Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prologue to Book

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up: “Hey, you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up: “Father, I’m down in the hole. Can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by: “Hey Joe, it’s me. Can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”

The friend says: “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

This is a clever little story, but also undeniably true. Once we fall into grief, when we don't know how to get out of the hole of sorrow and despair over the loss of a loved one, we need a friend to show us the path to life again. In this book you and I will journey through the Scriptures together, seeking a way out of our present darkness into the light of God's eternal gift of Heaven.  Together we will see that the only lasting and satisfying solution to our grief is to fix our eyes upon God as He demonstrates His care for us through His Word.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Grand Finale

We have come to the last stop on this journey through the Scriptures. My goal in writing this book was to comfort you in your grief by the reality of Heaven. With Revelation 21 we have arrived at the most famous of all afterlife passages. I’m guessing that probably half of the sympathy cards I received after my son’s death quoted at least some of the following verses:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ ” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Having grown up in Massachusetts and then residing in Southern New Hampshire for many years I became accustomed to the phrase: “Reverse the Curse.” Any baseball fan would recognize this as the attempt of the Red Sox to overcome an 87-year drought of winning the World Series. That finally happened in 2004.

When I become a Christian in early adulthood, the phrase “Reverse the Curse” took on an entirely different meaning for me, which is epitomized by this portion of Scripture. On the cross, through Christ’s death and resurrection, the curse of our sin is eliminated. His work repaired the breach between man and God, allowing us access into Heavenly realms. The ultimate thrill will be when death is no more; when death is dead, there will be “...no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” The curse will be completely reversed. Isn’t that what we long for now?

Long ago Adam and Eve were privileged to walk with God in the Garden of Eden, and one day we will be granted that same delight. Our loved ones are experiencing this wonderful reality right now; they are in complete fellowship with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. “... and God Himself will be with them as their God.”

God has already wiped every tear from our loved one’s eyes; shouldn’t that image help wipe away ours as well?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Endurance

It has been said that Revelation, the final book of the Bible, is one of the most difficult books of Scripture to understand. That is a well-deserved reputation, which should make us cautious in interpreting it. Nonetheless, Revelation contains some of the clearest passages on Heavenly realities found in the Bible. For instance:

“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:12-13)

Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one knows about endurance. Every daily action calls for deliberate endurance: getting out of bed in the morning, showing up at work, answering phone calls, making dinner. The most routine tasks seem insurmountable when we are weighed down with grief.

But endurance in the faith is even more of a battle. We are so disappointed in God’s providence, so anxious about others, so fearful that someone else will be taken from us. Our minds are too confused to study the Bible and too distracted to focus on Sunday morning worship. Our hearts break with sorrow and our bodies hurt with various pains. And prayer? When we try, we can barely eke out a “Help me, God!”

How can we endure? By focusing our attention on the second of these verses. God is telling us to persevere because we have great treasures stored up in Heaven. Those of us who keep the commandments of God and our faith, weak though it may be, will eventually have rest from all our labors. God is telling us here that we are blessed; in fact, He says that twice in this passage. We should believe that we are blessed, and that we will be blessed, if we endure until the end.

What we do here on earth is mysteriously carried over into the next life. We only have glimpses as to how this will be manifested - but everything in the Bible is true.  Our deeds will follow us. There is some level of continuity between our lives here on earth and our lives in Heaven. Our loved ones understand this now, while we can only imagine. So we read and believe what God has promised, and so we let our souls be encouraged. A voice from Heaven has spoken to us, and we look forward to the rest from our labors that awaits us.

Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Have Mercy

Throughout this entire book we have been assuming that one day we will see our loved ones in Heaven. But what if you aren't convinced that your daughter or mother or sister really accepted the gospel as presented in the Bible? What if you are unsure as to the eternal salvation of the one you are mourning? We’ve all been taught that as Christians we should not take or give false hope to those who are left behind with just ambiguous or confusing evidence of the faith of a departed loved one. What are we to do?

There is a very small verse in the book of Jude which might help. Very simply, it states:

“And have mercy on those who doubt...” (Verse 22)

Short of having a reliable ‘born-again-o-meter,’ we might not have perfect assurance that our loved one is in Heaven. This verse, though, gives hope to those who wonder. God is commanding us to have mercy on those who have doubts about matters of the faith. This verse certainly implies that God Himself is compassionate toward those who are plagued with skepticism or weakness or confusion. Why wouldn’t we follow His good example?

After all, wasn’t God merciful to us as we were coming to faith? God was certainly patient toward us when we were on our path toward belief. How do we know how far along our loved one might have been?

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Let us be merciful as God is merciful.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More Precious Than Gold

It’s been said that “everything is perspective,” and this is true in the area of grief as well. What we felt like and believed on Day #1 of our bereavement is different from Year #1 or Year #5. The further we are removed in time from the loss of our loved one, the bigger our perspective is of the entire experience. For most of us, our healing comes slowly, and our sense of joy more slowly still. But one day we will be able to see the “big picture” for what it is. There is a passage in the first chapter of 1 Peter which helps us to keep the right perspective in the midst of our mourning:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Verses 3-7)

We know that we have been “...grieved by various trials;” in fact, that has been the topic of this entire book. We have been tested beyond our limits, it seems, but it is our desire that this present affliction would result in “...praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” But is there really a reward for staying faithful to God through this difficult time? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Of course there is! These verses affirm that we have a living hope and an inheritance that cannot be taken away. Our hope is based on Christ’s resurrection, which assures us of our own future resurrection and the resurrection of our loved ones. In fact, this hope is already stored in Heaven itself! What a beautiful picture of a future reality. We may despair and doubt and struggle with unbelief when we are in the midst of grief, but the eternal salvation of God’s people has already been secured.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who Sits Next to You in Church?

There is a final passage in the Book of Hebrews that is relevant to the topic at hand: 

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (12: 22-24)

There is something about this passage that makes me excited and glad and grateful and amazed all at once. It seems as though this is written to present day believers - even though it says that we have come to the heavenly Jerusalem now. How can that be? It must have something to do with worship - that somehow when we enter into that activity here on earth, we are also simultaneously entering into worship in Heaven. If that is the case, then our fellow worshippers are those that have gone ahead of us, namely our loved ones. Could it be that when we sing and pray and read God’s Word that the person sitting next to us in the pew is the very one that has departed from us and that we are missing so much?


My theory here seems to be supported by the ESV Study Bible, which states:

“This (passage) draws on extensive OT imagery of a new heavenly Zion/Jerusalem to say that Christian believers have access, in the invisible, spiritual realm, into the Heavenly Jerusalem, and therefore participate in worship with innumerable angels and the great assembly of those who have died in faith and are already in God’s presence.”

Certainly the language of these verses confirms the reality of existence for those who have gone before us. The “assembly of the firstborn,” for example, while initially referring to Christ, has been expanded to include all the heirs of salvation. Those “enrolled in Heaven” probably refers to the Book of Life referenced in several places in the Bible. And finally, “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” clearly refers to believers who were made righteous on earth because of Christ’s work on the cross, but were made gloriously perfect upon their entrance into Heaven.

Of course, we should not be overly fixated on the fact that our family and friends in Heaven are worshiping together with us on Sunday mornings. The most important person we should be focusing on is Christ, “the mediator of a new covenant,” who made all this possible. Without His sacrificial life and death, we wouldn’t be excited and glad and grateful and amazed at all.


Thanks be to God for the incredible privilege of entering into Heavenly worship while we are still living as sojourners here on earth. Better still, one day we will experience the fullness of worship that we now know by faith alone; in just a little while, our faith will be sight!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Words for the Weekend



“You have all the grace you need for now. You don’t have to worry about then. When then becomes now you’ll have all the grace you need.”
 
 Paul David Tripp,  Twitter Post