Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The lies we believe about heaven

"And they say there's a Heaven, and those who will wait.  And some say it's better, but I say it ain't!  I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun." -- Billy Joel
Was Billy right?  Some say that heaven is worth it, but it sure doesn't seem like we believe it as a culture.

I remember when I was younger, cartoons depicted heaven as the beautiful place where I'd receive angel wings, get my own cloud, and get a harp to play.  If that were true about heaven, I'd agree with Billy Joel's song "Only the Good Die Young," that heaven is a boring place where boring, good people go to live their boring, good lives for eternity.  Meanwhile, the party is happening elsewhere, and while we aren't supposed to like it, it's really pretty awesome.  

Other people view heaven differently.  I've heard many different opinions on the matter, many from my own mind as I've considered death probably more often than most people.  There's the theory that heaven is just a state of being after we die, that it's just a deep sleep for the rest of time.  Heaven could be a place where we get everything we want!  It could be a nightclub that's run by the Rat Pack (Not kidding... the movie Down to Earth describes it as such).

But what's amazing to me is that two things typically happen when people talk about Heaven:  It doesn't seem better than this life, but people would rather go there than the other place.  

But what's really true about Heaven?  Well, let's look at what scripture says:

It's God-Centric:  In Revelation 4, you see this beautiful and vivid picture of heaven.  In the center of it all is not man, but God.  The biggest thing about Heaven is that we live with God.  And He's not the crazy neighbor down the street, rather He's the one we worship, adore, and commune with.  He will be our greatest joy.

It's Free of Sin:  Billy Joel would be sad by this, but that's because he doesn't realize the point of repenting of sin.  Living without sin isn't ridding ourselves of fun, it's actually enhancing our joy by celebrating things in the proper way!  And by being free of sin, we become free of any shame, brokenness, and sadness.  Revelation 21 says as much!

It's Tangible:  We won't be merely spirits wandering about like the ghosts of Hogwarts in Harry Potter.  We'll have new bodies.  How do we know this?  Well, when Jesus came back to life, he ate a fish.  He digested it.  It didn't just go through him, he actually ate it!  (Luke 24:41-43).  In Revelation 19, there's a Wedding Feast that we'll be a part of!  It's a BIG party, and we will feast!  

If this is truly what Heaven is, how should we respond?  One thought is that we need to invite people to this eternal party by sharing the Gospel with them.  Another is that if you are reading this and aren't a Christian, you can actually be a part of this party by following Jesus!  

"But what if I don't want to follow Jesus?  Can I still come?"  Maybe you've been asked that, or you've asked that yourself.  My question in return is, "If the main figure of heaven is God and worshipping Him, why would you want to go if you don't want to worship Him now?"

One last application is this:  If heaven is an eternal party that's free of death, sin, and brokenness, that brings us in close communion with the lover of our souls, we can embrace the trials and sufferings of this life with our hope set on eternity.  It means we don't need to have the good life here, because we are guaranteed it later.  So press on living and sharing the Gospel of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The vanity of our lives

"Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity."  -- King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:2

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” -- Oscar Wilde

"Life sucks, and then you die!"  -- WWE chairman Vince McMahon

I was 13 when I got sucked into the world of professional wrestling.  I didn't care that it was fake, for some odd reason the story telling was so riveting that I had to watch.  Guys like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin weren't just good athletes, they were captivating entertainers (not too mention a bit crude!) 

But it wasn't any one of their promos that has caught my attention to this day.  It's probably been 10 years since I've actively followed professional wrestling, but one quote rings in my head, because it was probably one of the truest things ever said.  Vince McMahon, owner of the company, gave a long speech to the crowd, and ended with the quote mentioned up top.  "Life sucks, and then you die."  

Wrestling isn't real, but that quote sure feels real.  Pain, suffering, disappointment, and then death.  And what's crazy, is that as you look at the lives of those who have had much, as well as those who have had little, both lament over the pointlessness of it.  

King Solomon had it right when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.  He says it was vain to live in self-indulgence.  "I said in my heart, come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.  But behold, this also was vanity.  I said of laughter, 'It is mad,' and of pleasure, 'What use is it?'" (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2)  This is Solomon!  If you don't know who this is, let me give you a quick snapshot: King at the peak of Israel's prosperity, had massive riches, so much gold that he decided to overlay shields with it.  He had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  He gave 20,000 baths of wine to servants to build the temple.  20,000 baths is roughly 120,000 gallons of wine.  What do you do with that much wine!?

Not only did he have resources and women, but he also knew wisdom.  He's cited as being the wisest of men, that God blessed him as the wisest man in all the earth.  Here's what he says about wisdom:

"So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly.  For what can the man do who comes after the king?  Only what has already been done.  Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.  The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness.  The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness."  

Stop there.  Seems clear right?  We should definitely pursue wisdom.  It leads to more gain than folly.  But look at how Solomon ends.

"And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.  Then I said in my heart, 'What happens to the fool will happen to me also.  Why then have I been so very wise?'  And I said in my heart that this is also vanity."  (Ecclesiastes 2:12-15)

He continues on throughout the book about the vanity of life.  It doesn't matter if you're wise, or pursue folly, whether you have lots, or little, whether you work hard, or work little, if you're honored, or despised.  You and I mean very little to this world.  But we mean very much to the creator of it... and that's the point.  We do everything to grasp at whatever little meaning and fulfillment we can get in this life, that we miss the fact that it has never been about THIS LIFE.  Solomon says at the end of his book, "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth..."  He's not saying this to sound spiritual.  He's pointing to the hope of a better, eternal life to come.  

Revelation points to this further, that there's a life to come which has no more death, no more pain, no more suffering, no more shame.  And it's one where God will live among us, where we will no longer struggle with the bondage of sin, because Jesus destroyed it once and for all on the Cross.

What does this mean for us:

Repent of living for now:  What I don't mean is that you shouldn't consider how to live in this life.  But we need to ask God to get our minds focused on the better life ahead, versus trying to make life here as our final destination. 

Understand our need:  Understand that people have 2 potential destinations: eternal hell without God, or eternal glory with God.  And act on it, and repent of apathy of people who are running head-long for hell.  

Remember Jesus:  Jesus had every right to stay in heaven and do what He wanted to do.  Instead, He came here, and instead of demanding that his needs be met, he poured out His life for our sake.  If we cling to Him, we can pour our lives out knowing that greater life is found in eternity.

Let's seek Jesus, rather than settle for our crummy little kingdoms here on earth.  Because in the end, this life will always come up short, but Jesus will satisfy now, and has promised eternal satisfaction through His death and resurrection.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Surprised by Death

"But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'" -- Genesis 3:4-5

"For as in Adam all die..." -- I Corinthians 15:22a

Ever since I was young, I've had an obsession about death.  I'm not sure if it's healthy or not, but it has caused me many sleepless nights over the course of many years.  The question "am I going to wake up in the morning," has run through my head more often than I can count. 

As I've shared this with a few people, they've often replied by saying, "you're far too young to die," or "you're healthy," and "don't think like that."

And you know what?  On most days, I'm convinced I'm invincible.  I control my life.  I'll live at least until I'm 80 or 90.  Heck, I still have most of my grandparents living, my grandfather the only one who has died... and that was at the good old age of 85.  I have at least a good 60 years left in me... right?

This past week shattered the illusion.  Three people who I knew, but wasn't particularly close with, died.  All three were different ages, I knew them in different contexts, and all died in very different ways.  One, a 95 year old who I only knew through a few people I worked with, had been longing to be with Jesus for years as his body deteriorated.  Another was a restaurant owner that I had done bible study with, probably in his 60's or 70's.  He just got remarried, and a year later he died of a massive heart attack while playing a round of golf.

It was the last one that broke the proverbial camel's back.

A young man... a police officer from Maryland, who I happened to graduate with.  He died at the age of 27, in a plane crash off the coast of Ocean City.  As part of the social media age, it was his death that sparked the most response.  It broke my heart, seeing people that I went to high school with so deeply saddened.  And though I didn't know him well, I sensed a sadness knowing that someone I went to high school with had passed... I would never get to see him again.

As I considered these three deaths, and the massive response of sadness, I began to consider a question that had been posed in another article I had read:  "Why does death still surprise us?"

Think about it... there are few absolutes in this life for every human being.  One of them is that every person will die.  And death never submits to our plans... it always interrupts our lives.  This is a morbid thought, but have you considered that as you sit at your computer screen reading this post, your life is a minute closer to ending?  And that it could end very soon?

You can die of natural causes, or you can die from any number of accidents or pre-meditated assaults.  In other words, we can die in any moment, from any circumstance, whenever death chooses to come.  It's much bigger and badder than you or me.

So... why are we so surprised by it?  Why is that anytime someone dies, one of the most oft-used phrases I hear is, "It wasn't his or her time to go," or "They had so much life left to live?"

I think this is for a few reasons.

1.  We suppress the truth about death:  If we had a sober mindset about death, wouldn't we consider changing how we live?  We'd give far less excuses about not doing evangelism or doing other things that scare us about serving Jesus.  We don't see death as a big deal by not seeing people as either heading for eternal joy with God or eternal damnation without God.

2. Death was never meant to be:  God's original garden was meant for Adam and Eve, where God promised them that they would only die if they did one thing; eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But they (like us) were deceived by the Serpent, and chose to go after their selfish desire to try and be like God without actually depending on Him.  Death came for them, and has come for everyone else since.

3. There are whispers of death being defeated:  Everyone I know wants to leave a legacy.  That's why so many people are addicted to video games or other things that guarantee a fake glory, because we all long to be glorified forever.  There is a glory that lasts forever, and we all long for it.  However, it doesn't come from having lots of kids, doing something great in ministry or in the secular world (sports, music stars, business leaders, authors, etc.), to the virtual realm of video games.  It comes from a man who died on the cross so that one day we CAN have eternal life and live in glory with God.

As I continue to process about the idea death, stay tuned as I take a look at how we suppress the truth about death, and how we can gaze into the glorious truths of God and His Word.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Subtle lies I believe

I Peter 1:13 says, "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

As I was studying this passage this morning, I asked myself the question, what does he mean by sober-minded?  The dictionary definition of the word is sensible and rational.  As I see that definition, I easily think to myself, "Oh, I'm typically sensible and rational."

This is right where Satan and my sinful heart want me... forgetting every instance where I am subtly irrational and insensible.  Like with sin and the spiritual state of every person I interact with.

What are some of the ways I fall into this trap of deception?

"This sin won't actually hurt me, God, or anybody else." 

"This person really doesn't need to hear about Jesus right now."

"This is my time to do what I want."

"Was God really clear about this particular action in the scriptures?"

"I don't need to talk to this person about this conflict... our personalities just clash."

Have you ever had one of these pop into your head.  This should signal a loud screaming warning signal in our minds, because we're in danger of being deceived about the massive danger of walking away from Jesus.  I appreciate later in the letter, where Peter says that one of the responses we should have to Jesus rescuing us is, "so put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." (I Peter 2:1).  One of the things that hits me hard is the fact that these are all relational terms, that the subtle lies and deceptions we fall prey to actually destroy relationships along with ourselves.  It destroys our relationship with God, because we sin much more willingly AND choose to see it in a way that it's not a big deal.  It destroys our relationships with others, because we don't see our wrongdoing in the matter.

It's in these little moments in which we need to be sober-minded, when we're tempted towards selfishness and pride, fear, and isolationism.  We must prepare our minds, and to do so, we must set our hope FULLY on the grace of Jesus Christ.


Be sober-minded about your sin - Find sin and confess it

Repent- Turn away from it, and turn to the Lord.

Remember the Gospel - Fix your eyes on Jesus, and see Him that much more amazing that He forgives you of your obscene rebellion even now.

Ask God to prepare your mind - Pray, and ask that the Lord would help you reject lies in the midst of spiritual battle.

Don't get sucked into the subtle lies, and always be on guard.  Don't allow your sin to suppress the truth, but rather trust in the majestic truth that Jesus died for sinners.