The Experience Of Heaven

“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9.  

In the opening chapter of Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry talks about the perils of living with his guardian, Miss Watson. He tells us: Miss Watson would say, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry;” and “Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry – set up straight.” “Why don’t you try to behave?” Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.

Poor Huckleberry didn’t really understand about Heaven or hell, and dear Miss Watson wasn’t helping any. Even today there are a lot of misconceptions about Heaven out there. Some people we will be angels sitting on a cloud playing harps. Others think Heaven will be like a long, boring church service. But Heaven will be far from boring. It will be full of action and activity. Heaven is not just eternal life. It is eternal living. Think of your very best days here on earth, the ones you wish could go on and on forever. Heaven will be like that multiplied exponentially. You will live and breathe and worship and work and fellowship and enjoy all the good things of God’s new Heaven and new earth in your new resurrected body which will be specially designed to take advantage of all that the new Heaven and earth has to offer. 

Don’t forget, however, that one of the most important things the Bible tells us about Heaven is that it is far greater and more wonderful than anything we can possibly imagine. Don’t make the mistake either of thinking Heaven is boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible says God will have work for us to do—although we won’t grow bored or weary like we do in this life. It tells us that we will “stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple…” (Revelation 7:15).

The greatest truth about Heaven, however, is that we will be with God and with Jesus forever. What experience can be better than that?  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What do you think the experience of Heaven will be like?  
  2. What can we do this week to prepare ourselves for eternity while we are on earth? 

What is Heaven?

” … He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Revelation 21:4-5a (NASB)

There are some awe-inspiring and ridiculously beautiful places on earth: Waterfalls in Iceland, glaciers in Chile and the Amazon rain forest in Brazil are examples. People who have been there can describe it to the point where we are able to picture the details, the landscape, and the architecture as though they are actually there. Add to that the fact that today’s cameras take such vivid pictures that you can almost reach out and touch what is in the photo. I’ve never been to Heaven, so it’s difficult to picture exactly what it’s like or even begin to comprehend its splendor. Fortunately the Bible gives us looks into the place where those who have received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will spend eternity. The Bible gives us a glimpse of Heaven, enough to thrill the soul.

For example Heaven is a huge place. Revelation 21:16 “When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles.” Let that sink in. A metropolis of this size in the middle of the United States would stretch from Canada to Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the California border. We don’t need to worry that Heaven will be crowded. The ground level of the city will be nearly two million square miles. But remember, that’s just the ground level.

And since the city is as long as it is high, and if the city consisted of different levels (we don’t know this), of say twelve feet high, the city could have over 600,000 stories. If they were on different levels, there is plenty of room for billions of “rooms” (John 14:2 ESV) in Heaven, with many square miles per person. (Math was not my best subject so these numbers could be off, but you get the idea).

Not only is Heaven a huge place, but a happy, joyous place as well. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” No more aggravation, backache, bitterness, broken bones, broken homes, cancer, funerals, crime, car wrecks, disappointments, high blood pressure, kidney stones, or toothaches to name a few.  

Heaven is an extraordinary place of astounding wonder. Greater than we can fully understand or imagine. It is the home of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings; the home He delights in sharing with us.

To spend eternity in any other place than Heaven is the one goal we should keep in front of us in every decision and every situation life should bring our way, big or small. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do you picture Heaven? 
  2. How does the idea of Heaven affect how we live our lives?

I’ll Fly Away

“Some glad morning when this life is over. I’ll fly away. To that home on God’s celestial shore. I’ll fly away.” – Lyrics to I’ll Fly Away.

The words penned by Albert E. Brumley while picking cotton on a hot Oklahoma day is now a familiar gospel song loved by many. The tune is really catchy and nostalgic and evokes memories in all of us, some happy some of them not as happy. Some of those not so happy moments is when I’ll Fly Away is sung at funerals. 

“Some glad morning when this life is over:” If you thought about it, you would probably wonder why Albert Brumley used the word ‘glad’ when referring to this earthly life being over? Can we find a sense of gladness even when a young life is abruptly cut short. It would be difficult to find a better word to describe when we meet Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer, in person. And we can only do that when the final chapter in this novel called life has been written. That will be some “glad” morning. When we close our eyes on this side and open them in the presence of our Savior. Yes, that will be a glad morning.

“When the shadows of this life have gone:” Everything we read and understand about the Old Testament was simply a precursor to the New Testament. Everything that happened in the Old Testament pointed to the way for the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ. And just as the Old Testament was a foreshadow of things yet to come the life we know on earth is but a foreshadow of the life of eternity that is also yet to come. We should look forward to eternity spent with God. 

“Just a few more days and then.” Sometimes those few days can seem more like a few decades. Life can be difficult. The longer we live the more weary days we will have. The psalmist says, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10)  Our life expectancy goes from eighty to infinity with the coming of Christ, whom the Bible calls “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2)  

“When I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll ll fly away. “  We will be reminded that death is not a finality. We will have the joy of winning the race. The joy of going home. The joy of being with God for all eternity. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you like best about the song I”ll Fly Away? Which parts of the song do you especially identify with? Why?

Dear God: Thank You.

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Every person wants to experience joy. Every person wants to be happy. The question is what do you do when those things seems to be out of your grasp? Joy and happiness can be obscured by the common feeling that happiness is found in wealth and success and possessions. So how can we experience joy? In short, it’s thankfulness. Giving thanks is so much more than saying “thank you” when someone does something nice for you or working up feelings of gratitude. Giving thanks is directly tied to your relationship with God.

We see this exemplified time and time again in the New Testament. From the “sinful woman” who put oil on Jesus’ head and poured perfume on his feet as an expression of her thankfulness (Luke 7:40-47) to Zacchaeus paying back fourfold from what he took from others (Luke 19:3-6), thankfulness and gratitude became a hallmark of their life. Then there is Paul. Paul had a lot to be be forgiven for, so one of the common characteristics we find in the apostle Paul’s letters is the number of times he gives thanks to God in prayer. The opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is an example of this: “I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly,” (Ephesians 1:16)  And Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”

Psalm 136 stands out as it repeats a continual refrain, “Give thanks to the Lord,” and then lists many different things for which the psalmist was thankful. Can we say the same about our own prayers? 

When we pause and reflect on all that God has done for us, a mere “thank you” doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t seem enough. How can we ever be thankful enough for the cross?  How do you respond to the general grace that God gives all of us? How do you respond when God blesses you specifically – when He answers a prayer? How do you respond when He provides healing, or He supplies your needs in a way only He can?  While our thanks may seem unworthy, we should be thankful because God is worthy of our thanksgiving. It is only right to credit Him because every “… good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…”  (James 1:17).  

A thankful heart can be cultivated, but cultivation requires intentionality. Be intentional this week. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is something you are most grateful for this week?  
  2. What can Christ-followers uniquely/be thankful for? How can we stay mindful of this in our daily actions and prayers?  

God Is Speaking. Are We Listening?

“The Bible reveals the Father’s overall plan for the world and provides general guidelines for life. But how can we know His specific plans for us? Listening to God is essential to walking with God.” – Charles Stanley. 

Sometimes people need to get our attention and they blurt out, “listen.” When that happens our response is, “I need to hear this.” It could be listening to a teacher’s instructions, or listening to your parents or maybe a friend sharing something they want to make sure we hear. Sometimes we are so busy talking to God through prayer we forget that God wants us to listen because He wants to speak to us. When it comes to hearing from God, often the main question that we need to answer is the most basic one: Do we want to hear from Him?

It is easy to look at prayer as a one-way communication. If we look at prayer as us talking to God, we will miss God talking to us. We all know what it is like to talk with someone who talks but who never listens. It is frustrating. Likewise, God wants us to learn to listen to Him. God has no problem communicating.  Over and over God interacts with people in a variety of ways. God spoke to Daniel through visions, Balaam through a donkey, Peter through a rooster, and of all things, he spoke to Moses out of a shrub. He is a God who says in Isaiah 28:23, “Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech.” And Proverbs 3:6 (MSG) adds, “Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.

When we are talking to God in prayer remember to give Him a turn. Give God a chance to speak and when He speaks, listen to Him. Learning to hear the Lord’s voice isn’t complicated. But it does require some discipline to find a quiet place and to allow some time just listening.

Have you ever been in a crowded room where everyone is talking. Your spouse is in the room and if you listen very carefully, you can make out her distinctive voice.  To everybody else who does know her, her voice would have blended into the cacophony, but because you know her, you would recognize her voice. This is how we recognize God’s voice as well. Because we know God, we will recognize His voice even above life’s noise. The more we pause and listen for His voice, the more we will become familiar with it and the more our ears will tune  in to it.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How often should you talk to God? 
  2. Friends don’t talk the same way and same time every day. How will you refresh your prayer routine this week?

Now You’re Talking

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” – Ephesians 6:18. 

Prayer is you simply talking to God. No flair. No technicalities or qualifications. No special formulas. Sounds pretty simple. Yet, many people don’t find it simple at all. They want to pray, or they feel because they’re believers, they should pray, but they don’t know how to go about praying to the Creator of the universe. They ask things like, “How do I pray to God correctly?” Or, “What do I say when I pray?”  We are making it more complicated than it needs to be. Prayer is actually simple. It’s just talking to God.

Just talk to God. We all know that our earthly friendships thrive with communication and conversation. God speaks to us through the Bible. We should think of Bible-reading and prayer not just as spiritual disciplines, but as the blueprint to relating to God as a friend. It shouldn’t just be a once-a-day kind of thing; we should talk to God on a regular basis.   

We talk with God as we would talk to a very respected friend. Don’t worry about using heady words or spiritual phrases or even using the right inflection.  Just talk openly, honestly, and sincerely from your heart with your heavenly Father. That would include just discussing things. Just visiting. Just “hanging out” together and having a conversation with God. Talk about your day. When something scary or exciting happens, tell God how it makes you feel. There is so much to talk to God about than “thanks for this” and “help me with that.” You don’t have to sit cross legged for 20 minutes and meditate. Just you and Jesus on the prayer line 24/7. 

Nothing that concerns you is unimportant to God. God is not too busy to hear about every detail of your life. It doesn’t matter if you want to talk for hours, God will hear you. “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.” (Jeremiah 33:3) 

Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions when you don’t understand something about the Christian life. After all, God wants you to come to know Him more and more each day. Jesus’ disciples repeatedly asked for His help, and so should we. On one occasion they said, “…“Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1). 

God wants us to talk to Him. So, why  wouldn’t we want to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity? Prayer should not be a spiritual exercise you have to get through. It’s a conversation with Someone who loves you, and wants a relationship with you. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How often should you talk to God? 
  2. Friends don’t talk the same way and same time every day. How will you refresh your prayer routine this week?

Our Forever Friend

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” – C.S. Lewis

Everybody wants friends, especially good friends. You share everything with good friends, from the good times to the bad times, to the craziest times of your life. Through all of the struggles and disagreements, you create a strong bond with a group of individuals you laugh, share secrets and celebrate life with. A friend shares, gives, lends, loves, listens and helps. The Bible reveals your ultimate best Friend who will never let you down; a Friend who will always be there for you tomorrow in spite of your imperfections and who is always willing to help in your times of need. Jesus Christ is the prime example of a friend.“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13-14)

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings, loves you personally and desires to be your friend. He wants you to walk with Him and talk with Him and live in His presence all of your days.  This is the kind of fellowship God wants with all of us as the Bible repeatedly points out: “…he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)  2 Corinthians 13:14 (MSG) adds, “The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.” 

What better friend could we have? Jesus is steadfastly loyal. He forgives our every fault. He supports and encourages us when we need it most. He is a tireless listener. Jesus loves us as a friend who wants to see us grow to our full potential. God wants only the best for us.

With Jesus as our friend, we are simply never alone. We are always cared for, tended to, desired, wanted, fought for and being rooted for. God roots for us every day. He delights our joy. He delights when we trust our circumstances, all of it, into His hands. “And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”He was even called the friend of God.”  (James 2:23)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does being a friend of God mean to you? 
  2. What could you do on purpose to be more of a friend of God?

What A Friend We Have in Jesus

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis.  

Worship music has the unique ability to testify to our love for, and appreciation to the God who saved us from being eternally separated from Him. Music has the power to move us.  Music can capture a moment in time; when you hear a certain song you can instantly be transported back to that last day of Christian camp where you first heard that song, and the moment you gave your life to Christ. A song that moved generations of generation of Christians is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven.

Some of our best-loved hymns were written in times of great sadness. What a Friend We Have in Jesus is one such song. Despite the pain, hymn writers were able to find comfort in the arms of Jesus and point others to this source of unshakable joy with their music. 

When a young man, Scriven was engaged to be married. All preparations had been made for the wedding ceremony and the date had been fixed. But on their wedding day his promised bride was accidentally drowned, and he was plunged into the deepest sorrow. From this sad experience came a deep sense of his dependence upon Christ and of the great truth so helpfully expressed in his lines: What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. This song emphasizes that Jesus not only understands our feelings, but also offers us strength and hope.

What a friend we have in Jesus all our sins and grieves to bear

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer

Oh what peace we often forfeit of what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer

Jesus is the greatest friend to great sinners. He draws near in our suffering, and He remains committed even in our stumbling. He lets us all the way in, and loves us to the very end. Friendships, like all relationships depend on communication. They thrive when there is good communication and they wither when there is little or no communication. As we read, receive, and remember God’s word, we hear Him address us as friends. And then we pray — we thank Him, we confess our sins to Him, and we share our burdens with Him. We do this throughout the day, not reporting as servants, but relating as friends.

What a friend we have in Jesus.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you like best about the song What a Friend We Have in Jesus? Which parts of the song do you especially identify with? Why? 

The Amazing Grace of Easter

“Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” – John 11:25-26. 

The tomb is empty. What an overflow resulted from that single event. After His death on the cross, Jesus rose, conquering sin, satan and death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in all history, for this event is the earthly culmination of God’s atoning work on the cross.  

Easter is about a month away. We all know the statistics concerning Easter and Christmas. People are more open to coming to church on Christmas and Easter than at any other time of the year. Because of that, we look at these holidays as great opportunities for outreach. Opportunities to share the gospel while giving people an opportunity to experience first hand our church environments.  While it is important to “put our best foot forward,” I don’t believe this is enough to bring people back after Easter. What people want is to meet the risen Savior.

During Easter season, it is hard to not be impressed with the grace of God. Especially when we think of Jesus, specifically his suffering in the place of all sinners. Or when we think of Jesus, the one who is due all glory and honor, bearing all of my shame and dishonor, so that I might be forgiven.  

During this Easter season there is someone around you who is sincerely wondering “who Jesus really is.” They honestly don’t know, or what they think they know are myths and perceptions. But they have an open mind and are willing to listen. Remember that the majority of people who don’t attend church, give the same reason when they’re asked why: “No one ever asked.”

So our mission over the next few weeks is to find that one person that you can invite. That person can be your neighbor, your colleague, maybe a brother or sister, a mother or father, maybe a close friend. Someone who hasn’t yet experienced the forgiveness, the deliverance, and the peace, that comes when you experience new life through faith in Jesus Christ. Invite him or her to one of our Northstar campuses. 

Take some time over the next few weeks to feel what Jesus feels, by letting your heart be broken for those who are hurting, those who are wandering, those who are searching for answers to this life. If you let yourself feel what Jesus feels: it will bring a flood of compassion for those far from the heart of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Make a list of people you want to invite to church on Easter? Have you prayed for that individual(s)?
  2. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to invest in the lives of others in a way that draws them to Him

A Study In Grace

“A Christian is a mind through which Christ thinks; a heart through which Christ loves; a voice through which Christ speaks; a hand through which Christ helps.” – George Mueller. 

Every Christian touched by God’s unconditional love and amazing grace wants to be the mind, heart, voice, and hand of God to those around us. We want to reflect God’s unconditional love and amazing grace. Grace is defined as undeserved acceptance and love received from another. It is a word that is truly as deep as it is wide and any discussion on grace should begin and end with God. Grace is who God is and what He does. But how does a person practically live out grace in their own lives? What does a man who is practicing and portraying grace in everyday life look like?  One example in the Bible is Stephen. His story is found in Acts 6-7. 

Acts 6:5 says, “…and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…” Several verses later we read, “So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. (Acts 6:7-8) That didn’t sit too well with the religious leaders.

As a result, Stephen was on trial for his life. He was accused of preaching that the sacred institutions of the nation were to be destroyed, that is, the land, the temple, the law, and the customs. Stephen defended himself by reviewing Israel’s history. In essence, Stephen was preaching the gospel to the court.

“The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

That didn’t go over too well with the religious leaders, so they stoned him. In the very process of being executed, he responds with forgiveness. Acts 6:8 says, “As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.”

Acts 6:8 (MSG) reads  “Stephen, brimming with God’s grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.” God help us that by the end of 2019 that we are “brimming with God’s grace and energy.”  That we would live a life of grace. 

Discussion Question: 

  1. Which of the character qualities that Stephen had do you most need to work on? How will you go about working on it?