Theology 101: Eschatology ~ Heaven, Hell, and Tough Questions

On Sunday we discussed two controversial topics: heaven and hell. I think around these two topics there has been so much fuzzy thinking, so much conjecture, so much just  silliness sometimes that many people just avoid thinking about them.

Well that’s what we tried to clear up.

1195401_84100834We took a look first at heaven, looking at the picture of life painted without sin prior to the fall in Genesis and revealed in Revelation. What we see so clearly is that we will continue to have deep relationships with others, with creation, with tasks and purposes, and most of all, with God. Heaven is not a place where we float around in the clouds, singing songs on harps to Jesus. Heaven is here on earth – where we move, live, and create with God, others, and creation. Heaven is a beautiful continuance of all that is good and worthy in our lives. And it’s a beautiful thing.

N.T. Wright describes it this way:

The redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love.

And that sounds anything but boring.

With that we turned to discussing the doctrine of hell. Now this is a confusing, and unclear doctrine for most people at the best of times. Much of their thinking has been more influence by popular culture, Dante, and poor theology than the actual Biblical account. And something we want to at least acknowledge up front is that there isn’t a lot of Biblical material that deals with this directly. And that much of it is metaphorical. That doesn’t mean hell’s not real, but perhaps not every image is meant to be taken literally (i.e. hell is discussed as a place of darkness and fire – which seem to be mutually exclusive).

So with those provisos we dived into the topic by addressing first and foremost: why do we even need this doctrine?

Many people struggle with the idea of hell, and so I discussed why I still believe we need to retain the doctrine. First, is that I do believe that the theme of hell, and judgment are in scripture. Secondly, that God honors free will. And thirdly, that justice requires putting things right.

So I want to expand on the idea that God honors free will. I don’t believe in what’s called “universalism” (that everyone gets to heaven), because I believe in free will. I believe that God, out of love, created us with free will. Which means we are free to reject God, and even reject heaven if we choose. And I don’t believe that God will override that free choice. Robert Farrar Capon writes,

Both heaven and hell are populated entirely and only by forgiven sinners. Hell is just a courtesy for those who insist they want no part of forgiveness.

Also I believe in justice, so I also believe in the necessity of hell. I don’t believe that justice can just pretend that evil doesn’t have consequences. I believe in hell because I believe that ultimately true and deep evil needs to be confronted and made right. Part of that making right is there being justice for the victims and oppressed in the world. And in this then we need to be clear – God does not torture. As Michael Bird shares, “Hell is about justice, not torture”. And I think that Dale Allison gets to the heart of why my view of justice entails some doctrine of hell by writing this:

I do not know what befell Mother Theresa of Calcutta when she died, nor what has become of Joseph Stalin. But the same thing cannot have come upon both. If there is any moral rhyme or reason in the universe, all human beings cannot be equally well off as soon as they breathe their last and wake again.

Or as N. T. Wright comments:

I find it quite impossible, reading the New Testament on the one hand and the newspaper on the other, to suppose that there will be no ultimate condemnation, no final loss, no human beings to whom, as C.S. Lewis put it, God will eventually say, “Thy will be done.” I wish it were otherwise, but one cannot forever whistle, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” in the darkness of Hiroshima, of Auschwitz, the murder of children and careless greed that enslaves millions with debts not their own.

And I’ll close my thoughts on hell with this quote from Daniel Migilore:

Hell is not an arbitrary divine punishment at the end of history. It is not the final retaliation of a vindictive deity. Hell is self-destructive resistance to the eternal love of God.

And I think that’s true. You don’t miss heaven by a bit, but by a constant and consistent refusal of the love and person of God.

So that’s what we looked at. It was a tough sermon, but I think one that will for sure spur more thinking and discussing. And certainly there are lots of other views out there. What I think is really important though is to be sure on what you personally believe. I think the hard doctrines and big ideas deserve thought and aren’t to be swept under the rug.

We ended with a reminder that the main point was that in the end all will be made right. That’s the purpose we are heading towards – a world put to right. A world that is finally fixed from evil, sin, and destruction. A world we live on in full communion with God, others, and creation.

We gave three simple little practical points with this to close. To focus on loving and not judging. Focus on sharing Jesus, not figuring out the details. We should be encouraged, it will end right. These are some practical ways that this should actually affect us. We should focus on loving and not judging who is in or out. We should be focused on sharing Jesus, not just debating details to death. And we should be encouraged that no matter what we see in the end God will make it right.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says that all should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and dot the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master builder and the work. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are the prophets of a future that is not our own. Archbishop Oscar Romero



Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: That in the end all will be made right

Teaching Points:

  • Heaven isn’t just a heavenly location but the place where God’s reign is full and comprehensive.
  • Heaven is a place where we have this clear, immediate, and personal connection with God.
  • The redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love. N.T. Wright
  • “There is more to heaven than clouds, angels, and elevator music”. Michael Bird
  • The necessity of hell: free will and justice.
    “Hell is about justice, not torture”. Michael Bird
  • Hell is not an arbitrary divine punishment at the end of history. It is not the final retaliation of a vindictive deity. Hell is self-destructive resistance to the eternal love of God. Daniel Migilore
  • We need to focus on loving not judging.
  • Focus on sharing Jesus, not figuring out the details.
  • We should be encouraged it will end right.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What lingering questions do you have about heaven or hell? Who can help you to wrestle through them? What you most looking forward to with heaven?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today talk to your kids about heaven and what it’s like. Talk about how we’ll have friendships, relationships, and tasks in heaven. Talk about how best of all we’ll have a relationship with God that is deeper and fuller than anything else.

Challenge for the Week: Keep being faithful to God.

Heaven and Hell – and a Lot of Questions

1157789_38642466So on Sunday we’re talking about hell. I know a topic that is…well…divisive to say the least. Some pastors love talking about – hellfire and brimstone – and all of that. Other pastors avoid it because they don’t know what to do with it.

But I want to deal with it honestly. I want to deal with objections. I want to deal with the Biblical passages. And I want to deal with this doctrine and topic in light of Jesus Christ.

So if you’ve ever had questions about hell, well you’re in good company, because I have lots. And I’m going to do my best to deal with them, talk about them, and hopefully even answer some of them.

And we’ll also talk about heaven, an equally misunderstood topic. And I’m going to do my best to do it all in 30 minutes. So if you’re around, are interested, and have ever wondered about heaven or hell – this is the Sunday to be there 🙂

“Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise” ~ Lenten Reflection

sevenlastwords-2On Sunday we looked at the fourth word of Jesus found in Luke 23:43. Jesus says this, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We looked at how Luke introduces us to two thieves who hang next to Jesus. The word “thieves” though probably bring up the wrong connotations for us. We think of common street thugs, when we should be thinking political terrorists. Because that’s what these two thieves were in the eyes of Rome – insurrectionists, revolutionaries, or political terrorists.

They are expecting a Messiah to show up and to overthrow Rome. The Messiah would “save” them from Rome. The Messiah would, through strength, power, and violence if needed, toss out the Romans and inaugurate God’s reign (or Kingdom) in Israel. This is what they were waiting for. This is what they were looking for.

So when these two men look at Jesus, all they see is a failed Messiah. Real Messiahs don’t get nailed to cross. Real Messiahs don’t get crushed by Rome, they overthrow Rome.

So one of the thieves hurls abuse at Jesus. The Greek word is a strong word, and it demonstrates that this thief continues to hurl abuse and blasphemy at Jesus constantly. It’s not once or twice, it’s a constant barrage of abuse.

But we get a completely different reaction from the second thief. He seems to have had a change of heart. He isn’t hurling abuse; Jesus seems to have somehow convinced him that he is who he says he is.

What is interesting is two men experience the same thing, but have different responses. One hurls abuse at Jesus, the other accepts Jesus.

I think it has to do with seeing Jesus offer forgiveness to those who killed him. For the one thief this is a betrayal of his most deeply held beliefs. You do not forgive your oppressors; you kill them and overthrow them. Yet for the other thief, he sees a different thing. He sees not weakness in forgiveness but strength, and it causes him to believe that even as Jesus is dying – he is somehow coming into his kingdom.

So he says essentially two words: Remember me. Remember me. Remember me.

He doesn’t confess his sins, he doesn’t offer a prayer of repentance, he just says “remember me”. And it’s enough. And it’s always been enough. So Jesus says something remarkable – “today you will be with me in paradise.”

And from this we asked a very personal but poignant question: what type of prisoner are you?

  • Are you like the first – hurling insults at Jesus and seeing nothing but weaknesses and irrelevance?
  • Or are you like the second – who sees something more amidst the hell he was going through?

Because it is the second that received a promise, in the midst of his own personal hell, for paradise to enter his life. This is a promise that is worth finding. This is a promise worth hearing  – but it only comes when we choose to trust in Jesus.

So we ended with that question, and invited a response. That if today you want to find paradise and Jesus, to simply say two words: “remember me.” The thief didn’t know how paradise would enter his world, and I don’t know how it might enter yours if you trust in Jesus. What I do know though is that it is always through Jesus, and begins by saying “Remember me”.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: What type of prisoner are you?

Teaching Points:

  • Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
  • Crucifixion was a punishment that the Romans used almost exclusively for the crime of sedition. Reza Aslan
  • Jesus is not dying because of his religious ideas, but because of his political ideas.
  • The people were expecting a messiah who would save them, not die for them.
  • What kind of prisoner are you?

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Had you thought of Jesus dying before because of politics and power more than religion? What do you think about that? What thief can you relate to more and why? Have you ever been like the first thief hurling abuse? What brought you there? Have you ever been like the second thief trusting? What brought you there? Where are you today – trusting – or distrusting?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today read the story and talk to your kids about Jesus’ words. Help them to see that if we choose to trust in him, he will promise us paradise in our lives. Ask them if any of them might want to trust in him.

Challenge for the Week: Pray – Remember me

What is the Father Like?

FarSideGodComputerSmallOn Sunday we looked at who the Father is. Many of us have this idea that like this comic shows that the Father is in heaven ready to smite. That if it weren’t for Jesus, the Father would be angry with us. That the Father’s natural disposition is not being nice like Jesus, but anger, wrath, and punishment. But this is not the picture Jesus paints of his Father

We began exploring how the Father is one who goes looking for the lost, and hurting in Matthew 18:12-14. In this passage Jesus is clear that the Father’s desire isn’t for anyone to be lost. That he notices you, and comes to seek and find you when you wander off. The posture of the Father is one of yearning, inclusion, and finding, not vengeance and “smiting”.

The second passage we looked at is Matthew 7:7-11. In this passage we see a Father who loves to give good gifts. And this matters because so often we have this feeling that God is stingy, uninterested, or that we need to “work harder” (more prayer, fasting, or faith) for God to answer our prayers. But Jesus reveals a Father who is generous, active, and approachable. Jesus reveals a Father in heaven who is filled with abundant generosity not scarcity. And this is a picture we need to get straight and hold onto.

The third passage we looked at was Luke 6:35-36. Here we see something that we often forget. The Father is merciful. Jesus is so clear, and succient reminding us the Father is merciful. The Father is not full of wrath, and anger but full of mercy. Jesus isn’t the nice one, while the Father is the angry one. Jesus reveals who the Father is, and he is clear that he is merciful. So whatever else we do with some of the other complex passages in Scripture we need to be clear on this: the Father is full of mercy.

And finally, the last passage we looked at was the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. This really summarizes all the other passages. That when the son demands his inheritance the Father’s generosity is so deep, he is even willing to give when it hurts and will be taken advantage of. We see also that the Father searches and looks for his son, like a lost sheep. We also see the Father welcome home the son with compassion and love and mercy, not judgment and wrath. We lastly see the Father being full of forgiveness.

So the main point on Sunday was to centre on the picture of the Father as revealed by Jesus. One who is loving, generous, merciful, and forgiving. This is our Father in heaven and this should change how we live.

Dads, we need to be Fathers like the Father in heaven.

Parents we need to parent like the Father in heaven.

Christians we need to live and follow the “house rules” and “house values” of our Father in heaven. We need to be about mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love as well

So on Sunday we gave the challenge to get closer to the Father, and live like the Father. This is a good reminder to us because we need to get rid of the idea that God is sitting by a computer ready to smite. We need to get centred on the Father that Jesus reveals.


Sermon Notes

Big Idea: The Father is loving, generous, merciful, and forgiving

Take Aways…

  • We have a wrong picture of God the Father
  • Our picture of God the Father needs to be based in the revelation of Jesus Christ
  • If our picture of God the Father is off, so will our lives.
  • The Father’s reaction isn’t to smite but to find
  • Heaven is not about scarcity, but abundance, and gift, and generosity
  • The Father is merciful
  • Jesus didn’t die because the Father was angry, Jesus died as an expression of God’s love not anger
  • The Father Jesus reveals is loving, merciful, generous, and forgiving.
  • Next Steps: Go to the Father. Thank our fathers. Live like the Father
  • The greatest tragedy of our lives, is that we forget who we are. Henri Nouwen

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What picture did you have of the Father in your mind before today’s sermon? Was he generous or stingy? Kind of angry? Forgiving or judgy? What has shaped your image of the Father? What image / passage most resonated with you today? What has changed in your view of the Father after today? What questions do you have? How can you live more like him?

Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families: Today talk to your kids about what God the Father is like. How he is loving, generous, forgiving and merciful. Tell them this is who he is, and who you want to be like. Make a promise to them to try to live like their Father in heaven.

Challenge for this Week: Get close to the Father, and live like the Father

Heaven is Here Now…


On Sunday we talked about the end of the story. We explored the last two chapters of Revelation. These chapters are full of images of life and hope. We read of living waters flowing, bringing healing to every person. We read of a place where chaos no longer reigns. We read of God restoring everything. We read of a place where the sun continually shines bathing people in life, light, and love. We read of how the presence of God is fully there unmediated, and fully available.

And we asked the question that is most obvious: when will these things happen?

The difficult, astounding, and Biblical answer is that in some way they already have. That with Jesus’ resurrection God’s presence is available for all us. Healing of our spirits and souls can now be found. Chaos is beaten, and light begins to stream from the tomb. The hard to grasp beautiful truth is that the future of hope is coming towards us, but it began at Easter with resurrection. So we do not need to wait till the end of time to experience, we can experience heaven now. Because the truth is wherever Jesus is fully present so too is heaven. Heaven is his presence.

We closed with reading a promise, a prayer, and an invitation to all of us today:

“The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come’. Let each one who hear them say, ‘Come’. Let the thirsty ones come – anyone who wants to. Let them come and drink the water of life without charge”.  Revelation 22:17

This promise isn’t about the future but the present. This promise isn’t about what will happen, but what can happen today. Today if you need life, love, grace, hope, and healing. Answer the invitation to come, answer the call and drink the water of life, letting it give you life.

This is what we explored on Sunday and what we will explore for the rest of our lives…how to live in light of God’s presence that is with us today because of Easter.

Sermon Notes

Big Idea: The end of the story is beautiful but it begins today…

Take Aways…

  • What does Jesus death and resurrection mean?
  • God doesn’t cancel our current creation but restores it
  • In Jewish thought the sea can be a metaphor for chaos
  • We can experience living water today
  • You experience heaven now by finding Jesus today

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What made you laugh? What did you take away? What would your life be like if you lived without guilt, shame, or brokenness? What do you need to experience today (life, freedom, hope, etc)? How can you Easter become a reality? How can you welcome Jesus into your life today?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Talk to your kids about how following Jesus isn’t about just going to heaven, but experiencing heaven here. Ask them what they think heaven is like. Talk to them about how heaven is full of joy, grace, love, fun, and hope. Talk to them about how Jesus wants them to experience that now. Ask them when they’ve felt those things and if Jesus has felt close when they feel loved. Take a moment and pray with them to experience “heaven” in their lives today.

Challenge for this Week

Come to Jesus today…

Overcoming Death

On Sunday we talked about death. We opened up a dialogue on an important topic that affects us all but is so foreign to us at the same time. After I shared on Sunday, a friend came up to me and said death is supposed to be foreign to us because death was never to be.

This is so true but is so often misunderstood. So often people think of death as part of God’s will and plan. But death has never been, and won’t ever be part of the plan of God. Jesus died to conquer death. Death is an enemy and not an agent or activity of God.

So on Sunday I shared from 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul writes that death is an enemy. And yes it is true that death is the last enemy as Paul put it, but death is not an enemy that lasts. There is a future rushing forward to meet us where death will be swallowed up whole (Is. 28:5), where every tear will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4), where all will be restored (Acts 3:21). This is the future that needs to shape us. But how do we do that? Well I have two suggestions. First, don’t let death count the time and second, we get through it together.

My dad died two years ago on Sunday. It feels as if I’ve lost him for two years. But this is counting time through the lens of death, rather than the future that is before me. Because in reality, I am now two years closer to being reunited with him. God’s future is two years closer to becoming a reality. And yes, the loss I feel is real, and it is deep. But the loss isn’t permanent. So while I wait I will remember that a future is coming where all will be restored.

But how do you get through the “waiting” or the space between now and the future? Well I believe you get through it together.  Andrew Root writes this, “God is present when death is shared, when suffering is joined”. So we get through to the future God has for us together. We share in the lives of each other refusing to let death have the last word. We remember memories, events, and people together.

So my sermon in one sentence was this: Death is wrong, death won’t last, and we get to the future promised to us together.

But sermons aren’t meant to just be heard, but to be lived. So this week why not go and join someone in their loss. Ask them about a loved one, send them a prayer, or mark a memory. Go and join someone and bring God with you…

Discussion Questions

  • Questions for Adults: How have you viewed death growing up? What part struck you most about the sermon today? Is there anyone that you’ve been separated from because of death? How does today’s sermon help you in that separation? How can you help others who have recently experienced the separation of death?
  • Questions for Young Families: Why is do you think that death is hard? Are you scared of death at all? Share how Jesus promises that death will never win, and that he gives us life.
  • Challenge for this Week: Walk with others in your community and neighborhood who have experienced loss