Is Heaven only for Hippies?

No fear    Picture from www.publicdomainpictures.net

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

(Revelation 21:1-6)

This blog post is based on a sermon that i Preached at All Saints Milton on 24/04/2016. If the typos bellow are too much for you, you can listen to a recording here
One of my favorite hymns is ‘how great thou art’. The final verse of this hymn goes like this:

When Christ shall come with shout of acclimation
And take me home – what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great Though art!

I love this song because it captures the majesty and awesomeness of God.This final verse expresses quite how amazing heaven is going to be. This is really important for me because sometimes I wonder if Heaven is really for me.
When I was at university I heard a sermon about heaven and how in heaven we would worship God for all eternity. On the surface this was a really nice learning point, but it messed me up because I had recently acquired a copy of ‘The best worship album in the world ever 2’. What is more I had listened to it. Now I had the horrible image of a future which consisted of an eternity spent singing shine Jesus shine.

Maybe I am alone in this, but I suspect that there must be something about ‘church’ that bugs all of us. Maybe you love Graham Kendrick songs, but the Peace is the most awkward, unbristish moment of your week. Perhaps you love shaking hands with everyone in the room during the peace, but there is a word that comes up in the liturgy every week that just drives you crazy.

If I told you that heaven was spending eternity in church would you be happy, or start to get a little bit depressed?

Maybe you can relate to what I’ve just said or perhaps you hadn’t thought about it like that before. In which case I may have just caused an existential crisis for you and I apologise, but I hope that by the end of this post you’ll be looking forward to heaven again.

The first thing to say is that the sermon I heard at university was correct. In Heaven we will be worshiping God for all of eternity.

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22-23)

And verse 2 of our Revelation passage shows us that there is a link between our eternal never ending state of worship and the church.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:22)

The analogy of Jesus and the church being a bride and a bridegroom is seen throughout the New Testament.  So the Church is meant to model the kingdom of God. It is supposed to be a place where people can look in, and see what it’s like to be in God’s Kingdom, but the church on earth is not the full picture. The church that we are in now, is part of a fallen world. The church that we will be in for all eternity will be better on so many levels. The fallen nature of this world affects our experience of church and of worship.

For me this is really important because of Deuteronomy 6:5

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.(Deuteronomy 6:5)

You may remember that Jesus quotes this verse when he is asked what the most important law is, so what this is essentially is an explanation of what we are for. The meaning Life if you like is to ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength’ To ‘bow in humble adoration’, as it was put in that great hymn we looked at earlier. To worship The problem with our lives is that we do not spend them doing this as completely as we were created to. Things get in the way.

How often does the quiet time get missed for something? How many times do we decide to sit down and pray, but the phone goes, or there’s someone at the door, or we remember something we were supposed to do. And when we finally do sit down to pray we find it a real struggle because God feels very distant.

Even at church things get in the way. Does the choice of music shift your focus from the awesomeness of God to the grammatical inadequacy of the lyrics? Can a light shining on the projector so you can’t read it properly take you from awe to irritation?  Am I the only person who whilst singing the closing song sometimes wonders what is for lunch? How many times do we not really engage in a service because we’re worrying about work on Monday?

All these things get in the way of doing what we were created for and that is the result of being in a fallen world. But the thing is that in heaven we will do what we were created for, and it won’t be the struggle that it is on earth, we won’t have to put up with all of these distractions, and we will be able to focus on what we were made to do.

There are lots of reasons why heaven is going to be Fabulous, but I’m going to focus on 2 from our revelation passage.

Firstly God’s Place

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; (Revelation 21:4)

Despite what I said earlier about sometimes struggling at church, the truth is that it can easier to worship in church. Personally I find being in a place that has been set aside for worship for generations makes it easier to remember that the God who is outside Time is with me.

We are all different, maybe old buildings don’t do it for you, but being outside in God’s creation focuses you on his majesty and the splendor because of the wonderful, intricate world that he created.

Maybe going to somewhere like New Wine or spring harvest helps you to worship because you are among thousands of other Christians and you see the passion and enthusiasm of God’s church which fills you with awe.

I think it is fair to say that there are some places on earth that for some of us just feel Holy. They can be an great help to us in our relationship with God, but life doesn’t allow us to sneak off to old buildings or the country side. There isn’t a Christian festival going on at the particular moment you need one.

And whereas we can’t always access them whilst we are on earth, Heaven will be one big holy place because God will be there. He will be at work everywhere in heaven, And how much easier will it be to worship God when we are in his place? He is busy and active in this world, but he can also feel distant sometimes. In heaven that won’t be a problem, because we will be able to just look up and God will just be there!

Secondly there will be no more pain

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:5)

It’s obvious that sometimes when we are suffering worship gets harder. I hear stories of people who have experienced the most awful loss and tragedy but are in church worshiping God the day after. I hear these stories and think ‘wow that is awesome’ but I wonder if I would have the same attitude. Because worship does have a healing property, but it’s also natural to doubt and question when you go through hard times.

And it doesn’t just have to be a big personal tragedy that gets in the way of worship. It could be something minor or inconsequential in the scheme of things. Sometimes someone can say something to you on your way into church and rather than worshiping through the service you are quietly burning up on the inside incensed by it. Or maybe some trainee vicar at the front says something that you profoundly disagree with. Something that has upset you so much that you can’t listen to anything else that goes on throughout the rest of the service, and this makes a service a write off for you. On earth these things are a problem. But not in heaven. 

Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

We have all done what is shameful or deceitful, but Jesus has sorted all of that out meaning that we can enter into heaven sinless, so all of the sins that we commit on earth that get in the way of ourselves and others worshiping God will be gone. The pain and suffering that are part and parcel of being in a fallen world will be gone and we will be free of the drag that they can have on our worship.

This is all very exciting; we now know that Heaven is going to be great but how are we to live differently in light of this? If we are looking forward to heaven then it is going to affect the way in which we live on earth.

Heaven is going to be perfection, doing what we were created to do. With that knowledge we can try and recreate it on earth.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)

Peter has identified the reason that it is so hard, the reason that there are so many distractions. We are aliens and strangers in this world. This world isn’t our home, our home is heaven. And this is why things on this foreign climb get in the way of us doing what we are meant to be doing.

I’m not a Londoner. I’m just not a city person, the big city isn’t me. However, during my-pre Ridley Career I have lived or worked London for large periods of my life. It confused me at first, and lead to me living differently to how I would normally live.

I wasn’t used to the volume of traffic that went through pretty much any road in London. When I first started to commute into St Pancras at rush hour I would stand by the pelican crossing hugging it for life and waiting for the little green man.  But over time I changed, I learnt to charge to death or glory across the main road.

I altered my lifestyle because I was in bizarre unfamiliar surroundings, and we as Christians often end up doing that same. We start living like people of this world when they are not people of this world. The more that we do this, the more potential barriers that we can construct to our worship and our enjoyment of church.

But when we shift our focus from the things that distract us, when we stop thinking about the struggles and instead set our eyes on heaven, on our spiritual home, those barriers can become less of a distraction. When we think about God and his majesty, those distractions and struggles can often seem to blur away into the background.

I’d like to leave you with the words of the great song writer theologian Belinda Carlisle –

‘oooh baby do you know what that’s worth, we’ll make Heaven a place on earth’.

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