Heaven - Resources
I hope that you're enjoying this 31 day series. I'm writing it a little slower than I thought, but I'm thankful for those of you that are patiently bearing with me through it. I thought I would share a few resources for further reading about heaven while we continue this series. Here are some books and blogs for the journey.
Heaven by Randy Alcorn - an encyclopedia of sorts about heaven. Alcorn points to specific Scriptures as he answers common questions about heaven.
Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings by Elyse Fitzpatrick - a wonderful little book about heaven and how it satisfies our deepest longings.
Coming Home: Essays on the New Heaven and New Earth - precisely what the title says - a set of essays written by theologians about the new heaven and new earth.
Eternal Perspectives Ministries Blog - Randy Alcorn's blog focused on having a perspective on life focused on eternity with the Lord.
The Lord's Rest
One of the things that I look forward to the most in heaven, will be entering God's rest. An eternity of restful work and play. Can you imagine? Have you ever had a day that was full and fulfilling and yet felt restful? God's rest will be far better than we could ever imagine.
In the Old Testament, after God delivers the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he promises to bring them to the long awaited Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. However, due to Israel's sin, the wander the wilderness for forty years before the Lord delivers them to the Promised Land, and as Joshua leads them in entering the Promised Land, they enter a land of rest. It is a land where they are no longer slaves, and they are free to live and worship God.
But this Promised Land was not the land of forever rest. Israel's sin and disobedience of God's commands led to a history of struggle within this land.
This Promised Land foreshadows a better land and a better rest to come:
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11)
There remains a Sabbath-rest for God's people.
A rest from our works just as God rested from his works.
It is a rest that is to come, but it is a rest that we must make every effort to enter and we enter it by resting in God's grace.
Israel celebrated a weekly Sabbath - it was a time when they rested from work and gathered together to worship the Lord.
A greater Sabbath-rest is coming for God's people, a rest that we will be a rest from works. But the thing is we can experience glimpses of this Sabbath-rest now when we rest on God's grace through Jesus Christ instead of our works.
Even though we may have glimpses of this future rest now, we should make every effort to enter this future Sabbath-rest.
The Best Rest
Think for a minute about the best rest you ever had.
What was it like?
Was it a time of quiet and peace after a long and busy week? Was it a night of much needed sleep? Was it a time with family and friends that brought encouragement and refreshment to your soul?
When our culture thinks about "rest" a number of things often come to mind: sleep, not having to-do's, vacation time, off the clock time, or binge watching Netflix, or doing something all together restful and refreshing like a hobby. We have a lot of ideas about rest, and a lot of people even dream about taking time for rest and refreshment, planning vacations months or years in advance or even guarding a Saturday with nothing to do.
But if we're honest, these things often do not turn out to be restful. We guard Saturday to rest only to find out that our car needs to go into the shop or another pressing matter comes up. We spend time planning vacations only to get sick while there, or we need a vacation when we come home from our vacation that has been fuller than we expected. We spend hours binge watching a show, only to be reminded of the laundry we didn't do or the tasks that didn't get done. Things that we expect to be restful actually turn out to not be very restful.
We wonder if we ever will experience true rest and refreshment.
But then we catch glimpses of it. When our heart is encouraged after serving a neighbor. When we listen to a beautiful song. When we have a rare moment of quiet. When our plans change and we're free to explore before an appointment.
Our hearts want rest after working heartily, but it often alludes us.
Or we haven't experienced rest in a while and it makes working hard even harder.
What if I were to tell you that heaven will be the best rest you have ever experienced, but it will not be a rest without joyful and fulfilling work?
The Lord's rest will be a rest unlike we have ever experienced.
We'll learn more about it tomorrow.
When He Said "It Is Finished"
I've heard it said that only God checks everything off of his to-do list everyday. This is a slice of humble pie for someone like myself that tries to do everything and cross everything off of my to-do list. I don't know about you, but I start my day hoping to accomplish more than I actually can accomplish. Then I get to the end of the day and feel a sense of defeat when I don't live up to completing my list. But it is true: God is the only one that accomplishes his to-do list everyday - unless you keep a minimal to-do list.
The principle is this: God is the only that can perfectly accomplish what he sets out to accomplish, and his purposes are always accomplished.
Me? I'm very different from God. I don't know about you, but most of my life never feels accomplished or completed. After I finish a task, I need to do it again next week. I might check laundry off my list, but then I need to do it again. My work is never finished or accomplished... at least in this life.
Right before Jesus died on the cross, his last words were "It is finished" (John 19:30) And he meant it. God's mission to saving people from their sin was accomplished as Jesus gave up his life on the cross. Jesus' work was finished.
Because of Jesus, it is finished. We cannot earn our salvation. Salvation is freely given through faith in Christ, and because of Jesus' salvation, we have the hope of being able to enter God's rest.
Most people live their lives longing for things to be finished, but other than salvation in Christ, most things feel unfinished. We're working towards the end of the project, so we can rest only to have a new project. People work hard for the first 60 years of their lives to rest for the last few years. We're always working to finish and longing for rest.
Because of Jesus' finished work on the cross, the greatest rest we can imagine, God's rest, is offered. We'll talk about God's rest tomorrow.
From Death To Life
The resurrection of Christ is at the heart of the gospel. Without Jesus' resurrection, there would be no hope for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but because Jesus defeats sin and death, there is great hope for us in following Jesus.
Image the disciples. They witnessed Jesus dying a gruesome death on the cross. They watched him die, and then three days later they saw his resurrected body. The resurrection of Christ is what led them to give their lives for the gospel to the point where most of them were martyred. The hope of the resurrection is the reason many Christians endure the intense pain and suffering that comes with persecution.
The resurrection changes everything, and it gives us a glimpse of eternal life with Jesus.
It's also the fulfillment of God's promises.
The resurrection of Christ gives us hope in this life to know that any hardship, suffering, or persecution we face in this life, will not compare with the glory to come.
God's Very Good Plan
Paradise was lost in the garden, but that was not the end of the story. It was just the beginning. God would come in flesh as his Son, Jesus, and bring a redemption unlike anything anyone has ever seen. He would redeem man's sin by his death on the cross, but Jesus didn't just die. On the third day, he rose again, defeating sin AND death.
You see, when Adam and Even first sinned, they were cursed. Adam's work was cursed and Eve's relationships were cursed. Work would be hard for Adam, and childbirth and her relationship with her husband would be hard for Eve, but that was not all! They once had eternal life, but their sin led to death. They were made to live forever, but their lives would one day come to an end.
That was not how God originally made things, which is why death affects us so much, because we know that it's not how things should be. But that's not the end of the story.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that God "has put eternity into man's heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and we know this to be true. It's why we go to great lengths to live longer, to avoid death. It's why we live as if we will live forever until this world disappoints us or our body fails us and reminds us that we are dust and we will return to dust.
But that's not the end of the story.
The story continued when Jesus rose from the grave, proving that God himself is Master over death. The resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith, and it is because when we are united with Christ in life, we will be united with him in death. If we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, not only will we join in in eternity, but we too will one day rise from the dead.
It All Started In A Garden
I hope that you're enjoying this series, and that it's making you think about heaven in a new way. More specifically, I hope it's helping you to explore what the Bible actually says about heaven and not just the images that our culture offers.
Yesterday, we explored more of what it means that heaven will actually be the new earth in the future, and I hope that makes you begin to long for it and imagine what it will be like, but to fully understand the wonderful and amazing hope of the earth being made new, we have to first understand where it all began.
In the beginning... I'm sure you know where I'm going... God made everything and he spoke it into being. When he made the earth, it was perfect, and he proclaimed that it was good (read Genesis 1 and 2). God made mankind in his image, and he made the first woman from the first man only after giving the man a responsibility over God's creation. The first woman and the first man walked in the garden with God. It was perfect. Perfect relationships. Perfect community and communion with God. They saw God face-to-face.
But then the serpent tempted Eve and she ate the fruit of the one tree that she was told not to eat in the garden. She offered the fruit to Adam, who ate it as well. Their minds were opened to the knowledge of good and evil, but they were now separated from God and from each other. They were filled with shame. With one choice, the first sin, their perfect relationship with God, and their perfect garden-home was lost.
I think we're so familiar with this story that it's gravity is often lost on us. Imagine paradise, living and dwelling with the Maker of the Universe, being perfectly loved and cared for by God, enjoying daily fellowship with Him, a perfect relationship with your spouse, fruitful and rewarding toil with your work, and in one moment it is all taken away because of eating a piece of fruit that you were told not to eat.
Paradise is lost, and it seems like there is no hope to recover it. But God has a plan, and it began in the garden and led to a cross.
Paradise was lost, but it will be remade.
It's Not What You Think
Yesterday, we looked at how heaven will actually be on the new earth in the future, and this might raise some questions in your mind. Growing up, I always thought of heaven as an etherial place that is more spiritual than physical. I've heard others talk about heaven as a place where "we'll all just fly around with the angels and just sing to God for eternity." I can't emphasize enough that this is not what heaven will be like, and the Bible testifies to this.
I recently read a book by Randy Alcorn called Heaven, which is like an encyclopedia of references in Scripture to what heaven will be like. While there are many things that we do not know about heaven, there is much that the Lord has revealed to His people. Randy Alcorn does an excellent job answering questions that many have about heaven, such as "Will I recognize those that I love?" It's a helpful book for those that have a lot of questions, and it actually inspired this series.
One thing that Alcorn does an excellent job explaining from the Scriptures is that the image that most people have of heaven is that on the intermediate heaven - it's the place where those that die will go to be with the Lord BEFORE the earth is made new. When most people think of heaven, they are actually thinking of the intermediate heaven.
This is why heaven is not what you think. Heaven will not just be a spiritual place outside of earth. One day the new earth will literally be heaven, and the earth will be as it was always intended to be: perfect.
Can you imagine a perfect earth? A place where work and relationships are no longer tainted by sin? A place where God dwells with man, and we will see him face to face? It will be greater than we could ever imagine.
As I write this series, I hope that you're starting to get a fuller picture of what heaven will be like, and that it makes your heart long for it more and more. I am convinced that a right perspective of heaven and eternity with the Lord helps us to live a life focused more on the Lord than on what this current world has to offer.
Again, heaven is not what you think. And if you want to learn more, I would recommend reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn and even It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die by Jefferson Bethke. They both offer helpful perspectives on heaven from the Scriptures.
The Ultimate Fixer Upper
November 21 marked the beginning of the last season of Fixer Upper, an HGTV show hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines, who renovate homes in Waco, Texas in their typical modern farmhouse style. This show has fascinated millions with every episode as they take fixer-upper homes in Waco and bring them back to life through renovation.
Chip and Joanna Gaines are in the business of renovation. But did you know that Jesus is in the renovation business as well?
Chip and Joanna Gaines renovate homes. Jesus is renovating the hearts of mankind and one day, the earth will be "renovated" as well.
When asked about heaven, most people think of heaven as an etherial, other-worldly place. Many often think of heaven as more spiritual place than a physical location, but when Jesus talks about heaven, it's in a very tangible and physical way. We already looked at the Scripture in which Jesus talks about heaven as if it is a house. But this image is not something that only Jesus talks about.
A major theme of the old Testament (and the entire Bible for that matter) is the idea of God coming to earth to dwell with man. One day there will be a New Jerusalem, a new city, and God will dwell with man there. This theme resonates throughout the entire Old Testament, and it is a promise that God's people often longed to see fulfilled, but this theme is further expanded upon in the New Testament. Let's look at a passage from Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
In this passage, John is sharing a vision that he receives from God of what will take place after the final judgement, when everyone dead and alive will stand before the Lord and be held accountable for all that they've done. After the judgment, the earth will be made new, and it will be where God and man dwell together.
We will talk about this more tomorrow, but essentially what we think of as "heaven" will actually be on the new earth. It will be a real and physical place, and it will be perfect and completely new.
The earth is God's renovation project. While sin has corrupted the hearts of mankind and the earth as a result of sin, one day all will be made new and made right. God's renovation project will be complete and it will be beautiful.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
One of the first blog posts that I wrote almost four years ago was a reflection from my time at the Biltmore Estate called: America's Largest Home to God's House in Heaven.
After sharing yesterday's post (Home) for this thirty one day series, I realized that this topic is one that I already shared about a few years ago, and it's a topic that keeps coming full circle - heaven will be greater than even the most spectacular and luxurious home we can imagine.
The earthly comforts of this world pale in comparison to the glory to be revealed by God when those that worship him will join him in eternity.
Let that sink into your mind today.
Also, take some time to check out my reflection from visiting the Biltmore.
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