Singing About Heaven

Heaven does not get much description in the Bible. Revelation 21 and 22 offer a glimpse of the after life, but also note these chapters are describing the New Jerusalem, not heaven.

Since the Bible does not define what heaven looks like or what life will be like, one would imagine a wide array of descriptive words would be used in our songs about heaven.

But after looking at about a hundred hymns that refer to heaven, three very common themes run through these songs when they describe heaven.

1) Mansions. Many hymns, from hokey ones like I’ve Got a Mansion Over the Hilltop to more churchy hymns like When We All Get to Heaven, mention our own personal mansions to spend eternity frolicking in.

2) Sea, Ocean or Shore. Christians are either going to gather by the crystal sea or we will meet on that beautiful shore.

3) Rivers. There is either a mention of a specific heavenly river or crossing the Jordan.

What is interesting about these descriptions of heaven is that two don’t even exits.

The mansion idea is from John 14 and the KJV rendering that “in my Father’s house are many mansions.” The word for mansion can be as generic s a dwelling place. Probably it is better translated “In my Father’s dwelling place there are many places to dwell.” Heaven is big and there’s room for everyone.

It is ironic that Christians, who routinely mock Muslims for wanting to go to heaven so they get virgins, at the same time promote heaven because we get nice, big houses. How is one fleshly lust worse than another fleshly lust?

The ocean, sea and shore stuff, I’m not at all certain what that is referring to. Revelation 21:1 says there is no sea in the New Jerusalem, which is where we base most of our heaven stuff on. What is this sea or this shore we are meeting on? I will be bummed if you all know where it is and I can’t find it and I miss out.

I get the river stuff, there is a river flowing out of the New Jerusalem and crossing the Jordan to enter to Promised Land are nice descriptors. The other two, not so much.

Persecution or Judgment?

Read this in the comment section of a blog post:

“How sad would it be to find out in the end that what we thought was persecution for our faith was actually the natural wrath of God in the world against our sins of pride and hate?”

I have often wondered the same thing. Persecution of Christians in America is more along the lines of wounded pride, we think we should have been taken more seriously, our opinions aren’t heard, which is summed up–we didn’t get our way.

Not getting your way leads to anger, anger leads to self-righteousness, self-righteousness to judgmentalism, and judgmentalism to our own judgment.

True Christian persecution is getting nailed for righteousness sake. We, being reinforced by our self-esteem driven Christianity, know we are all righteous, so we interpret everything through this self-righteous lens, so every misdeed against us is seen as true Christian persecution.

It isn’t. It’s you feeling bad for yourself for not getting your way and feeling self-righteous about it.

One of the best signs you are going through true Christian persecution is that you’re happy about it, not whining and sniveling about how rough it is to be you.

“But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.”

Oh for more reasons to be happy!

Legalism and Church Softball

Church softball season is winding down. It’s been a fun year, but our last two games have been against two teams from the same church, a church which doctrinally gives me issues.

Inevitably games against this church involve arguments. For some reason I was pitching in our last game and there were runners at second and third with no outs and a big guy up. I pitched him junk. He didn’t swing. A person from their bench said, “That looked like an intentional walk.”

I laughingly said, “Ya think?” Which then led to an argument. “Can you do that? Is that legal? Do the rules say you can intentionally walk people?”

Later a guy was rounding third, I took the throw from the outfield and ran toward the runner assuming he would turn back to third. For some odd reason, he decided to go for it, so I tagged him out. “Wait, can you do that? Can you tag a runner going home?”

Granted our church league has some odd rules, but both these plays were perfectly legit baseball plays. There may, in fact, be a rule about tagging runners going home, but this was such a dumb play, no way he was going to score, that it’s not what the rules were written for. There may be a rule about intentional walks, but in all fairness, he could have swung. It’s not like the catcher stood five feet outside, I didn’t miss by that much.

At the same time, there are no rules about borrowing players if your church has multiple teams (because this is the only church up here big enough to do so), yet their two teams swap out their best players whenever possible to guarantee they both win (they are both in the top three in our league). There are no rules but this is a blatant violation of baseball etiquette.

Rules, for them, are things invented to help us win, to gain advantage over you, things to be manipulated to make us look better. This is called legalism.

David could not eat the shewbread if he played on their softball team. Jesus could not pick corn if He played first base for them. Rules are not things provided so you can one-up others.

Rules are not for the righteous but the unrighteous. Rules are there to prevent people from getting away with stuff that can hurt others or to prevent cheating. Rules are not there to keep the other team from playing the game of baseball.

Legalism must die. The Spirit should reign, not the coldness of the letter in baseball and in Christian living.

Learning Through Suffering

Some of the most interesting verses about the sufferings of Christ are Hebrews 5:8-9:

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”

His sufferings taught Him obedience! That is fascinating. Most people aren’t quite sure what to do with that one.

Did Christ really have to learn? Furthermore, did He have to learn obedience? I thought He was God in the flesh who knew what was in people’s hearts?

Then there’s the “being made perfect” bit. Surely the writer of Hebrews knows that Jesus is already perfect and didn’t have to go through a being made perfect process.

No doubt, most Christians have these answers down pat and can resolve them in nothing flat. I would merely encourage a few moments of reflection on these verses to understand the humanity of the one who suffered. Yes, He was God in the flesh, but He was tempted in every way like us. Peter says we are perfected by sufferings in the same way.

If Jesus learned from it, imagine how much we have to learn!?

This is our example. This is what we desire to be fellowshipped with. This is what we are now to do for others–to suffer for them.

The Suffering of the Messiah

A god who becomes flesh to suffer and die doesn’t seem like much of a god, more like a god with a really weak plan. Unless you see the depth of the plan, the depth of the problem and the depth of the wisdom of God.

The cross is foolishness to the world. It doesn’t make much sense to the “rational” mind.

At the same time, the suffering of Christ is n0t what avails for us. His suffering was not meritorious. His suffering is not where the power lies. Many have suffered, and many have even suffered on a cross.

What makes Christ’s sufferings worth anything is The Blood that was shed and The Body that was broken. Human suffering does not save souls.

Generally when the Bible speaks of Christ’s sufferings, it’s spoken of as something to join Him in. Those who suffer with Him will reign with Him. We desire to know the “fellowship of His sufferings” like Paul. Those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

He suffered as an example for us, as a demonstration of His love, His patience, His long-suffering. What we are so unlikely to do for others–be inconvenienced to the point of pain–Christ did for us. Let us join Him there and show the love of Christ to others.

The Messiah’s Messiah Complex

On His way to the cross, Jesus told His followers not to weep for Him but for themselves and their children. Feeling sorrow for Christ because of His crucifixion aint all bad, but we should not stop here.

Later we are told that Christ endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.”

The emotions of the moment certainly do not appear as joyful, in fact, not much of Jesus’ life is marked by outward joy. But He had a joy in knowing He was doing His Father’s will, even if that meant death on the cross.

Jesus Himself weeps at Lazarus’ death, He weeps over Jerusalem because they refused to be gathered, and He weeps in the Garden before His final ordeal. He is a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.

But He doesn’t tell us, “Yeah, feel bad for me, guys. This whole thing is a real bummer. I’m a suffering martyr, cry it up.” He sorrows for others and the one time He sorrowed for Himself He did it in private.

His death was on our behalf, He sorrows for us. Obviously He would then tell us to sorrow for us and not Him too.

Seems to me much of our religious sorrow is nothing more than misplaced emotional energy with no effect. Do we truly understand the Cross? The emotions of Christ?

Jesus was the best Messiah ever, yet many have tried to follow in a Messiah-complex, walking about sorrowing and suffering and evoking emotions out of others in pity for their suffering.

This is not Christ’s example, nor should we follow in it.

Don’t Cry For Me Humanity

Man’s rejection of the Son of God is not the high point of our existence.

Knowing this truth, it is quite chic to feel guilty about it and bemoan our ugliness. This has its place, but can also develop into a false humility and will-worship, as Paul calls it.

The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the death of Christ, stirred up many emotional scenes in us. We see Christ beaten, whipped, blood pouring everywhere in all Hollywood’s glorious cinematic gore.

People left that film with a sorrow for Christ. We feel bad for Him, that all that evil stuff happened to Him. Indeed this is true, but what was Christ’s view of sorrowing for Him?

“Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.”

Jesus tells the people they’re in much worse shape than He is! Don’t cry for me, cry for you! Cry because you are capable of this. Cry for you because ultimately, if Christ does not get in the way of God’s wrath for you, God’s wrath is coming for you.

Our rejection of Christ is worthy of our repentance and sorrow, no question about this, but don’t let it stop there. Don’t just feel bad for Jesus, understand your own place in God’s wrath.

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Weep for those who are still under God’s wrath. Perhaps live in such a way that you are able to pull “them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”