On August 8, 2018 (two days from the writing of this post) I will be 58 years old! Now, that might not be such a big deal to you, but it means the world to me! I always make a big deal of my birthday! Why? Because every birthday reminds me of just how precious the gift of life is! Now, some might wonder, since my birthday is on the 8th, why am I writing this post today? Well, since tomorrow is not promised, I will not take for granted that I will be around two days from hence, and also since I’m having these thoughts now, I will share them now because I might be inspired to share something else (or not) Wednesday!
At the church I serve, I always (in jest) make a big deal of my birthday! I usually tell the membership on the Sunday before the historic day, that I will be available after church to give them written excuses to miss work on my birthday, which is an unofficial national holiday. (I offer to write them an excuse, with no guarantee their employers will accept it nor any offer to compensate for any lost wages; LOL!) Just this past Sunday (yesterday) one of the members said that I should wait until the day of my birthday to collect gifts, to which I replied: “No! I’ll collect any gifts offered or given today, to save people the trouble of trying to locate me on Wednesday!
But, in all seriousness, we should all be excited, not just about birthdays, but about every day! Life is such a wonderful and precious gift! You may be going through a rough patch right now and life might not be treating you very well; but you still have reasons to celebrate life! Why? Because the rough patches in life, whether they are self-inflicted or unjustly caused, are tools that can be used to teach some valuable lessons or weights to help build character and endurance. Whatever life brings your way, the important thing is your response! Life can make you better or bitter; but which, depends on how you respond!
I made up my mind, some years ago, that I would always look for the good in every situation! Many years ago, I read a book entitled: “Happiness Is A Choice.” Every since then, I constantly make a conscious decision to be happy! As I contemplate upon reaching 58 in a couple of days, I am happy because there were some friends I grew up with and some people I went to school with; some younger and some older, who have died, but I’m still here! I realize I am here, not because I was better or more deserving, but rather, only because of God’s grace and providence! Some years ago, when I reached 50, I realized, with all things being equal, I would probably not live another 50 years! I realized that I had already lived longer than I would live! Therefore, I decided then, more so than at any other point prior to that point, that I would no longer allow frivolous pursuits or people to monopolize my time! Life is too short to waste! People who kill or waste time should be arrested and because time is so precious, wasting and/or killing it should be a crime! Sadly, most people madly pursue the paper (money) while neglecting to respect and honor life’s most precious commodity; time!
Now, I realize I’m not the only person who will have a birthday in August 8, in fact, every day is somebody’s birthday! But, I just wanted to share with you my excitement about my birthday to encourage you to celebrate, not only your birthday but every day of your life! Even if you don’t feel like celebrating or you don’t see what’s worth celebrating; life really is good! No matter how bad things appear; just remind yourself they just look that way; usually things are much better than they appear! And even if things really are that bad; look for the silver lining, because; there really is a bright side somewhere!
Have a “good day” today!, As for myself; I am definitely going to have a ‘happy’ birthday; Wednesday! But just in case I don’t make it to Wednesday, that will be alright, because every day is a day worth celebrating!
Back in my early days of seminary, during the first weeks of class, our professor introduced our class to a concept he called “deconstruction.” The idea was to “de-construct” (not destroy) everything we had learn or been taught theologically in order to analyze and verify it. He said this was necessary because most of the beliefs we had adopted, we had accepted them without giving them any serious critical thought. In other words, we had accepted what we have been told as truth without doing any research or investigation to verify the validity of it. The goal of deconstruction was not just to tear down our “pop-theology” (the professor’s term for theology we had formed from what we were told and not from serious biblical study) but to analyze, investigate, and verify it. Within that process, ideas thought to be true but after serious study, found not to be, were discarded and ideas that were found to be true were strengthened and expanded, along with the adoption of new concepts and truths acquired through serious biblical and theological study.
Now, some might reason: Why is this process necessary? Isn’t this just re-inventing the wheel? No! It’s not “re-inventing” the wheel; ‘it’s making a better wheel! It’s taking apart the crude wagon wheel and reconstructing it with state of the art technology to produce a wheel with a more balanced and smoother ride! And beside this, most people are not like the Bereans in the days of the Apostle Paul. As Paul preached to the Bereans, the Bible says of them in Acts 17:11: “These people were more conscientious than those in Thessalonica. They received the message with unrestrained eagerness, daily and critically examining the biblical texts to determine the authenticity of what they heard.” (Acts 17:11 MIT <MacDonald Idiomatic Translation>) Do you see that? They didn’t just take Paul’s word for it! They carefully examined the biblical text to verify what Paul said! Now, as my Daddy used to say: “I said all of that to say this: I want to ask a question that challenges our traditional thinking: “Is Heaven home?”
In the circles I commonly travel, people don’t have “funerals” anymore! Oh yes! They still have a service when someone dies, but it is not called a funeral; it is called a “home-going” service. The idea is that the person (presumably a Christian) has labored in the vineyard of life and now that God has called them “home,” instead of mourning their death, the fact that they have been called from labor to reward and that they are now at home (in Heaven): resting in the arms of the Lord is celebrated! But, I’ve been giving this some serious thought and study for a few years now! And my question is not whether or not they have gone to Heaven, my question is: Are they at “home?” Or “Is Heaven home?” What is “home?” By definition, home is the place of origin. Home is the place of residence, the final destination. With these definitions in mind, I want to go out on a theological limb and suggest that Heaven is NOT home! Now, before you brand me as a heretic and call a council to revoke my ministerial license, let me give you some reasons why I think Heaven is NOT home:
First of all, by definition, home is the place of origin. Home is where you come from. So the question that begs to be asked is: Did we come from Heaven? According to the biblical text, we didn’t! Genesis 2:7 says: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (KJV) The text suggests that man in his origin was a combination of the earthly (the dust of the ground) and the divine (the God-given breath or spirit <the particular Hebrew word in this text that is translated as “breath” is neshamah, which can be translated as “breath” and/or “spirit.”>). Man is a combination of Heaven and Earth, but man didn’t come from Heaven! Man’s origin is the earth! In fact, the whole Creation story seems to suggest that earth was created for man’s habitation and dominion! By the way, when Adam and Eve fell in the Fall, they didn’t fall “from Heaven!” They didn’t lose Heaven; they lost dominion!
We can also define home as the place of residence or the final destination. Using that definition, let’s see if Heaven is indeed home. Is Heaven our ultimate place of residence or our final destination? Again, I would like to suggest that although we commonly think so, the Bible really says otherwise! Genesis 1:26-28 says: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (KJV) Clearly, man (male and female) was made to have dominion over the earth. Also remember, at this point in the text, sin had not yet entered into the world, so this would constitute God’s original intent. God’s original intent was for man to have dominion over the earth! Psalm 115:16 says: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’S: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” (KJV) Heaven is God’s home; not ours! And speaking of God’s original intent; it was not God’s original intent for man to die! Death came as a consequence of sin! The only way we can get to Heaven now is by dying! And according to the Bible, death is not extinction; death is separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul/spirit from the body. So when the believer dies, the body is left on earth and only the soul/spirit goes to God. Now, stay with me here! God created us originally to live on earth in a body. We were created as a union of spirit and body. Therefore, when we die and our soul/spirit goes to Heaven, not only are we not at home, but in a sense we are also incomplete! The Bible says that Heaven is a place, but it is a spiritual place. In other words, as Paul says in I Corinthians 15:50: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” Our bodies cannot and do not go to Heaven, only our spirit/soul. When we go to Heaven, part of us is left behind!
Now, God doesn’t just discard the body and forget about it. You see, if Heaven was home, there would be no need for the resurrection! But there will be a resurrection (a reunion of the spirit/soul with the body)! Even the Old Testament Patriarch Job said: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26 KJV) Now, let me ask you this: If Heaven is a spiritual state and Heaven is our final destination, why go through the trouble of having a resurrection? Now some would answer at this point: “So that we might be judged in our bodies for what we did in our bodies.” But couldn’t God just as well judge us in spirit without our bodies? I would like to suggest that the purpose of the resurrection is not primarily for judgment! God has something even greater in mind! Let’s look at a few “resurrection” texts for some further insights. Now, we usually look at I Thessalonians 4:13-18 as a proof text for the “rapture” but it also sheds some interesting light on the resurrection. Verse 14 says: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (KJV) Paul says that when Jesus comes, he will bring with him the spirits of those believers who had already died. Question: If Heaven is home, why bring the spirits with him when he comes back to earth? Why couldn’t he just say to them: “Wait here (in Heaven) while I go down and get the rest!” But he will bring their spirits with him! Why? Verse 16 gives us the answer: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” (KJV) Wait a minute! Aren’t “those who sleep in Jesus” (the ones he will bring back with him) and “the dead in Christ” the same people? What’s going on here? It’s the resurrection! Jesus will bring back with him the spirits/souls from Heaven and their bodies will be raised from the graves so that body and soul might be reunited! Paul concludes by saying in verse 17, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (KJV) But wait a minute! Why would we need our bodies (even if they are glorified) if we are going to spent eternity in Heaven where we won’t need them? Because we are not going to spend eternity in a disembodied state in Heaven, but we will need bodies for where we will spend eternity!
Let me now conclude by lifting up the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 21:1-5 for us to ponder in regard to our question. John said: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” (KJV) The first thing I want us to notice is that John said he saw the holy city, new Jerusalem “coming down from God out of heaven.” Where is it coming down to, John? Coming down to the “new earth” mentioned in verse 1! (By the way, a reference to a city can be a reference to not just the structures, but also to the inhabitants, here I think is a reference to the people of the city) Secondly, note in verse 3 that John said he heard a great voice out of heaven saying: “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Do you see that? Three times in one verse: God is “with men,” he will dwell “with them,” God himself shall be “with them!” We’ve always preached and taught that the ultimate goal is for us to go and be with God, but according to this text, the ultimate end is God coming to be with us!
Now this is just a short summary of summary of why I believe Heaven is NOT home. I have much more that I could share with you, but in the words of Jesus: “You cannot bear them now!” But, it is for these reasons that where I serve as pastor, we don’t have a “home-going” service when a member dies; we have a “celebrations of life” service! I have even given my wife instructions that if I should die before she does, to make sure they don’t put my body in a casket that has the words: “Going Home” on the headboard. If anything, I want a custom headboard with the words: “Gone Away,” or “On Vacation” or even the words: “I’ll Be Back!” For as the Apostle Paul said: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring (back) with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1Th 4:14 ESV)
Your comments and critiques are welcomed! Tell me what you think! Is Heaven Home?