(Photo: Harvest Ministries)
On the first Sunday of this year, Pastor Greg Laurie shared with his congregation at California's Harvest Church how belief in and perception of heaven affects Christians' lives on earth. He encouraged church members to be heavenly-minded throughout 2014 and beyond.
Heaven is not a place of boredom, stressed the pastor of the Riverside church as he began his message, "How Eternity Brings Focus to What Really Matters." It's a place of bliss, he said, adding, "Heaven is a real place for real people to do real things."
Laurie said the Bible compares heaven with a city, a country, a garden and a paradise. "Heaven is a place of activity, building, eating, worshipping and much more." It's a place where we will get united with our loved ones who preceded us, he said.
Heaven might seem like a distant place, but one day heaven and earth will become one, Laurie added.
It's crucial to think about heaven, the pastor said. "Your belief in afterlife has everything to do with how you live in the before-life."
Laurie told the congregation he thinks a lot about heaven because of his son's death.
Jesus is the authority on heaven, "and I'm a student of heaven," he said, showing his book, As It is in Heaven. He said he wrote the book to highlight how our perception of heaven affects the way we live on earth.
Laurie then quoted Colossians 3:1-2, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."
This passage calls for diligent, single-minded investigation, he explained. It asks us to "keep seeking heaven." "Our feet must be on earth, but our minds should be in heaven … Heaven is not only our destination, but also our motivation."
This could be your last year on earth, Laurie told the church members. But there's nothing to fear, he added. "The Christian is always ready to go home because he has his ticket ... we have our reservation; we know what's going to happen."
Pastor Laurie mentioned that evangelist D.L. Moody was once asked, "If you knew the Lord was returning tonight, how would you spend the rest of this day?" Moody responded, "I wouldn't do anything different from what I do every day." And that's the right response from a Christian who's truly heavenly-minded, Laurie said.
New Year is a good time to re-calibrate, to look at one's life and ask how have I done last year, had I been a heavenly-minded Christian last year, and do I want to be one this year, the Harvest pastor said.
He encouraged the members to ask the question why we exist. Quoting a survey, Laurie added that 61 percent of Americans said enjoyment and personal fulfillment were their purpose in life.
But living for pleasure is one of the least pleasurable things a person can do, Laurie said. Everybody lives for something. To find out what we ought to live for, we need to take a quick trip to heaven, he added.
The pastor read out Revelations 4:8-11, which is about a "heavenly worship service."
"Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,' who was, and is, and is to come. Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.'"
Worship is happening in heaven, Laurie pointed out. We need to do the same on earth. "I am here on this earth to bring glory to God ... These are the marching orders for 2014. I'm not here to pursue pleasure; I'm here to pursue God."
When you seek to fulfill the purpose you were created for, which is to know, glorify, and worship God, you will find the happiness you have been seeking in life, Laurie underlined.
God created us for His own glory, according to Isaiah 43:7 and Ephesians 1:11-12, he said.
Singing songs to God is not the only way to worship, Laurie clarified. For, it is possible to sing songs and not worship at all.
There are many ways to glorify God, the pastor said. We are to glorify Him in all that we do with our lives, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Whatever you do, glorify God in it – be it business, academics or music.
Let's ask ourselves this year, am I glorifying God in what I do, do I glorify God in my free time, do I glorify God by the kind of friends I have, do I glorify God with my money?
To explain what it means to be heavenly-minded, the pastor quoted Colossians 3:5-10, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."
In the passage, Paul talks about three sins that keep us from being heavenly-minded, Laurie explained. These are sexual immorality; idolatry; and anger, meanness and slander.
To be heavenly-minded, we need to put Jesus first in life, from the thoughts we think to the friends we choose to the way we spend our time, Laurie said, reminding the congregation, "You are a citizen of heaven; it's time to start acting like one."