Stand if You Would Get Shot for Jesus

A year or so ago I shared this writing with my adult Sunday School class the week after my pastor preached a sermon and gave a challenge that will be explained below. It brought about great thought-provoking conversation and I hope it will cause you to stop and think as well.

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Our pastor was concluding his sermon. It was both a thought provoking and emotion-educing sermon. A call to live your life in a way that matters; big in the eternal perspective. He was wrapping it up with a headline drawn from the recent news; College students in Oregon willing to be shot in order to pronounce their allegiance to Jesus Christ. These students are now spiritual heroes. In their last moments on Earth, they have taken a stand that will echo for all eternity. I am awed by their commitment. I am deep in inner-reflection as I consider just how deep my allegiance to the Lord really is. Then he drops the bomb, “If a gun was in your face and you would still say, “I’m a Christian,” I want you to stand up.”

My emotional instincts are screaming at me to get on my feet. But, my mind is telling me, Be honest, you can not, with any certainty or  sincerity stand up right now.

I pick my head up to look around. I figure there must be dozens of people throughout the sanctuary grappling with these same feelings, wrestling with this sobering challenge pastor has just laid before us. But, wait…..

WHAT! SERIOUSLY! As I scan of the sanctuary, it seems as if I am literally the only person still seated.


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I would just like to take a few minutes to share why it concerns me that I was the only person seated in the sanctuary that day. And this comes from no place of judgment, as this has been a rough week this week, and I believe it was in large part due to the fact that I have not stopped struggling with the fact that I couldn’t stand. That in my heart of hearts, I know I should be ready and willing to live and die for Jesus, but that I don’t know that I’m there yet. So, if every other person in the sanctuary was certain of what they would do with a gun in their face, I guess you could say my words come from judgement, but from envy.

However, my gut tells me that there might have been more than a few who had some of the same thoughts and feelings as me. And if so,  this is for you. Or, maybe for some who popped up without fully thinking about the reality of that promise; I hope that these words might spur you on to contemplate what that stand meant.

 

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As I said, as far as I could see all those in the sanctuary where standing, including the teens. After each sermon I typically ask my teenage daughter about what she learned and how it applies to her life. So, after this sermon I asked her about how she felt about the challenge pastor had given at the end of service.

Keep in mind, my daughter did stand up, but she told me, “I didn’t want to stand up. I mean, I knew what I would want to do, but in that situation I don’t know what I would really do.”

My 13-year old daughter had just processed an emotional moment at church and articulated her true thoughts and feeling. I was very proud to say the least. She had also just stated precisely my first layer of thinking when I chose to stay seated last week. Pastor did not just ask if I’d like to have the courage to stand with a gun in my face (to which I could have answered yes adamantly), but in essence, would I commit to doing so. And in that situation, do I really know what I would do? Does anyone really know? And how does standing amongst this of this sea of people who are all standing make my commitment any more real?

 

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Let me share some of the reasons for doubting that I truly know what I would do in that situation. First of all, it is a panic situation. One full of feelings, emotions, stress and terror that I have never experienced. It’s really unfair to say I am certain of how I would handle it.

I do know that in situations where great consequences are sure to come from the choices made, the best and worst in people tends to brought out; in some, the most extreme courage to do what is right no matter what the cost, and in others, the greatest of cowardliness to save their own butt regardless of what will happen to anyone else. Now I know which group I want to fall into, but I cannot say for certain  in which actuality I would.

I do know my track record in panic situations and it is not too hot. You can ask my wife about  time I cut my hand while trying to pry apart frozen tacos with a knife. (I know, brilliant…) The cut was just bad enough to maybe need a stitch or two. However, as I sat on the floor holding a towel on my hand and trying to stop the bleeding, I kept telling her over and over how bad it hurt and that I thought I was going to pass out from the pain. Or ask one of my former students how well I do in pressure filled moments. At recess, she hit what we thought at the time was inside her eye (but thank God, turned out to be just above her eye)on a piece of metal fencing.  The wound was gushing blood. I told another teacher to call 911 (the only good thing I did) then promptly took her into the building and sat her right in the doorway of my classroom….. A spot that every other 5th grader entering the building from recess had to walk by and had a great view of her as the puddle of blood formed below her as they walked by.

 

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As I sat in my seat in the sanctuary last week, eyes closed, hoping that if it looked enough like I was in deep prayer not too many of those around me would judge me for not standing, the even scarier thought popped in my head of what would happen if the gun was to my face and I was actually thinking clearly.

If I was thinking clearly, would thoughts of Jesus have been what was running through my head? I like to believe he would be, but I can’t help but think of some of the other possibilities as I lay on the floor with the dead bodies of those brave enough to stand for their faith just feet from me.

I get a clear image of wife in my mind, then my teenage daughter,  my 5-year old son and my baby girl barely 2 years old. If I stand, I am not going home to them tonight. If I just stay put on the ground I will tuck my three children into bed and hold my wife as I fall asleep.

 

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And then there is another possibility. Might my fears of what is to come if I do stand and take the bullet rush to my mind. I mean, I believe that after death I will spend eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven.  If I didn’t, I would live a very different life. I believe, with all my faults and sins; my life and the choices I make demonstrate my trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and point me towards life everlasting.

However, although it is a matter of much prayer and much pleading, when it comes down to it, eternity scares me. First off, no matter what is going to take place forever, the very thought of forever brings me fear. Secondly, there is the thought that of, what if I’ve been wrong about the whole Christianity thing? That thought that when I die, that’s it…….terrifies me. I guess when it comes down to it, I am scared of the unknown. Because no matter what we say or think about eternity, what takes place after we breathe our last is unknown, until, well…..until we actually breathe our last. So, I wonder, with all of my fears of eternity, would I still stand?

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And then I get to maybe the most rational thought of all. We all believe that Jesus shows us the extent of God’s forgiveness with stories like the Prodigal Son. With his promise of paradise to the thief who hung next to him on the cross. I’d venture to say that we all believe someone in that situation in Oregon who did not stand; yet genuinely repented at a later time, would be forgiven.

So, if as I ways lying there with gunshots still ringing in my ears, and my mind happened to be clear enough to think all of that through, to tell myself that I can save my life and still be forgiven by Jesus; I am afraid I might not have stood.

 

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As I continued to try to process the question asked by pastor this week.  As I wrestled with the haunting thought of would I be willing to be martyred for Christ; I seemed to keep coming back to the a slightly different question: Will I daily take up my cross? I hope that being asked about whether or not we would make the ultimate sacrifice theoretically does not in any way keep us from making daily sacrifices in reality. Might we face physical persecution or even death for our faith? Yes. But we will certainly daily be granted opportunities to live a BIG life that require us to sacrifice by not making the easy choice. YES!

How often do I fail to sacrifice my fear in order to share Christ with co-workers? How often do I fail to sacrifice my selfishness in order to spend more time with my family? How often do I fail to sacrifice my laziness in order to take a shortcut at work? And the list of questions that hit a little too close to home could go on and on.

And so my challenge to myself, and to anyone else who left last week burdened by pastor’s question, is that we might share, first with God, and then with another human being who will hold us accountable, something that we know we must begin doing, stop doing, or do more consistently, in order to truly daily sacrifice for the sake of Christ, and to live a life of eternal significance. And once, with the help of the Lord and our accountability partner, we start to find ourselves achieving sacrifice in that area, we move on to the next and the next and the next.

And for me, maybe, just maybe, if I were truly in a situation where my faith was going to cost me my physical life, I would be so used to my daily sacrifices for Christ, that the final and ultimate sacrifice would come a little more naturally.  
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Eternity: The Ultimate Comfort

My family visits at a nursing home each month. While we’re there I present a message, my teenage daughter dances, my first grade son reads a book or shares a poem, my wife keeps our youngest daughter from interrupting what everyone else is doing 🙂 and at the end we just visit with the residents. The last time we went Jasmine danced to the song “Tell My Heart to Beat Again,” by Danny Gokey to set up my message. If you’re not familiar with the song, take a minute to click the link and listen before you read this blog.

htpps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13wFGffg

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You may recognize that name Danny Gokey from American Idol. Gokey finished third place on season eight of American Idol. What you might not know is that just a few weeks before Gokey auditioned for “American Idol,” his wife died unexpectedly during a routine heart surgery.

Which then makes the story behind the inspiration for this song all the more amazing. Gokey tells the story of a pastor in Ohio who had a heart surgeon who went to his church. The pastor wanted to see a heart surgery actually take place. So, the surgeon pulled some strings and the pastor was there watching as they opened up the patient’s chest cavity and took the heart out to work on it. Now before they can close the patient’s chest back up, they need to restart it. But this time the heart wasn’t restarting.

And the surgeon did something completely out of the ordinary, that blew the pastor’s mind. He got down on his knees and said, “Mrs. Johnson, this is your doctor. We have fixed your heart. There is no longer anything wrong with it. Mrs. Johnson, if you can hear me, I need you to tell your heart to beat again.” And then, as if on cue, her her heart began to beat.

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We have all had our moments in life when it seems as if our heart has actually stopped beating.  When something is happening that is simply too great to bare and it feels like life may no longer be worth living.

As the powerful opening lyrics of the song put it:

Shattered, like you’ve never been before

The life you knew

In a thousand pieces on the floor

Words fall short in times like these

When this world drives you to your knees

You think you’re never gonna get back

To the you that used to be

 

It may be a cancer diagnosis. The loss of spouse or a child. Opening the mail and taking out a letter that explains your house is being foreclosed. Being let go at work and having no idea how you will support your family. Having your spouse walk out on you without warning. Driving home from the your office’s Christmas party and seeing the flashing lights poll up behind you when you know you’ve had too much to drink. Trying for years, but never being able to conceive. And the list could go on. I am sure each person in the room could certainly tell their own story.

For most of us, though, somehow or another, we all survive our most terrible moment. We find the strength to go on. We resolve to never be in that position again. We decide to allow our terrible moment to motivate us to do some sort of good with our life moving forward. Our heart does indeed beat again.

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Today, I want to talk about the moment for Jesus’ disciples when their world came crashing down around them; when it seemed like all they had been living for had been taken away. And I am of course referring to when Jesus was crucified. But, then we all know the rest of the story. Three days later, Jesus was raised again! And the disciples’ tragic moment quickly turned to joy and they were rejuvenated with the strength to press on. Yet, there was something more to their strength to move forward; something way beyond the way in which most of move on back into the ordinary day to day routines that we were accustomed to before our moment of tragedy. And this is what we need to pay close attention to today: what gave the disciples such a  more powerful rejuvenation?

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First though, we need to start by going way back, far before Jesus ever walked the earth. Because we need to remember something that is often forgotten in our modern American churches. Jesus was Jewish. He was born into the history and culture and religion and traditions of the Israelites.  So, we must take a moment and remember this history.

The Jewish nation since almost their earliest time had been in a pattern of being enslaved by foreign nations delivered to freedom by the Lord, enslaved or exiled, delivered, enslaved, delivered…you get the picture. Going all the way back to the book of Exodus and the most well-known example, when God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, but only after the Lord convinced the Pharaoh with 10 plagues that He really meant business and then for an encore parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through on dry land before having the waters come crashing back down on top of the pursing Egyptian Army.

From there the was the exile to Assyria of the Northern Kingdom and then the Southern Kingdom to Babylon. Then, after Cyrus of Pers took Babylon, the Jews were allowed to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem and many were allowed to return. A couple hundred years letter it was the Greeks who gained control of Jerusalem and over the next several hundred years,depending on the ruler, the Jewish people had varying levels of independence to practice their religion and traditions.

Now as we near the time of Jesus’ birth, the Israelites had been under Roman rule for about 60 years. And at this point we start to see a change in the expectations of the Israelites. No longer did they think they would they reclaim their freedom through simply God’s intervention in giving some extra daylight to win a war or his knocking over a city wall at the sound of a trumpet blast, but God would now send a Messiah to lead the Israelite people to freedom. This Messiah would be a conquering Messiah who would lead the Israelite people victoriously in battle and regain their freedom as a people.

But, even more than this, the Messiah would establish a Kingdom on Earth for God Almighty to come down and be with His people on Earth. For God to directly reign on Earth. And in doing that, He would save not only the Israelites, but through Israel, God would then save all nations. And when the Lord came to reign, God would establish a Kingdom on Earth where all was made right. Peace and love would reign supreme.

The prophet Amos talked of this time when justice would roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.

 

Isaiah spoke of the day when (Isaiah 40:4-5):

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

   every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

   the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

   and all people will see it together.

 

Also also of a time when (Isaiah 11:6-9);

6The wolf will live with the lamb,

   the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;

   and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,

   their young will lie down together,

   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy

   on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

   as the waters cover the sea.

 

This is the world into which Jesus came in to. And the claim of Messiah was not unique to Jesus. There was a self proclaimed Messiah, Simon of Perea who came shortly before Jesus. He rebelled against the Romans and proved himself a false Messiah when he was killed by the Romans. A few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection came the First Jewish revolt, which was ended by the Romans in AD 70 when they completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. But, in 132 AD, the Second Jewish Revolt was fought and led by Simon bar Kochba, who also claimed to be the Messiah. There was even a short-lived Jewish state founded, with Kochba hailed as the Messiah-king, before the Romans once again squashed the revolt, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and selling many more as slaves.

Now, it would seem odd to someone who follows the Christian tradition that someone claiming to be Messiah would come after Jesus, since we believe Jesus is indeed the true Messiah,  and in fact, the Son of God. But most Jews, and for that matter, most of humanity ever since, did not and have not realized Jesus’ true identity, because they missed what happened 3 days after the cross. They missed what turned the disciples dejection to elation; they missed what caused the disciples’ heart to beat again.

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But, before we get to the good news at the end of the story, we must look at just how tragic, just how devastating, Jesus’ death on the cross would have been to his disciples. We start with when the disciples first began to follow Jesus. And we must remember they had lives of their own. We know that a number of the disciples were fisherman, including Peter, James, John and Andrew. We also know that Matthew had been a tax collector. In addition, Simon is referred to as Simon the Zealot and we can assume he would have already been involved in some nationalistic leanings before meeting Jesus. We also know Peter was married because we hear of his mother in law in the book of Matthew. In addition, in 1 Corinthians, Paul is asked whether he also did not have the right to take a believing wife as did the other apostle and the Lord’s brothers and Peter. So, we can assume other disciples also had wives.

So, when these guys decided to follow Jesus, they dropped everything, left all they knew behind and simply went where Jesus went.

And then they spent the next three years side by side with Jesus. Talking with him. Eating with him. Following him wherever he went. Jesus was the disciples’ friend. They had spent three years with this man. They knew him more intimately then they knew their own families at this point. But, he was not just their friend, but the friend who had all the answers. Jesus had settled their arguments, taught them as their Rabbi, and calmed the raging storm when they were afraid. Jesus was the friend who everyone turned to when they weren’t sure where else to turn. The friend who made everything all right when there seemed to be no way out.

And more than a friend, but a teacher and Rabbi.  The disciples had listened to Jesus’ teaching for the last three years. They had bought into what he was teaching. They had heard the sermon on the mount and believed in the almost unreal expectations to not only love your neighbor, but also your enemy. To not only stay clear of adultery, but of all lust. To not only keep blood off your hands, but to keep violence from your heart and mind and angry words from your lips. And not only had they heard his teachings, but they had witnessed his miracles. They had seen him heal diseases and physical deformities and even rebuke nature itself. They had seen Jesus do the impossible time and again.

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Now, put this together with the backdrop of Israel’s history that I shared and the time and place Jesus came into. Jesus’ disciples had come to truly believe he was the Messiah. Peter declares this when Jesus asked the disciples who other people said he is and then followed it up with who the disciples said he was. Peter tells Jesus,  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

They believed they were following the one who would lead the nation of Israel to freedom. The one who would overthrow the Roman rule and usher in the coming of God Himself to reign in their midst! Their expectation was that they would be a part of, and not just any part, but a ruling part of, this new kingdom. In Mark chapter 10, when James and John ask Jesus that one of them may sit on his right hand and the other on his left when he comes to glory, they are not talking of heaven. They are talking of the very near future when they believed Jesus would rule as the Messiah-king on Earth!

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And this thought of Jesus’ Messiahship had built to a crescendo as Jesus had come riding into Jerusalem on a colt for the Passover Celebration. This festival commemorated God’s deliverance of the Israelite people from Egypt. The religious fervor that was already a part of this weekend was incredible. And as the people laid down their cloaks in the street, shouting Hosannah and waving palm branches, the nationalistic zeal was palpable. This Jesus, the people had heard about, he might just be the one. And this might just be the time. And no one in Jerusalem believed this more than the disciples.

But, a short time after this triumphal entry, Jesus does something odd. Instead of claiming his throne and making a public declaration of being the Messiah, he washes the disciples feet and talks about a master being a servant and how to truly be great you must humble yourself as a servant to all. He then shares a passover meal with disciples. And during, it he breaks bread and drinks wine with the disciples, referring to it as his body that would be broken and his blood that would be shed. But the disciples just don’t get it! For Luke’s account tells how just after the bread is broken and the wine is drank, the disciples are back to arguing over who will be the greatest.

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And then comes the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus lays down his own will in order to take up God the Father’s. Yet, the disciples, even at this moment are still not yet willing to see what is destined to take place. They are unable to comprehend that Jesus will not rule as a conquering king, but instead will save humanity as a suffering servant.

As a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees came with lanterns and torches and weapons to arrest Jesus, Peter, still not understanding Jesus’ true mission, took his sword and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. At this point, if the disciples could not make it any more clear they had no clue, all fled and deserted Jesus. As a trial that was a mockery to justice took place, as Jesus was scourged and beaten, and eventually nailed to the cross, it would seem from scripture that except for  Peter who watched from afar and denied Jesus three times, and Jon who stood at the foot of the cross in Jesus’ last moments, the disciples where nowhere to be find.

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The disciples were utterly hopeless. They were lost. Their best friend, their teacher, their Messiah was dead and gone. They were grieving over the loss of one they loved and also mourning over finding out all they had believed was soon to take place, the promise of the prophets and the scriptures being fulfilled through Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, was not going to happen. And now what? Would the authorities come after them next? There was certainly a fear that gripped the disciples. We already heard of how all fled at his arrest. Then in the book of John, we hear how the disciples were meeting together behind locked doors in fear of the Jews. And once a bit of the fear had worn off, the overwhelming emptiness  set in of having what you believed to be truth completely and undeniably shown to be a lie. And with no thought of what else to do, the disciples simply went back to the lives they knew before Jesus, as John records that a group of disciples were back out fishing.

You see, the disciples were having a moment to make their hearts stop, without any reason to think that it would beat again. There was nothing to make them believe that they would see the promise of the Messiah fulfilled. Nothing to dull the pain of losing their best friend. Nothing to ease the sense of loss they felt of having chased a lie for three years.

But then, in the greatest comeback story of all time, in the  single most important moment in human history, the disciples hearts are jolted to life once more. As if the paddles where placed on their chests and the electric shock of the defibrillator put life is put back into their bodies. Or maybe, it was more like Jesus getting down on his knees and whispered to the disciples, “I am alive again. I have come back. I am no longer dead. I need you to tell your hearts to beat again.”

And once Jesus spoke these words, once they realized the resurrection was for real, the disciples hearts didn’t start to beat, but they pulsed with an energy they had never known before. When the women tell the apostles of the empty tomb, Peter and John race there to see for themselves. And when Jesus appears to seven of the disciples on the shore while they are fishing, as soon as they realize it is him they get their boat full of fish back to land as fast as they can, except for Peter who jumps out and swims! For the disciples cannot wait to hear what Jesus has to tell them next.

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You see, when that life is put back into us, when God takes us out of that dark place where we just don’t believe we can go on and we realize there is something greater to live for; we don’t just putter along, we hit the ground running. We find new purpose, new focus, new desire. And this is what happened for the disciples. For each of them went out after hearing Jesus’ great commission and began to tell others about Jesus’ death and resurrection with a fervor. And the only thing that could stop them from sharing this message was death. Tradition tells us that all of the disciples but John, who lived out his last years exiled alone to the island of Patmos,  all the other disciples, were martyred for their faith.

What changed for the disciples? What took them from hiding behind locked doors to boldly proclaiming the gospel? I think it is that after the resurrection, when Jesus restarted their hearts; the disciples realized that what they were now living for was not simply a better life on this earth, but for eternal life. What their heart now beat for was not taking up arms to be a part of a kingdom of this world, but to be a part of an eternal Kingdom where all will be made right through the redemption found in the sacrifice Christ made on the cross and the victory over death that came through His victorious resurrection from the grave!

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Now, when I started out this afternoon, I talked about the fact that we all have those moments when we wonder if our heart will beat again; when our world comes crashing down around us and we wonder if life is even worth living. And yet in these situations, we find a way to make it through; to press on and continue with our lives. Maybe even to turn our tragedy into triumph by making something good from our misfortune.

But, I also mentioned when I began that there was something different about the way the disciples bounced back then the way we typically do. And I think this difference was shown clearly in their willingness to follow Jesus even to death after they saw him resurrected. So, what was it? What was it that caused the disciples to not just press on with the day to day, but to boldly declare Jesus to all those they encountered.

I believe it was that when they saw Jesus after His resurrection, their focus changed. It changed from an earthly focus, to an eternal focus. You see, when we come back from our tragedies it is with a focus of moving forward with our lives. Making the most of the years we will walk this earth. Which is wonderful. And we should make the very most of every moment we have. However, the disciples had a different focus after seeing the resurrected Jesus. It was a focus to live the rest of their earthly lives to do something that would matter for eternity. The disciples no longer worried about what would happen to them as they walked this earth, because they knew where they were going when their time on earth ended. And they wanted as many people as possible to come with them.

And when we have our times when the worst seems to have happened, sometimes the only thing that can truly make it right is if this eternal promise is real. Think of the loss of a child. Sure, you may go onto have more children and raise a beautiful family. But, every Christmas, every birthday, every anniversary of your child’s death, the ache is there. But, what about in the eternal perspective? That child has been made new and whole and one day you will be reunited forevermore.

Your spouse has walked out on you. And sure you heart has stared to heal. And you may have even met someone new. But the scar is deep. And the trust issues are real. And you can never love quite as fully as you did before. Yet, in the eternal perspective, you are the bride of Christ. And he loves you more deeply then any spouse ever could. And he reaches out his hand and says I will heal you in part now, as much as earthly possible, but just you wait until one day after you have breathed your last and real life begins. You will hurt no more. You will will weep no more. And you will be blown away by a love that makes all loves you knew on earth seem like mere weeds in a garden of roses.

Or the terminal cancer diagnosis. You can come to terms with it. You can get get going on your bucket list. You can get your will in order. You can say all your goodbyes. But, then there is that thought, I’m really going to die. I am really going to close my eyes for the last time and no longer exist.  However, the eternal perspective says something much different. The eternal perspective says that when you close your eyes for the last time here on earth it is not a period, but simply a comma. And what comes after that comma is true life. What happened here on earth was just a mere shadow of the real thing. The real thing that is beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations that we can not even begin to comprehend.

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And so, I ask you today, do you have the eternal perspective? Do you believe its real? Are you able to have peace in life when the moments come that make you feel like you heart has stopped beating? Not because you simply push on with a new determination to live this life to its fullest, but beaus you know there is something so much greater than this life waiting for you. Are you sure of where you will go when you breathe your last?

The Bible says being sure of this is very simple. Romans 10:9-10 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in you heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and with your mouth that you confessed and are saved.”

In order to have the eternal perspective you must have faith in the one who holds eternity in His hands. You must tell God that you understand he is God and you are not. That you know that you have sinned against him. Done things that you knew where wrong. Chose to be your own god and make your own choices instead of allowing him his rightful position as God and letting him lead your life.

And you must understand that these choices you made were sinful. And that a Holy God cannot be in relationship with sinners. And there IS no way that on your own you could earn your way back to God or cleanse yourself of your sins.

But, this eternal God is not only Holy, but also loving. And he sent Jesus, God’s son, to this earth. Jesus came and lived a blameless life.He died and rose again. And in his death, he took all of the sins of the world upon him. And in his rising, he conquered death once and forevermore, so that all people may have the chance to spend eternity with the Lord.

But, God is not a God who forces. No, in his love he gives us the freedom to choose. And in order to have the promise of eternity we must choose to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We must choose to willingly lay down the agenda we had for our lives and take up his agenda. And in doing this, we are taken in by the Lord as a son or daughter. And he will be with all of the days of life; but even greater than that, when the days of our life are over, we will go to be with him for all of eternity.

 

 

 

Along the Way: Part 3

Well, this has certainly taken me much longer than I ever expected to get back at it and finish out this last part of my blog on eternity. But, life happens…

Part 3: Along the Way, an Exposition

A lot of well-known people died near the end of 2016. Alan Thicke. George Michael. Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. And to start off 2017, Mary Tyler Moore. And this has gotten me a little too focused on death again. I really am just not too sure that this isn’t going to be one of those “thorns in my side” throughout my life. I mean, it’s not like I get up in the morning and say to myself, “Hey today I am going to drive to work and the whole way I am going to think about the fact that people all around me, both younger and older, are dying everyday.” Nor do I lay down at night and intend to lie awake troubled by the fact that the only way to have a 100% certainty as to whether or not my faith in Christianity and Heaven are true is to die. (And I guess that is only if it’s true, because if it’s not I will never know the difference!) Yet, I find my mind inadvertently stuck in these places far too often.

At times I can draw myself out of these dark thoughts by going back over my reasons for believing in eternity. On my best days, because the bible teaches it. On my decent days, by going through my rationalizations again. 1) The anticipation and let downs in life are preparing us for the ultimate anticipation. 2) There just has to be more than this! On, my worst days, well, on my worst days, I take deep breaths until I can find a distraction that relieves my mind from my morbid focus.

So, where does this leave me? I think it leaves me asking myself, “What I am I going to do along the way?” You see, I continue to make it a matter of prayer that I would have more confidence in eternity and I continue to remind myself why eternity makes sense. But, at the end of the day, there is no certainty of what is to come until we breathe our last. So, for now, I need to live each day as if I am certain. Each day I need to live as I would if God gave me an out of body experience to go up and get a preview of Heaven, that would confirm for me beyond a shadow of a doubt that eternity was real.

As I wrote back in my introduction blog, my goal is to live each day as if it is one of my best. To choose to trust and hope that on those best days God is revealing Himself to me and giving me the strength to persevere when I’m not “feeling it.” To seek and to question and to think and to act and to fight for the faith that I have in fleeting moments, but desire to have every moment of every day. 

You see, I should endeavor to live each so that if it were my last, if indeed my faith and hope in eternity are true, when I meet the Lord I would hear him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into the Master’s joy.”

And I have noticed quite a curious phenomenon when I live my days that way. On those days, when I have truly given my all for the Lord, when I lay my head on the pillow at night, I rest just a little easier; and I find that I have just a little more faith than the night before, that indeed eternity is real.

Along the Way: Part 2

A few things that I should probably note so that this poem will make sense to anyone who doesn’t know me personally:

  • I am currently in my 12th year in urban education
  • I have been married to my beautiful wife Vanessa for 11 years
  • We have three kids. Our oldest daughter is adopted and 15. Our only son is 6. And our youngest daughter is 2.

 

Part 2: Along the Way, a Personal Poem

Life goes from good to bad, happy to sad, in only a moment

All is right with the world and in the blink of an eye it all crashes down around me

Lord, you take me to mountaintops of joy, but in between those heights there are deep valleys of despair

My praises of thanksgiving suddenly turn to cries of anguish in dark and lonely hours

The rush of adrenaline over new challenges and anticipation of success is interrupted by the sound of shattered dreams and unrealized ideas

The excitement of new life experiences are transformed into the monotony of the daily grind

Lord, in all of these ups and downs. These tremendous climbs and drastic dips. You look into my heart and you watch what I do. You ask me, on life’s unpredictable journey, what will I do along the way?

And so I say to you today, Lord, that along the way:

 

 

Let me love somebody

Let me tell someone about Jesus

Let me make my wife feel good about her self, to let her know she will always be the love of my life

Let me raise my raise my son to be a Man of God

Let me fill in gaps for my oldest daughter whose early moments were stolen from her through tragedy

Let me open my arms and heart to my baby girl and show her she’s a princess

 

 

Along the way,

Let me serve somebody

Let me teach somebody

Let me show 5th graders what it means to be loved and to love

Let me teach 5th graders to even be kind to those who aren’t kind to them

 

 

Along the way,

Let me learn to value relationships more

Let me dedicate myself to being an outstanding teacher who changes lives

But not to work so hard that I miss chances to love somebody

 

 

Along the way,

Let me be honest with You, Lord

Let me sing praises to You when all is good

Let me cry out to You in my pain and confusion

But then to praise you even in the pain because you still are good

 

 

Along the way,

Let me trust you more and more

Let me question You when I don’t understand

And then trust you even more because You don’t judge me for my questionings

 

 

Along the way,

Let me be yours

Let me know you more deeply

Let me love you more fully

Let me be Jesus to those I meet

 

 

So that when my along the way is over, You will welcome me home

 

Along the Way

The holidays have been crazy and more time has passed than I would like since I have had the chance to post. However over the next few days I plan to wrap up my focus on eternity with a three part post, entitled “Along the Way.” The first post will be a story, the second a personal poem and the third an exposition with my final thoughts and conclusions on what to do in light of eternity. With no further ado, the story:

Part 1: Along the Way, a Short Story

The two elderly gentlemen at The Pleasant Valley Nursing Home shared more than just a room. Both had retired from successful white collar jobs; John as the director of an HR department and Dennis as a manager for a large grocery store chain. Both men had been married to the same woman for over fifty years before becoming widowers. Each man had three children, two still living. The men had come to share a room a few years after their wives had passed away and each man had suffered from a stroke. Both men still had full use of their minds, but very limited use of their bodies. And although their children had made very genuine offers for them to come and stay with them, both men had declined, stating that they didn’t want to be a burden.

With the condition of body and mind being what it was, the men spent many hours talking with the slow and deliberate speech that came as a result of the strokes.  Each man enjoyed reliving their glory days of the early 50s. John speaking of his stardom as a high school football quarterback in a Texas town that worshiped their star football players – – that is of course until he blew out his knee senior year. John just knew he could have been the cocky Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl win if it hadn’t been for the injury. Dennis liked to speak of how he had dated his beloved Martha since he was in the 10th grade and she in the 8th. As soon as they had both graduated high school they had married. He was 20, she barely 18. Neither had ever dated any other. Neither wanted to. They had “just known,” Dennis would say.

Carla, a nurse’s aide in her early thirties, would often stop outside and listen in on the men’s conversations.  Carla had a toddler, kindergartener and middle-schooler at home. She was a single mother who had taken the nurse’s aide job out of the desperation of trying to feed and clothes her family. At first she had despised the idea of taking care of and cleaning up after the elderly. But, as the months passed she had come to truly care about the residents and had found a certain peace came across her while she was at work caring for those who could not care for themselves. A peace very different from the hectic pace of being an under educated, under paid, single mother of three.

Carla had taken a particular interest in John and Dennis after hearing them swapping stories on several occasions. The two had come to intrigue her even more when she found out both were life -long church goes and claimed, as they put it, to have “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” With a life that had not gone at all how she had planned, Carla was doing a lot of searching.  And she was curious to see how these two men who claimed to “be saved,” and who already had a majority of their lives behind them, would look back on the lives they had lived. It became even more fascinating when she saw how these two men, with seemingly similar lives and faiths, actually differed so greatly.

The first such encounter had come when Carla was bringing the two men their dinner and they were discussing their wives. Being that she had never managed to make a relationship last longer than a year, she listened intently as she fed Dennis his dinner.

Dennis had already told of how he had first met Martha coming out of school and it was rare true case of “love at first sight.” He was now talking of the early years of their marriage. “We were so poor,” Dennis was saying, in between chewing, in his slow, somewhat slurred speech. “I started out as just a bagger at the store and was making $1.00 an hour, minimum wage at the time. Martha took in laundry that she cleaned and pressed to make a few extra dollars each week. But, we had nothing. Still, we couldn’t have been happier.  We would turn on the radio and dance around the kitchen and into the living room. There was only a tiny kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom in our apartment.” Dennis laughed recalling this. “Even as broke as we were, I made sure to get her something every month on our anniversary. Sometimes it was as small as a nickel candy bar from the grocery store. That was all we could afford! But always, a Snickers, because I knew it was her favorite. She was the love of my life. I worshipped her. And she knew it. And that was all that mattered!”

After this, John countered with his own story of his years of early marriage. “When Elizabeth and I first got married, it was the same way! I mean we couldn’t get enough of each other. And then came our first child, John Jr. Things were still pretty good with us for a while. But, after a while she started nagging me that I wasn’t spending enough time with the baby or giving her the attention that I used to. Well, I let her know she wasn’t giving me the attention she used to when we first got married, either, if you know what I mean. And quite frankly, the Bible teaches that the man is the head of the household and she needed to be taking the lead from me, not trying to tell me what to do.  Anyhow, about a year later she was pregnant again. Only, this time there were a lot of complications and the baby only lived for a couple of days. She was so depressed. I mean, I was sad, too. But this went on for months. And no matter how nice I tried to be, she was just never “in the mood.” Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I started to frequent Christy’s.”

“The whore house?!” questioned Dennis in surprise.

“I prefer to think of it as a place for gentleman in need of relief.  I mean I really had no choice. Like Paul says in the Bible, a husband and wife should not keep themselves from one another lest it may lead one to fall into temptation. So, her keeping herself forced me into it. But, I was very careful not to let her find out. That way it wouldn’t make Elizabeth any sadder than she already was. I mean, I still had her feelings in mind. Just needed something to tide me over until she snapped out of it.”

Dennis seemed eager to change the subject a bit and responded, “You talking about your baby passing reminded me of when we lost Linda. At the time James was 8, Mary was 5 and little Linda, my little darling princess, was only 2.” Even after all these years Carla could hear the emotion in Dennis’ voice as he talked about Linda. And after John’s crude reminiscing, it was quite endearing. “Martha and I had taken all three kids to the beach. I had James and Mary out about as deep as my waste, which was up to their necks! Martha had a tight grip on Linda near the shore, with her feet in the water. All of a sudden I heard Martha scream and saw her let go of Linda and reach down and grab her ankle. I didn’t know it then, but a jelly fish had stung her. And in the perfect storm of terrible fate a huge wave came and swept Linda away. Before we were able to find her, it was too late. She had drowned.”

At this point, Carla wiped a couple of tears from Dennis’ eyes, and her own, and with a big deep breath, Dennis continued. “Martha went into a deep depression. She blamed herself. She thought I would leave blame her for Linda’s death leave her. I just had to keep telling her how much I still loved her. That it wasn’t her fault. If it weren’t for the love of our church family and God’s power to bring redemption through even the worst tragedies, we would have never made it. I still remember when I got a deep sense that the only way Martha would heal is if she began to help others. So, I pushed and prodded her to begin volunteering at the orphanage in our town. She became a surrogate mother to so many of those children with her frequent visits and doting over them. Through giving them the love that she would have given our Linda, she finally began to heal.   That was a hard couple of years for Martha and I and our whole family. And of course, the scars from it don’t ever fully go away. But, in the end, Martha and I were closer together because of it and both of drew closer to the Lord.”

Carla had finished feeding Dennis and quietly slipped out.

******

Another time Carla had wheeled the two men out to the dining hall to watch a movie that was being shown to the residents. Before it started she brought each man coffee. Dennis, one cream and two sugars and John, two creams, no sugar. “Thank you Martha,” Dennis said.

“Carla,” she gently corrected him.

“Oh of course, of course. Martha always used to fix us each a cup of coffee in the evening and we’d sit together and talk. You fixing this coffee just the way I liked it reminded me of her. Why don’t you join us Carla? You a much prettier sight than John here.”

She smiled and said, “Why not?”

As she sat down, the three briefly chit chatted about the weather and such. After a while, John and Dennis began to talk once more of days gone by and Carla just eased down into her seat and listened.

“I really took pride in my job as store manager,” Dennis was saying. “I believe God calls us to give our best at whatever we do, but more than that I had worked my way up from the bottom. I had been a bag boy for a couple of years before they started letting me stock the shelves. They noticed that I worked hard and began letting me help with inventory and run a register. Finally, when Frank, who had been manager there for over twenty years, retired, they asked if I would like the position. Of course I was thrilled. For the next twenty-five years I made sure the shelves were always faced perfectly, the floors sparked and the customer service was impeccable. And it always did my heart well when I got to walk an elderly woman to the car and put her groceries in. But I’ll never forget the home deliveries I did to Ms. Smithburger. I delivered to her for over five years before she passed.” He chuckled thinking about this and added, “She was the meanest old lady I ever met. She would curse me if I was even just a couple of minutes past the scheduled delivery time, complain about how the last delivery of eggs hadn’t been fresh enough and ask why they couldn’t send a more handsome face to bring her groceries.”

Dennis laughed some more, but then got serious. “But, I knew it was only because she was so lonely. Her deepest regret in life was that she had been barren. And when her husband of 54 years passed away, she had no one. I was her most regular visitor. She just didn’t know how to handle the only kind face she saw and the hurt she felt. So, she tried to drive me away, too. But I didn’t let her. I kept delivering those groceries with a smile on my face and nothing but pleasant words for her. Often I’d even bring some flowers for her to put on her table and brighten up the room. You know she never did once thank me or have a kind word to say. But when she passed and her home was cleared out they found a note that she had left for me. It said that my visit was the only thing she looked forward to each week. She thanked me for showing her there were still decent people left on the Earth.”

As Dennis finished he had a contended, all be it, droopy, smile on his face. Without more than a few seconds of silence, John began his story. “I can definitely relate. I worked some long hours as head of my department. I really took pride in becoming the best. And I brought out the best out in my employees. I demanded the same long hours from them that I put in. And if something wasn’t done up to my standards, than it was re-done. A lot of people quit under my watch, but I know that the Bible speaks against the lazy anyhow. And boy was the team that we ended up with good. No matter what our company did, my HR department could spin it in a positive light before it ever hit the news.”

Carla had heard about enough. And as John continued telling Dennis of his many exploits as HR director, she slipped away to check on some other residents.

******

A few months later, Carla went in one evening to check on Dennis. Since John had passed away in his sleep a couple of weeks ago, Carla had been checking on Dennis a lot more often. Dennis had been terribly depressed and seeing Carla made him brighten up a little. When she went in she saw Dennis lying completely still in bed. She walked over next to his bed, “How’s my favorite patient doing?” she whispered.

When he didn’t reply, she put a hand on his wrist. No pulse. As it often goes when a spouse loses one they had loved for many years, life does not seem the same without the other. And Dennis, having already lost his wife and now losing the one whom he had shared his life with since her passing; it was just too much. However, as she looked down at Dennis, she saw a wonderfully peaceful look on his face, one nothing like the expression of terror she had seen on John’s face when he had passed.

At Dennis’ funeral, Carla thought back over the years that John and Dennis lived in room 134 together and the many conversations she had overheard the between two men. Both being devoutly religious, many of the conversations centered around their differing opinions on the matter. She had heard both men talked of specific moments in their life when they “accepted Jesus in their heart,” but outside of this agreement they differed in their views over most everything else on the topic. They debated once saved always saved vs. being able to lose your salvation, whether to tithe from gross or net income, Calvinism vs Wesleyanism, and pre-destination or free will.

Carla honestly did not have a clue what they were talking about during most of those religious debates. Yet, as she looked at Dennis lying in the casket, she thought of all she had learned about he and John and the way they lived their lives. Rand regardless of the fact that both men claimed to serve the same Lord, she had a hard time believing both of their souls had gone to rest in the same place.

The Great Dance (Part 2)

The Great Dance Exposition

CS Lewis, author of Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia and many other books, wrote of this dance. But not of a dance involving two humans, but  instead of the dance between God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Ghost. Lewis wrote of this dance to explain the love relationship that has been going on for all eternity between the three parts of the Trinity.

Author Timothy Keller expounded on Lewis’ idea. He tells that this dance is perfect love between these three fully distinct beings who are also entirely one. With two always focused solely on the other one.  God the Father and Jesus fully focused on loving and meeting the needs of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and Jesus fully focused on loving and meeting the needs of God the Father. And God the Father and the Holy Spirit fully focused on loving and meeting the needs of Jesus.

Think of how Earth orbits the sun or the moon orbits Earth. And now imagine the three parts of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, each orbiting one another continually, while also being continually orbited themselves by the other two. All three parts, always, for all eternity, focused on one another in a perfect love.

Mankind was invited to enter into this dance with the creation of the first two humans, Adam and Eve. But they made the choice to sin. To choose to want to be god of there own lives instead of fully trusting in the Lord to direct their paths.  And every one of us, every human since, has sinned this same sin. Believed and acted as if we are able to be our own God. That we know better than the great I Am and can handle life on our terms.  That we can find perfect love outside of this eternal dance with the Lord.

But sadly, each ones of us learns for our self, just as Adam and Eve learned so long ago, we cannot be our own god. We do not know what is best. There is no perfect love outside of the love of God. Only one heartbreak after another. Disappointment and letdown. All of human history has been spent trying to get back into this dance. To figure out how to have this perfect loving harmony with God and man. But, man on his own cannot do it. Not through his own efforts. Not through following the Ten Commandments and all of the rules of the Old Testament. Not through belief in another religion. Not through ignoring God. Not through seeking life’s pleasures. Not through only focusing on oneself. This dance cannot be found.

Yet God lovingly desires that we be in this dance of love with Him.  And He knew that the only way for man to enter back into this love relationships was for man to atone for His sins. To make up for choosing to go his own way. The catch being that man is powerless to do this on his own. There is no way for sinful man to right His own wrongs before a perfect and just God.  And so God sent Jesus Christ to Earth. Where he proclaimed that He had come to usher in the Kingdom of God. To allow man to once again join back into the great dance. Christ centered himself around us when He came to Earth. Humbling himself as a servant to humanity.

Christ came. Lived without sin. Died as a sacrifice to atone for mans’ sins. Rose again. And now is seated in glory next to God the Father.  Through His death and resurrection we are offered the chance to enter back into the dance. And while the dance will not be perfected in this lifetime, we will have all eternity to learn to love like the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. All eternity to understand and participate in the perfect love of God that has been taking place within the Trinity since before time began.

But, because God is both loving and just, He does not force us. He does not pull the strings of man like a puppet to make us choose Him. He gives us free will. We can choose to accept or reject the chance to come into the dance.  To accept means to enter into an eternal relationship with the Lord. Knowing that when we breathe our last we will be invited into Heaven, into the great dance forever. To reject means to choose to be eternally separated from the Lord and His love.

What must we do to accept?  Proclaim that we are indeed sinners. That we have chosen to take the lead of our own life, but now want to allow God to be God. Acknowledge that only through Christ’s death and resurrection are we able to be made right with God. And begin, from whatever point of life we are at  when we come to this acknowledgement, whether 9 or 99, to commit ourself (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to live out a life that is ever aiming at the mark of being like Christ, of perfection.

Not a mark we will ever reach in this life, but one that we will have all eternity to move toward. As we spend forever in the beautiful dance of the perfect love of the Lord.   

 

The Great Dance (Part 1)

Well, after a crazy week or so of getting moved out of one house and into another, I am happy to have a little bit of time to post again. I will re-focus on eternity once more. I am going to post “The Great Dance” in two parts, the first in a short story and the second in an exposition of the story. And as with many of my inspirations, thanks to CS Lewis and Mere Christianity for this idea of a Trinitarian dance.

 

The Great Dance

“Now announcing, the Duchess of York, Lady Clarabelle.”

The room seemed to literally freeze. As if pause has been pressed on a movie. Conversations stopped mid sentence. Hors d’euvres were held inches from open mouths. All eyes locked onto the duchess with the intensity of a prowling lion watching its prey.

The duchess has been in mourning for six months since the passing of her father. She had not made a single appearance in public during that time. All had waited longingly for the last two months since it was announced she would make her first appearance at the Winter Ball held at the royal palace.

How would she look? What would she wear? Would she come in all black to continue her mourning? It had been the gossip of the entire kingdom. And now all of those questions and more were answered.

She wore an elegant gold gown. Fitted on the top and flowing from the waist down. With a diamond necklace and earrings that accented the dress majestically. And the smile that adorned her seemed to show the whole kingdom that while she loved her father dearly, she had spent her time grieving and now was ready to continue her life with full fervor.

This could not have pleased anyone more than Prince Henry. The prince stood in his dress military attire admiring her beauty. Not at all out of lust, but in the same way as one admires a field clothed in wild flowers. For indeed, Clarabelle’s beauty was just as pure.

The prince had begun courting the duchess a few months before her father had died. And he had not spoken to her since. When the prince’s own father, the King, became very ill just a few months ago, all of the prince’s advisors urged him to find another suitable lady to take as his bride. For who knew how long the duchess would remain in mourning. And it would never due if the king did pass, to have his eldest son take the throne without a queen.  But the prince had refused. He was smitten with the duchess and said he would wait as long as it took.

Now, the long wait had paid off. His father’s health had improved some and there stood his great love just across the room. As much as he tried to keep a regal look upon his face, the more he stared at Clarabelle, the more the look on his face turned to a rather boyish, silly smile.

Although, just the length of the room separated them, the prince and the duchess, try as they may, could not seem to make there way to one another. As the Hors d’euvres continued to be served and each mingled with those that they were expected to show hospitality to, they longed to forgo the formalities and embrace one another.

And then, finally, the music began, as the finest string quartet in all the land began to play.

The prince made his way to the duchess. “May I have this dance?”
“I would never be one to deny a prince his request,” she answered playfully.

_________________

 

The Prince took his right hand and placed it on her left side. She placed her left hand on his right shoulder. Then, they locked their other hands with one another. And they began to dance.

To watch this dance was to watch magic. It was as if they ceased to be two individuals and instead were transformed into one flawlessly graceful being.

Yet, this cannot be quite right, because as beautifully as they moved as one,

what made it so magnificent was how each dancer’s distinct movements stood out in striking contrast to the others.

But, not at all to show the other up. Quite to the contrary.  The distinctness was only to compliment the other. Indeed, it would be impossible to say that either was leading.

It wasn’t that the prince was not living up to his role as the masculine dancer, nor because the duchess was overstepping her role as the feminine, but because each dancer’s full desire, each partner’s every motion, was simply to highlight the other. Each danced with full abandonment to their own will, each in full submission to the other.

It was amazing to behold. And it seemed to as if the duchess and the prince could go on forever. It seemed as if they would never grow weary of their enchanted dance.

________________________

 

At first, the other guests could do nothing but stare at the couple in amazement. Then, slowly, but steadily, other guests began to take the floor and enter into their own dances.

One might think that the rest of the couples would be left to feel quite inferior to the royal couple that moved with such refinement. But, this was not the case. Instead, all of those who dared to enter the dance floor, where somehow made better by their willingness to take this risk.

And not only made better, but even more than that. It could only be properly explained if you were one of those brave ones on the dance floor that night. In recalling that mysterious night some time later, those who had entered the dance floor would describe it as if they had seemed to become a part of the prince and duchess’ dance.

That in the same way that one stroke of a paint brush blends with another to make the final painting, the dozens of individual couples on the dance floor seemed to blur together into one beautiful tapestry.

_______________________

 

However, not all saw it this way. Some were too absorbed by the delicious Hors d’oeuvres to realize that something much grander than a snack was taking place. Others were appalled by the way that the prince and duchess seemed to have given no regard to tradition and maintaining the man as the clearly defined leader of the dance. Still others were too intimidated by the thought of dancing near the prince and the duchess in all their splendor to venture out on the dance floor. Whatever the reason, many in the palace that evening chose not to join in the enraptured dance and settled for a handful of pennies when bags of gold lie just before them.  

In Heaven, It Just Won’t Matter

In my adult Sunday School class at church we recently did a study using a book and video put out by The Voice of The Martyrs entitled “I am N.” This study led us through atrocities being committed against Christians not long ago, but right now! Christians being murdered, tortured, raped, cut off from family and community, and many other horrific things. This study burdened me (in a good way) to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are in parts of the world where their faith brings Jesus’ words of suffering for the sake of the gospel into a physical reality; as opposed to the way that we as American Christians often think of the suffering for the gospel in terms of having a socially akward moment for being one of the few not to drink at a wedding reception.

This study caused me to think and reflect on many things. (I hope to share more about this in blogs to come). And one of the questions that I kept coming back to is Why? Why was I born in America where I do not face this persecution while these Christians were born in Syria and Somalia and other countries where they know a commitment to Christ can mean severe persecution or even death? Why does God allow these awful things to happen to His people? And why was I led to complete this study; what am I supposed to take away from it? This story was an attempt to wrestle with these questions from an eternal perspective.

 

 

In Heaven, It Just Won’t Matter

Jesus had fallen asleep in the back of the van again. But this was not like the last time when he was awakened by the frightened disciples when a snowstorm hit and their nearly bald tires had the van sliding all over the road. That time, Jesus had rebuked the skies and the snow had stopped.  No, this time, Jesus was awoken by, yet another, bitter dispute between his disciples.

As the loud voices erupted, Jesus opened his eyes, but then closed them again. He decided he would pretend to be sleeping a little longer. That way he could hear their true views before intervening.

“Clearly, that is wrong!” John said heatedly. “The one who does the most for the Lord will be the greatest in heaven! Open a homeless shelter in His name, serve on the front lines as a missionary. It only makes sense, do for the Lord now and he will do for you in the life to come. Be too timid to act for the Lord now and your place in heaven will be least!”

“No, that is not enough!” rebutted Thaddeus. “It is those willing to fight for the Lord who will be the greatest in heaven! For God means to set up his reign on Earth.Stand up to the Muslim extremists and surely you will be lifted up. Those who are willing to forcibly advance the Kingdom now, will sit upon thrones in heaven.”

“To suffer for the Lord,” Peter chimed in, “This is the greatest thing a man can do for the Lord. First, in the kingdom will be those who were martyred. Followed by those who faced much persecution while on Earth. Be murdered by the Muslim extremist and certainly you will be exalted above all others in the eternal realm.”

Phillip did not want this to go on without his view being heard. “It is he who had the most willing heart to leave all behind and follow the Lord. Willingly give up the things of this world and the Lord will be truly pleased. Sell your house and your car, leave your cozy white collar job and come after the Lord and surely you will be seated near the Lord himself in the life to come.”

With this Jesus opened his eyes, sighed heavily and spoke, “Quiet down, quiet down.” All eyes turned to Jesus. The disciples thought their squabble had been unheard by the Teacher. Jesus had slept so soundly through the near monsoon conditions they had driven through last week, but now a little argument awakens him…  

Jesus continued on, “After the many months we have spent together, do you still understand so little? Are you still arguing over such trivial matters?” Jesus looked up at the van roof and clothed his eyes. “Father, how will I ever make them understand?”

Then, as though a direct answer had immediately been given, Jesus looked at the disciples once more and smiled, “Let me tell you a story.

Four men died on the same day. The first man was Joe Taylor. He was a perennial Pro-Bowl quarterback in the NFL. He won three super bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. He was a faithful husband to his wife Jenny for 52 years. His one regret was that he and his remained childless. After three mis-carriages, he and Jenny had decided it must not be the Lord’s will for them to have children.

Although, it caused he and Jenny great sorry, it did not cause them to waiver in their faith. They decided that they would to use their love for children in a different way. Joe ran summer football camps in inner cities all across the country free of charge during the offseason and Jenny volunteered to eat lunch with and mentor children labeled as “at-risk” by the local school district.

The second man was Estuardo Garcia. He lived in extreme poverty in rural Guatemala. He did his best to make ends meat farming a small plot of sugar cane on a steep slope on the side of a mountain. However, while Estuardo worked long hours to eke out a living from the sugar, he never let his weariness show on Sunday mornings.

For each Sunday morning, standing in front of his one room home, Estuardo preached. For four decades he preached to the other farmers living nearby. He preached to all who would listen. He proclaimed Sunday after Sunday that in spite of their current conditions, there was a God in heaven, a good God, a God who would take those who believed in Him to their real home one day. A home where they would no longer grow weary, no longer go hungry, but where they would bask in the glory of the Lord for all eternity.

Mustafa Abadi was the third man. He had grown up in Iraq in a proud Muslim family. As he grew older and became a man, he prided himself in his knowledge of the Koran and of the great prophet Muhammed. But, as time went on all of this knowledge did not seem to bring him satisfaction. And one day as he flipped through the TV stations, he happened upon a Christian speaker.

The speaker spoke of the love of a God who wanted to know him personally. A God who cared much more about a contrite heart than rituals and rules. And Mustafa new this was the true God and was the God for him. Mustafa was frightened at first, but as time went on knew he needed to boldly proclaim his faith. Even after being ostracized by his family and his community, he remained true to the Lord. And even as ISIS invaded his city, his faith did not waiver. And even as the ISIS soldier stood over Mustafa with a machete giving him one final chance, he would not recant his faith.

The last man standing at the gate was Jerome Division. Jerome lived a life of tragedy. He lost his wife to breast cancer at age thirty-nine. Just months later, his only child died in a tragic car accident. And at age go forty-two, Jerome was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, chondrosarcoma. The cancer acted quickly and aggressively.  It devoured his whole face, eating away at his nasal and jaw bones, displacing his left eye and robbing him of her sense of smell.

As his time on Earth drew to its final days and Jerome lay in a hospice bed, he was the most frequented patient in the center. For the nurses could not help but be drawn to his joy. Whenever they entered his room, they would find Jerome humming a hymn or with his good eye closed as he prayed to the Lord; not prayers of misery, but of praise! Praising the Lord for his faithfulness and the promise that he would soon go to be in the presence of God with his beautiful wife and beloved son.

As the four men stood waiting at heaven’s gate, the Lord came to greet them. He opened his arms and beckoned them to come in. And he said to them, ‘Each of you were given a different lot in life, yet each of you took what you were given and used it to glorify Me. You have been faithful in your brief moment on Earth, enter into the beginning of real life, eternal life. Each of you was faithful with a little, I will now give you much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

The van had been silent as Jesus spoke. And it remained so as they continued on their long road trip. The disciples now had much to think about.

The Fountain of Youth: An Eternal Choice

As I continue with posts that focus on eternity, I like to think this story is where Natalie Babbitt’s  Tuck Everlasting meets C.S. Lweis’ The Great Divorce. (And if you are not familiar with C.S. Lewis, I highly recommend becoming acquainted, starting with his book Mere Christianity).

_________________________________________________________________

September 5, 2015

The journey had finally reached its end. Isabel took Michael’s frail hand in hers and slowly guided her cancer-ridden husband to the edge of the stream flowing with water that contained live everlasting. She turned to him and said, “Honey, we’ve finally found it. We will be together forever.”

August 3, 2014

It all began with the annual checkup. The ones you get when you are a child and teenager because your parents make you, stop getting as a young adult because you think you are superman, and then realize when you get a bit older it might not be such a bad idea after all. At age 65 and 63 respectively, Michael and his wife Isabel had been getting these yearly checkups for the last 20 years or so.

And in an odd way, they had come to sort of look forward to and even

take pride in them. For with each visit they had been given a clean bill of health and their doctor would tell them, “You are in amazing health for your age. Whatever is in the water you’re drinking, it’s working!”

But this visit was different. The nurse had stayed gone longer than usual after the blood draw. And then had come back in a second time with the concern written all over her face that her voice tried to hide, “Michael, the doctor would like me to take a couple more vials of blood. Nothing to worry about, just precautionary.”

Then, an even longer wait ensued.  And this time the doctor came in. His expression much more grave than that of the nurse. However, he was a straight shooter and got right to the point. “Michael, I have some concerns about you white blood count. It could be a sign of leukemia. Now, it could also be a variety of other things or nothing at all. But I am going to get you in as soon as I can for bone marrow testing so we can be certain of what is going on.”

August 6, 2014

The bone marrow testing confirmed their worst fears and Michael was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. With the strongest chemotherapy, the best case scenario was a few years to live. “Without the chemo, “ the doctor told them, “we are talking a matter of months.”

Isabel was beside herself. She had been married to this man for 45 years! She had no idea what she would do without him. And what was even worse was it didn’t seem to bother Michael nearly as much as it bothered her.

“I know where I’m going when I die,” he told her. “What better comfort can there be than that?”

At first, he even said that he would forgo the treatments. That all of the extra pain the chemo would bring to extend his life a few months or even a few years just wasn’t worth it. But, eventually he had changed his mind. Not for himself, but out of love for his wife. When he saw how greatly his choice distressed her, Michael decided he would give his wife every moment he possibly could.

August 12, 2015

3 months passed, then 6, then a year. Michael continued on with the treatments, but his body grew weaker and his will grew more tired each day.

“Honey,” he told Isabel shortly after the year anniversary of the diagnosis. I love you with all my heart. But, I just don’t think I can do it any longer. I am so tired. I am ready to go to the Lord. And one blessed day we will be together once more.”

“Don’t talk like that Michael. I need you. I need you to keep going for me. Besides…” She stopped herself and didn’t go on. Could she tell him? Would he think she was crazy?

“Besides what, sweetheart?” he gently prodded.

“Well, what if I told you I think there was a way we could be together forever. Right now. We didn’t have to wait for the next life.”

He chuckled and replied, “I’d tell you I think you’ve been watching too many of those Hallmark channel movies you love so much.”

“I’m being serious, Michael.” She hesitated, then slowly continued.  “A man came to the door the other day. Maxwell Gooden. I went to highschool with Maxwell. We graduated the same year…. Yet, he appeared to be only in mid 20s.”

“Isabel, what are you talking about? Either it wasn’t really Maxwell or he happened to age gracefully. Either way, this is getting to be a bit much.”

“Just listen to me Michael!” She raised her voice in a way that she never had in all the years she had been married to her husband. “He told me things about our high school days that only someone who went to school there at that time would’ve known. Then he showed me his driver’s license and an original Maxwell Gooden birth certificate.

“Now those facts and documentation didn’t convince me, but simply allowed me to let him in the door to tell his story. When he came in he began by telling me he had heard about your unfortunate diagnosis and that he might know of something that could help. Curious, I listened on. He began to talk about a backpacking trip that he took with only his dog for companionship when he was 24 years old. He told me they both drank from a stream of water that tasted unlike anything he had ever tasted before, sweeter somehow, purer.   And since the moment he took the drink, he has not aged at all!

“Now, at this point I cut him off. I told him he was crazy. But he persisted with such conviction I let him go on. He said that after a few years he noticed he wasn’t aging. And that indeed his dog, seemed to be staying a pup as well. At first he wasn’t sure what it was, until he realized the only thing it could be. The only thing that he and the dog would have both consumed was the water from that stream…”

“Really, Isabel…”

But before her husband could protest any further she continued, “I know Michael. At that point I said good day to him and that I had heard quite enough. But then, Michael, then he PROVED IT.” Her voice reached a crescendo at this point and her eyes grew wide as  she recounted this part of the story. “He took a gun from his pocket. I thought he was going to rob me or shoot me, but instead he turned the gun on himself, held it up to his head and fired. And Michael, nothing happened to him.

“And he asked me if knowing where that stream was might be worth something to me. I said of course it was. Michael, I gave him all we had for this!”

She pulled out a map and showed it to him. It was a detailed route through treacherous terrain in the Appalachian Mountains leading to a small stream labeled, “The Fountain of Youth.”

Michael had been furious at first. Furious that Isabel had squandered the money that should have been there to provide for her once he passed. Furious that she would believe such a cockamamie story. But, eventually he softened. He would play along for the moment. “Okay, sweetie. Do you think you could get Maxwell to come back?  To show me his little presentation again. If he will, and it convinces me, then I will go on this trip with you.”

August 13, 2015

The very next day Maxwell walked in the door. Michael did not even give him a chance to speak. “You look here Maxwell, or whoever you are. I don’t want to hear a word out of your mouth. I want to see the gun, inspect it myself and watch you pull the trigger. If it works like my wife said it did, then all is well. But, if this is some sort of trick you will give us back every penny my wife paid you.”

Michael expected to get an earful from Maxwell, but instead all he said was, “Sounds fair,” and handed Michael the gun to inspect.

Indeed the gun and the bullets inside were real. Michael handed the gun back to Maxwell and again he pointed the gun at himself and fired. And again Maxwell stood unharmed.

“Let me see that again,” Michael, snarled. And upon inspection, there was undeniably a bullet missing.

“I may charge a high fee,” Maxwell smiled slyly. “But the product is worth it. You can’t die Mr. O’Hara. You won’ age another day from the moment you drink that water. You and your wife will be able to live in happiness together forever.”

When Maxwell left, Michael and Isabel had another long conversation. Michael insisted it was unnatural. That we were all meant to die. He had asked Isabel, ‘What about heaven? If we never die, how do we ever move onto heaven?’ Isabel had assured him that she was sure God would one day bring up even those who had drank from the stream and that in the meantime, they could be together without ever having to part.

As had been the case throughout most of their marriage, Michael caved in order to please his wife. And they began preparations for the long journey that lay ahead.

August 21, 2015

They had driven as far as the 4-wheel drive jeep could take them. But, eventually they had to leave the jeep and continue on foot. The travel was extremely slow going. Isabel wasn’t as young as she used to be and Michael was in no condition to be hiking through woods and climbing up the side of a mountain.

But onward they pushed; stopping and resting frequently and camping for the night whenever they needed to. As the days passed, Isabel became more excited and more obsessed with the thought of gaining a life with her husband that had no expiration date. Michael, on the other hand, became more and more withdrawn. Isabel simply chalked it up to his deteriorating physical condition and expectantly looked forward to the moment he drank from the stream and his strength would be renewed. What she didn’t know was that internally Michael’s condition was even worth than his external appearance.

He just didn’t know. Could he go through with this? Was life on this Earth forever really what he wanted?

September 5, 2015

After weeks of travel they came past the grove of pines marked on the map and into a small clearing. Just behind the clearing was a mound of rocks. After going around the rocks, which kept the small stream hidden, they stood not fifteen feet from the life giving water.

The journey had finally reached its end. Isabel took Michael’s frail hand in hers and slowly guided her cancer-ridden husband to the edge of the stream flowing with water that contained live everlasting. She turned to him and said, “Honey, we’ve finally found it. We will be together forever.”

Then she heard, just faintly at first, barely audible, her husband reply, “No.”

“What did you say dear?”
This time he spoke firmly, “No.”

“No! What do you mean no?” she shrieked.

“I just can’t do it Isabel. It’s not right. It’s not the way life works. It’s not the way God intended.”

“I’m going to drink and then you will to,” Isabel urged. Assuming her husband would cave to the demand that would please her, as he had so many times throughout their marriage.

Instead he gave his resolved reply, “Isabel, I don’t have the strength in me to stop you. But if you drink from that stream it would be the saddest day of my life. Because soon I will die and be separated from you. As of now, it will only be a brief time in light of eternity. But if you drink from that stream I don’t know if I will ever see you again.”

Thinking she was calling his bluff, she bent down, scooped up a hand full of water and drank deeply. Indeed, it was the sweetest, purest taste she had ever experienced.  She smiled and turned, expecting to see Michael following her lead. But, he was no longer by her side.

When she stood and turned she saw him walking away from the stream! He was nearing the large mound of rocks that kept the stream secluded.  She ran toward him and grabbed him by the arm. “Michael, I drank! You must drink now!”

With tears in his eyes, but without any sign of doubt in his voice, he told her “I told you I am not drinking from that stream and I meant it.”

She grabbed at him once more, desperate to get him back to the stream. This time as Michael pulled away he lost his balance and fell. His head struck a jagged edge on the mound of rocks.

He would not have to wait for the cancer to finish taking its toll.

_ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

March 5, 2450

Isabel sat alone on the thin mattress in her small cabin crying.  After a time people had noticed that she was not aging and that’s when the moving around had begun. First from city to city, then state to state and even to many different countries. Finally she had given up and found a spot deep in the forest where she had lived for well over a hundred years without being discovered.

One day just seemed a depressing copy of the one before. Wait, that wasn’t quite right. Somehow, each day seemed to bring an even greater despair than the one before. With each day came a more profound guilt over the way her husband had died. Over being so short sighted as to drink from that cursed stream.

She mourned that she had brought about such a terrible end to her beloved Michael. She just could not forgive herself…. Although, this was really just selfishness. All the guilt just masking the fact that she was miserable without him. That she was mad that she had drank and he didn’t. For if she would just forget about herself for one moment, and picture where her beloved was now and how he had been transformed the moment he breathed his last…

Instead she wailed on. Lost in her self-pity.

_ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Michael ran, no there must be a better word, strided maybe (if you call effortlessly bounding with the grace of a gazelle and the power of a lion and speed of a cheetah, simply striding) up the one side of the mountain (if you could call a peak that made Mount Everest look like a pile of dirt with colors that made a rainbow look like a drab rainy day a mountain) and down the other. He smiled and laughed (if you could call it that…I guess you are starting to get the picture) with the joy and delight of a child on Christmas morning.

And please do not think of the cancer-ridden body that Michael ended his life with. Nor, even the pristine body he once had as an 18 year old finishing boot camp. For, to see Michael now, you probably would not recognize him…. (How do you describe a body that glows with more luminescence than a solar eclipse without hurting your eyes in the slightest and a beauty that makes the loveliest bouquet look like mere weeds and)…. I might as well not go on for there is just no Earthly language that will do.

Michael has not always shined like the stars or carried himself at such tremendous speeds since entering Heaven. Nor, had his top speed yet to be reached. For, you see, God is continually, for all eternity, transforming those that join him into the most extraordinary creatures; beyond even our wildest imagination.

Now, do not think Michael was hard-hearted. That he did not desire to be with his wife. For with all that was in him, he longed to hold her once more. Yet, this longing was not accompanied by sorrow. Even if Michael had had tried to mourn and cry over not being united with his wife, he could not. For longing in Heaven is not like longing on Earth. There is not sadness in what could have been, should have been. It is longing without regret, without sorrow…again, it hard to explain in Earthly terms.

Why I Believe in Eternity

Why I Believe in Eternity

I have a confession to make, At times, I have an irrational fear of dying. And I know that I am only in my early 30’s and I am in relatively good health. That I have a wonderful family and a job I am passionate about and lots to live for. And I know that as a believer in Jesus Christ I am not supposed to have this fear.

Yet, for some reason, there are times when I am scared that I am going to die young. And last year, this fear was at its worst. And I realized that more than than thought of simply death, I am scared that after I die it’s all over. That there is nothing more. That I will close my eyes and simply be no more. It will all just end. So, I have been praying that God would give me a sign or a dream (And for those that know me, this is not how I usually pray. I am quite skeptical of these types of supernatural signs.) that eternity is real and I am going to be with the Lord when I die.

Well, no sign or dream has come. But, I continued to pray anyways, adding to my request, that if I couldn’t get a sign or a dream, I would settle for an unexplainable certainty. I figured that maybe I had set my appeal a little high and better temper it was something a bit more practical. Anyways, still no sign or dream, and now to add to the list, no amazing heavenly peace and confidence, either.

However, I did start to have a thought. A thought that kept coming to me. And so I began to wonder, this is a persistent thought, maybe it’s not my own. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. And that thought was, Victor, you are a thinker. Why don’t you just think this one through?

Yes, God expects faith. But, God is also One who can be found through reason. He is the option that makes the most sense when you lay out all the facts and evidence. And this idea to think through the reasons that believing in eternity makes the most sense just wouldn’t leave me.  

And where did this profound reasoning lead me? Why, to an old Simpson’s episode of course!

But, before we get to the wisdom of the Simpsons, I have to tell you that at the same time as I was struggling with these thoughts of death; I also was having some memories, some moments, from my past. And with all that is in me, I wanted to be able to go back to these moments. Not because I necessarily wanted to be at that certain point in life again, but more because I wanted, I needed, to feel that way again. I wanted to feel that same exact feeling that I had at that time. And yet, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that feeling was.

Excitement? Yes, but no. Excitement is more like when I was in fifth grade and got my Super Nintendo for Christmas. This is better than excitement. Contentment? Yes, but that doesn’t fully capture it. There was still another dimension to it beyond just being content. You see, I am quite content eating a Papa Johns pizza and watching Star Trek. This was something far greater than that.

So, I had been trying to figure out what this feeling was. And why I had this intense desire to feel it again. Last Spring, Vanessa and I were on our return drive from a wedding in Baltimore and this gave me plenty of time to think, and also the ear of one with nowhere to escape, to try to think and talk through this. And as I was trying to explain it to Vanessa, my list of times I felt this elusive feeling grew.

The one that had been haunting me the longest took me back to the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I had finally given my life to the Lord that winter. And it was the feeling I had when I would first wake up in the morning. Having slept in, but not too long. I would stay in bed, genuinely excited to pray and read the Bible. After this, I would go for a run, staying in shape for the fall soccer season. And then work close to full time at my first real job, at Giant Eagle, thinking I was just making a ton of money, one hour and $5.10 at a time. Going to Cedar Point with my best friend Mark, who now had his license. Hanging out with youth group friends.  Knowing that “real life” lay just ahead. It was a small taste of responsibility with a huge dose of freedom. And that feeling when I would first wake up every morning…. This was the one that has been on my mind for months now, But when I talked to Sessa, there were more.

Loading the charter bus in Lorain Middle School’s parking lot early in the morning for the eighth grade Choir trip to Myrtle Beach. It was the first time I would be leaving the great state of Ohio.

Setting up my classroom in August before I would meet my first class of students in Baltimore.

Seeing the beachfront resort pop up in front of Vanessa and I on our first real vacation together to celebrate our one-year anniversary.

And even simpler, foolish things, like when Mark and I would split the cost of a box of football cards and take turns choosing packs out of the box before we began to open them.

This feeling. This feeling that I found myself longing for, yet eluding me for quite some time now. This feeling that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on.

And then, as I jabbered onto Vanessa, replaying all of these memories,  it finally came to me…through the great insight of that old Simpson’s episode. In this episode there is a guest character named Jacques who has an amazing line where he says, “To the most beautiful moment in life,  Better than a deed, better than a memory, the moment… of anticipation!”

Anticipation! That was it! That was the feeling I longed for.

And putting a couple of the synonyms for this word together defines it beautifully. An expectant hope.

It was that expectant hope of what is to come that I was longing for. When I would wake up in the morning, the summer before junior year, thinking that life was great and that it was only going to get better. Expectantly awaiting what amazing things were to come.

The anticipation of going on a 14-hour bus ride and exiting Ohio for the first time. And not just on some family vacation, but with lots of eighth grade girls!

Setting up a classroom for my first group of students. And I was just sure that I would change their lives and help them to become better people.

Imagining the week just ahead with my beautiful wife; lounging on the beach, eating delectably, and coming back each night to our room with a view of the ocean.

Or picking the pack of cards out of the box that contained an autographed Peyton Manning rookie card randomly inserted 1 in every 36,000 packs.

And here’s the thing. All of these things were wonderful! That summer in between tenth and eleventh grade was one of the best I ever had.

I always recollect my Myrtle Beach trip with great nostalgia.

My first year of teaching is something I will forever look back on with pride.

Vanessa and I still reminisce about that room in Florida with the giant hot tub not ten feet from the bed and the sound of the ocean as we stood on the balcony.

And there was nothing more fun than taking turns pickings packs of football cards with Mark and then slowly opening each one to build the suspense.

Yet, somehow, each of these did not quite live up to the anticipation, the expectant hope, that I held before the actual event. By the end of that summer I had spent all of the money I had earned from my stock boy job and had nothing to show for it but a bottle of cologne and a boom box.

The week in Myrtle Beach came to an end and although Julia set next to me for the entire fourteen hour bus ride home and fell asleep with her head in my lap, when we got back to Lorain I was still “just a friend.”

And when my first year of teaching ended I hadn’t reached all my students, not Reazon … or Zaire …  or Essence….

And during our week in Florida, Vanessa and I  found out it was $40 an hour to sit in a beach chair under an umbrella and lounging in the sun did not go quite as expected.

And in all those boxes of football cards that Mark and I bought, neither of us did ever pull that autographed Peyton Manning card.

The truth is, here on this Earth, with every great anticipation, there is the great let down. Typically, this is because the experience just doesn’t live up the expectant hope you had for it. But even in those rare instances where all of the stars align and everything goes exactly as you imagined it; it still comes to an end. And you are left waiting for, yearning for, even aching for, the next great anticipation.

And this is my first reason for a belief in eternity. I call it the Ultimate Anticipation. And now I borrow from CS Lewis, the fact is, this anticipation we feel is to give us a momentary taste of the life to come while leaving us longing for more. It is not supposed to fully quench our thirst because it is one of the ways God is not only trying to get our attention and let us know He is real, but He is also trying to make us realize this existence is but a shadow of real life, eternal life. Think about this life. When there is a natural desire, there is something to satisfy it. When you are hungry, your craving is satisfied by food. Sexual desire is met through intimacy with a partner. The craving to learn is realized with books and reading and classes. The desire to nurture is accomplished through child rearing. And the desire for our anticipation to be fully satisfied, this desire for our experiences to live up to our expectant hope, this this desire will indeed be met as well!

It just won’t be met on Earth as we know it. It can’t be met on this side of eternity.  But, I believe  when we enter into the Kingdom of God anticipation will still be present. In fact, in a more intense way then we can now possibly imagine. But here is the beautiful difference; there will be no let down! The experience will always meet, and even surpass, our expectant hope!  And what’s more, it will lead us directly into the next anticipation that will once again be fully met! The Ultimate Anticipation! Now, that is a beautiful reason to believe in eternity!

My next reason for believing in eternity is neither as profound nor as beautiful. However, I am convinced that almost every person can relate to it at one time or another. And it is simply the thought that this can’t be it; there has to be more life than this! Even the vast majority of people who believe in no particular religion or that there is not any personal God, believe there is something more. The ideas get quite odd as to what there will be after death, but most of the world is in agreement that there is something! But, why is that? Why are we not satisfied with the fact we once were nothing, then through an act of love (or possibly drunken stupidity) we became something, and one day we will die and go back to being nothing once more? All just a part of the circle of life, I suppose.

Yet, most of the world stands up in defiance with me and says, “No!” This is unacceptable! There has to be something more!

Maybe it is just because life has been a bit rocky for me over the last year or so. Now, not to say it has been terrible. It is probably more that my life has been so blessed to this point, that I see some minor inconveniences as major life crisis. But, still, I say to myself, there has to be more than this. More than this continual cycle of digging part way out of debt to only fall further in. Or the roller coaster ride of getting Victor and Jasmine into good schools after making the ridiculous, unwitting move to Maple Heights. Is this all there is? A continuous cycle of, “Oops, that wasn’t such a good idea!” And then, “Well, now what are we going to do about it?”

And there has to be more than these nagging health issues! The sore back. The frequent urination that has me running out of my classroom. The weak esophagus that has me freaking out thinking something is wrong with my heart and keeping me from good sleep. I mean, really? I’m 33. Hopefully not even halfway through my life. And my body will never feel as good as it did ten years ago. Or even 5 years ago. Is that it? A healthy body the first twenty-five years of my life and all downhill from there?

And I don’t know about you, but my job is just not as exciting as it used to be. And I have a pretty awesome job! I’m a teacher. I get to inspire young minds and mold futures. My job is never boring. Each day is truly different. I never watch the clock just waiting for the minutes to tick by. Every day I get there, I blink and it’s lunch break. I blink a second time and its dismissal. But, how I long for the passion I felt when I first began teaching. And I think to myself, there has to be more than a waning passion that leads to a couple decades of monotony until I reach the highly sought after retirement (which really just means I probably have a few short years left before I find myself six feet under).   

And how about some people with real problems? Three people I work with are battling cancer, as is my wife’s cousin. One woman at work was just given 6-18 months to live. She is the main caregiver for her grandchildren. Another is a woman my age, mom of three, diagnosed with stage 4, aggressive breast cancer. My wife’s cousin has lost her grandmother and mother in the last three years, only to now be diagnosed with cancer herself. And again, for lack of more sophisticated language, really? Is this it? A few short decades, a painful miserable death, loved ones left mourning and wondering why? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I suppose.

But you see, this isn’t just for people whose lives seem less than ideal or who are facing painful and difficult circumstances. Let’s take a person who has worked their entire life in their dream job and got rich doing it. Had the perfect spouse and the most darling 2.5 children. Traveled and seen every corner of the world. Still, picture with me this person in their last moments.  When they lie there knowing the end is near and thinking back over the extraordinary life they’ve lead. I can picture a contented smile form for a moment as the wonderful memories of their life flood in. But, then, as quickly as that smile formed, it begins to disappear. And you look into their eyes. And all you can see is fear.  Fear that this is really it. That when they close their eyes, there will be no more. They will be no more.

Poof! That’s it. And in this moment, the clichés of, “But he’s lived such a full life,” or “He was such a good man,” seem empty, if not condescending. And those eighty or so short years, however good they were, don’t seem like hardly enough! But why? Why isn’t that okay? Why can’t we just do our time here on Earth, be buried, and become food for the worms and fertilizers for the flowers? Why can’t we  go back to the nothing we came from in peace? I would suggest that maybe, just maybe, we consider that it might be because there is indeed something more!

In John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” we are given a glorious picture of what an almost utopian Earth would look like. I am afraid, however, that Lennon ends up with only a half of the truth here.

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…”

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

The world he imagines is beautiful, isn’t it? And it is the world we should help strive to create. A world where we love and accept one another. A world where we live in peace together and make sure all people have what they need. However, when it comes down to it, while we know we should all endeavor to produce this type of world, we somehow know that in reality the world will never quite be this way. That things may improve, become more peaceful, the number of starving people may lessen; yet there will also be evil people and violence and those who care too much about their own well-being and wealth to help those in need. And yet, in spite of this reality, we still long against all hope for this “perfect world,” this utopia.

And again, I would offer up the possibility that this longing is because indeed this world does exist! And when we ask that question, “Isn’t there something more?” Once again, the answer is, “Yes!” And this is the half of the truth that Lennon was missing. This perfect world he imagined cannot exist in the here and now. Nor can it exist through the power and effort of mere humans. But it exists only in eternity. It exists only when Jesus comes back to make all things new. Creating a new Heaven and a new Earth, when all of the longings of our hearts, the cravings for eternity, and the desires for a world without pain and suffering, will become a reality!

In the book of Revelation we get a little glimpse of this world that is to come:

(Revelation 21:3-4) “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

And in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the day was prophesied when all will be made right for all eternity:

(Isaiah 11:6-9) “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like an ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

You see, what was on John Lennon’s heart as he penned the words to “Imagine” is written on every man’s heart. A day when all will be right. A day when this Earth will be full of love and goodness and evil and depravity will be no more. And yes, this is written on our hearts so that we will do all we can to go out and change things for the better now. But, even more than that, this idea that there has to be more, this notion of eternity, is written on our hearts because this ideal we long for is unobtainable in this lifetime and draws us to reach out for something more; to believe that there is indeed more beyond our short existence. And when we get to this point and we cry out, “Lord, if you’re there, reveal yourself to me.” When we reach that moment of true seeking, He promises that indeed He will show himself to us.

And when we go even further and take that next step to bow our knee to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that longing for eternity doesn’t go away, but it intensifies. Because it is at that moment we realize that our short years of what we call life are only the beginning. And that this place we call Earth, at least as we know it now, is not our true country. And that longing intensifies for what will be. When we will enter into everlasting life in our true country, a place that is beyond all of our wildest dreams, where our anticipations come without let down, where we live without pain or fear, where we stand awestruck forevermore in the goodness and splendor of our Maker, our Savior, our Lord.