Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Heaven

Matters of Life & Death, 12 November 2017

Matters of Life & Death
Psalm 90:9-12

Big Idea: You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die…spiritually and otherwise.

Introduction

Death and taxes. It has been said they are the only sure things in this life. We’re not going to talk about taxes this morning. Given this is the Sunday after an election we’ve all heard enough about taxes and government and politicians! But we are talking about death. What a cheery subject! But here’s the truth:

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready?

The odds are very good that someday you’re going to die. Yes, there will be a generation of followers of Jesus who will be alive when Christ returns, but billions of people have been waiting thousands of years for that day and have all…died! People ask me all the time if I think such and such event is a sign that Jesus will return in our lifetime and my answer is always the same: we’re one day closer than we were yesterday.

If we set aside the statistically unlikely possibility we will be living when Christ returns, we must face the reality we will someday die. Perhaps the most difficult thing is we don’t know when. We all have an unknown expiration date!

The media reminds us constantly how our death could come suddenly. We might die of old age like my dear friend Harold whose life we celebrated yesterday, but we could die this morning unexpectedly as dozens did last Sunday morning in Texas. Jesus told a fantastic parable in Luke 12:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ (Luke 12:16-17)

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ (Luke 12:18-19)

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:20)

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…but it could also be the last day of your life!

We’re talking today about matters of life and death. I promise there is some encouragement at the end, but it’s so important we are prepared to die. Most of you are aware of the large number of funerals we’ve already done this year, some very unexpected. Some were ready, others not so much.

Here’s a rather poignant photo taken not long ago with two of our sisters who are now in the presence of Almighty God.

All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalms 90:9-12)

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

I know many of you are thinking, “I’m ready. I can’t wait to die and meet Jesus!” But what about those who are left behind? What will your loved ones experience as they grieve your loss? A blessed inheritance? Wishes for your funeral? Keepsake letters of wisdom? Or a mess?

Financial Preparation

When people think of preparing for their death, the first thing they usually think about is their…will. Do you have one? Or do you have a Revocable Living Trust, which has additional benefits? Are beneficiaries named on your assets? What about passwords? Is there a place people can access your login information for bank accounts, bills, and other websites? Is there a list of your assets, including insurance policies, properties, and investments? Proverbs says

A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous. (Proverbs 13:22)

My dad died several years ago of Alzheimer’s. We had years to prepare…and mom did. His transition to the next life was smooth and easy.

My mother-in-law also died several years ago…unexpectedly. When we took her to the hospital, we never imagined she would never come home. She had assets without beneficiaries, an under-water apartment, boxes of papers, and we spent needless time and money in probate court. It was a stressful mess.

If you died today, will your loved ones be grateful or grumbling about your estate? I’m not merely saying leave millions of dollars behind for your kids. Even if your assets are modest, are they organized? Are your plans written in a legal document? Will your possessions easily transfer? I might add have you considered charities in your directives as well as individuals? Do you have a “cheat sheet” with passwords for those left behind to settle your affairs? Are your financial wishes clear?

Medical Preparation

Preparation for death does not always involve death itself. Do you have a living will? A health care power of attorney? Who will make medical decisions if you are unable to do so?

Recently a member of our church family was knocking at death’s door. When his medical records were examined, he listed First Alliance Church as next of kin! Needless to say, the phone call to the church office was quite challenging. Fortunately, he survived and signed papers designating a person to make decisions should he again be incapacitated.

It is imperative that you communicate with loved ones your wishes regarding medical care, especially in regard to prolonging your life. Don’t burden others with decisions you can make today.

Are your medical wishes clear?

Funeral Preparation

Financial and medical preparation are vitally important. Communicating your desires need not be complicated, but must be done…before it’s too late

What about your body? Do you want to be buried? Cremated? A funeral or memorial service? Who do you want to officiate your ceremony? Do you have special songs you want sung, a favorite Bible passage read? Some of us will have months to consider such decisions, but there may be no better time than the present to sketch out some ideas of how you want to be remembered. Are your funeral wishes clear?

Legacy

Obviously, none of us has complete control over how we will be remembered. Even if we plan the most memorable funeral, we will have no say in how others remember us once we’re gone.

The most important thing you can pass down to your loved ones is not money or even a well-planned memorial service but your legacy, your story, your wisdom, your life. I’ve attended countless funerals and the legacy of the deceased is always apparent.

What do you want on your tombstone? He worked hard and made a lot of money? She was devoted to her hobbies and loved to shop? They generously invested their lives in the next generation, mentoring and tutoring? Their life resembled Jesus and they helped others to know Christ, too?

This is where things get personal in a hurry. Your legacy will not be established during your final breaths. It is established now, today, on an ordinary day, over the course of ordinary days, months, years, decades.

While you’re at it, write notes to your loved ones. Videotape stories of your childhood. Preserve your memories for future generations.

What will people say at your funeral?

Are You Ready?

We’ve talked about ensuring your loved ones are ready for your death, but what about you? You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready? I know many of you are, but many of you are not. You hope you’ll make it to heaven when you die, but are you sure? How can you know for sure?

First, contrary to popular belief, we don’t get to heaven by being good…because God’s standard is perfection. If you’re not perfect, you’re out of luck! Going to church and giving money to the poor, and volunteering at Cherry Street Mission will not erase the sins you’ve committed…those sins we’ve all committed. The book of Romans is quite clear:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

You, me, Billy Graham, we’ve all sinned and fall short of God’s glory, His perfection. On our own, we deserve eternal punishment for our sins, our mistakes, our rebellion against the Almighty. But this is where Jesus comes in. People often take Romans 3:23 out of context, ignoring the fact it completes a sentence…and ends with a comma! Here’s the complete sentence.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)

What this means, simply, is Jesus came, lived, and died to pay for our sins. The next verses say

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

Some translations use this word “propitiation,” a word meaning appeasement or satisfaction. Throughout history, people have tried to appease God by offering gifts, sacrifices, and doing certain practices. The problem is God requires perfection, and Jesus lived a perfect life so his death on the cross was able to satisfy, appease, and wash away our sins.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10, NIV)

Another translation uses that word “propitiation.”

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ESV)

The difference between Christianity and other religions is how they are spelled. Religion is spelled D-O…what we do to appease God. Our faith can be spelled D-O-N-E…it’s about what Jesus has done on the cross. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can only accept it as a gift of grace…unmerited favor.

You may wonder what you have to do. Simple: surrender.

We often look at Ephesians 2:8-9 because it’s such a powerful text:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Grace is a gift…the greatest gift.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready?

It my hope and prayer that you surrender your life to Jesus today if you haven’t already. He died for you. He gave everything he had to show God’s love. He wants to be your Savior—forgiving you of all of your sins—and LORD—becoming the leader of your life. It’s not that he wants to manipulate you, God simply loves you and wants what’s best for you. The Bible shows us how to live the most exciting, satisfying life imaginable…while preparing us for the next life.

Death is morbid to many, yet for followers of Jesus it can be an anticipated reunion with our Creator.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. (Psalms 116:15)

Paul wrote to a church…

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

So What?

Get your finances in order: will, passwords

Get your medical directives in order: living will, power of attorney

Get your funeral wishes in order

Get your spiritual life in order: do you know Jesus or just about him?

A message like this can be a downer, but it need not be depressing. Actually, planning for your death can be a tremendous blessing to your loved ones and even to you. As followers of Jesus, we have hope that we truly are going to a better place. Jesus said

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Heaven is where Jesus is, and those who know Jesus as LORD will be with him…forever!
"We're afraid to die because we've actually been afraid to live." - Erwin McManus
"The only proof of life after death is life before death." - Erwin McManus
Now go live like you’re dying…because you are!

Resources:

Financial Planning
 
www.chamberlain-law.net
www.elderlawanswers.com/

Medical Planning

Advanced Directives Packet (Ohio)
http://medicaid.ohio.gov/
www.medicare.gov/
https://www.cmalliance.org/about/beliefs/perspectives/sanctity-of-life

Funeral Planning

www.walkerfuneralhomes.com/plan-ahead/overview
www.homesteaderslife.com/funeral-planning
www.talkofalifetime.org/
www.nfda.org/for-the-public
www.cremationassociation.org/?page=Consumers
www.efuneral.com/

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Judgment and Rewards, 23 October 2016

Judgment and Rewards
What Happens to You When You Die?
Revelation 22:12-16

Series Overview

Heaven is for real and the Bible says more about it than we might recognize.

Big Idea

One day we will all stand before a holy God and give an account for our lives. Are you ready?

Introduction

For the past several weeks we’ve been studying heaven. Heaven is where God is, plain and simple. There is no sickness, death, or sin in heaven. It is truly paradise, Eden before the Fall, and so much more. Heaven is for real.

Unfortunately for many, hell is for real, too. The Bible is full of references to it, and Jesus himself had much to say on the subject. Hell is where God is absent.

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

The purpose of this series could be summed in two verses from the book of Colossians:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2)

God commands us to set our hearts—and minds—on Heaven.”

This does not mean we should be so heavenly minded we become no earthly good. In fact,
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

The scriptures make it clear that heaven is for real and hell is for real. Heaven is where God is present. Hell is where God is absent.

Your name. It’s important. It allows you to talk with the customer service agent on the phone (so long as you also know those special digits, the last four of your Social Security number!). Perhaps you heard your name when the teacher distributed the graded papers. Your name is used when you sign a contract for a house or purchase a car. Your name identifies you on Facebook, unique from the billion or so other users. Your name—at least your last name—connects you to parents and children of different generations. It has been said the most important words to your ear are your name.

Often names are placed on lists. For years my wife has posted cast lists after theatrical auditions, causing great excitement among students eager for a part in the school musical. In seventh grade I was heartbroken to see my name absent from the basketball team roster only to have the experience repeated in eighth grade following tryouts.

In one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy-two people to health the sick and announce the kingdom of God is near. When they return to him, they are told

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20)

This passage in Luke is one of many which describes a list of names, a book of names…the book of life. Is your name in it? Speaking of heaven…

Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Follow Jesus now…and forever in heaven.
Reject Jesus now…and he will honor your choice for eternity.

As C.S. Lewis famously said,
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

Judgment Day

One day we will all stand before Almighty God and have to give an account of our lives. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone get justice, that will be the day. Jesus said,

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22:12-13)

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:14-15)

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16)

One day, God will judge you and me—according to what we have done. He will declare us guilty of sin. Someone has to pay. It will be us…unless we’ve received the gift of Jesus who died on the cross for us. Jesus died to save us from eternal damnation, separation from God. The image of baptism is so appropriate—a water grave where we die to ourselves, our agenda, our way and become new creations, resurrected in Jesus.

Heaven

The final three chapters in the Bible, Revelation 20-22 contain so many beautiful images of heaven—and dreadful images of hell. It is said of God,

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

I don’t know about you, but if we could spend eternity here on earth without death, mourning, crying, or pain that would be amazing! But there’s so much more.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:6-7)


The greatest thing about heaven is God! Eternity with God.

The passage continues by presenting the horrifying alternative, eternity without God.


But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

I know it’s not politically correct to say this, but everything I understand about the Bible states our destiny as heaven or hell.

I desperately want all of you to spend eternity with Jesus in paradise, but it begins now. It begins with surrendering your heart, soul, mind and strength to him in this life.

Jesus didn’t die to make bad people good.
Jesus died to make dead people come to life.

He wants to be with you now…and forever. If you haven’t done so I urge you to simply confess your sins to God, turn from selfish living, and make Jesus the LORD of your life. There’s nothing greater you can ever do in this life…and the rewards are eternal.

Jonathan Edwards said when saints enter Heaven, “They shall see in God everything that gratifies love…They shall see in him all that love desires. Love desires the love of the beloved. So the saints in glory shall see God’s transcendent love to them; God will make ineffable manifestations of his love to them… They shall see as much love in God towards them as they desire; they neither will nor can crave any more.”

Heaven will be amazing, but the greatest reward of all is Jesus!

Credits

Some ideas from
The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Benefits of Heaven, 9 October 2016

The Benefits of Heaven
What Happens to You When You Die?
Revelation 22:1-5

Series Overview

Heaven is for real and the Bible says more—and less—about it than we might recognize.

Big Idea

Heaven is for real…and you won’t want to miss a thing!

Introduction

In this series we’ve been looking at the end of Revelation, asking the question
“What Happens to You When You Die?” This is a timeless question that seems to be particularly popular at the moment. Our culture is fascinated with life after death. Books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven Is For Real” have been best-sellers describing near-death experiences. Movies and even TV shows are frequently exploring the subject. And the world of comedy is full of references to heaven and hell. For example…

Heaven Humor

Two Christians have lived very good, and also very healthy lives. They die, and go to heaven.       
As they are walking along, marveling at the paradise around them, one turns to the other and says "Wow. I never knew heaven was going to be as good as this!"
      
"Yeah", says the other. "And just think, if we hadn't eaten all that oat bran we could have got here ten years sooner."

For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about heaven. To review, we began talking about how followers of Christ will one day get new bodies. The resurrection of Jesus may be the greatest window into the future. He had a physical body, but his post-resurrection physical body was new and improved—glorious—as ours will be.


We said first and foremost Heaven is the place where God dwells. It is presently not here on earth, but one day it will move to the new earth. There seems to be an intermediate heaven where Jesus is—seated next to the Father—and a relocation of that heaven to a new earth sometime in the future.

Who wants to go to heaven? It seems everyone wants to go to heaven…but nobody wants to die.

Last week I shared this quote from author John Piper:

“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 all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, 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?” – John Piper, “God Is the Gospel”

I want to look at some of the biblical descriptions of heaven. It won’t be a bunch of people with wings playing harps on a cloud! It won’t be boring, that’s for sure! It will be the most incredible place, most of all because heaven is where Jesus lives.

Do you love Jesus? If you do, you’ll love heaven since you’ll be with Jesus for eternity there.

If you don’t love Jesus, you won’t have to spend eternity with him. So much of this life is a preview of the next. Our lives now certainly shape the next life. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Jesus said to his friends

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

The ancient Greek word for “rooms’ is “monai” which is not a final resting place but a temporary stop on a journey that will lead you somewhere else. Last week we said the present heaven is like an airport layover, a place to stay for a while but not the ultimate destination.

The resurrected body of Jesus was physical, yet new and improved as ours will be someday.

The new earth will be a new and improved version of our present home.

The new Jerusalem will be a new and improved version of the city in Israel today.

Jesus continued,

You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:4

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” John 14:5

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

None of us deserves heaven. None! God is perfect and holy. Only because of Jesus can we be forgiven and reconciled with our heavenly Father. He is the way. He’s the only one who loved you enough to die for you. If you get to heaven by being good, he was stupid for letting Roman soldiers nail him to a tree!

This past week I asked a friend, “If you died tonight and stood before God and God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?” My friend said, “I’d say I have accepted Jesus Christ.” He realized although he’s a great guy, he’s not good enough. Neither am I.

Most people say they deserve heaven because they’re good, their good deeds outweigh the bad. The Bible clearly states all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s perfect standard, the mark, the glory of God. You cannot get to heaven by being good, trying hard, going to church, giving to the United Way, or memorizing the Bible. There are only two ways—perfection and Jesus. So unless you’re perfect, you must know Jesus. You must follow Jesus. That’s why he came, died, and rose from the dead—for you!!! That’s grace, unmerited favor. You can’t buy it. You can’t earn it. It’s a gift you can receive or reject. The result of your choice is following Jesus forever in heaven or rejecting Jesus forever. We are all given the choice.

We’re going to talk about hell next week. I have heard people ask, “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” The real question is why would a loving God allow sinners to enter heaven? Jesus died for every man, woman, and child…but you must receive Christ. No gift is yours until you receive it.

Speaking of Jesus, one of his best friends wrote,

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)

Have you received Jesus? It’s more than believing in your head. True faith requires action. It requires surrender and sacrifice. It’s not always safe or comfortable, but it’s the only way I’ve found to experience true peace, contentment, and joy. Many want Jesus to be Savior—forgiving them and giving them a ticket to heaven—but not LORD. LORD or Master or King is part of the package. He wants us to follow him daily. It can be hard to let go—and let God—but he can be trusted. Your life will be filled with satisfaction and hope, regardless of your present circumstances.

But what is heaven like?
Here’s a glimpse:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)

Incredible! Crystal-clear water, a throne, fruit trees, freedom, light, and most of all the presence of God! Scot McKnight wrote,

Our pleasurable experience of God now is an ultrasound image compared to the living, interactive reality we will experience in Heaven. Our communing with God now, even in our best moments, is but a black-and-white, static image of the ecstatic union we will experience in Heaven. I really must pause for a reminder. Heaven is God’s promise that, on the basis of Jesus’s bodily resurrection, we will be raised to a new kind of heavenly, embodied, ecstasy-seeking life. Once we make the resurrection of Jesus central to our view of Heaven, Heaven becomes a world of intense, ecstatic, embodied entirely holy pleasure and deep joy.

Near-Death Experiences

Much of the current fascination with heaven and the afterlife stems from the accounts of those who have died and have come back. These are most often called Near Death Experiences. They are obviously controversial since they are impossible to confirm. In some ways, they are like dreams.

Pastor John Burke did extensive research on about one thousand people who had near death experiences. If that sounds like a lot, one in 25 Americans (13 million people) have had a near-death experience, including at least one person here at First Alliance. The apostle Paul may have recorded one in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (look it up!). Stephen may have had one in the seventh chapter of Acts.

I’m as skeptical as the next person about these accounts, but one I found especially interesting. Don Piper is a pastor who was dead for ninety minutes following a horrific car accident. His book,
90 Minutes in Heaven, describes his experience.

As I always say, our authority is not one’s experience or dream or vision but the Bible. I don’t value NDEs for what they communicate about an event, but for what they confirm about the Bible. Piper wrote, “My most vivid memory of heaven is what I heard. I can only describe it as a holy swoosh of wings. But I’d have to magnify that thousands of times to explain the effect of the sound in heaven. It was the most beautiful and pleasant sound I’ve ever heard, and it didn’t stop. It was like a song that goes on forever. I felt awestruck, wanting only to listen…The praise was unending, but the most remarkable thing to me was that hundreds of songs were being sung at the same time—all of them worshiping God. As I approached the large, magnificent gate, I heard them from every direction and realized that each voice praised God…Hymns of praise, modern-sounding choruses, and ancient chants filled my ears and brought not only a deep peace but the greatest feeling of joy I’ve ever experienced.”

And this is just the intermediate heaven he’s describing! As a musician, I get so excited reading those words, not because of what Don Piper wrote, but because of how they mirror what is written in the book of Revelation.

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight says it this way:

“Near-death experiences are glimpses of an afterlife. I believe not only in an afterlife but in Heaven. I don’t believe in Heaven on the basis that people have been there and come back. I believe in Heaven because God promised Heaven and because Jesus was raised from the dead.”

There’s an incredible scene in chapter seven where Jesus’ friend John records…

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:11-12)

Conclusion

Heaven is going to sound amazing.
Heaven is going to look amazing.
Heaven is going to feel amazing.
Heaven is where God is. Do you want to go? You can!

A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."       
"Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."
      
"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"
      
"Three points?" he says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."
      
"Terrific!" says St. Peter, "that's certainly worth a point."
      
"One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
      
"Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.
     
"TWO POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!"
      
"Come on in!"

We can’t earn our way to heaven, but we can get their because of Jesus, because of his grace, unmerited favor. It’s the best deal ever! Follow Jesus today, and follow him forever in heaven.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Credits

Some ideas from
The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Two Heavens? 2 October 2016

Two Heavens?
What Happens To You When You Die?
Revelation 21:22-27

Series Overview

Heaven is for real and the Bible says more—and less—about it than we might recognize.

Big Idea

Heaven is for real…and there's more than one!

Introduction

After years of avoiding it, I recently finished a sermon series on the book of Revelation. Actually, we only covered the beginning of Revelation, Jesus’ letters to the seven churches. I learned a lot about the historical roots of our faith and life 2000 years ago.

In our new series “What Happens to You When You Die?” we’re jumping to the end of the book. Last Sunday we talked about how we’ll have new bodies in the next life, bodies like that of Jesus after the resurrection. The Bible seems clear we will have physical bodies, recognize one another, be able to hug each other, and eat. We will not become ghosts, but rather live forever in new and improved bodies. I can’t wait!

Heaven is a big deal. The Bible mentions “heaven” or “heavens’ over six hundred times! But before we dive into the Bible’s descriptions of heaven, let’s look at some creative ideas of heaven from the world of humor.

Humor

A pastor found himself wondering whether there were any golf courses in Heaven. He even began to ask the question in his prayers. One day, in answer to his prayers, he received a direct answer from on high.

"Yes," said the Heavenly messenger, "There are many excellent golf courses in Heaven. The greens are always in first class condition, the weather is always perfect and you always get to play with the very nicest people."       
"Oh, thank you," said the cleric, "That really is marvelous news."

"Yes, isn't it?" replied the messenger, "And we've got you down for a foursome next Saturday."

C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth and you will get neither.” You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Heaven is where God is. If you love spending time with God now, you’ll love eternity. If you reject God now, He’ll honor your choice for eternity. Our greatest desire should not be for new bodies or a cool mansion but for God. Do you desire God?

One of my favorite books is A.W. Tozer’s classic
The Pursuit of God. In it he wrote,

“Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token homage to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is ABOVE, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However, the man may protest, the proof is in the choice he makes day after day throughout his life.”

Do you desire God? I hesitate to talk about heaven because I’m afraid you might find heaven acceptable if God wasn’t there, basking in its beauty with little regard for its Creator.

This is true for many of us today, as Tozer noted. God created this beautiful planet for us to enjoy, but some have worshipped nature rather than God, the creation rather than the Creator.

“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 all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, 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?” – John Piper, “God Is the Gospel”

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2)

As Randy Alcorn puts it, “We cannot set our eyes on Christ without setting our eyes on Heaven, and we cannot set our eyes on Heaven without setting our eyes on Christ.

The Bible

The Bible is our authority. I do my best to preach it, but regardless of what I say, the Bible is our final authority. The problem, of course, is it’s a large book. Actually, it’s 66 books from multiple writers in several countries over hundreds of years…yet it’s one, consistent story of God…of love. Nevertheless, mysteries remain. Sometimes our understanding is flawed.

For example, the Jewish people read the Old Testament and expected the Messiah to come, rule, and reign over the earth. Imagine their disappointment when he entered Jerusalem not on a white horse but a donkey. They shouted, “Save us now” in hopes he would free them from the oppression of the Roman Empire. When he allowed himself to be crucified without barely saying a word in his defense they became even more convinced a mistake had been made. Surely this can’t be the prophesied One!

What they failed to understand was Messianic prophecy involved two different visits to our planet. He came the first time as the Lamb of God to die for us on the cross. His next visit will be radically different. The Lion of Judah will rule and reign for eternity. Hallelujah!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Suffice it to say sometimes we read a word in the Bible and think it has one meaning when, in fact, it might refer to different circumstances. Such may be the case with heaven.

We all have questions about heaven, and some of them are clearly answered in the Bible. That’s our focus for this series. For a variety of reasons, I used to think heaven was a place up in the sky (which would actually be down if I lived in Australia!). I would leave this planet and go up to heaven and live forever, playing a harp on a cloud or whatever.

That reminds me, when I was a young boy I remember lying in my bed, unable to sleep. I finally went downstairs where my mom was in the study and said, “I don’t want to go to heaven.” Needless to say, she was surprised! “I don’t want to go to hell, but heaven is forever. I can’t comprehend forever.” Mom wisely asked, “What are we doing Friday?” I replied, “Going to grandma’s.” “And what are we doing next winter?” “Going to Disney World!” I added. She concluded, “Heaven will be like that, full of exciting things we’ll enjoy forever.” I’m totally convinced you will not want to leave heaven. It will not be boring!


Where is Heaven?

Heaven is the special dwelling place. But it will change. It will be relocated. If this is news to you, it was news to me when I researched this topic. Two heavens? Simply, heaven is where God is now, the place where Jesus ascended to, the intermediate heaven. The Holy Spirit lives here on earth in the hearts of followers of Jesus, but they physical Jesus and God the Father are in the intermediate or first heaven.

After the return of Christ—which he said would be soon—and the resurrection of the dead, followers of Jesus will live in the eternal heaven called the New Earth. There’s a lot of controversy about whether or not there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on the old Earth, but we do know there will be a New Earth.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright wrote, “Heaven is not a place in our space-time continuum, but a different sphere of reality that overlaps and interlocks with our sphere…One day the curtain will be pulled back.” (
Surprised by Scripture)

Jesus is in the first heaven, but there will be a new heaven, the final kingdom of God. We cannot see the first heaven now, but the final or new heaven will be on a renewed, new earth.

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)

One question I received is, “Where is my deceased loved one who followed Jesus?” Jesus said to the believing thief on the cross,

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43b)

This is not soul sleep. The man was taken to the intermediate heaven to be with Jesus. That’s where the saints of days gone by are…in the intermediate heaven.

Perhaps one way to think of it is like an airport layover. Last year I was a part of a team that traveled to the Dominican Republic to partner with our sister churches in Santiago. We flew from Detroit to Miami. We spent several hours in Miami before boarding our flight to the island. Miami was part of our journey, but not our final destination. It was a place to wait. My understanding of the intermediate heaven is a great place when we die…but not our final home.

Scot McKnight compares and contrasts the three phases of our existence:

Life Now (Present): Earthly tent, in body; Away from the Lord

First heaven (at death):
Unclothed; With the Lord in heaven

Final Heaven (resurrection): Eternal house, clothed, physical; With the Lord in new Heavens, new earth

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi,

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Last Sunday we said we’ll get new bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body. But our citizenship is in heaven. We are citizens of a place we’ve never been! We are homesick for Eden.

Heaven is where God is. Heaven is where Jesus is. Right now, that’s not here. It’s the intermediate heaven. It’s where believers go where they die…but they won’t stay there. There will be a new earth, a resurrected earth, a new and improved version of earth as we know it.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:1-3)

Randy Alcorn notes, “God never gave up on His original plan for human beings to dwell on earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of new heavens and a new earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with the resurrected Jesus.” (Rev. 21:1-4)

Imagine this:

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Revelation 21:22-27, NLT)

Are You Ready?

Heaven will be amazing, but its most amazing feature will be the presence of God. If you passionately pursue Jesus now, you’ll enjoy him forever. If he’s just your “get out of hell free” card, you might be surprised on Judgment Day.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Communion

The good news—the great news—is that Jesus is LORD. He died to offer himself as a gift, as a sacrifice, as the Lamb of God to take away your sins and mine—if we will confess our sins and make Jesus our Savior and LORD. You can’t earn salvation. You’re not good enough (you have to be perfect). You can, however, surrender your life to Jesus, welcome him into your life, and pursue him and his will for your life. It’s radical. It’s not politically correct. It can get you in trouble. It might even cost you your life…but you’ll have eternity to reap the benefits of the presence of God.

Today we celebrate communion. We remember the sacrifice Jesus made, putting action behind God’s words of love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

He died so you might live. He lives so you might live with him forever.

Credits

Some ideas from
The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Evidence of the Afterlife, 25 September 2016

Evidence of the Afterlife
What Happens To You When You Die?
Romans 8:22-25

Series Overview

Heaven is for real and the Bible says more—and less—about it than we might recognize.

Big Idea

Heaven is for real…and followers of Jesus will experience sin-free life in our new bodies.

Introduction

After years of avoiding it, I recently finished a sermon series on the book of Revelation. Actually, we only covered the beginning of Revelation, Jesus’ letters to the seven churches. I learned a lot about the historical roots of our faith and life 2000 years ago.

Today we begin a new series that’s going to look at the end of Revelation. It’s entitled, “What Happens to You When You Die?” This is a timeless question that seems to be particularly popular at the moment. Our culture is fascinated with life after death. Books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven Is for Real” have been best-sellers describing near-death experiences. Movies are constantly exploring the subject. This past week a new prime-time television show, “The Good Place,” offered a rather interesting (not biblical) take on it.

Someone said you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. That may sound morbid, but it’s true. Of course, a small minority of people don’t believe in an afterlife, but for thousands of years many if not most cultures have believed there’s more than this life.

For the next several weeks we’re going to heaven—or heavens. We’ll examine the alternative, and see what the Bible—not Left Behind novels or church tradition—says about the afterlife.

This series will hopefully answer some of your questions. It will undoubtedly raise some new questions. When we’re done, I’m quite sure you will be frustrated by my inability to provide certainty about every details concerning the future. My boyhood pastor used to say, “The Bible is silent about some things and we should be, too.” There’s simply so much we don’t know about the afterlife—but we know a lot!

The Hope of Heaven

Why should we discuss heaven? After all, it has been said that some Christians are so heavenly minded, they’re not earthly good! Shouldn’t we focus on the here and now instead of daydreaming about an uncertain future?

C.S. Lewis wrote in
Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

Heaven provides us with hope. If this world is all there is, what’s the point? Mick Jagger has had everything the world says brings happiness, yet he famously sings, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Is it any wonder the suicide rate is so high in our nation? The more we deny the existence of an afterlife, the more miserable this one becomes. But followers of Jesus have a real hope that this world is preparation for something so much more.

Jerry Walls said, “A good God would not create us with the kind of aspirations we have and then leave those aspirations unsatisfied.”

The reality is this world is messed up. Sure, God created it good, but satan has been at work stealing, killing, and destroying it since the third chapter of the Bible (Genesis 3).

Think about this world, this earth, these bodies…without sin. No broken relationships, betrayal, theft, lies, or anxiety. No graffiti, poverty, injustice, hatred, or violence. No envy or jealousy. No divorce, abuse, bankruptcy, politics…or at least corrupt politics!!! That sounds like heaven to me.

The author of the book of Romans wrote,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? There’s great hope in those three verses alone. Are you suffering today? We all are, in one way or another. Sometimes it seems like this world is just one storm after another, striving to celebrate those precious moments of sunshine.

Heaven is for real…and it provides us with great hope knowing the best is yet to come. Wrongs will be made right. Justice will come for all. Peace and reconciliation will be everywhere. Love will win.

In
The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote that “a book on suffering which says nothing of heaven, is leaving out almost the whole of one side of the account. Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one”

I want to encourage you through this series. This world is hard…but I promise you if you are a follower of Jesus, it will be worth it. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18)

If you’re unfamiliar with Paul’s “light momentary affliction,” here’s an excerpt:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

Paul continues to offer glimpses of the future to the people in Corinth:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

As we get into passages from the book of Revelation, remember it was written to the early church, many or most of whom faced ISIS-like persecution for their faith, including impaling, burning, and being fed to lions in the Coliseum. Virtually all of us have it relatively easy compared to the millions of our brothers and sisters who have been martyred.

Let’s go back to Romans (our scripture-reading text):

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

I said this life would be great if we could just get rid of sin, but there’s more. There’s so much more to come. We will get new bodies. Are you ready for that? I am!

About two months ago my jogging routine was interrupted after I messed up my right quad water skiing. For many weeks it was difficult to walk, sit, or even lie down. I finally resumed jogging on Friday…and every day that passes I long for “the redemption of my body!” I want one without an expiration date!

The Resurrection

Followers of Jesus, someday you will receive a new body…like Jesus.

Throughout my life I’ve loved Easter. As a kid, I loved looking for my Easter basket and biting the heads off the chocolate bunnies. I looked forward to singing joyful songs like, “Christ the LORD is Risen Today” and celebrating the empty tomb. I rejoiced at the risen Christ who died for my sins and rose again and is alive. But I missed an important element of the resurrection—Jesus’ resurrected body.

Everybody wants to go to heaven…but nobody wants to die!

The truth is our present bodies will die. The death rate in our nation—and world—is 100% (there have been at least a couple of exceptions, but they were thousands of years ago). Remember, you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you?

The Physical

We were created by God both physical and spiritual. Many have wrongfully believed the physical is bad and only the spiritual matters. Jesus had a physical body. God became flesh and dwelt among us. We’ll celebrate that in a few months. But His physical body was not bad or evil. Although Jesus never sinned, he did struggle with the limitations of his body. He got sick. He experienced pain. He died.

His death was the most beautiful, scandalous moment in human history. We commemorate the day Good Friday because it was his death for us and our sins which made forgiveness and reconciliation with the Father possible. He atoned for our wrongdoings. Jesus paid it all, washing us white as snow with his crimson blood. His body was beaten and pierced…for you and me. It’s a gift we all chose to receive or reject. Have you received the gift?

Some believe Jesus was a ghost, merely a spirit. Some believe he never died. Our faith depends upon his death. If Jesus didn’t die, we’re wasting our time…and our lives. Countless eyewitnesses saw him die a brutal death. They saw him butchered and crucified. His side was pierced in front of them as blood and water poured out. Like us someday, his physical body died.

But praise God that’s not the end of the story! Jesus conquered sin and death and the grave. He rose from the dead, but unlike Lazarus, he came out of the tomb with a new body, a resurrected body. Marketers might call it “new and improved.” Jesus’ resurrected body gives us tremendous insight into the future.

After the resurrection Jesus was still Jesus. He still had flesh. He was not a ghost. He was not a spirit that hovered six inches above the ground. He did not have wings and a harp and his own cloud.

People touched him. He ate food. His resurrected body was compatible with life on this planet as he spent forty days here before ascending into…heaven (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus’ followers saw his physical body at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem ascend into heaven.

One of my professors wrote, “The Bible does not teach that the soul is trapped by the body. (In fact, that is an ancient Greek but not biblical theory.) Jesus’s resurrected body was the transformation of his earthly body, not the eradication or annihilation of that body.” (Scot McKnight,
The Heaven Promise).

Followers of Jesus will receive new bodies like Jesus received. We will eat. We will work. We will see and know one another. It will be like this life…but so much better. Randy Alcorn writes,
“To be in resurrected bodies on a resurrected Earth in resurrected friendships, enjoying a resurrected culture with the resurrected Jesus—now that will be the ultimate party! Everybody will be who God made them to be—and none of us will ever suffer or die again. As a Christian, the day I die will be the best day I’ve ever lived. But it won’t be the best day I ever will live. Resurrection day will be far better.”

Relationships in Heaven

Followers of Jesus will receive new, physical, resurrected bodies. That also means we’ll have relationships. After Jesus received his new body, he ate and drank with his friends. Our future will be filled with rich fellowship and deep friendships, the most wonderful family imaginable. Remember, without sin we’ll have no strife, envy, or hatred. Heaven will be a place of complete peace and reconciliation where everyone will be, as MLK dreamed, “free at last.” We will love God and others in our glorified bodies, feasting (without the need to count calories) and partying with music and joy. Imagine eternity with your best friend(s) in the most incredible place, a place we’ll discuss next Sunday.


Conclusion

There are many great reasons to believe in heaven. No sin. New bodies. And that’s just the beginning!

Next week we’re going to take a deeper look at what the Bible reveals to us about heaven—or heavens—and how it may differ from what you’ve been led to believe by non-biblical sources.

Leading theologian Scot McKnight says, “What many believe about heaven has little (or nothing) to do with Jesus’s resurrection, and as a result they have overactive imaginations that color their thinking about heaven.”

Heaven is where God is, pure and simple. We exist as a church to prepare heaven-dwellers. We are following God’s mission to make disciples in Toledo and beyond, disciples who love God, who follow God, who help others to know and follow God, and who want to spend eternity with God. Will you join me?

Credits

Some ideas from
The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Full Life Now, 27 March 2016

Full Life Now
John 10:10

Big Idea: Jesus didn’t just die so we could go to heaven, He died so we can live now!

Jesus didn’t just die for our future. He died for our future, present, and past. Eternity has begun.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, and it’s a life God wants to be abundant, fruitful, exhilarating, and full.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

My name is Kirk and I’m thrilled you’ve chosen to spend your Resurrection Sunday morning with us! There is no greater day on the calendar than today. This is our Super Bowl, New Year’s Day, Summer Vacation, Mardi Gras, Memorial Day all packed into one 24-hour period. Today is the ultimate celebration of life.

We often take life for granted…until it is threatened or lost. We live life day after day, perhaps wishing for a better job, better weather, better relationships, or a better car. We’ve all been fed the message that the pursuit of happiness is something we all deserve, and nearly every advertisement is designed to convince us we’re not living life to the full until we have their product or service.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up. Why are you here? No, not why are you in this place at this time, but why are you on this planet? This question has haunted people for generations. What’s the meaning of life?

Earlier we saw a promo for Alpha, an interactive exploration of this question I have experienced several times. Whether you’re an atheist dragged here today by a family member, an agnostic searching for answers, or a follower of Jesus looking to deepen your faith, Alpha is a fantastic way to deepen your spiritual life.

Life. There’s that word again.

Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Here’s the way one enemy of early Christians who later followed Jesus describes it:

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NLT)

With all due respect to other faiths, unlike many religious figures throughout history who are no longer living, the message of Christianity is that of a living God, a God who conquered death. It’s the foundation of our faith. Without the resurrection, Christianity is, uh, dead. Paul, quoted earlier, continues…

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. (1 Corinthians 15:17-20, NLT)

Today we celebrate that Jesus is alive. His resurrection surprised many, but 700 years before the birth of Jesus Isaiah prophesied that Jesus


    On Friday we remembered the death of Jesus on the cross. It’s important to remember why He died.

    “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)

    Jesus died for every man, woman and child…Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, Christian, and agnostic. He died so our sins can be forgiven. He died to pay the punishment we deserve to pay for our evil deeds. He died to reconcile us to our perfect, holy, heavenly Father who sent Him.

    This is love.
    This is life.

    Have you experienced the love of Jesus?
    Have you experienced the life of Jesus?

    The passage says those who believe—those who surrender their life to Jesus—will have eternal life.

    Years ago I heard the story something like this:

    God loves us.

    We sin and are separated from a perfect, holy God who cannot tolerate sin.

    Jesus died in our place, to forgive us, to reconcile us to God, to make us holy and pure.

    We need to believe in Jesus, receiving the gift of eternal life He offers us.

    This is all true, but it leaves one lingering question…

    What do we do now?

    If Christianity is just about what happens after we die, what do we do in the meantime?

    If Easter is about a past event and eternal life is about the future, what about now?

    Jesus said,

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    He came that we would have
    full life now. We are promised an eternity with God. That’s fantastic, but He wants us to experience full life now.

    A life with
    hope—hope that someday every wrong will be righted, that every war will cease, that justice will prevail, that peace will come.

    A life with
    joy—not merely happiness but a deep sense of contentment no trial or tragedy can erase.

    A life with
    love—unconditional acceptance from our heavenly Father which allows us to love and forgive others, not because they or we deserve it but because we’ve been given the ultimate gift of love from Jesus…His very life.

    A life with
    meaning—realizing we’re not an accident but cherished children of Almighty God who created us in His image with dignity, value and worth.

    A life with
    security—knowing nothing we can do can make God love us more than He already does…and nothing we can ever do can make God love us less.

    A life with
    grace—undeserved favor from our Father just because He loves us but won’t force Himself upon us which is why we must receive the gift of life, Jesus.

    Religion is spelled D-O. It’s all about what we try to do for God.

    Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It’s about what God has done for us.

    When my son was younger he wanted to learn about other religions. I said, “Go for it! Study other religions. We are the only ones with grace. Every religion says you must pray, study, eat or not eat, drink or not drink, do certain things…and hope God will love you. Only Christianity has grace.”

    The Bible says

    God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)

    It’s all about Jesus, His death, and His resurrection. One of the most popular songs is called “Amazing Grace.” Grace truly is amazing. You cannot earn it. You cannot do things to get it. You cannot work for it. You cannot buy it. Like any gift, you can only accept or reject it.

    Will you accept or reject the gift?
    Will you accept or reject Jesus?

    Do you want to continue to be in control or are you ready to
    let go and let God…be God and King and LORD?

    God’s love, His forgiveness, His grace…they are incredible! They are the reason for Easter. Today is a celebration of life…eternal life, full life, dynamic life.

    Are you living a full life now? I love what N.T. Wright says…

    …we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

    I’m embarrassed to say I’ve met boring Christians. That should be an oxymoron! We have more to celebrate than a sports victory, a job promotion, or a birthday. Followers of Jesus should throw the best parties…and live the best, most fulfilled lives.

    Jesus told one woman…

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25)

    Jesus is the resurrection.
    Jesus is the life.

    Know Jesus. Know life.
    No Jesus. No life.

    Ironically, many have died simply because they claimed Jesus was alive. He didn’t come to make bad people good. Jesus came to make dead people come alive. When we die to ourselves, our agendas, and our pride and fully surrender our lives to Jesus He is able to do more than we can ever dream or imagine. It may not always be easy, but we are never alone. He promises to be with us always. He promises to lead us and guide us. He promises to give us full life now…and forever.

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Parable of the Net, 23 August 2015

    Matthew 13:47-58

    Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

    Big Idea: Judgment Day is coming for all of us. Are you ready?

    Tension

    Life is filled with tension.

    Should I talk or be quiet?
    Spend or save?
    Laugh or cry?
    Work or play?

    Of course the answer to all of the above is “yes.”

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

    Pastor Andy Stanley has famously said while we often seek to eliminate tension as a problem to solve, some tensions are merely to be managed. We must embrace the “both/and” rather than the “either/or.” Frequently the tension is good.
    Last year we did a series entitled, “Covenant & Kingdom.” God invites us into relationship with Himself, welcoming His children in covenant. He also challenges us to be involved in His Kingdom activity. The tension is good.

    Today we conclude our series on the parables of Matthew 13. Like the parable of the weeds, it exposes a tension between extremes much like the wheat and the weeds, the good and the bad. How do we deal with the tension? How do we live in the tension?

    “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like…(Matthew 13:47a)

    Again Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven. Notice He doesn’t say this is what heaven is like, but rather the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not a place; it is not the kingdom in heaven but the kingdom of heaven, wherever the rule and reign of God takes place. On a related note, the Bible doesn’t teach the end of this world, but rather the end of the age.

    We live in the in-between, between the now and the not yet. It can be awkward. This week I was with a group of pastors and the subject of healing came up. Does God heal today? One pastor said, “God always heals. Someday we will have new bodies with no sickness, death, or disease.” While it is true that someday God will heal, sometimes He heals our present bodies in our present life…but not always. Why not? I don’t fully understand.

    What I have learned in our daughter’s journey is that although God did not heal her in the way we wanted or the timing we wanted, she is more fully alive today than ever before, filled with faith, peace and joy, and this past week she was not only walking but swam for the first time in about three years at the beach! Praise God! The kingdom of heaven is so present in her life and I’m thrilled to see it daily. Once again, thank you for your prayers and support of her and our family. God does answer prayer!

    "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. (Matthew 13:47)

    Have you ever fished with a net?

    There are many different fishing methods. The most common today probably involves a pole, line, hook, and bait. The bait goes on the hook which is on the line which is on the pole and the bait is cast into the water to attract hungry fish.

    A variation on this is fly fishing, made famous in the movie
    A River Runs Through It in 1999. My understanding is instead of the bait gently resting below the surface of the water, it moves above it.

    A family legend has it that my cousin developed a unique way to fish…at Greenfield Village. He saw some nice fish in one of the ponds, attracted the fish with popcorn, and smacked them with his wallet before removing them from the water! I don’t recommend this action as it is cause for removal from the park!

    In all of the mentioned methods of fishing, the goal is to catch one, nice fish. If the fisherman—or fisherwoman—is unsatisfied with the result, the fish is tossed back into the water and work begins again on finding a suitable fish.

    Jesus’ parable describes a different type of fishing. A dragnet is placed in the water and multiple fish are caught at once.

    "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. (Matthew 13:47)

    In most of my fishing expeditions, the thought of catching even one, small fish is exhilarating since usually I catch nothing. I can’t imagine multiple fish, let alone multiple fish at once!

    This type of net used to be the most important fishing method. The net was “shaped like a long 750 to 1,000 foot wall, upwards of 25 feet high at the center, and 5 feet high at the ends. The foot-rope was weighted with sinkers, while the head-rope floated with attached corks, enabling the net wall to be dragged toward shore by both ends, trapping fish inside.”*

    *Wilkins, Michael J. (2009-05-26). The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew (p. 489). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

    "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. (Matthew 13:47-48)

    Like the wheat and the weeds, the good and bad fish are taken together and then separated. For a season, the good and bad coexist. They are not quarantined. This explains much of the tension in our world. Despite the desires of some to escape from reality and create a utopian society apart from sin and evil, it is inescapable.

    "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50)

    Surely Jesus didn’t say this! Jesus is all about love and happiness, right? People have tried to rationalize away these words, but I think Jesus meant what He said. Good and bad may coexist, but Judgment Day will separate them. The destination of the wicked is described as a blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    John MacArthur notes, “Jesus spoke more of hell than any of the prophets or apostles did-perhaps for the reason that its horrible truth would be all but impossible to accept had not the Son of God Himself absolutely affirmed it. It had special emphasis in Jesus’ teaching from the beginning to the end of His earthly ministry. He said more about hell than about love. More than all other teachers in the Bible combined, He warned men of hell, promising no escape for those who refused His gracious, loving offer of salvation.”

    This is a warning, friends. Jesus never said all roads lead to heaven. In fact, He said

    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    Jesus did not say everyone goes to heaven when they die. He said essentially we choose in this life whether we want to spend eternity with God or apart from God in the next life.

    The thing about warnings is they can be ignored but the consequences are the same.

    This past week was the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf. I heard a woman tell of the decision her and her husband made to ignore the warnings. They stayed in their house, the storms came, the roof crashed upon them, her husband beside her did not survive, and she found herself in a tree clinging to her life for six hours. Six hours in a tree! I wonder how many times she thought, “I should have listened to the warnings.”

    For two thousand years—or more—God has been issuing warnings, yet so many ignore them. Friends, don’t ignore this warning. I’m not saying this to scare you but merely to warn you—Judgment Day is coming. The good fish and bad fish will be separated.

    As a good fish, it can be frustrating to see the bad fish doing bad things without justice, but justice is coming. Right now all are receiving mercy, but someday all will receive justice.

    But just a moment. I said, “As a good fish.” The reality is we’re all bad fish! John wrote

    If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

    All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, His standard of perfection…which is why we need grace! We need sanctification, the process of becoming like Jesus. We need the Holy Spirit to strengthen us when are tempted and resist the devil. We need forgiveness so we can forgive others. We need love so we can love.

    We’re all bad fish but the gospel is we don’t remain bad fish. Jesus is LORD and as we submit to His Lordship and follow Him we are transformed. We
    can change!

    Another Parable?

    The thirteenth chapter of Matthew continues…

    “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

    “Yes,” they replied.

    He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)


    Earlier they had no clue what Jesus meant by the parables! The disciples will teach what Jesus taught them, both the ancient scriptures and HIs modern parables and teaching. They have received a treasure from Jesus they are to pass on to future generations of disciples, including us. They are to know, experience, and teach the kingdom.

    Today we are ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven, the greatest treasure of this world, and each day we should repeatedly give thanks for the incredible value of this gift that we handle, our source of true joy.

    Final Words

    The thirteenth chapter of Matthew concludes…

    When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.

    But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

    And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matthew 13:53-58)


    Some people don’t know Jesus. Others think they know Him too well! He’s nothing special, just Joe’s son.

    Jesus once asked His friend, “Who do people say that I am?” People had many views of Jesus then…and they still do today.

    He’s a prophet.
    He’s a teacher.
    He’s a radical.
    He’s a nice man.
    He’s God but not human.
    He’s human but not God.

    Jesus declared in word and deed both His humanity and deity. He is fully man and fully God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the only way to the Father. He died and rose again. He is alive today, preparing a place for us.

    We don’t have time to unpack this last verse, but unbelief limited the power of God. Remember, faith is not merely something in your head. It requires action. Could it be that our lives lack faith and, therefore, God’s power is limited?

    So What?

    1. We all need grace. We’re all bad fish, made good not by our actions but the actions of Jesus. It’s not what we do that makes us good fish but what Jesus has done. Hallelujah!

    2. We need to warn the bad fish about Judgment Day. It is coming whether people deny it or not. Ignoring hurricane warnings does not stop the storm.

    3. It’s easy to miss Jesus. Familiarity breeds contempt.

    Michael Wilkins writes, “Rejection of God’s gospel message through his prophets has not ceased. Much of the secularist Western world is also familiar with Jesus. They pride themselves on being ultramodern or postmodern and cannot conceive how such an ancient message is relevant to our world. Jesus is like a comfortable old shoe that they can sing about at Christmas, but he isn’t serviceable for everyday life.”

    One reason we gather each week is to be reminded of God’s amazing grace so it can transform us and those around us. We need to get Him out of the little box we call “Sunday morning Messiah” or “historical figure” or “SOS when I’m in trouble” and recognize King Jesus as LORD, 24/7/365.

    Credits

    Some ideas from
    The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew by Michael J. Wilkins, Zondervan.

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    The Biggest Party Ever! 20 March 2011

    Big Idea

    God is preparing the greatest party ever! We are not only invited, we are to distribute invitations to everyone around us.

    Scriptures

    On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. - Isaiah 25:6-8

    Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:

    “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

    Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

    But they paid no attention and went off — one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

    Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. - Matthew 22:1-10

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

    But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
    - 2 Peter 3:8-13

    Notes

    For the past several week’s we’ve seen how God lost something, and He wants it back. That’s the theme from Genesis to Revelation. People think the Bible is a complicated book. Not really. It’s a deep book with a simple plot. It’s a straight-up love story. It’s a romance. The Father created a Bride for the Son. In Eden, that bride was seduced away by a deceiver. But the Son came into that Garden and vowed to fight to win back His precious bride. You’re no throw away. You’re worth fighting for. And that’s what the whole Bible is: The story of the Son’s fight to recapture His bride. When that battle is over, when every last person who will come back to the Son has come back, the Father will throw the biggest party ever – a wedding party.

    When this party happens, death is dead. Tears are gone. Sadness and mourning have no place at the table. It will be time to celebrate, because the search and rescue mission has been completed. People from every tribe and tongue and nation will party with God!

    The whole Bible is a romance story. God lost something . . . and He wants it back. But what we learn when we examine the plot more closely is that what was lost was the bride for the Son. The King wanted a bride for His Son. We, humanity, were supposed to be that bride. We were not just “made for God.” We were “made for Jesus,” to be His very own possession, His bride. When the serpent came into the Garden of Eden, he stole away the heart of the bride from the Bridegroom. But the Bridegroom has been fighting ever since to win us back. Right now, the Father is sending out invitations to fill up the wedding hall for His Son. People everywhere are being invited into a relationship with God that gives them a ticket to the greatest party ever.

    You know what E.A.C.H. really is?
    It’s the King’s servants going to the streets to invite people to come to the wedding banquet of the Son. That‟s what we‟re doing. Handing out invitations to the greatest party ever. Many people will come. And many others will find excuses as to why they don‟t want to come to the Son‟s party. But our job is to be the inviters. The wedding hall will be filled with guests. God will see to that. Our job is to hand out the invitations: COME TO THE WEDDING BANQUET!

    This explains why the entire story of the Bible ends with the biggest party ever – the wedding party for the Son and His bride. All of human history is moving toward this event – this massive wedding party. The Father will see to it that the Son WILL have His wedding day. He WILL have His bride. Everything in history is driving toward the fulfillment of this plan. The Son WILL be united with His bride, forever. That‟s what the last book of the Bible is about. The wedding of the Son and His bride.

    When you read through Revelation, you can feel the anticipation building toward the wedding party of the Son. In fact, the actual title of this last book is: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This last book is The Unveiling of Jesus Christ. The end of human history, as we now know it, is The Presentation of the Bridegroom.

    Where is God right now? He’s waiting for more to come, for more to be found. And He wants to use US to do that finding. This is our job. This is what Jesus told the church to do. (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:1-8).

    And then, when He sees fit, the time will be over. The day of salvation will have ended.

    Podcast

    You can listen to the podcast here.

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