Heaven is a happy place. Tell a teenager in a dead church that heaven is like a wonderful worship service, only extended for decades, and they might say, “Great, and do I get to play a harp?”  Culture’s caricature has overtaken us. Taking walks on streets of gold hardly grabs them. I’ll offer seven reasons from the end of the book (chapter 21) why heaven will be a blast to end all blasts:


  1. Re-creation. John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1). God liked what He created, and He doesn’t plan to trash it. The earth is getting ready to be born again, and God is not going to abandon it. Re-creation is about making all things new (vs. 6), not about making new things, and the earth will experience a significant upgrade, an eternal makeover.


Make heaven too otherworldly and it loses its fascination. We will do much more in heaven than float on clouds and sing. We will eat—with God the cook (Isaiah 25:6). (And we will not have green jello with shredded carrots!) We may even enjoy the same pets we had on earth, because heaven (the new earth) will include animals (Isaiah 11:6-9). We have over-spiritualized heaven, and we have adopted an escapist outlook. We have been given the impression that the earth is a bad place, so we hope that Jesus whisks us out of here before the devil creams us. Truth is, heaven’s coming to us!


  1. Romance. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’” (Rev. 21:2, 9). We know how exciting being in love can be, and heaven, the invention of a passionate God, was created for lovers. Sex is a human analogy to the intensity of that love. No one will complain of being bored. Guaranteed!


  1. Relationship. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (Rev. 21:3). I love prepositions. They are humble and unassuming. They draw attention to to their object. The word “with” is used three times here, and instead of saying “people with God” it is “God with people.” His new address will be on earth, and the Lord’s Prayer will be ultimately fulfilled, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Dejavu: God is back on the earth where He started with us. “Our Father, who art…on earth.”


  1. Relief.  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (v. 4). I wouldn’t mind pain if it didn’t hurt so much. Between pain and pleasure I’d vote for pleasure. And God plans to remove all pain in the new earth. Cool!


  1. Refreshment. “To him who is thirsty, I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life…Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6b; 22:17). Thirst creates desire, and all desires are fulfilled in heaven.  We all know the satisfaction of having our thirst quenched.  Heaven is a place where nothing goes unresolved. Questions are answered, needs are satisfied, desires are granted. Few things are as basic as water. And God didn’t invent some new way to satisfy thirst. Water will do just fine.


  1. Responsibility. The word “city” is used eleven times in Revelation 21 and three more times in chapter 22. The word “nation” is used three times in the two chapters. For cities and nations to operate one needs government and responsibility. The new earth will include real cities and real nations, with people who speak languages, with a diversity of cultures. Most governments are full of corruption. Imagine righteous rulers and an absence of crime. And picture the richness of sharing God-inspired cultures with other nations. We love doing what we are created and gifted to do. In the new earth, we all get to, and some will have the responsibility of ruling, which is what we were made to do in the first place. Back to the future!


  1. Rewards. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). Your quality of life here impacts your future destiny. Those who make it by the skin of their teeth will be glad to be there. But those who invested their lives in the kingdom of heaven while on earth will have more to do there.

There will always be a thousand wonderful things going on in the new earth, and passionate people being personally loved by an ever-present God are doing it:  learning, exploring, ruling, playing, praying, celebrating!











It’s getting tougher out there. Jesus said that “because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).


I ran a few marathons in my younger days. On the race that I had trained for the least, my mind kept thinking of other things I would rather be doing, like sitting in a Jacuzzi. Winning the mental battle rivaled the physical pain, and giving up looked like the preferred option. Whom do you know who might be thinking about quitting the race? Many good people will. I hope you are not one of them.


Jesus had just experienced another unsettling encounter with the religious leadership. He withdrew to the north of Galilee for a retreat with His disciples. “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it” (Mark 7:24), but it usually didn’t work for the Son of Man to travel incognito. “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession’” (Matt. 15:22). She properly identified Him not only as “Lord,” but this non-Jew called Him the “Son of David.”


The Jesus we know is moved by the faith of parents on behalf of their children who struggle, especially when the cause is rooted in the arch-enemy, and when we are told that this little girl is hopelessly demonized (7:25). We expect Jesus to move into action. Matthew says that “Jesus did not answer a word” (v. 23). Not a knowing nod that could say, “I am thinking about it.” Not a polite, “I’ll be with you in a moment.” Nothing.


Don’t give up when God is silent. The inactivity of God can disturb even mature suffering saints. It did for the elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, called “righteous before God.” Why doesn’t God say more and do more?


We can interpret God’s silence as disfavor. Maybe I was wrong in asking. Perhaps my timing was off.  I probably need to learn something first. He’s teaching me a lesson because of what I did last year.


At other times we interpret His non-response as absence. If He is not talking, He must not be here. In fact, silence often reveals love. Jesus is drawing this woman into a place where she will see His power demonstrated. He is quietly setting her up for a miracle.


Don’t give up when people are impatient with you. While Jesus was silent, the disciples were not; they were irritated. Some people are bugged by our hardships. What plagues us perturbs them, making our battle harder. No one could feel for the daughter the way the mother did. The disciples, however, wanted their time with Jesus. They deserved this exclusive retreat. “So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us’” (v. 23). Make that the second “no” she received.


Don’t give up when you are overlooked. When Jesus opened His mouth, it was worse than His silence. He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24). The Son of David knew His target audience—and she didn’t match His agenda. She had recognized that something about Him and His religion didn’t fit her practices.  But then Jesus let her know about her inferior nationality. Too bad for the Canaanite.


Questions bombard our troubled minds as we attempt to take a passive God off the hook. It does not feel good to be ignored, especially by heaven. We want to ask, “Don’t you see me, God? Can’t you hear? Why aren’t you doing more?” To ignore is to insult. Perhaps she thought, “Maybe I’m being rebuffed because I’m the wrong gender.”


She still somehow heard love coming from Jesus, even behind the sharp words that should have excluded her from His help.


Don’t give up when you are insulted. Okay, one more negative, and potentially the hardest, one that would have sent most of us away in disgust. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (v. 26). What is He? A racist? A bigot? Is He calling her a dog? Sounds like it. But instead of turning and stomping away with her  daughter still demonized, she says in effect, “That’s right. How about letting this dog have just a few crumbs? It wouldn’t take much.” What incredible persistence.


Jesus cannot but respond to her astounding endurance: “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (v. 28). Don’t call God reluctant. He simply asks people to press in. We want to say, “If it be your will,” which matches our passive stance, not His. Our faith easily drifts into fatalism. It resigns itself to an inferior situation rather than persisting and rising to a greater possibility.


Faith, on the other hand, grabs on and does not let go. It does not demand God like a stubborn toddler, but it seeks Him in a way that He wants us to. God is called “the rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). People of faith lock in on the love of God even when it doesn’t look like love. Rather than being thrown by bewildering circumstances, they choose to believe that God is good.


The Canaanite went after Jesus in a way few ever did—and He memorialized her faith. She got a bead on Him and could not be distracted. And an unnamed woman of the wrong race gives us a powerful message: “Never, never give up!”



Routine gets bad press in an age of instant oatmeal. Bummer. Routine can be passed off as boring and mundane, especially to young adults whose lives flow in constant flux, who wait to make a commitment while they hedge their bets. Spontaneity seems to fit their jigsaw puzzle life.


Or does it? Isn’t that all the more reason to discover afresh that “the sun also rises?” I’ve been telling them that their lifestyle cannot be sustained for the long haul. Marathons require different training rules than sprints.


Some are addicted to the spectacular. Can’t blame them. This generation invented flash mobs, google, and facebook. What’s next? Fasten the seat belts—it’s coming!


God gave a us rhythm when He created the light and separated it from the darkness, when He created the sun, moon and stars to govern day and night and determine seasons of springtime and harvest, when He gave land vegetation, “plants bearing seed according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:12).


God gave the Jews rhythm by establishing weekly, monthly, and yearly feasts. Rhythm builds remembrance and creates habits. Repetition puts truth into the mind. Jesus learned it as festivals were cycled around year after year: “When he was twelve years old, they went up the Feast, according to the custom” (Luke 2:42). Yearly trips created memory and imagination. Retelling the past was shaping the future. As an adult, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16).


Daniel knew the rhythmic beat. When we read of his exciting life, we may not consider that those miracles were stretched out over a seventy-year span. Between the exclamation points of God’s activity was a quiet life of faithfulness marked by service and suffering in a foreign land away from country and family. He prayed three times a day, miracles or not. In between the dramas was daily discipline, sometimes with enemies spying. Rhythm made Daniel one of the most influential men ever to land on the planet.


Intentionality shapes destiny. We don’t arrive at our future by chance; it comes by Spirit-inspired decisions done over and over. An intentional appointment, according to my friend Mike Bradley, becomes a divine encounter. Routines become a way to hear from God. He met Zechariah on a routine priestly assignment, and an intentional moment produced a life-change (Luke 1:9). A spectacular Pentecost was preceded by regular prayer (Acts 1:14).


“Suddenly” makes no sense on the landscape of chaos. But when placed against the backdrop of regularity, it breaks through with an “a-ha!” I love the suddenlies of the Bible: “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven…” (Acts 2:2). Suddenlies are preceded by deliberate choices. Paul tells us that the life in Christ is an ongoing focus on the priorities of the Spirit (Romans 8). Nature gives us a jolt by highlighting the routine with refreshing change. After ten days of a hot sun, a downpour refreshes us.


Don’t let the ordinary put you to sleep. It was Jesus who instructed us to say, “Give is this day our daily bread.” Daily sacrifices reminded the children of Israel that they were to walk in ongoing repentance and faith. David said, “Then will I ever sing praise to your name and fulfill my vows day after day” (Psalm 61:8). The writer of Hebrews instructed us to “encourage one another daily” (Heb 3:13), and the Bereans “searched the scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). Jesus told would-be disciples to take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23), and Paul said, “I die daily” (I Cor. 15:31). Sounds like a beat to me!


Rhythm builds a baseline, a standard, like the rising sun. Jesus told us to pay attention to the today of our lives, not to meddle with tomorrow. Daily disciplines invest in a preferable future. How many seniors wish they had put a few bucks aside when they were young? Little things matter; they grow over time. Routine sets the stage for appointments with heaven, encounters not written on the calendar but inscribed on God’s heart.







Sex is God’s idea, not Satan’s. Yet Satan has managed to fool many, even in the church, with the idea that God’s commands are too limiting, that God must not know how to have the most fun, that “holy” and “happy” should not be used in the same sentence. So we have Christians asking, “Why must we wait? We are engaged, as good as married. We don’t think it’s wrong, at least not that wrong. And forgiveness is available.” Others acknowledge that they wanted to abstain but regretfully crossed the line.


So why wait?

  1.  Waiting builds trust. If you can break the law of God now, you can break it after you are married. Karen and I have no doubts with each other. We started building that trust when we dated. We spoke about boundaries, because we wanted to please God in our relationship.
  2. Sex includes the possibility of a child. Are you ready to have a child? Not if you are not married. The first command given was to “be fruitful and multiply…” Sex is the consummation of marriage, not the preparation. To join together sexually and yet not be prepared to accept all the responsibilities that accompany such action puts a strain on the relationship that God did not intend it to have.
  3. Jesus affirmed the order of creation. He said, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4,5). Physical union is the privilege of a man and a woman committed to live together for life. That is why Jesus added, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (v. 6). Until a couple has made that commitment and gone public, they are not ready to have physical relationships. Jesus said so.
  4. Intimacy is for marriage. Paul wrote that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (I Cor. 7:9). The solution the Bible offers to one whose passions are getting the best of him is not to follow his passions but to get married. Solomon writes, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”  And that time, according to his love song, is the marital relationship.
  5. You’re not married until you’re married. Many are engaged and break the engagement. They give themselves away, then wish they had not, because now they have a broken heart plus a strong bond with a person no longer with them. The soul ties created by illegitimate sexual relations can wreak havoc on marriages. Using sex to get a mate could mean getting the wrong mate. Sexual involvement blinds couples to the will of God as the physical relationship takes precedence over the spiritual and psychological. Being in God’s will trumps any station in life.
  6. Sex needs boundaries. Like a power plant, strong and dangerous, it needs protection, which marriage provides. Sex without boundaries is a fire out of control. When sex does not include the borders of marriage, it cannot be enjoyed in the same way. Shame, guilt, doubt, distrust, and resentment often come from going ahead against the will of God. Peace, joy, and fulfillment result from doing it God’s way. Sex on the sly does not bring the greatest fulfillment because it lacks the commitment that raises sexual experience to a higher level.
  7. Restraint is not repression. Jacob waited for Rachel because he loved her. Some men use the opposite reasoning: “Because I love you, I want you.” Love can wait; lust cannot. Are you planning on being married for life? Then can you wait six months to prove your love?  At the center of the cross is self-denial. Followers of Jesus know the value of crucifying fleshly passions. Our greatest need is not for pleasure; it is for holiness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” and that satisfaction lasts!
  8. God knows how to enjoy sex. Satan does not. It is not that Satan is too passionate; it is that he is not passionate enough. He separates sex from commitment, from child-bearing, from loving our partner God’s way, reducing the intensity and the joy of sexual love to irresponsible intimacy. Sex is more than a physical act; it is spiritual—every time, and including God enriches it.
  9. Look at the casualties. If you have stepped over the line, would you say it was worth it? How many people have you talked to who have said, “I wish I hadn’t waited?” You reap what you sow, and when you sow patience, you reap character. Once virginity is given up, it is never recovered. God forgives when we come in repentance, but forgiveness does not restore the original condition. Some brides and grooms wish they could give their partner the gift of virginity. A wedding day is heightened by two people joined together who have walked in purity. It can be clouded over by a pregnant bride or by a couple who have given themselves to multiple partners. Wondering if you are pregnant (and desperately hoping you are not) is a lousy way to enjoy sex. And abortions are out of the question for committed Christians. But then—so is pre-marital sex.
  10. Character counts. There are better tests for the choice of a marriage partner than physical compatibility. So practice other ways of saying, “I love you.” Pre-marital sex is not inevitable. God provides a way to overcome the temptation (I Cor. 10:13). Accountability to Christian friends can help. Engaged couples that pray together and walk in the light with mature Christian friends will look back on their engagement period with delight, not with regret. Society clearly condones pre-marital sex. It has increased among Christian singles, but that does not make it right. According to the Bible, our bodies are not our own to do with them as we please. We give them to God to do as He pleases (Romans 12:1,2; I Corinthians 6:19,20).
  11. The Bible says to “flee sexual immorality.” That doesn’t mean seeing how close you can get to the fire without being burned. Don’t put yourself in an apartment alone if you want to live by biblical convictions. Why test yourself by making out until you lose good judgment? Don’t fool yourself—and don’t test God. Acknowledge your weakness—and your hormones. Foreplay is meant to get your body moving toward a culmination. Stay away from the triggers. If you are no longer in full control, you are in a dangerous place. If my children said, “Don’t you trust us, Dad,” I would answer, “Of course I don’t. And I don’t trust myself. That’s why I have constructed moral fences.”  I am warning you because Jesus gave His listeners many warnings. So did the apostle Paul. Jesus Christ is Lord, and He is the Lord of every area of our lives, not the least of which is our relationships with the opposite sex. Learn to live under His Lordship with freedom and joy. Don’t assume that you can do what you want and simply play the forgiveness card. He does not forgive those hardened by sin and living for personal pleasure. He does forgive those broken by sin—and treats them as if they have never sinned. The grace that forgives is also the grace that empowers us to live in a way that brings more than God’s forgiveness; it brings His favor.


So what if you have already crossed the line? What if you have tried to come back and can’t? Sexuality takes in much more than the physical. A complex of issues could be involved, like abuse, poor parenting, mistaken identity, loneliness, or depression. We are not looking for people to blame, but we may need to look for the need behind the deed in order to be “more than conquerors” as the Bible promises. Without the grace of God to carry you, these eleven principles will only crush you. They are fulfilled not by grit but by learning to trust the indwelling Holy Spirit. This may require the help of a mentor or a counselor to bring you to freedom. Because the Christian life is described as a walk, a process rather than an event, you may not be able to count on one prayer ministry session or one talk with a friend to break the power of sin. Know that God has liberty for you, even if it takes time and a battle. Remember that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”


Why do young couples sometimes find the first month or first year the hardest?  Because they typically put forth their best side when they are single. Pretense goes out the window after they say, “I do,” and they don’t.  She was waiting to tell him off for the strange habit of throwing clothes on the floor.


Now is her chance; he isn’t going anywhere. She begins to list his faults. It seems somehow appropriate. After all, “The two are one.” To her surprise, nothing changes. It’s like the clod’s not even listening.


Turn it around: he sees some things in her that shock him. She can’t leave anything alone. She is more nitpicky that he ever experienced with Mom. She doesn’t want him to lick his fingers, wipe his hands on the kitchen towel, accelerate quickly, let go with gas in the hallway, and not push his chair back to the table. He can’t do anything right, and he would rather go home to mother than listen to this.


So ask yourself: what has God used to change you down through the years? Has criticism? Has telling people what you think of them ever endeared them to you? What makes you think it is going to work with the one you are going to live with “til death do us part?”  Where did you get the idea that a marriage license gives you the right to let ‘em have it? Do you have it so right that you are now your spouse’s judge of appropriate behavior?


Paul has given husbands a clear job description in Ephesians 5:22-31: to love and to lead. He uses the word “love” four times to make sure the guys get it.  And the measure of love is Christ laying down His life. Husbands love by leading and lead by loving.


The wife likewise has two responsibilities: to respond and to respect. If a husband is loving his wife as Christ loved the church, most women would find it a pleasure to submit. But be careful: no husband starts there. He is only beginning to understand what it means to be married and to bear responsibility for her.


So don’t think that his responsibility becomes your right. If he is commanded to love you, it is not your right to demand it or to say, “Hey, where’s the love, Romeo?” You have one recourse: die to yourself and respond more to his leadership, however faulty. By telling him where he is wrong or suggesting how he can do it better not only does not work to improve him; it will backfire.


Has criticism worked for you? When a fellow-employee was bold enough to tell you that you needed to improve your marketing skills, did it bring a “thank you” and an immediate change? What makes you think Mr. Charming is going to respond to caustic comments? That might work in thirty years after you are more secure in each other’s love, but not in the first month of life together. Not even close.


And Mr. Leader, if she is not following your direction in the way that she should, you have one strategy to change her, “Submit, Lady.” Her responsibility does not become your right. Die to yourself as Jesus commanded, love her with sacrificial love, and lead her with the gentleness of Christ. In time she will get the point and learn to follow. Quit telling her to respect you. Tell Jesus.


So here is your assignment to work through the tension of your new marriage. Each of you gets to review your own job description. Then list three things that you can do better to insure that the ride will get smoother. Mr. Lover: how can you lead more gently, more like Jesus? And how can you love more unselfishly?


This is not the typical response when the sharing begins. He says what she needs to do, unless he lets her go first. Then she shares what he’s got to do. Congratulations! You are both out of line. Love is a far more effective motivation for change than suggestions at best or nagging at worst. Have you heard this testimony: “I nagged him, praise the Lord, until he changed. Glory!?” It didn’t happen.


Next, review the vows that you made publicly before your friends.  How are you doing with the promises? Which ones have you broken?  Is the way you are handling yourself so far going to build a strong marriage that will delight your children, or is it creating distrust and stirring up anger? God resists the proud and gives grace to humble people. Two lowly people who see their own needs and correct them are honoring God and loving their spouse. What a way to go! Go low! All your married life!


Have you tried to challenge a young adult to live a holy life? Not easy in a culture where texting turns to sexting. A girl at college asked one of my sons she had just met in class, “Are you into sex?” What I grew up learning as an activity for married people had morphed into a form of cheap entertainment.

The cities where Paul planted churches lived by one rule: anything goes. And it went. Even the gods messed around. Sin is not a new invention.

The newly born-again in thoroughly pagan Thessalonica encountered the shock of their lives. With the Holy Spirit now making their bodies a temple rather than a garbage dump, they were called to a completely different style of living. The only temples they knew about housed patrons who served as prostitutes. Now their new faith called them higher, and nothing from their past, even ancient past, prepared them for this massive paradigm shift.

So they asked the most basic questions, like, “What is the will of this holy God for our lives?” The apostle, who was whisked out of town after forming a Christian community because of hostile Jews, longed to return and give them an answer face to face. He had to settle for a written communication. Here’s what he told them: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you” (I Thessalonians 4:3-6).

What they had grown up giving into they were now told to avoid. To be sanctified means to be set apart for special use. Their bodies were given a new purpose. Rather than indulging in whatever the body demanded, they were told to take command over the body because of the holy God who now lived in it. God actually had a plan for their bodies, and it was a different one than they had ever experienced. They needed to learn the word “no,” and practice it in relation to sexual immorality, the English phrase for the Greek word “porneia,” from which we get pornography.

God has a plan for me, and it includes a new way of living. Instead of the axiom, “Do as you please,” we now do as God’s pleases, because the Creator of the universe and of my body knows best. So I am in charge of my body, not my body in charge of me. I am not led along by the desires of my body. I don’t give in to any and every urge that my body demands, any more than I satisfy every urge for food. So the correct answer to that college girl is simply, “No, I’m not into sex, but I will be when I get married. How about you?”

One can serve in the military in a way that is called honorable. But one can also be given a dishonorable discharge. In the same way, one can live in one’s body in a dishonorable way. Paul was calling his new friends in Thessalonica to a different place. He said that his God was different from the Greek gods. He was holy. And His children would take after Him. To be godly means to be like God.

Lust and love are close in the dictionary but miles apart in life. Lust takes; love gives. Lust says, “I want what you can give me. Love says, “I want to give, not just get.” Taking advantage of other people demonstrates lust, not love, self-love, not love for others. Amnon, King David’s oldest son, wanted Tamar, so he took her against her will. Then he hated her after getting what he wanted.

Paul gives the positive, then the negative in the word to his Thessalonian friends, and his negative is a strong one. We might expect him to tell them, “The Lord will forgive men for all such sins.” Instead he writes, “The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you” (v. 6b). So Paul had addressed this with them before, but they would need plenty of reminders—and warnings. Rather than teach them how to play the forgiveness card, he lets them know that his God treats immorality much differently than Greek gods. And getting disciplined by God was more severe than a slap on the wrist.

We remember Solomon’s words, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Our Greek friends were learning wisdom in relation to their bodies. May we do the same!