Heaven Is Not What You Think It Is

I’m a 90s kid. That means I watched a lot of TV. And one scene from a cartoon (Looney Tunes maybe?) is forever etched in my mind.

I can’t remember the context of the episode but it’s a picture of heaven. It’s portrayed as an expanse filled with clouds. A chubby little baby in a diaper is an angel seated on a puffy cloud playing a harp.

Apparently this is paradise for all eternity.

This image shaped my theology of heaven more than anything when I was a kid. It made me not want to go to heaven. Ever. I’m going to be a fat, diapered baby sitting alone for all my days? No, thanks.

If we’re honest, most of us would think of heaven to be some version of this boring, awkward scene. Maybe not the diaper part. But an ethereal, vague, and serious place full of light fog.

This isn’t the picture painted by the Bible. Even the idea of heaven as a location “out there” that we “go to” is foreign to Jesus and his apostles.

In the end, Heaven comes down, as the New Jerusalem, the New Creation, the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s the place God lives and where his people live with him as they were meant to originally in the Garden. This time, without the possibility of rebellion.

The picture painted of heaven in the Scriptures has more continuity with this world than we might dare to think. Does it feel a tad bit unspiritual to consider “heaven” being like this earth? Remember, God made us for this world. It is our home. And it will be our home (see Romans 8:22-24).

This world simply isn’t the finished product yet. Neither are we.

In the the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22, we see the finished product. And it’s glorious.

There’s no need for security at the city gates. The very best of human culture is ushered in and celebrated. There’s no off-season for harvesting crops. God and his people dwell together in sweet intimacy. They see each other face to face. There’s no more sun—God’s brilliance lights up the world. And his people will reign with him.

It’s the place where everyone looks out for everyone else. Where everyone is more concerned for their neighbor than themselves. Where there is always perfect joy and delight and laughter. Where there is no pain or tears or mess-ups or accidents or disease or disaster or devils or death.

It’s a world of love, because the God who is love is there and we will finally be with him in his presence.

In other words, “heaven” is the place and society “that we long for, [but] that we feel so far away” from, this side of Eden. It’s what this world was meant to be. And will be…someday.

It’s way better than what the cartoons told us. And it can’t come soon enough.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.


In Transition, God is Enough

Where do you start after taking almost five months off from blogging? The last time I posted a blog was May 7. We had been in Nebraska for a full month and were neck-deep in fundraising. Time was at a premium. Blogging was not a priority.

It’s appropriate, I think, to share my thoughts about transition and God’s faithfulness in the midst of it.

The past year for our family has been one giant transition (you can read about its origins here and here). No transition is easy. And ours doesn’t feel over yet. But isn’t transition—and the enduring nature of it—a normal part of following Jesus? In his life on earth, Jesus was always on the move. And God’s people have always been a transitional bunch. No one “arrives” spiritually and has no more need to grow. No one escapes the brokenness in and around them. We all wait for a better country, a true home. Everything here is continually in flux. You don’t even need the Bible to show that; our social media feeds prove it.

Of course, transition means something new (and often good) is gained. We rejoice in these things. New friends and experiences. New sights and sounds and memories made. Best of all, new perspectives on God and his word and new appreciation for his gifts. We’re especially grateful for transitions that appear quick and smooth. But that’s not typical or even true, if we’re honest. All transition also means something is lost. In our family’s transition, among other things, we lost physical proximity to our church family. That’s a death we grieve. You can probably think of many transitional deaths you have endured, even in the “quickest” and “smoothest” transitions you’ve experienced.

I’m convinced transition exposes our need for God and his faithfulness. We need something unchanging in the midst of dramatic change. God doesn’t need us, as if he were lacking in something. But he knows that, for us, nothing else will do. We need the unchanging I AM and our hearts won’t be satisfied until we have him.

I think that’s why Paul wrote, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9). A ministry transition for Paul brought suffering, which felt like death to him. But there was a purpose behind this: it brought Paul and his team to a greater dependence on God who does not merely “fix” what is difficult. No, God goes further than that. He raises dead people to life. The foundation and proof of this is that God quite literally raised his own Son from the dead.

What I’m learning, stubborn as I am, is that transition is signal that God wants to do something important in my life. Transition is an opportunity to depend, to trust, to rely, to hope in the God who raises the dead. And it is God who designs these transitions for my joy so that my hope is in him, not any circumstance or situation or person or material good. He has promised that, one day, I (you!) will make the ultimate transition from death-to-life because of Jesus’ resurrection. If that’s true, and it is, we can lean into him and bank on his faithfulness in all the little transitions, the little deaths, we experience. He is enough.


Life Ministry

When Jesus Died, Death Died

Last Thursday, our senior pastor and his wife lost their twenty-four year old son to a failed liver transplant. Yesterday, I stood in to preach for our pastor. In my short time of preaching and teaching, this was the hardest message I’ve ever given. The message was designed to help people feel the truth that death is not how it’s supposed to be, and one day, Jesus will finally make all death come untrue.

God was gracious to greatly encourage many people in our congregation to fix their eyes on Jesus in the midst of so much pain. I’m praying God uses this tragic even to spark renewal in our church family and wider community.

Here’s an excerpt from the sermon:

Now you might be asking throughout this sermon, “What kind of a God allows such suffering in the world? I can’t worship a God like that!” Truly, friends, I say to you, let’s ask a different question: “What kind of God offers up his only Son to suffer for you and me?” This is where Jesus Christ enters the picture…Jesus destroyed the power of death through his own death on the cross. When Jesus died, death died.

Your first reaction to this may be, “This seems too soon to talk about Jesus conquering death. Death is too real right now.” Death is real, but throughout Scripture, whenever death shows its ugly face, God is quick to point us to the victory of his Son.

Christianity does not give us all the answers for why bad things happen in the world; but it does reveal a Person who is sovereign over all creation, yet intimately familiar with suffering and death. God is not some mythical deity who sits above the earth and does not identify with his broken creation. He did not say, “Good luck with sin, death, and hell, I hope you find a solution.” No, he said, “I will be your solution. I will bear the weight of death itself for you.”

Christianity is unique among all the world religions in that God became man in the person of Jesus so that he would know heartache, suffering, pain, loss, tragedy, injustice, betrayal, and death. Jesus Christ, the God-man, is not immune to pain. No, he is Immanuel—“God with us”—especially in our sufferings.

But Jesus did not stay dead. If he had, he would have merely been a martyr. An example. An inspiring story of a 30-something whose life ended too soon. But he was—he is—more than that. He is Redeemer because he rose from the dead. In John 11:25-26 (ESV), Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus tells us that the power to conquer death—spiritual, physical, and eternal death—is to be connected to him by faith. Listen again to his magnificent words: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Just a few chapters earlier in John 8:51 Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” “Even though your body dies,” Jesus says, “your soul will not die because I will be your life and if you are connected to me, then my life becomes your life.” Jesus is life, and if you are connected to him by faith then even when you die, you conquer death through Jesus, and you live. Paul said, “To live is Christ and die is gain.” Even when you die, you live.

Listen to the whole message.


Why Is That Preacher So Skeptical?!

Many of us have read Ecclesiastes and have been blown away at how negative it is. Incredibly negative. Unbelievably negative. Depressingly negative.While the author of Ecclesiastes is skeptical, however, it’s clear from the book itself that “the Preacher” (Eccl. 1:1) is not on par with modern atheistic nihilists. A nihilist argues that nothing has meaning. The Preacher appears to argue that (cf. 1:2), but throughout the book, the Preacher actually believes life has meaning, for God is real, true, and trustworthy. He even states that the whole point of life is to fear God and obey him, for God is the final judge of everyone (12:13-14). That implies, beyond a doubt, there is meaning and purpose to reality.

Graeme Goldsworthy has provided a view of Ecclesiastes that I have found helpful. He does not think that the Preacher is writing a polemic against secularism or fleshly indulgence. Rather, “[The Preacher’s] main attack is directed at a form of Israelite wisdom that found a few simple answers to the question of our existence in the world. The friends of Job gave one expression of this dogmatic wisdom, which operated on a perceptible rule of retribution.”[1] Other scholars agree: “[The Preacher] protested against the easy generalizations with which his fellow teachers taught their pupils to be successful.”[2] The Preacher rebukes those who use proverbial wisdom as timeless rules. In other words, wisdom has its limits, but God is unsearchable and sovereign over the entire universe (cf. 3:1-8). Therefore, in the face of life’s uncertainties, the point is that the sovereign God is the one worthy of trust, not “wisdom.”

With this in mind, Ecclesiastes’ tone is not negative about God or even life in general, but rather, it’s skeptical of a trite use of wisdom which turns life into a composition of simplistic formulas: do this and you’ll get that; avoid this and enjoy the benefits; invest here and relish the returns. The truth is that life is complex, and it does not always work out the way we imagine, whether we are righteous or unrighteous. The author (whoever it is) makes it clear that he doesn’t want any part of that kind of wisdom.

As a Christian message, Ecclesiastes provides a silver lining. The Preacher hammers home the point that life is hard and death is certain (e.g. 2:16; 3:19; 6:12). The same ends waits for everyone. But there is hope in Jesus, the righteous sufferer par excellence. Only in light of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion does Ecclesiastes begin to make sense. Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30), and in him are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Though his suffering and death is foolishness to the world, it is the way of redemption for those who believe, and these believers willingly suffer with him in hope of greater inheritance than this world and its pithy wisdom can offer.

With his own unique touch, the Preacher challenged the overconfidence of the prevailing wisdom of his day and paved the way for one “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42).[3]

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Wisdom, in The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001), 455.
[2] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 500.
[3] Ibid., 509.


Ministry Theology

Lent 2012

Ash Wednesday begins the season the church has historically called Lent. Lent comes from an Old English term simply meaning “spring.” The church has employed the word to serve as the forty day preparation before Easter (Lent lasts for 46 days but Sundays are not a part of the 40 day observance).

I am a member of an evangelical church in the Midwest, and I am probably not too far off base when I say that many evangelicals think Lent is “too Catholic for us to celebrate.” Let us remember, however, that Lent only has meaning for those who trust in the finished work of Christ for them, and not their work for God. Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter are all about Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death to remove the wrath of God that was upon sinners and provide a way for them to be justified before him so they might be reconciled to him. The Lenten season a one of preparation. Not fish fry Fridays or boycotting bon-bons. Fasting for fasting’s sake is not the issue. Fasting is good, if it propels you toward Christ. God desires a repentant heart that is earnestly desperate for his grace (see Ps. 51:17-18). Lent is a prime season to cultivate, by God’s grace, repentance to and faith in Jesus.

As a 27-year-old evangelical, I am concerned that American evangelicals, particularly those in the 40+ generation, have little regard for church history or the great community of saints spanning the last 2,000 years. Our evangelicalism does not exist in a vacuum. We tend to lean toward the modern and contemporary and think that new is always better. There is a rich, deep tradition that we can learn from, enjoy, be rebuked by, and praise God for. I don’t claim to know the history as well as I should, but I continue to learn and relish what God has done in times past.

Our gospel is not new. It is not contemporary. It is not modern. It is ancient. In a culture inundated with gadgets and toys that have new additions and updates before we learned how to use the originals, we are boring ourselves to death. Perhaps we need a breath of fresh air, one that can only come from the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14).

Some resources to help you during Lent: