heaven

Where is the fear of God?

Where is the fear of God?

R.C. Sproul’s greatest contributions in my estimation are his works on worship. I’ve encouraged many people to read through his excellent little book, A Taste of Heaven. He observes the disjointed view people have when they separate God’s demand for reverence in the Old and his demand in the New:

One aspect of the modern church that most saddens and concerns me is that believers are no longer encouraged to have a healthy fear of God. We seem to assume that the fear of the Lord is something that belonged to the Old Testament period and is not to be a part of the life of the Christian. But fear of God involves not simply a trembling before His wrath, but a sense of reverence and awe because of His glorious holiness.

Heaven is not a perfect place

Heaven is not a perfect place

Note: It’s not very common to post writings from others on my own blog, but I have done it a few times in the past as a way of revealing my joy in exposing the profound observations of others. Tom is a dear friend, parishioner, and a capable student of the Bible. He took a single thought from a sermon of mine and developed it to something much better than I could have written.

Guest post by Tom Robertson

“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” –The Apostle Paul

“Heaven is the blueprint; earth the raw material.” Uri Brito

Uri Brito is the pastor (my pastor) at Providence Church in Pensacola. The quotation above comes from a sermon he preached a few Sundays ago. The Apostle Paul is familiar to you all. His words were written nearly 2000 years ago from an Ephesian prison. I believe Uri’s illustration may be a little unsettling to the average Christian, especially when compared with Paul’s description of Heaven as “gain” and “far better.” Now, no one believes Pastor Brito is talking about mere drawings and measurements. However, he is at a minimum suggesting that Heaven is a kind of starting point and not the finished product. After all, a blueprint is the plan, not the dwelling place. If this is true, then it follows that Heaven is imperfect. And this sounds a bit alarming.

A Place Where No Storm Clouds Rise?

Most of us – at least most of us in “the South” – grew up singing songs that promised we’d leave this world and fly to a place of eternal and undiminished joy. Our understanding was that Earth is toilsome, a place where we must spend “just a few more weary days.” We all thought Heaven to be a place where “no storm clouds rise”, where “joy shall never end”, “no tears ever come again.” Heaven was not a mere temporary lodging. Yet, scripture teaches that Christians will live in a new heavens and a new earth forever and ever. In fact, all things will be made new (Rev 21:5). We ourselves will be made new; our resurrected and glorified bodies will be fit to enjoy a renewed cosmos (Phil 3:21).

So, we will not live forever in Heaven. In fact, Heaven and Earth were never intended to exist forever as separate places. The plan was always for a unity (See Gen 1 and 2, Acts 4:21, Phil 3:20-21, Col 1:20, Rev 21 and 22). At the moment, however, we are in the midst of a cosmos which has undergone what C.S. Lewis described as The Great Divorce. When Adam sinned creation “fell”; Heaven and earth were “torn asunder” with all the resulting pain and consequences of a divorce.

The Coming Unity

It was Ephesians 1:9-10 – “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” – which occasioned Pastor Brito’s comment “Heaven is the blueprint; earth is the raw materials.” God’s plan, said my Pastor – said the Apostle Paul, no less – is to unite all things in Christ, both in heaven and on earth. It has always been the plan, which is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Neither Heaven nor Earth is meant to be alone.

Heaven is Imperfect

Does this mean that heaven is not a pleasant place? Certainly not! Paul’s confession, that to “die is” not only “gain”, but “far better” (Phil 1:21-23), settles that. To be sure, the comfortable accommodations of heaven are preferable to a sin-ravaged world. Yet, Heaven separated from Earth is imperfect – imperfect, but not defective. Neither was Adam defective. Yet, He was not perfect until joined to Eve. Just as it was not good for Adam to be alone, it is not good for Heaven or Earth to be alone. The ink pen resting on the desk is not defective, but when taken in hand, put to paper and employed by a master poet it becomes perfect. Similarly, Heaven will become perfect when it is intertwined with a gloriously liberated Earth.

So, until then, we are to do what we can to “heavenify” earth, so says my Pastor – “Heaven is the blueprint; earth the raw materials.” And if we happen to leave this Earth before Christ speaks into existence a new cosmos, we’ve been told by a reliable source that our temporary accommodations will be quite comfortable. For to depart and be with Christ is “far better” says Paul – far better, but not perfect.

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

Communion Meditation: Manna from Heaven

This marks the end of the Pentecost Season, and thus the end of the church calendar. The Psalmist says that “In God we have boasted continually,

and we will give thanks to His name forever.” This is a day to boast in the God we serve. We boast in Him for who He is, what He has done, and we give thanks because God never ceases to display His abundant love to His children. We are participants in this great thanksgiving agenda. Every time we sit and eat and drink together we are demonstrating to the world that we have abandoned a life of selfishness and pride, and thanksgiving now forms us a people.

The table of our Lord is a table of finality. The table is the final act before God commissions us into the world to serve our Risen Lord. And so as we come to the end of the Church Year, let us respond with thanksgiving, for God has led us through this journey of exile and deliverance, and now He will lead us to the expectation of the Manna who will come from heaven to be given and broken for us.

A Spirit-Body

To paraphrase N.T. Wright, “much of the evangelical world has bought into the Platonic distinctions.” This distinction includes a separation between our earthly bodies and our heavenly spirits. This distinction has vast repercussions for how we are to think about our responsibilities on earth. If this dichotomy persists, then there is a legitimate sense in which we are merely existing, rather than intentionally living out our existence.

Paul is the ultimate Plato-destroyer. He wrestles the Corinthians on these fundamental points, and concludes that the psychikos and pneumatikos are phases of the body, rather than the separation of the body. When Paul speaks of the spiritual, he is not insinuating a ghostly presence, but a body fit for the presence of the Spirit. “Spiritual” is simply a synonym for something animated or dignified by the Spirit’s presence (so too, “spiritual songs” refer to songs of the Spirit, not a synonym for praise choruses).

Gordon Fee summarizes this well:

The transformed body, therefore, is not composed of “spirit”; it is a body adapted to the eschatological existence that is under the ultimate domination of the Spirit.

The spiritual does not mean “immaterial” but “supernatural.” In this sense, every form of our existence is an embodied existence.