Grace Upon Grace

Sometimes I am discouraged by how imperfect my offerings of service and worship are; I try my hardest and do my best and desperately want to offer something pure and faultless to God, but my work and worship are flawed with mistakes and often my motivations are suspect.

This week I was stunned by these verses: “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5-6).

  • God has chosen me because of His grace.
  • God accepts me because of His grace.
  • God uses me in His work because of His grace.
  • God allows me to worship Him and use my talents for Him because of His grace.

I realized afresh that God doesn’t accept me because of the “perfect” work I offer up to Him as a sacrifice. God accepts me because of Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice on my behalf. My work will be flawed and my motivations suspect, but God accepts me anyway. 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus ChristThrough him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore,we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11).

Today I read these paragraphs from Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed, and they captured beautifully some of the spiritual lessons I’ve learned this week:

Some are loath to do good because they feel their hearts rebelling, and duties turn out badly. We should not avoid good actions because of the infirmities attending them. Christ looks more at the good in them which he means to cherish than the ill in them which he means to abolish. . . . So, though sin cleaves to what we do, yet let us do it, since we have to deal with so good a Lord, and the more strife we meet with, the more acceptance we shall have. Christ loves to taste of the good fruits that come from us, even though they will always savor of our old nature. . . .

God accepts our prayers, though weak, because we are his own children, and they come from his own Spirit; because they are according to his own will; and because they are offered in Christ’s mediation, and he takes them, and mingles them with his own incense (Rev. 8:3).

There is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost. And as every grace increases by exercise of itself, so does the grace of prayer. By prayer we learn to pray. So, likewise, we should take heed of a spirit of discouragement in all other holy duties, since we have so gracious a Saviour. Pray as we are able, hear as we are able, strive as we are able, do as we are able, according to the measure of grace received. God in Christ will cast a gracious eye upon that which is his own.

Would Paul do nothing because he could not do the good that he would? No, he “pressed on toward the goal”.

Let us not be cruel to ourselves when Christ is thus gracious. There is a certain meekness of spirit whereby we yield thanks to God for any ability at all, and rest quiet with the measure of grace received, seeing it is God’s good pleasure it should be so, who gives the will and the deed, yet not so as to rest from further endeavors. But when, with faithful endeavor, we come short of what we would be, and short of what others are, then know for our comfort, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, and that sincerity and truth, with endeavor of growth, is our perfection.

A Prayer for the New Year

“Resting On God” from Valley of Vision

O God Most High, Most Glorious,
The thought of thine infinite serenity cheers me,
For I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed,
but thou art for ever at perfect peace.
Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment,
they stand fast as the eternal hills.
Thy power knows no bond,
thy goodness no stint.
Thou bringest order out of confusion,
and my defeats are thy victories:
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,
to leave every concern entirely to thee,
every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood;
Revive deep spirituality in my heart;
Let me live near to the great shepherd,
hear his voice, know its tones, follow its calls.
Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,
from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.
Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,
burning into me by experience the things I know;
Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,
that I may bear its reproach,
vindicate it,
see Jesus as its essence,
know in it the power of the Spirit.
Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;
unbelief mars my confidence,
sin makes me forget thee.
Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;
Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee,
that all else is trifling.
Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy.
Abide in me, gracious God.

Possessor of Heaven and Earth

Another theme that emerged as I looked up verses that used the word “heaven” was that God is the “Possessor of Heaven and Earth.” He created heaven and earth, as I wrote earlier, and He rules over heaven and earth with absolute power.

Genesis 14:19 is the first reference to God as “possessor of heaven and earth.”

19And he [Melchizedek] blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

Deuteronomy 10:14 says, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”

Similarly,  Nehemiah 9:6 says, “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host,the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Jesus Christ addresses God as the Lord of heaven and earth in Matthew 11:25:

 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children

Paul acknowledges God’s sovereignty with the same title during his sermon recorded in Acts 17 (v. 24 is quoted here): The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man.”

Creator of Heaven and Earth

It has taken me longer than expected to look up all the Scripture passages that refer to heaven and to organize the information. I apologize for the delay, but I finally feel like I’m able to synthesize the info in my brain and figure out a way to express it. So here’s the first of several posts . . .

As I am sure you are well aware, the first occurrence of the word “heaven” is in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The first and second chapters of Genesis describe how God created space, air, the clouds, sun, moon, stars, the earth, and every creature in the air and on the earth. Genesis 2:1-4 says,

1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created,in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

Many other Scripture passages describe God as the creator of heaven and earth, but here are only a few that stood out to me for various reasons.

I like this description of God building the heavens and earth like a master carpenter.

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Psalm 102:25)

These verses express God’s grandeur and power as the creator.

“O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.” (Isaiah 37:16)

“Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)

It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

16When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses. (Jeremiah 51:15-16)

Psalm 115:15-16 shows that God is the ruler over both heaven and earth, but He has given earth to mankind.

15May you be blessed by the LORD,
who made heaven and earth!

16The heavens are the LORD’s heavens,
but the earth he has given to the children of man.

The Psalms present beautiful and powerful pictures of God’s transcendence, His great authority and rule from His throne in heaven, as well as His immanence, His willingness to listen to the cries of His followers and His nearness to them during times of trouble. Psalm 121:2 is a good example of this connection.

My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

The following verses continue the same theme.

May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth! (Psalm 134:3)

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry. (Psalm 146:5-7)

8He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
9He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry. (Psalm 147:8-9)

In this sermon, Paul shows the Creator’s continued interaction with humanity and His care for His creation. The Lycaonians tried to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods, but Paul deflected the praise and pointed to the one, true God.

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men,of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:15-17)

And finally, I include this long section from Acts 17. Paul expertly connects writings from pagan poets to the scriptures and shows the immanence of the Creator God and a proper response to Him. This passage also shows two common reactions to these truths, mockery and belief.

22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription,’To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth,does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead,some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33So Paul went out from their midst. 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:22-34)

Heaven: Word Studies

To be honest, this word study is taking me a lot longer than I expected! If I waited until I finished looking up all the verses and came up with an organized way of answering all my research questions, I wouldn’t write anything for a couple more weeks.

So here’s a bit about what I’ve found so far.

I was a little surprised to find that the word “heaven” appears 691 times in the King James Version (and 692 in the ESV); I knew this would be a big study, but I didn’t expect so many verses. For this part of the word study I’m primarily using the KJV, so I can use the Strong’s concordance.

As I began researching, I expected to find several words translated as heaven that don’t mean “the place where God dwells,” but mean something like “air” or “atmostphere,” and I was correct.

The following Hebrew words are translated as “heaven” in the KJV

  1. galgal  (translated as “wheel” [8x], “heaven” [1x], “rolling thing” [1x], “whirlwind” [1x]),
  2. shachaq (translated as “cloud” [11x], “sky” [7x], “heaven” [2x], small dust” [1x])
  3. shamayim (translated as “heaven” [398x], “air” [21x])
The Aramaic word shamayin is used in Ezra and Daniel and is translated as “heaven” 38x.
The following Greek words are used throughout the New Testament:
  1. basileia (translated as “kingdom of God” [71x], “kingdom of heaven” [32x], “kingdom” [20x], “Thy/Thine kingdom” [6x], “His kingdom” [6x], “the kingdom” [5x], “My kingdom” [4x])
  2. epouranios (translated as “heavenly” [16x], “celestial” [2x], “in heaven” [1x], “high” [1x])
  3. mesouranema (translated as “midst of heaven” [3x])
  4. ouranothen (translated as “from heaven” [2x])
  5. ouranos (translated as “heaven” [268x], “air” [10x], “sky” [5x])
So, now I’m looking through the 398 occurrences of the word heaven in the OT and the 268 occurrences in the NT. Actually, I’ve only made it through Job so far . . .
I promise a more interesting post later!

Heaven: Some Assumptions and Research Questions

As I mentioned in my first post about heaven, there are many differing views of heaven. Every organized religious group has a different concept of heaven, and it seems like every teacher or writer within those groups has a different view. I think this is because we have relatively little information about the afterlife in general and heaven in particular. We have to interpret Jesus’s teachings and the writings of those few people who have gone to heaven and returned (the Apostles John and Paul, for example).

Assumptions

All that to state a couple of basic assumptions as I study this topic. First, I don’t think that my study/conclusions will be the final word on the topic. I’ll be adding my ideas to the many others already published. Even within historic, orthodox Christianity there are different views about heaven. Second, I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible word of God and I plan to base my study on the word of God. However, I’ll also look at historic confessions of faith, sermons, books, songs, and poetry for added insight.

Research Questions

Here are some of the questions I have as I begin this study:

  1. How is heaven described in the Bible?
  2. What was the Old Testament view of heaven?
  3. Did the Old Testament concept of heaven change with added Scripture?
  4. How did (or did) the view of heaven change in the New Testament?
  5. What were Jesus Christ’s teachings about heaven?
  6. What were the Apostles’ teachings about heaven?
  7. Is it right to present heaven as the final goal of salvation?
  8. Similarly, is it right to ask “If you died today, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?” [Author’s note: My WordPress editor tells me that the phrase “know for sure” is redundant. I know that, but I consistently hear people phrase the question that way. Just last night I heard a preacher ask this question, so I deliberately wrote it that way.]
  9. Will we have bodies in heaven?
  10. Is there an intermediate state between life on earth and eternal life in heaven?
  11. How does my view of heaven affect my everyday life?
  12. On what basis do I accept or deny someone’s teaching about heaven?

Your Questions

What are some questions you have about heaven?

Heaven

I’ve thought a lot about heaven lately, partly because of our book club’s study of The Five People You Meet in Heaven and partly because Dr. Watson, the Minister of Education I worked under for 6 years in Guam, entered into eternity last week. Whenever someone I know passes away, heaven seems much more real.

I decided to do some more research about what the Bible says about heaven. Recently, some long-accepted beliefs of mine have been challenged and sometimes I found that I was holding to ideas that were not in Scripture, so I wanted to investigate what the Bible has to say about heaven and try to look at the Scriptures with a fresh perspective.

Now, when people talk about heaven, they’re not always referring to the same thing. They may use the same term, but they explain it in different ways. A quick Google search shows that

  1. Ancient Egyptians believed “departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven. Their heart would finally be weighed with the feather of truth, and if the sins weighed it down their heart was devoured.”
  2. Maria Shriver believes heaven is “a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk… If you’re good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]… When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him.”
  3. Notre Dame’s Jesuit Biblical Scholar John McKenzie says, “The traditional views of heaven and hell are about 95% mythology.”
  4. Barbara Walters says, “Heaven is a place where you are happy.”
  5. According to researchers at Baylor University, “U.S. adults [were polled] about who (and how many) will get into heaven, 54% of respondents said at least half of average Americans will make it through the Pearly Gates.”
  6. “Everyone is going to hell according to someone’s religion.”

I clicked on six links and found six different views. I suspect I could keep clicking on links and only find differing perspectives.

I thought this video segment was really interesting. Stephen Colbert interviews Lisa Miller, Newsweek’s religion editor and author of Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. They discuss the many views of heaven and which ones they think are the best. I think it’s interesting that Lisa credits Dante with the best heaven and says the Jews “invented” heaven.

I couldn’t embed the video, so here is the link: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/310027/june-02-2010/lisa-miller

Well, this post became a long introduction to the topic of heaven. I plan to write several posts that look at Scripture passages that refer to heaven and to share some quotes, essays, and songs that I’ve read about heaven.

What are some views of heaven you’ve heard others describe? How would you describe heaven?