Category: Heaven (Page 2 of 5)

Where is Jesus? Part Two

RightHandJesusCloudsOne of the very first things Jesus did when he “sat down at the right hand of God” was send us his Holy Spirit. Christ Jesus our Lord is in heaven — his physical body, resurrected and glorified, his human-self is in heaven. But because of his Holy Spirit, our Lord is also present with all of us right here in this world today. He’s right here with us.

As he’s ascending, Jesus promises his disciples:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8

And then it happened. Peter and the apostles experience it on the Day of Pentecost and then they proclaim it:

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” ~Acts 2:32-33

Jesus could not send God’s Spirit until he had returned to the Father. He could not be present with his followers and live inside his followers until the ascension. And what it means for us right now is that Jesus is right here with us!

Before the ascension, you had to go where Jesus was. If you wanted to be healed, if you wanted to ask for something, if you wanted to eat with him, if you wanted to be taught or to be in his presence, if you wanted to be saved, you had to go to Jerusalem or Galilee; you had to go where Jesus was. But now he ascends to his throne in heaven at the right hand of God and he rules in a cosmic, universal way. Jesus is still in his physical body, but because of the Spirit, he’s no longer restricted by the barriers of time and space and matter. Our Lord Jesus is everywhere!

RightHandGoingUpChristians do not have a mecca. We don’t believe there’s a place on earth where God’s power and the presence of Christ is more concentrated. We don’t believe the power of God resides in stronger ways or better ways in some places than in others. Not even at ACU, no matter what people from Abilene may tell you. Christ Jesus is no more present with you in the mountains of Angel Fire or at the temple mount in Jerusalem as he is right now at your desk or your kitchen table. Or inside your soul. Jesus is both reigning physically at the right hand of the Father in heaven AND reigning spiritually, and just as real and powerfully, inside us. Here with us. It’s both.

Now, there’s a lot of theology to be done here. This is physical AND spiritual, it’s right now AND future. There’s a lot of deep thinking and reflecting that needs to happen. The ascension of Jesus is a foundational doctrine of the Christian faith, and what we believe about where Jesus is and what he’s doing has far reaching implications for us. What we believe about this will truly impact how we behave. It’s vitally important.

We’ve talked this week about where Jesus is and what he’s doing. Now, where are we in this? What are we doing? Let’s address that tomorrow.



God’s Perfect Presence


“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.'” ~Revelation 21:3

What really makes the New Creation “new” is the immediate presence of God. In Act Six of the Story of God, the perfect presence of the Creator fills all the earth with his radiant glory. God with us. Finally. Face to face with the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Finally. When all evil is destroyed, when God’s Kingdom arrives in its fullness, God’s holy throne comes down here. God finally does what he’s promised to do all along: He makes his dwelling with us. He lives with us.

“They will see his face.” ~Revelation 22:4

Imagine life in the physical, visible, intense presence of God. No more fear. No more guessing. No more doubt. This is life in the fullest sense of the word, eternal life joined together with its eternal source. All sorrow and suffering, pain and death, are banished forever in God’s presence. And God himself “will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Isaiah predicted this. John sees it happen. God will wipe every tear from their eyes. How could you ever more vividly depict the love of God for his people?

How does the Story end? This is exactly how it ends.

“These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” ~Revelation 22:6

Icon6It’s going to happen. This perfect ending to the Story of God is coming. And this final act peppers us repeatedly with instructions in light of the certainty of God’s Perfected Kingdom: keep these words, do these words, don’t add to this, don’t take away from this, keep your robes washed and clean, because Christ is coming. These words and images are intended to inspire us and thrill us; they’re supposed to teach us and assure us. But this is also an invitation. This last part of the Story begs us to get into it. This is a call to discipleship because of it. This is an invitation to join the Story, to jump into the Story, to set your GPS on “New Creation” and go to it!

Act Six gives all of us a great hope. And, by hope, I want to very clear on this: I mean knowing that what our God has started, he will finish. What our God has promised, he will deliver. Our faithful God is bringing this whole thing to completion.

“Behold! I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” ~Revelation 22:12-14

Our hope is not about wishing this true. It’s knowing how the Story turns out.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

God in Christ will take his people to himself. He will. God will bring us to himself, he will take us in with him, and he will live with us. Act Six will never end. God’s Story will never end. Your story will never end.

This is what we believe. This is why we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” ~Revelation 22:20




It Is Done

The magic number is two. If the Rangers win two of the four games against the Angels in the final regular season series that begins tonight in Arlington, they’ll win their first division title since 2011. They’ll also clinch the championship if they win only one and the Astros lose at least one of their three games in Arizona starting tomorrow.

This won’t be easy. The Halos are 10-5 against Texas this year. And, remember, Texas led the A.L. West by two games with four to play in 2012 and blew it, going 1-3 against Oakland and losing the division on the last day of the season.

The good news may be that LAA got seven of those ten wins against the Rangers before the All Star break. Texas was throwing guys like Ross Detwiler, Nick Martinez, Anthony Ranaudo, and Wandy Rodriguez at the Angels during the first half. Since then, the Rangers have added Derek Holland, Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson to the pitching staff and have gone 3-3 against the Halos. Colby Lewis is the only starter from the first half of the season who is still in the team’s rotation. And, if this thing is still undecided by Sunday, Texas will have Hamels up and ready against a team that’s never faced him.

Four games to play. The magic number is two.


World2-ArtAct Six of the Story of God is not about getting a person’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven when we die. Yes, that’s a very important means of God’s salvation, but that’s not the final end. That’s not the ultimate purpose. God is putting the whole world right. He’s renewing and restoring all of Creation. This is not salvation from the world; this is salvation of the world! Not just personal forgiveness and peace; this is justice and shalom/peace for the whole world. Not individual souls going to heaven; it’s the fullness of God coming here. The risen and reigning Jesus showed it to John. And he wants us to see it, too.

“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 saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.'” ~Revelation 21:1-6

It is done. It is finished. The authoritative words of Jesus on the cross are repeated here by our risen and glorious Lord. It is done. It is completed. In the New Creation, all of God’s salvation purposes have come to their conclusion. This is the confirmation and the victory of what God did when he created the world way back in the beginning. This is the confirmation and victory of God accomplished in Christ Jesus two thousand years ago.

The most certain way to figure out what God is going to do in the future is to pay careful attention to what God has done in the past. This is Back to the Future… only without Biff and the cool DeLorean (Well, I don’t know… maybe there will be a cool DeLorean. There definitely won’t be anybody saddled with the last name of McFly). As God’s children and disciples of the Lord Jesus and we remember the future. What we look forward to is not the destruction of life and the planet but the renewal and restoration of God’s original and “very good” Creation.

The opposite of Yogi Berra’s famous line is true: The future is exactly what it used to be!



Act Six – New Creation


Drew Stubbs’ running, leaping catch of Ian Kinsler’s drive to the center field wall with runners on the corners in the 9th inning snapped the Rangers’ three game skid and increased their lead in the A.L. West to two games now over the Angels. The magic number is four now, instead of three, because the Halos have moved past the ‘Stros for second place in the division. The rubber match with the Tigers is tonight, but then L.A. comes into Arlington for a season-ending four game series that will determine the division champion and the playoff seedings. What looked like a sure thing one week ago now comes down to every inning in these last five games.

Is there a way to leave Josh Hamilton out of the lineup? Even as a pinch hitter?


NewHeaven&Earth“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 saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” ~Revelation 21:1-5

As the great Yogi Berra once said, “This is deja vu all over again!”

A new creation. A new heavens and earth. The sea that separates the heavens from the earth is no more. Heaven and earth become one, just as intimately and beautifully as a new husband and his lovely bride become one. God is living again with the humans. Men and women are living again in the immediate presence of God. No more sorrow, no more heartache, no more death. Everything that’s gone wrong has now been fixed. The old order of things has passed away. I am making everything new!

I am making everything new!

And we’re so worn out with “new.” We don’t even know what “new” means anymore. They say it’s a new cereal, but it’s not. It’s the old cereal, but instead of yellow marshmallow stars they have blue marshmallow hearts and a different stripe on a smaller box that costs more money. They say it’s a new detergent, but it’s not. It’s the old detergent with a few added purple cleaning crystals and the words “maximum power” on a smaller box that costs more money. They say it’s a new iPhone, but it’s not. It’s the old iPhone with two features removed and three features added that costs more money and will be obsolete in three to six months. We’re so worn out with “new.”

But the Creator of Heaven and Earth says, “I am making everything new!” This is not a different label or a brighter color. This is not about a longer lasting battery.

The last act of the Story of God is not about people’s souls escaping from their bodies and rising up above the earth to go to heaven. What we see is heaven descending to the earth. This is not “I’ll Fly Away!” It’s not “This World is Not My Home.” God shows us the final act, the end of the Story, and it’s heaven coming down into the world, uniting with the world to purify it of its brokenness. This is what the prophets talked about:


“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create… the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more… The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy… says the Lord.” ~Isaiah 65

This is the new Garden of Eden. Men and women living in perfect relationship with each other together in the holy presence of God. Absolute peace and harmony with nature. No more injury or disease or death. No more hatred or violence or war. No more poor or needy or slaves or criminals. Everything is new. Everything is perfect. Everything is fixed.

Jesus predicted this in Matthew 19 when he spoke of “the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne.” The apostle is given credit for this same vision in 2 Peter 3: “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” Paul foresees the same thing in Romans 8: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God!”

The whole world will be healed as it is drawn into the fullness of God’s glory. Evil will be finally, ultimately destroyed. And all the potential of creation will explode in glorious fullness and beauty.



Concerning Cats in Heaven


I believe the line a little over halfway through our sermon Sunday went something like this:

“Our God is making everything right. He’s making everything perfect. Yes, there will be Oreos in heaven; but they won’t have any calories. Yes, there will be lawns to mow in heaven; but there won’t be any grass burrs or dandelions. Yes, there will be puppy dogs in heaven; but they won’t chew on the couch or wet the carpet.

No, there won’t be any cats in heaven. Are you kidding me? Cats are reserved for the fiery lake of burning sulfur; that’s where cats are going.”


CatsAreEvilDarkNot everybody thought that was funny. When I said it, it certainly sounded like everybody thought it was funny. But more than a couple of good, faithful Christians here at Central took issue with my comment about cats. A few mentioned it to me after the assembly. A few of you sent me emails yesterday questioning my theology and my character. And one very sweet and kind dear sister told me yesterday she had planned to make a banana pudding for my birthday but, after Sunday’s comment about cats, has decided against it.

Look, my Lord has promised me that proclaiming the truth won’t always be easy. There will come a time, he says, when even those who refuse to cook for me will think they’re doing the will of God. That’s OK. I’m at peace with that.

For those of you who want to argue for a feline-friendly afterlife, consider first what we know about salvation.

Heaven is not for the unrepentant. It’s not for the arrogant or the stubbornly-disobedient. Heaven is reserved for those who turn their lives toward God and submit to his authority. You ever seen a repentant cat?!? You walk in on any dog doing something he’s not supposed to be doing, and he immediately gets that look of shame. He’s been caught, he’s clearly in the wrong, and he knows it. He’s sorrowful — a godly sorrow, I would argue. Like Adam and Eve in the garden who were ashamed from the moment they sinned, so a dog puts his tail between his legs and will barely look at you when he knows he’s done something against your will. Cats? Yeah, right! You walk in on a cat doing something wrong, he barely even looks up. He keeps right on sinning, too, with no regard for the threads on your couch or your feelings.

Heaven is for living in perfect community. It’s not for loners, for those who want to do their own thing by themselves. Dogs are made for relationship. They run to you as soon as you enter their field of vision. They follow you around everywhere you go. They’re loyal to a fault. They’re content just to be in your presence. Cats? They couldn’t care less about you or anybody you know. Oh, sure, they’ll come running when they hear the can opener working to unleash some foul-smelling feline food. They’ll rub up against you and purr when they need something. But that’s it. They’d much rather be alone. And if you call a cat, he’ll just roll his eyes. CatsAreEvil

I’m only just scratching the surface here. We could go on about the evil hisses and demonic guttural sounds that come from the inner core of a cat’s very being. The pointy ears. The scary eyes. Their proclivity toward darkness and appetite for activities of the night.

It seems very logical: there won’t be any cats in heaven.



Identifying the People of God


The rich man in Jesus’ parable never lifted one finger to help poor Lazarus. He didn’t act to relieve even a small part of Lazarus’ suffering. The rich man totally ignored him. And God’s people do not ignore the hurting. When Jesus gives us that picture in Matthew 25 of the last day, he makes it clear that we’re all going to be separated according to whether or not we helped people who were hurting.

We are saved by God in order to bless others. We are redeemed by God in order to serve others. We don’t love others so we can feel good, we love others because we have been loved. We don’t bless others so we can look good, we bless others because we have been blessed. We don’t lift up others to earn favor or points, we lift up others because we have been lifted up.

God’s desire is to do something in you and something through you. He is changing you so you can bless other people. But that is never going to happen until we see people the way our Father sees people. We must see the hungry, the lost, the poor, the sick; we have to see the lonely, the stressed, the depressed, the sad — we must see them all through the eyes of our God. We see all people for who they are: men and women created in the image of God. We see all people for who they can be: physically and spiritually whole, restored to a righteous relationship with their Creator. We see all people for what our Lord desires them to be: one with him and with all our brothers and sisters in his Kingdom.

But the rich man views Lazarus as his servant. Even after they both die and the rich man is being tormented in the flames and Lazarus is sitting in Abraham’s lap in an air-conditioned heaven with a root beer float. The rich man still sees Lazarus as an object to be used. He still thinks he’s better than Lazarus.

“Send Lazarus to bring me some water! Send Lazarus to warn my brothers!”

Helping the hurting is the evidence that your heart has been changed by grace. It’s a proof that your life has been transformed by the Spirit. It identifies you as a child of God.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth.” ~1 John 3:17-19



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