Friday, March 18, 2011

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          I have heard a lot of stories about how people have kept themselves from salvation because they felt unworthy.  They feel that their lives have been too dreadful to be covered by the price paid by Jesus to redeem them.  The reward aspect of Heaven seems to come under the same mode of thinking.  ‘Surely we are not good enough to expect a reward from God for the way we have lead our lives.’  The fact is,” No sin is bigger than the Savior.”[1] There is nothing that can’t be covered by the blood of Jesus.

You have to open your mind in order to grasp the goodness of God because what we see everyday are the troubles of this world.  How can we expect to fathom the depths of the Lord and His Heaven if we close our minds by dwelling on the things of this world? 

          When it comes to imagining how much better things in Heaven will be, our ancestors had the advantage of being here during a time when life was more physically straining.   We, on the other hand, are used to so many earthly pleasures and advantages that we don’t feel the need for a better life (this does not negate those who are truly suffering from lack in our world).  With the blessings of our technology, abundance of food and labor saving devices, we have become complacent in our longings for things for which we have no reason to imagine.

          Whose fault is it if we end up in Hell?  It certainly is not God’s fault.  God set up ‘the system’ to give us the advantage of entering ‘through the narrow gate’ if we just accept His free gift.  I will not attempt to answer the question of what happens to those who never get the chance to accept Christ (this seems to be a stumbling block for some) because I simply don’t have the answer.  That’s not my call; it’s God’s.  I do know that the Jews have some advantage over the gentiles, but I don’t know what that is either.  I know that they are his ‘chosen people’; the vine into which we are grafted when we accept Christ as Savior. 

          I do conjecture that the ‘New Heaven’ and the ‘New Earth’ will be joined together at some point in the future.  I’m not sure if it’s when the ‘thousand year reign’ is set up or after.  I do feel that, if this is true, the ‘new earth’ would have to be a lot larger as Heaven seems to be an infinite place that would have no earthly boundaries.  Perhaps the earth, once renewed, will simply be absorbed into Heaven. 

          I believe that the worst punishment in Hell is the total separation from God.  In my limited walk with the Lord, I have come to expect His presence with me at all times and can’t imagine living without it.  As for the burning and gnashing of teeth, I can’t imagine that being worse than separation from God.  “Abandon all hope, you who enter.”[2]

          I would like to say ‘God, take them all to heaven’ but I know that won’t be the case, because He can’t.  God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  He cannot, and will not go against His own word.  The Universalist and collective salvation theories fly in the face of God’s unchanging existence. 

          So often we think of the price Jesus paid for us as just what He suffered on the cross.  We overlook the fact that He left Heaven, the presence of the Father, and suffered to come to earth in human form.  What a let down that must have been.  Those that get a glance of Heaven never want to come back here.  He then had to suffer through thirty three years of the tediousness of man.  We often seem to minimize the tortures He went through, before He wound up on the cross.  Then He had to go to Hell for three days (the place containing Hades and Paradise).  After that, as He rose from the dead, the price was fully paid.  I don’t think I could go through that for you; could you for me?

I have recently read two books on Heaven: “Heaven”, by Randy Alcorn and “90 Minutes in Heaven” by John Piper.  Although I have read similar books in the past, these two had something special.  There is not much teaching available about Heaven itself.  We are told incessantly about our need to get right with God, and our need to prepare for going to Heaven, but not much about what it will be like. 

          While reading “90 Minutes In Heaven” I came across a story of a soprano that died.  I slowly broke into uncontrollable sobbing that I didn’t understand at first.  I came to realize that it was tears of joy, as the Lord let me know that in Heaven I would once again hear my wife sing “The Holy City” as she did years ago ( one of the most beautiful remembrances of my life was when she sang it at the Randallstown Presbyterian Church. She was a coloratura soprano with a range of seven octaves which has been affected by fibro myalgia).  Even if you think that I’m weird or nutty for relating this, I realized it was just another incident where the Lord was reminding me of His greatness and what is yet to come.

          I have trouble with the section in the book “Heaven” where the author talks about an intermediate Heaven as a place where we will dwell with Christ until the final Heaven is established.  This, in my mind, comes dangerously close to false teaching about a place called Limbo.  Since I know that Limbo does not exist, I am doubtful of there being an intermediate Heaven.  I do know that ‘to be absent form the body is to be present with the Lord”[3]  Since we know that the Lord is in Heaven, we must also know that where the Lord is, Heaven is.  This may, however, simply be a misunderstanding of Mr. Alcorn’s reasoning, or perhaps just a matter of semantics.

          It is my determination that “Paradise” no longer exists.  Paradise is the place where Jesus told the thief on the cross he would be with Him that day.  I also believe that Hell was a place where Hades and Paradise existed with a large schism between them.  I believe that the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus[4] is true, rather than a fable told to emphasize a point, because Jesus is the one who told it.  I believe that when Jesus ascended out of Hell, he took the souls out of paradise, but Hades still exists and will until the final judgment.  Abraham told the rich man that even if someone would return from the dead there would be people who would not believe.  I guess Moses is a prophet.

          St. Stephen and St. John, among others, were given visions of Heaven.  Through the years, we have heard stories of some others who have also.  “90 Minutes in Heaven” is the story of one such vision.  Through ‘near death’ experiences, and those brought back from death due to modern medical means, we hear stories of people who went in both directions (Heaven or Hell).  Dr. Maurice Rawling’s book was the first one I read about this.  I have never heard of anyone going to any other place. 

          What can we expect when we arrive in Heaven?  I have never seen a report of anyone who didn’t like what they saw when they arrived there.  The Light seems to be the first astounding feature they notice.  It is a light that apparently emanates from the Lord, which is a pure, bright and all encompassing light.  Some relate traveling through a tunnel to get there while others just show up.  Most say it is indescribable in human terms.  Family and old friends are there to greet and welcome you.  No one, as far as I can determine, saw God Himself.  Perhaps this is because the Bible says no one can see God and live.  This must mean that if you actually see God, you are not able to return to earth. 

          When it comes to our judgment, since our sins have been sent as “far as the east is from the west”, we will not have to give account for them in the same way those that have not accepted Christ will have to do.  What we have done to further the cause of Christ while here on earth will be remembered, and those things that we did not do will be forgotten.  I assume that my writings will, for example, (if He likes what I have written) be put in the plus column while the ones He doesn’t will be set aside.  I can only believe that those things we neglected to do, or what was stupid, or that we were ashamed of here, will not be brought to remembrance.

           The love that is expressed by those that greet us will be beyond calculation.  There seems to be some remembrance of things that we suffered at the hands of nonbelievers, such as persecution and martyrdom, for the cause of Christ.  Reports are that in Heaven, the music and praise of the Lord fill the existence.  We will be so grateful to God that we can’t help but be in a constant state of thankfulness and praise toward Him.  Joy seems to be an understatement.  I can’t imagine what the reward system will be like, as the initial greeting we get seems to be so wonderful.  No one reports being dissatisfied and no reports of animosity have been related.  Those physical disabilities have been made perfect, and physical suffering will be a thing of the past.  The wonder of Heaven seems to be overwhelming, but our capacity for wonder is enlarged.

          I can’t tell if those in Heaven are watching everything we do on earth, though there does seem some acknowledgement.  I am reminded of the Jimmy Stewart movie where a bell would ring every time an Angel got its wings.  I can imagine that there is rejoicing and celebration every time someone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. 

          Our relationship with God will be a personal one.  The scriptures tell us that He will walk with us and talk with us as individuals.  I know that this is hard to understand because there will be so many of us, but after all, He is God.  We know that He hears our prayers.  That’s a lot of individual things going on at the same time.  I know that this sounds ridiculous in our earthly minds; however, “nothing is impossible for God”.  Do we deserve this – no – do we get this – yes! 

          Are we given knowledge of why things happened on the earth the way they did?  When we wonder ‘why did God allow this to happen’, we will know the reason that ‘all things work together for good’.  Nothing will need to be justified because God is just. 
          I get the feeling that my children, who have gone on before me, will be waiting to explain things to me.  I am thrilled at the anticipation of meeting them (of such is the kingdom of God).  How do I know that I have children in Heaven?  God’s word tells us that He knew us “before” we were in our mother’s womb.  A miscarriage, for instance, is a thing of this world, not of Heaven.  Therefore we know that a child, miscarried, aborted or dying after a live birth was, before our understanding of conception, a person whom God knew. 

          We are told that Christ is preparing a place for us.  The place is described as everything from a room to a mansion.  My impression is that an outhouse in Heaven is better than a castle on earth. 

          It is said, by some, that God would never destroy His creation and start over.  I don’t know how to understand this as there are two things that come to mind which may refute this.  First, a Rabbi friend, and dear brother in Christ explained to me that, in Jewish teaching, in Genesis when it says “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep”[5] there is a gap that indicated there was a former world that had been laid waste and wild (destroyed).  The gap is between creating the earth, and it being without form and void.  Second, when God was talking to Moses, He said he was going to destroy the Hebrew nation and start over again with Moses, in the same way He did with Noah and the flood.  This is just one more thing to wonder about.  Will God simply destroy the present earth and erect a new one?  Will He reclaim the present one?  We simply don’t know.  What I am sure of is that whatever He does, or by whatever means He does it, we will be delighted with the result. 

          When Jesus said for the disciples not to touch Him as His body had not yet been transformed, it must mean that after the resurrection our bodies will be somewhat different than what we have now.   Exactly what they will be like is of little consequence to me, and I know that anything He decides is fine with me.  Transformed or transfigured doesn’t bother me.  It’s the fact that I will be with Him that is paramount in my mind. 

          What can I say about God’s majesty?  What we experience in this life; that is the pleasures that are so great we remember them for a lifetime, are but an insight into the essence and character of God and His Heaven.  These pleasures, which we experience in this life, are just foretastes of what God has in store for us.  As you reminisce about those times in your life when you thought “things don’t get any better than this”, you have to keep in mind, “yes they can”, only not here. 

          I don’t know if there is anything like marriage, as we know it, in Heaven.  I have, at times, thought that I didn’t want this life to end because I couldn’t have my marriage continued in Heaven.  The lifelong pleasure I have derived from my wife and marriage, I now know, is just a taste of what relationships will be like in Heaven.  Our marriage to Christ will be more fulfilling than earthly marriages.  First, because we won’t have the earthly stresses associated with the earthly marriages, such as learning to live together as one, financial stress, illness and the fear of loosing the loved one, and changes in life that may be used by the ‘evil one’ to try and separate you.  There have been times in my life that I wasn’t looking forward to going to Heaven because I didn’t want be separated from my wife.  I don’t know exactly what our relationship will be like in Heaven, but I do know that what God has in store will not only be acceptable but better. 

          As I sit here on my porch, on an early somewhat foggy morning, enjoying watching God’s creation (such as His creatures and magnificent foliage), I yearn for the time when I can personally interact with that creation.  To walk and talk with God, and interact with His creatures, is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Do I deserve the sheer ecstasy of what is to come?  No.  Will I attain it through Christ?  Yes, and so can you.  The gift of redemption through Christ is just that, a gift.  Already prepaid, prepared and waiting for you to accept it. 

[1] Randy Alcorn
[2] Dante, The Inferno
[3] 2 Corinthians 5:8, 2 Colossians 2:5
[4] Luke 16: 19-31
[5] Genesis 1: 1-2


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