Ask Me Anything (Gifting, Marriage in Heaven, Complementarianism, Family Devotions)

Here is another edition of Ask Me Anything. Today we cover using gifts, death, marriage in heaven, family devotions, and the outworkings of complementarianism.

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How do you balance using your gifts to edify the local church versus the universal church? Your blog has greatly edified me, but I wonder what your opinion is on striking the balance? Should you be more focused on your local church instead of blogging to benefit the universal church?

This is a question I’ve had to think about a fair bit over the years, and it came to a head in the summer of 2015. At that time I was a full-time associate pastor at Grace Fellowship Church and was also maintaining this site and all that goes with it. For several years I had been doing both but was coming to the realization that I was facing a breakdown if I didn’t choose between them. I talked it over with friends, family, and my fellow elders. In the end, I resigned my full-time position at the church, though I remained an elder.

It might seem that I chose the universal church over the local church, but I don’t think it’s so simple. The one question we prayed through as elders was where God seemed to be particularly blessing my ministry. It’s not like I was a failure as a pastor, but we acknowledged he seems to have given me unusual blessing in this writing ministry. Meanwhile, we had other people who were able and eager to step into my role at the church. Plus, I was not leaving the church or the eldership, but simply stepping out of a vocational role. For all of these reasons, we believed it made sense to focus on the writing.

I believe strongly in the principle that whatever I do in public ministry needs to be affirmed by the local church. Ministry begins in the local church and radiates out, not the other way around. If my church and elders believed I was unsuited for local church ministry (and hence also for public ministry), I would like to believe I would heed their counsel and immediately quit for the good of God’s church. As it stands, they affirm and support me, which gives me confidence that I am honoring God and striking an appropriate balance.

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I hear people say at funerals things like, “She is in a better place with Jesus now.” I hear it a lot! But in Revelation it states that the dead will rise to meet Jesus in the sky to be taken to heaven. So which is it? Do we rise into heaven right after death or do we lie in a coffin until Jesus returns?

It is important to distinguish between two realities that come after death: the intermediate heaven and the eternal heaven. When we die, we enter into an intermediate state, which Randy Alcorn defines as “a transitional period between our past lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth.” The word “intermediate” indicates that this state is temporary, between two things, until God brings history to its conclusion. This is where you and I will go when we die if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful place or state, free of sin and full of the presence of God. But it is not the final place.

When Christ brings an end to history as we know it, he will create (or recreate) a new heaven and a new earth for us to live on. This is where we will live forever. Let me quote Alcorn again: “When we die, believers in Christ will not go to the Heaven where we’ll live forever. Instead, we’ll go to an intermediate Heaven. In the intermediate Heaven, we’ll await the time of Christ’s return to the earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and New Earth. If we fail to grasp this truth, we will fail to understand the biblical doctrine of Heaven. Everything hinges on the resurrection. God does not abandon our bodies, nor does he abandon the earth itself.” This is the heaven we ultimately look forward to. (Here are some suggestions for books on heaven.)

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My father passed away earlier this year. After his passing my mother told me she had been taught that there is no marriage in heaven. That is to say that after 49 years of marriage, when she dies she believes she will have no relation to my father. They will be siblings in Christ, but nothing beyond that. Of course I understand that there is no sorrow in heaven, but the thought that he will be the same to her as all the other citizens of heaven is now making both of us miserable—she because of the loss of a relationship with him with no hope of its return, and me because someone told her that. I do not believe that my father will not have a special relationship with his family, my mother included. What do you believe?

The Bible tells us less than we might like to know about life after death, and we are left with many unanswered questions. Yet I also believe the Bible tells us exactly what God deemed necessary for us to know. One thing it makes clear is that there will be no marriage in heaven. Presumably, this is because the purpose for which God created marriage will have been fulfilled. There will be no further need for procreation and the picture contained in marriage—the union of Christ and his church—will have been fully and finally realized. But even though marriage will end, there is no reason to think that all of our relationships will be returned to a state of neutrality, as if husbands will forget their wives, and children will forget their parents.

Even the great theologian Jonathan Edwards considered the continuation of his relationship with his wife and found comfort in it. In his final moments he spoke to his daughter and said,

It seems to me to be the will of God, that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue for ever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God.

While life after death will mark the beginning of some things, it will mark the continuation of others. Though marriage will not exist, surely close relationships will. Whatever else we know, we know that we will be joyful for all eternity, that there will be no tears, no sorrows, no unfulfilled longings. Whatever God has stored up for us will be even better than the best of what we’ve experienced here.

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I really enjoyed your article on 10 Ideas and 10 Tips for Family Devotions. But where I struggle is with making it happen consistently. The surest way to make something come up during a week seems to be purposing to do devotions that evening. How do you go about building regularity into your family’s devotional life?

That’s the struggle, isn’t it? I think most Christians understand the value of family devotions and, once they understand it, have a good desire to actually make it happen. The trouble comes with fitting it in to the busyness of life. And our lives are busy!

We have found that we need to regularly examine our family’s schedule to find a time when we are all available. That used to be in the evenings, but as time has gone on and our kids have gotten older, we found that too many of us were out and about too often in the evenings. A couple of years ago we changed our devotions to first thing in the morning when we have a more consistent routine. Each morning at around 6:55 I wake the kids and they stumble downstairs. We begin our day by reading the Bible and praying, then we have breakfast and begin the daily tasks. I can’t say that our kids are at their best that time of day, but they do try to be awake and attentive. It is rare now that we miss a day during our normal school-year routine. Of course, eventually summer break comes along and we find we need to figure out a whole new routine again. It is a moving target, so adaptability is a key.

As I said in that article, it is less important when, where, and how you do family devotions and more important that you do family devotions. And once you do family devotions, ensure you persevere without giving up when it gets difficult and without giving in when you suddenly realize, “Wow, it’s been a week since we last read the Bible together.” Pick up where you left off, and persevere!

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As I read your excellent article regarding complementarians reading books by women, I was still left with a question I’ve been pondering. What are your thoughts on Bible translation being done by females (namely, from Greek and Hebrew to a previously unwritten language)? In light of Scripture, is this a role that is too closely associated with the preaching and teaching of the Word so as to preclude women from it, or is it a role which can be filled by women who are imbued with the necessary gifts, abilities, and wisdom for the linguistic and theological task?

I received a lot of emails like this one in response to the article on complementarianism. People asked about women praying, reading Scripture, and leading worship in church services. They asked about women leading small groups, or women teaching pastors specific skills (such as counseling). In some ways I am hesitant to address the questions publicly because so many of them need to take into account specific contexts.

Consider this example. In our church we have one Scripture reading each Sunday that we see as a fulfillment of 1 Timothy 4:13: “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” In this passage, Paul is writing to pastor Timothy to instruct him on the public worship services of that church. Most complementarians would agree that this kind of preaching and teaching is reserved for men who meeting certain qualifications of character. It is a pastoral function. As elders at Grace Fellowship Church, we believe this Scripture reading falls into that same category, so that the reading, preaching, and teaching are three parts of one function. For that reason we have one Scripture reading each service that begins with “This is what God’s Word says,” and ends with, “This is the Word of the Lord,” to which the congregation replies, “Thanks be to God.” This marks that reading as serving a particular teaching purpose.

Yet we have other readings in the service: a call to worship, perhaps, or a reading that bridges two songs, or a reading that is an expression of confession. We see these as a fulfillment of every Christian’s duty and privilege to speak truth to the others. And so these readings are done by both men and women.

This logic works in our church and according to our understanding of God’s Word. But it might not work well in another local church and according to their understanding of God’s Word. For this reason I think we need to allow different churches to express complementarian convictions in different ways and to be very careful how we judge one another.

But none of that answers your question. My guess is that some will disagree with me on this, but I see no reason why women should not serve as Bible translators. Which is to say, I would gladly invite men and women alike to master the original languages of Scripture, to master today’s languages, and to create the absolute best translations possible into every one of the world’s languages.