Another Book On Heaven

Dan S. shared this article on Facebook.

It was an interesting read wrestling with a subject that I struggle with; however, I don't think he answered it to my satisfaction. Maybe you can help me out with a comment.

Heaven Tourism by Tim Challies.

I also struggle with how to interact to people recommending me these books about the people going to the afterlife after a near-death experience.

I thought the article was a good read, but I think his whole second point is off.
In the second place, the very idea of God calling a person to heaven and back and then having that person share his experience in order to bolster our faith is the exact opposite of what the Lord desires for us. We have no reason to look to another person’s experience of heaven in order to prove that heaven is real or hell is real. The Bible promises blessings on those who do not see and yet believe. Our hope is not to be in the story of a minister or toddler or doctor or anyone else who insists they have been to heaven; our hope is to be in Jesus Christ as God has graciously revealed him to us in the Bible. Faith is believing that what God says in his Word is true and without error. You dishonor God if you choose to believe what the Bible says only when you receive some kind of outside verification. You dishonor God if you need this kind of outside verification.
He discounts these stories of afterlife experiences because they are someone else's experience and then says we should just steer toward the Bible. But honestly, isn't the Bible a compilation of the experiences of others? We believe the stories shared in the Bible are inspired, but, nonetheless, they are the story of experiences.

Maybe we could argue that these experiences aren't what the afterlife will be like, but then we are taking a firm position on something that doesn't seem that significant nor clear in Scripture. It's making an issue of division out of a minor issue.

In the last paragraph, Challies flirts with the territory of saying that only Scripture is worth reading. He wrote, "The Bible insists that it is enough, that it is sufficient, that we have no need for further special revelation from God; these books insist that it is not." The Bible is all sufficient; that is true. But that isn't the reason to ignore these books. I am inspired to be more passionate toward God and his work through reading other books nearly every day. I know many of us are. That doesn't mean they are superior to Scripture. Heck, this guy is writing an article that is not Scripture trying to encourage me to think something. I wonder if he sees the irony in that. Obviously, there is room for articles and books outside of Scripture.

I would argue against these books with a different approach. Do they actually encourage people to be better followers of Jesus? If they don't, then discard them. If they do, then praise God for the experience being shared. Unfortunately, I don't see people responding to these books with a fervor to do the work of the kingdom of God. Instead, people seem to be content to receive the frosting on the cake, eternal life.

The two ideas don't have to be opposed to one another. But many who focus on the latter seem to ignore the former.

It's For The Better

You have probably heard the phrase, “It’s for the better.” We hear that after something tragic or terrible happens, after a broken relationship, or a failed attempt. The person trying to comfort you proclaims, “It’s for the better.” And then everything is better, right?

What if everything isn’t always for the better? What if that isn’t the way God works?

Take Saul for instance. God appointed Saul as the first king of the Israelites. Yet Saul disobeyed God. His greediness got in the way convincing him to not follow God’s directions to destroy everything that the Amalekite’s had. His disobedience led to God becoming angry and Saul’s removal as king. His unfaithfulness did not bring about the better.

Or Achan. After God miraculously delivered Jericho into the hands of the Israelites, the people were not supposed to keep any of the items. But the treasure was far too tempting for Achan. He secretly stashed away gold and silver. This made God so angry that he punished all the people  eventually leading to Achan’s demise. It surely was not for the better.

It’s never better to step out of God’s will. Never. Ever. It’s never better to cheat on your spouse. It’s never better to get pregnant as a teen outside of marriage. It’s never better to steal from a store, an employer, or a neighbor. It’s never better to consume too much of the wrong things and destroy your body. It’s never better to call people names and destroy relationships. It’s never better to take vengeance into your own hands. It’s never better to be lazy and not work. There are many things in life that are never better. The list could go on and on. We bring about a broken and failed reality when we give in to our own selfish desires. The end result is that we see a fallen world rather than the hand of God transforming our world into the better God has destined it to be.

How I long for the better.

What about the better that you would have experience if you hadn’t of slept around outside of marriage? Or that better that God has planned for you but your diet and disease prevents it from happening. Or that better he had in store for you but you failed to wake up and attend class. Or that better if you would have been loving toward someone rather than hostile. Or that better. Or the other better. Or that other better. It’s hard to live in the better because the impact of sin in this world is far-reaching.

It’s not always for the better. That’s what sin does. It destroys the better.

But here is the reassuring truth. When we are faithful, then we will find ourselves in the better. Though it doesn’t work with as well with just one being faithful. We all should be faithful. Our churches, our families, our workplaces, our communities, and our nation won’t reach the better that God has in store for us if only one or two of us are faithful. We all must be faithful.

This is not to belittle grace, forgiveness, and hope. When things fall apart and crumble, the Great Potter can build a new better. This actually brings those concepts into our fallen world. Nobody needs grace, forgiveness, and hope if they are always perfect. We need them when we are fallen, broken, and hurting. When we face hopelessness and despair. Grace, forgiveness, and hope are there in our darkest hours. Always.

So don’t be discouraged when things are in shambles. God has a new better. But be aware that the new better can be destroyed just like the old better was. By sin. By not doing the things God wants us to do and by doing the things that God knows we shouldn’t do. Sin destroys. God builds the better. God guides us toward the better. Remain faithful. Live in the better.

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalms 84:10 ESV).

Faith on Fire

The other day I was grilling. It made me think of belief and action. Our thoughts are like the charcoal. Our passion is like the fire. When you combine them together, you get true belief. Passion springs from the thoughts and transforms the world around them into something useful.

Too often, we just have cool ideas. Things we think we believe but we really don’t. We can tell when we truly believe something because the idea in our head starts changing the way we live.

We can see this in simple things. We actually believe water is good for us, so we drink it. You believe that the chair you are sitting in will hold you, so you sit there without worrying that you will crash to the ground. You believe reading this article is worthwhile or you wouldn’t be doing it (or maybe you are just wasting some time – thanks for taking time to read it either way). You believe lots of things, and those beliefs influence the way you live.

You also probably have a lot of things in your head that are just cool ideas. Those are thoughts that you might even think you believe, but if they aren’t changing the way you live, then you don’t really believe.

So when I’m talking about belief today, I’m not talking about intellectual propositions, thoughts we have, or the cool ideas in our head. I’m talking about true, genuine belief that fills us with such a passion that it influences the very way we interact with the world and one another.

The thing with beliefs is that everyone is trying to get us to believe what they believe. Sometimes the most adamant belief is that you shouldn’t influence others to believe what you believe. I find it ironic that some try to force us to believe that we shouldn’t try to influence others to believe what we believe.

The harrowing truth is that if we believe in the wrong things, those wrong beliefs will mess up our lives.

So we must be careful when we go to get what we believe. We should be vigilant and aware of the people and influences around us that are trying to get us to believe the wrong things. We need to develop a good routine to get what we believe. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Thomas, who gets the rap of being a doubter, gives us a good example on how to handle our doubts.

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” John 20:24-29 (ESV).

I think Thomas should have his name changed from Doubting Thomas to Verifying Thomas. Instead of letting his doubt creep in and destroy his beliefs, he went straight to the source and verified them. If you have questions on what you should believe, you should follow Thomas’ example and go to Jesus with your doubts. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean that you won’t have doubts; it means that you will head to him with your doubts and allow him to give you the answers.  

If we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it will change us. It did for Thomas. Tradition has it that he died a martyr. Thomas the Apostle was killed by a spear in Mylapore, Madras, India in AD 72.

Is your belief changing you? Do you really believe?

We Might Have Been Born This Way But...

A thought-provoking article on Lady Gaga was published at Sojourners blog: The Gospel According to Lady Gaga.

The end point is good but the illustration to get there is rocky. I think he is just trying to justify being a Lady Gaga fan.
This is what I think. I think every Christ-following church should start talking to their youth groups, saying unambiguously: We want you to be a wall of protection for kids like Jamey. Seek out and protect--emotionally and socially--every weird, weak, nerdy, lonely, queer kid at your school. We don't care if they are a goth, or a druggy, or a queer. Doesn't matter. Protect these kids. Churches should train their youth groups to be angels of protection, teaching them to find these kids and say, "Hey, I love you. Jesus loves you. So no one's going to bully you. Not on my watch. Come sit with me at lunch." That's what I think. I think every Christ-following church should start Guardian Angel programs like this, teaching their kids to stick up for kids like Jamey. Not with violence. But with welcome and solidarity. Because it's hard to bully a group. So let's welcome these kids into a halo of protection and friendship.
I couldn't agree more.

But I'm confused. In one paragraph, Richard writes that Gaga's group is so supportive. A few paragraphs before that, he states that one of the people who found comfort in Gaga's support network killed himself. Not a good example of the support network I want to encourage.

As a commenter after the post expressed, Gaga actually encourages remaining a monster rather than being redeemed and transformed. It's the "this is who I am and don't need to change" mentality. Or one could say they were born this way. We might like the beat and the feel of the music, but the message is not one that lifts people up and brings about freedom in Jesus. It gives an endorsement to remain in a state of sin.

To use the story that Richard uses, the support network of Gaga did not give enough support to Jamey. Do I wish the church would have been there to support him? Of course I do. And I bet it was. But many people don't want support or acceptance, they want approval and an endorsement of who they think they are rather than encouragement to become who God destined them to be. We were all born with a sinful nature, but we are each destined for something greater.