Who Will Be in Heaven?

Heaven is as real as potatoes. I’m as sure there’s a heaven as I am that the sun will come up tomorrow. Heaven is wonderful beyond human imagination and will fulfill our deepest longings. It will surpass the beauty of earth because it is new and unspoiled, an uncontaminated Eden without pollution or destruction. We will have perfect, imperishable bodies untouched by sickness or deformity. No one will experience sadness, pain, or loss because blight and evil are altogether unknown. Above all, Heaven lasts forever because our host is God, Himself. Heaven is his and it is pure as He is pure.

The older I get, the more I long for Heaven. William Wordsworth famously complained that “the world is too much with us,” and I couldn’t agree more. It isn’t just that I’m older and weaker, although I am that. My heart aches for right in a world that seems overwhelmed by wrong. I crave kindness, love, and gentleness, but the world seems to praise the rude, arrogant, and godless. I’m weary of headlines brimming with murder and crime, and I’m so done with our society’s ridicule of what is wholesome and pure.

Could those of us who long for heaven be simply creating a dream world? Are our ideas merely the result of poor education and lack of sophistication, the hillbilly concepts of backwoods snake handlers? After all, on every hand brilliant scientists with their astute minds pooh-pooh the existence of God. How can I integrate my belief in Heaven with that? And—can my belief in an exclusive heaven survive alongside the teachings of the world’s other religions? Is heaven even real?

The Bible Teaches Heaven

Yes, Heaven is real. I make that claim because that’s what the Bible teaches. It’s important, though, to understand if what we believe about heaven is what the Bible actually does teach. What many people today believe about heaven is a conglomeration of the Bible, popular culture, superstition, and even other religions. What is it you believe?

The idea of an afterlife seems to have been around as long as the human race. People are fascinated with it. The spark of human personality is so compelling that we cannot imagine this short life will end it. The afterlife is invariably linked to our understanding of the soul, that part of us that surpasses the physical and sustains the human spirit beyond the grave. Common among various religions is the idea that eternity is a place where we will pay for our sins or be rewarded for our goodness. Many eastern religions understand the afterlife as a place where one is in transition from one life to another or as a condition in which we continue to improve or regress.

Most religions teach, in one way or another, that people die in various stages of readiness for the hereafter.

  • Hinduism teaches that you have to achieve perfection to earn heaven. Reincarnation gives each person endless chances to “keep trying” to get it right. This can go on forever.
  • Buddhism teaches that each person can ultimately achieve Nirvana, but that It is neither justifiable or reasonable to believe in an eternal heaven or hell. Meditation, good works, and kindness help each person find inner peace and transcendence from the physical world.  “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”[1]
  • Islam teaches that a physically rewarding heaven and horrible hell are real. Allah will compensate the faithful for what they did, or did not do, on earth. The virtuous will go to heaven; those who don’t measure up to the Quran’s teachings, to hell. In other words, going to heaven depends on what you do.
  • Mormons believe everyone will go to some level of heaven, and even that marriage will continue (for those who were wed in a Mormon Temple.)

Fake Heavens

 Today many people prefer to create a heaven with which they are comfortable. The recent flood of books and films that describe near death experiences and visions of heaven have clouded biblical teaching. Rob Bell, who famously founded the Mars Hill Bible Church later said that his book, Love Wins, led to a fallout with the congregation and forced him on a “search for a more forgiving faith.”[2] He now believes everyone will be saved and that orthodox Christianity is unpalatable.

He’s not the first—or the last—of a swelling number of Christians who are moving away from any idea of hell. God is perceived as “too loving” to send people to hell. Besides, any teaching that claims any lifestyle or habit is right or wrong is politically incorrect. I allege that a significant percentage of Christians have utterly abandoned any concept of living a holy lifestyle different from the lifestyles of non-Christians. Their “OMG” lifestyle contains just as much alcoholism, adultery, pornography, and self-indulgence as the rest of society. They ignore or explain away New Testament teaching that clearly labels sin for what it is. Is it any wonder that Christians like this readily follow the idea that what is “justifiable” or “reasonable” takes precedence over what scripture teaches about being a Christ follower? Such believers cannot imagine that they, their children, or loved ones might be excluded from heaven for any reason. They have therefore created a God who overlooks sin. But if God overlooks sin, Calvary was totally unnecessary.

What did Jesus teach?

Jesus said told Martha after Lazarus died, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  [John 11:25}. He told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could live with him in his father’s house [John 14:1].

 So far, so good. But Jesus also told Martha, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” To the disciples he added, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]. He also warns us, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” [Matthew 7:22-23] And that is a warning not just for ourselves, lest we deceive ourselves into thinking we are following Christ when we are not. It is also a warning that we not be sentimental as though everybody who is a good person who died is going to be in Heaven.[3]

Here’s the real issue: sin. Neither good works nor being a good person erase sin. Meditation is useful and can bring a more serene lifestyle, but by itself does not take care of the sin problem. God’s heaven is exclusively for the sinless. This is not snobbishness or saying that Christ followers are better than other people. Christ provides a way through his sacrifice. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” [Romans 5:6-9]. God is just and merciful. His overwhelming love sent His sinless son, Jesus Christ, to forgive our sins. Who could be more forgiving than that? But hear this: rejecting this last and best option will keep you out of heaven.

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NLT).

Ultimately, I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said in The Great Divorce, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell…. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.

 

[1] https://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/303.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Bell

[3] From an interview with John Piper https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/can-loved-ones-in-heaven-look-down-on-me

Becoming Ageless, or the Purpose of Aging

Are you fascinated with how people age? I am. A popular Internet feature called, “Where Are They Now?” features photos of show business legends when we knew them and as they look now. Usually the changes are dramatic. After fifty years, some people are unrecognizable. Others look almost the same. Why is that?

Henry Winkler before and after
Henry Winkler as “the Fonze” on “Happy Days” and in 2015

Well, there’s genetics, skin tone, and, with the complexity of the human body, multitudes of reasons for this. Ultimately, does it matter? Some say yes. They feel that their looks are too important to allow nature to take its course, which explains the surging worldwide phenomenon of cosmetic surgery and why Hollywood stars seem almost ageless.

But only for a while. Clearly, growing old is inevitable. Our bodies were never intended to live forever. Have you noticed that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead once, but not twice? Lazarus died like the rest of us will. It’s inescapable.

The question is not “How can you look good as long as you live?” but “What can you learn about being truly ageless?” Being ageless is a matter of the spirit, not the body.

Becoming ageless

Becoming ageless is the exact opposite of looking as young as you can for as long as you can. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take care of yourself or that you should dress sloppily. Rather, we must change our focus from the physical to spiritual. Dr. Paul Brand, trail-blazing hand surgeon who did groundbreaking work with lepers in India, was son of missionaries. Long after most people would have retired, his parents stayed on in India. And, after his father died, his mother flatly refused to move back to England and take up residence in “one of those graveyards for old people,” remaining until her death in a remote village in India where she continued her loving work among those to whom she had given her life. In later years, she disliked how she looked as she grew older and so she removed all the mirrors from her house so she could concentrate on her beloved villagers. They never saw an “old person,” but only a woman alight with Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit who lived with them until she was finally carried out on a stretcher. She clearly was ageless.

How vastly different from those around the world today who are obsessed with appearance: looks, and above all, a carefully crafted public image. Was there ever a time when more people spent more time creating a facade that they think will impress people but which is, in fact, far from reality? Besides the political and entertainment personalities who do this, don’t many of us put pictures and information on Facebook and Twitter that we think will impress people? Not to mention dating sites, where 10% of dating profiles have been determined as fake, particularly from men.[1]

I am trying to pay less attention to the way I am aging, but I confess that I am way too aware of my wrinkles and loss of muscle tone. It’s vanity, plain and simple, and I’m working to shift my focus. This is what God is telling me: He chisels away our mortality so we can reveal his image. This has to do with aging, healing, sickness—everything. The purpose of aging is to abandon the physical. When we expend Herculean effort to look young and vibrant, we miss the purpose of aging, which is spiritual vitality. Have you considered that feebleness is really a gift?  We are given youth only long enough to learn that our bodies are not the place to invest.  The death rate is 100%.

As a pastor I was sometimes given a window into the true nature of the physical. I watched a beautiful young woman in her late twenties decline shockingly from aggressive cancer. As her abdomen swelled with the virulent malignancy, her muscle tone and body fat elsewhere was cannibalized by the awful disease until she became skeletal and almost unrecognizable. Just as extraordinary, however, was the spiritual growth that blossomed within her ravaged body. When I saw her just before her death, I could not hide my immediate dismay at her awful appearance. She smiled and said, “It’s okay, Pastor. I’m abandoning this house very soon for one that is both perfect and eternal.” She glowed with an inner light that moves me even now as I recall that sacred moment. I could almost see the exchange taking place as her spirit outgrew and displaced her body.  I have never forgotten this moment when the true nature of physical life was laid bare before me.

God makes everything new.

In the film The Passion of the Christ Jesus says to his mother on his way to Golgotha, “I am making everything new.” These words of Christ actually come from Revelation 21:5, although I found them deeply moving and fitting during this scene. It is the risen, glorified, and resplendent Christ who explains heaven in John’s vision.   This is not just an overhaul, or a sprucing up of things that need repair. No, this is absolutely new, never before witnessed creation, just like at the beginning of time. In this way Time Works Backwards.[2] All the way back to Genesis before the fall. Unspoiled. Unpolluted. Untouched by sin. Forever beyond the ravages of time, because time will be gone. Forgiveness, grace, acceptance, and healing will have finally and completely accomplished their purpose. And we will have a new body, not a clumsy remake!

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven….Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

[1] https://blog.siftscience.com/2016/what-percentage-of-dating-profiles-are-fake/

[2]  Phrase from The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

The Truth about Getting Old

“You’re not old, grandma, not really old!”  One woman’s five-year-old granddaughter comforted her about turning 65 and, holding her face in her hands, assured her that she really was still a valuable person.  Getting old is a problem if even little children don’t want you to become an old person. Why?  Where does a little child get the idea that old is bad?

Today when our youth oriented society hears “old,” they immediately conjure up images of incontinence and vacant-eyed Alzheimer’s patients. It seems that most everyone in this country associates getting old with bad things: poor health, deteriorating appearance, being dependent on others, and even irrelevance. “In the workplace, if you reach a certain age, you’re getting a message that you really should get out of the way, make room for younger people, and at the same time, getting a message that you’re a burden on society if you do.”[1] It is almost to the point that to refer to someone as “old” is offensive.  And we do not like to talk about dying. But that’s another blog.

Did you ever think about being old when you were young? I never did. That happened to someone else, like my parents. Mostly I never even thought about it. It was at my fiftieth birthday party that the “old” jokes started coming out. We all laughed when somebody gave me an application for AARP. It was hilarious that I was given a cane with a horn on it. Other gifts were a magnifying glass, a nose hair trimmer, a couple of quarts of prune juice, and a box of Depends. This was all good-natured fun and we loved it.

But now–suddenly, (if you can call two decades “suddenly”)—here I am, almost 72. Now, don’t immediately jump to my defense and say, “That’s not old!” It’s okay. However, my body and mind are undergoing something big, and I want to talk about it.

I have found myself woefully unaware of the profound effects aging can have. On top of that, I am surprised about how intensely these changes affect me when I thought it would be “no big deal.” And, if I fulfill my parents’ genetic legacy, I’m just a novice at aging with decades still to go.

Growing old: the bad news.

  • Aging changes your body, like it or not.

I used to think, when looking at my parents, “Why do they look so sad all of the time?”  Now I see those same expressions on my face! It was not sadness, disapproval, or anger. It was gravity! We praise those who, like actress Cicely Tyson, are still starring in Broadway shows at 90, but the truth is most of us will not be this vigorous at 90, even if we exercise, eat right, and keep a great attitude. Our bodies wear out, period. We wear out at different rates and from different things, but we do wear out. Genetics deals each of us a different hand when it comes to aging. I hope that you’re in the majority of the population who do not have arthritis. However, neither Karon nor I can wear the shoes we used to because our feet hurt too much. Your hair may be white but your face is still smooth. My hair may still be mostly brown, but my face looks like a road map.

We find our list of doctors growing to include urologists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, rheumatologists, and, for some, oncologists. Our shopping trips now take us to aisles at Walmart we never expected to be in. We look around, embarrassed, when we select Depends Shields, “for drips and dribbles.” (I can imagine the young graphic artist who designed this package rolling his eyes. He never imagines that he, too, will need such things.) We ask people to speak to our left side because that’s our good ear. And why does everyone mumble these days?

The Mayo Clinic suggests that we can expect these changes as we grow older: your cardiovascular system, your bones, joints, and muscles, your digestive system, your bladder and urinary tract, and your memory.[2]

  • Aging can change your mind, like it or not.

Most of us older people have moments when we can’t remember where they put our keys or forget or confuse people’s names. Like the two couples below…

Two elderly couples were enjoying friendly conversation when one of the men asked the other, “Fred, how was the memory clinic you went to last month?”

“Outstanding,” Fred replied. “They taught us all the latest psychological techniques, like visualization, association, and so on. It was great. I haven’t had a problem since.”

“Sounds like something I could use. What was the name of the clinic?”

Fred went blank. He thought and thought, but couldn’t remember. Then a smile broke across his face and he asked, “What do you call that flower with the long stem and thorns?”

“You mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s it!”

He turned to his wife, “Hey Rose, what was the name of that memory clinic?”

Some normal, mild memory loss comes to almost all of us with aging, but many will face more serious cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. (My mother died of Alzheimer’s.)

  • Aging robs us of family, friends, and independence.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, 800,000 people in the US are widowed each year. 87% of those are women. Loss of a spouse is ranked as the number one stressor. 60% of these widowed (men and women) will experience a serious illness such as cancer, shingles, or heart disease in the twelve months following that loss.[3] In addition to this there is an increased likelihood that a recently widowed person will die (between 30% – 90% in the first three months and around 15% in the months thereafter). This is one of the best documented examples of the effect of social relations on health.[4]

cw-shultz
My Mom and Dad, Clair and Retha Shultz in 1999. He died in 2003.

The loss of independence is extremely difficult. I remember someone called me after church one Sunday and said, “Dave, I followed your parents home from church today and your Dad was all over the road.” Not only that, but he was parking half on and half off the curb. More frightening was the thought of the accidents that might happen. We finally had to insist that my Dad relinquish his driver’s license.

As he entered the nineties, my Dad struggled with a deep sense of irrelevance. Not only was his car gone, but so were his study and woodworking shop, two places that defined him. Then his mind began to fail, as did his ready wit. When I look in the mirror I see my Dad’s wrinkled face looking back at me. I am trying to prepare myself for these contingencies.

  • Age can diminish spiritual vitality.

The Bible talks a lot about age and offers many examples of people who maintained or lost spiritual vigor. Notable is King Solomon: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 11:4 (NIV).

Dan Davis, a Lifeway author, writes[5]: “Notice how this verse does not begin. It does not begin ‘When Solomon was young and imploring the Lord for wisdom’ or ‘When Solomon had just completed building the temple….No, it begins ‘When Solomon was old.’”

Worldliness, you see, creeps in slowly….it sits down and talks like a friend. Worldliness does not, at first, talk to you about bad things. It just talks to you about…things. Before long trivia fills your mind. Television programs, games, and doctors’ appointments become the focus of your days. And slowly, the eyes of your heart become heavy, start to close, and eventually you fall asleep. You stop reading the Bible, stop praying, and stop thinking about God. And that was Solomon’s undoing. Solomon was still smart, but he lost his focus and abandoned his first love.

Constructive responses to growing old.

 Even in the face of such daunting statistics, we can face the future with hope and joy. David Roper in Our Daily Bread [6] observes, “Old age does not have to focus on declining health, pining over what once was. It can also be full of tranquility and mirth and courage and kindness, the fruit of those who have grown old with God.”

  • The human spirit can transcend difficulty.

ree-glamor-shot-2005
My Mom, Retha Shultz, posing for a “glamour shot” at 90. Mom lived until she was 97.

I am blessed with stellar examples of this upbeat and give confidant attitude. My Mom used to say that “old” was one decade beyond wherever she was. She meant by this that she would not let a fatalistic and downcast mindset overtake her.( You can read her story here: That was then. This is now.)

flo-on-ferris-wheel-columbus-oh-2007
My mother-in-law, Flo Neal, riding the Ferris wheel at the Ohio State Fair in 2006, the year before she died at 1986.

My mother-in-law, Flo Neal, became noticeably more vibrant in her eighties. She refused to allow pain or handicaps to limit her. In fact, we didn’t know almost until her death that she had terrible pain in her legs from peripheral arterial disease. Until the day she died, at 86, she disciplined herself to reach out to her neighbors and friends, many of whom still testify to her dynamic spiritual impact.

  • This body is just our temporary home. Our spirits are eternal.

Paul’s illuminating words underscore this essential truth. “God, who first ordered ‘light to shine in darkness’, has flooded our hearts with his light….This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:6-7, J.B. Phillips). We must remember every morning that our fragile and transient bodies are but a short-lived residence for our spirits, which are unconquerable!

David Roper, who I quoted above, must use a walker because of peripheral neuropathy. “I’m trying to learn, however, that my limitation, whatever it may be, is a gift from God, and it is with this gift that I am to serve Him….Seeing our so-called liabilities this way enables us to go about our business with confidence and courage. Rather than complain, feel sorry for ourselves, or opt out, we make ourselves available to God for His intended purposes”[7]

  • Being active can vastly improve the years we do have.

helen-karon-and-dave-90th-b-day-june-2012
Karon, Helen, and I in Seattle at her 90th birthday party in 2012. She’s still going strong!

Medical science continues to discover how vitally important exercise is for the human body, no matter how old you are. Helen Flynt, my adopted mother, now in her mid-nineties, still walks three miles a day, a longstanding practice that surely contributes to her energetic schedule. In a recent email, she told me that, “I try to limit activities to two a day, if possible” (in addition to walking, of course). She also attends special events, such as a Regional minister’s meeting, a three-day affair in Portland (she lives in Seattle), a Mariner’s baseball game, and regularly is involved in weekly church functions and monthly interest groups, such as Quilter’s Anonymous. Until a year or so ago she also was in the Senior Swingers Orchestra that performed several concerts a year, but she dropped out because “it was taking too much time for rehearsals and programs.” I am exhausted just contemplating this schedule.

Obviously, Helen’s energetic lifestyle is beyond many of us, but we all can exercise, even if it’s only walking regularly. Karon and I play tennis three times a week. Don’t imagine us leaping across the courts with tanned and muscular bodies. No, but we do play doubles with other seniors, a great way to enjoy the sport when your joints complain. Most in our group are old hands at joint replacements, cataract surgeries, and back surgeries like mine. As beneficial as the exercise is the hour and a half we spend laughing three times a week. The point is to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Move, move, move. Your body is built for exercise.

  • Our spiritual life is capable of endless growth and enrichment!

Even as our bodies weaken, our spirits can blossom as never before. I love this promise from Psalm 92:12-15

But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.

For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.

They will declare, “The Lord is just!
He is my rock!
There is no evil in him!”

Many of us are still busy with activities, travel, and hobbies. Even in retirement it is easy to let time for Bible reading and prayer slip away. How tragic if now, with flexible schedules, we slide God and His Word to the back burner. This is why illnesses, pain, and difficulties can be our friends, because they make us realize our need for constant connection with God.

arlyne-wells
Arlyne Wells (taken from her Facebook page in 2016)

Arlyne Wells was in a dreadful automobile accident twenty-four hours after her high school graduation in 1989. Left a quadriplegic for the past twenty-seven years, she exudes an outgoing positive attitude and daily uses her Facebook page to post uplifting and positive scriptures and quotations. She has a great sense of humor. She surely faces constant and enormous physical and emotional challenges, disappointments, and pain, yet she chooses to invest her time by cultivating her relationship to God and encouraging others. This focus allows her to keep upbeat and optimistic rather than allow her handicaps to defeat and discourage her. Arlyne is not old but she is facing many challenges typical of old age. She is doing it with grace and a growing spiritual vitality born of her strong will and intention to help others.  I want to do this.

[1] Laura Carstensen @ http://www.npr.org/2016/02/06/465819152/times-have-changed-what-should-we-call-old-people

[2] See the full article here http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/aging/art-20046070  This article also suggests the best ways to stay as healthy as possible.

[3] http://www.widowshope.org/first-steps/these-are-the-statistics/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2636447/

[5] http://www.gospelproject.com/2013/01/07/creeping-worldliness/

[6] “ Red Hackle,” Our Daily Bread, September, October, November 2016, November 27, Our Daily Bread Ministries, PO Box 2222, Grand Rapids, MI 49501-2222

[7] Ibid. “This Gift.”

You Matter to God

Does God really care about all of the details of your life? After all, our world’s population is increasing at 80 million per year! The headlines scream about refugees, wars, terrorism, hunger, and that we’re running out of clean water. With so many big things for God to take care of, how can he possibly care about my MRI or your granddaughter’s college tuition? Well, he can.

God is up for it.

  • collage for DNA copyWhen you think for a moment about our world, it’s quickly apparent that the world’s Creator has no trouble with details. In fact, He obviously has a passion for details! (Stay with me for a moment!) Our world’s vast and impossibly complicated ecosystems function in scientific and biological precision to support life in millions of ways. For example, the earth is exactly the ideal distance from the sun to support life. Think of all of the details that have to be just right for life to exist, whether it’s gravity, sunlight, the salinity in the oceans or composition of the soil, it all works perfectly together. Supporting this whirling planet overflowing with vibrant life forms is the mathematics of God. When we tap into the tiniest part of it, we find things like this. (There are endless examples.)Plants almost seem to perform mathematical calculations, allowing them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn when photosynthesis can begin again.
  • Ram's hornsRam’s horns grow in a precise spiral and geometrical alignment to the animal’s head so that, even though they can weigh thirty pounds (more than all of the animals bones weigh together), the animal is never unbalanced.
  • fibonacci1The centers of sunflowers and daisies grow in opposing spirals. They are not only beautiful to look at, but mathematically perfect, allowing the maximum number of seeds to grow in the least possible amount of space. Some sunflowers have 55 different spirals going left and 21 going right.
  • DNA is the genetic code that makes every living thing either an animal or plant. The arrangement of DNA in that meticulous double helix determines whether a plant will be a geranium or soybean and whether an animal will be a fish or an amoeba. I’ve added an endnote with a layman’s explanation of this[1], but let’s just say that God creates and arranges these unbelievably complex cells so that we, every person, animal and plant, is unique. 7.4 billion people—and counting—and none of us will ever be like another, each of us has unique fingerprints, tongue prints, toe prints, and capillary patterns in our retinas, among hundreds of other unique features.
  • starsGod has named every star. “He determines the number of the stars: he gives to all of them their names.” Psalm 147:4 (Science’s best guess of how many stars are in the “observable” universe: 10 trillion galaxies times 100 billion stars in each galaxy…and no one knows how large the universe is…)
  • God catalogs every single creature. “I know every bird on the mountains,and all the animals of the field are mine.” Psalm 50:11 (8.7 million species and counting. Again…an estimate)
  • hair“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Luke 12:7 (NLT) (The most recent estimate I could find is that each of us has about 37.2 trillion cells in our body)

 

Not only can God do it, He loves to do it…

God is crazy about us

God misses nothing and has planned every detail of our present and future. He takes supreme delight in doing this and has been doing it since before the dawn of time.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. [Italics mine] (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son (Ephesians 4:1 The Message). 

That lavish gift-giving culminated in our glorious and incomparable Christ.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16 NLT).

God’s fabulous purpose in all of this was to remake Eden, i.e. heaven, where humankind would dwell with him in a perfect world at last. Jesus explained this to his disciples in John 14:1-3:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am (NLT).

So what does this mean to you?

  • You are not alone and you never will be alone.
  • You never need to wonder whether your tiniest thoughts, desires, or hurts—seemingly unimportant to anyone else—are too insignificant for God. If He even keeps track of the hairs on your head don’t you think that he wants to know everything about you?
  • God longs for your most intimate friendship. He looks forward to every word you tell him. In other words, when you spend time with him, you make his day. So few people, even Christians, care about God as a friend. Millions of Christians seldom think of him except on Sunday. Millions more only think of him when they are in crisis. Even so, He welcomes every thought of him and daily sends his Spirit and His angels to and fro throughout the world to bless, encourage, and open the hearts of children, men, and women because He doesn’t want anyone to perish apart from Him.
  • God’s intense longing for intimacy with us is fueled by his keen knowledge of the unspeakably agonizing and lonely eternity for those who refuse his love. If everyone were going to be saved, God never would have bothered sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
  • Your friendship and relationship with God is capable of endless enrichment, but only if you consciously cultivate it. Your peace in life is in direct correlation to the amount of time you spend with God.

Don’t wait another moment. Start the conversation. You don’t even have to tell him your name. He already knows everything about you.

___________________________________________________________father hugging child

[1]  Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live, and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell, and are passed down from parents to their children.

 

DNA STRUCTURE: DNA is made up of molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code. Similar to the way the order of letters in the alphabet can be used to form a word, the order of nitrogen bases in a DNA sequence forms genes, which in the language of the cell, tells cells how to make proteins. Another type of nucleic acid, ribonucleic acid, or RNA, translates genetic information from DNA into proteins.

The entire human genome contains about 3 billion bases and about 20,000 genes. http://www.livescience.com/37247-dna.html

 

No Curses Remain

 

family hug
God’s everlasting blessing

May God bend close to you today and hold you tightly in His big arms. There you will find endless peace, wonderful comfort, and limitless grace to face whatever comes your way. At times it seems that physical bodies are sabotaging us,  My degenerating spine and resultant pain remind me to contemplate Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 (NLT) “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves….Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

You and I may never meet on this earth, but we joyfully look forward to that Day when Jesus Christ will make everything right and new. In that Land where God Himself is light and all darkness, sin, illness, and death are forever banished, we will dance and never grow tired, we will sing and never lose our voices, we will visit new friends and old, and we will finally understand every marvelous nuance of God’s Word because we will sit at His feet and He will explain all things to us. We will live in that new Eden where we visit with God in the cool of the evening. There God’s angels will show us “a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. We will see it flowing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grows a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. These trees produce healing for all physical, spiritual, emotional illnesses. We will all splash like children in those waters [1] (which are the source of those miraculous healing pools of Bethesda [2]).

No curses remain. There are neither genetic defects nor agonizing memories of abuse. No bullies, hatemongers, or tyrants will be present. Never again will we see, experience, or even hear about wickedness, evil, murder, or war, for God is the King and this is His Kingdom where the wolf and the lamb will live together and a little child will lead them[3]. The throne of God and of the Lamb is there, and his servants worship him. And we will see his face and there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on us and in us. And we will reign forever and ever.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

[1] Adapted from Revelation 22

[2] John 5:2-4 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches waiting for a certain movement of the water, for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water. And the first person to step in after the water was stirred was healed of whatever disease he had.

[3] Isaiah 11:6

I Will Take Care of You

In earlier blogs I have talked about my pain from a degenerating spine. Surgery in October of 2014 promised relief which did not materialize. More recent tests have revealed multiple issues and my surgeon has declined further surgery at this point. For the last year I have managed pretty well with pain medicine and even enjoyed a trip to Florida for our fiftieth wedding anniversary. In recent days, however, new pain episodes have occurred which impeded walking. Fortunately this pain has been temporary and passed in a day or so.

These episodes have made me think. If you’re like me, you usually jump to the worst scenario. Will I have to use a wheelchair? Will I be able to walk? Will we have to sell the house? The fact that my mother spent the last twenty years of her life in a wheelchair lurks darkly in the back of my mind.

My wife, Karon, is always super helpful at times like this to keep me level-headed. She is good at balancing compassion with level-headedness, and and so I am going to return to the doctors and see about additional spinal injections. Yet I wonder…

God speaks

light streaming through forestA couple of days ago I went into the bathroom late afternoon for medicine. My hamstrings were aching terribly and the new pain was on my mind. Out of the blue God spoke: “David, I will take care of you.” I have learned to recognize these rare moments when God intervenes with a word for me, but these unexpected words of comfort were clear and incontrovertible. They were not whispered but almost shouted into my ear.

I don’t know if you believe in things like this, but I do. I am immensely grateful for such undeserved moments. Why the Creator of the Universe should care about me, much less communicate His care, is inexplicable. But God wasn’t done yet…

Quite often I waken in the night from troubling dreams. I think perhaps that my medication makes them more intense. These dreams are all similar: in every one I am in an exasperating situation, like showing up to preach a funeral only to discover I don’t know any of the people there, including the deceased. At times I am traveling and get lost in a large foreign airport teeming with strangers, or I arrive to speak at a convention, step to the podium, and discover the notes I brought are blank paper. My entire career involved preaching and traveling and perhaps my subconscious mind is processing years of unspoken fears. Occasionally I have enlisted prayer support from my wife and children when the dreams become darker and scarier.

God’s gift

Just one night after God’s message to me, “I will take care of you,” I had a vivid, brilliant, and completely different kind of dream. I found myself in an extensive building with soaring ceilings and beautiful appointments. An ingenious blending of indoors and outdoors gave the impression of timeless wonder. Wide corridors lined with planters and fountains opened into spacious rooms filled with light and peace. Everywhere there was a sense of tranquility, holiness, and safety. Beautiful, ethereal music somehow interpreted what I was looking at.

Tall windows looked out onto breathtaking views. Behind three churchlike windows tall trees in the bronze of autumn color stood majestically. They were backlit with the light of dawn. A gentle breeze drifted through their branches and leaves floated quietly down, spiraling, twisting, hovering, and sinking. The slightest tinkle of wind chimes could be heard in the distance.

Behind a wall of the palest aquamarine glass was a huge aquarium in whose transparent waters floated exotic fish and coral fans swaying in the warm current. There was no sound, but the movement of the fish and the corals seemed to produce their own music.

Hallways and alcoves were covered with iridescent mosaics that shimmered in hues of pale green, blue, and mother of pearl. High windows slanted light and shadows into the rooms and hallways where benches offered a many places to sit in contemplation.

There were many people present who met me with warm smiles and kindness; but no one intruded into my thoughts or interrupted my observation. I felt almost as though I were in a large hotel where the muffled sounds of conversation mixed with the clinking of silverware and china in a nearby restaurant. It was a holy and indescribably beautiful sanctuary that went on forever without effort, maintenance, or care. There was no hurry. There were no expectations. No lost notes. No pain. Only wonderful beauty, light, peace, and uninterrupted serenity.

As I awoke from this dream I again heard God’s voice, “I will take care of you.” I am not sure whether, for this blissful moment, God gave me a vision of heaven, that unimaginably beautiful place where death, fear, pain, and tears will be banished. Maybe God created this vision of the things I love, the world that feeds my soul, and beauty that transcends pain in order to let me know that the desires of my heart are important to him. But I know this, I am not alone and the One who redeemed me also cares for me now and forever.

I know something else. God cares for you, also. He will speak into your life and your pain if you will listen for him. Have you noted that in Scripture, whenever an angel came to someone, the first words were, “fear not?” This is God’s first and deepest desire for you. Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:1-3).

He will take care of you.

The Costs of Fear

It seems that everyone is fearful these days. The Nairobi, Beirut, and Paris terrorist attacks have immobilized us. Reporters talk of “palpable fear” in European cities. Everyone has an opinion about how nations, ours included, should respond. The desperate plight of refugees streaming out of the Middle East exacerbates an already difficult situation. Facebook mirrors this awful tension. The media pumps it up with suffocating rhetoric.

a

Of what are we afraid? In the 1950s we were terrified of atomic bombs and communists. America’s biggest fears in 2015 are, according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears 2015, (1) corruption of government officials,(2) cyber-terrorism, (3) corporate tracking of personal information (4) terrorist attacks, (5) government tracking of personal information, (6) bio-warfare, (7) identity theft, (8) economic collapse, (9) running out of money, and (10) credit card fraud.[1] Today in late November, many Americans are afraid of Muslims, the takeover of our nation, and further erosion of our cherished ideals.

 

These huge global and national fears are shoveled on top of the things that regularly sprout anxiety and tension into our lives. Senseless, random crime unnerves us. Winter snow and ice may sabotage Thanksgiving and Christmas travel plans in clogged airports and on freeways. Family tensions twist the happiness and joy out of get-togethers. We all face different stressors such as insufficient income, high job stress, or family dysfunction. Deep inside are the unspoken fears we seldom voice: we are afraid of ending up with a stroke in the back room of a convalescent home reeking of urine. We are afraid of failing, afraid of embarrassing ourselves if somebody knows us as we really are, and afraid of not being good enough. No wonder many people are anxious and afraid.

 

Fear can be a good thing when it keeps us from stepping on a rattlesnake. If fear prompts you to lock your doors and to look before you leap, that’s a good thing. But long-lasting fear is not only unpleasant, it is dangerous. It raises blood pressure and fosters depression. When afraid, we make poor choices. We may react too quickly or so slowly that we put ourselves in harm’s way. When fear overtakes a city—or a nation—people get hurt or killed. Fear of others produces riots, looting, and mayhem. Fear starts wars.

 

Ultimately, fear destroys your hope for the future. This is perhaps its most costly outcome, because people with no hope and no reason to live will do just about anything—or nothing.

A Christian need not be fearful.

name tag 1 copyIt seems to me that Christians who live in fear misunderstand who God is. Perhaps they have not read the Scriptures that proclaim God’s sovereignty and power.[2] Maybe they have overlooked the fact that this is His world.[3] Could it be that they don’t know Jesus Christ, who left heaven to become a person like us, to provide salvation now and forever[4], as well as personal friendship and help? Maybe they’ve forgotten that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Possibly they never heard that Satan is a defeated foe[5] and those of us who trust Jesus not only have the power to always defeat him[6] but hold tickets to a front row seat for that Day when Jesus returns to set everything right and make all things new.[7]

 

If you are fearful, know that your feelings are normal. But faith must sit in the pilot’s chair of your life and heart. Christians need not fear anyone or anything.[8] I AM is our God. Do not live in fear. Do not allow the enemy to cloak your outlook with fear. Consider again the God you serve. No one can blemish or stain his name.[9] No one can change what Jesus Christ has done or will do when He comes again.[10] Distance yourself from all of the naysayers and fear mongers. Jesus said this:  “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you”.[11] Perfect love casts out fear.[12]

 

When you start to feel unsafe and wonder why God hasn’t swooped in to save you (physically), remember that Christians for generations have lived under oppression. Not only in the Roman Coliseum have Christians faced death; many today are being persecuted and killed just for professing faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word shows that God allows much of it for his own reasons but that He works ceaselessly in the midst of tyranny to bring people into His Kingdom. He promises victory of the spirit now to all believers.[13] Ultimately He will judge and bring to justice evil and those who work evil.[14] In the meantime, we are to proclaim His name and His Kingdom.[15]

 

Be reminded that these are the results of walking with Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [16]Fear and hatred are Satan’s plan for you, not God’s!

Walk in joy and peace

 

name tag 2 copyThe genius of the Christian life is Jesus Christ, himself. Not only has he saved us now and forever; not only has he promised us heaven so that we can be with him where he is[17]; not only has he promised us the twenty-four-hour-every-day friendship and help of his Holy Spirit;[18] but He faced every fear you and I will ever have and far worse. He walked through abandonment, loneliness, misunderstanding, betrayal, torture, and crucifixion, and conquered death. He’s the one who said, “Because I live, you, too, will live.”[19] “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” [20] “I will not leave you as orphans.”[21]

 

When fear shows up today and lays claim to you, say, “Excuse me! Not today! I am a child of God and Jesus tells me, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.’”[22]

[1] https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/

[2] Colossians 1:15-20

[3] Psalm 24:1-2

[4] John 1:12

[5] Revelation 20:10

[6] James 4:7

[7] Revelation 21:5

[8] John 14:27-29

[9] Philippians 2:6-11

[10] Revelation 1:17-18

[11] Matthew 5:43-48

[12] 1 John 4:18

[13] Ephesians 1:18-23

[14] Matthew 25:31and verses following

[15] Matthew 28:18-20

[16] Galatians 5:22-23

[17] John 14:1-3

[18] John 14:16

[19] John 14:19

[20] Matthew 28:20

[21] John 14:18

[22] John 14:1

a

What If There Were No God?

What If There Were No God?

The other day in that moment between waking and sleeping I thought, “What if there were no God? What if this is all there is?”

I lay there wondering what that would do to my most cherished values and beliefs. I got up and let Molly out. Soon the coffee was done and I carried a steaming cup to the recliner to watch the sun rise. Molly jumped up into my lap and was soon asleep.

“No God”? I couldn’t get my mind around it.

“No God” means a meaningless universe. It would mean that we are here by accident and that every fantastic, living, beautiful, inexplicable thing we witness every day of our lives appeared out of nowhere and will disappear in the same way.

creation“No God” means that human life immediately loses immense value. It would mean none of has a soul and that each of us is no more important than the individual lives of 950,000 species of insects or the billions of protozoa swimming in the farm pond. “No God” makes it possible to commit genocide and feel no pang of guilt. In a godless world those who have things are more important than those who don’t have things. You may as well kill the sick because they are only using up valuable resources.

“No God” means no Bible. No scriptures would guide us, teach us to love our neighbor, or say how important it is to forgive each other. No great men and women of God would have lived to leave us our priceless legacy. We would never read of the way God revealed Himself through prophets, angels, or his son, Jesus Christ. No artists would have been inspired by the Annunciation, the crucifixion, or the resurrection. Michelangelo never would have carved the divine Pieta or the majestic David. St. Peter’s Basilica would never amaze us with its sublime architecture nor any of the world’s other incomparable cathedrals.

A world without God would not have produced those Christians who left Europe to establish what is now the United States of America. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton Universities would never have been founded for they were established by Christians, as were University of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Cambridge University in the U.K.[1]

“No God” means no Jesus Christ.

No Jesus Christ means no redemption.

No redemption means no salvation.

No salvation means no heaven.

No heaven means annihilation at death. A godless world makes it a laughable exercise to even imagine being reunited with our dead parents or friends.

“No God” means no worship. No hymns would have been written. No glorious oratorios would be composed to proclaim, “He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” Our hearts would never be lifted up in worship. We would never be moved to tears with the love of God for us. Neither Christmas nor Easter would remind us of the greatest story ever told. There would be no such story.

“No God” means no missions or missionaries. The lives of millions would continue to exist in darkness and their bodies would remain ravaged by sickness for no one would have traveled to the far corners of the earth to proclaim the gospel. There would be no gospel. Billy Graham would not have preached on six continents and millions would never have accepted Christ but would still be lost. Countless hospitals would have never been built, clinics would never have been established, and orphans would be left by the hundreds of thousands in the  world’s bleak cities.

“No God” means no prayer. I have thought more times than I can count how utterly awful it would be to manange life without prayer. When human help is unavailable, when the help you need is beyond what any human could possibly do, or when no one cares what you’re going through: how would you survive without prayer? A Godless world surely would be a pitiless and pitiful place of unimaginable loneliness and desperation.mother-hugging-child-olympics

“No God” means no personal friend who sticks closer than a brother. Without God we would never hear of the Holy Spirit and never experience His warmest comfort, wisest counsel, or blessed peace in the midst of trouble. There would be no ministering angels sent by God to protect, bless, and carry out His will on earth as it is in heaven. No one would need to explain miracles, for there would be none. No need to talk about divine guidance. It would be massively absent. The human heart that longs for enlightenment would always be dark. Those who mourn would not be comforted. Those who suffer for righteousness sake would perish. The brokenhearted would remain broken. The unborn child would be discarded as carelessly as a rotten cabbage.

“No God” means no judgment. Can you imagine how awful it would be were we to have no hope that people will reap what they sow? What despair would pour into our lives if we thought that the criminal and murderer would never be judged or that the cruelest torturer would never pay for his crimes. How useless it would be to “hope for the better” because there would be no better—ever. Some claim that everyone will be saved. This blasphemy can only be believed if there is no God. And, in reality, everyone would not be saved, but lost.

Many people pose difficult questions about God, such as “If God is good, how do you explain evil?” and “If God is loving, why do good people suffer?” Some keen minds have found the proof of God too difficult or beyond human capability to understand. Some claim to be atheists. Others agnostics. Some even ridicule those of us with faith in God. Everyone must choose what to believe.

No God? For me, there are a thousand things easier to believe than this.

I believe that God does exist. I believe He does love the world. I believe He did send Jesus Christ and His Spirit. I believe His angels are at this moment winging in glorious ministry to the four corners of the earth.

I choose to believe in God. I choose to believe His Word. I choose to believe in Heaven and Hell and am happy to leave their population up to God the Father. Faith in God gives hope and meaning to the universe. It gives me hope. Faith in God gives warmth to life. Faith in God gives dignity to the human race. With a Creator God every life has meaning. Every life is precious. Good is rewarded. Bad is punished. Each person has value. I have value.

Man-Praying-with-Outstretched-arms-676x451I believe these things because I know God. I talk with Him each day. I read His Word that answers many questions if we will but look for those answers. What I know of God, of course, is itsy-bitsy, a mere speck of His vastness. But Jesus Christ said, “Because I live, you, too, shall live.”[2] And I plan on spending an eternity getting to know Him a lot better.

Even were I to discover upon death that my faith was ill-founded, it would be worth it to have lived as though He loves me, to have believed he helps me, and to begin each day with new hope for tomorrow.

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/christianity/harvard-yale-princeton-oxford-once-christian

[2] John 14:19