As a young boy, my first expectations of Heaven seemed dubious. I knew I did not want to go to the “other place,” but my perception of Heaven was skewed and ill-formed. To my childish mind, I wondered, “Was Heaven like church on Sunday morning?” If so, then, I foolishly reasoned, Heaven must be filled with acres of pews, every day was Sunday, every hour 11:00 am worship. Sadly, not a happy option for a lad. Our church house was sometimes hot. To my narrow mind-set, air conditioning was the option only of wealthy congregations or liberal denominations, and our little church was neither. Even worse, my Sunday wardrobe was more uncomfortable than the hard, unpadded pews my family occupied. Growing up in the 1950’s, kids had “Sunday clothes” – a special wardrobe (including dress shoes) worn only to church…or funerals, weddings or graduations. My mother chose a wool suit for me – unlined and itchy. I sat through Sunday School and church scratching. A sermon my childish fancy could not follow, an uncomfortable suit of clothes, a hard pew – would this describe eternity for the blessed? Not my idea of bliss! Even my Dad’s ever-present roll of Life-Savers candy was small and insufficient compensation.
Now, decades later and closer to age seventy than seven, my
view of Heaven has matured with me. I believe all that my heart
has longed for throughout my earthly pilgrimage are shattered
pieces of fallen man’s longing for things eternal. A longing, if
you please, for Heaven.
Inspired Scripture writers offer word pictures: a city, a garden, a kingdom. But my favorite description of Heaven comes from Jesus Himself, in John 14:2, where the Lord refers to Heaven as “My Father’s house.” In other words, Heaven is HOME for the believer. American poet Robert Frost describes home as “where they have to take you in because you are family.” When Christmastime comes, what believers celebrate is not the beginning of Jesus but rather His arrival on earth from Heaven. After all, He is the second Person of the trinity, so He is eternal. When Jesus refers to “My Father’s house” – he speaks with personal knowledge as well as divine authority. For many people, thankfully, nostalgic remembrances of home stir feelings of warmth, security, love, protection, acceptance. Heaven, our eternal home, is all that and more.
The holiday season prompts worshipful believers to remember that Christ came to die that we might be saved (John 3:16), that we might gain Heaven as our eternal home. My own reflections lead me to three important admonitions about our “Father’s House.” In the joy of Christmas, think about Heaven, and consider the following:
Be sure you are going to Heaven – examine your heart and life!
Years ago a sage speculated there would be two surprises in Heaven. The first surprise would be who IS there. The second would be who is NOT there! Scripture calls folks to “examine yourselves” to be sure you truly are Heaven-bound. “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are counterfeits?” (2 Corinthians
Even Jesus warned those who trust religion without a regard for a personal, life-transforming relationship with Him as Savior. In his sermon cautioning about the narrow gate, the Lord said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I [Jesus continues] will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
The reality is that (unless Christ’s return intervenes) we all are doing to DIE. The Bible warns, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Indeed, today IS the day of salvation – do not procrastinate. There is no second go-round after the grave. It is reported that worldwide, 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11,000 every hour. And so every day, some
250,000 men and women go into eternity – Heaven or hell.
Too many folk are like the comedian who said, “I know we’re all gonna die….I was just hoping there would be a cure before my turn comes.” In fact, there is a “cure” – it is the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross that people might be saved – He is the only way, the sure way! (John 14:6).
According to a Barna Research Group poll, a majority of Americans believe in life after death, as well as the existence of Heaven and hell. Sadly, their understanding is skewed by media, cultural popular opinions, and personal speculation.
In his modern classic book (per my view at least) titled HEAVEN, author Randy Alcorn reports that for every American who believes he is going to hell, another 120 believe they are going to Heaven. Alcorn writes, “This optimism stands in stark contrast to Christ’s words in Matthew 7:13-14, ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’”
As a young Christian, I heard a preacher describe Heaven as “a prepared place for prepared people.” He must have drawn on Jesus’ words in John 14:3, where the Lord promises believers, “I go to prepare a place for you….” My question to you is, “Are you PREPARED for Heaven?”
2. Think about Heaven – anticipate it!
Such an exercise is not escapism for the believer, it is realism. Being mindful of Heaven tempers one’s view and expectations of life. This is not all there is. Our earthly
lives are transitory and quite brief – “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” says the Book of James (4:14b). Imagine that! Even a long life is no more than the puff of steam from a boiling kettle on the stove.
Thinking about Heaven brings the eternal perspective to earth’s too often hollow and hostile days. This life is not all there is. There is more to come. Believers are not living just for the “now.”
Keeping the eternal perspective on life was a familiar spiritual exercise for Israel’s King David – it strengthened his faith, solidified his theology, and wound up his “can-do” endurance in living a life of faith… despite his enemies, obstacles and own personal short-comings. For example, in a transparent testimonial, the praise Psalm 37 is a confessional of sorts. David confesses that he envied the wicked. They seemed to prosper all the while living profligate lives without divine recrimination. But then David brings eternity into view, reminding himself and his readers that this life is not all there is.
Likewise, David gives an example of this exercise – thinking about Heaven, eternity’s perspective – in the much loved and often memorized Shepherd Psalm. I suspect David was an old man as he penned these lines. His stamina and stature both sagged. Perhaps unsettled by declining health and days, the man of God fortified himself by remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, and gained assurance by remembering
what was to come: “…and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6b). David thought about Heaven.
3. Tell others about Heaven – witness!
As a teenager in the 1960’s, growing up on the outer regions of the Southside of Chicago, I attended YFC (Youth for Christ) rallies held in the historic Moody Church in the heart of the Windy City, I’m old enough to quality for AARP membership, but still enjoy singing some of the choruses of my youth. One that particularly grabs me is a peppy little chorus about Heaven:
Heaven is a wonderful place,
Filled with glory and grace.
I want to see my Savior’s face
‘Cause Heaven is a wonderful
(Yes, it is a glorious, yes, it’s a fabulous)
Heaven is a wonderful place!
To sing the song was to tell others…about Heaven. As a believer in life’s fourth quarter, the zeal of my youth to tell others about Christ still stirs me. During this Christmas season, be mindful of Heaven and make an effort to tell others how to go to Heaven. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers….tell them. Holiday family gatherings create a moment perfect for the older generation to tell the younger just HOW they heard the gospel, knew their need of God and forgiveness, and the change Christ brought.
Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year 2017. ~ BRUCE PETERS