Thursday, April 17, 2014

Heaven is for Real. And Thank God for That!

Last night I preached a message entitled "Heaven is for Real."  The timing and subject matter is admittedly tied to the release of the movie by the same name.  In the message I made a few comments that seemed to "hit home" with people.  Some of the subject matter made people uncomfortable.  That's OK.  Take these comments back to the Bible.  Be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and see for yourself whether these things be so.

The message encouraged those who have been comforted by error (sometimes a lie can make you feel really good) to let go of the error and embrace the truth of Scripture.  I promise you, the TRUTH of God's Word will bring much more comfort to a Christ follower than the fanciful notions gained from extrabiblical sources.

Here are a few of the thoughts that seemed to generate the most interest.

1.  Humans do not become angels when they die.

Not even a deceased infant, as tragic as that loss is, becomes an “angel baby.”  There is no record of humans in heaven getting halos or wings.  You may have received that impression from Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” but there is no indication of it in the Bible.  In fact, Biblical visions of heaven make clear distinctions between the angelic creatures and the saints.

Since deceased family members do not become angels of ANY kind, they clearly do not become guardian angels.  Don’t confuse a precious memory with the notion that Grandma is protecting you from danger.  Yes, God may choose to give His angels “charge” over you, but this has nothing to do with Grandma since Grandma did not become an angel when she died.

Revelation 14:13 says the sainted dead have "ceased from their labors."  Other than eternal service to Christ, they did not receive a new assignment regarding the things of earth.

2.  There is no Scriptural indication that saints in heaven are interested in events on earth as we commonly think of that phrase.

While there is indication that people in Hell are aware of current earthly relationships (Luke 16:28), there is no indication in Scripture that departed saints in heaven are “watching” the affairs of earth, in terms of personal interest.

Had grandpa been alive, he would certainly have applauded Junior’s home run.  In the presence of God Himself, as difficult as it is to imagine, Grandpa is no longer concerned about the ballgame.  It is a bizarre notion to think that Grandpa left the glorious splendor of the throne of God to watch a ballgame, a wedding, or a graduation.

Rather than being troubled that the pastor just said, "Grandpa isn't concerned with Junior's ballgame," be comforted with the reality that as much as Grandpa loved you...and Oh, how he did...he's in a place now that makes the things of earth pale in eternal comparison.  This view doesn't make Grandpa's earthly love for us seem less.  Rather it highlights the glory he is now experiencing with God.

Moreover, if Grandpa is celebrating Junior's walk-off home run in heaven, what are the Grandpas of all the kids on the losing team doing?  Grieving watching their grandboys cry and sling their batting helmets into the infield?  I think not.

By the way, if Grandma can watch the wedding from heaven then she can also see the honeymoon.  Not to be crude but the idea of celestial voyeurism is just a bit creepy.

The "great cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1 is a reference to the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11.  It's not talking about all the departed saints sitting on clouds "witnessing" the unfolding of human history.

3.  Many errors about heaven are born out of country songs, bad gospel music, and well-intentioned though poorly-written funeral sermons.

Sorry Steve Wariner, but there are not really "holes in the floor of heaven."  And while we need not expect country crooners to be theologians, the people of God ought to see deep Christological error with the idea that "There are holes in the floor of heaven and her tears are pouring down.  That's how you know she's watching and wishing she could be here right now."  "Christological?" you say.  Yes.  It impugns the glory and identity of Jesus to imagine Grandma would rather be at your family reunion than in the presence of the ascended Savior.

Mama isn’t really teaching angels how to sing.  For starters, there's only a passing record that angels might actually sing, though perhaps they might.  But if they do, it seems highly doubtful Mama is leading choir practice in glory.

There is no Biblical indication that I will ever stroll over heaven with you some glad day when all the troubles and heartaches have truly vanished away.

"To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."  Since departed saints are not omnipresent, they cannot be worshipping at the throne of God AND lingering near the Eastern gate waiting for you because you are coming in the morning.

4.  Many people’s view of heaven is really just a nice version of a very happy day on earth.

If you’ve heard a preacher say, “If it takes that to make heaven really be heaven for you, God will make sure you have it” then he was not giving an accurate report.

For example, "Pastor, will there be fishing in heaven?"  I've heard many preachers say, "If it takes fishing to make heaven be heaven for you then God will make sure there's a good fishing hole for you in heaven."

Heaven is about Jesus.  It's not about me or my deceased loved one or our favorite hobbies and pastimes.

On this point, John Piper poses a compelling question in his book, "God is the Gospel."

"The critical question for our generation and for every generation is this:  If you could have heaven with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and with all the food you ever likes, and with all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, and all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?"

5.  Testimonies of trips "to heaven and back" will not lead one person to Christ.  Not a single one.

Now, a person who has such a dubious claim can be a soul-winner.  But only if they share the gospel of Christ.  In other words, the lost will be converted by HIS story of immortal life after substitutionary death not by THEIR story of life after death.

In Luke 16, the Savior, quoting Father Abraham, clearly indicated they would not.  I believe Jesus is the resident Expert on evangelism.  Let me make a prediction:  The student pastors who post about all their students who get saved at the movie theatre will most assuredly find many of the students were emotionally moved by a compelling story, great music beds, and good cinematography.

"But pastor, if only one person really got saved that wouldn't have gotten saved any other way it was worth it all."  They didn't so it wasn't.

Anyone that would not have responded to the simple preaching of the gospel DID NOT respond in faith to your DVD study about some guy's trip to heaven.

It is illogical at best to consider that Jesus took someone to heaven and sent them back as an evangelist to share their afterlife story and see people saved when the Master Himself said this approach to soul-winning would not work.

There are Scriptural accounts of 9 individuals, including Christ, being raised from the dead.  There is also a record of an unnumbered multitude who were raised following the resurrection of Jesus.  I believe these individuals were raised from “Paradise” though that distinction is beyond the scope of the message.  There is no indication that any of them returned as evangelists carrying the message of the afterlife and its glory.

6.  Just because something is "real" does not mean it is "genuine" and "accurate."

As a boy I saw an infomercial for jewelry made with "genuine diamelles."  Considering the word "diamelle" means "cheap piece of glass" :) the ring was indeed "real."  It was a REAL...fake.

Pastor, are you suggesting my experience was not real?  Not at all.  I am stating flatly, that when you jump to the conclusion that "it must be from God because it was so real" you have made a dangerous leap.  Your assumption has overlooked, among other things, the reality of Satanic activity and demonic influence.

Keep in mind, a sign is no better than the knowledge and trustworthiness of the person who posted the sign.

7.  The deceptive ministry of the AntiChrist will be propped up by the lying wonders and deceptive miracles of the False Prophet.

Study this for yourself in Revelation 13:13-14 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10.

Consider leaving Blackshear, GA and encountering a handmade sign that indicates "Turn NORTH here to get to Jacksonville, Florida."  The sign is real.  You can touch it.  You can feel it.  You can see it.  It is very, very real.  It is not a lie that the sign is there.  The problem is the real sign is telling a real lie.

8.  How do you explain a person who "visits heaven" and comes back with information and details that were otherwise unknowable?

Don't overlook the possibility that the best answer is "demons."  See 6 and 7 above.  If the Devil can quote the Bible to the Son of God then he can certainly quote your family history to you.

Bear in mind, this is the same reasoning used to prop up the unbiblical ministries of fortune tellers, palm readers, card readers, mediums, and so-called psychics.

9.  The lack of discernment in the modern church is staggering.

Many believers don't have the stomach to speak of the difference between right and wrong.  We've bought the lie of the world that the most important verse in the Bible is "Judge not, lest ye be judged."  Ripped from its context and divorced from its true meaning, we have lost our collective willingness to say, "This is right.  That is wrong."

Even fewer seem to have the ability to discern between that which is right and that which is almost right.

My desire as a pastor is that the members of our church walk in truth and experience the comfort of the Lord through His Word.  I pray we will have discernment and compassion.  I pray we will have truth and grace.  Like the Apostle John, I rejoice greatly when I find the children of God walking in truth as we have received the words from the Father (2 John 4).