Disney World and Longing for Heaven

AnimalKingdomDanceAs a parent of a two year old and a four year old, I can’t exactly say that everything about the last few days we spent at Disney reminded me of heaven. The heat, aggravated people, and cost of it all might just call to mind another place quite opposite of heaven. But in all of the heat and busyness of Disney, there was one moment while we were there that sparked a longing for heaven for me. There was this area in Animal Kingdom were some performers were leading a crowd in an African song and dance. It wasn’t on the program. You couldn’t find it on the map. It was one of those things they plan to seem like it wasn’t planned. As the guys started singing, dancing and playing drums a crowd formed around them. People started joining in. The people from the crowd were dancing the dance they saw the men dancing. They were singing the song they heard the men singing. Everyone was smiling, laughing and moving to the beat.

It was really pretty amazing to watch. The more I thought about it my amazement shifted from its entertainment value to the underlying reality of what was actually happening. It was a unifying moment. These people were from all over the world. Some of them couldn’t even speak to each other because of the multiplicity of languages you hear walking the streets at Disney. But for that moment they were unified, dancing the same dance and singing the same song and all having so much fun. There was a magnetism about it all as you heard the fun and wanted to see what was going on. It made you want to be there. It made you enjoy life. It allowed you to see the celebration of an extremely diverse crows that had nothing more in common except for wanting to spend some family day at Disney and they got drawn into a moment of unity and celebration.

I wish I could tell you that I joined in the dance. Even though Missy begged me to jump in there, I didn’t. But what I observed reminded me of heaven – a place where people of all backgrounds, languages and cultures get together to laugh, dance and celebrate. It made me wonder how awesome the spontaneous moments of celebration will be. It had me wondering how magnetic Jesus must be. It made me long for heaven and reminded me of these words from scripture,

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” – 1 Cor 12:12-14

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” – Rev 7:9-10


The Joy of Kids

JonahPirateYesterday Jonah told me he wanted to be a pirate. He brought his red cape to me and asked if I would tie it around his head. He then made a makeshift sword and started saying “Arrrrr…” Then Elijah got in on the act. He put on a Santa Claus hat and told me he was a pirate too. What is more, he took another Santa hat and put a bunch of toys in it and told me it was his treasure.

A while later, I saw Elijah spinning in circles. When he got done, he started walking in zigzags around the living room saying, “Room is spinning…room is spinning”. Kids are awesome. This morning, it continued. When it was time to get dressed, the boys decided that one pair of underwear wasn’t enough. They both, on their own, put an extra pair on their head and started running around laughing hysterically. Ahhh….the joy of kids!

I love the sound of laughter and activity in the house. I love it because it is sweet and fun and playful. The more I thought about how much I loved hearing those sounds the more I realized that it won’t always be that way. There will come a day when the house will be quiet. No more running around. No more pirates. No more underwear on their heads. Just quiet. When it happens I hope I can say we raised them right. I hope we can say we did everything we could to help them love God and love others. My prayer is that we found a healthy balance between loving playfulness/freedom and discipline/boundaries.

It is important that we are our kids parents and that we are their friends. One without the other is harmful to their well being. That tension is real and it is powerful. It reminds me that the same is true of my heavenly Father. He is my disciplinarian but He is also my friend. He puts me through the fire that refines me but also would want to spend playful time with me as well. I hope that doesn’t sound like I have lost my sense of wonder and awe of God. Quite the opposite…it makes me even more in awe of a God who can love me like that.

I am certain there will be a lot of laughing in heaven. I am not so sure about the underwear on the head thing but I can definitely hear the laughing!

Verses on Heaven: What We Will and Won’t Do There as Well as What Heaven is Like

What is heaven?

  • Heaven is God’s dwelling place (Deut 26:15)
  • Home of angels (Gen 28:12, Rev 4 & 5)
  • Home of the deceased righteous (2 Kings 2:1, Rev 6:9-11)
  • Ultimately the place of all the redeemed – 1 Thess 5:10, John 14:1-4

 What will we do in heaven?

  • Recognize people – Luke 9:30 (recognizing the dead)
  • Worship God – Revelation 4:8-11
  • Worship Christ – 5:13-14 (every living creature…that includes us)
    • Worship is the activity described the most in heaven
  • See things clearly – 1 Cor 13:12
  • See God face to face – Revelation 22:4
  • Dwell/live with God – Rev 21:3
  • Have our tears wiped away – Rev 21:4
  • Drink the water of life – Rev 21:6 & 22:1
  • Serve God and Christ – Rev 22:3 & 5:10
  • See Christ “as he is” – 1 John 3:2
  • Be pure:
    • Washed robes – 7:14
    • White robes – 3:5
    • Fine linen/bright and pure – 19:8
    • Spotless – Rev 14:4-5
    • Nothing impure can enter into heaven = no need for gates – 21:27
  • Respond to God:
    • Joy & Satisfaction are the two dominant responses (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 372)

 What won’t we do in heaven?

  • No marriage – Mark 12:24-25
  • No sex – Matthew 22:30
  • Die, mourn or cry – Revelation 21:4
  • Be cursed – Rev 22:3
  • Some say no eating or drinking in heaven – Rom 14:17 (but see Matthew 26:29 & Rev 21:6, is that symbolic?). Paul doesn’t say no eating or drinking…he says it is not a matter of eating or drinking. That just means those things won’t be matters of dispute because there will be so many more meaningful and substantial things going on in heaven.

 Mystery about heaven:

  • We don’t see clearly now – 1 Cor 13:12
  • Jesus obscured as he went into heaven – Acts 1:9
  • Revelation – often doors and seals must be open for mysteries to be reveled and for visions to be seen. (Rev 4, 15, 19)

How is heaven described

  • Heaven is God’s Holy City, the New Jerusalem – Rev 21:9-10
  • It radiates and appears shining and brilliant – Rev 21:11
  • Doesn’t say it was made of jasper but that it shown like jasper – 21:11
  • The Sea
    • No more sea – 21:1
    • Sea of glass before God’s throne – Rev 4:6
    • 15:2 – the victors standing beside what looked like a sea of glass
    • Reconciling the images
      • 4:6 – Rev 21 & 22 describe what happen after God redeems his people. Rev 4, it hasn’t happened yet. Things can and do change.
      • 15:2 – what looked like = metaphorical
  • High wall with 12 gates/12 tribes of Israel – 21:12
    • Made of pearl (21:21) – perfection, beauty, value, purity
    • 3 gates/side
    • 1 angel/gate – 21:12
    • Gates never shut – 21:25 (sign of power…there is no need to protect from evil)
  • 12 foundations – 12 apostles (21:14)
    • Each foundation like a precious stone (21:19-20)
  • Street of gold – 21:21
  • City dimensions:
    • Square shaped
    • Same length and width – 1,400 miles X 1,400 miles = Miami to Providence, RI and from Jacksonville, FL to New Mexico
    • Walls – 200 feet high
    • Made of gold – 21:21
  • Source of light:
    • There is no sun or moon – 21:23
    • God is its light – 21:23
    • No more night – 22:5
  • Throne of God – 22:1
    • God is sovereign
    • River of life flows from God’s thrown – God is the source of life
    • Tree of life – 22:2
  • Who is there?
    • Those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life – 21:27

Heaven: I Have Questions…

I am teaching a class on heaven right now and thought I would share a bit along the way. When I just sit and let my mind think about heaven there are a lot of thoughts that come to mind. Just like with any place I have never been, when I hear mention of it, I have more questions than I have answers. Obviously, scripture addresses some of our questions and others it is silent on. I have studied enough to have a decent answer on some of these questions but it is always worthy of investigation of the scripture rather than just assuming my conclusions are solid and based on a solid interpretation of what the Bible actually says. Here are a few of the questions that come to mind when I think about heaven:

Who ?– who will be there? Not who do I expect will be there but who does the Bible say will be there?

What? – What happens in heaven? What is the focus? What will we do?

When? – When will all of this happen? When will Jesus return?

Where? – Where is heaven? Where are the dead?

Why? – Why did God create the world in such a way that there is a distinction between heaven and earth? Why is there evil in the world? Which leads to…

How? –  How will God take care of the problems we face in this world? How does God expect us to live here and now and how does an understanding of heaven address that?

I am going to highlight what scripture has to say in response to these questions and how that helps us to have an accurate view of heaven and to help us live in light of that understanding.

What questions do you have about heaven?

Lesson on Heaven by A Two Year Old

Jonah is one of the greatest theologians I know. I am talking about my two year old, not the prophet in the Old Testament. This morning I was getting him dressed to attend Bible class and the worship assembly (my attempt to stop calling that hour on Sunday “church”) and he asked if he was going to his Uncle Chris’ house. I told him he wasn’t but that we would be going there soon. He really wanted to go to Uncle Chris’ house and was pretty persistent. The funny thing is he has never been there. He has no idea what it is like or how nice things are there. Jonah just knows that Uncle Chris is there and that is enough for him. I think it is easy to get too caught up in all the details of Revelation 21 on the streets of gold and the gates of pearl when the only thing that really matters is that God is there. We aren’t going to get the perfect description of heaven and like Jonah that really shouldn’t matter because our God is there and all the rest are just details.

Tim Challies’ Review of Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins”

Thanks to Terry for pointing out Tim Challies recent review of Rob Bell’s new book. I have a lot of respect for Tim Challies but even if I didn’t, he quotes Bell’s book in numerous places in his review and Bell says some very troubling things. Tim is not one to take things out of context but is one who is usually very careful to be fair with people so his review troubles me all the more about Bell’s new book. To sum it all up, it seems Bell is saying that based on his own carefully constructed definition of things there is basically no place called hell and universalism is the way things go. Sounds like he jumps through lots of hoops to make it sound like that is not what he saying but probably is what he is saying.

Here is how Tim ends his post,

Christians do not need more confusion. They need clarity. They need teachers who are willing to deal honestly with what the Bible says, no matter how hard that truth is. And let’s be honest—many truths are very, very hard to swallow.

Love does win, but not the kind of love that Bell talks about in this book. The love he describes is one that is founded solely on the idea that the primary object of God’s love is man; indeed, the whole story, he writes, can be summed up in these words: “For God so loved the world.” But this doesn’t hold a candle to the altogether amazing love of God as actually shown in the Bible. The God who “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), who acts on our behalf not so much because His love for us is great, but because He is great (Isaiah 48:9, Ezekiel 20:9,14,22,44, 36:22; John 17:1-5).

That’s the kind of love that wins. That’s the kind of love that motivates us to love our neighbors enough to compel them to flee from the wrath to come. And our love for people means nothing if we do not first and foremost love God enough to be honest about Him.

Storing Up Lasting Treasure – Luke 12:32-34

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Luke 12:32-34

Love those verses. You can hang the priorities, actions and attitudes of your life on these four verses and walk away with a godly perspective on real kingdom living. The first thing that comes to mind when I read those verses is heaven. If he tells us to put treasure where thieves and moths can’t bother it then he must be talking about a place out of reach or out of sink with what is a part of our normal experience/existence. What seems to be another clue that this is at least part of what Jesus is talking about is he starts by saying they have been given the kingdom. We all know that has something to do with heaven.

But I think these verses have far more to tell us than just something to do a zillion years from now beyond the pearly gates. Jesus tells them in 12:33 that kingdom living has just as much to do with life on earth as it does with life after life. He tells them then to sell their possessions and give to the poor. The next command is for them to have purses that won’t wear out. But didn’t he just tell them to sell what they had? What will they need a purse for if there is nothing to put in it? The purse Jesus is talking about is figurative. He is telling them to get ready to store up what is really important. Since you have received the kingdom from God get ready to store up something even better than silver and gold.

Jesus tells them to store up “treasure”  (θησαυρος) means something that is collected because of its value. How do you store up something that cannot be touched? Not only can the thief and moth not touch this treasure. We can’t either! Maybe the point is, there are things in life more valuable than that which can be touched. If we value those things as they should be valued then we will know that we want to be a much a part of them as possible. If we place our hearts with the temporary and material then it only makes sense that what we value most will one day be taken away. But even worse than that, if that is what we value most then the most valuable things in life have already been taken away as we fail to see the significance and value in everything from loved ones to God himself.

When you have experienced or given complete, unconditional love to someone else you treasure those moments. When you give or receive forgiveness you want to store those moments up. When you have an “aha” moment about the kingdom of God you hunger for more. When you share time with your wife and kids it only makes you wish there were more hours in the day. Treasure is about collecting or storing up that which is valuable to you. So the question comes, what do you value most and how could it be determined by those things you store up the most of?

If someone were to look at your life, what do you think they would say you value or treasure the most?

Romans 8:1-17 – Life in Step with the Spirit

21 of 35 instances of the word “spirit” in Romans occur in chapter 8. Some have taught that the Holy Spirit is not active today. There are two extremes that have caused a rejection of the Spirit’s operating in the life of the believer today. The first extreme are those who have made a big deal out of spiritual gifts, prophesy, and speaking in tongues. We have seen that so abused that we wonder if it is even real. The other extreme is that the Holy Spirit is hard to pin down and the modern mindset likes things cut, dry, and quantified. The Holy Spirit is an unknown quantity. The funny thing is so is God the Father. We readily accept his role and yet somehow we think we can nail him down because we limit him to the words in the Bible. We dissect his words, translate them, interpret them, and memorize them to gain mastery over them, as if that was possible! We learn in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and that we better understand the crucial role of the Spirit in our lives because without it not only are we mistaken, we are dead (Rom 8:9).

Romans 8:1-4 – What Jesus Came to Do:

Romans 7 concludes with that famous passage of the struggle that we face in life with the flesh and how the answer to our problem comes through Jesus Christ (7:25). Romans 8 continues talking about the deliverance that is found through Christ. Paul writes, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This points back to what Paul was saying in Romans 6 about dying to self and sin and being raise to walk with Christ in newness of life. It also points back to Romans 7:1-4 that death brings freedom from past obligations. Then in 8:3-4 Paul adds on to something he brought up back in 7:7-13 – that the law served a purpose but ultimatly the law did not have enough power on its own to bring an end to sin and death. The law was incapable of bringing transformation to our lives. So what do we say? Do we say that the law was left unfilfilled? No. Christ fulfilled the law in us through his death on the cross (8:4).

There is something that has to be pointed out in verses 3,-4 “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” Jesus came in the flesh and died in the flesh in order to fulfill the requirement of the law perfectly. Christ didn’t come as a divine spirit and do battle with sin and death to fulfill the law. He came just like us, in flesh. And in that flesh he met every obligation and requirement of righteousness that was found in the law and in doing so he accomplished two things. He fulfilled the law and through his death he freed us of our obligation to live driven by the desires of the flesh. He could only do that as a man, like us.

Romans 8:5-17 we have contrasted life by the Spirit and life by the sinful nature:
I find it helpful to list the things Paul says about life by the Spirit and what Paul says about life by the sinful nature

Life by the Spirit:

  • Life (8:6)
  • Peace (8:6)
  • Submission to God (8:9) – controlled by the Spirit
  • Children of God (8:15)

Sinful nature:

  • Death (8:6)
  • Hostility (8:7)
  • Unable to submit to God (8:7)
  • Slaves (8:15)

Fear and Security:

These two ways of living are diametrically opposed to each other. It is important that we realize that Paul is not saying that one sin means you are no longer living life by the Spirit. He is talking about being controlled by the Spirit or being controlled by the sinful nature. It is not a one sin and if you die before you confess it you are out! No. He said in 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and just one unconfessed sin is not big enough to seperate us from the love of God! (We will talk more about that in a minute). Many of us have grown up in our faith with real fear issues. Are we in or are we out? For Paul our salvation is not as tenuous as that because it is based upon God’s faithfulness that we are saved. It is not a in one day and out the next. If God were that fickel we should all just give up. But we have better promises than that! Verse 11 gives ms so much hope, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

Imagine you were going to wire your house for surround sound. You get the speakers, the wire and all the necessary equipment. You get up in the attic and run the wire. You drill holes in your walls and ceiling. You read through instruction manual after instruction manual on how to wire your receiver, DVD, TV, etc. After you have done all that hard work and gotten yourself covered in insulation, bought expensive equipment and got the job done there was one final thing that had to be done for it to work. You had to press the “on” button. Would you press it? Of course! You wouldn’t leave it off after going through all that trouble and paying a high price for the equipment to make it work. You wouldn’t let a silly button keep you from your desired goal. That is how it is with what Christ has done for us. Paul is saying that if God was willing to send his own Son to die for us in order to redeem us he is certainly willing to sweat the small stuff that comes after. If he was willing to send his Son to suffer, die and be risen again we can have hope that he will also raise us from the dead at the proper time and give us life. That gives us a certain assurance that God is going to make good on his promises because we see how much he has already done for us!

Adopted as Children of God (8:14-17):
What gives us even more assurance is that we have been adopted by God into sonship. That means we are heirs and that there are things in store for us that have not yet occurred. Witherington and others point out in 8:16 that you have two witnesses  God’s Spirit and ours that testify and based on Deuteronomy 19 two witnesses make a valid testimony. He is saying that it is certain that we have become God’s children and heirs to the promise. In verse 17 he ties suffering to glory. He will explain that more in 18-30. And so we are the children of God and because we are God’s children we don’t need to live with a spirit of fear, rather we live in the light of the fact that our father has made some powerful promises to us that we know will be made right because he has already opened the way through Jesus Christ. We have already caught a glimpse of what is to come and because of that we can withstand whatever this world has to throw at us.

Rethinking Relevant Church – Taking on Goliath’s Challenge

What is it that makes the church/Christianity relevant? Some Christians must think being loud and obnoxious is what it takes to be relevant. I am very thankful that is a small handful of people. Some Christians think we are relevant when America is considered a Christian nation. I am glad that God’s kingdom is much larger than America. Some Christians think we are relevant when we are reaching the lost. We have plenty of people who would agree with that statement but fewer who actually take action on the thought. Others would say it is when we are meeting the needs of our community, modeling the ministry and compassion of Jesus. I wish we had more people who felt that was important. Still others might say we are here to glorify God and so we are most relevant when we spend time in worship. Then the question is, “What constitutes worship?”

More and more people today are talking about heaven and the kingdom. There is a shifting emphasis from waiting on heaven to being a part of the heaven movement today fulfilling the Lord’s prayer of “on earth as it is in heaven.” The thinking is that if the kingdom has already begun here on earth then we do not have to wait to “get to heaven” to begin living out kingdom business. The shift has been from thinking God’s people are those who have the correct theology and doctrinal stances to God’s people being those who are actively engaged in His mission. It is possible to be dressed for war but not be willing to actively engage in battle, rendering all the pomp and circumstance meaningless.

What are the results? We are seeing a shift from churches that have traditionally grown from transfer growth where Christians have moved from smaller churches to larger churches to engaging in the mission and bringing in non-Christians. We have also seen a shift of priority from having the right battle dress to actively being engaged in the fight. It is more like the difference between Israel’s troops who looked like an army but would not take on Goliath’s challenge and the non-traditional warrior, David, who stepped in and was willing to fight God’s fight. Because of that we are seeing more and more churches actively engaging their community in order to do kingdom work today. There is also a certain level of boldness that comes when you know you are in the fight God cares about. If you are on the battle field alone it is easy to be scared but when you are on it with the Lord of all creation then you have a reason to be bold. I think we are starting to see more David’s and a lot less sitting in the tents hoping a real warrior will show up. If we are going to be relevant we have to be willing to take on the Goliaths of our day and be in the fight God is engaged in – the fight against injustice and poverty and against the forces of evil and darkness. Found that on an appreciation for scripture and a foundation on Christ that is informed by scripture and you have a Relevant church.

An Encouragement from Ephesians 2

The book of Ephesians is full of encouraging words and truths about God. One of my favorites is found in 2:6 – “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” That passage is bookended by the exact same phrase – “It is by grace you have been saved.”

Paul doesn’t say that being seated with Christ in heavenly realms is a future occurrance. He says it is a present reality. Sometimes I wonder if the raising up in this verse is talking about our baptism. In Romans 6:1-6 Paul talks about being raised out of the waters of baptism where we are connected with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection symbolized by going into and coming out of the waters of baptism. I don’t know how God does it or when he does what but I do know that if you are a Christian, you are “seated with God in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” That is good news. No matter what comes your way – hardship, difficulty, disaster, death – there is nothing that can really harm us because we know where we live – we live with God in Christ. I hope that offers you some encouragement today.