My Visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame and a Surprise Conclusion

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Back in March of 2015, I travelled up to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (near Boston) to complete my thesis defense for my doctoral program. After 3 years of work, I now had to stand before my professors and defend my thesis. That sounds scary, but my professors were really great and it was a fun experience (and I did actually pass). On my drive up to Gordon Conwell, I remembered from earlier trips that the road I was travelling on (I-88) was pretty close to Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I debated in my head whether or not to stop, but in the end, I opted to go and visit the famous town and its museum.

 

Growing up I was a huge fan of baseball. I watched game after game of my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Over the years I also become familiar with the history of the game. This all combined to make my experience at the Baseball Hall of Fame a memorial one for sure. I will never forget visiting the Babe Ruth exhibit. The amount of newspaper clippings and relics and memorabilia to do with “the Babe” was staggering.

 

But as I think back on my experience of visiting the Hall of Fame, I was struck by just how quiet and low key it was. Cooperstown is a sleepy little town and the day I visited, there weren’t many people there. Things no doubt pick up in the summer, but it was kind of dead that day with barely any visitors. The other thing was, I didn’t actually meet any Hall of Famers. Of course, many of them (like Babe Ruth) are dead and gone, but many are still alive and they don’t visit too often. They have lives of their own and probably only come back on special occasions. I enjoyed myself and I am glad I went, but frankly, the place was kind of dead and lifeless. It is really just a hall filled with memorabilia and plaques and things of that sort.

 

For the past several weeks, I’ve had the great privilege of taking our church through Hebrews 11. This Faith Hall of Fame is in fact much different than any earthly Hall of Fame. The very first person mentioned in Hebrews 11 is a man by the name of Abel. I won’t go into the full story of Cain and Abel, but it does say in Hebrews 11:4, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” So even though his brother brutally murdered him and his life ended prematurely, he left a powerful legacy….a legacy of faith. This is a legacy that even murder could not stamp out.

 

As a pastor, people often ask me what heaven will be like. And while Scripture does tell us much, there are a lot of unknown details when it comes to heaven. However, I will say this. Heaven is a world of love and a world of life. It is just the opposite of hell. Hell is a dead and dreary and lifeless place whereas heaven is a world of love and happiness and life. This is exactly what we would expect from our Creator God. The very first verse in the bible tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of 6 days, God created everything in the universe, including Adam and Eve. In the time since then, God has never stopped creating and forming and as Romans 4:17 puts it, He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” In fact, God’s greatest work of creating is regeneration. Regeneration is God’s work of salvation through faith whereby He brings life to dead sinners. Peter puts it this way: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)

 

All that to say that when the redeemed of the Lord get to heaven, they will find it to be a place filled with life. Unlike the Hall of Fame, they will meet person after person who is alive like never before. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). The lesson being, don’t get too fixated upon this earthly life. Rather, we should long for our heavenly dwelling. We should fix our eyes upon Jesus and seek the things that are above. Jesus puts it best in Matthew 6:20: “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.”

 

 

Christ’s Heavenly Session

Our twin daughters love “baby Jesus.” Before Christmas, we went to a parade in our community and one of the girls said, “I don’t want to see Santa Claus, I just want to see baby Jesus!” As Christian parents, Steph and I are glad for this, however, we have also tried to explain to our kids that Jesus did not stay a baby. The gospel writer Luke tells us that as a boy, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). At age 30 he began his ministry, which lasted for about 3 years. According to the plan of God, He was crucified and buried, but He rose again on the third day. For forty days, Jesus showed Himself to hundreds of people through various post-resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Then Jesus culminated his earthly life with His ascension to heaven. “And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

A Definition

The ascension is one of the most overlooked doctrines in Christian theology. It is important because it helps answer the question – where is Jesus now and what is He doing? As 1 Peter 3:21b-22 tells us: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” This verse describes what is sometimes called “Christ’s heavenly session.” In case you were wondering, the word session comes from a Latin word that simply means, “sitting.” The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is sitting (and reigning) at the right hand of God the Father. This is His heavenly session.

Another helpful verse is Hebrews 1:3. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This is what we might call “session” language. Literally, the author of Hebrews writes, “He sat down at the right hand” of God. With the work of redemption accomplished, Christ could now return to his throne on high to reign and have dominion. And as Christ reigns, God works to accomplish all of his cosmic purposes. “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).

J.I. Packer puts it this way: “Christ’s session will continue until all his and our enemies, including death, are brought to nothing. The last enemy of death will cease to be when Christ at his appearing raises the dead for judgment (John 5:28-29). Once judgment has been executed, the work of the mediatorial kingdom will be over, and Christ will triumphantly deliver the kingdom to the Father.” (Check out 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 for more on this).

Three Applications

So why does all this matter? First and foremost, we must remember that Jesus Christ is alive and well. The resurrection wasn’t just a hoax concocted by the disciples. Jesus Christ was truly raised to life and is alive and well even to this day. He conquered death and set the captives free. This gives us hope! As one hymn puts it, “because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” Or, because He lives, we as Christians can live. Praise God!

Secondly, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus is interceding for us. “Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). This should be both exciting and comforting to the believer. In our weakness and in our times of need, our precious Savior is interceding on our behalf.

Lastly, we can know that everything is under the rule and authority of Christ. Whether it be angels, authorities, or powers. There is no realm of this universe that does not fall under the reign and rule and dominion of Christ. As Ephesians 1:20-21 reminds us, God raised Christ “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the one to come.”

In short, Christ reigns and rules on high. There is no earthly power or kingdom that can compare with the rule of Christ. So when you watch the nightly news, or read on the internet about wars and rumors of wars, and government shutdowns, and corrupt leadership, and the national debt, and immorality, and whatever kind of news you encounter, just remember that Jesus reigns. He reigns and rules on high and is seated at the right hand of God the Father!

Shakespeare, JFK, and What Happens When We Get to Heaven

A few weeks ago, my dear wife and I watched a documentary film on William Shakespeare called Last Will and Testament. It is a fascinating documentary that questions whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays attributed to him. The film makes a compelling argument that he didn’t and that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford is the more likely candidate.

There are no shortage of conspiracy theories being promoted today. All kinds of websites and books explore some of histories great questions, mysteries, and cover-ups and this phenomena is not likely to fade away. Just to give you one example, next week (November 22nd) marks the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination and lots of people are still questioning the official story of what happened on that fateful day in Dallas.

I used think that when we get to heaven, I would be able to ask God about questions like these, knowing that every question would be answered perfectly. In my mind, it would be a conversation that would answer all my burning questions and put them to rest once and for all. I no longer think this way. It’s not that I don’t think we will ask God questions, it’s just that our perspective will be totally different.

Consider what happened when the prophet Isaiah encountered the living God (Isaiah 6:1-7). As Isaiah explains it, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Then he saw angels worshipping and praising God crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” By this point in time, Isaiah was totally ruined. He had encountered God in all His glory and he immediately recognized his own sinfulness. His response says it all: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” What happened here is that the finite had encountered the Infinite. The sinful had encountered the Holy. This can only work to ruin a man because he is exposed for who he truly is. Our only hope is if God Himself provides atonement, which is exactly what happened. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: Behold this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” For Isaiah, this proved to be a life changing encounter that would shape him for the rest of his life and ministry.

When we get to heaven, asking the burning questions of our heart will not be priority for us. No, when we get to heaven there will be a wondrous sense of awe and rejoicing over the glory of God. There will also be a sense of wonder “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and provided the way of atonement for a people undeserving of such grace. As Christians, we have that sense of gratitude and thankfulness and awe in the here and now, but in eternity, that will be multiplied many times over.

If you are anything like me, mysteries can be intriguing, fascinating, frustrating, and even consuming. But when we come to the end of time, the value that we attach to these things and many other things will certainly fade away. The consuming passion and desire of our hearts will be God, and God alone. As the Bible tells us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when it appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” As far as I’m concerned, that day can’t come soon enough!

What People Believe About Hell

According to a recent poll (June 6, 2013), “56 percent of Americans surveyed believe in the devil, 53 percent believe in hell and 43 percent believe in hell as “a place of suffering and punishment where people go after they die”. Some might think these numbers are low, but it is quite remarkable that more people believe in hell than don’t believe in hell. The only explanation for this is Christianity’s influence on the culture. The other side of the coin is as follows: “An equal amount of respondents (38 percent) believe that people who commit violent criminal acts go to hell as well as those who don’t ask God’s forgiveness for their sins before they die. Greater than 61 percent of respondents believe they’re going to heaven, while only 1.5 percent believe they will go to hell.” So while most people believe in hell, almost nobody (1.5 percent) thinks they are going there. Of course this doesn’t surprise us. If a person has a notion of heaven and hell, chances are they believe they are going to heaven.

In short, Christian’s have been successful in helping people see that hell is real, but unsuccessful in helping people see that apart from Christ, they are headed there. Back in the day, hellfire and brimstone preachers made a name for themselves by focusing on God’s judgment. In my estimation, most preachers today focus on God’s love with little or even no mention of God’s judgment. The Bible speaks of both and if we are going to be faithful to our calling as preachers, we must preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Jesus spoke more about hell than everyone else in the Bible combined and did not shy away from speaking about the consequences for those who reject God’s gracious offer of salvation. So whether we are preaching, doing personal evangelism, or counseling a friend, let’s not shy away from speaking the truth about God, and the consequences of rejecting Christ.

Living With Eternity in Mind

What if you knew you only had a short time to live? When my grandpa was dying many years ago, my family gathered around his bedside where he gave each of us some parting words.  He told us the things he felt were most important for us to know and do.   I will never forget grandpa telling me to serve the Lord and keep the Stegeman name going (I’m the only boy in our family).

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was on a mission to accomplish the will of His Father.  The night before He was crucified, Jesus gathered around His disciples and gave them some parting words.  In John 17:2, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.”  Jesus knew that before He could return and be with His Father in heaven, He must be handed over to death. But He also knew it would not end in death, and that He would be raised to life on the third day (Matthew 12:40).

As Christians, we do not know what tomorrow holds in the same way that Jesus did, but we can be sure that the return of Christ is nearing each and every day and we must be ready.  The bridegroom is coming for His bride and we (the church) must be ready!  And while we have not experienced heaven, Scripture tells us of its glories and wonders!

So we have this hope as believers and we know that we are just strangers in a foreign land, for our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  Let me encourage you to live each day with eternity close to your thoughts. The Bible tells us, “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7). May we not waste our time on the trivial, but instead look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and make the best use of time (Ephesians 5:16), knowing that we will soon be in eternity.

Penn Jillette on Christian’s who don’t Evangelize

“We have to conclude that a Christian with no passion for the lost is in serious need of self-examination and repentance. Even the atheists have worked this out. Penn Jillette is an avowed and vocal atheist, and one half of the famous comic–illusionist act Penn and Teller. He was evangelized by a polite and impressive man, and had this to say about the experience:

‘I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and that people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that….”

Copied from page 53 of The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

If my people….will pray

The most important thing the people of God can do this election season is to pray. We must pray, “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) O God, in this presidential election. We must pray that God would bring glory to His great Name over the next month and in the coming four years. And we must pray that as the people of God, we would look inward at our own hearts and lives. As 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This verse is both a challenge and a promise. In essence, if we humble ourselves before God, he will heal our land.

The consistent testimony of the Bible is that “the Most High rules the kingdoms of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:17). God establishes kingdoms and empires and determines who will rule those kingdoms and empires. And while the thought of another four years of Obama in the White House does not thrill me in the least, we have to be open to the possibility that it may be the will of God. We must remember that as Christians our citizenship is ultimately in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and that whatever citizenship we currently enjoy, it is only temporary.

As we acknowledge God’s sovereignty this election season, let’s not forget that we can (and should) pray. The most important thing we can do as Christians is to call upon our God and King. He will “hear from heaven” the cries of His people. Let’s not miss this opportunity. God may just use this time to bring revival and spiritual awakening to our land.