Heaven is Real: Jesus Told Me So

There is a new book that has made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It’s a book about a little boy who visits heaven, meets Jesus and returns to tell the story. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back is by Todd Burpo, the father of the little boy, Colton. Todd is a small-town pastor who appears to be anything but a glory hound. The down to earth humility of the Burpo family is what makes this story appealing. Yet, this book and books like it make me wary.

As I watched the video from the Today show (which is embedded below), I couldn’t help but fear this book will do more harm in the long run. I believe it will do more harm because the Bible gets displaced. This, now eleven year old, boy’s experience becomes the standard testimony on the reality of heaven. God’s testimony becomes lesser. It’s still there, mind you. No one will reject the testimony of Scripture regarding the reality of heaven. However, to displace God’s own testimony from the center, is to reject it. If we really believed what the Scriptures have to say, there would be no market for this book. For we have the definitive word on heaven from the definitive source.

Another reason I am wary of books like this one is that it reinforces an entitlement mentality for which we must repent. Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a pressing matter, one of grave significance in your little circle of influence, and it feels like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? In the time of your, perceived, greatest need, heaven is silent. Have you ever looked toward heaven and shouted, “Speak to me!!” Have you ever wished God would just send you an email or lay it all out for you? Now, no one would ever claim that God owes them personal communication. Yet, when we grumble and complain that God does not speak to us as we wish, we are projecting an entitled attitude.

The reality is, that God has spoken to us. The writer of Hebrews opens the book by stating, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). God has spoken by the prophets, in many ways, at many times. We do not have one word, or several words to one prophet. Rather, we have many words to many prophets. Yet, He did not stop there. Verse 2 of Hebrews 1 goes further: “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus is the definitive word of God. Everything that God has purposed to say to us has been said. This truth serves as a correction to our longings for a personal word from God. It serves to humble us. It serves as an agent of death to all vestiges of entitlement. For it is by grace that any word has been spoken. The prophets of old did not deserve to hear and proclaim the word of God. It was a gift of grace that they bear His word to His people.

Did this little boy really go to heaven? Only God knows. If we find our hope and our encouragement for the reality of heaven in the stories of a little boy, rather than in the Grand Story of the revealed Word of God, there is something seriously wrong with our understanding of what we have in the Bible. If the Gospel is not hope enough, then word of a 4-yr old will do little in the long run to sustain our hope. Is heaven for real? I’ll bet my life on it, because Jesus told me so (John 14:1-4).

So if you’re inclined to read the book (or have read it), be careful. Be wary of stories that seek to displace our hope and trust in the Grand Story.

~sdg

 

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If Love Wins, I Wanna Be a Rockstar

 

Gustave Dore's etching of Dante's Inferno

It seems the internets are all a twitter about a new book coming out by Rob Bell. Frankly, I was planning on ignoring this. If this book proves Rob Bell to be an universalist, this is hardly surprising. In fact, it will be welcomed that he’s finally being forthcoming, rather than vague and ambiguous.

Despite my intentions to resist commenting, here I am (Please note that I am not commenting specifically on Rob Bell, for his book is yet to be published. Rather,  I am commenting on the belief of universalism). The reason for this is due to my daily Bible reading plan. This morning, I read Luke 12:4-7. And my thought was this: If hell does not exist or is not eternal, the warnings of Jesus are nothing more than the rantings of a lunatic. If hell does not exist, why would Jesus say this? Our only options that lay before us is that Jesus was either crazy or sadistic. If Jesus was crazy, we have reason to doubt everything else he says. We have reason to doubt all of Scripture. If he is sadistic, why do we even waste our time with him? Why would we endure suffering in this life at his command according to his example? It gains us nothing. The logical conclusion here is that without the Doctrine of Hell, the whole Bible is incoherent. And perhaps that’s the end in mind.

The same is true if hell is only temporary. It renders the Bible incoherent. What do we make of the words of the Apostle Paul, who states that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17)? Eternal glory outweighs temporal suffering. The same logic can be applied to a temporary hell. Yet, Paul doesn’t seem to believe in one. He would be insane, if he did, because he suffered greatly. He lost all things to gain Christ. He was beaten, shipwrecked, homeless, poor and imprisoned. And it was all unnecessary, if hell is temporary. Go to hell for a little while and then eternal glory. He suffered loss and gained nothing. That makes him crazy; if hell is temporary.

The solution that universalists propose for the perceived problem of God’s judgement only creates more problems. It creates a god of our own understanding, one we can cope with and handle.

Frankly, if Love Wins like this, I wanna be a rockstar. I could be a rockstar. Which is to say, I could live for myself. It’s much easier to live for myself. You don’t have to put down the computer while you’re in the middle of your post to take the dog out on a cold night when you’re living for yourself. You could ignore the needs of your wife, and still get heaven. You can rightfully seek revenge on your enemies and still get heaven. The universalists creates a world in which you don’t have to change. They sing along with Lady Gaga “I’m on the right track, baby. I was born this way!”

But I believe the Bible is coherent. I take Jesus at his word when speaks of a unquenchable flame; when he speaks of needing to be born again. I take Paul at his word when says that the unregenerate and immoral will not inherit the Kingdom. I take Paul at his word when he says he will not at all be ashamed, but that Christ will be honored by his death. I take John at his word when he says Jesus will slay the wicked with a sword that comes from his mouth at the end of time. I take the Psalmist at his word when he says that God will destroy his enemies and vindicate his people. I take God at his word when says that the Seed of Woman will crush the head of the serpent.

The truth is, I believe love has won. A holy, righteous, self-sacrificing love has won. A love that surpasses all understanding in it’s depth, width and height. A love displayed on the cross when my sin, and all the sin of all who will be saved, was paid for in full. A specific love, one that engraved my name on the palm of his hands.

~sdg

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The God Who Is

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” – Habakkuk 3:17-19

The Lord give and the Lord takes away. Our confidence is not in the stuff we receive but in God himself. He is the ultimate source of our good. He is the ultimate means of our eternal satisfaction. God is. Everything else exists at God’s good pleasure. There is why his gifts make such poor gods. They were intended to be pointers to a greater reality. That God Himself is the ultimate gift. Money, sex, alcohol, drugs, luxury, comfort…the list is endless. The very sun that warms our planet will one day be replaced by the light shining forth from the glory of God! I sometimes wonder what heaven will be like. These verses make me think that the common answers people give miss the point of the pleasure we enjoy in this life. People think that heaven will be this cacophony of pleasure; a hedonist’s dream come true. The great (or sad) axiom of the sixties will become reality (minus any consequences): If it feels good, do it! From that, visions of everything from golf, to beaches to rivers of Chick-fil-a sweet tea have been offered up to explain what heaven is like. Very rarely do you hear anyone say, “God will be there,” or “Jesus will be there and we can worship him forever!” The modern church feels necessary to invent heavenly pleasures to interest people in perhaps choosing Jesus. Choose Jesus and play free golf for eternity (I can almost hear the jingle for “The Villages” playing). Choose Jesus and see your long dead relatives who also choose Jesus. Choose Jesus and sit on the pristine beaches of heaven sipping frozen fruity drinks (non-alcoholic of course…remember, there is no booze in heaven). It is quite ludicrous when you think about it. We are peddling heaven like a retirement community in south Florida. A place where all your worries are gone and the sun never stops shining. The church is afraid to tell people that the worship of God is continuous in heaven (that line doesn’t typically bring in the masses). Too many “christians” (and I use that term lightly) abhor the thought of an eternal worship service. Perhaps those people don’t truly understand their own sinfulness. In fact, I know they don’t. When one comes to understand even a small bit of how deep their sinfulness goes…the saving work of Christ becomes that much sweeter to the saved soul. It becomes even sweeter when the one understands that salvation is not a choosing of man, but the choosing of God.  When that light has shined forth into the heart of the elect, the idea of an eternal worship service sounds like heaven.

It is scary to think about those who chase heaven for reasons other than Jesus. Sadly, they will be among those who Jesus does not know. They will be cast aside into the eternal flames of destruction because they treasured something other than Jesus. Their god was heavenly pleasure and their reward will be hellish torment.

These verses spoken by the Holy Spirit through the prophet Habakkuk will be read at my wedding. I want to remind myself, my wife and my guests that in this moment of great joy and pleasure, that God is the true pleasure and the true joy. All these earthly things are but shadows of the joys to come. I want people to cast down their selfish, pleasure-hungry visions of heaven and embrace a God-centered vision of heaven; one in which we enjoy not his things, but God alone in all his magnificent and all-encompassing glory.

-sdg