Monday, August 11, 2014

Heaven Blog Part One: Heavenly Hypocrisy?!

  "But as it is written:
'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'"
1 Corinthians 2:9
At the age of nine, I came to know Christ as my personal Savior.  I can still remember that day.  My mother and I were standing in church singing the old hymn, "Just As I Am Without One Plea," for probably the 100th time.  But it was different somehow on this day and I began welling-up with tears as the lyrics penetrated my heart.  I finally "got" the salvation message and my great need for Christ.  The next thing I knew, I was running down the aisle to the Pastor, tears flowing freely, and began telling him that I wanted Jesus in my heart and life.  Then I grabbed the mic to tell the whole church that I was a sinner who needed Christ and how happy I was that I finally had a Father!  So I have been worshiping the Lord now for over 35-years.  I would like to believe that in 35-years of singing songs declaring my love for God above all else, that I truly mean what I sing--that I, "get" what I am singing.   If you asked me to order the priorities in my life, I would even perhaps hypocritically dare to proclaim God as, "Number One."  The real truth is, on many days my husband and I waiver between number one and two, and God comes in at a whopping number three.  We sing lyrics weekly in church voicing our excitement and readiness to be with our Lord.  But to be honest, there are some things on this earth of which I don't want to let go and to which I cling too tightly.

As I said in my previous blog post, the pastor of my church, Jim Congdon, along with the Associate Pastor of my church, Hunter Ruch, recently preached an in-depth sermon series entitled, "So You're Dead...Now What?!"  This sermon series addressed death and Heaven, and sparked some questions and fears in me regarding both.  I am ashamed to admit that it also revealed the sad truth of my misplaced priorities, as aforementioned.  It seems that even though God has given me the free, undeserved gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and I have the assurance and blessing of knowing that I will spend eternity with Him in a perfect Heaven free from pain, sickness, sorrow and anymore death, I still actually expect some things of God for meI didn't think I had any major issues with death or Heaven--and I certainly would never have admitted any preconceived, selfish ideas or expectations about Heaven.  In fact, I have professed that I would be one of those people who would be thrilled if Heaven consisted of a constant praise and worship service (because singing and leading worship are my favorite things to do)!  I have also outwardly affirmed that I have no, "unfinished business" in my life, and feel that if the Good Lord decided to take me home today, I could lay on my deathbed knowing I have no lingering regrets.  I have lived honestly and I have attempted to right the wrongs I have committed against others.  Most importantly, since I believe the Word of God to be 100% historically accurate, true, proven to be credible many times over, and God-inspired to 40-eye witness accounts and authors, (see Proverbs 30:5, 2 Timothy 3:16, and 2 Peter 1:21), and I feel totally assured of my salvation by grace through faith in Christ (see Ephesians 2:8, Romans 10:9, Romans 6:23), I have no concerns of hell (thank You, Lord).  In essence, I have enjoyed the grand thought that should death come, I can stare it in the face and say, "Bring it!"

Over the years, I've done a few Bible studies on death and Heaven (check out Randy Alcorn's book, Heaven~it's a goodie).  I remember when I did my first Bible study on death and Heaven nearly 20-years ago now.  I didn't know my Bible that well, and at first, I found it puzzling and surprising that the current Heaven or, "Paradise," is only temporary, as is the current Hell or, "Hades," as it is named.  People typically just talk about Heaven and Hell in general terms, so that is how I always imagined it.  But apparently, the current Heaven or, "Paradise," as it is called by Christ, is a, "holding tank," (as an old friend once laughingly termed it), for the saints who trusted in Christ as their Savior until the New Earth and New Heaven (which will be combined) are ready for them.  Likewise and on the opposite end, the current Hell or, "Hades," is the, "holding tank," for those who did NOT trust Christ as their Savior until the eternal Lake of Fire comes into play for them after the final judgment. (Side-note of clarification:  This is not to say that those in Hades or Hell didn't or don't believe in Christ--even the devil believes in Christ, and he sure isn't getting into Heaven!  The key word and main difference here is that they did not TRUST in Christ as their Savior and Lord when they were living on earth and had the inexcusable chance to do so (Romans 1:20).  This means they did not ask Him to forgive their sins or accept His free gift of salvation to them by believing in His death on the cross as payment for their sins.  They did not trust by faith in His resurrection as the victory over all sin and death, attempt to repent from their sins, or admit their need for Him.  [See the following Scriptures for more guidance on the points of sin, salvation, death, Heaven, and Hell:  John 3:16-18; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; Romans 2:5-8; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 21:1-27; Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 25:31-34 & 41; Revelation 20:10-15; Daniel 12:2; 2 Peter 3:7 & 10; John 14:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Acts 4:12; Acts 16:30-31; Matthew 25:43 & 46; Revelation 20:6, 11-15; John 13:36; 1 John 3:2; Luke 23:43; Hebrews 10:26-28; 2 Timothy 4:8; Matthew 10:32-33; John 5:28-29; Revelation 19:20; John 6:50-71; Luke 13:3 & 24; Revelation 22:3; Romans 10:9; Revelation 22:12].  

Though I've had questions on the topics of death, Heaven, and Hell, I realize I surprisingly have deeper issues now.  I guess with age comes...wisdom??  Or maybe with age comes the harsh reality that death actually IS looming, and maybe it isn't the underdog I have naively reveled that it is!  It is humbling how you can go along in life as a believer thinking you are perfectly "good" on a topic or thinking you have mastered some particular sin, and God reveals that, no, you are not good.  I think when we are young, we understand death but we do not feel it.  We do not fully comprehend that it is actually going to affect us and those with whom we are walking side-by-side.  Life far outweighs the concept of death when we are young, probably due to the fact that unless fate (God) decides otherwise, we have far more time and life to live than any need to prep for death!  We may even lose elderly people we love along the way.  But in reality, when we are young death feels like a distant myth.  It's other people's problem, not ours.

It no longer feels distant to me.  Losing a lifelong friend to cancer over three years ago made it much more real--too real.  I remember hearing from her widowed husband after her death for the first time.  He shared with me that their eldest son, who was our first God-son, told him that since his mom was now in Heaven, he no longer feared death. I loved that, and I felt that in a sense, as well.  I would guess that the more loved ones you have in Heaven, the less fearful and more ready you are to be there with them.  So I wouldn't say that death frightens me, but for some reason this sermon series has brought it into a new light for me (and that light can initially feel grim and dim)!  It is a perspective I perhaps needed.  Over the past couple of months, the Lord has shown me that I actually do have issues with death and Heaven--some small ones and one big one.  He has revealed some selfishness and priority-confusion in me that also needs correction.  But for this blog post, I will focus only on the small issues (the big one needs its own post)!

Early in the sermon series, Pastor Jim offered the congregation to email him any questions we had regarding death and Heaven, and he would do his best to answer or address them in his sermon the following week, bless his heart.  I laughingly leaned over to my husband and said, "He's gonna regret that" (I was speaking of myself)!  Pastor Jim did answer most of my questions and alleviated many of my fears in his sermon that next Sunday.  But since no one really knows exactly what death and Heaven will be like (and one can speculate about the commonly unrelated facts shared from those who have had near-death experiences), and since God's Word doesn't give us loads of specifics, I have had to entrust the rest of my concerns to the Lord...and rightly so.

So here are my "small" questions or issues with death and Heaven:

1.  Will there REALLY be no more sea in Heaven?  In Revelation 21:1, John describes Heaven to us:  "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 know, I know.  You're thinking, "So this is actually an 'issue' for her?"  Yes, it is.  Being an ocean-lover, water-sports person, and huge water-seeker in general, the one thing that really tripped me up during my first study on Heaven (and every study or sermon on it since) was the idea that the sea would be no more.  I really hated (and still hate) that thought!  I don't like to think that there will be no oceanic water or sea life as we know it in the new Earth/Heaven.  Beaches have always been my vaca of choice.  Watching the tide, walking seaside, marveling at sea life, and immersing myself in that mysterious water feels like paradise and perfect peace to me.  I love to feel the sand and sun on my face and skin.  I adore the way the waves sway and tug at you as you swim through them.  To me, swimming in the ocean is a like a carnival ride without man-made reproduction.  It is as if the very hand of God is bringing delight to both your body and soul.  Being on a boat and seeing dolphins, fish, and seabirds soaring is nothing short of heavenly to me.   The first time I snorkeled, I felt as if I was in an unknown world where only God and I existed.  I have never felt silence or rest like that anywhere else.  I wanted to be a mermaid as a child, and often "played mermaid" at the pool as a little girl.  If there ever was a human fish, I was it.  I was one of those kids who had swimmer's ear every summer because I LIVED at the pool.  Water and waves amuse and astound me, and the power, majesty, and vastness of God's oceans draw me closer to Him than any other part of nature.  I believe the sea is an unparalleled, artistic wonder as much as the mountains, the jungles, the deserts, and every other beautiful biome God created.  Though Revelation speaks of a, "sea of glass glowing with fire," (Rev. 15:2), that doesn't sound like the ocean, sea life, and waves I have come to adore.  It is ridiculous, but it troubles me that I may not see tide again in eternity--it's easily my favorite part of God's creation.  

Further study revealed that there are a couple of theories on this topic. You can find well-known Christian theologians and writers such as, John MacArthur, who say that no, there will not be any oceans because in, The Bible, there are many verses suggesting that the sea represents God's hostility and curse on mankind for sin and evil, separation, disorder, violence, and unrest (Isaiah 57:20; Ezekiel 28:8; Revelation 13:1).  To the contrary, you can find well-respected Christian writers (Charles Spurgeon, for example), who believe that though there may be no more tumultuous, dividing, dangerous oceans as we know them today, that God would not completely eliminate sea water altogether when much of His beauty and artisan design is found within it.  Spurgeon wrote,

“'And the sea was no more.'” Scarcely could we rejoice at the thought of losing the glorious old ocean. The new heavens and the New Earth are none the fairer to our imagination, if, indeed, there is literally to be no great and wide sea, with its gleaming waves and shelly shores.

Is not the text to be read as a metaphor, tinged with the prejudice with which the Eastern mind universally regarded the sea in the olden times? A real physical world without a sea is mournful to imagine; it would be an iron ring without the sapphire which made it precious.
There must be a spiritual meaning here. In the new dispensation there will be no division—the sea separates nations and ­separates peoples from each other. To John in Patmos the deep waters were like prison walls, shutting him out from his brethren and his work; there shall be no such barriers in the world to come. Leagues of rolling waves lie between us and many a kinsman whom tonight we prayerfully remember, but in the bright world to which we go, there shall be unbroken fellowship for all the redeemed family. In this sense there shall be no more sea."  ~Charles Spurgeon

I would have to agree (and certainly hope) that Spurgeon is right. In Revelation 22:1-2 we read, "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." Clearly, there will be water in heaven (see also Ezekiel 47).  Though the oceans may have been affected by the curse from mankind's sin, as all of creation was tainted and somewhat cursed by sin, the sea originally was, "good," at the beginning of creation before man's sin ruined it (Genesis 1:10, "God called the dry ground 'land,' and the gathered waters he called 'seas.' And God saw that it was good").   Therefore, I believe there will be plenty of water in heaven and certainly all the creatures of the sea of which God Himself created and called, "very good" (Genesis 1:31).  I can only pray and hope that there will be waves and tide with beautiful shores upon which to walk with my Lord in Heaven.

2.  Will there REALLY be no sun or moon in Heaven?  But back up the truck!  I love both!  The Bible tells us that we won't need the sun because we will all get our light (and our suntans) from the glory of the Lord!  (Rev. 21:23, "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp").  But one can argue (and theologians do) that this verse says that the Holy City won't need the sun, not the entire new Heaven and new Earth.  There are also other verses to defend that night and day both exist in heaven (Isaiah 66:23, Rev. 4:8, 7:15, & 12:10).  I'm guessing there will be day and night in heaven, just not exactly in the way we know it now.  I'm also looking forward to having a sun-kissed look without worry of skin cancer (please, Lord)?!  Vanity...all is vanity.

3.  Do we sleep in Paradise/Heaven?  The Bible tells us clearly that we will work in Heaven but that it won't wear us out like it does now...and it will be work that we love and from which we derive great pleasure (no more toilet-cleaning, right, Lord?)!  Our bodies will be perfect, as God's Word tells us, so they shouldn't need sleep.  But I find it odd to think we will no longer sleep if God Himself rested on the seventh day from all His work creating the universe--and He was GOD!  Perhaps we, too, will just, "rest."  This one is still unanswered for me...and I really like my sleep!  I'm one of those people who sometimes even giggles with giddiness as I crawl into my cozy bed with my soft pillow and Downy fresh sheets because I know I get to snooze-away.  Peaceful sleep is a blessing from God, in my opinion.

Clearly, when we die our bodies "sleep" (or fertilize daisies), but our spirits live-on elsewhere.  Paul talks of this separation of body and spirit when making the point that he'd rather be dead and be with Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, "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."  Jesus also speaks about how our spirit will live-on in John 11:25-26, "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.'"  We read in Luke 23:43 more proof that our soul goes somewhere immediately upon death when Jesus speaks to the repentant criminal hanging on a cross next to Him: "And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'" But I am not speaking about "soul sleep" here--the aforementioned verse and other verses in the Bible tell us clearly that our soul doesn't sleep when we die.  People always say, "May he/she rest in peace (RIP)," but according to God's Word, our body may rest, but our soul has business to take care of (excuse the dangling preposition)!  Our soul goes to one place or the other (Heaven or Hell) immediately until we get our perfected bodies upon Christ's return (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), or until we face the final judgment and eternal death (Matthew 25:41).  But I question whether we will actually sleep in Paradise or Heaven, regardless of whether we are with or without a body.  If our bodies won't need to refuel because they will be perfect, perhaps we will not need to sleep.  Sigh...better go take a nice, long nap while I can!

4. Can our loved ones in Heaven see us?  Do they see our hardships, struggles and failings?  So then is there crying in Paradise (in the current, temporary Paradise)?  This puzzles me because if our loved ones are in, "Paradise," and are no longer suffering or in pain, how can there be tears? Revelation 21:4 says that the Lord will wipe away every tear.  But this is speaking of the new Heaven, not the current Paradise.  I would think if our loved ones can see us it sure wouldn't be paradise for them, at times.  Perhaps they cry tears of joy knowing the trials we face will all be wiped away soon.  As we read in Rev. 6:9-10, "And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held:  And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"  Here we read that those saints in Heaven who lost their lives as martyrs are angrily venting to the Lord that they are sick and tired of seeing the enemy and his followers able to unleash pain and trouble on the world (so they aren't in some fairy land up there without any clue that life is still hard down here).  They are ready to see evil smote and good reigning.  Pastor Jim used this verse and others to explain to us that the saints whose souls currently reside in Paradise are aware of what is going on down here.  Whether they actually see us all the time and know everything going on with us, we do not know.  But just the thought makes you want to live a better life, doesn't it?!  And if that's true, why do we not fear God more?  We KNOW He sees and knows everything.

Some questions we have about death, Heaven, and Hell just won't be answered until the day we meet Him face-to-face.  But the simple fact is, if I truly love the Lord and have the audacity to sing about my love for Him and mean it, none of my unanswered questions should really matter.  Heaven is for me (John 14:3), and God is for me (Romans 8:31).  But Heaven is not ABOUT me.  As if it wasn't enough that Christ suffered and died to keep me out of the Hell I deserved, I now expect some additional items from Him in eternity, as well?!  It is rather grotesque really.  Besides, when you look around at this earth, with all its beauty and all its flaws, you cannot help but think that God will far outdo Himself with the new Earth and new Heaven.  How could I ever doubt Him?!  I suspect nothing that I love here will come close to comparing to the splendor of Heaven and being with Him Who saved me from sin, the enemy, death, and from me.  

Come back for Part Two where I will share of my big issue with death and Heaven.  If you know me well, you can probably guess what it is--but come back anyway!  God bless family and friends, and thanks for reading.

Related Scripture:

Colossians 3:1-2, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth."

Isaiah 65:17, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind."
 (Me in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; 7.2.14)

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