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Book Review: Heaven Misplaced

You know you’re in for a different kind of book when the author himself says in the introduction, “this is going to be a tough sell.”

So, what is Douglas Wilson, author of a dozen books & one of the sharpest minds among Christian writers today, trying to sell?  The view that earth is not “God’s Vietnam.”

Say what?

The overwhelming majority of evangelical Christians understand the Bible to say that the power of sin & Satan will grow worse & worse in the future, until finally God will suddenly remove all Christians from Earth (“the rapture”) and then inflict terrible judgement on the remainder of the Earth’s inhabitants (“the tribulation”).  In fact, many Christians would be suprised to even consider that there might be another interpretation, a radically different interpretation, to all those scripture passages, that was actually the majority view just a few hundred years ago.

Heaven Misplacedis a non-theological, readable introduction to this different way of looking at the Bible, God’s Kingdom, and the future of humanity.  Wilson goes through the Bible, from Abraham to Revelation, and lays down a foundation and detailed explanation for the preterist position.  In short, preterist theology says that instead of things getting worse & worse, things get better & better, with more and more of the world coming under the influence and transformation of Christ’s kingdom until He one day returns. 

Hard sell?  Most definitely.  What’s worse, most people who would read this book either (1) already agree with Wilson or (2) already have studied systematic theology and have decided against preterism. Still, I admire Wilson for trying, & writing an engaging book that all Christians who are not familiar with anything but “Left Behind” theology should read.

“Idol” Worship

David Cook American Idol

Tens of millions of people were rejoicing with this man last night, and although I am not a “fan” of American Idol, I was rejoicing too.

Seeing the joy in David Cook’s face, I felt joy too.  I asked myself, “Why?  Why am I happy for this man?”  It isn’t because he won a contest, or because he’s going to make a lot of money, or have accolades or prestige, or even get to go to Disney World.

No, it’s because of glory.  It’s because a bartender from Missouri had a hidden glory, was “a diamond in the rough,” had talent that even he didn’t realize, and that glory was unveiled for the world to see.  We saw David Cook and “idolized” him.   We rejoiced in seeing him become the man he was born to be.

Looking at him immediately made me think of what C. S. Lewis wrote years ago in his book The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of potential gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

So seeing David Cook made me think of heaven.  All of us may seem to be a dull and uninteresting bartender at first glance, but in God’s plan there is more, much more.  If we are born of God we will one day unveil a glory that God will create in us that will far outshine even an American Idol.  One day we will live in a glorious place filled with millions of glorious people transformed by the glory of God.   Last night’s show was just the smallest foretaste of what awaits us all in eternity, where we will enjoy each other’s glory as we worship the Source and Giver of all glory, forever and ever.  Now THAT’S something that really fills me with joy, today and tomorrow and forever.

The Rebirth of Creation

Note: The following is article #30 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.    

In Chapter 30 of the book Future Grace John Piper looks at the final future grace that we set our eyes toward, that of the rebirth of creation.  Before he looks at heaven, though, he once more talks about what the purpose of living by future grace is.  Living by God’s grace is to show God’s glory.  Specifically, living by grace allows us to live lives that, “show that our treasure in God is more precious than the fleeting attractions of sin.”

What does such a changed life consist of?  First, we will be noted for what we don’t do:

We don’t yield to the sinful pleasures of the moment. We don’t devote our best energies to laying up treasures on earth.  We don’t dream our most exciting dreams about accomplishments and relationships that perish.  We don’t fret over what this life fails to give (marriage, wealth, health, fame).

Second, Piper states what we will be seen to do:

We savor the wonder that the Owner and Ruler of the universe loves us, and has destined us for the enjoyment of his glory, and is working inallibly to bring us to his eternal kingdom.  So we live to meet the needs of others, because God is living to meet our needs.  We love our enemies, and do good, and bless those who curse us and pray for those who despise us…

All of this we can do through grace, through faith in what God has in store for us.  And that brings us to the final grace that God will one day bestow upon us, the rebirth of creation.

God has not told us every detail about the new heaven and the new earth, but he has revealed to us what is important, and what is glorious for us to keep in our hearts.  The first thing God has revealed is that we will be raised and we will be changed.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:52 that, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

We will be raised to inhabit our body, and yet it will not be the frail body subject to sickness and death such as we have now, for it will be imperishable.  It will be a body that reflects the glory of God and that we will be able to use to glorify God for all eternity, no longer subject to the curse of sin.

Next, God will bring forth a new heaven & a new earth that will be just as glorious:

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.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Theologians differ on whether the new heaven & new earth will be entirely new, or just the renewal and recreation of our present planet.  In the final analysis, it won’t matter: it will be glorious beyond all our present imagination.

But even with glorious new bodies and a glorious new creation, the real glory will remain the same: the presence of God Himself, now in full view of His children for the first time. Experiencing God in His fullness, without sin, without sadness, without death, for all eternity, is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams.  As Piper states,

Thus the purpose of God in creation will be fulfilled: the exhibition of his glory for the enjoyment of his people in the never-ending increase of infinite future grace.

Piper ends the chapter with a poem of praise and hope, which includes these words:

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass…
I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy…
The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That is should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me. 

 

Proud of Me?

Proud of Me?

No, God couldn’t be proud of me.

He sees all my pettiness, my failures, my self-centeredness, my sins.  I look back at my life and it seems like one series of mess-ups after another.  I look at me now and I can’t believe how I keep making mistakes and end up not being the person I want to be.

God can’t be proud of me.  He’s probably proud of Billy Graham, but no way he’s proud of me.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever said words like those to yourself, but I sure have.  And if you look honestly at yourself, you think the facts are indisputable: no way God could be proud of you.

But if you are a child of God, if you through faith in Christ have been born again, then you are forgetting some other facts that are more important than all of your failures stacked up in a pile as high as Mount Everest.

Fact #1   God Created Me & Chose Me

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… Ephesians 1:4

God from the beginning chose you for salvation. 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Read these verses, slowly, and personalize them with your name.  “God chose John to be in Christ before He even created the universe.”  Think of that.  Even with all my frailities, God specifically created me and chose me.  I am His.  He made me.  Made me to be in Christ. 

When I have crafted an essay or a poem and step back and look at it, I am proud of my creation.  Even if I know it won’t win a reward, even if it might not be the best I’ve ever written, I’m still proud.  When my child scribbles a picture I put it on my refrigerator.  Does it belong in an art gallery? That doesn’t matter, it’s my child and my heart is well satisfied with their efforts.  So, how can we not realize that a perfect Creator does not step back from us, His creations and beam with pride?

Fact #2  God Has Forgiven Our Sins Through Christ

God will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

All of the failures, all of the sins, all the mistakes that convince us that God cannot be proud of us— they are cast into the depths of the sea.  God has forgiven us.  Just picture this conversation:

God:  I am so proud of you.

You: I know you’re really not.  Think about how angry I got today at my friend and mistreated her.

God: Uh, I don’t remember that.

Well, yes, God actually can remember everything, but get the point: forgiveness with God is not just a mushy feeling: it is also judicial: all of our wrongs are forever not counted against us in any way.  Through Christ’s death God is free to forget our sins.

Fact #3   God Has Clothed Us in Righteousness

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  (Isaiah 61:10)

Not only does God forgive us, He does much more: he actually clothes us in Christ’s righteousness.  As Christ took our sins in God’s eyes, now we take Christ’s perfect righteousness in God’s eyes.

Fact #4  God Rejoices Over Us

The LORD your God is with you,
       he is mighty to save.
       He will take great delight in you,
       he will quiet you with his love,
       he will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV)

It’s undeniable, it’s in the Bible: God delights in His children, He sings with delight over each and every one of us.  He created us, He forgave us, He clothed us, and now He can rejoice over every one of His children.

Fact #5 God is Pleased to Give Us Life With Him Forever

Even if this life was all that there was, all that God has done for His children would be proof of His affection for us.  But there’s more.  Much more.  Incredible, abundant life for all eternity:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ (Matthew 25:34)

What will I one day hear?  “Come, John, blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  I just let that sink in and it completely blows me away.  Jesus will one day invite me (me!) into a kingdom that God has prepared for me.  And the joy and the love will just keep growing forever and ever.

Whenever your heart is down, comfort yourselves with these truths.  If you are His child, you have a proud papa, one who chose you, who has forgiven you, blessed you, and who is preparing an eternity for you.

There in the stars or a smile of a child,
We glimpse how His joy fills eternity.
This is His pleasure to give us Himself, His glory, His heaven, His peace.
And soon all confusion will fade from our sight,
With wonder we’ll dwell in His kingdom of light.
Perfectly wonderful, mystical joy sings for creation’s great dance.
God bids us to join Him in all that He has,
Delighted to give us the chance.
God is delighted in all He has done,
Nothing can end all the joy He’s begun.
His children delight in Him through His own Son.
God is delighted in all He has done.  (Steve Green)

No More Bitter with the Sweet

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.”  Revelation 21:3-4

I love the life that God has so graciously given me.  But I am reminded daily that in a fallen world there is always bitter with the sweet.  There is the sweetness of love & friendship, but always tinged with sadness of sins committed against that person and sins committed against us.  There is the sweetness of blessings received, but always tinged with the dreams that God in His wisdom denied us.  The sweetness of new birth tinged with the grief of loved ones who have died.

I’m so thankful that God does not leave us alone to live in this world.  We have the Spirit to comfort us, to guide us, to help us forgive the sins that have been done to us and to cleanse our hearts of the guilt of the sins we have done to others.

And we have the hope that this mixture of bitter and sweet is only temporary.  We will one day be delivered from this “bondage to corruption” into glorious freedom:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.   Romans 8:18-21

All things made new.  No more tears or death or suffering.  Only sweetness.  Why not read Revelation 21-22 today and hope and rejoice and praise our God and say as the apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus!” 

Why the Perichoresis is Precious to Me

children kids dancing dance perichoresisA long time ago I read a science fiction short story about a world where the government enforced “equality” by making people with good eyesight wear glasses with smudges, people who were beautiful had to wear masks (so not to make ugly people feel bad), people who were smart wore a hearing aid that buzzed loudly so they couldn’t keep track of what they were thinking, people who were strong had to wear weights on their arms and legs.  Finally one man ripped off his mask and weights and a ballerina’s mask and weights and they were finally free to dance with the grace and freedom and joy that they had always longed for.

Although that writer was probably just wanting to make a satirical political statement, he actually was describing our world.  All of us are born enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), and even after we receive the new birth we still struggle with sin.  I have wounds, clouded thinking, selfish desires, & sinful patterns of behavior that are just like the masks and weights and smudged glasses of the protagonist of that story.  And unfortunately, so do you, and so does everyone else on this planet.  And as we try to relate to each other, whether in business or church or as friends or spouses or parents, we stumble and trip and often end up knocking each other down instead of dancing with freedom and grace.

That’s why the perichoresis is precious to me.  Perichoresis is an ancient theological term that I have written about before that describes the perfect love and harmony and relationship that exists between the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit as like a dance. Before the universe was created, God both knew and experienced life— a life of perfect community and relationship.  The Trinity perfectly knew, perfectly loved, perfectly related, perfectly experienced.  And this experience was not just some static frozen stare, like three statues cast for eternity in cold concrete.  The experience of the Trinity was and is and forever will be the most dynamic, joyful, and expressive relationship not only that is, but that could ever possibly be.  There is no human way to imagine it, but dance probably does come the closest.

Why is knowing this about God so precious to me?  Because God has invited me into His eternal dance.  That is why God created the universe, to create children that could see His glory and His love and His perichoresis, and in seeing Him would treasure Him, and could become one with Him and one with each other.  This was Christ’s prayer for us before He was crucified:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24)

This is the hope that the apostles have also given us, that one day we will be stripped of all the weights and sins of this life and be able to see and love Christ and see and love each other in ways we now can not even dream of:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Every relationship that I experience now is a mixture of sweet and bitter, as misunderstanding, mistakes, hurts, and selfishness are always present to some degree.  But one day that will all be past: all relationships will be healed, and not only healed but experienced in a freedom and grace and joy that we can now not even conceive. And the dance will continue to grow in sweetness forever, relating to the Trinity and to each other.  That, truly, is the hope of heaven.

But there is more than heaven that is precious about the perichoresis, for God wants us to start dancing now.  Through being one body in Christ, through the regeneration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can start today to dance.  We can love, we can forgive, we can serve, we can laugh, we can grow in holiness, because we know who we are, who God is, and what heaven will be like. The verse after 1 John 3:2 says “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” And the verses after 2 Peter 1:3-4 tell us:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

“For this very reason”— because we have God’s promises, we have the desire and the power to grow in love and holiness as we dance the never-ending dance of being the children of God.  Hear the music.  Dance today.

Comparing Two Kingdoms

 

Ok, this may result in my total readership from SBC churches going down to one (me!), but here goes:

Without trying to sound trite or blasphemous, I had this recurring meme that kept occuring to me throughout my week earlier this month at Disney World:  How is the Magic Kingdom like Christ’s kingdom?  Is there a faint echo, a slight shadow in the house of Mouse pointing toward our eternal home?

Yes, I know that God’s presence is what will define heaven more than anything else, but God’s presence will mean that heaven will be some of the following things as well, which Mickey has just a little bit of too:

  • Beauty: The Big D really is beautiful, especially the quiet spots in Animal Kingdom.  I think all places of natural beauty can make us think of the beauty that awaits us in our eternal home.
  • Perfection: O Yes, there’s plenty of things not perfect at Disney World, but they really do try to be fanatical about everything being just so, as much as you can be in a place that has tens of thousands of jostling people spilling through every day.  They know that people come to expect having that experience and they try to deliver.  Think about what it will be to be eternally in absolute unalterable perfection all around you, to the minutest detail!
  • Celebration: what’s Disney without a parade?  or without some really bad-for-you caloric consumption?  It just wouldn’t be the same! Heaven will be the ultimate celebration, the marriage supper of the Lamb, and it will be a blast!
  • Adventure & Wonder: Disney reminds me of Lewis’ description of heaven in The Last Battle, a place of adventure and wonder which will be inexhaustible, eternal and always expanding.
  • Community: Now think about this one—isn’t a lot of the fun of Disney seeing the faces of your family and even total strangers smiling? What if you were the only one in the park?  I mean, not having any line at Space Mountain would be cool the first dozen times through, but to be alone even in a place like Disney would soon wear thin.  It is meant to be enjoyed in community, just like heaven will be so much richer as we enjoy perfect community with all the saints.
  • Joy: what’s the end of beauty, perfection, celebration, adventure, & community?  It’s joy.  And that’s what Disney does in the heart of a child (even a 42 year old one!), and I do think it is a taste, albeit a very small, imperfect one, of the joy that awaits me not many years hence.

So, what do you think?  Am I a full-blown heretic, or just plain nuts, or am I seeing here something worth savoring while we wait for eternity?

 

Abandon All Hope

This week’s Friday Funnies concerns a story about a game show contestant.  He was asked the question, “Over the entrance of what otherwordly place is enscribed the phrase Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here?”

The contestant, who obviously had slept through medieval literature, meekly replied, “Is the answer heaven?”

 

Although the contestant did not know his Dante, in another way he was right about his answer.  When we enter heaven, we will abandon all hope, for all of our hopes and more will turn to reality, and our need for hope will forever disappear.

 

If you have a good joke or story to share, email it to me below, and have a great weekend!