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Going to Heaven

I often hear evangelists and preachers ask the question, "If you should die today, do you know that you will go to heaven?"

That is a good question that everyone should be able to answer affirmatively, but I have a problem with this common invitation because of the message it sends.

It seems to infer that only life beyond the grave is important and worth living for.

I grew up in a Christian home and heard those invitations over and over again. I heard the invitation in church, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and from my own parents. I remained unmoved by the invitation to make sure I was going to heaven until someone at a summer camp made it easier to comprehend.

On the final night of camp there was a hot-dog roast around a big campfire. Awards were presented to the kids who kept the cleanest cabin and to winners of various contests. After the fire died down, a leader told us some funny stories, followed by a scary ghost story. We sang our favorite camp songs after which the camp Director brought the message. He painted a vivid picture of heaven, with mansions God was preparing for all Christians. He compared heaven with that horrible place called hell, the final destination of all sinners. Afterwards, the invitation was given. He asked how many of us would prefer going to heaven rather than to hell.

Burning logs provided a dramatic backdrop for his challenge. If we were prepared to take that "step of faith," all we needed to do was to raise our hands. Our options being so clearly defined, most of us chose heaven rather than hell that night.

On the following Sunday, the pastor of our church herded all the campers to the front of the church and asked us to share our camping experiences. Apparently he had heard about the campfire service, for he asked me if I had experienced anything "really special" at camp. I told about swimming and long hikes, but he kept prodding. I was nearly in tears when he finally asked if I had invited Jesus to come into my heart.

If I had known then the consequences of an affirmative answer, I would have denied with all my might - like Peter at the crucifixion! But I was anxious to get back to my seat. I smiled and gave an affirmative reply.

From that time on, the night of the campfire became a very memorable experience! My parents would not let me forget the occasion. I was not such a good boy, and it seemed like every time I did something wrong, my mother or father would remind me of that night by the campfire. "Christians don't do such things," they would say. As I soon discovered, Christians do get spanked. It never occurred to me that I probably would have gotten the same spankings if I had not "become a Christian." I vowed that I would never again raise my hand in a meeting!

I was 19 years old when I finally accepted God's invitation to join his family at another camp, Camp Haluwasa. Thoughts of the hereafter - escaping hell or gaining entrance into heaven - hardly factored in my decision. I just recognized that I was doing everything wrong and that only God could set me straight. I was a horrible sinner and asked God to forgive me. I didn't become a Christian to gain heaven or anything else. I rather gave my life to God to use in any way he chose. I had made a mess of my life, but God loved me, and in his mercy, he reached down, picked up the pieces and made something worthwhile of what was left.

If there is no life beyond death, I havenít missed out on a thing! And I was spared a lot of heartache that others experience by living selfishly. I am convinced that there is a heaven, but God is my reward and my reason for living. Heaven is icing on the cake!

Black slaves who wrote the spirituals we like to sing had good reason to dream of better times. Heaven looked good to them. Few Americans are in a hurry to get to heaven today. They drive nice cars, live in comfortable homes, and take luxurious vacations.

We also enjoy the benefits of good health care. When Christians get old or terminally ill, most will try almost anything in an attempt to extend their sufferings here on earth. Apparently, they are convinced that the worst this world has to offer is better than heaven!

Older folk may like to hear that there is no sickness, pain or death in heaven, but few middle-aged adults are overly concerned about these things. Kids want video games and ATVs while young adults want their i-Phone and a sporty car.

It is not easy to portray heaven as a better place to young people. One young man said that he envisioned heaven as a never-ending church service.

Women can more easily identify with the Biblical heaven than men. They are interested in social events, expensive jewelry, fancy clothes, crafts and attractive decorations. Heaven is filled with luxurious mansions, gold, precious stones and pearls. The saints wear white raiment and become the bride of Christ after which there is a great wedding feast.

Men have difficulty identifying with much of that. Even the angels, which the Bible always depicts as being male, are perceived as being feminine. Women donít call their husbands angels. One man told me that his wife had to be an angel because she was always flying off the handle, getting up in the air about things and complaining that she didnít have an earthly thing to wear!

Men enjoy hunting, fishing, sports and computers. Can you envision such things in heaven? How about a sailboat or a muscle car? I believe that if these things are not in heaven, much more enjoyable things will take their place.

Cartoonists depict heaven as a cloud where people with wings play on harps. This picture is just as distorted as the popular concept of hell. Hell is not a place where the devil torments his victims with fire and a pitchfork, but more likely where the devil's victims torment him for enticing them into that horrible place!

Two thousand years ago, Jesus said to his followers, Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Fatherís house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. John 14:1-3

God created this world in six days. Although sinful man has been doing his best to corrupt and destroy our planet for thousands of years, it is still lovely to behold and enjoy. But God has been preparing heaven for 2000 years! And no sin will ever enter that place! But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (I Corinthians 2:9).

God has given us a brief glimpse of what is in store for believers. There is no need to expand on what God says or to speculate on what it may be like. When God promises to bless, we can trust him to do exactly that. And he will bless as only God can. God's Word tells us what the kingdom of heaven is like here on earth (Matthew 5 etc.), but we will have to wait to see what it will be like in eternity. John made a feeble attempt to describe the place he saw in a vision, but he struggled to find adequate words to express himself.

God is not going to tell us what heaven will be like. He says, ďTrust me!Ē Jesus said, If it were not so, I would have told you.

There is also a place prepared for those who reject salvation through Jesus Christ. And when God says that there is a place of eternal punishment called hell and that it is a place of torment, we had better believe it! But here also, the descriptions given in the Bible are sparing and difficult to fathom.

Just plain logic should tell us that the worst that any godly person has ever experienced Ė and some have suffered intense persecution, would be the best a person could expect who rejects Christ. And the best life a godless person has lived in this life would be the least the faithful believer can expect. But neither heaven nor hell can be defined or conceived of by our limited imaginations and logic. Nor could we fathom what these places are like if God explained it to us. We either trust and obey or we suffer the consequences.

The Bible doesnít tell us much about what heaven and hell will be like, but it tells us a whole lot about God! Fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ should be our main focus. We should love, believe and trust God. Man in his fallen state lives for things, but true Christians  live for their Creator.

Man without God believes that he can cut a deal with God or the devil to get what he wants. He tries everything including tricks to get rewards or to escape punishment. The devil takes full advantage of man's selfish nature in order to trap him. But Christians should be different. God wants us to act and live in faith and not just strive for rewards. We should simply trust him and do what is right -- because it is right! If we truly believe and trust God, we will do right and leave the results entirely up to him. Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek first that which pertains to God's will -- his kingdom and what is right in his eyes. He promises to abundantly care for all who follow this simple and explicit instruction.

Those who try to motivate people to accept Christ with the promise of rewards or scare them with horror stories about hell are undermining God's plan of salvation. A person who does something for rewards or to escape punishment is selfishly motivated and not acting in faith.

The way some evangelists and preachers give an invitation, everyone should be running to the front of the church. Becoming a Christian is a no-brainer, but the preacher or evangelist is usually content if just one or two respond.

There are several reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for such an irresistible offer.
First of all, few unsaved people attend evangelistic meetings or church. The few who do, are usually children of members who have little or no choice.
Secondly, non-Christians have difficulty believing the preacher who, by his own admission, has never visited either place.
The preacher's description of hell as the eternal abode of anyone who doesn't raise his or her hand or fill out a decision card, is difficult for many to swallow. They don't so much doubt that God would commit wicked people to a place of punishment as they doubt the speaker's purported capability of separating sheep from the goats.
Thirdly, unbelievers are not so much concerned about what they have to lose by going through this ritual as they are suspicious about what the preacher stands to gain if they accept his proposal.
Fourthly, most people are only interested in the here and now. They have urgent problems and needs on their minds. They are more interested in acquiring a new car than eternal life assurance. Those people most likely to be thinking about the hereafter are unable to attend church meetings or evangelistic services because they are in the hospital ICU or in nursing homes.

Could there possibly be another purpose or reason for becoming a Christian than getting a free ticket to heaven? Is the Christian life nothing more than escape from hell? Why is it so important that we know we are going to heaven when we die? Shouldn't it be enough to believe that God is faithful and just? If I live for him, doing what he wants me to do and being what he wants me to be; can't I trust him to take care of what lies beyond the grave? And most importantly, isnít living in fellowship with God and our Lord Jesus Christ reward enough?

All this emphasis on heaven and hell tells me that some Christians are not very happy in their relationship with God. Dissatisfaction leads to doubt and both are good indicators that something is spiritually amiss. Preachers who dwell so much on eternal security and assurance of salvation when counseling Christians who have doubts or are unhappy, should rather help them renew a right relationship with God.

It is God who gives assurance of salvation through the Holy Spirit. It is not the task of a preacher or evangelist. If we love and serve God with all our hearts, we don't need to worry about the future, about eternal security or whether our sins are really forgiven.

We have spent four decades in missionary service. Some people call that sacrifice, but serving the Lord of Lords and King of Kings is a great privilege! Certainly there were hardships, but Godís grace is always sufficient. Problems in our ministry even helped me learn to play the piano. I can only play one chorus with one finger, but I do it very well! Whenever I was feeling down, I would go to the piano and play "It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus." I played it over and over until God smoothed my ruffled feathers. I wasnít longing for heaven, but just wanted to see Jesus.

God has blessed us beyond anything we could ever have imagined. God is good and we can look back on a fruitful and blessed life in every respect. All three of our children are living for the Lord. When we retired from missionary service in Austria we had no debts, not even a credit card! Few people in the secular world can make that claim! Of course we didnít have any credit either, but God took care of that when we bought our house. One of our faithful supporters was Bank President and another was Chairman of the Board Ė in the same bank.

God has given us ďall these thingsĒ referred to in Matthew 6:33 and much more. Much of what we worked for will be with us in heaven. I feel sorry for those Christians who spend their lives working for things that moths devour, rust corrupts and thieves steal. I might add, "...that your offspring will fight over when you die."

In all our years of missionary service, we seldom gave much thought to what heaven might be like. If God is good to his children here on earth, then why not in heaven? If living for Jesus is so rewarding here on earth, should it be any less rewarding when we are with him?

When you listen to some evangelists, it seems that heaven is like one great, eternal theme park. There are unlimited things to see and do and all-you-can-eat buffets with no worry about cholesterol. It's sugar and spice and everything nice - and it's all free with no strings attached!

An evangelist recently shared the following scenario with his audience during an invitation:
Suppose someone offers you the car of your dreams absolutely free. And that person promises to pay for insurance and gas as long as you live. All you need to do is accept the gift. Wouldn't you jump at such an offer? Isn't eternal life in heaven worth more than that?

There was a serious flaw in the evangelist's analogy. The dream car he spoke of was offered free of any commitment on the recipient's part. The new owner could do as he pleased while the giver carried all the responsibility and cost.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice his future, not give up his past. Romans 12:1-2 says, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Many preachers distort the gospel message today because it is more popular and gets more converts. They ask people to give up their past (forgiveness of sin) and promise them any thing they want from God (joy, peace, freedom, grace, blessings, and anything else they ask for - called answered prayer). On top of it all, they are promised that they will inherit eternal life that they can never lose no matter how they live.

The gift of eternal life is coupled with personal commitment. Jesus said, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospelís, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34-38)

When people talk church, I hear a lot about worship and praise. And the same is true when people talk about heaven. But you canít worship and praise God without serving him! God gives us the desires of our hearts, but those desires are not just for things and entertainment. If you have no desire to serve God, something is wrong and you should pray earnestly about it.

Serving the Lord here on earth is not all work and no play, nor is heaven all play and no work. If you donít enjoy serving God now, you wonít like heaven. The Bible gives us insights on what heaven is like that some Christians may not want to hear. We will be serving God for eternity!
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another manís, who shall give you that which is your own? Luke 16:10-12
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Matthew 25:20-23

I have been happily married for nearly half a century. I love my wife and she loves me. We trust each other and seek each other's best interests. When my wife puts food on the table, it is usually delicious and nutritious. But there have been times when the potatoes got burned or there was too much hot pepper in the chili. I have occasionally disappointed my wife, and once, I even forgot her birthday. But our marriage is still intact and it is staying that way 'til death do us part!

We once attended a marriage seminar in which the speaker said, "If you seldom quarrel, something is wrong with your marriage." We both spent time trying to figure out what was wrong with our relationship, but finally agreed that God was right and the speaker was wrong. Harmony is normal and fighting isn't. In the same manner, some pastors seem to think that doubting one's salvation is normal.

Never once in 45 years has either of us reminded the other of our marriage vows. We are committed to each other.

God led us to serve as missionaries in Austria, a country that Bob Evans dubbed the "missionary graveyard." Evans wrote in his book, "Let Europe Hear!" that few missionaries last more than one term in Austria. After nearly four decades of service in Austria, we were honored at a National Christian Workers Conference. The leader asked us to reveal the secret of our longevity in Austria. I replied that we had misunderstood what Evans meant by "missionary graveyard." We thought it meant we have to stay here until we die!

There was laughter followed by applause. Those who knew us didn't need an explanation. They knew we were committed to our calling. We were sometimes discouraged and felt like quitting, but then we remembered our commitment. We wanted to keep fellowship with God and he wanted us to stay.

A kid named Bud Dwyer attended Sunday School with Verna. Bud went on to become a lawyer and politician, rising to the position of Pennsylvania State Treasurer. As a Christian in this high position, he determined to clean up unethical financial practices which were common in the state. His efforts were not greeted with approval by many who shared political power. Dwyer made many enemies and threats against his life and the lives of family members increased. Unfortunately, Bud Dwyerís political career ended in tragedy.

Convicted criminals were offered shortened prison terms for testifying against Dwyer. They claimed under oath that the State Treasurer had requested (not received) bribes of them. The judge and jury decided in favor of the criminals' testimony and against the impeccable record of their State Treasurer. Devastated and obviously convinced that the American legal system was beyond hope of effective reform, Dwyer called a press conference. After reading a prepared statement about the sad state of affairs in his State and country, he proclaimed innocence of any wrong-doings.

Dwyer then did the inconceivable. In the presence of reporters and before rolling TV cameras, Dwyer pulled a revolver from his satchel, shoved the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

We heard the news via Austrian radio but hoped that we had heard wrong. The morning newspaper, however, confirmed the report.

Some people cut and run when things get difficult. A few give up in defeat and, in extreme situations, suicide is seen as the only way out. What disturbed us most was the fact that Dwyer was a professing Christian. He was sure that he was going to heaven when he died and even wrote about this assurance in a letter he mailed to his pastor, to be read at the funeral!

I was reminded of a young man named Joseph, whose story is told in the Bible. He was mistreated and falsely accused on multiple occasions by people who should have shown him love, gratitude or honor. Joseph refused to become bitter or show vengeance. He continued to place his faith in God and to do what was right. Had Dwyer followed Josephís noble example, he might well have become President of the United States or received even greater honor in eternity. Instead, his name and faithful service to Pennsylvanians are unknown to all but his closest friends, and many of these would rather forget.

Do you enjoy a good relationship with God here on earth? Do you serve the Lord for rewards or are you committed to him? Let us serve out of love and gratitude because it is the right thing to do!

Are you struggling about eternal security or assurance of salvation? Repent and give yourself to God with no strings attached! There is joy in serving Jesus! Get a life!

Some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. That is a problem.
Other Christians are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good. That is a bigger problem!

Ralph V. Harvey, 2010