Whenever someone asks me what heaven means to me, my first answer is always “hope.” In his book, Heaven: God’s Highest Hope, Max Lucado describes it so beautifully, as did our pastors in their sermons last Sunday. A beautiful scene — the end of our earthly journey and beginning of our eternal life — a moment that we do not want to miss. The moment that God, our creator speaks our name, fulfilling his promise to us from Ephesians 4:4, which says, “There is one body and one spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call.” I do not think that our finite minds can truly comprehend what our infinite Father has planned for us. Even in our wildest dreams, we cannot dream that big.
As a child, I knew the love of our heavenly father and the name of Jesus before I was old enough to speak it on my own or understand what it would mean in my life. My parents were both believers who raised us in a home filled with God and taught us all about it. We attended church faithfully as a family, and our lives were centered on loving and serving the Lord. I grew up knowing that all of this meant something to me, and I knew I could rely on and trust in the Lord. I definitely believed that Jesus was my savior, and I definitely believed in heaven. But, if I am being honest, I still had a real fear of death and what comes after. I lost some loved ones in my childhood to unexpected tragedy, and I think the feeling of having them ripped away without notice may have stoked that fear fire a bit.
As an adult, while my faith and knowledge grew, my fear began to subside. I began to see death and the beginning of eternity with more beautiful eyes. It was becoming a place of hope for me instead of a place of fear. My anxiousness about death began to turn into something more beautiful with the promise of heaven.
In 2007 my father was diagnosed, rather unexpectedly, with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It is not a well-known disease, and there is no known cause or cure. They told us he could be gone in two years or 10. No one really knew. In March of 2009, the very same day we visited c|Life for the first time, my father was admitted to the hospital. The common cold that you and I would treat with cough syrup and chicken soup would land him in the hospital for a week. He walked in on his own, but what we found was not the common cold. It was a rapid progression of his disease, and things were not looking good. He was in and out of conversations and consciousness, and we were made aware there was not much they could do. We were all by his side that night, but eventually took our children home to sleep and left my mother and my brother to spend the night.
Around 4 a.m. Monday morning, we received a call from my brother. He basically told my sister and I to wake our family, including the grandkids, and to get there as soon as possible. He said that our Dad had specifically asked to see all of us, and that time was of the essence. The next hour or two were a blur, but the moments after we arrived are crystal clear. He was up, alert and looked good. My dad, who accepted Jesus as his savior long before my birth, told us that the kindest man he had ever met was in the room with us. He told us he had to go with him, and he wanted to. But he said the man gave him time to say goodbye, but not very long. We each had beautiful moments with him, moments we will treasure forever. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.
After he spent time with each of us, he went to sleep. He never regained his voice again. 24 hours later, we were discussing the BiPap machine that was helping him breathe. It had basically begun to breathe for him. We were discussing things like hospice with the BiPap or turning off the BiPap to see what would happen. Eventually the decision was made to try turning it off, to see if his body took over for him. A paperwork glitch delayed the machine being turned off for an hour or so, and in that hour, Jesus took my dad home, all on his own, right over the top of the machine they were supposed to turn off.
I believe I was in the physical presence of my Savior, of my father’s Savior, that day. It was the grace and mercy of the Lord that provided for us as my dad was ushered from his earthly body and, one minute later, to his heavenly home and eternal life by “the nicest man he had ever met”. In those 24 hours, I got a glimpse of the hope of heaven, and my father gave the greatest gift he had ever given to me and to my entire family. His life and his testimony gave us hope. It was a witness to the promise that we have the opportunity to see each other again through Jesus Christ. What a faith legacy he left us. And on that day, with that hope, all my lingering fear was gone and replaced with a yearning for heaven, the day I will look into the beautiful face of the man who was in the room with us, and the day my heavenly Father calls my name.
One week ago, we received a text from Mini Camp that our 8-year-old had prayed his own prayer of salvation, one day before the sermon on heaven. To know that his eyes are set on eternal life with Jesus brings me to my knees. My prayer is that I can help him understand the beauty of heaven and the hope that it gives. I hope he will never live in fear, but in great anticipation and hope of what is to come.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, and kept in Heaven for you. — 1 Peter 1:3–4”
In this you rejoice though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though is it tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith with the salvation of your souls.
— 1 Peter 1:6–8
Our inheritance is kept safe for us in heaven. Unspeakable joy, reunions and beauty are awaiting us there. Our faith will be rewarded on that glorious day. This news makes the joys and sorrows of our earthly lives not only bearable, but something that ultimately becomes a source of our rejoicing. These trials give us a longing for the perfection of heaven, and a reason to hold onto our promised hope.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
— Colossians 3:1–4
I’ve never been afraid of going to Disney World. I remember the first time I went, I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited (which is crazy, because I was 25 years old)! That park has such a magical reputation that even young kids who have no real concept of what it is get very excited about it.
Unfortunately, heaven does not have that same magical reputation. Let’s be honest. We don’t get as excited about going to heaven as we do about going on vacation. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I have come to a possible answer: we don’t approach heaven as if it is a real place (like Disney World).
The only time most of us talk about heaven is at funerals, and even then we don’t talk about it as if it is a place for us to go. We talk about it as a place for the dead to go. Most of the time it feels like a nice story we tell people so they don’t feel bad about the fact that their loved ones died. It’s the same farm we send our pets to when we don’t want to explain death to our children. No wonder heaven seems like a lame place.
But I’ve got news for you: heaven is real! Heaven is not a place that the dead go, it’s a place where those who are very much alive go. Heaven was not created to be a place of comfort for the dead. Heaven is a place of ultimate goodness, fellowship, meaning, love and celebration, created for you by God.
Heaven is everything that you love, magnified by infinity. Heaven is relationships without pretense. Heaven is worship without separation. Heaven is meaningful work without stress. Heaven is laughter without pain. Heaven is playing without getting tired, growing without deteriorating. Heaven is everything you love in its ultimate form, including yourself. It is an eternal paradise, where you live in perfect fellowship with God. Heaven is not boring or monotonous. It is vibrant and dynamic.
Heaven is real, and it is what you were created for. Heaven is the reflection of God’s original design purpose for us. I believe that it will not be awkward or difficult like this fallen world often is, because it will be the world you were actually created for. We have so much to look forward to. Today, set your mind on the reality of heaven. Let it fill your heart. Dream about all thing things you will do there. Have conversations with God and other Christians about what you think it will be like. What would you like to do when you get there? Who are you excited to meet? Is there a food you want to try there that you can’t eat here? There are no allergies in heaven, so think about that! Set your mind on things above.
Let’s be clear. I don’t do evil. I cover my eyes in a movie when something is even a little creepy. I don’t pay anyone to scare me, so haunted houses and horror movies are definitely not my thing. I may be strong and somewhat brave, but I don’t feel I have anything to prove. All that being said, writing on the subject of hell didn’t necessarily have me jumping for joy. To be honest, I even told my Community Group that I would have rather skipped out on this one. But in preparing my heart and mind to write about the realities of hell, God has continually reminded me that he alone is God He covers me, strengthens me, guides me, protects me, goes before me, provides for me, sustains me, gives me peace, loves me through anything I face, inspires me and fights for me. Hell is real, but it is not a reality I will ever face. To say that I am thankful doesn’t even begin to explain it. I am redeemed. I am a daughter of the king, a child of God, and I will not spend a minute separated from my Father.
“You’ll never accept the glory of the gospel without accepting the reality of hell.” What a powerful truth that co-pastor Paul McDill shared with us last Sunday! It’s not that I am an ostrich living in the land of denial, but I definitely don’t spend a lot of time thinking about hell. I know that it is a real place where pain, suffering, regret, punishment, fear, darkness, claustrophobia, death and torment exist for eternity.
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
— 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
— Matthew 13:49–50 NIV
The mere thought causes a lump to rise in my throat, but far worse than any of these is that, for eternity, I would be separated from God. God is always greater. There is nothing that can take away from or add to him, but my choice to accept him as my Savior is what allows me to walk in the confidence, truth and peace that my place in eternity is with him in heaven. It is only through God’s love, sacrifice, grace and overall provision of his righteousness for mine that I am made whole in him. My salvation and home for eternity could never depend on me, but I did have to accept Christ as my Savior. Hell would be the eternity I would face without God. I am just so humbled and thankful for my Provider, my Way Maker, my Jesus, who longed for us to be made right with him and made a relationship with him possible.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”
— John 3:16–18 MSG
Satan is cunning. He is deceptive. He is a liar. He longs to entice us and make things appear good that just simply aren’t. He is crafty. That is why we have to be on guard.
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
— John 8:44 NKJV
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
— 1 Peter 5:8 NIV
Have you ever thought about a lion? He lays in waiting. He watches and silently sizes up his prey. He is a predator. Satan is the same. He watches. He looks for the places where he sees we are vulnerable. He knows our patterns. The word of God and God himself are his kryptonite, so we need to be ready. In the desert, Jesus gave us the best example and living illustration of how to stand against the devil: know God’s word and wage war with scripture (Matthew 4). Satan is just waiting for an opportunity to destroy our lives, but he is arrogant and deceives even himself. So call him out and put him in his place. He shudders at the very name of Jesus. There is no one that is a match for our God! If we are in Christ, Satan will never have the victory.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
— James 4:7 ESV
Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
— 1 Peter 5:9–10 ESV
It’s not every morning I wake up to find myself thoroughly studying the depths of hell and all that it entails. I’ve got to be honest: I have a Christian background, and I think I have done my best to gloss over that whole hell section. I mean, I’m saved — have been for most of my life — so hell seems like this really small detail that I get to skip over, like I have some sort of God-given Disney World FastPass.
But as I look up verse after verse on the topic of hell, I slowly realize the gravity and, more specifically, depravity of the entire concept.
If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
— Matthew 5:30
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
— Matthew 10:28
But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
— Matthew 8:12
Just as weeds are gathered up and burned in the fire so will it happen at the end of this world. The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will uproot from the kingdom everything that is spoiling it, and all those who live in defiance of its laws, and will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be tears and bitter regret. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
— Matthew 13:40–43
If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life he was thrown into the lake of fire.
— Revelation 20:15
And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where they beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
— Revelation 20:10
Most of the time when thinking of my salvation, I focus on the thoughts of being saved from this crooked, broken world, being promised a future with no disease, broken hearts or trauma. I focus on the hope I have in Jesus, in a gift of eternal life in a future, perfect world beyond this one. I feel relieved for being forgiven of all the truly terrible mistakes I’ve made, and how Jesus has thrown them out of his mind as far as the East is from the West. These thoughts are well and good, but they still sell the story of Christ short. He wasn’t merely saving us from this broken and depraved world. He came down to earth, sacrificing everything and taking the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, dying in agony to save us from what’s yet to come, from what’s beyond this world: a place that we can’t even fathom. A place where pain and hurt is so entirely intense that it destroys our very souls and lasts for all eternity. A punishment so severe that the devil himself is doomed to endure it. He saved us from that, each and every one of us that have placed our faith in him, solely out of his love for us. How do we skip over that so easily, so often?
Hell is real, or else Jesus wouldn’t have spent so much time on the subject. It is the future for each and every one of us if we don’t choose to believe in Christ and the salvation he has for us. With all that Jesus Christ has done for us out of love, I think one of the most remarkable is that he doesn’t force us to choose him. He wants us to make that decision ourselves. He wants us to choose and follow him through our own free will. The story is all laid out there, in a book that is thousands of years old. A story of a Creator, a perfect God, who sends his Son to save mankind whom he loves, by dying our deserved death, and redeeming us from our sinful nature and rescuing us from eternal damnation and separation from his everlasting love. It’s time to stop glossing over the subject of hell and selling our Savior short. The Gospel is remarkable and it’s time to share it for the remarkable story it is.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’
— 1 Corinthians 1:26–31
Living my life today in light of eternity means choosing to see myself, others and the world the way that God sees. All day long, most days, I am surrounded by people. So are you. In offices and classrooms, in hallways and in Starbucks, there they are — people. People who want, people who need. People who try our patience, people in a hurry. We’re in a hurry, too. With a lot to do and little time in which to accomplish it, we see a sea of faces, a crowd of people. Looking at them with my sin-broken eyes, they look like strangers. They look like barriers, bodies that stand between me and the front of the line, me and quitting time, me and my snuggly slippers at home on my couch, away from the throng of people.
But living my life today in light of eternity means choosing to see myself, others and the world the way that God sees. So little matters in light of eternity. So much that I value falls away when I consider a forever future with my Savior. I want to see people the way that he sees them.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
— 1 Samuel 16:7
In light of eternity, my vision is transformed. There are no people. There are persons, each unique and beautiful, each an image-bearer of my creative God. Each person is my Lord’s beloved, and he died for this one, for that one, for each of us, so that we all might spend our forever futures with him.
As you live today in light of eternity, let that light transform how you see. Each encounter with another person can be sacred, set apart to live out the example of Christ. Philip Yancey, in his book Rumors of Another World: What on Earth are We Missing?, points out that Jesus was the very first world leader who established a kingdom where losers are heroes. Instead of those with wealth, honor and privilege, Jesus chose to honor the poor and persecuted, the social rejects, the needy — people. A life spent like that is a life spent well, in preparation for a forever future with the One who made it possible. All because of his overwhelming love for people.