Heaven

Privilege

Matthew 20: 9-12

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”

On this, the eve of my grandmother’s funeral, as many who knew her pray that she accepted God’s gift of salvation in her last days and moments here, it is not lost on me that there may be others who bear a certain resentment toward “deathbed conversions.” Like the workers hired first, we feel we have “borne the burden of the work…” Or, like the bitter other brother of the prodigal son, we might refuse to welcome him home because, ‘Look, all these years I have served you and never disobeyed a commandment of yours. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returns from squandering your wealth with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15: 29-30). So we look to the thief on the cross with resentment and indignance, rather than with compassion and generosity.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize one reason for this. We are too busy seeing the sacrifices we’ve made for the Kingdom to recognize the many blessings that are ours in Christ. Think about it—the workers hired first thing in the morning and the responsible brother had one of the greatest privileges: security. They didn’t have to wonder if they would find work that day, or have food to eat, or a place to sleep. They were free from fear and uncertainty. Sure, they had to put in an honest day’s work, but even that is a privilege, is it not? Having faced unemployment and underemployment in my life, I can say that it is quite stressful, even if it’s just for a short time. And during that time, I worked as a day laborer, showing up at the temp agency as early as possible each morning, to try to beat the others to the line, so that I would have the best possible chance of being hired. I remember once when a one-day job turned into a week-long position, and I remember how relieved I was to know that I had work lined up for the rest of the week.

We have so many blessings as followers of Christ and as people who trust and rely on the One we know to be a good God. I couldn’t possibly list them all here, but as examples, consider the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), grace that is sufficient for every challenge and trial we face (2 Corinthians 12:9), mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23)…and on and on. Indeed, as the prodigal’s father stated, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15: 31). Following Him, and doing the work of the Kingdom, is not a burden, but a privilege. So when I think of the alternate reality in which I would have to fend for myself—rely on my own strength to save me, my own ability to provide for myself, and all the other burdens that accompany a life lived far from Him, I’m left with compassion and generosity for those who live that way. And the parable of the generous landowner tells us that God’s generosity knows no bounds—their blessing doesn’t diminish mine. Micah 7:18 tells us that God “delights to show mercy.” So let us go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

2017-04-15 18.22.25-2

 

Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminded the believers in Thessalonica that we don’t mourn like those who have no hope, because we have the hope of heaven. Most funerals I attend do happen to be for believers, and I LOVE celebrating their lives, but even more so their “home-going.” So many happy tears, even in the midst of sorrow.

This celebratory feel is much more salient when we are (relatively) assured of our loved one’s salvation. But we don’t always have that luxury. Such is the case with my grandmother, who passed away on Friday, at the age of 88. Her quality of life had declined severely, due to complications of COPD and congestive heart failure. We all wanted to see her at rest and in peace, but saw her continued suffering as a gift from God, in his patience, mercy, and compassion. After all, He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Perhaps He was just giving her more time.

You see, Grandma was never much into Jesus. She spent her life in the pursuit of self-reliance. She was strong, independent, fiercely opinionated, and proud—and all of the other things that help a person to survive here on earth, but that make it hard to surrender to God, or to admit to needing Him. Nevertheless, her friends and family poured into her the truths of the gospel. She knew the “answers,” even though she staunchly resisted them.

To the best of our knowledge, she never confessed out loud the lordship of Christ, she never verbally acknowledged her sins, her need for forgiveness, or her acceptance of Christ as her savior. BUT…as Grandma’s days grew short—in fact, on the eve of her passing—her daughter sat with her, and prayed a sinner’s prayer over her in intercession. She closed, saying “Amen.” And Grandma, quite surprisingly, echoed a hearty, “Amen!” Could she have finally accepted? We won’t know until we get to heaven, but this moment gives us what we are promised—hope that we may see her again one day.

Interestingly, the next day, as the end drew nearer still, Grandma rolled onto her side, and seemed to be talking to herself—albeit unintelligibly. Could it be, though, that just as the thief on the cross did so long ago, she was looking to Jesus, asking Him to remember and forgive her? If so, His answer would have certainly been the same—“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Again, the gift of hope. Thank you Jesus!

In Memory  of Dolores E. Winget

2017-07-15 14.35.21-1

Mike

Mike McGregor

Psalm 23:4

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Where to begin…I guess the best place would be December 10, when I noticed a Facebook post from my friend Victoria in the wee hours of the morning, saying that her stepdad, Mike, had had a massive heart attack the previous afternoon. Her plea was for prayer, and it was clear that she and her family were praying nonstop, and believing for HUGE miracles. I know they prayed without ceasing, and they recruited so many others into this prayer effort, including myself. I found myself logging on to Facebook specifically to check for any updates. Those updates were very specific, as were the prayer requests. I believe that, throughout this trial, Victoria and her family have embodied 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 2 Samuel 12:15-23, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Let me elaborate.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Bible tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In each of Victoria’s posts, she shared praises and prayer requests. She petitioned for an around-the-clock covering of Mike in prayer. And people responded—family, friends, and strangers. It was beautiful to see just how bathed in prayer he was.

In 2 Samuel 12:15-23, David has learned from Nathaniel that his first child with Bathsheba—the one conceived in sin—would die. Nonetheless, David “pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.” After seven days of this, the child did die. And then, “David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” When asked about his strange behavior, David responded, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’” At one point, Victoria shared that the doctors were only giving Mike a 5% chance of living. Her response? “Our God is bigger than 5%!”

Later came the update that: “Our precious Mike is fully healed. He is celebrating his victory in Heaven….Our God is GOOD. He is very good. And while this doesn’t feel good, HE is good. And He did not leave 1 prayer unanswered, down to the very last minute.” Amen. Such faith, such strength in Jesus, such a testimony of what it means to mourn, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

This blog is called, Fathoming Heaven: Living a Life Inspired by Ecclesiastes 3:11, and Victoria and her family are living that out right now. God has set eternity in the hearts of Mike and his family. And that makes a victory of what otherwise would be a tragedy. We pray for comfort, peace, and JOY for Victoria and her family, even in the midst of this great sorrow. God be with you (Psalm 23:4). Amen.

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.

2017-03-10 09.29.23 HDR
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…”

2016-12-31-09-54-48

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.

Garner State Park 12

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”?

Garner State Park 12

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.

IMG_0076IMG_0079 IMG_0074

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!

IMG_0082 IMG_0080