To Find Heaven Look In The Bible

More than one Christian desperately wants to peak over the edge death into eternity. The Scriptures offer a few glimpses into the next world noting streets of gold, water like glass and the elimination of sickness and sorrow. But the average evangelical desires more, hoping for touch a feel, and even a vision of what comes next.

This desire redirects the Christian’s gaze from the Scriptures to secondary sources, books filled with first hand accounts of Christians who supposedly died, walked in heaven with Jesus, and then came back home to provide people like you and me with a guidebook to the afterlife.

But when Christians grab their 200 page book of odd spiritual facts, they do not close in on the mysteries of heaven. They move further away from Jesus’s eternal throne. To experience heaven, Christians do not to listen to mystical six-year-olds. They need to dive into the Word of God, the Bible. The more they know the Scriptures, the more they will experience heaven.

To experience heaven, Christians do not to listen to mystical six-year-olds. They need to dive into the Word of God, the Bible. The more they know the Scriptures, the more they will experience heaven.

In Micah 4:1-5, the prophet makes this connection for his readers. He describes the latter days, the day when Christ returns to make all things new, as being when “the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted above the hills.” God will reign perfectly over the universe. 

What does this mean for our world of smart phones, social media, and self-driving cars?

It means that heaven will be the actualization of God’s law. People will not be mostly good or somewhat good. They will obey all of God’s love perfectly. Micah notes that all the nations of the world come to the mountain of God “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths (Micah 4:2).”

Heaven represents the fulfillment of God’s Word. It is the perfect manifestation of God’s will for humanity in every human heart. In short, all will obey God the Father as Jesus obeyed God the Father. God will desire goodness and all the people will desire goodness, walking in his paths.

Why the Law?

God gave humanity the law because he wanted men and women to return to the perfection that Adam and Eve had flippantly tossed aside when they decided following a talking snake was more sensical than following the God who created them. At that moment, humanity fell from paradise. For then on, Adam and Eve and all their kids lacked purity and perfection, perverting truth, peace, and justice. To guide humanity back to truth, love, and justice, God revealed his law, the standard of perfection.

But as the failures of the Israelite patriarchs, judges and kings made clear, no human being could achieve and maintain the perfection of the law. Regardless of their efforts, all the heroes of the Bible became associated with sin as they lied, committed adultery, and murdered. A new and better prophet, priest, and king was needed.  

Jesus came to do what Moses, Samson, and David could not do. He perfectly obeyed God in all things, picturing what paradise had been and what the new heavens and the new earth would be.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).”

Thankfully Jesus did not only model the perfection of the law, he made a way for men and women to achieve the perfection he had exemplified. He died on the cross for the sins of the world and then rose again conquering the power of sin and death, offering to resurrect every man, woman, and child who repented of their sins and trusted in God’s work for salvation (Rom 6:5-6).  When men and women believe, God rewires their internal circuitry, enabling them to obey and live out the law. God says, “I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds (Heb 10:16).” Though imperfections remain, the climb towards paradise begins at conversion. Men and women start to obey God’s law.

What makes the new heavens and the new earth unbelievably and wonderfully good is that the unrestricted presence of God enables the people of God to perfectly understand and follow his law. The embrace of his revealed law leads to justice which produces peace.  All the confusion about baptism will be gone. All the twisting of the Scriptures to support murder, adultery, and fornication will disappear. In the new heavens and the new earth, God’s Word will reign in truth unstained by error or deception. We will all resemble Christ perfectly. God’s Word will go from being an ideal occasionally experienced to being reality lived every moment.

To taste this reality, Christians need to read, study, memorize, meditate on, and talk about the Scriptures. As the Word of God begins to pervade our lives, we will grow closer to Jesus and closer to the realities of heaven. As Christians come together, they picture the community of heaven, creating a unity around their shared commitment to the Word of God. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer correctly said, “the local church is an earthly embassy of Christ’s heavenly rule.”

What About The Books on Heaven?

The supposed guidebooks to heaven that fill up our bookshelves are fraudulent and ultimately unnecessary. Jesus alone claims the right to explain what heaven is like (Jn 3:13). He alone came down from heaven and saved humanity. And he left behind his story, his testimonies of heavenly realities so that others “will believe in me through their word.” He gave us 66 books full of instruction. The apostle Peter writes, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3)” If we want to see heaven come to life, we need to read, understand, and obey the Scriptures. All other heavenly guide books belong in the waste bin underneath our desks.

The latter days will be the days when God’s Word is full actualized. Let’s get ready. Let’s read the Bible. What are you waiting for?

Blockbuster and The Future of Your Church

Back in 2000, Anitoco and the Blockbuster board located in Dallas had heard the ambitious Reed Hastings suggest that Blockbuster, the king of movie rentals, should merge with Hasting’s fledgling mail-order DVD company. The Blockbuster executives laughed at the proposal, viewing  on-demand rentals to about as certain as Biff’s casino empire. The executives sent Hastings packing.

With little fanfare, John Antioco resigned as the CEO of Blockbuster in June of 2008. Though the official reports said Antioco left Blockbuster because of disagreement over his salary, something far more problematic had occurred.

Sadly for Blockbuster, Hasting’s financial delorean wasn’t as crazy as it first seemed. The businessman would go on to establish a quite profitable little company that now flashes an N every time it loads up on our screens. Yep, Hastings offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster. In turned out that Americans do like watching movies and T.V. shows on demand. 

Anitoco did not need twenty years to realize his mistake. By 2006, Anitoco knew he and not Hastings had been the fool. To keep his company from disappearing from Wall Street like Marty’s family which appeared head for oblivion, Anitoco began searching for ways to charge Blockbuster’s flux capacitor. He eliminated late fees and invested $200 million in developing an on demand video platform. 

Though things seemed promising, not all of the Blockbuster board and shareholders were happy. The company lost an estimated 400 million dollars in 2006 because of the new ventures. Though the company still turned a profit that year, many around Anitoco thought their CEO was making about as much sense as Doc Brown. Were their kids really in trouble?

Jim Keyes, one of the Blockbuster’s executives, and Carl Ichan, a prominent board member, believed Anitoco’s warning were a bunch of nonsense. After a few months of secret campaigning, the two men convinced the board to kick Anitoco to the curb and to install Keyes as the new CEO. Unlike Marty McFly, Anitoco never got the chance to slug Biff.

Keyes took Blockbuster back to its original timeline. Blockbuster killed its digital platform and reinstated late fees. Revenues boomed in 2008. In December of that year Keyes would boast that “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” Six years later, Hastings and his competitors would land the fatal punch. 

As we already noted, people liked getting DVD’s in the mail, driving to the local Redbox, and opening up streaming services. They also hated late fees. In 2014, Blockbuster who had bullied the movie-rental business for decades went bankrupt and sold its remaining holdings to DISH. Anitoco wasn’t so nuts after all and Keyes wasn’t such a knowitall.

Before the last Blockbuster store closes, churches should rewind the Blockbuster story and watch it one more time, seeking to learn from the company’s collapse.

What Churches Can Learn

Blockbuster stores aren’t the only thing disappearing these days. Churches are closing at a rapid rate. To regain their lost market share, evangelicals have begun popping out church plants in every available community space. Mark Dever has noted that church plants abound because many established churches refuse to change. I concur with this assessment.

When the Hastings of the evangelical world stop by the traditional church for a Sunday visit, they posses hearts loyal to the gospel and passionate about missions. Though the established may church grant the evangelical entrepreneurs an audience with their deacon board, the board has little time for their ideas. They laugh at the new pastor’s plan to divert the recreation budget to missions. They mock the thirty something guy for not understanding the glories of 1955 hymnity. And, they refuse to change the church’s schedule for the purpose of reaching young families. The established church rejects the hopes of gospel growth, preferring the familiar comforts of now. Discouraged and rejected, the evangelical leaders of tomorrow often take their worn leather satchels down the street to the local gym and form a church plant.

Thankfully, some churches tentatively embrace the next generation of church leaders, knowing it is ok to move on from that black cup of decaf coffee. Theses congregations know the Hastings of the world are onto something. Cultures change over time; vest-jackets become a thing. These churches recognize that the unchanging gospel can be shared with new music styles and applied with the help of Facebook.

These congregations welcome the new pastor pastor to their slightly dysfunctional family meals. For the first time in years, the man shares the gospel afresh, preaching faithful expository sermons. Other changes begin to follow. The church changes its schedule to increase attendance. The congregation votes to reallocate money from trips to the buffet to trips to India. The deacons freshens up the nursery that looked about as organized as Doc Brown’s workshop.

The result prove positive. The singing becomes more passionate, new members trickle in, and the budget stabilizes. Involvement in outreach projects grows. Excitement returns.

But the old power players, the Keyes of the local church, still remain doubtful that the present changes will lead to sustainable future gains. Moreover, they dislike sharing their influence with the new members; mourn the loss of their social outings, and find the focus on doctrine to be about as helpful as Marty’s guitar solo.  They long for success but for the success of yesteryear. 

Their angst leads them to action. The Keyes scheme and plot, calling through the directory, holding secret deacon meetings, and sending covert Facebook messages. Once they get the needed votes, they shoot off down the road at breakneck speed only coming to a stop after they have removed the pastor and turned back all the changes. 

At first all goes well. A few old faces pop back in for a few weeks. They sing all the typical songs. They forget the mission projects and start going on those lunches they loved. Everyone feels happy. The angst is gone.

But within a few weeks, the new members also disappear. The budget begins to shrink. They church stops being able to pay its pastor. Within 3-5 years, the church ceases to exists, becoming one of Marty’s forgotten memories. The actions that promised success through a return to yesteryear produced bankruptcy shrouded in the despair of Biff’s casino empire.

What should we do when we experience the angst of change?

We should trust our pastors and elders and talk with them.

The author of Hebrews writes:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you – Hebrews 13:17.

This is not a blank check of trust. Elders and pastors are to be men of character and men above reproach (1 Tim 3:2). Christians should not follow elders and pastors who bully the church members like a bunch of outlaws in the Wild West. Pastors who deny the Scriptures by their words and deeds should be removed through church discipline. 

But Christians should extend elders and pastors who walk faithfully with the Lord the benefit of the doubt as they lead their church towards the future. When members have insights that could help their pastors lead well, they should share those thoughts with their leaders. Like Doc Brown, good elders will read the notes that their members stuff in their pockets, knowing that the Holy Spirit empowers the whole church. But at the end of the day, members should trust godly leaders and submit to their authority even when they make secondary decisions that go against the member’s preference. 

Blockbuster imploded because it refused to follow its duly appointed leader who was taking steps for future success.

That’s all folks; it’s time to pop the video of of the VRC’. No late fees here.

What will you do? Will you and your church cling to the familiar and die? Or will you trust your leaders and reach 88 miles an hour so that you can reach the future? Or will your congregation disappear into oblivion? The future is waiting!

The Deadly Sin of Prayerlessness

Few Christians consider prayerless to be a mortal sin that can ruin their life. Yet, the Scriptures say just that. Those who deem God’s command to “pray without ceasing” to be a nice, nonbinding suggestion reveal an abundance of self-confidence, an abundance of pride (1 Thess. 5:16-18). They ultimately rest in their own abilities, believing they have made their bank accounts, careers, and families what they are by their own power. Like King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:38, they declare, “Is this not great Babylon, which I have built by my might power, as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty.” The flip side of the pridefulness has always been prayerlessness. Leham Status notes,

No one can both sin and pray. True prayer will prevent us from sinning or sin will prevent us from praying.

And like Nebuchadnezzar their lives descend into chaos when God removes his blessing. The king of Babylon was not alone nor especially pagan. King David, God’s king, almost died because of his prayerlessness. He recounted his story in Psalm 30:6-7, writing:

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

As David sailed down into the gulf of success, he lost sight of God’s merciful saving hand. He forgot that God had delivered him from, Goliath, Saul, and numerous other well armed enemies. David attributed his success to his wisdom, skill, and insights. Essentially, David prayed for God blessings and then congratulated himself for that fulfilling that prayer. He thought himself to be an immovable castle that could repel any attack. Like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, David had no reason to pray for he had everything under his control. He had done it all and done it all well.

Then, God removed his blessing. David’s castle of stone was exposed as being nothing more than a house of nicely decorated index cards. The storm hit and the paper beams collapsed into a mushy mess. Separated from God, David was powerless to stop armies or even tiny germs. Like the apostle Peter who denied Christ three times while standing in his own power, David’s life spun into ruin because of his pride. His body become deathly ill. He had had neglected prayer.

Thankfully Psalm 30 does not conclude with a funeral oration. Though the heavy hand of God descended upon David, God’s mercy remained ever close. Psalm 94:12 notes, “blessed is the man You discipline, O Lord, and teach Your Law.”

The great theologian John Calvin wrote,

Though our lives may be daily full of grief and fears, and though God may humble us with various signs of his displeasure, he always sprinkles them with the sweetness of his favor to assuage our grief.

God heard David’s cry and saved him. David noted, “For his anger is but for a moment and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Joy came to the apostle Peter who found restoration at the hands of Jesus. God awoke Nebuchadnezzar from his insanity and restored the king to power.

Indeed, God heals physical disease as evidence of his power to heal the sin that ruins our hearts. Jesus, the great physician, came to seek and to save the lost, the broken, the sinful. The gospel spins upon the axis of God’s mercy. Jesus saved us because he loves us irrespective of our earthly accomplishments. For this reason, those who walk away from God can always call out to him when the find themselves careening head first into the depths of doom. God hears their cries because he mercy last forever.

If we found ourselves in the bucket descending into the dark waters of poor health, bankruptcy, or failing relationships, we should call out to the Lord. As Martin Luther’s best friend, Philip Melanchthon noted,

Prayer is always necessary for deliverance.

Salvation comes through prayer and not apart from it. Many Christians do not know joy because they do not know prayer. They are still attempting to solve their problems through self-help books, blog tips, and the occasional social media poll. They have nothing to praise God for because they have asked for nothing. Do not make this mistake. Pray.

So does the message of Psalm 30 mean all suffering is birthed from our sin?

No, suffering descends upon the human soul for a variety of reasons. But the believer’s response to suffering should always be the same: prayerful dependence upon God.  The moment God feels distant is the moment when Christians should pray. Salvation, repentance, restoration, deliverance, and hope all begin with prayer. The faithful Christian prays. By contrast, prayerlessness is sin and faithlessness.

Martin Luther once remarked,

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

Do you pray regularly and then take every new concern that floods your heart to the Lord? Friends, do you breathe?