Heaven

Through the Glass

During our Spring Break Orlando trip, we spent a day at Animal Kingdom. I had never been, but had heard great things. But at the end of the day, it was just a zoo. True, one where you could see a Komodo dragon, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, but still. At this zoo, some of the animal habitats were pretty elaborate. Some were designed to look authentic and some were designed to look intentionally inauthentic. I mean, really, how many Bengal tigers really live on the palace grounds, lounging by a decorative fountain? But I noticed that even the “authentic” habitats fell short. Often, we were looking through glass that kept catching the reflection of the people and lights on the outside. When we weren’t looking through glass, our view seemed to always be marred by a water bowl, or a mesh fence, or some other manmade contraption.

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You know what I kept thinking of? 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)—

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

My understanding is that Paul was speaking here of a reflection in a mirror. But the verse loses something in our day, because a reflection in a mirror is pretty true to life. But it wasn’t so in Bible times. They hadn’t perfected the art of glass or reflection, so things were pretty cloudy—like seeing your reflection in a pair of sunglasses. It’s just not the same, is it?

To me, this verse foreshadows the greatness of heaven. We might notice here that it’s a beautiful day, but compared to heaven, it’s downright dingy. We can’t imagine it, because we don’t know any better. But we need faith and hope to believe that there’s something more, something amazing, waiting for us beyond this life. And then, we won’t have to hope or believe anymore. We’ll see and we’ll know—and not dimly, through the glass.

Missing

Philippians 1:3
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…”

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I remember the first time I saw this picture, hanging in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. Only she wasn’t my mother-in-law yet. We weren’t even engaged. So how she ended up with a picture of my dog and our two future children is a mystery to me. And when I say “my dog,” I mean that. You see, Bernese Mountain Dogs typically have a double coat that makes both coats lay straight. But Spicket was raised in warmer climates and never developed that second undercoat, resulting in a slightly curly coat, just like the dog in this picture. His other features likewise resembled this dog.

Of course, the picture features Spicket watching Tijge and Laredo as they look now. And sadly, he only lived until Tijge’s first birthday (technically the day after…who wants to have to put their dog down on their kid’s birthday?). He never even got to meet Laredo. So there’s something about the scene in the picture that brings a strange mix of emotions. There’s a sweetness and comfort to the idea that Spicket is still with us in our hearts. But there’s also a sense of sadness that he isn’t here to see them now. But mostly, it makes me miss him. Some might suspect that I don’t like the picture, because it brings up too many emotions. It’s actually quite the opposite, though. Looking at the picture reminds me of a loved one I’d never want to forget. And missing him is just further evidence of that love.

I believe the same is true for our less canine loved ones (and please hear me say that I am NOT equating the two!). When we lose people, we grieve and then we heal, and we continue to live our lives in the absence of their physical presence. But I don’t think we ever stop missing them, and that’s okay. Missing them brings back fond memories, and those memories bring a smile to our face, and for a moment we can sense their presence again. And even better, if we can be assured of seeing them in Heaven one day, the missing them and the fondness that grows stronger with their absence will only make our reunion that much sweeter.

So if the new year finds you missing a dearly departed loved one, don’t fight it. Grieve if you need to, let your heart heal, but don’t forget. Instead, welcome opportunities to remember, even if they bring with them a tinge of sadness. And as you carry on, let God fill the hole that loss has left in your heart. And may God bless you as you go.

 

No

What do you say to a friend who has just lost her son? Not sure, I decided to ask my daughter, who is 3 going on 13. Out of the mouths of babes, right? And she actually had a lot of insight to share—though not so much in what she said, as in what she didn’t say…

Me: “I might see my friend tonight—the one whose son died. What do you think I should say to her?”
Lj: “Well, is he gonna be died forever?”
Me: “Well, he’s not here anymore, but he’s in heaven—and when she dies, she’ll get to see him again.”
Lj: “So, he is gonna be died forever.”

And to that, she had nothing to say. And she was right. I mean, if he’s going to be dead forever, then what is there to say, besides a feeble “I’m sorry”? What is there to do but remember the good times and try to move on? What is there to think about, besides the seeming injustice of it all?

BUT, when we know—as we do—that he loved Jesus and had surrendered his life to Him, that somehow changes everything. We can grieve for our loss, while we rejoice with the hosts of heaven at the arrival of one more saint. We can take comfort in knowing that he is standing in God’s presence, glory raining down all around him, as he revels in those most precious of words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Along with our sorrow then, we embrace joy, relief, excitement, peace, hope, and faith. We may still not have the right words to say to someone who is suffering loss. But one thing we know. When we ask, from our brokenness and the vulnerability of a child, “Is he gonna be died forever?”, we know that God answers us in a voice that shakes the heavens. And the answer is a resounding, “NO!” Not only is he not going to be dead forever, he isn’t going to be dead at all. In the midst of our mourning, he is standing before the thrown, more alive than he EVER was on this side of eternity.

And we take a deep breath, and we let it out. And we find a moment’s rest in this blessed assurance: Jesus. Salvation. Heaven.

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The Cost of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:24

“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it.
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and
paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

In 1988, Bobby Michaels released a song entitled, “Anything that Costs Me Nothing.” It’s a great song–you should check it out. Surely, he was inspired by King David’s response to Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:24. You see, Araunah had offered to give the king a threshing floor and oxen that he planned to use for a sacrifice to God. But King David replied, “‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Whenever illness strikes a friend, a neighbor, or a family member, I think to myself, “That should be me.” It must sound morbid, I know, but I have always longed so deeply for heaven and have been so anxious to meet my Heavenly Father, that I know my response to such a diagnosis would surely honor and glorify Him. I’m sure of it. But maybe that’s why God hasn’t chosen that path for me. Oh, of course, it would require some sacrifices. I would give up the chance to watch my children grow up and to have them know and remember me. I would give up the chance to someday meet and hold and love my grandchildren. But truly, it wouldn’t be the same for me as I know it is for some. And just as they must offer their lives as a costly sacrifice for the God they love and serve, so must I.

For me, that sacrifice may mean a lengthy stay here on earth, in a land that is foreign to me and one that could never feel quite like home. It may mean many years of hoping and trusting in what I cannot see. It will surely require me to rely and lean on God in my weaknesses and amid my failures. And when I feel that unbearable sense of separation from Him and long to be closer, to be held in His strong but gentle arms, I must remember that this is my sacrifice, and that its value lies in its cost. I pray always that it would be a cost that I would bear gladly.

How Then Shall We Pray…When God Says, “No”?

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Job 1:20-21(NASB)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head,
and he fell to the ground and worshipped….
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

One year ago today, Amanda went home to heaven. I never met her, but from pictures and stories, it’s clear that this spunky little redhead was full of life and faith, and a maturity beyond her almost eleven years. Certainly, prayers for healing abounded during the 18 months prior to her passing. And while we know that she is happy, healthy, and cancer-free now, there remains a sense in which the answer to those prayers was, “No.” We know, of course, that God’s sovereignty is over all, and that His will and purpose are at times accomplished through loss. But that doesn’t negate the pain we feel. So, in times like these, we have to ask, How then shall we pray…when God says no? Thankfully, we can turn to the Bible for direction in this pursuit.

We’re told in Job 1: 20-21 that “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped….The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Another translation quotes Job as saying, “may the name of the Lord be praised.” Now, this was just after Job had lost everything—his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, sons, and daughters. I find it interesting that Job’s first response in the face of loss was to worship and to praise God. And he wasn’t the only one.

2 Samuel 12:13-23 recounts the death of David’s son after his affair with Bathsheba. David was warned in advance that this would happen, but for seven days, David fasted and prayed that his son would not die. But upon hearing of the child’s death, he “got up from the floor, washed himself, put lotions on, and changed his clothes. Then he went into the Lord’s house to worship.” Here, not only do we see David worshipping in the face of loss and tragedy, but we see an acceptance of God’s sovereignty and His decision. It feels almost as if his prayer changed. For a week, he prayed nonstop that God would allow his son to live. But then, when he didn’t, David got up, got dressed, worshipped, and ate. I can imagine him praying that God would use this loss for His glory, and that he would bring comfort in the midst of pain.

Finally, Luke 22:42 tells us that Jesus himself received disaffirming answers to his prayers. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” And yet, he also acknowledged the sovereignty of God the Father, saying, “not my will, but yours be done.” As we know, God did not take the cup from him. Instead, he was tortured and killed. But before he breathed his last, his prayers changed as well. In the face of his own death, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

We, too, are faced with losses and disappointments. And we would do well to follow these godly examples. When God says, “No,” may we have the courage and humility to praise and worship and bless His name anyway. And may we be ready and willing to change our prayers in response to God’s movements.

A Tent on This Land

John 14:2-3 (KJV)

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.
I go to prepare a place for you. 
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again,
and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

Twenty acres. 220,000 dollars. And what can best be described as a shack. Seriously. They didn’t even include this ‘structure’ in the property listing. But no matter. Every time we drive by, I think to myself (and often say out loud), I would gladly live in a tent on this land. It is SO perfect, so beautiful. It overlooks a gorgeous river valley and the green of the trees is absolutely vibrant. You probably wouldn’t even know there are that many shades of green without seeing them with your own eyes. Even in the winter, when bare and brown branches take over the once-lush foliage, the view brings me peace.

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It was this land, and the recollection of a popular country song by Florida Georgia Line, that birthed the hashtag #DreamDirt. Do you know what occurs to me, though? Any plot of land that I might find on this earth, no matter how beautiful and serene, is probably like a trash heap compared to heaven. And so, when I look ahead to eternity, I find myself thinking—with the utmost assurance—that I would gladly live in a tent (or a shack, or a trailer, or a lean-to, or an outhouse) on that land.

And yet, I read John 14:2-3 and realize that, in heaven, we won’t have to choose. Now, the mansions that John speaks of may not be literal. Rather, he may be referring to that with which we clothes ourselves. That is, they may be the heavenly counterpart to the earthly ‘tents’ that, according to Paul, are our bodies (http://www.tedmontgomery.com/bblovrvw/emails/mansionbodies.html). But even so, I look forward to that day, when I will arrive in heaven, stand next to Jesus, and sink my toes into the dream dirt that will no doubt be like none other I’ve ever seen. If it weren’t so, He would have told us. Believer, believe this promise!

The Healing Box

Romans 8:36-37

“As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Revelation 21:4

“And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Philippians 4:4

“Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, Rejoice.”

Have you ever heard someone accused of “putting God in a box”? That is, we artificially limit Him to a realm of intention and action that is unfitting for an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful Creator and Heavenly Father. On the one hand, it’s understandable. We are finite creatures, living in a three-dimensional world—and so we find ourselves unable to comprehend the intricacies of God and of the universe. I get it. On the other hand, though, we need to acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than ours, that his knowledge is greater, that His will and plan are more perfect, good, and holy than we could even imagine.

Still, the temptation remains hard to resist—when we’re faced with trials, struggles, tragedies, and losses—to put God back in that box, to assume that He will or should act in accordance with our feeble understanding. Case in point: the healing box. How often, when faced with illness or injury, do we hear people pray for healing? But praying for healing is tricky, because we don’t know what KIND of healing God has in mind. Instead, we try to put God in a healing box by trying to dictate to Him what is best for us and our loved ones. But only He knows best.

I love how I once heard Beth Moore put it, that we are delivered from illness, delivered through illness, or delivered into glory. Amen to that! God may spare us from illness or injury. But it’s just as likely that He will allow us to experience one or both, and survive through His strength. Every bit as possible is the prospect that we will face these trials and that we will seemingly ‘succumb’ to them, at least when viewed through an earthly lens. But it is then when, as believers, we can have confidence and faith that God will usher us safely into heaven—that He will deliver us into glory.

Does this mean that our prayers need to display a fatalist resignation—“Oh well, God’s going to do whatever He wants anyway, so who cares?” By NO MEANS, as the apostle Paul might say. But when we pray for healing, we can reflect a heaven-sent peace by understanding and accepting that God WILL heal, one way or the other.

Some time ago, a family that we know of lost one of its members to cancer. In his honor, they dedicated a remission bell to the local cancer center. At that time, the family ceremoniously rang the bell, declaring David cancer free, since he was a believer and had arrived in heaven—safe and sound, and healed. Just yesterday, we had the opportunity to ring the bell on behalf of the mother of a good friend, whose earthly battle with cancer has now come to an end. But praise God her eternal life has only just begun. Welcome home, Robin!

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How Then Should We Grieve?

1 Thessalonians 4:13

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep,
or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 makes clear that man’s longing for heaven is inevitable. And I know that, whatever heaven is like, it will not disappoint. So when a loved one goes on ahead of me, there’s a part of me that’s envious. But then there’s another part of me that knows how dearly they will be missed. I know that with the Lord, a thousand years is like a day. But, by the same token, our days on earth can sometimes feel like a thousand years. And it seems that days lived without those for whom we’ve cared most deeply are the longest ones of all.

So, in light of eternity, and our ultimate quest to get there, we’re faced with a sometimes difficult question: How then should we grieve? 1 Thessalonians 4:13 offers the key to godly grief—HOPE. We have hope that our loved ones are healed and whole in heaven—and happy. We have hope that we will see them again someday. We have hope that the Holy Spirit will comfort us through times of sadness and our sense of loss. We have hope that Jesus is preparing a place for us and preparing US for that place.

All of this hope rests in God, which is why 1 Thessalonians says that those without faith in God grieve without hope. I can only imagine the despair that death must bring in the absence of hope and faith. I pray that all who grieve without hope, without faith in God, and without the assurance of heaven will turn to Him and thereby find comfort and peace.

In Loving Memory of
Larry Kenrick
1942 – 2015

The Hearts of ALL Men

Luke 23:42-43
“And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!’
And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.’”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 is one of my favorite verses because it declares that God has set eternity in the hearts of men. It gives me comfort to know that my own longing for heaven and for home is a God-given desire, and one that need never be stifled for the sake of fitting in or smoothing over. But, as we spend this season reflecting on the significance of Easter and of Christ’s suffering on our behalf, I’m more moved to focus not on the fact that God has set eternity in my heart personally, but on the fact that He has set that same sense of the eternal within the hearts of ALL men—all humankind.

Luke 23:42-43 illustrates this perfectly. It’s the account of the thief on the cross who confesses to Jesus and places his trust in Him. A hardened criminal, if you will, and his last thoughts were of heaven. I can’t imagine he’d spent much of his life considering his eternal condition. And yet, at the one moment that counted most, that was the only thing on his mind. You know what I love even more? That Jesus honored this man’s dying request. God didn’t set eternity in our hearts to be stingy with it, or to snatch it away. He longs that each of us would accept His gift of eternal life. 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB) assures us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

I have to confess that sometimes I do feel like God has been slow to keep His promise to me. Like Moses, I long to see His Glory face to face, pleading, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” But, if I shift my focus off of myself and on to all men, I’m led to pray instead for His continued patience and dedication to widespread repentance: “Give them one more day, Father, and forgive them—for they know not what they do.”

Favorite Promises of God

Thirty-six. That’s how old I am today. Although, the sweet young waitress at the restaurant last night announced to all the patrons that I was there celebrating my 21st birthday. A girl after my own heart, for sure. And, while my birthday celebrations over the last couple of days have been wonderful, I personally find birthdays to be somewhat bittersweet. I can say with the Apostle Paul that in many ways, I “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). But of course, to live is also Christ (Philippians 1:21). So where do I turn for comfort in the waiting? To the many promises of God.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a women’s conference where the presenters posed this question for small-group discussion: “What is your favorite promise of God?” Promise. Singular! What?! One of the speakers commented that there are some 135 promises from God in the Bible—and I’m inclined to believe there MUST be more. So how in the world could I possibly narrow them down to one favorite? Instead, I started jotting down every promise that came to mind.

Now, the ladies with me concurred that, obviously, the promise of eternal life was paramount. And of course, that’s true. But let’s for a moment take that one as a given and think about some other potential favorites. These aren’t in any particular order, and they aren’t fleshed out at all. That’s something I’ll likely do in the future. But for today, I just want to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of the good things that God has promised me (and you, by the way).

  1. God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)
  2. God orders our steps (Proverbs 16:9; 20:24; 37:23)
  3. He has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
  4. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
  5. God will remain faithful, He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13)
  6. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4)
  7. He who goes before you will fight for you (Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:30; 3:22; 20:4)
  8. He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Hebrews 13:5)
  9. God is sovereign (Deuteronomy 10:14 and 65 other verses)
  10. God is relational (Matthew 1:23)
  11. God offers grace, forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional love (Ephesians 2:8; 1 John 1:9; Lamentations 3:22-23)
  12. He is good, loving, kind, and fair (Psalm 136:1; John 3:16; Luke 6:35; Deuteronomy 32:4)
  13. I can endure all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)
  14. He throws open the floodgates of blessing for those who are faithful (Malachi 3:10)
  15. He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6)
  16. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)
  17. He is willing and able to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)

As you can probably deduce, this list is BY NO MEANS exhaustive. And there are probably some that you think I’ve errantly left out. So I invite you to leave a comment sharing YOUR favorite promise—or promises—of God.

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