Your Gospel Is Too Small

Your Gospel Is Too Small

When I say Gospel, what do you think about? What comes to mind? Maybe a cross, or a tract, or perhaps the Romans’ Road? When it comes to the Gospel, we think we have it down pat—we sin, Jesus saves, we repent and He washes us clean.

And all of that is true.

But it’s also not the whole story.

What if I was trying to describe my house to you? If I told you “It has about eight wooden planks, it’s brown, there’s a handle you have to push down, and a locking mechanism,” you’d given me a strange look and think I was at least leaving quite a bit out. While everything I said was true, I wasn’t describing all of my house. That’s my door. And once you walk through the door, it has no more bearing on the rest of your time—you forget about it until it’s time to leave.

We wouldn’t paint such a small picture of our house—but often we do with the Gospel.

We have reduced the Gospel down very small, to two points in time—when Jesus died and rose, and when I accepted Him. It’s a closed, bound-off line like in our geometry classes, one dimensional.

But the Gospel is so much bigger than that.

It’s not closed—it’s a true geometric line, one that extends ever in both directions, from Christ being foreordained in eternity past to Christ being glorified in eternity to come. It’s three-dimensional as well, encompassing every point in our lives, taking a shape that is greater than us. Do we really recognize what it looks like? Continue reading

We Need a Better Picture of Heaven

We Need A Better Picture of Heaven

“Everybody wants to go to heaven. It beats the other place, there ain’t no doubt. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wanna go now.”*

That’s what the old country song sings, and we find ourselves unconsciously nodding along to the lyrics. Most of us really don’t want to go to heaven–at least, not right now. We know we should, and we know it’s better than the other place, so we do want to go, but not really in a positive way.

We see heaven not as attractive, but as an alternative to Hell.

And who can blame us? According to our culture, Hell is a party, while Heaven is sterile and white. We’re Christians, so we’ve thrown out that first idea, but I’m not so sure we have the latter. We know Hell isn’t fun–but we’re not convinced Heaven is either.

Simply look at the pictures we’re given from “Christian” sources. If we believe the paintings, eternity is spent sitting on clouds and strumming harps; if we believe those who have supposedly been there and back again, it’s full of wings and happy feelings.

But deep down, we know that after a couple million years, happy feelings will get bland. Clouds and harps won’t keep us busy for long.

We’re the generation that is seeking for a purpose, willing to work and fight and strive to make a difference in this life–so it’s a bit of a let down to imagine a sedentary state in the next one. That picture of Heaven hold little appeal for us.

But maybe we’re picturing those pearly gates all wrong.

The True Heaven of Now

To begin, those pearly gates aren’t even in Heaven–at least, not the heaven we’re often thinking of. Because in reality, the Bible uses the term “heaven” to refer to several things:

  • The sky and space (Gen. 15:5, Heb. 12:26)

  • The place of angels and God’s throne (sometimes given special names, such as the “heaven of heavens” in Deut. 10:14, or “the third heaven” in 2 Cor. 12:2)

  • The new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1)

While there’s many nuances and discussions you could have about these, when we think of heaven, we most often think of the second. That’s the one we fill with clouds and harps. While the Bible doesn’t say much about it, Isaiah and John both got glimpses and paints us a picture of it– a picture radically different from our modern view of heaven.

Heaven isn’t made out of clouds, though the throne is surrounded by thunder and lightnings and rainbows (Rev. 4:3,5). There’s no harps in sight–but there’s thousands joined together in powerful worship. This is the heaven we enter into when we die, where we are “absent from the body, and…present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). But there’s not too much more we know about what it’ll be like or what we’ll do.

Which leads us to the second misconception we’ve had about heaven: how long it lasts. If our eternal heaven is that second one, we’re missing something huge–the whole rest of eternity in fact.

Because Scripture looks ahead to another heaven as well.  After all, God’s throne-room-heaven was obviously around since at least Isaiah’s vision–but centuries later Jesus speaks of one that will come, in Matthew 25:1 and his many parables.

The heavens we now know shall shake (Heb 12:26), open (Rev 19:11), and there shall come something greater–a New Heaven and a New Earth. (Rev. 21) This is where eternity is spent, and this is where all wrong is made right again.

The Heaven to Come

This New Heaven shatters all our preconceived cultural notions. We’re worshipping, yes, but that worship is manifested in many ways.

It’s not just playing harps and singing–it’s working and ruling cities and making good things (Luke 19:17).

It’s not just happy feelings–it’s dwelling in the presence of Him who is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11), who is the fulfillment of all our longings, who satisfies us with good things.

We will spend eternity in this heaven discovering and plumbing the bottomless depths of the goodness of the King.

The King, who is not some soft teddy bear nor Santa, but the King who just burst in on His white horse, raised His sword against the swarming armies of darkness and evil and hate and oppression, and cut through them like a shaft of light (Rev. 19). That victorious conqueror, who is also our dear friend (Jhn. 15:15). It’ll be much like when Lucy and Susan romped with Aslan after his resurrection–not sure whether it’s more like playing with a thunderstorm or a kitten. We’ll be in awe of the Sovereign, yet He’ll walk beside us just like in the Garden again.

But we won’t be in the Garden of Eden anymore–we’ll be in a city. The centerpiece of the New Heaven and Earth is New Jerusalem–filled with all the goodness of the Garden, with plants and a river and the tree of life–yet also something more, something better than the Garden. There’s people, there’s activity, there’s things to be done–and all of it without sadness or tears or disease or death–and we’ll have all that is good to do now that all sad things are made untrue. And all of this is worship to God. As Randy Alcorn says, if we have a small view of worship, we’ll have a small view of heaven.

But when we see worship for what it truly is, when we remember that Jesus gives life, and that abundantly, we realize that eternity with Him must be Life as it truly was meant to be, and that the marriage feast of the Lamb will be a feast indeed, with laughter and dancing loud and free and made new and redeemed.

Right Your Picture to Right Your Living

Can’t you see how we need this better picture? If heaven is boring, then the enticements of the world, the whispers to leave behind that stuffy, sterile religion and live it up now, have tempting weight and fatal allure. Our clouds-and-harps heaven might fall before their shine. But when we know the truth, we can laugh at the world’s empty claims. We shall feast as kings and queens–what need have we of paper crowns and fast food chains?

If heaven is just ok, then the sacrifices of the Christian are regrettable; but when we know the truth, sacrifices barely merit the name, for we are assured that God’s no’s have an infinitely great yes. We have hope, in tribulations and persecutions, and even death, for we know that they shall all be as old tales.*

If we have a small view of heaven, we will have a small view of life, of purpose, and of God Himself. But when we see the startling beauty and satiating goodness of God’s presence that is to come, then our picture of heaven and priorities in life are made right. Our cadence is not “everybody wants to go there, but nobody wants to go now,” but rather, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phl 1:21, emphasis mine). We live our lives putting treasures in and pointing others toward heaven, knowing its true goodness.

We see Heaven not as boring, but as everything good, and so can full heartedly and longingly say with John,

“Even so come.”

 

1: Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven Kenny Chesney

2: After the Last Tear Falls, Andrew Peterson

Unseen Doesn’t Mean Uncalled

Unseen Doesn't Mean Uncalled

Don’t we all want to fulfill our calling?

We want to know that we’re doing what we’re supposed to. We love those little quizzes that tell us what job we were made for, and we dive into the enneagram to see what is best for us. And as Christians, it feels like the stakes are even higher, for we have a higher purpose than just ourselves. Are we doing what God wants us to do?

And there are times when we know we are. We know how He has designed us, we step through those doors He’s opened, and we’ve heard the calling and the affirmation of it by those around us. We know that we are serving Him in our houses, our work, our ministry. We are sure we are fulfilling our calling.

But other times, we’re less sure.

Because the energy from the beginning drains. The clarity gets foggy. Those open doors seem like they led to dead-end halls. We knew we were supposed to be the best mom, or write books upon books, or run our business with excellence, or preach the Gospel. But then things stagnated. It seems like we are taking teaspoons out of a lake, and we feel stuck and unseen. Continue reading

Ending Quarantine Won’t Fix Everything

EndingQuarantineWon'tFixEverything
Light means hope, and a light at the end of a tunnel means release.

And we feel like we’ve caught a glimpse of it. There’s a chance for everything to be right again. The world has been a dark place lately, and even our own personal worlds feel entombed in smooth walls of stone. Everything has been walled off and canceled: that conference, that visit, that meeting, that job. But we’ve accepted it and been patient. We’ve waiting inside. We’ve resigned ourselves to Zoom calls and long letters. But we think we’ve glimpsed the end.

There’s talk of getting out, of releasing lockdowns, and of things opening again. So we have a thrill of hope, and leap of excitement—but if we’re not careful, that light in the tunnel won’t be its end, but rather an oncoming train.

I’m not speaking of financial issues, nor on the possibility of the resurgence of cases. No, I’m speaking of what we’re putting our hope in. In what we’re trusting to save us. If we’re depending on quarantine release to make our world right again, we’ll be disappointed.

Continue reading

Don’t Dismiss Grief: A Reflection on Easter and COVID-19

Don't Dismiss Grief

The Christian faith does not shy away from grief.

It knows it. It’s experienced it. And it’s not afraid to sit in it.

This is something that is so very different from our world. It likes to present the picture-perfect models, the happy-life commercials, and the plots that are easily resolved in about 90 minutes. No one ever stays dead, any injuries are easily fixed by special robotic technology, and if we just eat the right foods, do the right exercises, or wear the right clothes, we can fix anything. Our lives are shiny, polished, and we never really need to hurt or be sad.

Or at least, that’s what we thought.

COVID-19 tore down our walls. It demolished the borders we built. It batted aside the things we made to keep the bad things out there, while we were all safe and happy and cheery in here. Now we’re staring out at the bleak land stretching beyond our too-brightly-colored town.

What do we do with this? Our movies tell us to just smile, and everything will be better. Our timelines and feeds and streams are filled with rainbows and hope. And these things can be good and encouraging. But some days, these things taste like too-sweet dessert, sticking in our mouth and leaving a bad taste behind.

And sometimes, our Christian faith can feel too-sticky-sweet too. We smile and say that God has it all under control and it will all be ok. And this is true. This is ultimately what will happen. But there will be grief right now too.

And that’s where the real power of the Gospel comes in. Continue reading

Why Teens (And All of Us) Need Theology

Copy of We Have a Better Story

We want our Christianity to be alive. We live in a world full of bright explosions, flipping numbers, and urgent calls from everywhere–our world is in chaos, and we feel the urgency to do something. There is so much to do, so we want our faith to be powerful, moving, and deeply felt.

So when theology comes up, we might sigh. When discussions about inerrancy or impeccability or any other long i-word comes up, we shrug or settle back into that resigned place inside, holding tension low in our chests and low resentment in our eyes, because it doesn’t seem pertinent.

The word “theology” calls to mind stacks of books, ancient bearded men, and words that you have to dig to the bottom of the dictionary to find. Theology sounds like Latin and smells like dust; stifling any life beneath old, rigid machines that are too clunky for today.

It isn’t for us. Maybe intellectuals can hit ideas back and forth about canonization, and maybe our pastor should understand something about inspiration and inerrancy–but those things aren’t really pertinent to our day-to-day life.

But we’re looking at this all wrong. For teens who want a living, powerful faith that impacts the world, we need theology–and more than every before. Continue reading

The Ocean, Outer Space, and The Overwhelmingness of God

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There are some things we love that are too big for us.

The sea and the sky, the waves and the stars, the pearls below and the planets above–these two have always been my loves. They’re close and familiar to me; they feel of warm soles slapping against grey boardwalk planks, and of neck upstretched to see it all spread out at night. Yet they’re far and distant too, both ever stretching out of reach, out of sight, with islands and planets and worlds far away to explore.

These two are my loves, and they have been since I was young. I’m a child of the sea and the sky, a Navy daughter and a pilot’s child, exploring the aquarium in my childhood mornings and soaking up NASA documentaries at night. These two, so close and so far away, each hold a strange attraction for the astronauts and the sea sailors and for every one they touch. They are vast, they are beautiful–there are waves dancing and stars twirling and we wonder. We turn our eyes out far to sea, we turn our lenses out far to space, ever curious, ever looking, ever surprised and in awe.

Because it’s glorious what we glimpse. Continue reading

Christian, Stop Dehydrating Yourself

The worst place to die of thirst must be the ocean.

“Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink,” says the old poem, and it’s an apt description of the situation. Stranded in a small boat, with not canteen of fresh water, you’re surrounded by miles and miles of water–but none of it does you any good.

Ocean water isn’t fit for drinking. The salt in it dehydrates you, drying you out from the inside out. Drinking it won’t hydrate you–it’ll do the opposite, and absorb your life away. The sea mixed with salt can’t help you. You can scoop it, splash in it, and even swim in it–but none of it will quench your thirst.

The worst place to be thirsty is in the middle of the ocean–and the worst place to be thirsty for God’s Word is in Bible class.

After all, you’re surrounded with Scripture. You can scoop up verses in class, splash about in it during discussions, and swim deeply in it for papers. But sometimes, none of that really does you any good. You’re still thirsty. Because you’re not really drinking fresh water. Because the water of the Word is mixed with the salt of second-hand. And if you’re not careful, it can dry your spiritual life out Continue reading

We Have a Better Story Than Game of Thrones

We Have a Better Story

“It’s a great story. It has sex, violence, a whole lot of money, and it’s full of good-looking people. What more do you need?”

My head jerked up at the words, not quite sure my car-trip-dozing ears had heard the radio correctly. But I hadn’t misheard.

The radio continued on talking of the release of the final season of a popular show, that everyone was excited about, that everyone was talking about–oblivious to the fact that it had just dropped a profound revelation encapsulating our culture. (Regardless of whether or not you agree that its description of the show is accurate.) Here, on this solemn channel of BBC, a serious professor declared that all a good story needs is sex, violence, money, and attractive people. That’s it. That’s all the story needs. Continue reading

We Can’t Go Back to Our Childhoods–But Maybe That’s a Good Thing

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“I wish we could be 10-years old again–back when we played as little princesses and life was simple and easy.” My friend sighed wistfully as she said it, and my heart echoed the sentiment. We were discussing the myriad of different challenges and choices in life, and she was a little overwhelmed by it all.

Haven’t we all felt the same at some point? There was a time long ago when we were young, when everything was beautiful. We were sure everything would be simple and easy; we were convinced everything would work out alright. But we’re grown now, and we’re not quite so sure anymore.

Because as life went on, it also became harder. Dreams have died. Loved ones have been ripped away too early. We’ve stumbled and fallen. Life is no longer full of play and enjoyment; there are decisions to be made–big, life-altering ones–and we’ve known failure enough to fear its coming again. We’ve let love in, only to let it wound us, and are left wondering if we’ll ever find it at all. We’ve lost friendships and trust, and wonder if in a way we’ve also lost us.

Because we’re not those happy little children anymore. Growing up is hard, and we bear the evidence that we’ve learned that through experience. Our toy crowns are long gone, our shoes are scuffed and scraped, and our eyes have seen some tears. And sometimes we wish it all away, that none of this had ever happened, and that we could go back to being those children again.

But maybe it’s a better thing, to be more than merely innocent.

Continue reading