say there is no way Judas is in Heaven.

But I think they’re wrong.

When he realized the Jewish leaders weren’t just going to give Jesus a talking to, Judas freaked out.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. -Matthew 27:3-5

Judas screwed up. He let greed get the better of him. He chose to turn on his friend for money. Several sources on the Google tell me 30 pieces of silver in New Testament times was the equivalent of about 4 months’ wages, so a few thousand dollars, depending on the profession to which they are referring. It would have been a nice chunk of change, but nothing too life-altering. But money wooed, and Judas’ true allegiance won out.

To be fair, Judas didn’t seem to realize he was turning his friend over to be executed. He probably was thinking Jesus was going to get some church discipline for bucking the established rules, like healing on the Sabbath and speaking out against traditional Pharisaical thinking. Judas may have envisioned Jesus being put in religious time out, but being put to death was not on Judas’ radar. A few thousand dollars in exchange for Jesus’ chastisement seemed worth it. Judas may have even rationalized that the disciples were poor and could use that money to minister to even more people once Jesus got ungrounded.

But once the reality of the situation set in, Judas was filled with remorse. He called his sin what it was – sin. He confessed his belief in Jesus as Messiah by calling Jesus innocent of the charges – namely, that He was falsely claiming to be the Messiah.

In my estimation, Judas repented and acknowledged Jesus as God. And scripture tells us that’s all we have to do to be saved.

I cannot wait to get to Heaven and see Judas and Jesus laughing together. That picture of grace overwhelms my soul.

How great is our God that He would forgive even the likes of Judas!

(Shortly after I published this post, I changed my mind. See the comments below to understand why.)

How to Deal with Pain Well

It’s not often I read the same book twice in a year’s time, but it happened this year. Partly because it is an excellent book. And partly because I am quick to forget what I “learn”. (Have we really learned something if we forget it?)

If you’ve read this blog before, you can probably guess the book is Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. I may not know you, but I know you need to read this book. Which says more about the book and human nature than it does about my arrogance.

The summation of the book is this: Life goes so much better when we remember we are not entitled to ANYTHING; all is grace, all is gift.

I forgot this for a few days around Christmas. And in crept a spirit of sadness, emptiness – a sense of just how broken this world is and how it won’t be fixed until Christ returns. I dwelt on that too long, developing a discontent rooted in the idea that I deserve perfection now.

I went down this rabbit trail: I feel pain because I lack something. The lack is bad because it causes pain. Fix the lack, fix the pain. There is no fixing the lack permanently in this broken world. Hopelessness.

Do you see the entitlement in this thinking?

I’m not entitled to not feel pain this side of Heaven.

Nowhere in the Bible is this mentioned. In fact, the opposite is harped on quite a bit. There will be pain, there will be trials, there will be suffering. A pain-free existence is incongruent with how the world works.  It’s a logical impossibility. Therefore, feeling entitled to such bliss is absurd.

That’s a kick to the gut.

We cannot have a continuously pain-free life, no matter what we do, what god we worship, or how well we serve Him.

It’s almost enough to make you want to give up on the whole thing… religion… God… life.

And that’s what Satan would have us do. He would have us zoom in on our present lives and dwell on the hopelessness of now.

But God zooms us back out so we can consider the eternal value of our present perseverance.

The author of Hebrews puts it like this:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

There is an eternal reward for those who continue to serve and obey the Lord in the middle of the hopeless feelings of our painful lives. Salvation – eternity in a pain-free Heaven – awaits those who believe and press on.

We are not entitled to anything, least of all a pain-free now. Count all as grace – as gift – and it will help you press on through the pain and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you. 

 

 

Now is our Time for Grief

My kids and I talk about Heaven a lot.

My 3 year old is just trying to wrap her brain around the concept of Heaven. She knows it is a place where God lives, and if you love Jesus, you get to go there. When I remind her of these facts, she inevitably says, “I love Jesus! When can I go to Heaven?” I always tell her the same thing, “When God decides it’s time.” And she always tells me the same thing, “I want to go right now…”

My 5 year old has more complex thoughts about Heaven. She mostly wonders what it will be like. She wants to know details and  wishes God had given us more descriptions of Heaven in the Bible. She wonders if we will all live in one big house, or if there will be lots of houses… She wonders if the houses will be made of gold… She wonders if we will walk or float in Heaven… She wonders if we will be singing praises to God all the time or just some of the time… She wonders if there will be Burger King in Heaven… I don’t tell her that would be my version of Hell.

I like my older daughter’s imagination. I like how she daydreams about eternal life with the Lord. I can’t tell her for sure what Heaven will be like other than Heaven will be all good and no bad (which is why I’m pretty sure Burger King won’t be there…).

I am more on my younger daughter’s plane, longing for Heaven, no matter what the details are. I know it’s good, and I want good now. I know it is pain-free, and I want pain-free now (Revelation 21:4).

But it’s not time yet.

Jesus was talking to His disciples right before his murder, and he told them, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy… Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:20,22).

The immediate context of the passage is Jesus describing the Jews’ joy over finally killing the “blasphemer”, Jesus, while the disciples grieve over the gruesome loss of their Friend and failure to understand the spiritual victory that was taking place. Jesus is telling the disciples their grief will turn to joy on the third day when He rises and proves Himself God by defeating death.

The broader context, I suggest, is the modern world enjoying their sin while the modern believers grieve over the state of brokenness we find ourselves in. People are broken. We don’t work right. Bad stuff happens. Pain is the norm. And believers grieve because we know in our hearts and from the scriptures THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!

But just as Jesus told His disciples, He tells us today, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice.”

The believer knows Jesus is coming back. We’ll either go to Him or He will come to us, and our joy will be unbounded!

But it’s not time for that yet. Sure, we can experience joy today while we daydream about Jesus coming back. But that joy is limited. Bounded. By the confines of broken people in a broken world.

No, now is our time of grief. Expect it. Accept it. But don’t get stuck in it.

Instead, learn to view the pain differently.

I’m learning by revisiting One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

Now is our time for grief, and we will not waste that grief. We will use it to experience the Father more deeply.

Feel Good Article of the Year

One thing I haven’t come to grips with yet about this life is that friendships don’t last forever.

In fact, all relationships are fluid. People move in and out of our lives as time goes on. It’s just a fact of life.

A fact of life I despise.

Whether it’s circumstances, choices, disagreements or death, everyone we hold dear will eventually leave us. And, of course, we will also eventually leave them.

Even our familial relationships will end. We may live in the same city for 60 years with our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children… we may have great emotional intimacy with them, picture perfect (yeah, right) relationships, but, if nothing else does, death will prevail.

Circumstances separate us. Our best friends we grow up with move away for college or for a job or for a significant other. We get absorbed into creating our new families, pursuing our new careers and exploring our callings. We keep in touch as best we can, but time and distance defeat our resolve.

Choices and disagreements break our relationships. Our spouses file for divorce. Our children flee in rebellious huffs. We push our friends away out of self-protection.

The list goes on… the point remains the same. No relationship is forever.

We are utterly alone. The only companion we have through it all is ourselves, and we don’t even really like ourselves all that much. Realizing this is hopelessly depressing. We fold our hands and choose to insulate ourselves from this painful reality by retreating from our present relationships. Avoid pain at all costs – this is the human mantra.

But we can’t live like this.

We soon discover the pain of being a hermit equals or surpasses the pain of loving others we know we are going to lose one way or another.

Who will rescue us from this catch 22?

“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians 1:3-4).

Jesus gives us the solution. He offers us all eternal life so death will no longer separate us from those we love. We may be temporarily separated on earth, but we will be reunited in heaven forever, enjoying sweet and perfect friendship.

What’s the catch?

Both parties must accept Jesus’ solution.

It’s not hard, but it does break down our pride quite a bit to admit we can’t right this ship ourselves. We can’t over come loneliness or the inevitable fact that all our relationships are coming to an end. We’ve already lost so many – proof we can’t control anything.

But there is One who is offering us hope – hope we literally and figuratively cannot live without.

Choose hope.

Soul Sick

Some things about life suck.

This has nothing to do with my natural bent toward pessimism or my forgetting to take my depression medication.

It has everything to do with the Fall.  (The event, not the season.)

When sin entered the world, it ruined stuff.  And ever since then, stuff has had the propensity to suck.  Deep, no?  This sucking takes on two forms: 1) some stuff has bad components, and 2) some stuff is good, but it can never be as good as it was meant to be this side of Heaven.

The first kind of stuff is the clearly bad/evil stuff.  I don’t have a hometown, but if I did, it would be Collierville, TN.  And right now, there is a high school student there who was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  That cancer is BAD.  There is nothing good about the cancer itself.  That component of Trey’s health is an evil, destructive result of the Fall.  And that sucks.

The second kind of stuff is the good stuff that can’t reach it’s fullest potential because we live post-Fall.  Relationships come to mind.  Relationships are generally good things – good things that can’t be best things because sin limits them.  Dysfunction taints them.  Conflict strains them.  And a myriad of complicated reasons can limit them, even though the two people care about each other.

When I think about these kinds of effects of the Fall, I get sad.  I am bummed that things can’t be as great as they were meant to be because of that crappy day in the Garden.  I used the phrase “soul sick” to describe my feelings about these kinds of things today.

It’s not depression – no pill or talk therapy will change the fact that we live in a fallen world, stained with sin.

It’s not a matter of being more optimistic, trying to look at things differently so I don’t see the bad.  The bad IS there – it’s not dependent on my outlook.

It’s soul sickness.  It’s a weariness that comes from understanding what the world was supposed to be like and grieving the fact that it can no longer be that phenomenal, no matter how hard I try.

Some days it is hard for me to get past the reality of soul sickness.  It is comforting to know that this reality is only for a limited time.  Heaven gets closer every passing minute.  And that will be the perfection I long for.

But the waiting isn’t easy.

Does God Care HOW We Worship Him?

image via westmainbaptist.com

image via westmainbaptist.com

There is a popular idea out there that it doesn’t matter how you choose to worship, as long as you are sincere.  Within this idea is an unspoken conclusion that, somehow, no matter which religion turns out to be right, the god(s) of that religion will honor the valiant efforts of those who believed falsely, as long as they believed with passion and commitment.

(Why a god would reward wrong is beyond me.)

It is true that God cares about the heart.  He is deeply concerned with our motivations, our intentions, and our emotions, especially in worship (Deuteronomy 10:12).

But is God also concerned with the way we worship?  Sure, we need to be sincere, but does the how also matter?

Well, the Old Testament has two entire books – Leviticus and Deuteronomy – dedicated to laying out the means by which Israel was to worship God.  God is painstakingly specific and is serious about the Israelites worshiping Him in just the right way.

Why?

To distinguish the Israelites from the idolators around them (Deuteronomy 12:31).

God wanted the surrounding nations to know that the Israelites were not worshiping just any ole god – they were worshiping the One True God.

But there came a time in Israel’s history when they lost sight of the prescribed ways they were to worship.  Frankly, they just weren’t important to them anymore.

And, as a result, “…everyone did as he saw fit,” (Judges 17:6).

Even Israel’s first king, Saul, decided it’d be okay to come worship God however he wanted to.

In 1 Samuel 15 we read that God commanded Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them (1 Samuel 15:3-4).  But Saul says to himself, “I will kill everyone except the king, and I will kill every animal except the best ones, and then I will sacrifice those best animals to the Lord!  God loves animal sacrifices; surely, He will pleased with me!” (1 Samuel 15:15).

What is Saul doing?  He is justifying disobedience.  He is worshiping God the way he wants to, not the way God told him to.  And he is mistaken that God doesn’t care about how people worship.

As a result, Saul loses the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:23).

And Saul is not the only Israelite to ever lose sight of the importance of the proper way to worship God.

In Numbers 3:4 two of Aaron’s sons – ordained priests – “…fell dead before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him…”

Aaron’s sons knew what the Law said.  They knew the proper way to approach the Lord.  That was their job.  But they made the same mistake Saul did – the same mistake you and I make – and decided to worship on their own terms.  And they paid for that choice with their lives.

What does this mean for us Christians?

God is the same today as He was in Old Testament times.  God cares how we worship Him.  He cares that we call Him Jesus and not any other name (Acts 4:12).  He cares that we believe He is the only God (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4).  He cares that we worship Him only and not any other “gods” (Luke 4:8).  He cares that we worship in truth – not falsehoods – no matter how sincere we might be (John 4:24).

It simply isn’t true that we can worship any god in any way and earn eternal salvation on account of our sincerity.  God has a certain way He wants us to worship, and only that way will do.