Monday, June 30, 2008

Talk One- Heaven

JOURNAL ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK HEAVEN IS LIKE (5 min- following their mock time in "heaven"- playing Bible bingo, elevator music, clouds everywhere, etc.)

“To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain… Yet what shall I choose? I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” -Phil 1:21-23

Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

A tip of the cap to Jonathan Edwards, Tim Keller, Randy Alcorn, Charles Spurgeon, J.I. Packer 

Everyone has his or her thoughts; Mine stemmed mostly from Looney Tunes & All Dogs Go to Heaven. It was a boring place of sitting on clouds, pure white, & harps. It was a kid’s nightmare. Heaven sorta sucked.

“Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven” -George Bernard Shaw

“To me heaven is getting a harp, drinking a mint julep & asking Ronald Reagan questions” -S. Colbert


Compare what you thought & what George Bernard Shaw thought to this:

“And oh! What joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this! Here is joy unspeakable indeed, and full of glory- joy that is humble, holy, enrapturing, and divine in its perfection! Love is always a sweet principle; and especially divine love. This, even on earth, is a spring of sweetness; but in heaven it shall become a stream, a river, an ocean! All shall stand about the God of glory, who is the great fountain of love, opening, as it were, their very souls to be filled with those effusions of love that are poured forth from his fullness… Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains praising God and the Lamb forever… And thus they will love, and reign in love, and in that godlike joy that is its blessed fruit, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath ever entered into the heart of man in this world to conceive; and thus in the full sunlight of the throne, enraptured with joys that are forever increasing, and yet forever full, they shall live and reign with God and Christ forever and ever” -Jonathan Edwards

Heaven, which in both Hebrew and Greek is a word meaning "sky," is the Biblical term for God's home (Ps. 33:13 - 14; Matt. 6:9) where his throne is (Ps. 2:4); the place of his presence to which the glorified Christ has returned (Acts 1:11); where the church militant and triumphant now unites for worship (Heb. 12:22-25); and where one day Christ's people will be with their Savior forever (John 17:5, 24; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). It is pictured as a place of rest (John 14:2), a city (Heb. 11:10), and a country (Heb. 11:16). At some future point, at the time of Christ's return for judgment, it will take the form of a reconstructed cosmos [world] (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).

Why Should We Spend Time Studying Heaven?

The summer before I came on Beach Project I was in Montana… analogy- which is more loving for someone who is battling depression, etc.: for me to pull them in front of a full-size mirror or for me to pull them outside & let them be awed by beauty wholly outside of them, wholly beyond them?

1. We were created for a person (Christ) & a place (Heaven)

John 14:2-3

When you think of heaven, don’t think of a place where all the best amenities that the world has to offer are there available for us, as if God were competing with the prosperity of the West. Imagine a place where the very best things that the world have to offer pale in comparison to being with the very God of the universe.

When He tells us that He is going to prepare a place for us, he spoke as a groom to his bride-to-be. These are words of love and romance. How would any bride who loves her husband-to-be respond to these words? She’d be thrilled. Not a single day would go by, not a single hour, in which the bride wouldn’t anticipate joining her beloved in that place he prepared for her to live with him forever.

Like a bride’s dreams of sharing a home with her groom, our love for heaven should be overflowing and contagious, just like our love for God. Our passion for God and our passion for heaven should be inseparable. The more I learn about God, the more excited I get about heaven. The more I learn about heaven, the more excited I get about God.

Hebrews 11:13- Strangers & exiles in this land

2. We’ll be there forever

If we believe it lasts forever, shouldn’t we know something about it?

Like 007 going to take on the dirty Commies in Russia. Of course he would prepare before he got there.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis paints a beautiful picture of heaven in the final book, The Last Battle. The book begins with a near collision of a railroad train, where the children are thrust into Narnia. But when their adventure is over, the children are afraid they will be sent back to earth again.

Having experienced the joys and wonders of Narnia, and the presence of Aslan—the Lion who is in fact Christ—the thought of returning to earth was unbearable. Then, in the final section, called “Farewell to the Shadow Lands”, Aslan, the great Lion, gives the children some wonderful news:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are, as you used to call it in the Shadowlands, dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia have only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on for ever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.  -C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan, 1956), 183-184

3.  Nothing will so affect the way that we live in this world

If we study heaven, we’ll be better able to enjoy this world and labor well in it now

“What the New Testament says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfill the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here”. -NT Wright

“The kingdom of God… does not mean merely the salvation of certain individuals nor even the salvation of a chosen group of people. It means nothing less than the complete renewal of the entire cosmos, culminating in the new heaven and the new earth” -Anthony Hoekema

Why should we protect the environment? Why should we help the homeless? Why should we strive for peace in our world? For lives to be restored? For the hungry to have food? Because God is going to redeem this very world. No other religion in the world teaches this! So many other religions proclaim that this world is evil & religion is about escaping the desires of this world, but Christianity teaches that God is going to reconcile this very world (Romans 8:22- the world groans as it awaits new birth; Colossians 1:19-20- God is going to reconcile to himself ALL things through Christ’s death)

Our treasure is found elsewhere.

Matthew 6:19-21- store up for yourselves treasures in heaven

Edwards- What will it signify for us to hoard up great possessions in this world; and how can the thought of having our portion here be pleasing to us, when there is an interest offered us in such a glorious world as heaven is, and especially when, if we have our portion here, we must, when the world has passed away, have our eternal portion in hell, that world of hatred, and of endless wrath of God, where only devils and damned spirits dwell?

Heaven takes the pressure off this world and enables us to enjoy it.

If you insist that your work, your spouse, your sport, etc. is “it,” is worthy of all your hopes, it is certain to crack under the pressure. You won’t be able to truly enjoy these things unless you know that there’s something more. Does it not make sense: if you have a wildest fantasy, how do you feel the day after? Miserable. Does it make more sense to sacrifice now knowing that our greatest delight is still to come?

What Is Heaven Like?

1. Heaven is purest beauty & satisfaction beyond our ability to comprehend

Revelation 21:1-8 (note that there was a FIRST heaven; just because God is beyond time does not mean that heaven will not have a sequence of events or that we will not experience time. I think that the Bible makes it fairly clear that we will, because if we die before the “end of time,” we will be in heaven, but we will be awaiting Christ’s work to be finished so we can experience what John is talking about here, the joining of heaven and earth, and our joy will be so great that a thousand years will seem as a day) Read 2-8

Heaven is incredibly hard to describe. Every description that we have of heaven uses the word “like.” It’s like a city with clear gold; it’s like a marriage; it’s like a feast, etc. We dwell on it, fix our thoughts on what it is “like” and then our minds are blown as we learn that it is infinitely greater than the grandest of our thoughts.

1 Cor 2:9 “No eye has seen... what God has prepared for those who love him” Beautiful song? “No ear has heard” Magnificent image or description? “No mind conceived” Spurgeon said, “What a mistake for us to conceive such a thing! Heaven is not a place for the delight of mere sense; we shall be raised not a sensual body, but a spiritual body. We can get no conceptions of heaven through the senses; they must always come through the Spirit…But never think that imagination can picture heaven. When it is most sublime when it is freest from the dust of earth, when it is carried up by he greatest knowledge, and kept steady by the most extreme caution, imagination cannot picture heaven”

2. In many ways, heaven is a perfected earth. (Alcorn)

Revelation 21:9-21 is a physical description of the new Jerusalem. It is a literal city with literal dimensions.

Heaven is both a country (Luke 19:12; Heb. 11:14-16) and a city (Heb. 11:16; 12:22; 13:14; Rev. 21:12). A country is typically a large territory of various geographies, with citizens of diverse cultures and jobs, sometimes even languages, under one government that provides a common identity. A city is a place of many residences in near proximity. A city’s inhabitants are subject to the common government. Cities usually have varied and bustling activity, community events, education, arts, and visitors.

Heaven is and will be a place of great beauty, both natural created beauty and architecture, including streets of gold and buildings of pearls and emeralds and precious stones (Rev. 21:19-21). Heaven will have the advantages we associate with earthly cities, without the disadvantages

Other ways that heaven will be like earth: We will have bodies. There will be trees, fruit, animals, a river… We will continue to learn & grow in heaven. Once we get there, we won’t know everything automatically or else we would be God. We will have homes. We will recognize people from earth.

We will rest from our labors on earth (Rev. 14:13). There will be work in heaven, but heaven’s labor will be refreshing, productive and without futility or frustration. Perhaps it will be like the work Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), before sin brought the curse on the ground, with its thorns (Gen. 3:17-19). We will be exercising leadership, since we will reign with Christ in heaven, and making important decisions. We judge or rule over the world and we judge and rule over angels (1 Cor. 6:2-3).

We will fellowship at the table with Christ and the redeemed saints from earth, communicating, story telling, and rejoicing with them (Matt. 8:11; Luke 22:29, 30; Rev. 19:9). Communication, dialogue, corporate worship, and other relationship-building interactions all take place in heaven. Saints and angels and God himself will interact together, building and deepening their relationships.

Above all else, we will worship God (Rev. 5:13-14; 7:9-12). Multitudes of God’s people, of every nation, tribe, people, and language, will gather to sing praise to God for his greatness, wisdom, power, grace, and mighty work of redemption

3. Above all else, heaven is a world of indescribably perfect & infinitely satisfying love (Edwards)

1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12 “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect comes, that which is in part disappears… Now we see but a poor reflection [through glass darkly] as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”

In heaven, God will so perfectly and fully manifest His love to and in every heart that there will be no need for any other spiritual gift. Why would we need prophecy when we all see God face-to-face? Why should some excel in hospitality when all love and are loved perfectly? When every need is forever met?

Since the God of love (1 John 4:16) himself, the One whose very name is love, lives in heaven, heaven is a world of love for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light… “Seeing he is an all-sufficient being, it follows that he is a full and over-flowing, and inexhaustible fountain of love. And in that he is an unchangeable and eternal being, he is an unchangeable and eternal fountain of love.”

On earth we experience glimpses of this love: in parent-child relationships, in friendships, in romantic relationships- all of these are gifts of God to show us glimpses of His love, little drops of His love. It’s not like these things existed, and then God said, “Oh yeah, those things are sort of like how I love you…” No. God created these things in order that we might understand in part what his love is like, but in heaven, dwells the God from who every stream of holy love proceeds. It’s like moving from a light drizzle to being submerged in the ocean.

EYES CLOSED (FOCUS): There are none but lovely objects in heaven. There are none that pretend to be Christians. There are no hypocrites. There is nothing there that is not pleasant. Not only is everything lovely & pleasant, everything is perfectly so. “That blessed world shall be perfectly bright, without any darkness; perfectly fair, without any spot; perfectly clear, without any cloud. No moral or natural defect shall ever enter there; and there will be nothing that is sinful or weak or foolish.” No matter where you turn your eyes, all you see is dignity, beauty, and glory.

Everyone is united, with one mind, to breathe forth their whole souls in love to God their eternal Father, and to Jesus Christ their common Redeemer, and head, and friend. Every heart is wedded to its spiritual husband, and all the members of heaven are gloriously united. There is not a single secret or open enemy among them all. Not a heart is there that is not full of love, not a single inhabitant that is not loved by all the others. Love is mutual, full, and eternal. The saints in heaven love God for his sake and each other for God’s sake. There is no pride or selfishness in heaven to hinder this love. There is no more hatred, coldness, or deadness of heart towards Christ or towards anyone else. No, such feelings will be as far as sin is from holiness & heaven is from hell. Neither shall the saints of heaven have any doubt as to the greatness of God’s love towards them, and they shall have no doubt of the love of all their fellow inhabitants in heaven.

No one in heaven will be hindered from full & complete enjoyment of each other’s love by distance; for they shall all be together, as one family, all as the children of God, as brother and sister, in their heavenly Father’s house. There shall be no misunderstandings between them or misinterpreting things that are said and done. There will no divisions due to social status, prosperity or poverty, political alliance, race, nationality, or anything else, but everyone will be allied to the same Savior, and all employed in the same business, serving and glorifying the same God, all belonging to one another.

Everyone will enjoy one another’s love in the greatest prosperity, in glorious riches and comfort, in the highest honor and dignity, reigning together in the heavenly kingdom- inheriting all things, sitting on thrones, all wearing crowns of life, and being made kings and priests unto God forever.

In heaven, nothing will age or decay. The heavenly paradise of love shall always be kept as in a perpetual spring, without autumn or winter, where no frosts shall blight, or leaves decay and fall, but where every plant shall be in perpetual freshness, and bloom, and fragrance, and beauty, always springing forth, and always blossoming, always bearing fruit.

Life in heaven will be without the least sinful failure or error. None shall ever come short. Every feeling and action you have or anyone has shall be made perfectly in love and shall be perfectly glorifying to God in every circumstance.


How Else Should This Knowledge of Heaven Affect Our Lives Now?

1. It should make it easier for us to fight sin- If we focus our hearts on heaven, sin will seem so much less appealing. Thinking of heaven helps leads us inevitably to pursuing holiness.

Edwards- “So now his or her heart, since it has the taste of heaven within it, strives all the more to end sin in his life, longs for the holiness that his heart cries out.”

2.  If we cast our hope on heaven, the weight of all else will be easier to bear.

Romans 8:18- I consider that these present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed in us.

KKK butterfly analogy

If you feel empty, feel unsatisfied, hate the wars, hate the fact that you struggle with dependence on people, the falseness of Christians, etc., REJOICE! Even the sweetest fellowship that we enjoy here on earth is but the smallest glimpse. The closest we’ve ever felt in this life is still only, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “seeing through a glass darkly,” but then we shall see face to face. So REJOICE! Nothing is as it should be. Nothing is as it WILL be! We HOPE in this world, but in the next one we will be SATISFIED completely. The Christian life is more about hope for the future than it is about satisfaction now, for THEN we will be satisfied.

If you lose hope, you WILL stop walking with God. Nobody can live without hope. When hope is gone, what reason do you have to live? None. What have we to hope for in this fallen world? Nothing. Cast your hopes in heaven. God will complete what He has begun. God will lead us into his kingdom.

Hope is designed to enable you to run until the very last breath that you take. Hope takes every event that happens in our lives and interprets it in light of what God has promised.

If we cast our hope fully in heaven, then the good things of this world will never distract our vision of God & the bad things of this world will never drag us away from Him.

3. We will boldly preach the gospel

Life is a marathon race. Paul exhorts us to run in such a way as to win the prize (1 Cor 9:24-27; Compare with Hebrew 12:1-3). What does that mean? It means that you run with everything that you have. It means that you run full force after the prize; you don’t look left or right, but set your sights and your heart fully upon the prize. Anyone who has run a race will be sure to tell you that the harder you run, the more sweet your rest will be in the end. So it is with heaven. The harder we have “run this race,” the more sweet our reward will be in heaven.

Side note: I know this may be confusing to some of you, as it was to me, but the Bible makes it clear when it speaks about “receiving crowns” that some will have hearts that are more able to be filled in Christ’s love than others, but our capacities will continue to expand like a balloon on the faucet that cannot burst.

We must remember, as J.I. Packer says, “when God rewards our works he is crowning his own gifts, for it was only by grace that those works were done… [and the] essence of the reward in each case will be more of what the Christian desires most, namely, a deepening of his or her love-relationship with the Savior, which is the reality to which all the biblical imagery of honorific crowns and robes and feasts is pointing.” Also, it is important to note that we will not be jealous of those “ahead” of us because we will be fully satisfied in Christ’s love and those that are above us shall also be that much more humble than us, as they will have even further understood how high and deep and long and wide is Christ’s love.

So, in this life we fix our eyes on Jesus, our prize, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, because we know how sweet & glorious the prize that awaits us is.

So now, we’re going to break up into our rooms and read an article about multiplication discipleship. Multiplication discipleship is the idea that the best way to evangelize and reach the lost world is to use the model that Jesus gave us- that is, to preach to the masses and specifically pour into a small, select number. Jesus taught thousands, claimed twelve as “disciples,” and even had three that we’re “the closest.”

Think about this: if our salvation were merely for us, then why wouldn’t God have claimed us out of this world right after we became Christians? The reason that we’re left here on earth after we’ve been given this new life is so that we may proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth. It’s a job we must take much more seriously. We run after Christ, with heaven in our sights, trying with all our energy to bring as many people as we can along the way

Hebrews 13:14- For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

The way may be arduous and painful and long and difficult, but what is that compared to the glorious rest that we shall enjoy once we reach that city of light and love?

In all your ways, fix your eye upon Jesus, who has gone to heaven as our forerunner.