Do you ever find yourself thinking about Heaven? That theme must surely come to mind every time we attend a funeral or drive by a cemetery. However, for many of us the thought of Heaven may seem very far away today with the busyness of life and not even real at times. And yet, if we believe in the Lord and His Word, Heaven has to be a regular part of our thinking. The wonderful thought of going to be with the Lord and enjoying the wonders of Heaven is at the heart of everything the Christian Faith teaches. That thought was central to our Lord Jesus as He prepared to go to the Cross and shared these comforting words with his disciples in John 14:1-3,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
However, as wonderful as Heaven will be one day with our Lord, exactly how to get there is a topic on which few seem to agree, even in the Church. And while most people in the world today have some belief in an afterlife, there is little consensus on how to get there. You see we are now living in a global world, filled with multiculturalism. This great diversity of religious options and thoughts about God and a future Heaven have created a tremendous challenge to the Christian Faith and every true believer.
When I arrived as a pastor in Grand Rapids back in 1986, this was a very different town than it is today. Back in 1986 Grand Rapids was known as the "City of Churches". Few towns in America had so many churches per person. Grand Rapids was also the center for Christian publishing with companies like Zondervan, Baker and Eerdmans influencing Christians around the world. Back then, some people even called Grand Rapids "The Bible Belt of the North". Many of the churches here in town had two services on Sunday and virtually all the stores were closed during that time.
Fast forward to 2018 and Grand Rapids is now being called by some "The Beer City". Did you ever wonder want happened to Grand Rapids in the last 32 years? Well surely, what happened to Grand Rapids has happened to the entire Nation and much of the Christian world. Our City, Nation and world are very different places today. During that time much of the professing Christian world in Europe and now the United States and Canada is being called by some mission experts as "post Christian". Now there are many reasons behind these dramatic changes. Surely, the creation of a 24/7 world of commerce that has marginalized Sunday and Christianity's unique role in society has not helped. Surely the growth of the internet and the increasing amount of distracting entertainment has been a factor. Surely the rise of the "Seeker Friendly Churches" has changed how "Church" is seen by many and the level of commitment we see or lack thereof. We could go on and on with other reasons to explain these changes.
However, with all that has been said to explain these dramatic spiritual changes going on in our world, the biggest reason behind them is often never mentioned. You see I believe the biggest reason why the Church is struggling today is because people think differently about our Lord than we use to think. Specifically, 32 years ago most people in the Church world really believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was the Savior of the world and there were no other options. And yet, in today's global, multicultural world, our Lord is often only one of many options that we can pick and choose from to meet our needs. Ours is a world where the "Consumer is king" so we have many other faiths and ideas about God to consider.
Now if you go back to our Lord Jesus' public ministry, the idea of just one God and Savior was very narrow minded and restrictive. After all, the Greco-Roman world was full of many gods and spiritual ideas about life. No one god seemed to be central or preeminent and so their culture maintained an elevated level of tolerance for whatever anyone wanted to believe. And so, the idea that a religious leader in Israel was the ONLY way to God, the ONLY truth and the ONLY life, just seemed crazy. Words like those spoken by our Lord in John 14:6 that focused every path to Heaven through Him seemed totally unreasonable. As a matter of fact, it was this narrow, exclusive view of God that Jesus was the only Lord and Savior that got the early Church in trouble and led to rising levels of persecution by the government and others.
Fast forward to today and you see the same problem rising again. It seems that fewer and fewer people in the world want to believe that Jesus is the ONLY Savior of the world. So, in a world where personal choice, multiculturalism and tolerance for many other ideas and beliefs are normative, a Savior like our Lord is falling on hard times. Such a Savior is not popular and has increasingly become outright offensive to many. People today want to make their own choices. People don't want to have anyone telling them what is true or what to believe.
Now if Christians start to believe that there are other paths to Heaven than through our Lord Jesus Christ, the power of the Gospel and the meaning of the Church will have been lost. If people are really "OK" without the Lord, why preach or share anything with anyone? Without a real Savior that saves, the Christian Church will just end up becoming another special interest group among many others. If that is true, then several reasons might be offered to just skip the whole "Church Thing" and sleep in on Sunday. By the way, that is exactly what is happening right now before our eyes. It clearly seems that our wonderful Lord is losing His place as Lord of lords and King of kings amidst the world's growing Pantheon of religious diversity, tolerance and acceptance.
All these rapid moving cultural changes are leading the Church and the Lord's people to some very hard and soul-searching questions. It seems we have come to a place where we all need to stop and reflect on our personal faith. If we believe Jesus is the ONLY Savior given to us by the Lord, we won't act the same way. Our lives will be different. We will talk and think differently about our Lord and our faith. We won't be casual or lukewarm about sharing our faith or living it out because it isn't optional. If our Lord is the only Lord, then sharing Him with others will take on an urgency of life and death.
One future day the Lord will create a new Heaven and a new Earth according to Revelation 21:1-3. When that day arrives, our original question will finally be answered for humanity, "Is Heaven Possible without Jesus?" The Lord's answer will be an emphatic "No"! It is clear to this author that the Lord didn't need to give us 10 options to deal with sin and death. Only one was needed and ONLY one will work. Without the forgiveness of sin, without a resurrection of our bodies and without the love of God there will never be a new Heaven or new Earth. Such things just couldn't exist. And so, the joy of being a Christian is knowing that we have found THE way, THE truth and THE life in our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other Lord, no other god, no other faith that will open the glories of Heaven to us now and forever more.
I am glad I have found THE Savior because I REALLY need Him. How about you? Let's share our Lord and His Gospel with as many people as we can in these days because Heaven is our home.