empowered by the spirit for mission

What Happens When You Die?

The other week my mother died and we have just had the funeral yesterday. Things like this make you ponder our mortality and my mind turned to this question. As a follower of Jesus I don’t fear death but events like this do make you wonder. My mother never professed faith in Jesus so I don’t feel I can I rejoice that she’s gone to a better place in the way that I would when celebrating the death of someone who shared my faith. But is it as simple as Christians go to heaven and non-Christians go to hell? That’s the question I’m wrestling with here.

Some who claim near death experiences believe that they have received a glimpse of the afterlife. A recent popular book Heaven Is For Real tells one little boy’s account of his near death experience. You can read Scott Lencke’s review of this book here. The BBC documentary The Day I Died gives the best case I have seen for these being more than just physiological phenomena of the brain where someone recounts conversations in an operating room that they could not possibly have heard as they were clinically dead. Could it really be that when we die we become a disembodied spirit and journey to a place of light and meet our departed relatives? Does the Bible agree with this?

Do Christians go to heaven?

Unfortunately I don’t think the Bible is as clear about this as people think. A lot of what people think about heaven and hell come from the book of Revelation which is a very symbolic book. I tend to view it as a prophecy mainly about the experiences of the early Christians on the earth. For example I would take the image of New Jerusalem with its streets paved with gold and gates made of pearls to be a symbolic picture of the church rather than a literal picture of heaven.

The Bible refers to death as going to sleep. There is also the phrase that Paul used about death: ‘to go to be with the Lord which is far better’. This has led others to think that we become disembodied spirits with believers in some form of bliss with God awaiting the resurrection of our bodies. This is probably what people mean when they talk about going to heaven.

God is gracious so doesn’t everyone go to a better place?

Jesus’ message of grace exposes the myth that it is good people who get there and the bad will be punished in hell. Jesus makes the point that being religious is certainly not a guarantee of eternal life and in fact reading the gospels it would appear that the sinners have a better chance. Eternal life is given to those who believe in and follow Jesus.

But what of those who never professed any belief in Jesus or the gospel? One traditional understanding is that they will burn for ever in hell as they continue under God’s wrath and judgment. But there is a minority view that everyone is eventually accepted be God and welcomed into his presence.

Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. In The Evangelical Universalist the author sees people coming to God through the Christian gospel. But he argues that they are given a second chance after death and so make it through the fires of hell out the other side. This book makes an excellent case for this from the scriptures and so I would not say that this is an unchristian view, however I am not quite convinced by it.

So do unbelievers go to hell then?

In one chapter of the book Essentials the leading evangelical author John Stott pointed out that the idea of the immortal soul is really from Greek philosophy rather than from the Bible. He said that God gives immortality to believers. He saw hell as real, but he argued for it being the final destruction of the unbelievers not their everlasting torment. Personally I would tend to agree with this. The book on this that I am yet to read is the Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge.

What happens to those who have never heard the gospel?

The best answer to this that I have heard is that God judges people on the revelation that they have received. There are some who may have reached out to God but not known of Jesus, the Bible or the gospel of grace as we would understand it. I am inclined to agree that if someone has reached out to God in this way and not rejected God’s grace in Jesus then they receive eternal life with God.

But what of those who reject the gospel?

I must say that there is a real danger of dying without God and going to a lost eternity. But I would add that there is always the possibly of someone accepting the gospel right up to their last conscious moment. They may not get the opportunity to verbalise this but I am convinced that God still forgives.

Ultimately we cannot know in this life exactly what it will be like in the next. All I can say is that I do believe that there is an eternal reward for those who do follow Jesus. For those, like my mum, who have never made such a decision I wouldn’t be so quick to pronounce their fate either way.

October 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)

What is the Gospel?

An important part of God’s mission is for us to communicate some of the basics of the Christian gospel. In conversation it is right to explore the area together and not give people a monologue but I think it is worthwhile thinking through some of the basics ourselves. So I’ve just scribbled down this quick outline of some of the main points.

What is our situation?

God has revealed to us that he created the world. God created humanity to know him. But we chose to turn away from God in rebellion. The result of us rejecting God is that our society has been spoilt. It is filled with evil, pain, anger, injustice and heartbreak. But that doesn’t stop God loving his creation or desiring a relationship with us.

We are hopelessly lost and confused. When we feel lonely or feel that there is something missing in our lives perhaps that indicates a longing for that relationship with himself that God intends. God wants to save us and heal us from this malady that separation from God brings both in this life and in eternity. Left to ourselves humanity would only get worse. That is why God needed to send Jesus.

God's Love - Our Sin - His Forgiveness - Your ChoiceWe all know that life can be hard and can damage and hurt us. It might be through our own poor decisions or it might be through what others do to us. How can we ever be restored to the perfection that God intended for us? How can we be free? What can we do about the desperate situation we’re in? The really good news is that God has made a way.

What is the good news?

‘God loves you!’ might sound clichéd but the fact that God loves us even in our rebellion and sin is central to the gospel. It was because of this love for the world that God sent Jesus. Through his life and teaching and through his death and resurrection Jesus brought grace, truth and hope into the world that can never be defeated by iniquity.

Jesus Christ came to us as the perfect God-man, taught about God’s kingdom – God’s rule on earth – and was executed as a criminal. He died willingly out of love for us suffering the punishment for our sins. But on the third day he rose from the dead and eventually returned to heaven.

God then sent the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to spread this gospel or ‘good news’ of the kingdom that we can be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

How should we respond?

God invites us to turn from our old way of living to follow a new way – to become one his disciples and so receive salvation, to come into that relationship with God that he intended from the beginning. This is not about being a better person. This is not something we can earn or achieve. God out of his grace and love gives us this freely.

But how can we do that?


First we need to repent. Repentance is admitting that we fall short of God’s requirements. We realise that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favour but with God’s help we can turn away from sin and ask him to forgive everything we’ve done wrong.


We also need to believe. Faith is putting our trust in Jesus and his free gift to us through his death and resurrection. In repentance we turn from sin – in faith we turn to Jesus. We trust in him. We become his disciple and God gives us a fresh start.

Be baptised

Having repented and believed we have received salvation. God then asked us to be baptised by immersion in water. Those of a different Christian tradition may choose to omit this step but actually I think it is essential to make the break with our previous lifestyle and fully embrace all that God has for us.

Receive the Holy Spirit

God then promises us that we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He comes to live inside of us by his Spirit. It is God’s response to our repentance, faith and baptism. We just need to ask. The baptism with the Spirit is an experience of God that equips us for the dynamic Christian life.

What then?

As a follower of Jesus we can talk with him and learn more about him as he speaks to us through reading the Bible and through his Holy Spirit.

But we can also learn more and achieve more by joining with other believers. There is much God wants you to do together. Jesus rescues us and begins the process of restoring us to wholeness so that we can be useful.

Jesus came to save individuals and he also came to transform the world into God’s ideal. You too can take part in God’s mission setting people free from sin, fear and condemnation and being a God-influence on your culture. Joining with others we can work together making the world more like God originally intended.

What do you think?

Of course that is just a brief outline of the gospel and I’m sure others would express it differently. Perhaps there’s something you don’t agree with? Perhaps I could be clearer? Perhaps I am missing something? How would you summarise the gospel? I’d be interested to know.

More information:
What Does “Born Again” Mean? – a short online Global Horisons video
Not really religious at all? – an outline of the gospel by David Matthew

Related Posts:
Understanding Atonement
Justification: Has Wright Got it Right?

October 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes by Leif Hetland

A book review

Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes by Norway’s Leif Hetland is written for Christians needing encouragement. It is for all who believe in grace but need reminding not to fall into legalism or to turn away, and especially for those tempted to be angry with God.

Leif Hetland came back from a Prodigal lifestyle, was baptised in the Spirit, went to Bible college and became a church leader. But in doing so he felt he became like the Prodigal’s elder brother. Years later he received the revelation of God’s love, which Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes is all about. It changed the way he saw God, himself, others and the future. For example, Leif sees heaven’s culture as the dance of the Trinity which we are invited to join. And he doesn’t deny that the world will get worse but he still sees the present reality of God’s Kingdom increasing until paradise is fully restored.

He’s suffered serious injuries and illnesses along the way and trusted God through them all. In fact Leif has continued with a passion to reach out to others including Islamic leaders. When things are painful he recognises that you may need to go through a process of isolation before coming out the other side. If you let him, God’s Spirit will guide you and bring you out of your cocoon as a beautiful butterfly.

Leif Hetland is a charismatic preacher. He hears God’s voice and prays for the sick. He takes Genesis and Revelation more literally than I would but is not tied to one Bible translation. His writing is motivational but not sentimental or prone to hype. His masterly story-telling will touch something deep within, leaving a warm glow that draws you to trust in God. You might not learn anything new intellectually from Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes but you’ll be encouraged to hold on to God with all your heart.


Thanks to Mike Morrell of the SpeakEasy Network for sending me this book to review free of charge.

Related posts:
Chrysalis by Rob McAlpine also uses the metaphor of a cocoon.
7 charismissional links – includes a link to a book about the ‘dance of the Trinity’.
Is the Bible the Word of God? for some of my ramblings related to taking the Bible literally.

October 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

Reaching the Inner City

A year or two ago at Greenbelt there was a discussion about Christians deliberately moving into the inner city. This was in the Church Urban Fund’s venue called The Kitchen. A number of people who had done this had genuinely given up living in the suburbs so that they could reach people in these areas. What we, as a family, found strange about this was that we live in the inner city but feel that we had less choice about the matter.

Yes, part of the reason we moved here was to be near where our church meets but another big reason is that it was somewhere we could afford! We have two part time salaries and we feel that we couldn’t realistically find much else with house prices as they are. This is probably similar for many families today starting out with one full-time wage.

For some time now as a couple we have both worked part-time giving time to family, church and our community. Somehow we’ve never felt that we need to go for full-time jobs. When our daughter was little we shared the child-care and now she’s a bit older we still find plenty to keep us occupied. Though there are plenty of things that would be nice. I guess we live quite a simple lifestyle compared to a lot of people we know.

We’ve slowly built relationships with our inner city neighbours particularly through being involved in community groups. Over the year’s we’ve learnt to love our neighbourhood although we have had our run-ins with some colourful characters and sometimes longed to live somewhere else. We’ve developed a heart not just for our immediate locality but for the whole area and have even launched a work club for local people in our spare time.

Though we don’t feel we’ve deliberately taken a step down we’ve never really strived to take a step up either.

This post has been written as part of the conversation for this month’s Synchroblog Down We Go. Please check out the other contributions:

October 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comments (14)

How often do you speak in tongues? – the results

Thank you for all your responses to the poll asking how often you speak in tongues. Here are the results.

Interesting that no-one says that they did once but don’t anymore. It is encouraging that those who have recived this gift do continue to use it.

It also is interesting that so many people would say that they speak in tongues occasionally. I intended this to mean less than every few days but I cannot be sure as the poll randomised the order in which the options were displayed. But assuming that people did take it to mean this it means a number of tongue speakers do so perhaps once a week or once a fortnight or less.

I probably speak – or a least think – in tongues most days. As my wife pointed out sometimes we forget how often we do this and so we don’t feel that we speak in tongues as much as we really do. And just like Linda who also commented on the post I speak in tongues mostly in my own devotions in the comments but it is not limited to a specific time. It is something I can do in any odd moment as I go about my daily routine.

There are times in charismatic worship where lots of people speak in tongues all at the same time. It could be that this is the time that they use the gift. Interestingly I only rarely join in with such times but occasionally I do feel prompted to speak in tongues out loud and then interpret what I have prayed back into English.

For those who don’t speak in tongues and want to know a bit more I suggest having a look at my earlier post on baptism in the Spirit.

October 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

WorkShop: 5 Lessons on Setting up a Community Project

Every Thursday morning my wife and I run a little work club called WorkShop that we have set up voluntarily in our spare time to serve our local community of Ladywood. Here are a few lessons that we are learning along the way that we hope will be useful if you ever want to set up your own project.

1. Investigate the need in your area

Karis Neighbour SchemeLadywood has significant levels of unemployment and there are no other work clubs or job clubs in the vicinity. After some investigation of the needs of the local area we found that a local Christian charity Karis Neighbour Scheme working with the Nehemiah Project had already completed research indicating the need here not only for activities to engage people but also to enable them to look into paths into training and to take steps towards getting work. There are other events for unemployed people such as the Drop in Centre that meets in our church’s little building but there is nothing specifically supporting people back into work in the way that WorkShop aims to do.

After starting this we also found out that Job Centre Plus was facilitating a number of organisations set up work clubs in the area and we are now registered with them and they have sent us a few people. We’ve now found that they are giving grants to help people set these up and help with the marketing which we are exploring.

2. Don’t go it alone – work with partners

We couldn’t have set up WorkShop on our own. We are working in partnership with a few other organisations that we made contact with as we initially explored the idea of serving our community.

church aliveWorkShop is partnering with our own church Church Alive and also with another local church – Church of the Redeemer who allows us to use one of their rooms – free of charge. The room is furnished with a number of desktop computers and has internet access. Karis Neighbour Scheme, also based on the Church of The Redeemer’s premises, work a lot with local residents offering befriending and practical support such as DIY and gardening. Karis has been instrumental in helping us to get established and has referred a number of people to us over the months. Karis have also secured funding for us and Church of the Redeemer is holding the money for WorkShop.

As we have networked with other organisations and explained what we are doing we have found them really helpful.  For instance, we are also grateful for ongoing support from Birmingham Disability Resource Centre. Though we are not just aiming to help people with a disability we are aiming to be inclusive and our one-to-one approach is suited well to anyone with additional needs.

3. Plan some activities but be flexible

seetecWhat sort of activities do we have? Well, to start with you complete some activities that get you to think about all your existing skills – even those you never knew you had and we find out what you are looking for. Some may want to find out about training courses or volunteering opportunities. Many may want help writing a CV, or may just want somewhere to start job hunting from. Also Seetec an organisation who provides help and training for jobseekers, have not only donated a couple of laptops but also access to their online activities.

When someone comes along we spend some time getting to know them, assessing their needs and suggesting the best activities for them. People may want to ask us questions about where to find help with courses, volunteering or jobs. We spend a lot of the time talking to people individually. Of course some may want to just work quietly. Not everyone in the area has a computer at home so some appreciate using the internet access for job searching. We also have the jobs papers to hand and a variety of other leaflets.

4. Don’t be discouraged by small beginnings

job centre plusWe had initially thought WorkShop would develop into a fairly cohesive small group of job seekers with people continually finding work and new people joining. This is a small beginning and we do hope that this will develop into such a group. But what we are finding is that we are spending more time with people on one-to-one basis for those that want it. People discuss their skills with us and ask for feedback and guidance on developing their CV or assistance in completing application forms.

I think doing a lot more marketing is important to engage more people. We need to be printing more leaflets and taking them around other community groups. We also need to be presenting what WorkShop is all about to groups that could refer people. It might be worth going into Job Centres to sit in on advisory meetings explaining who we are and what we do and to volunteer ourselves as guest speakers at Back to Work sessions that the Job Centres are running.

5. Get more volunteers on board

We are yet to do this. We made contact with the Church Urban Fund at Greenbelt who has a model for job clubs that we might want to use supported by the Jericho Foundation. This looks similar to what Pecan & Tearfund are doing. What I like about these is that they are not just offering a model but also support in doing what we are doing and they see it as a church project. These contacts look very promising as they are both looking to help churches set up these sorts of clubs. Interestingly they both recommend getting a few more church volunteers on a rota. And they will help pushing advertising to get a group formed so that we could start doing group activities.

There is no doubt that Ladywood needs WorkShop and working together with others we hope that we are beginning to fulfil that need. It’s still early days yet but many people have been helped already.

October 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)

Baptised in the Spirit

This is one of the best videos I can find on baptism in the Spirit. This girl tells a very candid story of how she received the baptism in the Spirit despite some of her reservations. I too was baptised with the Spirit in an Assemblies of God church. Though I haven’t been part of a Pentecostal denomination for many years I am grateful to be still part of a church that believes and practices the baptism in the Spirit.

Manifestations of the Spirit

You don’t have to speak in tongues to be baptised with the Spirit but baptism with the Spirit is a clear definite experience that you know has happened. In the video the girl describes an amazing sense of peace and joy. But she also says some things that you may think are a little strange. Her tongue feels thick and heavy and she talks about being hot when she prays. Sometimes things like this happen but they are not that common.

Interpretation of Tongues

When she feels prompted to pray for her friend I think she points out something very interesting. She says that generally it’s not a good idea to speak in tongues in front of someone who doesn’t understand. I’d tend to agree with that but on this occasion God enabled the person to understand what she was saying in tongues. The Bible calls this is the gift of interpretation. My experience is that often when I speak in tongues or hear someone else speak in tongues I can interpret what is being said but not always.

Have you been baptised in the Spirit? What is your story?

October 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comments (5)