Category  |  Heaven

A Good Ending

As the lights dimmed and we prepared to watch Apollo 13, my friend said under his breath, “Shame they all died.” I watched the movie about the 1970 spaceflight with apprehension, waiting for tragedy to strike, and only near the closing credits did I realize I’d been duped. I hadn’t known or remembered the end of the true story—that although the astronauts faced many hardships, they made it home alive. 

In Christ, we can know the end of the story—that we too will make it home alive. By that I mean we will live forever with our heavenly Father, as we see in the book of Revelation. The Lord will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) as He makes all things new (vv. 1, 5). In the new city, the Lord God will welcome His people to live with Him, without fear and without the night. We have hope in knowing the end of the story.

What difference does this make? It can transform times of extreme difficulty, such as when people face the loss of a loved one or even death themselves. Though we recoil at the thought of dying, yet we can embrace the joy of the promise of eternity. We long for the city where no longer will there be any curse, where we’ll live forever by God’s light (22:5).

Joy and Justice

At a conference in Asia, I had two eye-opening conversations in the span of a few hours. First, a pastor told of spending 11 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction before he was cleared. Then, a group of families shared how they had spent a fortune to escape religious persecution in their homeland, only to be betrayed by the very people they had paid to bring about their rescue. Now, after years in a refugee camp, they wonder if they will ever find a home.

In both cases, victimization was compounded by an absence of justice—just one evidence of our world’s brokenness. But this vacuum of justice is not a permanent condition.

Psalm 67 calls on God’s people to make Him known to our hurting world. The result will be joy, not as a response to God’s love but because of His justice. “May the nations be glad and sing for joy,” says the psalmist, “for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth” (v. 4).

Although the Bible writers understood that “equity” (fairness and justice) is a key component of God’s love, they also knew that it will only be fully realized in the future. Until then, in our world of injustice, we can serve to point others to our God’s divine justice. His coming will see “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). 

When Beauty Never Ends

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

Living in Tents

Growing up in Minnesota, a place known for its many beautiful lakes, I loved to go camping to enjoy the wonders of God’s creation. But sleeping in a flimsy tent wasn’t my favorite part of the experience—especially when a rainy night and a leaky tent resulted in a soggy sleeping bag.

I marvel to think that one of the heroes of our faith spent a hundred years in tents. When he was 75 years old, Abraham heard God’s call to leave his country so the Lord could make him into a new nation (Gen. 12:1–2). Abraham obeyed, trusting that God would follow through on His promise. And for the rest of his life, until he died at 175 (25:7), he lived away from his home country in tents.

We may not have the same call as Abraham did to live nomadically, but even as we love and serve this world and the people in it, we may long for a deeper experience of home, of being rooted here on earth. Like Abraham, when the wind whips our flimsy covering or the rain soaks through, we can look with faith for the city to come, whose “architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). And like Abraham, we can find hope that God is working to renew His creation, preparing a “better country—a heavenly one” to come (v. 16).

A Little Bit of Paradise

Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.

I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).

Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.

From Grief to Joy

Kelly’s pregnancy brought complications, and doctors were concerned. During her long labor, they decided to whisk her away for a cesarean section. But despite the ordeal, Kelly quickly forgot her pain when she held her newborn son. Joy had replaced anguish.

Scripture affirms this truth: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (John 16:21). Jesus used this illustration with His disciples to emphasize that though they would grieve because He would be leaving soon, that grief would turn to joy when they saw Him again (vv. 20–22).

Jesus was referring to His death and resurrection—and what followed. After His resurrection, to the disciples’ joy, Jesus spent another 40 days walking with and teaching them before ascending and leaving them once again (Acts 1:3). Yet Jesus did not leave them grief-stricken. The Holy Spirit would fill them with joy (John 16:7–15; Acts 13:52).

Though we have never seen Jesus face-to-face, as believers we have the assurance that one day we will. In that day, the anguish we face in this earth will be forgotten. But until then, the Lord has not left us without joy—He has given us His Spirit (Rom. 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8–9).

Promise of a Peaceful Home

Sixty-five million. That’s the number of refugees in our world today—people who have had to leave their homes due to conflict and persecution—and it’s higher than it’s ever been. The UN has petitioned leaders to work together in receiving refugees so that every child will get an education, every adult will find meaningful work, and every family will have a home.

The dream of making homes for refugees in crisis reminds me of a promise God made to the nation of Judah when ruthless Assyrian armies threatened their homes. The Lord commissioned the prophet Micah to warn the people that they would lose their temple and their beloved city of Jerusalem. But God also promised a beautiful future beyond the loss.

A day will come, said Micah, when God will call the peoples of the world to Himself. Violence will end. Weapons of war will become farming tools, and every person who answers God’s call will find a peaceful home and a productive life in His kingdom (4:3—4).

For many in the world today, and maybe for you, a safe home remains more a dream than a reality. But we can rely on God’s ancient promise of a home for people of all nations, even as we wait and work and pray for those peaceful homes to become a reality.

Not One Sparrow

My mother, so dignified and proper her entire life, now lay in a hospice bed, held captive by debilitating age. Struggling for breath, her declining condition contradicted the gorgeous spring day that danced invitingly on the other side of the windowpane.

All the emotional preparation in the world cannot sufficiently brace us for the stark reality of goodbye. Death is such an indignity! I thought.

I diverted my gaze to the birdfeeder outside the window. A grosbeak flitted close to help itself to some seed. Instantly a familiar phrase popped into my mind: “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it” (Matt. 10:29 nlt). Jesus had said that to His disciples as He gave them marching orders for a mission to Judea, but the principle applies to all of us. “You are worth more than many sparrows,” He told them (v. 31).

My mom stirred and opened her eyes. Reaching back to her childhood, she used a Dutch term of endearment for her own mother and declared, “Muti’s dead!”

“Yes,” my wife agreed. “She’s with Jesus now.” Uncertain, Mom continued. “And Joyce and Jim?” she questioned of her sister and brother. “Yes, they’re with Jesus too,” said my wife. “But we’ll be with them soon!” 

“It’s hard to wait,” Mom said quietly. 

Singing with Violet

An elderly woman named Violet sat on her bed in a Jamaican infirmary and smiled as some teenagers stopped to visit with her. The hot, sticky, midday air came into her little group home unabated, but she didn’t complain. Instead, she began wracking her mind for a song to sing. Then a huge smile appeared and she sang, “I am running, skipping, jumping, praising the Lord!” As she sang, she swung her arms back and forth as if she were running. Tears came to those around her, for Violet had no legs. She was singing because, she said, “Jesus loves me—and in heaven I will have legs to run with.”

Violet’s joy and hopeful anticipation of heaven give new vibrancy to Paul’s words in Philippians 1 when he referred to life-and-death issues. “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me,” he said. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (vv. 22–23).

Each of us faces tough times that may cause us to long for the promise of heavenly relief. But as Violet showed us joy despite her current circumstances, we too can keep “running, skipping, praising the Lord”—both for the abundant life He gives us here and for the ultimate joy that awaits us.