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Hereafter (1)

I recently presented a message called Hereafter, which deals with what life after death will be like for the believer.  It will take a few posts to cover the material so I ask you to be patient --- there are some points to be developed that can't be microwaved. I also challenge you to be willing to think these things through with me.  Much of what many of us have been exposed to about heaven is filled with caricature, poor handling of Scripture, and tradition (I'm thinking not only of what has been taught but of some of the songs we sing).  I freely admit going into this that I don't have all of the answers (or even all of the questions), but I do believe I have some solid and helpful things to say.  Let me start with these preliminaries.
#1
- We must recognize that this is a subject for revelation, not speculation.  I did a quick search and counted over half a dozen books where people claim to have had the experience of going to heaven and have written to tell us what it is like. My favorite title of these is The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences: The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die. Seriously, "The Ultimate Guide?"  Based on what --- experiences?  I don't doubt the genuineness of the experiences (just as no one doubts the genuineness of their dreams), but that doesn't mean they correspond to reality.  Furthermore, it's interesting that a man whom we know had a vision of heaven, not only wasn't permitted by God to share what he heard, he said no one was (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).  But then, what did Paul know?  Seeing how excited some get over what's found in these books rather than the book, you'd think not much. 
# 2 - While the Scripture is absolute in its affirmation of life after death, it is minimal in its details.  Unfortunately, there's not a book in the Bible we can turn to called "What happens when this life is over." (That would be nice, wouldn't it?)  Stilll, while we might not have as many meaningful specifics as we would like, the Scripture does point us in a definite direction about certain things.
#3 - We must not compartmentalize our thinking about hereafter from the rest of the Bible's story. In the classroom where Janice and I teach the 3rd-5th grade class on Wednesday nights, there is a Bible chart that spans one of the walls.  It has six sections to it and it’s everything you could want in a visual aid --- it’s colorful, the artwork is well done, and it breaks the Bible down into easy to process segments.  As I mentioned, there are six sections:  Creation to Patriarchs, The Exodus through Judges, Kings & Prophets, Exile & Return, Jesus, and The Early Church.  Each section has a timeline with cute little icons for different characters and events. I’ve dabbled in trying to put together something like this before, so I really appreciate the work that went into this and the excellent job they did in presenting a substantial amount of information.

My only problem with the chart has to do with the theme it has for each section.  For the first four sections the theme is: God prepares salvation.  The theme for the Jesus section is: God sends salvation.  And the theme for the last section is: God offers salvation.  Now salvation can be a rich word that embraces every dimension of the Christian life, that’s not usually the way we think about it.  We usually think of it in reference to what happened when we were baptized.  This being so, the chart could be understood to say that the whole Old Testament time was spent preparing for people to be saved one day.  Then Jesus came and now when by faith we’re baptized, we’re saved. 

Of course, all of that is true and good, but it’s kind of like thinking of a marriage in terms of only the wedding ceremony or the honeymoon. Although those things are very important, there is much more to marriage than that.  In the same way, there’s much more to the Scripture and our lives than being saved (i.e., service, mission, sanctification, etc.).  In fact, I’m afraid that viewing it that way could promote a consumer mindset.  We have our salvation . . . we don’t really need anything else.”  And even if we don’t view it in these terms, we are thinking in ways that are shallow and under developed.  The result is that we end up with a faith that may be two miles long --- but it is two inches deep.  And according to Jesus, this is not a good situation (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21).
 
If the chart said something like The Israelites live for God, Jesus lives for God, Living in God’s kingdom, etc., it would convey the idea that both the message of Scripture and our following of Christ are life-related and neither is to be compartmentalized in any way.  That would give us the platform for learning the rich truths of Scripture and living them out.  What does all of this have to do with the hereafter? 
 
In the same way, if we compartmentalize our thinking about heaven from the rest of the biblical story, we'll miss some important truths --- specifically how the Scripture connects heaven to our life on earth. 
 
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