Heaven – Part 1

heavennhell

Have you really thought about Heaven?

What is Heaven?

I was charged with giving a study on heaven and suddenly found that I, and I presume, many, if not most, people have no real idea of what heaven is. It all points back to the gospel. Is God really God? Is God really good? And ultimately, is God really Holy? Then, by definition, it points to us… Are we good enough? Are we good at all? The Bible states in Romans 3:10 “As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one;” This is a follow on from the Lord’s declaration in Isaiah…

“Assemble yourselves and come;
draw near together,
you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
that cannot save.
Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
<Isaiah 46:20-22 ESV>

I wanted to introduce this topic and then expand upon it over the next few days and/or weeks. Throughout our denominations, we consistently refer to heaven as “out there” or “up there”. That is, in fact, a complete misunderstanding of what heaven is as we generally use the term today. Now, there are the “heavens”, which are the created elements around us beyond the surface of the earth. But this is not heaven. God is not out there somewhere, waiting for us to die… waiting for us to come to Him. No! He is so far beyond our comprehension that our greatest thought is still too limiting to define even His attributes. Christ and God are One. “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” But where is heaven? Context is extremely important here. I’ll summarize to say that heaven is where God the Father dwells. Then we will need to expand on this notion during the course of this topic.

We think that we, ourselves, have and are good to some extent. What we don’t understand is that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” and “there is none righteous, no not one.” We are not good. We have no good in us. The only good that we have is what God has graced us with… In the instance of our sin, we deserved to be completely and utterly decimated… destroyed… and eternally judged for falling short of the glory of God. Every breath; every day; every ray of sunlight beyond that IS the grace of God. So, we being the enemies of God, can experience this abundance of grace that we all call life, and we think that God is out there in “heaven” waiting for us to die and come to Him.

Thus, I submit to you that heaven does not exist in our capacity to experience. The saints that have passed on, while in the presence of God, still wait beneath the throne, crying out “How long, O God?” We will not experience heaven until the time, that only the Father knows, has come to pass. Christ will clothe all people in perfection according to their faith. Christ will then separate the sheep from the goats. He will expose us to our inherent evilness and we will truly understand sanctification. It is at that point that He either justifies those who believe or gives justice on those who don’t. Then He will wipe away all tears. We will know that justice has been done and in each and every judgement; whether justification or justice all of creation will ring together that God, the perfect judge, has acted according to His perfect Holiness. It is at that point where the justified will experience heaven. “Heaven and earth shall pass away and behold all things shall become new.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”” Rev 21:1-5a

Then we shall be in heaven… here on the new earth, holy and justified in ever constant communion with God! THE God, that desires to dwell with us. Now that’s something to look forward to.

“Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore”

empty-church1

Answers to the four reasons

Faith author Thom Schulz has released a new book entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”. He has written a blog and has been interviewed on the topic contained in his book. Before we address the details, let’s take a moment to review the foundations of what the church are…

    • First, the Foundation of the Church is Christ, the Chief Cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:11-20).
      He is God incarnate. He is from the beginning the Word of God; present in the act of creation; incarnate in the God-man Jesus Christ; dead and buried as the propitiation for our sins; and risen again, sitting at the right hand of God the Father.

 

 

    • Second, the church has nothing to do with a building, a denomination, a religion, a sect, or anything else that is not Christ. The church are the people who have humbled themselves; confessed their sins; and repented, turning away from the old life to a new one as the bride of Christ.

We want to take a look at this same topic as it is on the minds of many in leadership positions at church buildings today, The Blaze interviewed Thom Schulz on his book and the main four reasons within the book. The identity of the article’s worldview can be determined from the opening paragraph, which states:

“Numerous studies have shown that church attendance in America is on the decline. Considering this dynamic, people of faith may be asking themselves what’s behind increasingly-emptying pews and how they can get involved to reverse the trend.”
The questions that we must be asking ourselves as the church key in on the semantics of this paragraph.

    • What is behind the increasingly empty pew? Is it the threshing of the Holy Spirit? Are these losses the listeners or are they the hearers? The answer to these questions reveal the heart of the church and will spawn innumerable additional questions as we ask God to search our hearts. After Christ taught about being the bread of life saying “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:52) “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (John 6:63-64). “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66) Is it about numbers or is it about Christ?

 

 

    • How can we get involved to reverse the trend? Do we need to? The Scripture states that “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:7 (Please read the whole chapter to make sure that you understand the context). Thus, it is God who works to bring those to Christ. This is proven out in John 6:44 No one can come to Christ unles the Father draws him. This is why so many will fall away during troubled times (see the Parable of the Sower; Matthew 13:1-23 and Luke 8:4-15).

Within the remainder of the article are summary answers to the four topics/reasons although the four topics are not fully spelled out in the interview. Thom did spell them out in his blog on Churchleaders.com. Here they are straight from that blog. I have combined the four reasons and answers from the blog and the interview here below:

    1. BLOG: “I feel judged.” Gabe Lyons’ and David Kinnaman’s research in their book UnChristian confirms that “church people judge me.” According to their studies, 87 percent of Americans label Christians as judgmental. Fair or unfair, most people view the church as critical, disapproving, and condemning. Whether it’s behavior, looks, clothes, choice of friends, lifestyle decisions, or whatever, the church has a solid reputation for acting as judge and jury over our individual differences.
      INTERVIEW: Schultz argues that people feel judged, so he proposes “radical hospitality,” which essentially means embracing a church paradigm of full acceptance. “We don’t mean endorse, but we mean accept the person,” he said. “We feel that that’s a Christ-like approach to things.”

 

 

    1. BLOG: “I don’t want to be lectured.” More than ever, people today want to participate in the discussion. One man told us he’s talked with more than a thousand other men who’ve given up on church. He said, “Guys don’t want to sit in a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts, too.” The same goes for women. They don’t want another one-way lecture.
      INTERVIEW: As for the lack of two-way dialogue, Schultz encourages “fearless conversation” — which means incorporating numerous viewpoints rather than simply lecturing. ”By that title, it’s really emphasizing both of those words,” he told TheBlaze. “People want to be involved in the conversation.” So, he is encouraging people to speak boldly on principle, but to also share ideas.

 

 

    1. BLOG: “Church people are a bunch of hypocrites.” This isn’t a small minority talking. A whopping 85 percent make this claim. We know, we know. Every church leader in America is weary of this “excuse.” But people aren’t merely referring to incongruous behavior. What bothers them is the sense that church leaders act as if they alone have all the answers. As if they’ve arrived. As if they’re only interested in telling others what to do—“teaching,” to use ministry vernacular.
      INTERVIEW: Schultz said that many believers and non-believers, alike, claim that “Christians are hypocrites” — and that this mindset is increasing. To stem the critique, the author is calling for “genuine humility.” This is the notion that life is a journey that everyone is on together. Being humble and truly addressing issues without giving the appearance of being above it all is essential under this proposed solution.

 

 

    1. BLOG: “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know there is a God and he cares about me.” Research by the Barna Group reveals that only 44 percent of people who attend church every week say they regularly experience God at church. They’re not looking for the deep theological trivia that seems to interest a lot of preachers. They crave something rather simple. They want to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure, that he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.
      INTERVIEW: With so many critics also arguing that God is distant and dead, Schultz believes that Christian churches need to re-tune their messaging and implement “divine anticipation.” “In many churches we have either forgotten to talk about God or the primary and almost only mention of God is from Bible times,” he said. “The Bible is a wonderful tool for us to use … but if we give the impression that God [only] acted thousands of years ago, we’ve given the impression that God only did good things back then — and that he either died or went away.”

Of all of these reasons, it is only…
#3: Church People are a bunch of hypocrites. that we can agree upon. The Christian is a hypocrite! The Christian must be humble! However, there is some level of the “teaching” that Schultz refers to. Paul both says that he has not obtained (Philippians 3:1-14) and he also says to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). The Apostle Paul was one of the foremost Bible writers that had the answers. He imitated Christ and even then says to test everything in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. The Apostle John says to test every spirit to see if it is from God (1 John 4:1). And Christ himself says that you will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Thus, while it is a fact that we are hypocrites. We are saved; justified; sanctified; and redeemed. Thus, our sins are in the past. They are forgiven. They are forgotten and we can walk justified in the fullness of grace. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corintians 6:1-11).

Let’s look at the others…
#1: I feel judged. I have a simple response to this… You think? In order to understand this, one must read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). We must understand the life of Christ. Then we must follow this up with the rest of the New Testament that both refer back to the Old Testament truths and to Christ himself. There is too much to go into all of this here so we humbly ask you read these texts and discern for yourself that there are judgements that the true Church inherently makes. We are called to discernment. We are called to correction, reproof and teaching (2 Timothy 3:16) and this is what Schultz has an issue with. His “‘radical hospitality,’ which essentially means embracing a church paradigm of full acceptance” is antithesis to what Christ says when he says “See that no one leads you astray.” (Matthew 24:4). Therefore, we must not compromise. We ARE to judge, but, we are to judge in the right manner. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2) We know this because Christ follows this up immediately with “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6). Thus, we must be able to discern dogs and pigs so that we do not give up what is holy and of great worth.

#2: I dont want to be lectured. Again, I don’t know what to say to this one. Look through the Gospels and you will see Christ teaching for his entire ministry. Our teachers in our schools (regardless of the school) lecture us every day of school. Our parents lecture us. Lecture is a very important part of training. As the body of Christ, we call this discipleship. Christ lectured the masses. He taught; told parables; fed, trained and healed as he lectured. This is all recorded in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Christ said that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive… (John 14:15-17). The Spirit of truth guides us as we press on towards the mark. We will stand therefore and state “Please lecture us… But do not expect that we will not test everything you say by the Scriptures and will hold it accountable.”

#4: Your God is irrelevant in my life. Oh how lacking the argument is here. The blog and interview speak of bringing in the “current” god and not the God of the Bible. Schultz is quoted in the interview as stating “The Bible is a wonderful tool for us to use … but if we give the impression that God [only] acted thousands of years ago, we’ve given the impression that God only did good things back then — and that he either died or went away.” The Bible is more than a wonderful tool. It is the Word of God. The words of Christ who is the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5). We must understand the God of the Bible. The Person of Creation. The One who Is and Is to come. For God states that He will never change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). GOD IS Relevant! and we must understand Him who was; is; and is to come.So, again. We must look to Christ. We must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We must trust God to give the increase and we must praise him for his grace and mercy of us; the undeserving. We must press on toward the mark for the prize and we will not worry about what the world (who can cannot receive the Spirit) thinks about the numbers in our pews. When God’s glory is revealed, no one will stand. The numbers in our pews will not matter because it is God who can see the heart. We must daily work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23). Thus it is in the Lord we must remain.

Can we keep the commandments?

Ten Commandments 2

My wife had a conversation with some friends about keeping the law… How good we were… And if we are able to keep ANY of the law at all. She came up with the following illustrative ‘conversation’ and as it relates very well and it informative, I am sharing it here…
A CONVERSATION FOR KEEPERS OF THE LAW:
When I want to teach my small child a rule like keeping their room clean, I start out with a much simpler idea because they lack understanding. I will first teach my small child how to clean up a few things. I don’t tell them to “Keep your room clean”. This is too big an idea for them to know what I mean. I simply tell them, “Pick up the toys on the floor.” Any time we want to teach our children a larger principle we start out with something much simpler to begin the teaching.
Enter the Children (Pharisees): “Our room is perfect! We picked up all the toys on our floor.”
Enter Parent (Christ): “I’m glad you did, but actually your room is not perfect. It’s not even clean. That is just the beginning of having a clean room. The rule was just there to instruct you. Your bed is still a mess, the walls have mud on them. Even your ceiling is dusty.”
Child: “You didn’t say anything about my bed, or walls, or ceiling.”
Parent: “You’re right. I didn’t.”
Child: “But I kept the rule to clean up my toys.”
Parent: ” You kept the letter of the rule, but not the Spirit of the rule. You lack understanding. The room is still not clean. More than that, you cannot possibly clean it. But don’t worry, I can!”
That was the analogy. Now, here’ s how it relates:
God: “Thou shalt not murder.” (Deut. 5:17)
Pharisees: “We are good; we don’t murder.”
Christ: “You miss the point. You break this law if you hate your brother, or if you are angry with him, or even if you insult him.” (Matt. 5:21&22)
Pharisees: “It doesn’t say not to hate my brother in the commandments…or anything about anger.”
Christ: “You’re right, it doesn’t.”
God: “Keep the Sabbath.” (Deut. 5:12)
Pharisees: “We are good; we keep the Sabbath holy.”
Christ: “Again, you miss the mark. I AM lord of the Sabbath. (Matt 12:1-8) I am set apart and holy every day, and also you are, if in me.” (Romans 8:1-4)
God: “You cannot even begin to keep the simple rules I have given to instruct you. You stand condemned. But I will send you a Savior, one who can keep the full intent of the law, which He knows and
understands.”
Pharisees: “But I like keeping the law. It makes me feel like I am pleasing God.”
Christ: “Apart from me you can do nothing to please God. Now a new law is in effect for you. I am offering something greater in its place.(Hebrews 8: 6-13) I am offering myself as the one to complete these. Only I know perfectly how to keep all of the laws. I’m the only One who can. Just stay close to me. Abide in me. It won’t be about not murdering anymore, because the full intent of that law is to not hate
or even be angry with your brother. With man, this is impossible, but not with God.
Pharisee: “I don’t believe you. I CAN do this!”
Christ: “No, you really can’t! The moral laws are deeper than you can even fathom. Only I can fully keep them.”
Pharisee: “At least I can keep the Sabbath holy.”
Christ: “No you can’t. Do you know what it means when I say I am Lord of the Sabbath? It means that I am the Lord of your rest. I give you rest in me EVERY day. I am holy EVERY day. Only I can keep this. You abide in me every day, and I fulfill the Sabbath.”
Pharisees: “I don’t understand.”
Christ: “It’s not about murder, it’s more than that. It’s about not even hating. Likewise, it’s not about one day of the week to keep holy, it’s more than that. It’s about abiding in my holiness all of the time………………. Please understand that any effort on your part to fulfill even one of the commands will be FUTILE. You only have hope of “keeping these commands” by trusting in me and my ability to know how to perfectly obey each of them. So the rules are not in effect any longer to teach you righteousness. They are insufficient to do that work. Do you see it yet?….Because you can’t even understand the Spirit behind them. ONLY I can. If you LOVE me you WILL keep my commands! So love me….trust in my ability to do this in You. Be found in me and then MY LAW will be written on your hearts. Allow my ability to fulfill the law to replace your insufficient application of it. This is why I came. You cannot even keep one moral law! But I can!”
Pharisee: “I still want to at least try to do one or two. I know I can make sure I don’t commit adultery.”
Christ: “No, not one moral law can you keep. Not even this one.”
Pharisee: “But I’m an old man and I never have done this evil.”
Christ: “You have if you have even lusted after a woman.”
Pharisee: “That’s not fair. You never said not to lust. You just said not to commit adultery. This is too hard. And you never said to set apart every day as holy for you. I can’t do this.”
Christ: “Then don’t! That’s the point. Only I can keep the full meaning, and only as you love me can you keep my commands. Just love me. That’s it. Nothing more. I fulfill it all. Please accept my free gift to you. Stop working to keep the letter of the law. It’s useless. I offer myself to do what you have no capability of doing! As soon as you say that you are pleasing me because you haven’t murdered, you are wrong! You have murder in your heart. As soon as you say, “I am pleasing God because I keep the Sabbath”, you are wrong! You are incapable of keeping it also! I AM the Lord of the Sabbath, not you! Only I can master it. You cannot keep its full meaning. Because it is not just about one day of the week, as murder is not just about killing someone. The Sabbath is about a person. It is about me, and abiding in my rest every moment. Have faith in me, not in yourself! Remember when I rebuked you when you didn’t understand why I healed on the Sabbath? Read the passage again. Is it not sin to cease goods works on the Sabbath? I have prepared many good works for you, every day, and my burden is light. I AM your rest.” (Matt. 11:25-12:8)
(Romans 9:30-10:4)
Christian: “Thank you so much, Jesus! I accept your gift of righteousness for me! I realize now that I cannot even keep one commandment. The 10 commandments are a moral law but they do not offer us the full scope of their entire meaning. We couldn’t keep them even if they did. They were given to show us our need, our insufficiency. As long as we think we are sufficient to keep even one of these moral
laws, we show our lack of understanding for the greater law at work. Jesus fulfills them all….and that is what it means to be free from the law of sin and death!” (Col. 2:6-19)
Christ: “Yes, because if you stumble in even ONE part, you are guilty of ALL of it. But I have come to be righteousness for you. Love me, and in so doing you will keep my commands because I will keep the FULL meaning of what it is to be righteous. Just abide in me, precious child.” (James 2: 10-13)
Note: *This singles out just 3 of the 10 commandments. Thou shalt not murder, keep the Sabbath holy, and thou shalt not commit adultery. There is so much more that we can’t begin to fathom for each one of the 10 commandments. The Pharisees thought they could keep all 10, and Christ in Matthew 5 graciously corrects their misunderstanding. The 10 commandments only scratch the surface of what it is to be holy. We think we know what it means to have no other gods before Him…we don’t. In reality it means to love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength. This is the greatest commandment. And we certainly can’t do that one -ever! Only Christ has ever fully loved God with His whole heart, soul, and strength at any given moment. We break this commandment every moment. It is ONLY in Christ as our substitution that righteousness is counted to us. Only Christ pleases God. Only Christ fulfills (completes – actually performs) the full meaning of each of the 10 commandments. We only rob God when we think we can fulfill even one of these laws. Either Christ is the fulfillment of all of them on our behalf, or He isn’t.
This passage below is often used to keep us held in bondage to “The Law of Sin and Death”. Please understand what Christ is saying here. Matt. 5:17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” PLEASE understand these verses:
1. Christ has not come to rid the world of the Law or the Prophets. How could He? They are what God, the Father uses to reveal what Holiness is – what HE is. Christ came not to abolish Holiness, but to fulfill it (to complete it) since we cannot.
2. He will fulfill and meet every iota and every dot that Holiness requires as given in the Law, since we cannot.
3. Therefore whoever relaxes (discounts, makes less of) these commandments (God’s standards of holiness) and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.. We CANNOT make less of this standard of holiness, nor our complete inability to keep it, for the
first acknowledges WHO GOD IS, and the second acknowledges WHO WE ARE. This is the key to the whole passage.
4. but whoever does them (and only Christ does) and teaches them (again, Christ is the only one who fully knows them and is therefore the only one able to impart their full meaning) will be called great in the kingdom of heaven, so it is Christ who will be called “great” in the kingdom of Heaven, and without receiving His righteousness as our own we don’t have a chance!
5. unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (remember these are the ones that followed the letter of the law), we will not enter heaven. How can our righteousness exceed theirs? Christ’s point is that ours can’t. Only His can. That’s why He is our righteousness. Continue reading Matt. 5 to get the point here.)
6. If we don’t receive Christ as the only one that can keep this extreme holiness on our behalf, we will not enter heaven.
He has performed what it means to “have no other gods before me.” How then can we DO this commandment? Abide in Christ. Trust Him that living in Him means this commandment is fulfilled in Him. Does it mean we can have other gods then? By all means “NO!” How could it, if this command is fulfilled in Christ as the one having no other gods before him? In the same way, Christ has performed what it means to “Observe the Sabbath day” (literally to observe the rest He gives), to keep it holy. He has met that qualification of holiness, by declaring Himself as the Lord of the Sabbath! If we are in Him, the Sabbath keeping is fulfilled in Him for us. How then do we DO this commandment? Same answer for every other commandment that is impossible for us to keep the full meaning of (which is ALL of them): “Abide in Him. Trust Him that living in Him means this commandment is fulfilled in Him. Does this mean we should not honor the Sabbath then? By all means “NO”. How could it if this command is fulfilled in Christ as the fulfillment (the literal) Sabbath Day? We honor Him, we keep the Sabbath. He IS our rest. Christ is the embodiment of each of the 10 Commandments. He is the fulness of God in bodily form. He IS the holiness we cannot achieve. We abide in Him, we keep them all.
Note, particular for the Sabbath: *Colossians 2: 16-17 “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink (ceremonial law) or with regard to religious festival, a New Moon celebration (a Feast of Trumpets observation) or a Sabbath day (moral law). These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality however is found in Christ.”
Please don’t take me wrong that I’m saying we shouldn’t rest from our work on Saturdays (observance the Sabbath). Based on the above Colossians statement and Romans 14:5-12 “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike….” we have freedom to choose this as unto the Lord. It would be wrong of me to tell anyone not to rest on Saturday just because Christ is already the fulfillment of that law. At the same time, if anyone else wants to keep any other day holy or set apart unto the LORD, or regard them all as holy in Christ, then these verses make it clear that that is well too. (As far as “worship” goes – New testament believers often met daily to worship the Lord together, further emphasizing these Scriptures.)