Good Reads 01.18.18 (on anger, heaven, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On heaven’s impact on life today: 3 Things Heaven Changes by Jared Wilson

Many of us are tempted to simply treat our days like punching a clock for that paycheck, something to keep us warm and well-fed. If we dare to dream big, we think along the lines of the American Dream, of investing for our financial future, or putting the kids through school or leaving them a good inheritance. But the immediacy of heaven transforms the way I view work.

If in fact my daily work is a part of God’s mandate to His people to take dominion and subdue the earth, then my workday becomes brimming with heavenly possibility! Through my work, I am laying up treasures in heaven.

I work now “as unto the Lord,” trusting that even the mundane things I do are being stewarded by Him to accomplish His purposes on earth—and in the earth to come. (click here to read more)

On anger: The Easiest Sin to Justify by Tim Challies

But I think anger is often different. When we sin in anger, we tend to absolve ourselves of blame by pleading the circumstances around the anger. So we blow up at our child, we raise our voice, we fling an insult. But when we’re challenged by our spouse or child or even our own conscience we point to the circumstances. “If she hadn’t been disobedient, this never would have happened.” So really, you see, it’s her fault. We scream an insult at the driver who cut us off in traffic. We use one of those four-letter words that surprises us (not to mention the rest of our family) as we hear it coming from our mouths. But in the silence that follows, or over the gasps from the back of the van, we insist, “He cut me off! He could have killed us!” It’s not our fault, but his.

When it comes to the sin of anger, we can always find an explanation that exists outside of us. We can always dump this sin in the lap of a husband or wife, a child or stranger. Failing that, we can plead fatigue or hormones or waking up on the wrong side of the bed or something—anything!—else. (click here to read more)

On knowing that you’re saved: How a Fish Can Help You Answer the Question of Whether or Not You Know Jesus by Mike Leake

But what separates a live fish from a dead fish? It isn’t that on occasion they are being tossed about by the stream or even swimming with the current of the stream. Both living fish and dead fish can go with the current. But there is one thing a dead fish can never do—swim up stream. They cannot go against the current.

The same is true of believers. There are times when we go along with the current of the world. We look just like the dead fish—being carried about by the cultural stream. We look like unbelievers being tossed to and for by every wind and wave. In such a season we’ll likely question our salvation because we aren’t reflecting our new life in Christ, we’re just going downstream like nothing has changed. (click here to read more)

On reading the Old Testament: The Joy of the Old Testament by Patrick Meador

God is introduced in power! He is introduced by what He has done. This is the power of biblical history. By reading what God has done, we gain insights into the character of God. When we read of God’s deliverance of the Israelites, we see the love, compassion, and power of God. In the recounting of His dealings with King David and Bathsheba, we see that even a man after God’s own heart can be broken and redeemed. It is in Isaiah 53 that we see the prophecy of the suffering servant, Jesus Christ. We read of God not only making promises but delivering on them!

Since discovering the value of the Old Testament, I have done sermon series through Joshua and Nehemiah as well as spent many times on sermons through the Old Testament, pouring over the text. (click here to read more)

Good Reads 10.19.16 (on: shame, heaven, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On heaven: Heaven in a Person by Ryan Higg

The reality of a new earth and a new body is mind-blowing; I don’t want to minimize this. But the most important—indeed, the most glorious, joyous, and rewarding fact about heaven is that God is there. With our new eyes, we will see him face to face. With no more curse, we will enjoy him in new and fulfilling ways we cannot imagine.

Long for heaven. Stretch for it. Gather everyone you can. Heaven will be breathtaking, because God is there. (click here to read more)

On family devotional time: Starting a Family Devotion by Michael Kelley

There’s a pattern to everything, a routine for most every part of life. And any time you disrupt that routine, even for the noblest of reasons, there is going to be backlash. So, before you get started, you’ve got to commit to consistency. Decide on the time of day and keep it at that time. For us, it’s 7 am at breakfast. That will likely change in the coming years, but if you don’t pick a consistent time then it’s doubly difficult to keep the practice going. (click here to read more)

On the greatness of the gospel: Misfits Are Fit for the Kingdom by Chad Damitz

Then I met Jesus. I didn’t run to him; He ran to me. A misfit, a drunk, and a mouth like a sailor. Jesus wanted to hang out with me? I was unclean. Unfit for a relationship with the sovereign King of the universe.

But then I realized Jesus was known for hanging out with misfits. So much so that he was labeled a “drunkard and glutton” (Matt. 11:19) by the religious establishment. However, Jesus never comforted me in my sin. He made it very clear, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (click here to read more)

On how shame can lead us to Christ: The Right Kind of Shame by Matthew Gilbert

The wrong kind of shame believes past sins are greater than future grace. However, the right kind of shame cringes at attitudes and actions that dishonor God. There are simply things about our lives outside of Christ and current behaviors consistent with our lives outside of Christ for which we should be ashamed. The purpose of God-centered shame is never despair or guilt, but instead the praise of the God who bears our shame and uses our shame for our joy. Sin is a kill-joy, but God-centered shame kills sin and creates joy in those who know God in Christ. (click here to read more)

Good Reads 04.27.16 (on: faith during uncertainty, Harriet Tubman, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On facing uncertainties and difficulties with faith: No Matter What Happens by Emily Jensen

Although I have deep concern for the hearts and lives of those around me, ultimately, there is comfort in knowing that external circumstances won’t impact the security of my own salvation. When I don’t have to defend my own stance before God, I can focus on pouring out love to others, remaining calm in difficult storms. I don’t have to fear those who can kill the body (or the dream or the bank account), because the one who controls both the soul and the body says my destiny is secure. (click here to read more)

On the need for church community: Isolation from the Church is Dangerous by Josh Buice

We must learn to see the church as a blessing from God rather than an inconvenience.  We must never look at the church as a violation to our spiritual privacy fence.  We were never called to walk the journey of the Christian life alone.  Surround yourself with gospel preaching, gospel singing, and gospel friends who will be honest with you.  When the church is honest with you, receive it.  Take heed so that you will not fall (1 Cor. 10:12).  We all need the church. (click here to read more)

On Harriet Tubman (who will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill): 9 Things You Should Know about Harriet Tubman by Joe Carter

The abolitionist Thomas Garrett once said about Tubman, “I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul. She frequently told me that she talked with God, and he talked to her every day of her life . . . she said she never ventured only where God sent her, and her faith in the Supreme Power was truly great.” (click here to read more)

On the new book Visual Theology: 5 Ways to Use Visual Theology by Tim Challies

Visual Theology is a book that offers systematic teaching on how to live the Christian life. There are many excellent resources that are meant for new believers or for believers eager to spur on their growth in knowledge and holiness. The majority of the resources are essentially short systematic theologies and, while systematic theology is good and crucial, I wanted to focus instead on systematic Christian living. (click here to read more)

On curiosity and eternity: What Can We Take to Heaven by Barnabas Piper

True curiosity is the pursuit of truth, the exploration of God’s creation and will for the world. In this way curiosity in this life is a launch pad for the next. Everything we learn of God, every soul we impact, every aspect of culture we impact for good, everything we create for His glory is preparing us for heaven and preparing this world to be the new earth. We cannot redeem this fallen world, only Jesus can and will do that. But we bear God’s image and are His emissaries. That means that we can leave bits and pieces of His image all over this world, and curiosity is how we do that. What is more, our own relationship with Him and knowledge of Him is enriched and enlarged, and this goes with us too. We don’t start over when we die; we take our knowledge and love and relationship with us. (click here to read more)

Visions of Heaven (a meditation on books, visions, prophecies, and discernment)

1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 (ESV)

You can walk into any book store and find a host of books which are stories of people having near-death experiences of heaven (and even a few of hell). These books have become so popular and widely read that movies have been made. Though some of the books have now been proven to be frauds.[1]

So, what should we think about books and tales of such experiences?

The answer is more complicated than a blanket accept or reject based upon our own religious tradition or the spectacular nature of the claims. After all, Paul told the Thessalonican church, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20, NLT1996).

skycloudsPaul, himself, was a man who had an experience of a heavenly vision. He wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 12, first in the third person but later explaining that he had received a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble and prevent him from boasting in such an experience. In his vision he was caught up to the highest heaven or the third heaven—meaning the place where God’s glory most fully presents itself at the moment, as opposed to the sky or space (compare: Deuteronomy 28:12, Psalm 19:14, and 1 Kings 8:27, for examples of the different heavens). He saw many things and heard many things that he could not repeat.

There is one difference between Paul’s experience and that of many of these books—Paul had to keep the bulk of his experience to himself. Now, that alone is not enough to dismiss other claims outright. After all, John wrote an entire book (Revelation) filled with many heavenly visions he was allowed to communicate.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when considering these modern day books and stories:

First, don’t reject them outright just because you may not agree. In 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, Paul wrote that this side of eternity we have an imperfect and dim view of God. In other words, we can know truly about him (what he has revealed), but we cannot know fully about him (what he has not revealed), but even then our beliefs must be subject to change as we learn and grow. If everything you believe about God is the same today as it was ten or twenty years ago, then likely you have not been dedicated to reading and pondering God’s word, the Bible. It is a living and active book (Hebrews 4:12-13). The word itself is unchanging, but it changes us. We grow in time in our understanding, attitudes, character, and actions. Something we find silly today may prove true the more we learn and grow. So don’t reject something merely because it does not fit your current view of things. Instead, use that as motivation to dig deeper into God’s word.

But… Second, don’t accept them uncritically because they seem to be honest claims. As I mentioned above, some of these accounts have now proven fraudulent. Just because a person claims to have an experience about something doesn’t mean that it’s true. Likewise, the mind has been shown to do plenty of weird things with memories and processing, especially in times of trauma and stress. A person can believe they truly had an experience and yet be wrong. This is why Paul said of prophecies to test them.

So, third, test such claims against what the Bible says. Peter walked with Jesus, had experiences of great miracles, heard the Father’s voice echo from heaven on more than one occasion, and even experienced true visions. Yet when writing to the churches, he said, “We have something more sure”—speaking about God’s word. Peter wasn’t discounting his experiences, he was telling a host of other people looking to him for guidance that the word is a much better guide.

If a person claims to have seen a vision, had an experience, or received a revelation and it contradicts the Bible, then we are to trust God’s word against what the person says. From cover to cover, the Bible paints us in a story where the natural and supernatural interact. There is a spiritual war and spiritual forces of darkness. Pharaoh’s magicians were even able to mimic some of Moses’ signs in Exodus such as turning their staffs into snakes. Yet, Moses’ staff-snake swallowed up theirs. There can be false experiences and demonic experiences. If the event contradicts God’s word then it falls into one of these categories. If not, then there could be truth.

Finally, long for God’s word more than the stories and experiences of others. Even if some of these books and experiences are true, they still pale in comparison to the Bible. Again, Peter said God’s word is something more sure. And Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that God’s word is sufficient to guide us and grow us in a faithful Christian life. In Deuteronomy 29:29, Moses wrote that the secret things belong to the Lord but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever.

If you really want to know what God says about heaven and eternity, look to the Bible. Crave to understand what God has revealed to us through it. This is our hope and source of life and wisdom and joy. Other works should, at best, assist our understanding and not drive it. So, instead of rushing to read the next bestseller, we should rush to read, ponder, and absorb God’s very word.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

[1] Standard disclaimer: I am neither endorsing nor not endorsing the news site linked, strictly for informational purposes related to this post.