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Posts Tagged ‘heaven’

Jo 17Sometimes we need a gentle reminder of what life is all about, don’t we? I know I can become so focussed on what I am doing from week to week that I can easily forget the bigger picture. And that bigger picture is important because it helps me sort out my priorities in the best possible way and reminds me why I am doing what I am doing in my life. In short, it shows me my life from God’s perspective—and that always gives me much food for thought.

Last week held one of those big picture moments for me. One day, I decided to drive up to the Blue Mountains to see my lovely, older friend Joy, who is now in a nursing home. I crept into the room she shares with another older lady and found both of them sound asleep. So what to do? I did not want to wake my friend and perhaps disorientate her, so I decided to sit and wait—and reflect.

It was peaceful in that room. At one stage, a kind staff member came in and we chatted for a few moments, but apart from that, all was quiet, except for my friend’s gentle breathing and that of the other occupant. Joy looked so small and fragile and somehow defenceless as she lay there, yet she also seemed at peace. Around her in the room, her beautiful family had placed photos of themselves and pictures of the flowers Joy loves, as well as other items she can enjoy touching or looking at. As I sat there, I remembered how much she had enriched my life and the lives of so many others too, over the years. And that is the sort of richness that really counts, isn’t it—the richness of drawing others into a closer connection with God, of passing on the utterly gracious, forgiving love of God to others?

I know that, when the time comes, Joy will be filled with delight that she is finally in God’s presence, just as I believe God will be to welcome her home. She does not have great earthly riches, but her soul is so rich in God—and that richness has been shared with so many others along the way.

That very morning before leaving home, I read the following:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendour of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendour will not descend with him. Psalm 49:16-17

… But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

My friend Joy, and all of us, came into the world as defenceless, little babies, bringing nothing with us except ourselves. And all of us, including Joy, will leave this world equally defenceless, through age or illness or injury, taking nothing with us except ourselves. How important it is then for us to be rich in the things of God, to know deep within ourselves that we are God’s beloved children and to be content with loving and serving God and others! That indeed is ‘great gain’—the only sort of gain that really matters, when all is said and done.

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Jo 23One evening recently, our four-year-old granddaughter honoured me by inviting me to a special, imaginary event. Soon I found myself immersed in her pretend world and utterly charmed by the magic of the moment.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Maxine asks in her best ladylike voice, as she looks up at me with her beautiful, brown eyes.

‘That would be lovely!’ I respond, stifling a laugh as she carefully arranges her little, metal tea set just how she wants it on the arm of the lounge, while trying to hold up her pyjama pants that insist on falling down.

She selects cups, saucers and plates for us, telling me she will sit next to me while we drink our tea and eat our food. I watch as she pours our imaginary tea into those little cups and wonder what she is doing when she places two small stones on each of our plates. But Maxine’s running commentary on everything soon fills me in.

‘This is our food. Do you like egg? This one here is egg. It’s not the right shape, but it’s still an egg. And this little one is a ‘wadish’ (Maxine has yet to master those initial ‘r’s’). Do you like wadishes?’

‘I haven’t had one for a while, but they look pretty, don’t they, with their pink skin and white on the inside?’

‘Yes, these are very nice. Here you are!’

So together we sit, sipping our pretend tea and enjoying our pretend eggs and radishes. Maxine chatters on—and as I listen, my heart melts and almost hurts for her.

But her imagination—and that of her brother—also serve another purpose. One afternoon a few weeks ago, Maxine asked out of the blue, ‘Nanna, do you know what heaven is like?’ An interesting discussion ensued—almost as interesting as the one we had with Zain on another occasion, when he asked, ‘Granddad, are you older than God?’(!)  Yes, our grandchildren’s vivid imaginations not only enable them to play wonderful, pretend games, but also help them get their heads around such huge concepts as God and heaven. Right now, they may not grasp all the theological ramifications involved—but they sure are adept at imagining what God and heaven look like.

I hope Zain and Maxine never lose their wonderful imaginations. Perhaps they will become the writers or artists or inventors or business innovators of the future—who knows? But I hope and pray God and heaven become firm realities for them and that they never consider them to be mere figments of human imagination. I hope and pray they both come to know Jesus Christ, God become man, and experience the amazing reality of being born again as a child of God. And I hope and pray that one day they will see Jesus face to face—and be in absolute awe of his splendour and majesty that will surely far exceed even their wildest imaginations.

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honour and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” Revelation 5:13 New Living Translation

Can you imagine being part of that gathering? I hope you can.

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I never cease to be amazed at the new discoveries I make each time I read the Gospels. Just when I least expect it, God kind of ‘ambushes’ me with some truth that leaves me almost breathless with its profound challenge.

One day this past week, I was happily wending my way through John’s Gospel when I came to the following words:

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:2-5)

My mouth fell open as I registered the massive contrast in these words. On the one hand, here is Jesus, knowing full well who he is and that he has all power and authority from his Father God. But on the other, here is the all-powerful Son of God choosing to strip down, wrap a towel around him and undertake the humble task of washing his disciples’ dusty feet. It is almost too shocking to take in, and I can well relate to Peter when he objects strongly (6-10).

Yet even as I am trying to register what this means for me, I find it clearly spelt out by Jesus himself:

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, not is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (15-17)

But this is a slightly bitter pill for me to swallow. I’m not sure I want to negate myself and serve others. I want to do the interesting, exciting things in ministry. And that doesn’t include washing dirty feet or cleaning up after others or helping behind the scenes where my wonderful efforts will not be recognised. Yet Jesus says I will be blessed if I do these things. So how does that work?

And then, as God’s Spirit gently but firmly wrestles with my own rebellious spirit, I begin to understand. Jesus knew who he was, where he had come from and where he was going – no one could take those truths away from him. He also knew he was here to do his Father’s will. And right now, because of Jesus, I can live my life with this same sure knowledge. I know I am God’s precious child, totally loved, forgiven and accepted through Jesus. I know I was created in God’s image and have been recreated through faith in Jesus. And I also know that God has a place prepared for me in heaven that will last for eternity.

Is it really such a problem to choose the humble road, just as Jesus did? How does the highest honour in this world compare with the privilege of spending eternity with God in heaven? I may well, in theory at least, produce the greatest novel ever and be feted as the next Francine Rivers, but if I lose my servant heart, the heart that Jesus had, then it is all pretty meaningless.

So right now, I’m heading off to find that towel to wrap around my waist. How about you?

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The discussion flowed back and forth in our lounge room. Our son had just maintained to us that he does not fear God. What he meant, he hastily assured us, was that while he does stand in awe of God, he does not ‘fear’ God in the way we usually understand this word. God for him is a loving, forgiving Father and a close Friend whom he can approach at any time.

Also present in our lounge room was our new son-in-law, who comes from Ghana. And Kofi was determined to have his say too. He and our daughter Tina had just returned from a few weeks in Ghana, so the memory of what they had seen there was fresh in their minds. In Kofi’s hometown, all the houses have bars around them to stop people breaking in. And any showers, toilets etc outside the houses have locks on them – otherwise if you go out there at night, people can hide there and attack you. Yet virtually the whole town closes down on Sundays as most people go to church – and there are plenty of churches to choose from.

So what is going on here? Kofi explained that when his people still had their old gods, everyone could leave their houses unlocked and nothing would disappear. You see, the people were really scared of these gods and the power they had to bring down curses on you and punish you if you did wrong. But once they had their ‘new’ God, things changed. This new God was, and is, different – this new God is loving and kind and forgiving and understanding. So it seems the people aren’t scared to do wrong things because they know if they confess them, they will be forgiven. In their new-found freedom, they have forgotten about the fear of the Lord – and they have also overlooked what Paul says in Romans 6:1-2:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

But I suspect it isn’t only some people in Kofi’s hometown who live this way. How often have I myself had thoughts such as ‘Well, I’ll just go ahead and say that cutting comment or pass on that juicy bit of gossip. God won’t mind!’? Of course it’s wonderful that when we do repent and ask for forgiveness, God freely gives it to us. Yet surely it is right for us to remember who God is and that one day we will all stand before this awesome God and be called upon to give account for our lives?

Recently I read a comment written by Australian man working in the Middle East: In the West we’ve largely forgotten God’s wrath and chosen to focus on His love. We’ve created a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out God, who can only have one emotion at a time – and only the emotion we like. Yet the Bible continually reminds us that God is angry with those who rebel against Him. Hmm …  And I am also reminded of Hebrews 12:28-29:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire”.

So may we all continue to live our lives filled with awe of God – but also with the grace of God.  Let’s ‘fear’ – but not fear. And hopefully one day in heaven we will understand fully how God holds both of these in perfect tension.

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Two weeks ago I found myself in a unique situation.  A friend, Kerry Osborne, was recently awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in a competition run by the Black Dog Institute for an essay she wrote about helping the elderly cope with depression.  When the time came for the awards ceremony, however, she discovered it fell slap bang in the middle of a family holiday, so she was unable to attend.  Instead, she asked me to go and accept the award on her behalf.

Now I did see Kerry’s essay before she entered it in the competition.  She sent it to me for my comments, since I am a writer and also worked in editing many years ago.  I loved what she had written – it was a moving and heartfelt story of how she learnt to relate to her own parents in their respective illnesses, which were accompanied in both cases by depression.  I suggested only minor changes – Kerry has a lovely way of expressing herself and her writing is quite able to stand on its own merits. [To read Kerry’s essay ‘Bringing in the Light’, please click here and scroll down the page.]

When I arrived at the awards ceremony and explained I was representing my friend, I was promptly directed to one of the seats marked ‘reserved’ at the front of the room.  So there I sat among the other winners, waiting for the moment when Kerry’s name would be called out.  I expected they would just hand her award to me where I was seated – but no, I had to make my way out into the aisle and step forward just like the other winners to receive my friend’s framed certificate and shake the hand of the Member of Parliament who was so graciously presenting the awards!

Can you imagine how I felt at that point?  I was happy to be there, representing my friend.  I was pleased and proud for her – but I most certainly felt unworthy to be shaking that MP’s hand and marching off with my framed certificate!  I had not earned it.  It did not belong to me.  I had no claim to it at all – except that Kerry had written an email to the organisers to say that I had the right to collect that award on her behalf.

This experience gave me lots of food for thought over Easter, particularly as I reflected on the significance of Good Friday for me personally and for us all.  On the day Jesus died, he gave me the amazing gift of being able to stand before God and know I am totally loved and forgiven.  Jesus paid for this gift with his life – and even though I did not earn it at all, I have received the reward of his loving sacrifice.  One day I will be with him in heaven forever – but that’s precisely where the analogy with my friend’s award falls down.  Eventually I will hand that over to her when she returns from holidays – it’s not mine to keep.  Yet my acceptance as a child of God is something I will never have to give up, as Jesus himself says:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:27-28).

And that has to be the best ‘award’ ever – don’t you agree?

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