Monthly Archives: February 2016

What is life like in heaven?


How do you imagine life in heaven? Old people in flowing white robes, sitting on puffy clouds, playing harps. Maybe you’d prefer endless days of golf or parties every night. Does beauty of nature fully restored speak to you? Or reunions with loved ones and famours bible characters? Endless worship? We’ll probably be surprised to find heaven is more than we imagine! But we don’t have to imagine heaven as an extension of our desires.  We can envision it based on what God reveals about heaven in scripture. Randy Alcorn’s book on Heaven surmises 21 things we can expect in heaven based on just three verses from John’s revelation of heaven. We’ll look at some of these today and the others in the next blog post, giving each of us time to read for ourselves and ponder our heavenly goal.

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)


1. When people die they go to heaven. This is the vision God gave John.

2. These people died for their faith. They were “the righteous made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:23)

3. People in heaven are remembered for their lives on earth. Do you wonder how your life will be remembered in heaven?!

4. They express themselves in heaven as we do on earth.

5. They raise their voices, indicating the ability to communicate with reason and passion as we do on earth.

6. They speak out in a unified voices. Unlike on earth, there will be a sense of solidarity and unity among people in heaven.

7. People in heaven are aware of each other, God, and the situation on earth.

8. People in the Present Heaven ask God to intervene on earth with his judgment over evil. “How long” until you judge? You and I have the same question as it sometimes seems that evil is triumphing over good and we await the answers to our prayers. Apparently, not all these questions will be answered immediately.

9. Being able to ask questions of God means they have access to him and they want to understand. God is big enough to handle any question you have of him. He longs for us to seek understanding as a greatly valued treasure.

10. They know what’s happening on earth; they’re aware that there are those not yet judged.

11. They have a concern for justice, just like we do.

12. They remember their lives on earth – that they were murdered!

13. They pray for judgment on their persecutors. It might seem on earth that the wicked get away with their evil deeds unpunished and that their earthly punishment is just not enough for the harm they’ve done. We’re called to pray for our enemies and their redemption, but also for God’s will be done, that those who are “hell bent” on wreaking evil, will be judged for their deeds. Be assured, what doesn’t seem fair now will one day be made right.

14. People in heaven knowledge God for who he is. It’s popular to say that God is love. And he is. Only he is so much more than that. He is sovereign, holy, and true. Being sovereign means he is in control even when it doesn’t seem so. His holiness means he cannot tolerate sin and demands an accounting. If it weren’t for the forgiving grace of Jesus, who could stand? Not me for sure!


As we prepare for our lives in heaven we are encouraged to get to know who God is now on earth: holy, just, worthy, sovereign, loving, forgiving, patient and forbearing, jealous of our idols. God is everlasting, all powerful, all knowing, ever present. His mercy and compassions are new every morning. He is God Almighty, the only one worthy of the name “awesome.” He is our provider and our protector. His Spirit gives us real power. He is the banner over our life and our shepherd when we are lost. He is our deliverer, healer, anointer, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the beginning and the end, the ruler, our rock and refuge, our creator and Abba Father, the Prince of Peace. He is the Breath of Life who empowers us and the Bread of Life who sustains us, our Lord and Savior, the light of the world.


Oh that we would devote ourselves to knowing him more here on earth as we will in heaven!









Praying people “out” of heaven?


A friend of mine said, “We spend way more time praying people out of heaven than into heaven.”


We are often quick to pray away suffering and pain, when God might choose to use that very difficulty to mature us and draw us and others closer to himself. Paul wrote about his own sufferings, “I want you to know that this has actually happened to advance the gospel.”   (Philippians 1:12) What the enemy means for evil, God uses for good – in all things. (Romans 8:28)


I am thankful for the steadfast prayers for my health recovery. I would love to see this more than three year journey through cancer end. And I’m glad to also pray for relief for others who are suffering. It’s scriptural to pray for others.  But when Jesus taught us to pray, it was always in his name; thy will O God be done, not mine.


If we are to live with heaven in mind, we should also pray with heaven in mind.


I’ve seen a number of times at a funeral when people who previously ignored God, made life-changing decisions to follow him and to live as their believing friend did. So how do we pray with heaven in mind?


We start by acknowledging that God’s ways are higher than ours. As we ask God if it would please him to spare our friends and loved ones from pain and sorrow and death, let our hearts sincerely say, “but not my will but yours be done.”


We can’t leave things in God’s hands if we insist on holding them tightly in our own.


Another approach is to pray scripture for ourselves and others. That is always God’s will.

“May your (my, John’s, Mary’s) love abound more and more.” Philippians 1:9

“May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” 2 Timothy 1:3

So I never stop being grateful for you, as I mention you in my prayers.” Ephesians 1:6

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

“I ask God to help you live a life worthy of the calling you have received, to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love. May he guide you to unity and peace with others through his Spirit, to live with one body and spirit, in hope. May he equip you for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith. May you not be blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, grow to become in every respect mature in Christ. May your life grow and build itself up in love.”  – Based on Ephesians 4:1-16


And let’s not forget to pray people into heaven. That is, to ask God to intervene in their lives, through circumstances, a winsome friend’s testimony, a divine word from the Spirit of God, or “whatever it takes” to bring their name to appear in the Book of Life.


Pray for God’s will be done, in heaven as it is on earth.




Living beyond fear


We may not like to admit it, but fear plays a bigger part in our lives than we’d like. God knows this. Maybe that’s why he wrote “Do not fear” 365 times in the bible, one for each day! Sometimes we have rational fear. We should be fearful of God’s response to unconfessed sin, and rebellious choices that war against him. We should be fearful and take cover when a tornado comes our way, not stand out in the storm with a video camera! We should be fearful of real dangers that come with the moral decline of a nation or with our own wayward choices.


But sometimes we have fear over things that might not happen or even if they do, are completely beyond our control.  We have fear about finances, our job, our children, our marriage, politics, the personal conflicts in our life, a fear of dying and sometimes a fear of living in pain and sickness. We’re afraid we’re not good enough, strong enough, or faithful enough. Wer’re afraid of dying and sometimes afraid of living in pain and sorrow.


Fear comes knocking at our door, but God shows us how to answer it – with scripture and prayer.


The opposite of fear is: assurance, calm, cheer, confidence, contentment, encouragement, faith, happiness, joy, trust, love, and courage. Maybe we should to devote time this week and Google “what the bible says about…” these things. We can’t fight fear with God’s strength unless we depend on his Word.


We’re warned against storing up for the future when we aren’t guaranteed today. We’re cautioned against building up stockpiles of treasure on earth at the neglect of treasures in heaven. Maybe you’ve asked, “Should I set up an emergency stockpile of supplies in case of a pending disaster or war? Should I stock up on guns and ammo in case people come after “my” supply? Should I convert all my savings into gold?”


Maybe there’s a more basic question to ask when we’re tempted by fearmongers to build a wall against fear: Perhaps the better question is not, “Should I do this,” but “WHY do I want to do this?” What is the motivation of my heart? Is it to be a prudent servant of God who still trusts in HIM? Or is my aim to be self-sufficient in case God doesn’t come through for me?


I know this is a difficult question, but one thing we know from the scripture is that God cares about the motives of our heart. He cares whether we confront people with love or with a prideful vengeance that says, “I’m right.” He cares if we stock up great wealth for ourselves as a hedge against financial threats, or whether by learning to live below our income, we build up an abundant hedge to provide for others also. Living on one income instead of two offers you great flexibility to respond when God calls.


The whole matter comes down to how we decide to live this life. God permits us to live for our comfort and pleasures but isn’t it more beneficial to help those he calls “the least of these?”  In doing so we intentionally invest our lives and resources in others, telling them, “I believe in you. Don’t give up. We care. God cares!”


We all live with one foot on earth and one in heaven. It’s prudent to prepare for the end of our life as well as the disasters that come our way during it. Though some days are more of a rollercoaster than others, we all want to say at the end of the day “It is well with my soul! God is in control. His plan is far superior to any of mine. His goodness and mercy are with me daily.”


But in the end, let’s let our motive be to live each day for Gof, as prudent stewards and investors of the riches he has given us to help others in need –  for heaven’s sake.


Live well today – on earth – and with heaven in mind!


Is the present heaven a physical place?


We might wonder, “Is heaven a spiritual place or a physical place?” We might first ask if we are primarily spiritual beings with a temporary earthly body, or physical beings with a spiritual component. It’s a hard question to answer, isn’t it? God first created man as a physical being, made from the dust of the earth. To complete his work, he breathed his spirit into man’s body. Referring to our bodies as temporary “tents,” Paul concludes we are at the same time “temples of God” where God’s Spirit lives.  He goes on to speaks of “longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (body). We know that God is spirit and that he causes his Holy Spirit to live in us. And yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, we might admit that we give most of our attention to our physical existence. It seems logical to conclude that we are both physical and spiritual beings.


So perhaps a better question is, can people who are both spiritual and physical live in heaven if it’s not a physical place? We know from scripture that our earthly bodies return to the ground, not heaven. Yet Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven. Their physical bodies were not found on earth. Elijah and Moses were recognized by the apostles to have physical form at the transfiguration of Christ. Jesus’ resurrected body on earth was physical and then he ascended into heaven. In Revelation, John describes the rich man in hell exhibiting physical longings of hunger and thirst. He asked that Lazarus who was in heaven would go to his father’s earthly home to warn him about hell. It’s interesting to note that while Jesus healed “the lame,” “the blind,” “the lepers,” this is the only story where Jesus refers to real people with real names.


As we turn to the bible we read about a “New Heaven” and a “New Earth” where we will live forever, a city, a tabernacle and more. We read that the temple of heaven is filled with “smoke from the glory of God.” Physical objects are mentioned: scrolls, faces, palm branches, musical instruments, and horses, to list a few. Are these all figurative illustrations or real physical objects, or some of both? Is the physical earth a reflection of a spiritual heaven? Alcorn suggests, “We should stop considering earth and heaven as opposites and instead view them as overlapping circles that share certain commonalities.” We know the New Jerusalem will come physically to Earth. And we know it currently resides in the present heaven, where believers immediately pass upon death.


When Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” he uses a word derived from one meaning “a walled garden.” After the Fall of Man, God removed access to Eden and the Tree of Life, protecting it with cherubim and flaming sword. In Revelation we read that the Tree of Life is located within the walled New Jerusalem on the banks of a river. Doesn’t this Indicate a physical heaven where will again walk in the garden of Eden and have full access to the Tree of Eternal Life?


There certainly remains debate about all this, whether these descriptions are to be taken literally or figuratively, or some of both. Perhaps as Alcorn concludes, “Jesus intended for us to picture people in heaven as real humans with thoughts and capacities and with the same identities, memories, and awareness from their lives and relationships on earth, portraying both heaven and hell as real places where there are real people who come from earth.”


We could all, in our fanciful self-centered minds, as did John Lennon suggested:

“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.”

But scripture reveals that heaven and hell are quite real and cannot be imagined away; that we go to a real place of our own choosing, either the present heaven or the present hell. “Those in hell will live in misery, hopelessness, and isolation. Those in heaven will live in comfort, joy, and rich relationship with God and others.” (Alcorn)


You don’t have to imagine it. Just envision it and live today with heaven in mind.




Understanding the nature of “the present heaven”


Randy Alcorn wrote a definitively researched book called Heaven. He presumes, as do I, that God wants us not only to go to heaven but to know about heaven. He provides us with enough information about heaven to envision it and long for it, but not so much that we can fully grasp it with complete understanding.  “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)  As an atheist friend of mine once admitted, the one thing that Christians have that others do not is hope.”  We have hope because we know in whom we’ve put our trust. We have hope because Jesus died and rose from the grave, with power to raise us  after death. We have hope because we know how our story ends, in heaven.


But have you ever studied the bible to learn how we get there? In the same Thessalonians (v13-17) passage Paul writes that those who have “fallen asleep” (a euphemism for death) will rise first, before those who are still living. How is this possible that when our bodies are placed in the ground (or wherever) that we are at once in heaven? The bible explains that when we no longer need our physical earthly bodies, our spirit goes at once to be with God in his heavenly dwelling place. “The dust returns to the ground from where it came, And the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) Paul similarly wrote, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the lord,” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and “to die is to be with Christ.” (Philippians 1:23) Jesus told the criminal on the cross next to him “today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)


Can you imagine that moment when you will have taken that first step from this life into the life that lasts forever, from this world instantly into heaven? (I’m presuming you’ve chosen heaven as your default destination! Sadly, not everyone does.) That’s how the bible describes heaven. There’s no time for final words or prayers or actions, no opportunity to make up for lost time. There is just this life, and then in an instant, the next, a new life that goes on forever. For the believer it will be a life of unending joy and revelation.


This “present heaven” as Alcorn terms it, is a physical place where conscious spiritual beings live until God miraculously and mysteriously raises their perfected heavenly bodies. Luke 16:22-31 tells of Lazarus and the rich man being very much conscious in heaven and hell. Believers who have died will have a great reunion with others who have gone before them, being present in the Lord, while those still living wait on earth for Christ’s return.


The bible says at death, people face the judgment of faith that determines whether they go to heaven or hell. It is based on the decision made while they were alive as to whether they followed Jesus or followed their own ways. Unbelievers will face The Great White Throne of judgment of faith just before the beginning of the new earth. This will be their chosen judgment for rejecting Christ and his commands. Believers will face a judgment of “works,” not one that determines salvation, but rather reveals our eternal heavenly rewards. As in a purifying fire, the essence of precious metal is revealed, so will only the pure essence of how we lived and invested our life survive and pass into heaven, rewarded. All else will pass away.


Dr. David Jeremiah and author of Escape the Coming Night summarized the purpose of the book of Revelation (and this discussion on heaven):

1. So we will be ready to enter our next life

2. To help others get ready


Let’s make sure we live with purpose and passion so as to reveal that which will live on forever – in heaven.




Can you KNOW you’re going to heaven?


DL Moody said, “Soon you will read that I am dead, but don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” And he spoke on his death bed, “Earth recedes and heaven open before me.”


How was it that Moody knew he was going to heaven? And can you also have that same assurance? God says, “Nothing impure will ever enter (heaven) but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”‘(Revelation 21:27) Heaven is described as a wedding banquet that God invited everyone to come. But some said they were too busy to reply. They had marriages, and children and business to attend to. Heaven is a free gift but it demands a response. Have you returned the RSVP to God’s heaven invitation?


It’s a choice we make ourselves. Like the sale I neglected to attend and missed out on the special offering, if we put off making a choice about heaven, that is a choice in itself that bears eternal consequence. Consider the tombstone, somewhere in Indiana, that reads:

“Pause here stranger when you pass by,

As you are now so once was I,

As I am now so you will be,

So prepare for death and follow me.”


Someone suggested etching in a response:

“To follow you, I’m not content,

Until I know which way you went!” 🙂


John says we can know if we go to heaven: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13 We can know we are going to heaven  – not if we know Jesus lived, not if we believed he was a good teacher, not if we did enough good – but if we believe in the powerful and authoritative death defying name of Jesus Christ.


We are all sinners and all fall short of the glory of God. We have no grounds by which to defend ourselves but God provided Jesus to mediate for our sins and to present us as pure and blameless before God. Do you see yourself as Jesus does,  made worthy only through his sacrifice and undeserved grace? He marks our debt, “Paid in full.” You’re right to think you don’t deserve his forgiving grace. I don’t either.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”


If God wasn’t willing to forgive sin on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, heaven would be an empty place.” (Randy Alcorn, Heaven)


You can’t earn it by doing more good or less bad. Not by fame or generous giving, or great knowledge or philosophy. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” He adds, “Not every who says ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (I wonder how many self professed “Christians” will be surprised to find themselves “left behind” the Sunday after the rapture. ) So we find ourselves either as followers of Jesus, believing and living as he commanded and on the way to heaven, or as followers of ourselves, on the way to Hell. I’m just saying what the bible says. hAve you read it? It’s a choice we make, consciously or by default. As the knight in the Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade said, “Choose wisely.”


Here’s the interesting thing. We CAN know we’re going to heaven if we know our heart. We aren’t to and can’t judge others because we can’t know their heart at their final moment before God.  All we can do is present a biblically accurate view of heaven and hell for them to consider; ask them which eternal life they really want, and then ask what needs to change in order to make that a reality. The rest is up to them and God.


If I were planning a move out west, it would be a silly strategy to begin my journey with hundreds of miles going east. And so it is with heaven. If you believe you are going to heaven, have you adopted a heaven-based strategy for living?  Not just a “salvation prayer” but an intentional strategy based on building up “treasures in heaven” not “treasures on earth.” One that is focused on feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick like Jesus commanded us. If you are sure that you’re going to go to heaven when you die, live in a way that shows it while you’re here on earth!


Litmus test for Christianity?


In recent news, Pope Francis jumped into the USA presidential campaign by saying Donald Trump is not a Christian because of his views on immigration. When reporters pressed the pontiff about Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern USA border to keep out illegal immigrants, Pope Francis responded:

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”


What strikes me about this news story is neither a reflection on the Pope or The Donald. I don’t know either of them and certainly am no judge of what is in their hearts. What strikes is that it resonates with so many of our social and spiritual issues today where we are eager to build walls rather than build bridges.


Do black lives matter or do police limp es matter? Of course, all lives matter! How is it in such a developed civilization we still think that the color of a man’s skin speaks to their value as a human being? But “Black lives versus all police” creates a hostile division where unity is needed to foster better resolution that involves working together to finally end racism. Especially in election years, the polarization between Democrats and Republicans cause some to question if they can even be friends with or trust someone who thinks differently about political issues. We’ve had people unfriend us because we suggested asking God’s guidance on selecting a candidate versus voting for what benefits them personally.  We’re tempted to join the bandwagon of warring against the 1% to benefit the 99%. We see similar walls built between the green revolution and those who support “drill baby, drill.” We think we’re justified in labeling people, “Management” or “union”.” We write them off as “Catholic”, “Protestant”, or “Evangelical.” We somehow think that God has handed the right to judge others to us.


When end it comes down to “us versus them” or “me versus you”, the world becomes a very small and divisive place.


We might agree with Pope Francis  that anyone who makes it their aim to exclude people and foster division in communities is at odds with the Christian message of speaking truth and building unity. Jesus expanded our definition of who our neighbor is and told us to love even our enemies. The message of Jesus is about building relationship bridges that can bear the weight of the gospel story.  It is not about spewing hatred or mocking our opponents. Though we see a number of Christians doing just this on Facebook, email, and personal conversations, it’s not consistent with the gospel message.


But does that make us not Christian or imperfect sinners, the “sick” Jesus came to save?


When we become full of judgment and self righteousness, it leaves little if any room for building meaningful relationships that lead to understanding. Isn’t it a dangerous position to assume that someone is not a patriot because they voted differently from you? Or that they’re not a friend if they made tough decisions with which you disagreed and maybe suffered? Wouldn’t it be better for us to exile all such negative judgments from our minds and mouths and instead leave them to God, our one and only perfect judge? Shouldn’t we do the same before thinking about “sharing” those destructive views with others?


We  should address differences but we can’t and shouldn’t judge what’s in the heart of another person. We can and should make our own judgments on their words and actions. The simplest biblical standard on salvation is “believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). But real belief/faith acts on what it believes: “But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)  I can’t say “I love my wife” and at the same time ignore or belittle her. The profession of true love always gives birth to actions. Paul writes, “The only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself through love.” In other words, true Christianity is not just an intellectual ascent, but a “live out loud” lifestyle of exuberant love and generosity, and humble Spirit.


Maybe you’re a subscriber to the philosophy that “good fences make good neighbors.” Personally, God’s mandattes speak more to me about building bridges than building walls. Issues matter. Some issues matter eternally. But the only litmus test for the Christian disciple is what Jesus gave us, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.” Even if we disagree with one another, let’s not use other issues as a litmus test to discern whether someone else is “Christian.”


And if there were such a test of Christianty. . . which of us would pass it perfectly?







Called to be a peacemaker


We are a diverse group of people who inhabit this earth. Even if you were to look at your city or church or employment, we are becoming an increasingly dissimilar people there too. We are diverse in our appreciation of the arts, our food preferences, and the movies we watch. Even things like skin color, education, or degree of sophisticated thinking could be lumped in with this list of superficial yet real layers of diversity. But what makes us incredibly different is the basic tenets of life and faith to which we firmly hold. In these areas we sometimes become at opposites with one another over deeply engrained and staunchly defended beliefs and ways of viewing the world. In these vital, life-view areas we become to each other: hot and cold, wet and dry, black and white, left and right, and sometimes upside down. How in the world are we to live in harmony with one another?


One of the inspirational stories to come out in the aftermath of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was his close friendship with Justice Ruth Ginsburg. With regard to their interpretation of law, they were often polar opposites, the real “odd couple.” But with regard to the bond they felt with each other they were in their own words, “best buddies.” They shared a common love for the constitution but their interpretation of that law was oh so very oppositional. In the context of their completely diverse view of law, their personal friendship was evidently as deep and profound as it was unexpected.


Sometimes opposite forces or beliefs are actually quite complementary to each other in nature. Surely, you have observed this in your own life where two people in a relationship, though seemingly opposite actually complement each other well. It is the “unity of opposites” proposed by Heraclitus in the 5th century BC. We see a similar vein of thought in Paul’s personal approach to conflict:


“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)


The idea of unity in diversity is found also in Paul’s description of the “body” of Christ, that is the group of followers who are unified in devotion to Christ, yet so diversified in their expression of that devotion! We have different roles and gifts, different personalities and strategies, but we are called to be unified with a common purpose, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. . . Not for the sake of diversity, but for the sake of the gospel.


It’s a challenge though, isn’t it? Don’t we often prefer to hang out with like minded people who share our interests, views and approaches? That’s a temptation that allows us to stay in our comfort zones. But learning to live with those who share diverse views is the stuff that makes for an increasingly mature Christian life. Jesus was criticized for spending time with outcasts and sinners. Yet it was to these he was called. In Mark 2:17 he is recorded to,say, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


How about you and me? If I were to stand only with those who agreed with everything I believed, I might find myself standing alone! For sure, we will encounter difference in views, even among believers. Sometimes you find yourself deeply loving someone…except for the times you want to strangle them! But we persevere with each other even as Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those in authority (even if we disagree with them).


How do we demonstrate such certain unity in our lives? How do we learn to live in harmony with each other? Perhaps we could start with the humility that recognizes “I don’t have the complete understanding of all things.” As a husband was backing the car out of the drive his wife next to him kept repeating, “I can see the mailbox.” He replied, “Yes, I see it too….” until he ran over the mailbox. As we learn to listen to the perspective of others we increase our own perspective of things. As Justice Ginsburg reflected on a case where she and Scalia disagreed she acknowledged that while his views “ruined my weekend, they improved the product.” We must be willing to listen to those who disagree with us if we truly want the best solution.


And even when you have convinced yourself you absolutely know that you are right about a specific matter, the more important relationship is strengthened when we recognize the right of the other person to hold a contrary position. We learn to be agreeable in our disagreements. It’s called respect.


Be the peacemaker God wants you to be, especially among other believers. Be willing to embrace others even if you don’t embrace their beliefs. Pursue unity even when unanimity is not possible.


“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18


Is heaven your default destination?


I remember seeing a “man on the street” interview with numerous people in a big city, including some coming out of a prominent church building. The person behind the microphone asked, “Do you think you’re going to heaven or hell…and why?” The vast majority responded they thought – or hoped – they would go to heaven because they lived “pretty good” lives, that they hoped the list of good generally outweighed the bad (as if that were the criteria). Other national surveys also show most people think they are going to heaven. Interestingly, this seems to contradict the conclusion of the bible: the gate is narrow and few enter that path to heaven,  but wide is the gate to destruction and many who will pass that way.


Scripture indicates heaven is not our “default” destination when we finish life here.  “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) “The punishment for sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) According to scripture (which matters more than what you and I fancy or imagine to be true), Hell is the self-chosen/default destination for the majority of people on earth. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. It’s our chosen destination when we choose pleasure and treasure on earth overly heavenly pleasure and treasure – unless we choose to turn and submit to God. John Lennon wrote down one of the most beautiful melody lines with some of the most terrifying lyrics:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…”


We may think it useless to ponder heaven and hell now and that we’d be better off living for today. But denying their existence doesn’t change their reality. We don’t want to envision others going to hell because if they do, so likely will we if our faith is not real. But the astonishing thing about God’s nature is that he offers us undeserved grace and also heavenly reward. His plan is to save us and provide for us an abundant life. On the other hand, Satan’s plan is to snatch us from God’s hand and to steal, kill, and destroy God’s joy and power from our lives. If you’re a true follower of Jesus, Satan has lost his first battle. And he can only win the second one if we let him.  God shows us a way to become victors and overcomers in life. Satan wants to live miserable, defeated, powerless and joyless lives.


So we see our default destination also becomes our default journey and present day course; living intentionally for Jesus or living absent mindedly without him.


Hell will not be as humorous as we see it depicted in cartoons: all Oreos and no milk. God describes it as as an everlasting place of unimaginable suffering and despair. We won’t be hanging out with our buddies. The darkness will separate us from them. We will be all alone. I don’t think it’s unloving to warn people about the reality of hell. In fact, the most loving thing you can do is to warn them of pending dangers so they can choose which will be their default destination. In the end, the decision is theirs.


Jesus says there are two real eternal paths: a wide one that leads to destruction and a narrow one that leads to heaven. For us it is a choice…either we believe Jesus when he says he is the only way to heaven and devote our lives to following him, or we throw out the rest of scripture as false and try to imagine it away.


God desires heaven for you. (John 3:16) Let’s follow the path that makes heaven our default destination.


“Resolved that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die…as if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell.” – Jonathan Edwards











Is heaven beyond our imagination?


One of the questions Randy Alcorn asks us to consider is whether heaven is so far beyond our grasp that it’s not worth considering. After all, how can we see and long for what cannot be even seen? Do you sometimes think it is futile to understand God’s Word and plan for your life because his thoughts are higher than your thoughts and his ways are higher than your ways? (Isaiah 55:8-9)  Yet he calls us to walk in faith, not by sight. So do we dare close our eyes to the truths he has revealed simply because we cannot understand them all? Let our answer be “No.” His Word is a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path. Jesus, the very Light of the World, gave us his Holy Spirit so we would always have light to guide us in the way of truth. Let’s start with what we know to be true about heaven, according to the Bible, and use that as our springboard to understanding.


Heaven is described as a city, a garden, a wedding feast, and kingdom. Are these allegorical descriptions or – as often is the case with biblical interpretation – simple “tell it as it is” word pictures? Heaven as a spiritual place challenges our earth-bound understanding. However, “scripture provides us enough information, direct and indirect, about the world to come and with enough detail to envision it, but not so much as to think we can fully understand it completely.” (Alcorn)


I once left a note with my wife in the morning: “Pack an overnight bag and I’ll pick you up when I get off work.” I didn’t leave much detail but it didn’t keep her from envisioning and longing for the adventure that awaited her.  So it is with heaven. We don’t have to rely on fanciful imaginations, folklore, or Hollywood entertainment; we can turn to the explicit description scripture provides. Then, when we are left with gaps in pure understanding, let scripture guide our imagination. We continually ask God, “Open my eyes Lord. Let me see what you want me to see.” If we can’t envision it, how will we long for it?


Some will argue 1 Corinthians 2:9 “No eye has seen or ear heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” But look at the verse that follows: “But God has revealed this to us by his Holy Spirit.” Revealing truth and understanding to us is one of the primary roles of the Spirit! We should let the words, “But God…” permeate our day.” I feel alone, but God is always with me. I feel guilty and ashamed, but God declares me as righteous in Christ. I feel my particular temptations are unique to me and beyond my control to resist them, but God says “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Jesus himself proclaims HE is “the way, the truth, and the life.”


Another argument against our ability to envision heaven is in quoting Deuteronomy 29:29 – “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” Again, we need to look at the entire verse: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”  God doesn’t reveal all things but he does reveal some things, and those are ours to understand.


Some might argue that since Paul was not permitted to tell what vision was granted to him (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) then we can’t understand. Yet John, Isaiah, and Ezekial were given full authority to reveal what was revealed to them. It’s inappropriate to speculate on what God doesn’t reveal, but entirely appropriate and beneficial to ponder what he has clearly revealed!


Much of heaven may remain beyond our grasp for now, but we each can understand accurately what we still don’t understand completely. Our biblical command is to “set your hearts and minds on things above”. (Colossians 3:1) So we are on shaky ground when we ignore heaven. “Too long for Christ IS to long for heaven.” I wonder if our problem understanding heaven stems from a weak desire to really know Jesus.


In what ways does thinking about heaven come under attack in your life? What could you do TODAY lto be more “heavenly minded?” Yes, some say we can be “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.” But the reverse also holds true: if we are too earthly minded we might not be of much heavenly good!


“Our spiritual imagination flies upon the truth to yield renewed understanding and purpose. May your imagination soar and your heart rejoice…when you think about heaven…” today!