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
1942 – 2015
“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.”
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).
- God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)
- God orders our steps (Proverbs 16:9; 20:24; 37:23)
- He has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
- 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)
- God will remain faithful, He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13)
- Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4)
- He who goes before you will fight for you (Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:30; 3:22; 20:4)
- He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Hebrews 13:5)
- God is sovereign (Deuteronomy 10:14 and 65 other verses)
- God is relational (Matthew 1:23)
- God offers grace, forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional love (Ephesians 2:8; 1 John 1:9; Lamentations 3:22-23)
- He is good, loving, kind, and fair (Psalm 136:1; John 3:16; Luke 6:35; Deuteronomy 32:4)
- I can endure all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)
- He throws open the floodgates of blessing for those who are faithful (Malachi 3:10)
- He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6)
- Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)
- 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.
“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Tijge’s Sunday school lesson last week focused on Mark 2:2-5, and the paralytic whose friends brought him to see Jesus. For days afterward, Tijge asked us questions about the story. Why couldn’t they use the door? Why did he have bad muscles? Why was the house crowded? Why did he need a mat? Over and over he would ask, trying to understand the story. He even built a diorama of the scene using various toys around the house. It was interesting to see how, even for a three and a half-year old, this story is compelling.
When teachers speak on this passage, they typically speak of Jesus; or of the crowds; or of the paralytic. But once I heard a message that focused on the four friends that brought the paralytic to Jesus, and the teacher challenged audience members to be the kinds of friends that would do the same.
Awhile back, I considered this passage in light of Ecclesiastes 3:11. You see, sometimes I get so caught up in MY journey that I forget about those around me. But we should live not just with a focus on ourselves and our eternal destiny, but also on others. If God has set eternity in the hearts of ALL men, then we should seek to help others recognize and follow that longing in their own hearts; and in so doing, bring as many others with us as possible—to the cross, to Jesus, and to heaven.
And so I ask: Am I that kind of friend? Are you?
November is Adoption Awareness Month! So over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a series of entries related to adoption. And I can’t think of a better way to kick it off than by honoring the very first adopted person I ever knew, and on her birthday. So here’s to you, Mom, happy birthday! I love you!
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
When I was growing up, the local Christian radio station had a request and dedication show that aired every Saturday morning. My mom must have sent in a request or dedication almost every week. Then she would listen for three hours every Saturday so that she could record her songs and dedications. She made lots of mixed tapes over the years (yes, those were the days of cassette tapes).
But I especially remember a period of what must have been 6 months to a year, when every week, she wrote in requesting a song about heaven. Not only that, but she recruited her four best friends to do the same. And by the end of it all, she had three volumes of nothing but “heaven songs.” I distinctly recall one particular dedication:
“So many believers seem afraid of death. But I pray that they won’t be afraid—that they will look forward to it. Heaven is a reward–a real reward. And death is the only way to get there, until Jesus comes back. And although I don’t know what heaven will be like, I know that it will be wonderful.”
Now, I firmly believe that it was God who impressed upon me the incredible (and maybe slightly inordinate) longing that I have for heaven. But I also recognize and greatly appreciate my mom’s role, in that she fostered and encouraged that desire within me. I think it’s probably her greatest legacy so far. And I hope that I, too, will be able to pass on to my children the “heaven song” within my heart.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
We’ve all heard people say, “Follow your heart.” This philosophy may explain many people’s fears and aversions toward death and heaven. Left to their own devices, our hearts often seek other, more worldly things. But the heart is deceitful above all things. The Bible is full of stories detailing the destruction that follows when we follow our hearts. Look at David and Bathsheba! And if you need more proof, read the book of Judges. Watch what havoc is wreaked in individual lives and in society as a whole when people do “what is right in their own eyes,” in other words, when they follow their hearts.
God has given us divine instructions—along with intellect, reason, wisdom, and a renewal of the mind—so that we can “test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). We need to seek and follow His will. And when we point our hearts toward Him, we will find that they actually point toward heaven, not away.
I guess you could say I’m a sucker for the “bad guy turned good” plot line. We recently finished watching the BBC Robin Hood series, and somehow by the end of it, I was feeling a sense of grief as Robin’s antagonist (Guy of Gisborne) breathed his last. In spite of an insatiable thirst for money and power, and a willingness to do ANYTHING to get them, he underwent a major turnaround during the last couple of episodes—a change of heart, a change of character, a change of attitude, and a change of behavior. His last words (to Robin, in fact) were, “I’ve lived in shame, but because of you, I’ll die proud.”
That line reminds me of someone else who might have said the same thing. When Jesus was being crucified, he was joined by two thieves. One of those, recognizing that he deserved his lot, nonetheless reached out to Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). While a change of heart and allegiance are remarkable in themselves, the most encouraging thing about this story is Jesus’s response in verse 43: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
What this passage means to me is that, no matter how long you spend praying for a loved one, telling them about Jesus, encouraging them to change—and all seemingly in vain—there is still hope. As long as they have breath, there is still hope. So keep on praying, keep on sharing, keep on encouraging. The eleventh hour may come, and in a divinely inspired moment of clarity, everything that you’ve done and said may sink in, and you, too, may meet again in Paradise.
“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool!
This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’”
So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
The kids these days have a saying—YOLO (you only live once). So, the way it works is: if you want to do something stupid or impulsive or dangerous, you just follow it up (or precede it) with, “YOLO” or “#YOLO” (if you’re into using hashtags). I’ve heard it used to justify everything from staying out late the night before a test to flying down a water slide head first.
Just this week I had my own version of a YOLO experience. You see, for many months, I’ve been thinking about incorporating bangs into my hairstyle. Now, in my case, the decision wasn’t impulsive. As I said, I’ve spent months deliberating—even agonizing—over it. I mean, what happens if I don’t like them, how long will it take them to grow out, and will my hair ever be the way it was again? I know, I know, it’s the epitome of a first-world problem. And for that reason, I decided to go ahead with it. It was a big deal for someone as risk averse as me. And the verdict’s still out on the outcome. I’m still getting used to my new look. (Stay tuned for pictures 🙂 )
The whole process go me thinking, though, surely there are more useful applications for this YOLO idea. Maybe we could apply it to decisions with more permanent, or even eternal, consequences.
- Not sure if you should help someone in need? YOLO.
- Nervous about sharing the Gospel with a stranger (with the leading of the Holy Spirit, of course)? YOLO.
- Can’t decide if it’s worth sacrificing your personal time to spend a little more of it with your family? YOLO.
I’ll bet you have some ideas of your own to add to this list. Feel free to share them in a comment. And let’s get to living like we only live once! #YOLO
Okay, so if God has set eternity on the hearts of men, what does that mean for us? If you agree with my earlier proposition that, in some ways, Solomon got it wrong; what could he have done differently? How could he have “gotten it right?” And more importantly, what can WE do to get it right in the here and now?
Well, to me, it’s a matter of living out our earthly lives daily and fully; but with an eternal focus, purpose, and perspective. I once knew a woman who would often say that she was “just waiting around to die.” Bear in mind that she was 102 years old, and had a pretty poor quality of life for the last few of those years. I could see where she was coming from, and must confess that I’ve often felt the same way. I know that heaven is going to be so amazing that I get impatient with the waiting.
But I have work to do here yet. I know that because I woke up this morning, and I’m still breathing. When I get homesick or impatient, it helps me to think of the possibilities; to think of each day as an opportunity to find and fulfill God’s purposes for my life. And then I give thanks—for all I have, for all I have been able to see and do, for all of who God is, and for His promise of more.
It occurs to me just this moment that, in this world, we can find a little bit of heaven. And that reminds me of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), in which the master replies to his faithful servants, “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!” And so, I want more than anything to be faithful in this place, knowing that “much heaven” awaits.