Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Heaven? Of Course it's for real!

Heaven – What is it Like?
Barbara Henderson

Heaven is the home of God.  God is utterly and continually perfect.  Christians naturally have a curiosity about heaven because that is where we will spend eternity.  But can we know what it is really like?  How about all these people who have ‘been to heaven’ and came back to tell us what it is like?  The first place we go to evaluate anything is the Bible.  It gives us the base by which everything else is evaluated.  So, what does the Bible say about heaven?  This is important because Christianity stands or falls on ‘scripture alone’.  The experiences of man, no matter how unusual or interesting, have no place in Christian theology.  This is what the scripture says about heaven.

‘ But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’  1 Corinthians 2:9

Mankind simply does not have the mental capacity to understand what heaven will be like.  We know it will be wonderful beyond comprehension.  We know John saw heaven, but he didn’t spend any time describing it.  I believe there are two reasons for this.  First, John’s goal and the goal of the Bible is to give individuals the information they need to actually get to heaven.  It isn’t to satisfy our curiosity.  Second, John could not describe it effectively because we can’t comprehend it.  I suppose a third item would be glory to God.  It isn’t about how John perceived it, as in the devil looked like this, and angels looked like that, and I saw family members, or anything like that.  It would be overwhelming awe in the presence of God.

We don’t need human descriptions of what heaven is like.  There is no way to interpret personal experience in light of scripture.  Many people, my self included, have had experiences that are without explanation.  I don’t know what to make of it.  I am sure I am not crazy.  But, how does that fit into Bible teachings?  It doesn’t.  To try to make something out of an experience without explanation is to step into the whirlpool of emotionalism and feelings over facts.  It moves us into the group of those who never have enough evidence.  They are always looking for ‘signs and wonders’ instead of just taking the Bible literally. 

However, Jesus did give us a big clue regarding heaven when He blessed the little children and said, ‘such is the kingdom of heaven’.  There are wonderful things about children that we can comprehend on some level.  What is about children that would be the same as heaven? 

Innocence.  Children are born sinners like all human beings, but they do have an innocence about them.  They haven’t been hurt or disappointed. 

Enthusiasm.  Children can be happy in the moment.  Whatever comes up gives them enjoyment.

Unconditional love.  Kids just love you.  They love everybody. 

Trusting.  Kids believe you.  I understand that kids gradually become adults and lose their innocence, their trust, their enthusiasm, and many wonderful attributes that seem to belong only to children.  But as little children they give us a very dim picture of heaven.  Just like the Bible says, now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.  We just don’t have the capacity to understand it all. 

Joy.  It is a joy to grownups to watch children, probably partly because children are joyful. 

Adaptability.  Kids adapt to new things. 

Basically, when you have the privilege of holding and rocking a baby, you have a taste of heaven in your arms.

And the list could go on.  If you are wondering about heaven, think about children.

We do have some descriptions of things in heaven.  The throne of God is pretty interesting.  Those little flying creatures are flitting around the throne.  They cover their faces which I suppose is because God is too wonderful for them to actually look at.  There will be streets of pure gold.  There will be a river.  There will be lots of jewels!  The walls of the city are made of jewels.  I love jewels!  I can’t imagine how fabulous it will be.  Oh, that’s right.  The Bible says I really can’t imagine what God has for those that love Him.

Now, let’s just suppose for a second that sometimes there are cases of someone getting a glimpse of heaven.  What should their response to this be?  Let’s look at people who did get a glimpse of heaven.  The dead guy Lazarus was dead four days.  I don’t know what he happened to see or experience during those four days.  The reason I don’t know is because he didn’t tell us!  He probably figured out there was no way to put his experience in a context that people could understand or relate to.  He also knew his personal experience was not as sure as the word of God.  He didn’t want people relying on his experience to prove anything.  He knew there was a more sure way to know about heaven.  That way is through the written word of God.  John saw heaven.  He doesn’t bother telling us about his experience either.  He preaches the gospel.  He tells people about the things will happen on the earth, and how they can escape the wrath to come through Jesus Christ.

What about all these books and even movies about people who died and went to heaven, and then came back?  I can promise you that you best take every single account with a grain of salt.  In other words be very skeptical.  And definitely do not let their experiences sway you in anyway.  You don’t need to hear about someone’s experience in order to believe in heaven.  The very title of the latest movie ‘Heaven is for Real’ is insulting to people of faith.  Of course heaven is for real.  Based on the word of God Himself, heaven is not only real, it is our eternal home.  No matter what sort of experience this child or any other person has had, it is not relevant to the message of the Bible.  Jesus saves.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.

Messages about ‘my trip to heaven and back’ do not give any sound theology.  They do not proclaim that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven you must be born again.  They do not call people to repent of their sin.  They don’t do anything except stoke a ‘feel good’ religion.  Such stories promote the idea of heaven without any direction on how to get to heaven.  Of course heaven is real, but to get to heaven you have to believe in Jesus Christ.  Where is the most important message of all?  Where is the glory to God?  Where is the awe and wonder?  If the angels around the throne cover their faces, what is a human being doing gawking at what is going on?  These stories are simple distractions.  That is all they are.  Did these people experience something unusual?  Probably.  Does it have any relevance regarding taking the gospel message to the lost?  Absolutely not.  The Bible is sufficient, inerrant, and relevant to every single human being.  Don’t confuse the message with a lot of extras.  Cut to the chase.  Make the message clear and plane.  Christ receiveth sinful men.  All this ‘my trip to heaven’ is just confusion for the most important issue in the world. 

And I would like to point out a very important point here.  People wonder why God didn’t make it clearer.  Why didn’t/doesn’t He give us access to heaven?  Why didn’t He tell us what it was all about and what it would be like?  Why does it all have to be about faith?  Consider this.  He did give the angels direct access to heaven.  They knew God.  They knew all about heaven because that is where they lived.  And all that knowledge didn’t matter in the slightest to 1/3 of the angels.  They still rejected God and rebelled.  God gave the first people very long lives.  It didn’t matter.  Some of them still refused to turn from sin and turn to God.  And these people had eye witnesses to God to tell them what was true and what happened.  These stories of what happened to other people did not cause them to turn from sin and repent. 

During the thousand year kingdom, the devil will be chained away from mankind.  Mankind will still fall away from God and sin.  After the thousand years, the devil will be set free for a short time.  And what will he do with his freedom?  Will he repent and beg God for mercy?  Not hardly.  He comes out of the pit doing the same old thing.  He seeks to destroy. 

So, God has tried it every way.
The angels had direct access to heaven.  Some still sinned.
Adam and Eve had direct access to God.  They still sinned.
People lived many years and still rejected God.  A long lifespan didn’t make any difference.
The devil is beyond repentance.  This explains why God only gives people one chance. If they had a second chance, they wouldn’t take it.

What has not changed and never will change is that salvation is by grace through faith.  What heaven is like in detail is not relevant to how to actually get to heaven.  Taking personal experiences seriously is not helpful to maintaining sound theology.  Sound theology IS IMPERATIVE in keeping to the theme of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This other ‘stuff’ serves as only distractions.  We don’t need people’s experience, no matter how interesting or sweet.  We have the word of God. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hell Doesn't Advertise for its Future Residents

Hell Doesn’t Advertise for Future Residents
Barbara Henderson

How nice it would be if every false way at came with a disclaimer – even if listed in the fine print – that clearly stated its purpose was to lead people to hell.  Unfortunately, that isn’t even close to how it works. The devil never says, 'Hello.  I'm the devil.  Come to hell where you will be in eternal torment, and I will get to torture you forever.'  Instead he sets up lots of paths that like they are going somewhere at least interesting, but they ultimately lead to the devil's home - hell.

It is very true to clearly state that anything that does not direct lost souls to eternal peace and joy through the God of the Bible and His instructions regarding entrance into heaven is a false way.  Obvious false ways are easy to spot for the discerning Christians.  They are like raging rivers at peak flood season.  These are easy to spot and easy to stand up against them.  But what about the little drips?  What about the small things that seem unimportant and trivial?  How do you decide what is worth a fight or even a war?

I think some  things must always be considered.
First, how much erosion will this little drip – this error - ultimately cause?
Second, how much does this cause a person to follow their own way instead of God’s way?

A very obvious little drip in the church is church music.  Music that is set up to please the church members above God is definitely a little drip that will ultimately lead to a Niagara Falls type erosion in church doctrine.  Does that sound ridiculous to you?  Unfortunately it is not ridiculous; its importance cannot be overstated.  The issue is that music used to provoke or even force an emotional response is the place where emotionalism begins to replace sound theology. The biggest mistake a Christian or a church as a group can make is to allow seemingly benign music into the church.  It does not matter how many people it does please or how many people it does not please, the end result is going to be emotionalism.  Emotionalism puts feelings above the word of God and above honoring God.  It always has an evil end.  Do not mistake shunning emotionalism as rejecting emotional responses.  Music and sound preaching/teaching do cause emotional responses in many cases.  The difference is that emotional responses are a byproduct of the message.  When having an emotional response becomes the criteria by which music or sermons are judged the line has been crossed from true worship of God into self-worship.  When people begin to measure the success of a church service on their emotional response they have stepped into heresy!  Never forget – any emotion can be duplicated by the devil.  Don’t be na├»ve and believe he isn’t fully aware of his ability to deceive through giving people the emotional response they are seeking.  It is obscene to watch a congregation in chaos as they struggle to reach some level of emotion that allows them to experience the ‘feeling of having worshiped’.  (I have seen this in seven-eleven song services in a Baptist church in person – and in the charismatics on television.  Obviously, I avoid such scenes whenever possible.)  Never underestimate the power of music for evil!  Also, never underestimate the power of music for good.  The traditional church hymnals like the older Baptist Hymnal and Broadman Hymnals are the most powerful books on earth next to the Bible itself.  The devil knows this!  He likes to give the impression that the hymnal is filled with dull songs and boring music.  Then he presents an alternative that intentionally stirs emotions and easily allows listeners and participants to reach that emotional high that seems to lift them above the ordinary world and into some sort of mystical communion with a higher power. 

Never be deceived!  There are true emotional highs that come from true worship, but they are never sought out. They are by-products of true worship.  When emotional experiences are placed above God in the worship, they have literally replaced God and they are idol worship!

The second thing to watch out for is looking for an answer that God is not giving.  In times of turmoil people sometimes want answers or assurances outside the Bible. The answers for what is necessary to know how to gain eternal life and live a life of obedience that is pleasing to God can be found in the Bible.  It is sufficient.  It is relevant to all generations.  It is inerrant.  It is also generally available to anyone who wants to read it!

An example of this can be sometimes found when a loved one dies.  Even Christians often want some sort of sign or wonder or even communication with the deceased.  They want some way to ‘know’ that the person they are missing so dreadfully is safe in a good place.  They have the word of God on the matter, but they feel that in order to have true peace about the matter they need something more.  So, they go looking for it.  They are in danger of falling prey to the deceiver.  Never forget the devil is capable of some signs and wonders.  If you want a sign and look hard enough for it the chances are you will find something to call a sign. Looking for signs and wonders shows the frailty of one’s Christian faith.  We have the written word of God which is a more sure proof of God Almighty than anything a person may ‘see’ or ‘feel’.  The confidence in God Himself cannot be replaced by sings, wonders, feelings, or any other thing or event.  Confidence in God cannot be equaled by anything the world has to offer.

Or, people look for a sign regarding a business decision, a personal decision, and even signs in romance.  Decision making is really a simple matter of being sure you are doing all the things you know Christ asks of you.  You are not free to make a choice that causes you to step outside the boundaries set by God.  Within those boundaries you are free to do whatever seems good to you. 

It is immature to looks for signs and wonders for any reason.  The comfort we need is in the word of God.  The instructions we need are in the word of God.  The Bible is not meant to be the book of instructions on how to build a house, preform brain surgery, or build up a billion dollar business.  It is supposed to give you instructions on how to live your life.  There are principles for living that are supposed to be carried into every aspect of your life. 

I can tell you with great assurance that the Bible tells you God’s will for your life personally.  His will is that you live a life of obedience.  Love God.  Fear God.  Do not trivialize the Almighty God of the Bible.  Obey God’s instructions.  Keep the commandments.  Love others the way Christ loves us.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Take your Christian faith very seriously!  Actually do the things the Bible teaches Christians to do.  Within those boundaries the sky is the limit.  You have no other boundaries.  Dream big.  Live life one day at a time. God doesn’t work on your time table, but He works all the time.  Be brave enough to keep your feet on the narrow path regardless of circumstances or what seems to be time delays. 

Remember that hell is not advertising its intentions to capture the souls of men for eternity.  But, Christians are supposed to be advertising the way to eternal life openly by the way we live our lives.