Thursday, December 23, 2010

Heaven on the Brain

December 27, 1998

During the installation of new lighting inside an old English cathedral, an electrician working on the top floor, accidentally left the elevator door open.  This prevented the elevator from returning to the ground floor.  Visitors were stunned to see the Clerk of Works standing in the middle of the cathedral, yelling heavenward, "Peter! Close the gates!"

Most of us would wait until we ourselves were in before closing the gates of heaven.  How often in a day or week do you think about heaven?  Is eternity an important part of your plans for the future?  I'm convinced that if you and I are to live with any kind of gusto under Jesus' leadership, we need to have a basic grasp of what our future life will be like.  That future must make sense to us.  It must be something you can plan on and make decisions in terms of.

Who talks about heaven any more?  What difference can a lesson on heaven make in my life today?  I heard about an English professor who assigned his class to make their own funeral arrangements:  pick out a casket, write the order of service, and even write out how they would like their life to be eulogized.  Many of the students discovered their lives had no meaning.  They realized they had wasted their lives- up to that point- and that their plans for the future were as pointless as their past.

When you ask someone for advice about a crossroads decision you have to make and they point to one option and say, "I can tell you that choice has no future," they're saying it has no meaning, no significance.  A human life holds together around its prospects for meaning- its view of the future.  A meaningful life is not a nice extra.  Having a purpose in life is like having enough to eat and drink, enough air to breath.  If something has no meaning we say it has no future.  Meaninglessness stifles our souls.

Jesus teaches that ultimate meaning is found in life under His leadership.  We are nourished in this life by understanding how our future with Jesus relates to our life with Him today.

In Luke 10 Jesus was hearing the reports of 72 apprentices.  They were rejoicing that their short term mission had produced some dramatic victories over Satan and the demons.  Jesus agreed with their assessment but said, "Do no rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven (v. 20)."

In Jesus' mind our heavenly destination should be a key landmark determining how we navigate our lives.  Sailors use the stars to determine their course.  You and I use heaven.  Heaven is more important than any earthly landmark.

According to Jesus our destination is a custom-made home.  The night before His crucifixion He told His followers, "I am going there to prepare a place for you."  At His first advent Jesus prepared us for the Place.  He has returned now to prepare a place for us.  His second advent will be for the purpose of bringing the prepared people into the prepared place.  He said in John 14:3, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."

What is that future life going to be life?  If I could know that, chances are good I wouldn't be able to find the words to describe it.  The Bible uses symbols and comparisons to help.  Everything points to an enhanced life without limits- an intense aliveness with all the necessary energy needed to live it vigorously.

The new age influences have caused us to think of heaven as a place for disembodied spirits.  The primary activity is thought to be choir music or reminiscing about the good old days.  However, the Bible says when we pass through death, we do not lose the good things of this world.  Indeed we see this world and everyone in it, for the first time as it really is.  In this regard Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

He had just reminded the Corinthians that in this life we are like little children who have only a vague idea of what is going on around them.  But on the other side of death or the second advent, we shall know fully, "even as I am fully known."

Paul does not tell us who fully knows us now, but we might guess that beyond God/Jesus/Holy Spirit we are fully known by the angels and the righteous followers of Jesus.  They see and know things as they are.   Beyond that concerning our future, we know we will have bodies like Jesus' resurrection body.  Jesus' resurrection was the very first of its kind.  The Bible calls it "the first fruits" and refers to Jesus' new life as "the Pioneer of life."  Without the first advent, without the incarnation, there would be no resurrection and no resurrection bodies.

Jesus forced open a door that had been locked since the death of the first man.  Jesus defeated the ruler of death.  Because of that the Bible speaks about, "the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:25)."  Sometimes we think of Jesus' resurrection as the undoing of the incarnation.  NOT SO!  It is the final stage of the incarnation.  Jesus' life and death, and your confidence in His leadership prepares you, too, for that stage of "body life."

When Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, we can take it to mean He is preparing a renovated space and earth.  A new place that will provide the perfect conditions for our glorified bodies.

Just as our brain obeys our mind, other parts of nature may obey us.  Remember Jesus was not confined by walls or locked doors.  He could walk on water, yet He insisted He was not a spirit and sat down and ate dinner to prove it.  That is a model of your future body!

Romans 8:11 says, "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies."  Suppose you are going to live forever and there is nothing you can do about it, except to do the things that would make your future existence as desirable as possible?  You can not choose eternal sleep or nonexistence.

As far as your future life is concerned the question you need to answer is: what kind of character have you and Jesus together been developing?  Have you allowed Jesus to shape your values and beliefs?  Have you found Jesus to be the most fascination person in the universe?

Socrates did not know Jesus, but he knew character development was "priority one" for eternity.  Plato's account of the last hours of Socrates has him saying:
If the soul is immortal, it demands our care not only for that part of time which we call life, but for all time...If death were a release from everything, it would be a blessing for the wicked, but since the soul is clearly immortal, there is no escape for evil people except by the development of a good and wise character.  This is of supreme importance for beginning the journey there." Paraphrased
Socrates had no opportunity to know Jesus and Jesus' profound impact on character development.  He did the best he could with what he had.  You and I have Jesus.

Read Matthew 25:14-46

Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven: how we enter it in this life and how this life impacts the next stage of life.  God has placed in our life various gifts and skills and potentials that will prepare us for "real life" if used and developed properly.  This parable leads us to ask why should God entrust us with eternal riches if we cannot be trusted with temporary wealth.  How can I be trusted with a supernatural body if I cannot control even an earthly body?

C.S. Lewis writes in Miracles:
These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to school boys.  We must learn to control them: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether, but that someday we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining, and world-shaking horses- which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting the king's stables.
God's plan is for you to develop as an apprentice to Jesus today- so that in another day you can take your place in the ongoing work of the universe.  As a follower of Jesus you will encounter struggles and tests.  Some will be in the form of adversity, some will be in the form of prosperity.  You're asked to use Jesus' resources and do what He would do.  If you do this consistently you will be victorious.  Jesus said in Revelations 3:21, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne."  Does that kind of future make sense to you?  do you "see a future" in the kind of life Jesus calls you to live today?  Is Heaven on your compass?

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