All scripture is from the ESV translation unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Hope of Heaven

What sets the Christian apart from the nonbeliever is that, though both know their time on earth is limited, the Christian knows that when he dies he will have eternal life in heaven. I have seen a great contrast in our society between the mindset that the implications of this truth should produce and the mindset that the large majority of Christians have.
Matthew 7:21
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

James 2:19
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (NIV)

From these two verses alone one can tell that there will be people who say they believe in God and/or Christ but do not actually have faith. They profess faith in Christ but show no fruit (which results from faith). The root of this is that they don’t understand the gospel. They don’t understand that Jesus has set them free from the sin that entangles them and that this should produce a life change. Though this is a huge issue, it is not what I am addressing with this post.
What I wish to talk about in this post is simply the mindset that one who knows he is going to heaven should have. There are essentially three fields all Christians fit into, though they are not so strict or concrete like animals that all who belong to one field look alike and each looks very different from those in another field. It’s more like colors in a rainbow (we’ll just use the three colors with the longest wavelengths), where there might be two wavelengths of light that would be described as red, but one may be much closer to orange than the other, or you may have one orange that’s close to red and another that's very close to yellow (look at this picture if you have no idea what I’m talking about:

A man of the first mindset (red) says, “My time here on earth is limited so I want to experience the world while I can.” He is saved and looks forward to going to heaven someday but has no great desire to go there now because he loves his life on earth. His desire to serve the Lord and pursue him is not great. He is what Paul would call, “an infant in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). The extreme version of this is one who claims faith in Christ but desires to soak up as much pleasure as he can in this world, which some might describe as a very dark red but I would argue that this person does not understand the gospel and would belong in the group I spoke of above.

A man of the second mindset (orange) is what the large majority of Christians are. He loves Jesus and loves others. He goes to church regularly and may even be involved in a bible study. He is a “good Christian”. The world would be at peace if all people were in the second mindset. While all this is commendable, the Lord has much work to do on his heart because he has not yet responded to Jesus’ call to take up his cross daily and follow Him. He experiences much joy from his faith, but is apprehensive towards suffering for it. Again, the majority of Christians have this mindset.
I set this section apart because the last mindset is so far from normality and I want to break it down into it’s own subsections so that you may truly come to an understanding of what our outlook on life should be.

A man of the third mindset (yellow) says, “My time here on earth is limited, so I want to bring as much glory to him as I can, while I still can.” That’s it. This is where we all need to be. Some may say, “Only Jesus could love God that much. It’s unreasonable to think a mere man could have a mindset like that.” Really? Have you ever heard of Paul? Now do not think that he was some rare exception and that the expectation that “we all should have his mindset” is too high. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he writes, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Paul was just as broken as you or I but what allowed him to be so effective was the mindset he had about two things: the value of his life in the flesh and the importance/power/urgency of the gospel.

What did value did Paul place on his life in the flesh?
Philippians 3:7-8
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

How important is the gospel in Paul’s opinion?
1 Corinthians 9:12
12 Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:19 (NLT)
19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:23
23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

While I separated these two questions/answers, they really aren’t two separate things at all. Most people don’t see them as being very closely related, but that is exactly why our effectiveness is hindered.

These next two verses are great depictions of how Paul connects these two. My watered down versions of the verse of written in italics below the verse.

Acts 20:24
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

My life in the flesh means so little that the only thing that even makes sense to do with it is to preach the gospel to all people.

Philippians 1:21-24
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

I really have no desire to remain on this earth, but if I must, then I will do nothing but minister to people and preach the gospel.
We can also look at the viewpoint that Peter takes on suffering to understand the attainability of this mindset. Keep in mind, he too was far from perfect, as shown when he denied his association with Jesus three times.

1 Peter 4:13
13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

1 Peter 4:16
16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

I said earlier that “the world would be at peace if all people were in the second mindset”, but if all Christians were in the third mindset and truly believed that dying was 100% gain… I honestly have no idea what that would look like. Though the world would still be far from heaven, it would be too close for me to even be able to picture it.
Now, this post would be of little use if I talked about this mindset that we need to have and showed you that you could have it, but then gave you no advice as to how to get there. That’d be like saying, “You need to enjoy watching golf.” No matter how much I tell you to enjoy it, it’s probably just never going to happen. Few people ever get there, and for those that do it takes time. Just kidding. Not really.

But all jokes aside, I will not pretend even for a second that I am a man of the “yellow” mindset. I do account my life of value. My heart is not yet at the place where I would feel all joy and no remorse if Christ came back right now and where I feel that dying is 100% gain. Some days I do feel like this, but it’s not nearly as consistent as I want it to be. That being said, I cannot answer the question, “How do I get there?” from personal experience, but even if I could it would be of little value because there is an answer for this question that is found throughout scripture (which holds infinitely more weight than any words I could speak). If you want to get there, you must dwell on the hope of heaven.

2 Peter 3:11-13
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Hebrews 13:14
14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Colossians 1:3-5
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
And what about the story of Job? After learning about his steadfastness in the midst of suffering, few Christians are not humbled. He lost everything that he had (except for his wife) yet still worshipped the Lord.

Job 1:21
21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Seriously? How can someone who has lost everything still have faith in God? Well, he gives us the answer in Job 19.

Job 19:25-27
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

Did you read that verse? Read it again (…seriously). The guy lost all of his earthly possessions. His kids, his animals, his house, everything. What does he do? He dwells on the thoughts of what will happen to him when he dies and, out of excitement, it causes his heart to faint within him. That is unheard of.
I said earlier that Paul was effective because his views on the value of his life in the flesh and the urgency of the gospel, and that our lack of effectiveness is depicted in the fact that we don't see the connection between the two. Heaven is the connection, and that is why the key to effectiveness is dwelling on heaven. This will 1) change the way you live your life because you will be in constant awareness of the futility of earthly gain and 2) produce in your heart a burning desire to preach the gospel because you’ll understand how awesome heaven will be and you’ll want others to spend their eternity there, not in hell.
We know that the key to attaining that mindset is to think about heaven but that's easier said than done. Here’s a list of things you can do that I hope will help you think about heaven more often.

1) Write the word “heaven” on your hand.
2) Set the background on your phone to a picture of heaven (this picture is a sweet interpretation of what it will look like when we get to heaven and embrace Jesus:
3) Listen to songs about heaven. From the advice of a friend, I made a playlist on my iTunes that just consists of songs about heaven (see picture below).
4) Read Revelation 19-22.
5) Meditate over Revelation 19-22.
6) Listen to sermons about heaven (I love the Heaven and Hell series by the Austin Stone:
I want to end with a quote from C.S. Lewis.

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Here’s a picture of my “Heaven” playlist. Links to the songs are below.

In Exile -
Heaven Song -
You Hold Me Now -
Revelation Song -
Song of Hope (Heaven Come Down) -
Kingdom of Heaven -
I Can Only Imagine -
There Will Be A Day -
Where I Belong -
Beyond The Blue -
Take Me There -

Here are the lyrics to “In Exile”. All the songs above are awesome and have great lyrics but I wanted to share these specifically because they do an incredible job of depicting the mindset that all Christians should have.
I am an exile - a sojourner; A citizen of some other place.
All I’ve seen is just a glimmer in a shadowy mirror,
But I know one day I’ll see face to face.

I am a nomad - a wanderer; I have nowhere to lay my head down.
There’s no point in putting roots too deep when I’m moving on.
I’m not settling for this unsettling town.

My heart is filled with songs of forever -
Of a city that endures, where all is made new.
I know I don’t belong here; I’ll never
Call this place my home, I’m just passing through.

I am a pilgrim - a voyager; I won’t rest until my lips touch the shore -
Of the land that I’ve been longing for as long as I’ve lived,
Where there’ll be no pain or tears anymore.

My heart is filled with songs of forever -
Of a city that endures, where all is made new.
I know I don’t belong here; I’ll never
Call this place my home, I’m just passing through.
Pray with me.

Break my heart. Break my pride. Bring me to a place where the only thing I desire in this life is you. While you placed on this earth many things that can bring me happiness, nothing here can bring me satisfaction. I want to fall so deeply in love with you. Help me to do that. Stir my affections for you. Give me a heart to want nothing more than to show others the love and grace that you have shown me. I want to believe that dying is 100% gain. Help me believe. It’s all for your glory and for your name. Thank you.