Category Archives: Sermon Follow Up & Feedback

What’s Heaven Like?

Lately I’ve been preaching on what the Bible teaches regarding Heaven, Hell, and life after death. The Christian life is always a balancing act – this is especially true when it comes to the balance between our focus on Heaven and our focus on life here and now. Sometimes you hear the phrase: “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good” – which applies to a type of Christian who seems so focused on spiritual and heavenly things he/she does very little to help people on this earth. No one likes this type of person. Yet I agree with C.S. Lewis that when you study the people who have thought the most about Heaven – you find that they also did a lot to improve life here on earth for others. This is why it is good for us to learn about the promises God gives us in his word about what to expect after we die.

In preparing for my sermons I came across a beautiful and Biblical description of Heaven by a French Reformed theologian, humanist, and poet named Simon Goulart (1543-1628). Goulart was a contemporary of John Calvin and part of the Protestant Reformation of his time. It was an era when life was short, but the strong vision of Heaven that pastors preached about helped give hope to people as they faced plagues and persecution and other challenging circumstances. Here is Goulart’s description that I found very helpful for contemplation and meditation:

“The eternal and blessed life with God in heaven, accompanied by rest and unspeakable glory, is the goal of the faith of Christians.

This is the harbor of their hope, the refuge of all their desires, the crown of their consolation that they will certainly enjoy, having escaped from the travails of this miserable and fleeting earthly life, indeed, from death itself.

They will receive in heaven glorified bodies, healed of all evils, no longer afflicted by sin, ignorance, errors, illness, sadness, worry, fear, anguish, or enemies. They will be delivered from all pain and suffering.

They will enjoy fully and completely the Lord their God, the fountain and inexhaustible treasure of all good things, who will pour out on them all His goodness, His infinite joy, with which He will satisfy all their thoughts and desires. They will see Him and contemplate Him face-to-face, without any clouds to obscure Him.

They will learn of God’s wisdom with regard to the creation and redemption of His elect by means of Jesus Christ, and the reasons for all His all-powerful and wondrous works.

The eternal Father will disclose His burning and unspeakable love for them, which He demonstrated by sending His Son into the world to draw them from death into eternal life.

His children will be moved by His gracious work, filled with wonder, contentment, and ineffable delight, and will love their heavenly Father with a burning love, submitting themselves fully to His wisdom with eager joy.

And they will submit to Him as their only sovereign and greatest good. And they will rejoice with continuous joy in His presence, magnifying His glory, singing of His goodness along with the holy Angels and the entire Church triumphant.

There they will see Jesus Christ, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the faithful who have preceded them, including their family members and friends who died in repentance and faith.

This entire company together, with one heart and voice, will recall the goodness and infinite blessings God has shown them, celebrating with songs of thanksgiving the praises of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thus eternal life is the end and fulfillment of all good things for which God has purchased us through His Son.

This is the goal on which our gaze should be fixed throughout our earthly pilgrimage. This is the treasure that we should unceasingly desire. This is the hour and the blessing to which all the plans and efforts of our lives should be inclined. This is our true country, our permanent city, in which our citizenship has been acquired by the merit of the death of Jesus Christ. This is the home that we long for, amidst the banishments, the weariness, the dangerous fears of this valley of misery and the shadow of death. This is the safe refuge and the beautiful harbor toward which we sail amidst so many waves and storms that constantly trouble the world. This is the blessed land where we will dwell by means of death.” –Simon Goulart (1543-1628), Christian Discourses XXVIII, 322-327.

Civil Debate on Sexual Ethics

At a recent Town Hall meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church, we discussed some of the pros and cons of affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA).   Any discussion on this topic leads almost directly to discussion of homosexuality and gay marriage.

Though my primary task it to teach what I believe to be things that are true and profitable, I also recognize that it can also be helpful to listen to voices that teach from viewpoints that are from the ‘other side’ of various issues.  Over the past three decades or so, I have heard a wide range of perspectives regarding Biblical sexual ethics.  Most readers of this blog know that I hold to what may be called the ‘traditional’ view of marriage as revealed in Scripture as one man, one woman, one flesh, one covenant, one lifetime.    I think this definition of marriage is God’s very best arrangement for the ordering of marriage and society — it is the best path toward the flourishing of the human community.     This is the definition of marriage that informs my preaching and teaching ministry.

At the Town Hall meeting, someone requested that I suggest resources for people who would like to learn more about “both sides” of the debate on gay marriage.  I said that I believe my job is to teach the orthodox view, but that I was willing to let people know about other resources to help with understanding both sides of this issue.

On this post I am providing information for people who would like to read more about these topics and gain a more full understanding of both sides in the debate.

Though I can’t stand the labels, I will call the one side “Traditional” and the other side  “Progressive”.  I hate the labels because I am not really about “Tradition” — I’m about faithfulness to God’s Word and to following Jesus into the future.  The label of “Progressive” is not one I like because I don’t think the advocates of gay marriage are making progress in the flourishing of the human community — I think they are moving us in a negative direction rather than moving us forward to a better future.    Progress for me is movement in the right direction and I don’t think the ‘Progressives’ are doing this.  Yet since we are stuck with the labels, I will use them below.

I will warn you that if you are looking for simple and easy approaches to a very complicated topic — then keep watching TV and reading magazines and blogs — you will get all kinds of shallow perspectives on this debate.  If you really want to get a deep understanding of the issues, it will take a larger investment of time and you will need to listen to more lectures and read more material.

Book Recommendations:

Traditional:

Straight & Narrow (Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate) by Thomas Schmidt

Kevin DeYoung’s new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon

More academic: Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything by Robert Reilly

Progressive:

Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality (Explode the Myths, Heal the Church) by Jack Rogers

Living in Sin? by John Shelby Spong

The above listed books were published before the turn of the millennium and may be somewhat out of date.  Though I have not read the following, they were suggested by a thoughtful reader of the blog:

Torn,  Justin Lee

Changing our Minds, David Gushee

God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines

For those interested in audio/video content — There was a very thoughtful and balanced presentation on these topics presented at Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church last fall.  There are several lectures and Q&A Sessions that can be viewed or downloaded.  Here is the link to the series: Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church Series on the Bible and Gay Marriage

Whether you are on the more “Progressive” or “Traditional” side of the issue, I think everyone should listen to this fascinating interview with Sam Allberry, author of Is God Anti-Gay?   presented in audio format on the White Horse Inn podcast.  Is God Anti-Gay – White Horse Inn Podcast

Though I am deeply concerned about our culture’s trajectory in the area of human sexuality, I am also concerned about our culture’s diminishing ability to engage in civil debate on hot topics.  So I offer this post in the hope that it can help people in the church who differ on this highly emotional topic to find ways of reducing the hostility and growing in our ability to speak the truth in love to one another – even where we disagree on vital areas of life.