The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 4

#6 - The Heart in the New Heaven and the New EarthGood day, marathoners for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Timothy 4:7)! Welcome to a feast for the disciple’s heart (core beliefs), spirit (emotions), and faith-lived-out.

Please recall…

Parts 1-4 of this series provides an overview of “God’s Story” SO THAT by way of Parts 5-10 we can apply “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” as I experienced on Christmas night 2002 while with my father after he took his life; and as it is explained in great detail in my book.

Our journey thus far:

Part 1: Creation—When everything was as God meant it to be. “In the beginning . . .” (Genesis 1, 2), God in Trinity thought, spoke, and fluttered creation into existence. He culminated His work by creating man in His own image.

Part 2: The Fall—the tragic intrusion of sin and death into the universe, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made.

Part 3—The Redemption—God’s astonishing promise to redeem His fallen creation and image-bearers through the grace-based work of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the person of the Holy Spirit.

Today is the “last scene” in the panoply of God’s Story, His awesome Plan of Redemption:

Part 4—The Consummation—the magnificent fulfillment of God’s plan to gather and cherish His people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1 and follows).

“Big-T” Time-Out… On Perspective’s… 1) and 2)

Before we consider in more detail the implications of The Consummation, please allow me to point out two very important realities, contexts:

1) A long while back, while I was listening to a Pastor Tim Keller Q&A, a person asked, “Does the Bible condone interracial marriage?” Tim paused just for a [“Keller”] moment and responded, “No.” Murmurs not withstanding, he then went on to request another question of the audience. In the time between his request and the next questioner’s inquiry Tim said, “Oh… and just to add the proper context for my answer to the previous question concerning race and marriage: It’s very important to know that the Bible defines ‘the two classes of race of humanity’ as Believers and Unbelievers.”

Not only do I love this vignette about the Bible, the nature of reality, and Tim Keller’s keen sense of humor and timing… I bring it up now because either Believers or Unbelievers are at this table and taking in this feast of the heart:

And the difference—at the level of one’s heart [core beliefs], one’s spirit [emotions], and one’s faith-walk lived out—will be HUGE! In fact, to both God and all of humankind, all the difference in the universe.

Crossing Over…
At the point in time the Holy Spirit first touches our heart [“regeneration”], we repent of our sin, and beseech Jesus Christ to forgive us, to save us, and to be the Lord of our life, we will sense EVERYTHING in life on a different plane, my friends. If you have been born again from above, you will consume the content of a feast of this kind with eagerness, joy, “Amen’s!”, “that’s me!”, “yes!”, “yum!”, “who do I love that needs to hear this?”, “I remember now!”…

All sorts of reactions, truths, and affections that indicate that “Spirit speaks to Spirit” (Matthew 10:20). That your born-again, regenerated heart is relating to reality in a way that would be impossible without God coming in from the outside and changing you… Changing me. Blessing us with a PERSPECTIVE that is of HIM! And not our own self-addicted, egotistic perspective alone any more…

Or not… If anyone comes to this table as an Unbeliever, it’s a marvelous thing, but it will be largely an experience of abstractions, of antiquated religionese, of varying degrees of offenses, of interesting stuff to consider, of simply man-made-myths from a throwback, weak-minded person, or even a madman.

Perhaps even a True Truth and love from God through a broken vessel such as me… that somehow resonates with the fact that the Unbeliever’s indelible guilt and incessant striving just isn’t cutting it.

Please use this open window on this vital topic of Belief and Unbelief to affirm exactly where you are in this scenario. The difference in PERSPECTIVE between the spiritually dead and alive makes all the difference in time, and for eternity.

2) As it pertains to our topic, “How could an all-loving and all-powerful God allow such horrid and wholesale suffering to occur in the world?”, please hear me on this:

The more thorough our understanding and faith in this “30,000’ perspective” of God’s Story is, a) the MORE we are assured of God’s character and the unassailable foundations of our faith regardless of what life throws at us and, b) the LESS we will be thrown into a tailspin—rendered as surprised and ineffective as the unbelieving world—when so many unavoidable trials in this, i) created good, ii) wholly broken, iii) redeemed, and iv) soon consummated world slams into our life and the lives of all those around us!

This is the ultimate definition and benefit of PERSPECTIVE: This is reality and we get it!

Devoid of this PERSPECTIVE not one bloody thing in this life will make sense to beings originally created with “Godsense”, and lost without it, Beloved of God.

And this is exactly why Koheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes, [essentially] said, “If you seek to live your life devoid of God and His Story [E.g., “under the sun”, “meaningless”] you will by default live a life of stoicism, hedonism, and/or existentialism. Period. There is no other way to live devoid of God. And it’s no way to live…”

Internalizing God’s Story on a Biblical and personal level is so very important to how we internalize all of life.

Part 4—The Consummation—the magnificent fulfillment of God’s plan to gather and cherish His people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1 and follows).

[quoted from my book]

The Cure? The Consummation!

The final cure for every iota of brokenness of any kind will not come until Jesus Christ returns to make all things absolutely new! In this True Truth we have the most marvelous Consummation and unshakable hope:

“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, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21)

As the inset image above from my book portrays, The Heart in the New Heaven and the New Earth: The heart of mankind restored to God’s image and Eden-like state will indeed be one of the most glorious manifestations of God’s redemptive plan!

But, until then:

1) Double-back and do an honest assessment of the nature of your faith in the midst of a Bible-based community of loving saints. Make sure you have indeed been born again, and are not striving in faith based on a religion of meritorious works, unworthiness, or cheap grace (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; 1 Peter 1:3, 23).

2) Embrace “the big picture fact” that you exist uniquely, and by God’s grace, within the big story of his redemptive plan. You have a crucial and special role to play within that plan, but this will remain unknown to you if you avoid the “joyous discomfort in your trials” (Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; James 1; Hebrews 5:8).

3) Embrace the fact that the primary idols of pride, control, and comfort (worldliness) desire to woo us away from everything and anything that would help us become “those who belong to Christ Jesus”— people who have, by the Spirit’s supernatural power at work within our hearts, “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:16-26).

4) Embrace opportunities God provides to examine our hearts and discover the places in which we have grown too worldly, comfy, or man-centered (Psalm 51; 58; 139).

5) Take up the cross and take in the suffering that Jesus endured as he went about his ministry here on earth (1 Peter 4:12; Revelation 2:10).

6) Proactively and urgently run towards the chaos of heartbreak in our world to comfort other hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Philippians 2; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

7) Involve the counsel of Christ, the Bible, and a community of the faithful friends in the proactive pursuit of holiness, maturity, and service (Psalm 119:24; Acts 1:2; John 17; Revelation 3:18).

This is the way, the only way, by which God works in us his unspeakably grand gift of a renovated, restored heart, a heart that is more like Jesus’.

Despite the solution, the redemption for hardheartedness and suffering God has provided, many Christians who live in today’s culture of comfort are depressed and ineffective.

Even though there are a variety of reasons for this (reasons both legitimate and sinful), one key cause I would suggest involves a tendency in the church to treat the faith as simply one more self-help strategy. We have failed to identify the True Truth and act on it. We cling tightly to something that was meant to be given away. Impression always happens in the church mainly for the purpose of expression: [Jesus said,] “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).

Paul addresses this issue as he writes to the church at Philippi, urging them not to look for ways to avoid the difficult obedience that creates joy in the hearts of Christ’s followers. Consider these commandments and warnings against allowing our hearts to harden by grasping onto Christ’s blessings, and not giving them away:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…”  (Philippians 2:1-7 NIV)

Again and again, God in love holds out the opportunity to choose the way of true and abundant life. But how easily his people choose another path, the path of false comfort, the path that leads to spiritual death, and often physical and eternal death later on:

“But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 7:11-12 The Message).

When we know the truth about our own heart’s condition at the deepest level, we have a much more Spirit-filled and finely-honed ability to recognize it in others and, thus, become a more effective agent for the compassionate healing of Jesus Christ!

[end quote from my book]

In closing for Part 4—The Consummation—please consider it in light of the day all of humanity will experience it, AND my earlier explanation of Pastor Tim Keller and the Bible as defining only two classes or races of people: Believers and Unbelievers.

The Consummation holds great joy and excitement to one group and great horror and fear to the other:

The Last Judgment—The Consummation… A “Good News, Bad News” Declaration of Reality
“Finally we believe, according to God’s Word, that when the time appointed by the Lord is come (which is unknown to all creatures) and the number of the elect is complete, our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, bodily and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty, to declare himself the judge of the living and the dead. He will burn this old world, in fire and flame, in order to cleanse it.

Then all human creatures will appear in person before the great judge– men, women, and children, who have lived from the beginning until the end of the world.

They will be summoned there by the voice of the archangel and by the sound of the divine trumpet.^79

For all those who died before that time will be raised from the earth, their spirits being joined and united with their own bodies in which they lived. And as for those who are still alive, they will not die like the others but will be changed “in the twinkling of an eye” from “corruptible to incorruptible.”^80

Then “the books” (that is, the consciences) will be opened, and the dead will be judged according to the things they did in the world,^81 whether good or evil. Indeed, all people will give account of all the idle words they have spoken,^82 which the world regards as only playing games. And then the secrets and hypocrisies of men will be publicly uncovered in the sight of all.

Therefore, with good reason the thought of this judgment is horrible and dreadful to wicked and evil people. But it is very pleasant and a great comfort to the righteous and elect, since their total redemption will then be accomplished. They will then receive the fruits of their labor and of the trouble they have suffered; their innocence [by means of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus] will be openly recognized by all; and they will see the terrible vengeance that God will bring on the evil ones who tyrannized, oppressed, and tormented them in this world.

The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own consciences, and shall be made immortal—but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.^83

In contrast… the faithful and elect will be crowned with glory and honor. The Son of God will “confess their names”^84 before God his Father and the holy and elect angels; all tears will be “wiped from their eyes”;^85 and their cause– at present condemned as heretical and evil by many judges and civil officers– will be acknowledged as the “cause of the Son of God.”

And as a gracious reward the Lord will make them possess a glory such as the heart of man could never imagine.

So we look forward to that great day with longing in order to enjoy fully the promises of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Article 37: The Belgic Confession of Faith, emphasis added)

(Footnotes: ^79 1 Thess. 4:16 ^80 1 Cor. 15:51-53 ^81 Rev. 20:12 ^82 Matt. 12:36 ^83 Matt. 25:14 ^84 Matt. 10:32 ^85 Rev. 7:17)

Whether we can recognize it or not, my dear friends, all of us, as fallen Image Bearers of God [some believing, some unbelieving], were made for eternity AND believe me when I say we “bring eternity into everything we experience in this life”: Deep inside our heart, we all sense either our security in The Consummation or our insecurity in The Consummation:

We bring the sense of temporal and existential gratitude, joy and hope or of anxiety, worry, and despair to every situation in life… We can’t help it.

Please join us at The Training Table next week at as we begin Parts 5-10. We will apply “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” as it is explained in great detail in my book.

Each part of the, a) Weeping, b) Window, and the c) Way will be more concise and extremely [to the godzillionth power] helpful in the realms of redeeming any and all suffering you may… you will… experience in life. It’s not a matter of “if”…


The New Heavens and Earth

Creation Freed from Decay

From Suffering to Glory

The New Day

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