Category Archives: Questions

Is Heaven Real?

Not to be harsh, but last time we checked the mortality rate was 100%. Everyone will eventually die. For those of us who know Christ, death is just a doorway – a transition from life on earth to life in eternity.

We’ll admit it takes faith to believe in a place you haven’t seen. Honestly, we exercise faith everyday by believing in unseen things like oxygen, electricity, love and gravity. We rely on assurances gained through our experience and the experiences of others.

Recently, a movie came out that told the story of a four year old boy’s visit to heaven. It’s hard to explain away the amazing details of his experience.

Jesus gave us precious assurance about heaven that is recorded in the gospel of John.

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? John 14:1-2

Heaven is a real physical place. Jesus used very tangible words to describe heaven. The disciple John described heaven as a city with walls, streets, gates, trees and a river. Heaven is not some ethereal, mystical figment of man’s imagination. It is a real physical place. We will have real bodies and enjoy real relationships.

Heaven is prepared by Jesus so we can be with Jesus.

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. John 14:3

Heaven is a place where we can be with Jesus in the Father’s house. Let me tell you about the home I grew up in. It wasn’t perfect, but it was filled with laughter and love. It was the place where we planned our family vacations and sang songs around the fireplace. We played board games and watched home movies my dad had painstakingly edited the old fashioned way. My father’s house was a safe place to relax and just hang out. Imagine heaven being the most beautiful expression of family togetherness. We will be home in the truest sense of the word.

Yes, heaven is real. Jesus answers an even bigger question in this passage. How do we get there?

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

If we could earn our way to heaven how would we know when we’d done enough? How good is good enough? Thankfully, we don’t get to heaven by being good. We get to heaven by putting our trust in Jesus.

This is Part 6 in a series
Click here to read Part 5 Does God still work miracles?
Click here to read Part 4 How do I deal with the past?
Click here to read Part 3 How do I deal with unanswered prayer?
Click here to read Part 2 How do I grow in faith?
Click here to read Part 1 Why is there suffering?

How Do I Deal With the Past?

Do you know someone who is stuck in the past? Perhaps the negative things they experienced tie them down with guilt and shame. Or maybe it’s not the negatives, sometimes it’s the positive things that keep people tethered to the past. They recall their glory days and want to be the football star or homecoming queen forever.

Maybe that someone is you.

Paul said in Philippians 3:13, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”

How do we do that?  It seems impossible to totally forget the past. We remember. We hear an old song, or smell a familiar fragrance and we’re transported back in time. We have family and friends who won’t let us forget. And Paul actually spends quite a bit of time recalling his past experiences. What he is saying is this passage is I’m not allowing those things that are behind me to keep me stuck in the past.

He says, “I’m straining….” That sounds like work doesn’t it? Moving past the past requires effort and energy.

We move beyond the past by seeing God’s presence in our past, by realizing he was there in every moment. He never left our side. His providence guided us. His love protected us.  And even when we felt alone, his grace sustained us and brought us through.

When we see the past as a picture of God’s presence we cut the tie. We are free to move forward.

This is Part 4 in a series
Click here to read Part 3 How do I deal with unanswered prayer?
Click here to read Part 2 How do I grow in faith?
Click here to read Part 1 Why is there suffering?

How Do I Deal With Unanswered Prayer?

When Jesus taught his followers to pray, he not only gave permission to bring our requests to the Father, (Matthew 6:9-13) he gave great latitude in what to ask for. (Mark 11:24) Oh the joy of answered prayer! It’s one of the sweetest thrills to know the God of the universe is interested in our needs and desires. But sometimes, things don’t go as we hope and the answers don’t come.  How do we deal with the frustration and disillusionment of unanswered prayer?

It’s hard to understand why our prayers would go unanswered. There is no blanket explanation, but we want to offer four possible reasons:

The request is off – Some prayers, no matter how well-intentioned, are simply inappropriate and a loving God says no.  We feel like the child whose parent says no to a third bowl of ice cream. Ice cream is delicious and we can’t imagine why anyone would ever say no. Our parents see past the moment into the future. We may not understand why God would say no, but our perspective is limited. Sometimes our requests are not the best thing for our life in the long run.

We are off – We are so desperately human and there is a laundry list of ways we can be “off” when we pray.  One is unresolved conflict. Jesus told his followers if they had an issue with their friend, they should go make it right before they came to offer their requests. (Matthew 5:23-24) Peter taught husbands to be considerate of their wives so their prayer would not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7) There is no point in agonizing over unanswered prayer if we are not willing to release bitterness, extend forgiveness and resolve the conflict in our relationships.

We live in a fallen world –Tragedies, accidents and disease are the tender reality of life on the planet. We face the consequences of our own sin and the consequences of others’ sin. The enemy is still active, but his years are numbered and when Jesus comes again he will make all things new. Prayers that seem to have been unanswered on earth will be vindicated in eternity.

The timing is off – Who wants to wait for anything? We live in an instant society that offers instant gratification. God is not intimidated by our impatience. Sometimes the answer is, not yet. During that delay God works on our character. We learn endurance, humility, patience and trust.  If you are waiting for an answer to prayer, don’t give up. Don’t quit! Keep praying. Keep seeking. Keep asking.  Every prayer is like a seed planted in the ground. It disappears for a season but eventually it will bear fruit.

Prayer doesn’t just change circumstances. It changes us!

If you would like someone to pray for you –  email prayer@shoreline.net

This is Part 3 in a series
Click here to read Part 2 How do I grow in faith?
Click here to read Part 1 Why is there suffering?

How Do I Grow in Faith?

We like steps and formulas and how-tos.  We ask questions like – How do I grow in faith? – and we want to see the diagram and follow the instructions. We want to build faith like a bookshelf from IKEA, some-assembly-required, but it just doesn’t work that way.

Faith is fluid.

Have you ever felt your faith move from weak to strong or from strong to weak? You’re in good company. Many people in the Bible experienced the ebb and flow of faith.

Elijah was calling fire down from heaven in one moment and running away like a coward in the next.

John the Baptist told everyone on the riverside that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Later, from prison, he sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he really was the one.

Thomas left everything to follow Jesus, but in the challenging days after Jesus’ death he couldn’t wrap his mind around the resurrection. That earned him the nick name “Doubting Thomas.”  This doubter poured out his life to spread the good news of Jesus across India.

Peter’s faith was a roller coaster. He went from walking on water to sinking and crying out for help. He went from vowing to follow Jesus into prison or even death to denying he ever knew him. And yet God used this man to build his church.

Here’s the bottom line. It’s not about the bigness of your faith – it’s the bigness of your God that matters!

Faith is simply knowing and relying on a great big God.

Jesus told us we could move mountains with teeny tiny mustard seed sized faith.

You don’t have to labor over building your faith. You have all the faith you need!

Say it out loud – I have all the faith I need!

Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible. Matthew 17:20

This is Part 2 of a series
Click to read Part 1 Why is There Suffering?

Why is There Suffering?

Why? This one word question haunts humanity and is usually accompanied by a deluge of questions. Why is there suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why?

If we had to take a stab at providing an answer for this question, it would have something to do with love and freedom. God wanted a love relationship with mankind and in order to have that – he had to give us the freedom to choose. Choices have consequences.

Doesn’t really answer the question, does it?

That’s why we love the words of Paul.  This guy suffered. He was beaten and imprisoned. He didn’t have an easy life. He deserved to stumble over this question, and yet he said:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

In all the wonderings of life only God provides peace that transcends understanding, peace that does not require understanding. Paul knew first hand that much of life is outside the scope of our ability to understand.

Instead of getting stuck on – Why do bad things happen to good people? – it may prove more helpful to ask a different question. “What do good people do when bad things happen?”

There are no easy answers to this question either, but we have a few observations to share:

  1. We all suffer loss – Pain and suffering is widespread in the human condition. Some loss is the natural flow of life. Some losses are unwarranted. Some are catastrophic.  Jesus told his followers, “In this world you will have trouble.”  Trouble knocks on every door. Jesus went on to say, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33) As painful as our losses are, they are not the end of the story.
  2. We can choose how we respond – Victor Frankel was a Holocaust survivor. He suffered more than most of us can fathom and yet he wrote of how the power of choice sustained him.  No matter what his captors did on the outside, they couldn’t take away his freedom to respond. The inner world is ours to choose.
  3. We can know God is with us – Christianity stands unique among the world’s religions in that our God took on flesh and walked among us. Our Savior suffered. He identifies with us in our pain and loss. He is Emmanuel, God with us.
  4. We can allow God to expand us – Pain can be transformed into perseverance in the hands of God. The very things we thought would destroy us can become our catalyst for growth. (James 1:2-4) Amazingly, our journey through the difficulties of life can bring hope to others. (2 Corinthians 1:4)
  5. We can trust God to bring good – We have an amazing promise in Romans 8:28 that in all things, God is able somehow to work for our good.  That is not to say the suffering is good. God is good. He alone can redeem and restore all that has been lost. Our future in heaven is not the consolation prize for the life we never had on earth, it is a restoration of the life we dreamed of having.

This is the first in a series of six messages addressing the biggest questions on the planet. Please join us at the North campus Sundays at 9 or 11 or at the South campus at 9, 10:45 or 12:30. Join a small group where you can discuss this series in depth. We may not have all the answers but we can work through the questions together.

This is Part 1 of a series
Click to read Part 2 How Do I Grow in Faith?