Location, location

Location matters every moment of our day and night.  If my car breaks down on the side of the road, I hope I’m on a well-lit city road and not a rural country drive!

If I’m hungry, I don’t go to the nearest library to pick up food.  And when I wake up in the morning, I expected to find myself in my bed rather than in a swamp swarming with alligators.

  • Location distinguishes where we are, and what could happen to us there.

An astronaut isn’t going to be attacked by a bear while visiting the moon.

An oil refiner isn’t going to die of heat stroke in Antarctica.

A whale isn’t going to swim in the desert.

A cake isn’t going to bake in the freezer.

A prisoner isn’t going to find a Ferris wheel in a maximum security prison.

Location matters.

When Jesus was here on earth, He talked about location.  He talked about the most important location of all:

where we will go when we die.

I don’t know about you, but I for one am very interested in where I go after I die.  I have no idea how long I’ll live on earth, or if I’ll even make it through today.  Rarely does anyone have the opportunity of advance notice on the date they’ll die.  Even if I have a great lifespan, and I live to be a hundred, hey, I’m already almost thirty.  That’s only seventy more years.  That’s not very much time.

I hear people talk about estate planning, but I’m not nearly so interested in who gets my house and stuff after I die as I am in planning for where my posthumous estate will be!

What I want to know is where I’m going.  Where’s my location going to be?

According to Jesus, there are only two places I could wind up:

Heaven or Hell.

Jesus gave us descriptions and word pictures of what both places are like.  And He made it clear that our souls will go to one place or the other, and there’s no in-between.

Jesus wanted us to know where we are going if we die without Him, and what we can expected when we get there.  If Jesus had just stopped there, His purpose would have been to cause us terror, grief, and fatalism.  But Jesus didn’t stop there.  He told us how we could avoid Hell.

People who think Jesus was mean to talk about Hell are not really thinking it through.  If Jesus had told us we were doomed for Hell and that was it, He still wouldn’t have been mean, because that is, sadly, what we deserve.  But this is not what Jesus did!  Jesus warned us about Hell so we would NOT have to go there!

The way we don’t go to Hell switches our focus from location to Person.  Although we deserve to be in Hell like a guilty criminal deserves to be in prison, Someone already took our place of punishment.  Jesus endured true Hell on earth so that we wouldn’t have to.

Since we are finite, we would have to pay the consequences for our infinite sin  in an infinite amount of time.  But here’s a cool fact: since Jesus is infinite, He was able to pay the consequences for our infinite sin in a finite amount of time.

Jesus takes our focus from location to Person.  The best part of Heaven isn’t our rescue from the location of Hell, but that our new location will be with the Person of Christ.  We will be with our Rescuer day and night, without end.

Location matters.  Eternally.  But the most important news isn’t about a location at all.  It’s about a Person!

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3, NLT)

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No More Night

No More NightNo More Pain

No More Tears.  Never Crying Again.

And praises to the great I AM.

We will live in the light of the Risen Lamb.

No More Night, Walt Harrah

From the moment we begin to understand this things, we discover two vines, woven together, so tightly they cannot be unwound.

Grief.  Joy.

All around us, all the time.

But one day–no more.

They will be separated forever.  Those who have not believed in Jesus will be separated forever by the grief of their sin.  Those who have believed in Jesus will be close to Him forever in eternal joy.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:1-7, NLT)

Published in: on February 23, 2013 at 3:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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Once was

The longing I have in my heart for a perfect world testifies that this world once was.

The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be? You must live holy and godly lives,waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. (2 Peter 3:9-13, CEB)

Objection to Heaven: But will there be iced cappuccinos in Heaven?

Objection #1: “Heaven won’t be good.”

I am sipping on the most delicious store bought iced coffee to ever come in a gallon jug.  The only problem is, it is almost too delicious.  I am having my third cup today.  Those of you who know me know that I tend to be a wee bit hyper anyway.  I don’t really need three cups of iced coffee to help me out.  However, in my defense, I am battling my allergies, can’t spend my afternoon writing outside in the sun, and am loving the yummy boost.

The problem is, I drank all my coffee before I finished the first paragraph.

This coffee reminds me of a Baskin Robbins frozen cappuccino drink I used to get on Saturdays with my dad and weekdays with my mom.  Ok, maybe Mom didn’t get them that much, but she got them more times than she told Dad.  Then the Baskin Robbins on the side of town we lived by closed down.  So we had to drive all the way to the opposite end of town to get our favorite frozen drink.

Then that one went out of business, and there were no more frozen cappuccinos drinks from Baskin Robbins.

My dad was a lot like me–in fact, I bet you he still is, only the way a person totally perfected by God is.  When my dad liked something, he really liked it.  And I am sure, even now, that when he likes something, he really likes it.  He was perfectly content to eat a 99 cent Wendy’s cheeseburger every day because it was a) cheap and b) tasty.  Even when he had Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and struggled to swallow, he managed to get a Wendy’s cheeseburger down for weeks longer than he should have.  That was my dad.

He liked the quesadillas from Taco Bell, too.  The first time I heard him order one, I realized he needed a little training in Spanish.  He said, “We’d like two quessa-dillas, please.”  The Taco Bell cashier didn’t even correct him!  But that was just like my dad to get away with something like that.  He was so polite to everybody, it was hard to point out his mistake.

He was so polite to everybody, in fact, that when his speech became so slurred that the words of language were leaving him and he was beginning to sound inhuman, one of the Wendy’s cashiers where he always got his 99 cent cheeseburger with maybe 99 cent nuggets or a 99 cent salad and perhaps a 99 cent Frosty for dessert asked him what was wrong.

Wendy’s was very sorry to hear he had Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  There isn’t really very many people who treat fast food clerks like they are every bit as important as everybody else.  And there are even fewer people who really believe it.  But my dad did–innocently, without any effort to do so.  Maybe it was because he’d worked in the kitchen of a burger place as a high school drop out.  But he just thought of people as important like that.

. . Like I said, when my father liked something, he really liked it.  And since he liked the Baskin Robbins frozen cappuccinos, he really liked them.  And since I am my father’s daughter, and when I like something, I really like it, and since I liked Baskin Robbins frozen cappuccinos, we drank them together on the weekends.  (And I drank them with my mom in the week, which, as I’ve mentioned before, he might not have always known about.  He does now.  Mom may be in trouble when she gets to Heaven.)

Now, here I am, some seven-and-a-half years after my father died, sitting in a chair in a house he’s never seen, with a cup of what used to be iced coffee.  You can still see traces of it in the melting ice.  He would have liked this coffee.  Extremely much.  He would have liked it a) because it is tasty and b) because it is cheaper than the Baskin Robbins version.

But is he missing out?

I have to smile.

I have to smile, because I know the answer.

Here I am, taking three kinds of medicines for my allergies, with my sore neck, and this tiny-but-ugly scar on my face from when the doctor took my stitches out too early.  Here I am having just paid a $500 medical bill for doctors’ visits and worried about when I am going to clean up the clutter in the kitchen and living room.  Here I am trying to find the right words for a blog, and knowing I almost never get exactly at what I’d like to try to say, and when I do, it’s like a little scratch on the crust of the earth rather than the drill depth I want to go.

Now I am in no way in a hard life.  I actually have had an unbelievably easy life, and I know it.  But what I mean to say is, would my dad trade his life for mine?

Now he’d laugh at that.

Because when my father likes something, he really likes it, and let me tell you what my father loves more than anything:

Jesus.

And the Jesus I pray to, and listen to in His Word, and seek out–that’s the Jesus that my father knows talks to face to face and even knows His home address.  (And that’s a home address you can’t google, by the way.  There aren’t any public records you can pay to see that will tell you how to get to the home of Jesus.)

I think people get carried away trying to tell other people they know what Heaven will be like, when they really don’t.  I think that because I certainly have myself.  So I’m not going to try to guess what my father is doing right now.  That’s hidden from me.  I live at a different address.

I don’t know if there is iced cappuccino in Heaven, but I doubt it matters either way.  I used to think about Heaven as some kind of wish fulfillment of what I liked most on earth: a giant Chuck E. Cheese.  In fact, before my father died, that was what I compared Heaven to, to try to help him get through death.  It was a really stupid idea.  Chuck E. Cheese doesn’t help you when you are choking on an Ensure drink or can’t raise yourself up out of bed.  But Jesus does.

It seems to me like expecting Heaven to be a big neat parade of the things we like down here is kind of like a roach thinking of peoplehood as all the things the roach loves, only bigger, and more of it.  More trash.  More rotten wood.  And worse things than that.

It isn’t that we won’t experience feelings of joy in Heaven like we do here.  A roach can be happy over a piece of trash.  Imagine how happy that roach would be if it became a human and could dine at a five-star restaurant?

It’s the stuff here that is no good comparing to the treasures in Heaven.  We look at physical stuff and think it translates over.  Do we like iced coffee drinks?  Well there must be more iced coffee drinks in Heaven, better iced coffee drinks in Heaven.

Nah.

There’s no good in trying to dream up what’s waiting for us in Heaven.  We’ll just have to get there to find out.  Jesus guarantees us we won’t figure it out.  And I think it’s kinda a waste of time for me to try.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

(1 Corinthians 2:9b, NLT)

What I do know is, the God who comes to earth to suffer an anguishing death on a cross in order to save us from our sins isn’t going to make a Heaven where we’re sad that we don’t have any more iced coffees to drink.  I can tell you that for sure.

Jesus gives us a guarantee so simple songwriter Steve Green turned it into a song for small children.  It is one example of the unselfishness of the Lord Jesus.  He could have chosen to give us brain-bursting descriptions of Heaven or written a brilliant code about Heaven that nobody could crack and that would become a bestseller.

But He didn’t do either.  The Creator of Words and most brilliant wordsmith of all, the One who can invent languages quicker than the snap of a finger, the infinitely clever God who can with one thought drop a puzzle from Heaven that no one on earth could solve in an infinite number of years . . . talks to us in pure kindness, like the best of all fathers to a little child:

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. (John 14:2, KJV)

The most comforting thing I can think of hearing from a friend when I have any doubt about whether he knows what he’s talking about is this:

If it were not so, I would have told you.

If I was standing in line for a train, and I had no idea what would be at the end of that trip–a drop off a cliff, a prison, an ambush, a desert, or a land that would make C.S. Lewis’ Narnia look as ordinary as an empty parking lot . . . and if I asked my friend, over and over again, with great worry, if he really knew what we were going to be facing, this is what I would most want to hear:

If it were not so, I would have told you.

This carries the unfathomable realm of trust that causes a child to laugh when thrown into the air by a father.  Jesus knows.  He doesn’t waste time answering our little questions about whether there will be iced coffees or whatever other “stuff” we wonder if we’ll see there–He gets right straight to the heart of why we’re going there: because of Him.

If a friend of mine spent her life savings to pay for me to go on a vacation with her, do you think I’d go?  You bet I would!  I wouldn’t wonder whether or not she thought this was a worthwhile trip.

How much more, then, when God spends His life for us to come be with Him, should we trust that He believes Heaven is a good place to go?  And if He believes Heaven is a good place to go, then Heaven is a good place to go, because God’s Word is Truth.

We trust Him to get us there, and we trust Him about what is there.  Or we don’t trust Him, and we don’t go there.

Just like Heaven isn’t something we can get in our world . . neither is Hell.  Just like there isn’t any good thing that comes from this earth that can compare to the treasures of Heaven . . . . . there isn’t any bad thing that comes from this earth that can compare to the darkness of Hell.  Just imagine: if God decided, out of the love in His heart, that it was worth dying a tormented, humiliating death to save us from Hell . . what must be there?

That is something I don’t want to find out.  I take Him at His Word, and I look forward to Heaven, where I know this for sure, this that quiets all my questions about the goodness of Heaven:

He has been there.

He is there now.

and

He will be there.

“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.”

(Jesus, quoted in John 3:31, NIV)

Now all I want to know is this: Will I be there?

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8b-9, ESV)

Maui vs. Heaven: Which is really better?

As a teenager, my family took a trip to Maui.  What with the flower leis, tropical air that smells beautiful everywhere, exquisite fruits, floral & fauna my allergies didn’t react to, stunning beaches, squeaking dolphins, and delicious-delicious cheeseburgers, I was absolutely sure Maui was the best place on earth to be.

Going back to the end of a midwestern winter–with snow on the ground, no less-was, in my mind, abysmal.

The only good news I could see from this was that one day I could get to go back.

When my dad started struggling, even before we knew it was ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), I made him a promise: “I’ll take you back to Maui.”

My dad must have had close to the same feelings I had about Maui, because it was the best I’d seen him feel in a long time.  I had a plan.  I was, yes, a new little college student with parental funding, but someday–soon–I would take him to Maui.  Maybe only three or four years down the line.  I’d have a great paying job, and that was that.  There were always credit cards, anyway, and I’d be old enough for one by then.

I didn’t have three or four more years with my dad.  That year, he came down with the muscle-evaporating ALS.  Over the next year and a half, I watched my father waste away.

Maui wasn’t going to be possible.

Not only was he sick, but he was confused.  He had dementia–badly.  Even if I could somehow take him to Maui, not even the sun-sipped beaches could have cheered him up, or saved him.

When my dad died in ’04, I thought about that unfinished promise.  It wasn’t that I was guilty for being unable to take him to Maui.  But it felt as though God Himself had cheated my father.  After all, I really was going to take Dad to Maui, and God took him away before I could do so.  From my angle, God made Dad miss out on the juicy pineapple, chattering dolphins, and saltwater snorkeling.

Now Dad was in Heaven forever and would never get another Cheeseburger in Paradise with the pigeons playing football around the deck with pieces of bread.  He’d never get to see the saltwater rainbow fish or pat the dolphin that felt like a rubber inflatable, or gobble down pineapple closer to the color of egg yolk than I’d ever seen before.

Even if Heaven had some of these things, I was sure it wouldn’t be the same.

If you even got to snorkel in Heaven, I couldn’t see how there could be much adventure to it, since nothing bad could ever happen, like saltwater get up your nose.

If you even got to pet a dolphin in Heaven, I was sure you had to do it ancient-ritualistically-like (which was how I used to think of holiness).

And would there really be a Cheeseburger in ParadiseI didn’t expect to see franchises in Heaven, or waiters who served food around greedy pigeons.  The pigeons wouldn’t even be allowed to be greedy, so it would be no fun watching them.  They’d all take turns for the bread.

And how could the ridiculously sweet pineapple be special, if there wasn’t any sour pineapple to compare it with?

I was fairly suspicious that God had shorted Dad.  The worst part was my Dad would have to play a harp now.  He didn’t even like harps.  He liked drums.  What on earth was he going to do with himself until I got up to Heaven and we could at least whisper to each other and steal a few careful chuckles at each other’s ribbings?

If there was one word for how I felt about Dad’s luck in missing his Maui trip it was bummer.

_______________________________________________________

I still remember the day Chuck E. Cheese opened.

My friend’s mom drove us to Chuck E. Cheese.  I had never seen any place like it.  Ever.  Jam-packed with kids on its grand opening, there were theater lights, robotic characters that played in a band, a costumed mouse that walked around, an unthinkably long “jewelry shelf” (the kind that has the bubble top over it so you can’t help yourself to what you see) of toys, loud & crazy noises, and games, games, games, games, games.  GAMES!  GAMES!

Skeeball.  A little bowling game.  A memory match game that was digital.  A game with real squirt guns to put out a plastic fire.  I could have fainted from ecstasy.

But I couldn’t possibly faint because my friends’ mother broke the bank and got us a totally generous number of tokens.  I was just about beside myself.  I started playing up a storm.

And then, suddenly, my friends’ mother came back with a cup full of tokens.  It’s a good thing there weren’t any EMT’s there, because, if they’d taken my pulse, they might have made me go to the hospital.

We must have been there for hours.  I can’t even remember what cool stuff (that I cared about for at least 24 hours) I got.  But I was more totally satiated with delight than I had ever been.  I remember me and my friends sitting almost in absolute silence on the car ride back, worn out from too much happiness.

I was convinced–unshakably convinced–that there was no experience in the whole world any better than the day I’d just had.

And then the day came when I heard God say “I love you”.

Chuck E. Cheese dropped like a coin down a funnel to somewhere so far down it was hard to even see.

_______________________________________________________

It’s easy for me to explain my day at Chuck E. Cheese.  I can talk about the show, games, tokens, toys.  It’s easy for people to immediately connect with.  Most of us, as kids, liked bright lights, fun games, play money, and winning prizes.

You know what’s really hard to explain?  The day I heard God say “I love you”.

There is not something really from the ordinary realm of human experience I can compare it to.  Comparing it to natural experiences is really, really hard.  It wasn’t colorful lights or music-playing robots or arcade games.  Those things can be really fun, but that’s not the same kind of experience.  Because, at the core of those things, they’re manufactured, artificial if you will.  Made for the express purpose of getting a certain money-making emotion out of people.

And it’s not so easy that I can explain God’s love as something from the natural world, either.  There is a way of expressing salvation that’s like the freedom of riding a horse for the first time, or flying with new wings.  But these are just tastes of feelings, not the essence of what has happened.

To really explain what it feels like to hear God say “I love you”, you have to have that experience.  There really is no parallel.  And that’s why it’s so hard to get people to even realize they want to experience it.

It’d be a little like a parrot that has just had the meaning of language revealed to it trying to explain that to its parrot friends who are just mimicking.  What the parrot says to try to explain the meaning of language can be ignored or mimicked by the other parrots, but it cannot be understood without the same revelation the parrot has had.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to talk about spiritual things in the natural world, and why they sound so silly to people sometimes.  As a kid, I got tired of thinking about having wings in Heaven.  That didn’t seem like much after a while.  Golden streets sounded neat–but what was next?  Surely that wasn’t it.  Harps sounded outdated and tedious and very formal.  Singing all the time sounded dreadful to me and like a lot of standing with a hymn book.

I was missing the essence of Heaven, and so I made the mistake of thinking my father had missed out on Maui.

I was looking at “stuff”.  Good stuff, but still stuff: dolphins, cheeseburgers, snorkeling, leis, beaches, pineapple.  I was making an inventory of everything I thought Dad was missing and mentally frowning as I tried to imagine its replicate in Heaven.

Would there be greedy birds in Heaven?  No.  So how could Heaven be fun?

Would there be runt dolphins in Heaven?  No.  So how could Heaven be fun?

Would there be the risk of getting saltwater up your nose in Heaven?  No.  So how could Heaven be fun?

I was looking for Xeroxes of what I saw on earth.  If copies of what was on earth weren’t in Heaven, how could Heaven be even as good as earth, much less better?

This is something like a ten-year-old girl wondering how her wedding day can ever be half as good as the day she spent at Chuck E. Cheese.

But what if . .

What if the fun of watching birds compete for food . . . what if that kind of exciting race-and-tackle goes on in Heaven, but without ever any starvation?

What if the adorableness and precious love from petting a runt dolphin . . . what if that kind of “awww” feeling is created in Heaven by God making wittle bitty dolphins who are just as healthy as their peers and don’t ever die?

What if the thrill of the possibility of getting saltwater up your nose while snorkeling . . what if that kind of thrill is in oceanic adventures in Heaven, only without the nasty taste of the saltwater?

My fears are easy for me to find answers for now, but you know what?  The defenses I just gave really have nothing to do with the essence of Heaven.  They’re really pretty much worthless.

Heaven is not about pigeons or dolphins or snorkeling.  Before, I thought Heaven was less-glorious than earth.  But thinking of Heaven as just having more glorious (or fun) stuff than earth still doesn’t begin to explore Heaven.  It’s like looking at a snowglobe and describing each little white flake that falls down.

That’s not the focus of the snowglobe.

The center piece is the focus: the object all the snow is falling around.  The object that makes the falling snow enjoyable at all.

God is the center of Heaven.

That will be terrifying, undesirable, and/or disappointing to anyone who doesn’t know God.

But, if you have heard the heartbeat of God as He presses you against His chest and tells you He loves you, you’ll realize that is everything you were ever looking for.  It’s the kite with the never-ending yarn that flies higher and higher in the sky: this is a picture of what the love of God does to the receiving human heart.

It’s indescribable.  It makes worrying about pineapple–well, goofy.  My spectacular promise of taking Dad back to Maui became like a rotting pea in an infinite garden of watermelons the moment Dad saw God.

Dad could care less about Maui.  Maui smaui.  The only question about that is, Am I willing to let go of what I wanted to give and agree that what God gave Dad is totally way better and totally showed me up?

You bet I am.

Dear God,

If Dad was here right now, we’d probably be having his 62nd birthday right now.  Since he wasn’t much into parties and especially since people down here don’t think the number 62 is anything special, it would probably be just family.  We would probably have cake, and Dad would probably make sure there weren’t any crumbs left on the table.  I’d probably have gotten him something between $50-100 and he’d probably have liked it and it probably would have sat on his office desk on display.

I could be bitter, sad, or mad that he’s not here right now to celebrate with us.  But, God, how could I, really?  I don’t know what’s happening for his birthday right now.  Maybe there’s a huge birthday bash.  Maybe he’s singing for You and playing his guitar.  Maybe he’s waiting breathlessly for Your Coming Back, when everyone will be brought before Your Judgment Seat.

Whatever is happening right now, I can only guess.  But I do know this: He is altogether captivated by Your love.

I love You, too.

P.S.  Thank You for forgiving me for thinking all that messed-up stuff I thought about Heaven.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9b, NLT)

Published in: on March 12, 2012 at 5:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Maze: Part 10, Death

The only thing that stood in between me and the door were these huge, ginormous, super tall, gigantic, humongous, really tall statues.

They were scary, scary, scary.  They were these tall statues of that Egyptian god that’s a dog or something.  I can’t remember if they had those Egyptian always-awake side-eyes or not.  But I was petrified they were animatrons.

I would not go forwards.  I was so close to the end.  I didn’t want to give up, but I was terrified.  My dad couldn’t wheel me anymore.  He tried to inspire me by saying something like, “Look, you can see the outside.”  And he was right.  The bright, sunny, warm, happy day was streaming into this last abysmal corridor of the maze.

There was an attendant nearby, and my mom went up to her and asked her if the statues moved.  Mom told her I had a terrible fear of animatrons.  The attendant said they did not move.  I watched people exit with no problems.  And I didn’t believe the attendant would lie when she had to see how scared I was.

Well.

I walked past those really tall, humongous, gigantic, super tall, ginormous, huge statues, and I was keeping a close eye on the one closest to me.  And right when I got to where, if I took one more frightened step, I would be right in front of it–that thing started walking towards me.

I’ve heard for a long time now that people fear public speaking more than death.

I’m not sure I believe that.

Death is a scary idea.

I have things that terrify me like everyone else (ok, maybe more than some people), but if I was truly forced to pick between death and one of them . . . I’m not sure I would pick death.  Maybe I would.  But the idea of really leaving my body, really going into eternity . . . that’s terrifying to me.

I don’t know myself without my body.  I have never seen my soul.  I don’t know what I would look like, or even if I could see myself.  I don’t know what Heaven is like and, even though I believe Jesus will keep my soul safe there . . . I am still scared.  There are so many unknowns about Heaven.  I don’t want to play a harp all day long.  And there are so many mysteries about God that are too great for me to understand.  What if I find out God hates me after all?

With all the what-ifs, all the fears, all the knowledge too big to fit into my tiny brain . . dying sounds awfully scary.  And yet I believe God, in His great grace, gave me an allegory for what death will be like for me in a little maze in California on a hot summer day when I was still a teenager and my life was an absolute shipwreck.

First . . there’s the scare.  Just like that statue that didn’t look like it could possibly move actually did move and came towards me, Death will come for me someday if Jesus does not return before then.

I will die.  At 28, I can tell I don’t have the same youth I had at 8.  I don’t figure that’s going to get better by 38 or 48 or 58 or 68 or 78 or 88 or 98 or 108.  And, on top of a ticking clock, there are all the diseases I could get, all the accidents that could happen to me, and always the possibility I could be killed.

I am pretty good at talking myself out of the idea of death.  I used to play video games because they somehow seemed “unchanging”, like maybe they might be around forever.

But that’s a no-go.

The Super Nintendo I got addicted to in 1993 or so isn’t just exactly the same as a Wii.

Even though a game can stay the “same” each time you play it and you can think of that as an eternal quality . . it also has no flexibility for change past what was written into its computer chip.  So sooner or later, I always had to switch out games.

(Besides that, eventually the game would plain old rot.  There is nothing eternal about the nature of technology.  You can ask the 8-track if you don’t believe me.)

Sitcoms try to promise that “unchanging” concept, too: families or friends on TV stay much the same through the years, often living in the same house or apartment.  But then the time comes when the actors go on to do different things or they retire or die, and the viewer soaking up all that make-believe for so many years must settle for reruns in an attempt to feel the same “happiness”.  That, too, doesn’t work, because, sooner or later, it gets old to watch the same episodes over and over and over.

Even if video games and sitcoms could last forever . . we don’t.  We have bodies cursed because of sin, and they aren’t going to last for hundreds of years, much less thousands or millions or billions or trillions or . .

Why am I saying all this?  Am I trying to celebrate Halloween or something?

Not at all.  I get that death is a scary topic–I get it very well.

I about needed a heart transplant–for my own heart to be taken out of my throat and put back in my chest.

Death is coming for all of us . . and, if that was all I had to say, I could be campaigning for October 31.

But I have news that’s so good, you can almost forget about death altogether: There IS an escape, an escape that all of us can take–an escape to the world of Light.

“Look, you can see the outside.”

There is a way past death, a way so far beyond death’s reach it can’t possibly hope to get us.  Just as that doorway was much too small for that statue to get out of, God’s gates are far too wise to allow even the least sin through.

Satan can never get us when we are safe in the love of God.

But how can we possibly get through God’s gates ourselves, if sin is not allowed?  It doesn’t do me any good to know there’s salvation beyond the boundaries I can reach with the chain of my sin anchored securely to Hell.

But Jesus broke that chain on the cross.  Jesus didn’t come only to show us the way to Heaven–if He had, there would still be no people in Heaven besides the Lord Himself.  Knowing the way to Heaven isn’t enough–we have to be freed from our sin to make it there.

That animatronic Egyptian dog statue couldn’t get me because it was on a set path of movement.  And it could not take one step further than the programming within it allowed.

In kind of the same way, Satan thought he had it all figured out.  He had a 100% chance of catching us in our sins.  But then Jesus made a path where Satan was not allowed–a path from our fallen world straight into Heaven!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Satan didn’t see it coming because it took God’s death to make that path possible.  And even if Satan had seen it coming, there was absolutely nothing he could have done–and nothing he can do, still today.

The path is open to all who want to take it, because Satan can’t place a blockade even the size of an ice cube in the path of an all-powerful God willing and able to purchase back His people from their sins, and to forgive them.

I ran screaming out of that maze, and let me tell you something, that animatronic stupid statue thing, it may have been tall, and it may have had big old long legs, but it could not catch me.  I ran faster than the gingerbread man out of that maze and onto the top of a stairwell.  The sun burst through my fear and my heart decided it didn’t have to beat 10 times a second anymore.

Death . . is real.  But eternity with God can be, too.

I am still scared of animatronic Egyptian dog statues.  And, way more than that, I am still scared of death.  But I don’t have to panic as my life unravels into death.  Instead, I can run to the Light, for there is my Savior.

 In Him was Life, and that Life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it. (John 1:3-4, Weymouth NT)

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, NIV)

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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When Eternity Hits

If I believe there are eternal consequences for what happens here on earth, then I must either say I don’t care or I must find out what I have to do to be where I want to be when eternity hits.

What I have found out is that it is not what I do, but who I believe and follow.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:25-26, ESV)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  (John 6:37, ESV)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)

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Photograph by John Seb Barber, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/johnseb/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

How do I get to Heaven?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34b-36, ESV)

I am a

slave to sin

and

The slave does not remain in the house forever

I am in the position to be kicked out and spend my eternity in Hell.

But Jesus is no slave.  Jesus

remains forever

1. I am a slave to sin, ready to be kicked out of God’s house.

2. Jesus is the Son of God, always to stay in God’s house.

So can I figure out the last part of the verse from these first two truths?

Not at all!  It sails far beyond the limitations of my logic and lands in the grasses of God’s mercy:

So if the Son sets you free

Jesus wants to set us free!  The first two facts could not in our wildest imagination draw us to the third: Jesus is willing to set us free.

And what does He say about this freedom?

you will be free indeed.

Not that I will be free when I’ve served my sentence.  Not that I will be free when I’ve served “half” my sentence (if such a thing is possible).  Not that I will be free when I realize the full plague I have exposed myself to by my sin.  Not that I will be free when I learn how to carry the immeasurably heavy burden of my sin.

Only that, if Jesus shares His freedom with me, I–me–

will be free indeed.

Christ Jesus goes on my behalf to His Father and asks for full forgiveness for my sins.

This is because, if Jesus accepts me, He intercedes (makes payment for my sin and purifies me) eternally.

Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:24b-25, NIV)

If my eternity as a child of God rather than as a damned slave of sin depends on Christ Jesus’ acceptance of me, then I should spend the rest of my life searching for the way to earn that acceptance, right?

That kind of quest would make sense except for two truths.  First, I am not able to find truth when I am a sinner.  That would be something like a tree trying to figure out how to do algebra.  The Bible describes sinners as dead to the ways of God (see Ephesian 2:4-5).  We can’t be smart enough or good enough to figure out how to earn Jesus’ approval.

Second, I don’t need to go on any quest anyway, because Christ Himself plainly tells the only way we can receive acceptance from Him:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls, because my yoke is pleasant, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, ISV)

All I have to do is come to Jesus and He will give me employment in His Kingdom as an heir of God, pulling me out of my life as a slave to sin.  And Jesus gives me the only kind of employment that gives rest!  (I don’t think any of us would say that about the jobs we do for earthly employers . . .because if we did, we would feel more refreshed after work rather than less!)

Even though I work for Jesus, it isn’t in my working that I find His acceptance of me.  It’s in my coming.

Jesus promises that if I will come to Him, He will make me fit for the kingdom of God by His blood spilled for me (see Mark 14:24 and Luke 22:20).

And Jesus promises that if I come to Him, He will make me skilled for the kingdom of God by His teaching freely given to me (see Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the entire Word of God, see John 1:1-14).

And as long as there is day left (as long as we are alive on earth), Jesus will accept us and give us employment in His kingdom–even if we feel our life is mostly or almost entirely all spent up and wasted (see Matthew 20:1-16).

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have rivers of living water flowing from his heart.” (John 7:37b-38, ISV)

“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:35b, NASB)

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”  (John 6:37-40, NASB)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Health, Wealth, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, & Why My Father Didn’t Get Healed

Panic clamped its talons on my skull, and I was waiting for my brain to burst out like yolk in an egg.

The room was framed in a fuzzy blur.

College, 2003.

I thought the world was going to end—no, not the world, but me.  I thought I was going to end.  I thought my soul was going to be squeezed until it detonated like a grenade.

I shouldn’t have gone to class.

I knew now that I shouldn’t have gone to class, but it was too late.

I’d been upset in the commute over, of course, but I told myself I’d be all right.  It’d be okay.  So what that my father was going to see a faith healer?  So what that he had been waiting, longing for the day when this man of “god” would come to town?  So what that his dementia had made him nuts and he was a totally different person and he now watched junk “religious” shows on TV?  So what that he was going to find out he wouldn’t be healed by this con artist?  So what?  He wouldn’t listen to me.  So what?

I’d walked down the long sidewalk to class, and I told myself I was going to be all right.  I was going to be okay.  So what that my father had begged people to take him (since he couldn’t drive) to see this “faith healer” after my mother refused?  So what that my father didn’t know what he was doing?  So what that, had he only been in his right mind, he would have stopped this “healing trip” in an instant?  So what that he’d told me my whole life how health-and-wealth teachers were a fraud, and now, in his weakest and desperately pitiful longing . . . in his confusion and dementia brought on by this illness . . . he’d been tricked by some wealthy, healthy “preacher” who made a living off of broken and dying?

So what?

Yeah, so what?

I’d sat down in class all right.  I’d felt a little funny, but surely it would be okay.   I opened my laptop.  I wasn’t going to tell anybody.  How could I?  How could I tell people that my father, devout to the Word of God, had been trapped in one of the most vile heresies that has ever haunted the Christian church?

And as I sat there, classmates started coming in.  People were talking.  People were laughing.  The laughing sliced through me like claws.  Why did they have to be laughing?  Why did I have to be in this room?

I was dizzy, disoriented, lost.  I knew I was too sick to excuse myself, too sick to stand up, too sick to make my way out of that horrible room.

And then the professor started the lesson.  Casually.  She was looking at me a little funny, but then she looked away, thinking I guess I was lost in thought.

And it was suddenly too much.

I didn’t hear anything.

And I started screaming.  Hysterically.  Hysterically screaming.

I woke up on the floor.

I woke up to two college professors huddled over me.  One had her hand on my head.  They were praying for me.  I had tears streaming down my face, and snot stringing from my nose, and I remember one of them hugging me, and me thinking, How could she do that?  How could she do that, when I’m so gross?

And they took me into an office, and I cried.  And cried.  And I told them my father was going today to see a faith healer.

And he wasn’t going to be healed.

I went home that day like shattered glass set together with the wrong kind of paste, fashioned in the wrong kind of way.  I felt so fragile that a mere touch would crumble me into fragments too small to see.  And yet I felt ferociously angry, ready to tear the health-and-wealth movement apart brick by brick.  And yet I was so wounded I felt as if I could not last much longer unless I hated God with as much hate as I could secretly store away.

God had done this to me, hadn’t He?  He had done this to my father!  What was this, anyway?  Cruelty?  Vengeance?  Wicked humor?  God had taken away my father’s good mind and given him this messed-up, wrecked-up one.  God had given my father Lou Gehrig’s Disease, hadn’t He?  What for, to prove He could do whatever He wanted?  To show how much He hated me?

Why is it, God, you would let wicked, awful, filthy rich people stab the frail hearts of the sick and dying?  How could You let that happen?  What kind of a God are You?

I can’t write this without tears running down my face.  Not because I still believe this.  But because the hurt, the injustice, and the absolute abuse that health-and-wealth man dealt to my father and my family . . . wounds me still.

I found out that my mother had secretly gone to the church to watch over my father (who had gone with a kind friend—my father could not drive and he was in a terrible position—how could he refuse when, to my father, it was a rejection of all hope for his healing?).

My mother sat in the balcony, tears streaming down her face.  She watched as my father, who had stood in line for hours at the door, had been rejected for the “healing platform”, slowly staggered up from his seat, walked down the long aisle, and tapped the security guard to try to get through to go down for healing.

The security guard brusquely told him he could not pass.

And my father staggered back to his seat.

And then this health-and-wealth pastor preached about money and healing.

And my father staggered up from his seat, hobble down the long aisle, and tap the security guard on the arm to try to get through to go down to healing.

And the security guard told him, no remorse, No.

And my father stumbled back to his seat as the chosen people waited on the front rows for their “healing”.

And then the health-and-wealth pastor kept preaching about money and healing.

And, yes, my father got up again.  And again.  He got up every time he had an “opportunity”, and every time he was rejected, and that security guard sent him back to his seat with not one touch of compassion.

And my father put money in the offering plate.

And then the service was over, and my father realized the horror of what had happened.  He sat there, tired from the long standing, wear from the effort he had made and the appeals . . .

And in my father’s eyes, he had missed his chance.

My father came home from that.

He wasn’t healed.

My heart breaks even now to think about my father stumbling down that aisle.  My heart breaks to think that this fraudulent movement has associated itself to Christianity to feast on naïve victims.

For a long time after that, I was far, far away from God.  My stance was, if God approved of such practices, He could just leave me alone.  And if He allowed such practices, He could count on my lack of endorsement.

My father died in 2004.

I’ve talked in other blogs about God’s hand stretched towards me, always waiting, and how God has called me to nest in His love, how He has spread His grace around me like wings.

God had to tutor me, one-on-one, in His love.  I was way behind the class.  But He did a masterful job of catching me up.  And when I realized how God is love as 1 John 4:16 says, God very graciously began to give me answers to the hard accusations I had made about Him, until they dissolved into only wonder that He had been so good and so patient with me.

God hadn’t made that health-and-wealth “preacher” do that to my father.  God hadn’t even wanted him to.  God’s desire is for us to pursue Him and, as we follow, to learn love, justice, honesty, mercy, kindness, patience, and grace from His path.

But then why had God allowed this man to hurt my father so?  To hurt me so?

I don’t know God’s total plan.  But I do know that every second He delays before Jesus returns, He is waiting for more people to come to Him because He is love.  At the moment Jesus returns there will no more chances.  God has been waiting for people . . . people like that health-and-wealth teacher . . . and people like me.  If God had ended the world before my father had gone to that meeting . . . I wouldn’t have been saved.  The very thing I wished for would have condemned me eternally.

Really, of course, I didn’t want for the world to end, just for that preacher to be “stopped”.  But what if this experience hadn’t happened?  Would I have ever come to the point where I finally saw how much I needed God?  Could God allow this to happen so I could have time to come to Him? And, if so, how could I complain about that?

And what about the people I have compassion for because of my experience?  What if one person, even one person, comes to Christ because of the empathy God taught me through that experience (that experience which Satan and our choice to sin, not God, instigated)?

I can’t play “God”.  I can’t decide which things to stop and which things not to.  I don’t know what will lead to what.  Certainly if God stopped all evil, the world would come to an end!

I believe, “All things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (from Romans 8:28, NIV)

I forgive the health-and-wealth man and the security guard who did this to my father.  I pray God will draw them near, by His grace, and they, too, will see the love of God, which makes all wealth look as dirt on the ground.

The hardest thing for me was knowing my father had struggled to get out of his seat, staggered down the aisle, and again and again pleaded to be allowed past to walk up to the platform for healing.

But let me tell you something.  Something I know with all my heart.

On September 22, 2004, my father walked up to the gates of Heaven, and the Lord Jesus Christ let him in and nobody, not nobody, will ever again block my father from the altar of healing, because he is with the Healer.

And he didn’t pay a dime for the privilege.

Rather, his Healer gave His body, His blood, for my father.

And I know how God could allow my father not to be healed.

Because God Himself healed my father.

Forever.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

(1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, NLT)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Heaven

I don’t think we’ll know everything, just that the little we know we’ll be right about.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

(Colossians 3:1-3, NIV)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on August 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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