ELEPHANTS IN THE CHURCH
By Jeannette Haley
“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – 2 Timothy 4:18
While some “elephants in the church,” such as the subjects of sin and hell are cautiously avoided, others are simply “missing” out of neglect. Heaven is one such topic. It’s not that people don’t believe in heaven, it’s just that they aren’t in any hurry to go there—yet. After all, to their way of thinking, because “God is love,” everybody except the worst of the worst among us are guaranteed a place in heaven someday. In the meantime, life must be lived to the fullest which means getting all you can get while you can get it, doing all you can do while you can do it, and experiencing all you can experience before it’s too late. In other words, heaven can wait, or so people think. But with that in mind, here’s some facts about the number of times God’s Word mentions heaven (and hell too) that should get our attention: The King James version of the Bible mentions the word “heaven” 327 times in the Old Testament and 255 times in the New Testament. The word “hell” appears 54 times in the King James Bible; it is also mentioned under different names such as Hades (5 times), and Abyss (8 times),
Those of you who know your Bible recognize that the above philosophy of life on this planet is not what Jesus came into the world to preach. Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36.) In 1 John 2:15, 16 we read, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” If we allow ourselves to become preoccupied with love for the world and the things of this world, then our hearts will grow cold towards the Father, towards His Word, and towards His will for our lives. As we fail to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our might, heaven merely becomes a better option than hell. Such warped thinking leads to the idea that Jesus came to save us from poverty, give us our “best life now,” and to provide us with whatever we want to keep us “happy.”
At this point, someone may object and point out that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), so we need to love it too. What that verse means is God so loved people, the “lost sheep” that needed a Savior, that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to take away our sins by His death, burial and resurrection for those who humbly repent, believe and receive. In other cases, the “world” can also refer to the created physical world which in the beginning God pronounced as “good.” Lastly, when we read such verses as “Satan is the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) it means the humanistic or satanic systems of the world which we see at work every day that “kill, steal and destroy.” (See John 10:10.) It is these last two oppressive and self-serving systems that we are not to love or pursue because they are at enmity with God,“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” 1 Timothy 2:4. Gotquestions.org explains, “The phrase ‘god of this world’ (or ‘god of this age’) indicates that Satan is the major influence on the ideals, opinions, goals, hopes and views of the majority of people. His influence also encompasses the world’s philosophies, education, and commerce. The thoughts, ideas, speculations and false religions of the world are under his control and have sprung from his lies and deceptions.”
It’s all a matter of where our heart is; that is, is our heart in love with the world, or are we in love with the LORD Jesus Christ? This is why verses such as Colossians 3:2, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” are so vital if we are to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil and dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Oswald Chambers said, “God never tells us to give up things just for the sake of giving them up, but He tells us to give them up for the sake of the only thing worth having, namely, life with Himself. It is a matter of loosening the bands that hold back our lives.” What could this present world possibly offer that is superior and far better than “life with Himself?”
Therefore, we need to extend our limited vision beyond this world to the heavenly kingdom above and remember that the Gift of God came from heaven into the world through the virgin Mary as foretold by the prophets. Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” And, in Luke 2:8-20 we read the thrilling account of the heavenly angels coming to earth to announce the birth of our Savior and Lord to shepherds. Let us try to put ourselves in their place, and consider how we would react to such an awesome experience, as we read, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
Glory to God in the highest indeed! What a wonderful, gracious, merciful, loving heavenly Father we have! And to think that Jesus promised His own, “In my Father’s 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 14:2, 3. Is there a better place anywhere in this world to call home than that? Even the most pristine, beautiful, perfect earthly paradise could not begin to compare with the glory and everlasting joy that awaits us in heaven! Yet, we hear so little about heaven these days from church pulpits because of the earthly focus based on man’s perverted perspective, plots, plans, programs, and progressive passions. Everything points downward instead of upward and revolves around a man-centered “social gospel” that lacks the touch of heaven, the presence and anointing of the Holy Spirit, the beauty of holiness, and a sense of the glory of God.
When much of the visible contemporary church lost her vision of heaven, the glory that awaits the saints, the joy “unspeakable and full of glory” that awaits the saints in Christ Jesus in the presence of God, and grew lukewarm, sleepy and weak, she opened wide her doors to the world. That is when the devil came in and the Holy Spirit went out. Instead of going into the world with the Gospel, the church invited the world to come into the church and bowed down to its perverse ways. Out went the King James Bible and in came the Gnostic, New Age ecumenical “bibles.” Out went Bible studies that studied the Bible itself and in came popular writers’ ABC Ding Dong School books to “study.” Out went the hymnbooks and traditional sacred worship music and in came worldly secular music, including addictive Rock n’ Roll (a sexual term) which originated in paganism and the occult. Out went robed choirs, and in came celebrities and painted soloists seeking for fame and in some cases fortune. Out went biblical counseling and in came secular psychology. Out went the pews and in came theater chairs. Out went religious art and emblems such as the cross and in came hotel lobby décor complete with a coffee bar. Out went Bible-based, revelation-inspired, soul-stirring preaching and in came short politically correct, “positive only” motivational pep talks. Out went sound doctrine and discernment, and in came doctrines of demons. Out went visiting evangelists who preached with the authority and power of the Holy Ghost, who gave altar calls and invitations for sinners to find salvation, and in came the “clowns” with their humor, entertainment and nonsense. Out went the gifts of the Spirit and in came counterfeit “gifts.” Out went the prayer meetings, and in came the social club. Out went concern and care for the widows, the sick and the needy, and in came the pride of life and the love of money. Down came the signs identifying the church as Christian and up went signs that were “neutral” and “seeker friendly.” Out went godly humility and in came the pride of “self-esteem.” Out went clean, modest dress and in came the lewd, slovenly, skimpy fashions of the world. Out went self-denial, cross bearing and obedience to Jesus, and in came pride, self-realization and self-glorification.
I’m sure those who identify with this can name a few more examples of what went “out” and what came “in,” including acceptance of shameful perversions that are still an abomination to God.
And, if all that wasn’t reprehensible enough, consider this heartbreaking reality: the contemporary church has ignored and shoved aside for years the most important people in the church resulting in loss of life (suicide), loss of souls to drugs, the devil, and the occult, as well as loss of souls to carry on the work of the true Church and take the Gospel to the world. I’m talking about the children and the youth! How careless the organized church has been with the souls of precious children! Instead of being established on Christ, and filled with faith and the light of life, trained up in the Lord and His ways and Word, and taught how to minister, preparing them for service to the Lord, they have been set adrift in our death culture on a sea of garbage made up of social justice, humanism, evolution, psychology, so-called “climate change,” earth worship, and dangerous addictions (drugs, sex and music out of the pit of hell). Dave Hunt said, “We are raising a generation on the spiritual junk food of religious videos, movies, youth entertainment, and comic book paraphrases of the Bible. The Word of God is being rewritten, watered down, illustrated, and dramatized in order to cater to the taste of the carnal mind. That only leads further into the wilderness of doubt and confusion.” Obviously, we have passed this point and are well on our way down into the bottomless pit of utter destruction unless God has mercy on this nation and the Laodicean church and raises up a cry against it.
Holy Ghost-inspired preaching that emphasized there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun went out a long time ago, while prideful silver-tongued charlatans, heretics, false prophets, and wolves in sheep’s clothing came in with their own redefined versions of the “gospel.” For example, heretic Benny Hinn summed it up when he said, “I don’t need gold in heaven, I gotta have it now.” What a contrast to A. W. Tozer who said, “A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passes knowledge.”
The question is, does a world-loving “carnal Christian” have any real hope of heaven? We must ask, what has he or she done with the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus warned, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” Matthew 7:13, 14. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” Matthew 6:24. This is a real life and death matter and should strike fear into the hearts of all those who merely pay lip service to God. Jesus said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” Matthew 7:20, 21.
It comes down to a matter of choice. Will we choose the world, or will we choose heaven? Will we choose Satan’s systems and buy the lie that promises pleasure, fame, and fortune, or will we choose instead to enter into the joy of our Lord through self-denial, cross bearing and obedience? Dave Hunt put it well when he said, “The choice we face is not, as many imagine, between heaven and hell. Rather, the choice is between heaven and this world. Even a fool would exchange hell for heaven; but only the wise will exchange this world for heaven.” He also wisely stated, “For God to forgive sinners without the full penalty being paid would contradict His justice and make Him our partner in evil. Christ fully paid that penalty for our sins–but the pardon must be willingly and gladly received. God will not force anyone into heaven.”
The problem isn’t that the church has totally forgotten heaven. On the contrary, the problem is the church has promulgated the idea that heaven is whatever we want it to be. It’s up to the individual’s imagination. Therefore, if you want heaven to look like Jackson Hole, well then, no doubt that’s what you’ll end up with. If you hope it looks like a South Pacific island, complete with perfect waves to surf on, well then, why not? If you want it to be filled with your favorite sports, then, by golly, you’ll be there either as part of the team, or have your own private bleachers for all eternity. Maybe you want heaven to be all about your spouse, your family and relatives, which no doubt most people do, but is heaven really about our earthly family ties? Remember, Jesus stated that there is no marriage in heaven. He said, “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” Matthew 22:30. (Note: Not angels, but as angels.) Perhaps our ideas of heaven originate from our own feelings of importance and self-worth in this world. However, Dave Hunt nailed it when he said, “Heaven has no place for the erroneous belief that Christ died because we are worth it. Christ’s death in our place had nothing to do with our worth but with the depths of our sin, the demands made by God’s justice, and His eternal glory.” Heaven is about Jesus Christ and God’s glory. It is a place of “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8b), of worship and adoration of our Creator. We can never begin to imagine what it is like. The Apostle Paul made that clear when he said, “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 1 Corinthians 2:9.” That should settle the matter for us and cause us to believe what the Bible does tell us about heaven, and then trust God with the details!
The account of the angels announcing His birth, as previously written in this article, give us glimpses into some of heaven’s mysteries. First, we learn that a heavenly visitation can happen suddenly and unexpectedly, shining forth the glory of the Lord. We learn that angels can speak to us and calm our fears when they bring good news of great joy, that they speak of Christ the Lord, and give instructions to man. We learn that the heavenly host praises God and gives Him glory “in the highest,” and extends peace and good will toward men. We also learn that the angels return to heaven from whence they came. Therefore, we naturally know that heaven is a real place, that it is orderly, that God’s angels do His bidding, that heavenly beings can, and do, visit us as God directs them to fulfill His purposes.
Since Jesus came from heaven, who could be a better teacher about it than our Lord Himself? As we think about heaven, how comforting it is to read and meditate on the words of our Lord concerning it; therefore, here is a list of references to heaven, from the lips of Jesus, for your study purposes:
John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
John 14:3 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 14:4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
With those words, Jesus revealed that Heaven is a real place and that it is the dwelling place of God (His Father’s house). Nineteen times Jesus made reference to God the Father dwelling in Heaven:
Mat 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Mat 5:45 That ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
Mat 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Mat 6:1 Take heed that ye do not do your alms before men, to be seen of them. Otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Mat 6:9 After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Mat 7:11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your Father which is in heavengive good things to them that ask Him?
Mat 7:21 Not everyone that saith unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.
Mat 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.
Mat 10:33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him I will also deny before My Father which is in heaven.
Mat 12:50 For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister, and mother.
Mat 16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed are thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.
Mat 18:14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Mat 18:19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Mark 11:25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses
Mark 11:26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Mark 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Luke 11:2 And He said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
Jesus also demonstrated that Heaven is the dwelling place of God, when He “lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (John 17:1). And, Jesus proclaimed that God reigns in Heaven with these words:
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth…(Mat 11:25).
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth… (Luke 10:21)
Heaven is a place of joy, rewards, and treasures:
Mat 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven…
Mat 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;
Mat 6:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Luke 6:23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: For, behold your reward is great in heaven…
Luke 15:7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-nine just persons, which need no repentance.
(Surprisingly, Jesus said very little about Heaven. He spoke more about eternal life and how one can enter Heaven than He did about the place of Heaven.)
From Genesis 1:1 to the last chapter in Revelation we read of heaven. It is mentioned both directly and indirectly. As Christians, our citizenship is in heaven according to Philippians 3:20. Knowing these things, we must ask ourselves if the heaven that is so casually referred to in our corrupt culture and casual churches is the true heaven of the Bible. The question is, which heaven are you planning to spend eternity in? Is it the heaven people so glibly talk about that resembles earth’s temporary “pleasures,” or is it the heaven from which the Son of God came as a sinless babe, the heaven that He ascended into after His resurrection, and the heaven that He will descend from as the King of kings, and the Lord of lords? The choice is ours.
Revelation 19:11-16, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him [was] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes [were] as a flame of fire, and on his head [were] many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he [was] clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies [which were] in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on [his] vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
In Revelation 22:20, Jesus said, “Surely I come quickly.” And His own reply, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”