What In Heaven’s Name Can You Imagine!?

Randy Alcorn opens Heaven, the book Tyndale published in 2004, with this thought: “The sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history.”

He begins by wondering about all the misinformation and distortions of Heaven in our society, and concludes in the first chapter that we have some decidedly incorrect views of Heaven in our western philosophy that have corrupted the Biblical view.  Some of it comes from movies, television, imaginings of friends, and wild-eyed wishful thinking, most from Greek philosophy.

It is not as most suppose, a boring place of ghostly unearthly experience.  Many sincere Christ-followers quote the 1 Corinthian 2:9 to conclude we cannot know anything about Heaven: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love Him.”  But read on!  Verse 10 says: “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

Heaven1
It is not as many suppose an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits floating around with no physical reality.  Stopping short of verse 10, we fail to see that the descriptions of Heaven in the Bible are descriptions!  They detail gardens, cities, buildings, banquets and even bodies for us; recognizable, identifiable personal bodies.  A human spirit without a body is not really human, any more than a body without a spirit is.  And a place that Jesus is preparing for us (John 14:2-3) is a place to which He will escort us one day.

This is why Paul goes to such detail to explain the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.  Here he describes a “spiritual body,” but not a disembodied spirit.  “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven.” (15:49)  Look at Jesus after His resurrection and we can see that He had a real body, though it was somehow different from His natural body which had been crucified.  Yet He was recognizable (once the disciples got past their prejudice that He was dead), He was touchable, He could eat and drink, He could walk and talk and hold conversations.  This is you and me in our resurrected bodies in Heaven someday!

Now I grant that there are some things in Heaven that are difficult to understand, and I have addressed this issue previously.  An illustration I have used before is going inside a mother’s womb and telling an unborn baby what to expect when he gets out into the world: sunsets, concerts, caramel, roses and massages (to cover the five senses).  How could he possibly understand the heightened awareness he will have when he comes out of the boring, dark and quiet place he lives?

Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and John all saw things in the next world and tried to convey them to us in language we could understand, yet even in the Scripture they fell woefully short of clarifying what they had seen.  But they had not seen disembodied spirits floating on ethereal clouds!  They saw real things in Heaven that we will someday understand when we no longer “see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthian 13:12)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is!” (1 John 3:2)  So what in Heaven’s name will it be like when we get there?

Heaven by AlcornI have recommended before, and do so again, Randy Alcorn’s excellent text, Heaven.  It is not a conclusive end-all discussion of Heaven, but rather a challenge to explore for yourself what the Bible does teach about our eternal state.  With sound Biblical exegesis he asserts a Theology of Heaven with careful caveats on where he is speculating and where we are certain of its teaching.

He rejects the philosophies of the Middle Ages, which taught that Heaven was nothing more than a world of light and contemplation, contrary to what the Bible described.  The scholasticism of that era gradually replaced the commonly understood Biblical view of Heaven as a Garden, a City, a Place of earthly beauty, dwelling places, food and fellowship for all eternity.

No one interprets the Bible absolutely literally nor absolutely figuratively.  But if we believe Jesus was physically resurrected and had a glorified body walking and talking with the disciples until His ascension, it is safe to believe His promises of a place for us are real and that when God says He will renew all things, He means that he will make all things renewed (Revelation 21:5)  Note, He does not say He will make new stuff!  Just like Jesus renewed body, He will renew the creation, returning us to the pure life of Eden before the Fall, but in a fuller and more complete relation to Himself than Adam and Eve had in Eden.

The Revelation 21 “passing away” of the first heaven (this is a reference to the sky, not the eternal realm of God) and the first earth will be like the “passing away” of a loved one, as Jesus passed away when He died and was buried.  Then He was resurrected “new” and improved!  Then our Lord’s “dwelling place” will be with us, in a “new heaven and a new earth”. (Revelation 21:1)

What in Heaven’s name will all this be like?  Well, at this time, we can only imagine, but it will be REAL!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lrrq_opng

Love Me. That’s an Order!

Love Me Thats An OrderLove me. That’s an Order!  Imagine the reaction most dates would have to this!  “YOU are ORDERing me to LOVE you!?”  Probably may want to wait a few days to ask for a second date? emo laugh

Yet that is exactly what our God says to us in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  Pretty sure of Himself, don’t you think?  Well, actually yes.  And it is that surety on which all our faith relies.

The only way a man (or woman) could tell another person, “You have to love me with all your heart,” is if he knew he was the very best that she could find.  But no man knows this for certain.  There could be someone out there living in Timbuktu who would be a better match, a better spouse, a better lover, friend, confidante, and soul mate than him.  Thus, it would be very foolhardy for any guy to give this kind of command to a woman (and vice versa).

So human love is usually based on mutual conditions.  An attraction is felt, usually to physical appearance, financial security, emotional support or some other benefit that the lover can receive, and the decision is made to love the one who is attractive in one way or another.  The whole concept of love to most Americans is a shallow attraction to benefits the lover can receive by loving his/her partner.

God’s love is far better than this.  He did not demand that we clean up our acts, get our lives in order, straighten out our finances, or even make our beds, before loving us unconditionally.  He loves when there is nothing we can do, add to or give in return.  We are totally and completely the beneficiaries of a love that is “greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.”  He loves us so much that if there was anyone or anything better for us than Himself, He would not hesitate to send us to that one for love.  He would command, “Yahweh is one; love that other One with all your heart and with all your soul . . .”

There’s the catch.  There is simply no one better for us than The God Who Is There and He knows this.  In fact there is nothing He does not know. (See June 17, 2018.)  So when He commands us to love Him, it is not a selfish demand such as a man saying this to a woman would be making.  Even His command to love Him is based on His desire for what is good for us, and He knows He is simply the best there is.

Love Me Thats An Order 2We do not need to be afraid of His love.  This may seem redundant, but really it is not.  Though perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), too many have heard promises of love only to be disappointed when the lover failed or cheated or deceived.  When someone hears that God loves her, her heart may go back to previous promises of love, and say, “Not again.  He said he loved me and look what happened.”  Broken promises cover our lives like peanut shells on the floor of a Logan’s Steakhouse.

When we hear that God loves us, our natural suspicion is that there must be a catch.  Yeah, He “loves us” but only if we do nice things; only if we don’t cuss or lust or get mad.  “You don’t know me like I do, and if you did, YOU would not love me, so why would a God who you say DOES know everything about me?  EVERYTHING?  He even knows what I THINK!?  How could He love ME!?”

God Loves You This MuchVery simply because that is what He does.  He loves.  So much so that John said, “God IS love!” (1 John 4:8)  It is part of His very character and nature to look for who and what He can shower with love, and when He runs out of angels to love, He creates humans so that His love can have another outlet.  That is why you were born, so that He could love you.  That is why you are reading this blog, so that you can discover more of His love.  If you will risk letting Him love you and love Him in return, you will find that everything that has happened in your life will bear the marks of His love.  Even the terrible things that made you wonder at the time if there even was a God.  He will redeem, that is “repurchase,” those events and show that He was loving you even then.

But if you will not risk letting Him love you like that, you take the greater risk of not being loved at all, and of not loving at all.  C.S.Lewis, in The Four Loves, summed it up like this:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Allow the Holy Spirit to open your heart to a love that is almost unbelievable.  In fact, it would be unbelievable if not for the evidence of Jesus.  He loves as no other and look what happened to Him!  But loving us was worth it, because YOU are worth it.  So love Him in return.  That’s an order.

Alien Visitations: From Two Worlds

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest. But now my kingdom is from another place.”  Jesus, John 18:36

This world seems so solid at times we seem to forget we will not be here long.  Seventy years used to be about the limit, but now many octogenarians and nonagenarians occupy independent living houses as well as assisted living quarters.  Psychologists tell us it takes about five years to internalize a major life change so that it feels normal, a small percentage against 80 or 90 years of life.  The result is that most of us feel very comfortable in our life situations, unless we are under significant duress or in dire conflicts.

C.S.Lewis 2There is a danger in getting too comfortable in this world though.  “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth… You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.” (C.S.Lewis)

We must keep in mind we have been visited by Someone who was not from this world.  He is its Creator, but we did not trust Him in the Garden of Eden and because of our founders’ lack of trust, we still find it difficult to trust Him.   However, for those who make a decision to trust Him, there is a transfer of citizenship that takes place.  We receive passports that identify us as belonging to another world as well, even though we have not visited our new “home country.”  (See John 1:1-14; Hebrews 11:10.)

Yet we remain in this world for a time until our Supreme Commander decides it is time for us to leave for home.  For many of us this usually stretches out to that 70 or 80 years to which we referred in the opening lines of this blog.  During this time, He calls on us to represent Him as His ambassadors (1 Corinthians 5:20), aliens in the world as He was an alien (John 20:21).  And as aliens we may expect some of the prejudices and antagonism that comes with not being in our natural environment.  (1 John 3:13)

In particular we must be aware, without becoming engrossed, by the presence of “other aliens” who are not from this world, and who hold major influence in the affairs of mankind!  Much of our antagonism comes not from the people who will oppose us when we act as Christ’s representative, but rather from subtle influences of which most people will be unaware (2 Corinthians 4:4).  There is a Spirit in the world that leads us into relationship with The God Who Is There, and there are spirits in the world that oppose Him without reason or sanity.

We understand there are two dangers associated to recognizing the activity of demon powers:
1.  Ignoring them and pretending they do not exist.
2.  Obsessing over them and seeing them under every rock and in every shadow.

A friend of mine who worked in a bank told me about one of her training exercises.  She was told she needed to learn to recognize counterfeit bills in order to effectively do her job.  The training consisted primarily of sitting in a room and counting money for the tellers for several hours per day.  She wondered how long this would go on as she began to suspect maybe this was all they wanted her to do; count the money and never get trained for anything more.

Money 2Then one day, she “felt” one of the bills coming across her desk.  Something seemed “different” about it.  The thickness of the paper was not quite right; the ink seemed slightly different.  Looking very closely she noticed lines in Jackson’s coat that seemed out of place and border lines that were inconsistent.  She had found a counterfeit $20 bill, the most commonly counterfeited currency in that day.  Reporting it to her supervisor, he then had her check several other stacks of bills.  One by one, she found several counterfeits in different denominations in the various piles.

It was then she was told of the counterfeits she had missed in her first couple days of training.  And in fact, the bank was getting concerned that she would not work out.  But as she continued handling the real bills, eventually she began to recognize the fakes!  She told me about this episode when I told her that I had accepted a counterfeit $20 at the store at which I worked and had been called to the bank to Moneyverify my deposit.  Even after telling me it was phony currency, I could not identify it as counterfeit.  But her training in handling so many real bills had prepared her to “feel” the false one as soon as it was in her hands.

This is how we should “handle” dealing with demons.  If we love the truth, if we immerse ourselves in the Word of God and study the Scripture, if we practice the Presence (see August 20, 2016) of the “real” Spirit of God, that alien Visitor with whom we are allied, then when the “phony” spirit of this age comes along, we will recognize it because we will simply know from our experience what the real “feels” like.  (1John 1:1, 2:27)

If instead, we become too comfortable in this world, if we only handle the Bible when someone else reads or teaches it, if we ignore our Commander’s Presence throughout the day, we will be ill prepared to identify the counterfeit.

With which visitor to this world do you want to identify?

 

What in the World is God? Part 6 – In the Image of God: Personhood

“Humans explaining the nature of God is like an ant trying to explain who dropped the sugar.” Trish O’Connor

Doodle GodAttributes of God can be enumerated in many ways and different lists come from scholars of various stripes.  Some of the lists, such as mine, are pretty basic and others include almost any activity of God.  My view leans toward looking at His essential nature rather than the way He interacts with us; e.g. mercy or mercifulness is included in many lists as one of His attributes where I consider it more an expression of His attributes of holiness and love, discussed in last week’s blog, June 25, 2018.

Besides this, there are likely attributes, that is, essential characteristics that are inherent in being God, that we will not nor cannot understand at our level of development and may never fully grasp even in the eons of eternity.  Remember always, He IS God, the Uncreated, and we are merely His creatures, created for His pleasure and glory (Revelation 4:11).

Consider Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  So a clue to understanding what we are able to about God is found in looking at humankind and considering what we “look like.”  Clearly, as we have shown from Scripture (see June 17, 2018), God is a Spirit so this reference does not refer to hands or feet or body shape.  Yet He is not an impersonal spirit as some would construe, but He is a Person, with personality and intention to know and love and guide us.  Personhood is often overlooked as one of His attributes, and though He goes far beyond mere personality, our understanding of Him begins there.

We, too, are spirits as much as we are physical bodies.  A human is not one or the other, but as created in God’s image, our bodies carry in them the image of God in our spirits.  Our spirits consist mainly of mind, emotion and volition, and this gives us our reference for understanding that God is intelligent, emotional and willful.  As He is the designer and Creator of all that exists, we recognize that when we pray we are addressing a mind that encompasses the entire universe down to the detail of quarks and DNA and more.  Thus His omniscience is more than simply an awareness of existence, but a personal knowledge of each individual in His creation.

When we think of who we know, our minds can easily grasp the dozen or so close friends of our inner circles.  If we expand our view, we can think of hundreds of people we know by name and to whom we would say “Hello” in passing.  Further out, we can grasp the identities of perhaps a couple thousand people in an auditorium, but we cannot “know” them all.  Beyond this, the individuals become “lost in a sea of faces,” unidentifiable and unknowable to our small minds.  Yet, He knows each one, from the formation of the embryo in its mother’s womb to the old man resting down into his coffin (Psalm 139:13).

Very importantly, He feels.  Even before He came down into His creation in the form of Jesus, the God-Man, He felt the pains and longings of His people and wanted to develop a relationship with every man and woman. (Psalm 67; Ezekiel 18:23).  When God came to walk with Adam and Eve after they had disobeyed His simple command, He asked, “Where are you?”  When Adam identified his location, God then asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:8-11)  He was not lacking in knowledge, but rather giving opportunity for Adam and Eve to confess and turn from their disobedience, because He loved them and knew the only way to build the relationship was to be open and communicate.

He still desires that relationship that is more than just a formality.  He takes no joy in our subservient obedience to duty or regulation.  In fact, most of Jesus’ conflicts were with those who followed all the rules!  He feels love for His creation, both man and beast, both living creatures and the environment.

His emotions also extend to anger, disgust, grief and sorrow, but also to joy, delight, anticipation, calmness, and pity.  His experience of these emotions is something we can barely begin to understand, but each of these is mentioned at various times throughout Scripture.  We who are created in His image bear this emotional stamp and feel as well, although our emotions are often warped somewhat by the sin in our lives or in the world.

Most importantly, He is volitional.  He makes a decision and acts on it!  When the Bible says He never changes (James 1:17) it is referring to His character, not His activity.  At some point in time past, He said within the Trinity, “Let us make man in our image,” and He acted on it.  Adam and Eve, faced with a choice of trusting their Creator or the tempter who questioned His simple command, made their choice and acted on it.

Every day, you are faced with a myriad of decisions from what time to get out of bed to how to respond to others’ treatment of you.  Sometimes you must cooperate in decisions to act by voting, sometimes you must act alone, but you and I act!  We are volitional, willful, and express something of the attribute of God when we make decisions.  Again, many of our decisions are warped by sin, but it remains a reflection of His divine Spirit in us, that we are made in His image.

So when you consider What in the World is God, look for His interactions with you!  You matter to Him as much as Jesus, His own son does!  His holiness and love, expressing through His omnipotence and omniscience and omnipresence, offering guidance to us to let His Spirit lead us in our thoughts, emotions and wills, brings us into communion with The God Who Is There.

Keep in mind that my short list, barely begins to dust the snow off the top of this iceberg.  “He is great and greatly to be praised.” (Psalm 145)

 

 

 

 

 

In a couple of weeks, , we will again look at how God loves us.