Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mindful of Heaven

It seems that, in popular culture, the idea of the "End" or of heaven has always prompted some interesting responses.  But Doomsday in 2012?

"Fueled by a crop of books, Web sites with countdown clocks, and claims about ancient timekeepers, interest is growing in what some see as the dawn of a new era, and others as an expiration date for Earth: December 21, 2012."

After recently seeing the above quote and reading the entire piece on regarding some people's concerns about the end of the world in 2012, I was reminded of some thoughts I shared last year in speaking about heaven.  This article is a very abbreviated version of a message titled "Are We Ready Now?" regarding the Christian perspective of heaven.

So what is a pop culture perspective on heaven?  Take a look at some excerpts of what Joel Stein, Los Angeles Times opinion columnist, had to say about heaven in 2007.

"I have a bad habit of annoying Christians.  Partly it's because I don't believe in Jesus, and partly it's because Jesus keeps letting me write columns about how I don't believe in Jesus.

Angel with harp "Last March, after some campaigning, I got Starbucks to put a quote from me on the their paper cups.  It said: 'Heaven is totally overrated.  It seems boring.  Clouds, listening to people play the harp.  It should be somewhere you can't wait to go, like a luxury hotel.  Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but heaven has to step it up a bit.  They're basically getting by because they only have to be better than hell.' ...

"I wasn't surprised that I got a lot of angry e-mails and letters.  But I was surprised that a stranger cared enough to send me the book Heaven by Randy C. Alcorn.  In the next few months, four other people sent me the same book—one of them inscribed to me and autographed. ...

"The book is 533 pages long, so I decided to just call Alcorn at his ministry in Oregon.  He's one of the foremost non-dead experts on heaven, having also written 50 Days of Heaven, In Light of Eternity: Perspectives on Heaven and Heaven for Kids.  Alcorn said that a few outraged people had shown him my Venti cup.  It made him laugh.  'Not because I thought it was silly, but because I believed it, in essence,' he said.  'Hey, I agree.  The Christian church has communicated an extremely boring view of heaven.  I think it's wrongheaded and flat unbiblical.' ..."

From Joel Stein, Los Angeles Times opinion column, December 21, 2007

The problem is that we Christians have contributed to, or perhaps even helped to create, these flippant ideas about heaven and the afterlife.  The problem, simply put, is the trivialization of heaven and hell.


Followers of Christ believe that heaven exists and that it should affect how we live.  So what does a heavenly perspective mean as I live my life?  How do I begin to see today in view of the future?  How should our church community respond in light of what the future holds?  These are important questions that should come to mind, and we must honestly answer them if we hope in the reward of heaven.

Ultimately, what we are asking is: What would it be like if we in the church were all truly mindful of heaven—if our thoughts were filled with heaven?

As I searched the Scriptures to review what actions we should be taking in light of the future, over and over again I was reminded of the connection Scripture makes between the "Day of the Lord" and the actions we should take because of it.

In the Scriptures, in 2 Peter 3.10-18, we are told that the day of the Lord will mark dire consequences for those who do not know God, but wonderful blessings for those who not only know Him but eagerly await His return.  While we wait, however, our minds should be filled with thoughts of heaven, which then drive us to action.  In this Bible text, we are given five specific paths of action when we are mindful of heaven.

1. Being mindful of heaven keeps us eagerly anticipating our home (see 2 Peter 3.10-13).

Part of the joy of going to a great destination is the excitement that builds along the way.  This eager anticipation is true about heaven.  For those of us who trust in Christ and long to see Him face to face, there is great anticipation and delight, and there is no earthly happiness that can compare.  This is true for all who just "can't wait" to see Him.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ...  Philippians 3.20 (NASB)

So for fellow followers of Christ, let's ask ourselves: Does the thought of heaven ever bring tears to our eyes, or even laughter to our faces?  Do we really even want to go there?

2. Being mindful of heaven keeps us diligently maturing our character (see 2 Peter 3.11, 14).

My son's steady process of maturity never ceases to amaze me.  With each passing week, I watch as his little mind expands in its ability to understand simple concepts—ones that older children and adults take for granted.  There are concepts regarding heaven that we cannot possibly understand now.  But as we fill our minds with thoughts of heaven, much like a child we begin to mature, and progressively we then desire to keep growing.  This progress in Christlike character is the result of the grace of God at work in us, while we wait for His return.  It makes us want to live upright lives because God is holy, and He wants us to be like Him in this regard.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.  Titus 2.11-14 (NASB)

How much have you grown in your understanding of the Lord in the past five years?  What are you doing on a consistent basis to maintain progress in Christlike character?

3. Being mindful of heaven keeps us faithfully maintaining the truth (see 2 Peter 3.15-18).

In our day, it has become in vogue for an individual to have a self-determined set of ideas he or she calls truth.  The concept that there is no universal, objective standard of truth is a postmodern idea that has only gained momentum in the past few years.  But we who believe the Scriptures believe that God has offered us the greatest treasure in the gift of Jesus.  And instead of allowing cultural shifts to determine who Jesus is, and what truth is, we must lovingly and patiently preserve, protect, and proclaim the truth that God has revealed about Himself.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.  2 Timothy 4.3-4 (NASB)

Christian friends, do you know the Scriptures well enough to be able to personally distinguish between truth and error?  When you hear error, how active are you—in patience and gentleness—to challenge those who oppose?

4. Being mindful of heaven keeps us patiently sharing the gospel (see 2 Peter 3.9, 15).

This point flows from the previous one.  If we truly believe that knowing God through Christ is the greatest treasure, we will want to share it.  Even when it will involve disputes and debates, if we care about others, we will care about their beliefs.  Too many Christians I know would rather "leave others behind" simply because of the opposition nonbelievers may initiate.  That attitude is absolutely un-Christian.  If God is patiently waiting as the text above describes, then how can we grow impatient?  Simply put, if we believe the Scriptures teach that nonbelievers will be separated from God forever, then we ought to care about them.  And how we communicate the gospel makes a huge difference.

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders [nonbelievers], making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.  Colossians 4.5-6 (NASB)

...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.  1 Peter 3.15-16 (NASB)

How much do you really care about those who are dying apart from Christ?  What intentional, proactive difference can you make in your routine this week to share the gospel with someone you know?

5. Being mindful of heaven keeps us urgently contemplating the end (see 2 Peter 3.3-4, 10, 17).

The pervasive idea underlying these verses of Scripture is urgency.  Whatever we plan to do before the end comes, we should do it now.  Our lives are short, and there is no guarantee of tomorrow.

...and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  Hebrews 10.24-25 (NASB)

Is there any sense of urgency to the changes you know you need to make in your life?  What if Christ actually returned tomorrow?  Is there anything you would want to do first?  Is there anyone you would want to talk to first?


I have a bad habit.  Well actually, probably several, but one that matters for this discussion.  When I travel, I take an unusually long time to pack and prepare.  I tend to wait until the evening before the departure and then stay up into the wee hours of the night thinking about everything that might happen during the trip.  Part of that is the healthy, eager anticipation described in #1 above.  But honestly, the primary aspect is that I know something is coming, but procrastinate.  There is no excuse.  It has been on my calendar for weeks or months, and I could have prepared much more efficiently.  Instead, it's as though the trip takes me by surprise, I'm unprepared, and I'm far less effective in my wasted opportunities.

Heaven will be like this for some of us.  We know it's coming, but we live like it's not.

When we're prepared, and truly mindful of the real heaven where there are "pleasures forever" (not the boring pop-culture version), note the positive influence we could have even on those who disregard heaven, in the conclusion of Stein's remarks.  Remember what he said?  He was "surprised that a stranger cared enough to send me the book."  He closes this way:

"I called Shelly Migliaccio, who'd sent me the autographed book.  ...'I was thinking it was sad that you looked at heaven that way.  I wanted you to know about the heaven I know about and I look forward to go to,' she told me over the phone.  'Life here on Earth can be so trying sometimes, and I just anticipate it.'  In Migliaccio's heaven, the colors are more brilliant, we all have jobs we love, we are free of the lies and horrible stuff she sees on the news.  And, at least for the little while we were on the phone, I believed in Migliaccio's heaven too."

I have to keep asking myself, would I have merely rolled my eyes at post-Christian culture, or would I have responded in the same heavenly-minded way that Shelly Migliaccio did, making a loving impact for the glory of God?