Tag Archives: Heaven

For Sure

Here’s the truth for Ann Maree, things she knows with certainty in Heaven:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

                                                           (Psalm 23)

What’s Your Response?

Imagine a lush banquet with copious quantities of the best of food and drink.  That’s how God symbolically described the Kingdom He would establish.  Of course His people yearned for that Kingdom to arrive, especially since He also promised to wipe away tears and banish death forever.  If you are not familiar with that prophecy, I’ll print it below.  But in Jesus’ day, they knew it and yearned for it to be fulfilled.

So, when someone mentioned the Kingdom to Jesus, and He responded with a parable about a great banquet, the small hairs on the back of their necks stood to attention.  Making it more electrifying was the “servant” in the parable, who comes to tell people the banquet is ready.  One of Isaiah’s most common expressions for God’s Messiah was “the Servant.” (e.g. See Isaiah 42:1)

Here’s how He began the parable:

… “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’  (Luke 14:16b-18)

Those who had “ears to hear” sensed that Jesus was telling them He was the Messiah-Servant, sent by God to announce the Kingdom, proclaiming “everything is now ready.”  The tragedy was that most of those who had been waiting and yearning for that announcement then decided that the busyness of their regular lives was more pressing and important than the opportunity to join God in His Kingdom for eternal life.

Don’t compound the tragedy; Jesus still speaks those same words of invitation to each of us today.  “Come, for everything is now ready.”  What is your response?  Are you wanting to be excused?  Consider carefully.

Here’s Isaiah’s prophecy:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever;and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Powered Up by Hope

Why is it that some people complain all the time, while others seem to boost the spirits of those around them?  Why are some folks suspicious and grumpy and others just seem happier on the inside?  One of the differences is an attitude of hope, a joyful, optimistic expectation of good things coming. 

But what is the best object of hope?  I’d say it’s heaven.  Paul once told some people he had heard about their “…faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.  –  (Colossians 1:5)

Don’t misunderstand: these were no Pollyanna types with saccharin-sweet, vapid smiles, aimlessly drifting through life by pretending things would be better in heaven.  This was no “pie in the sky, by and by” crowd.  These were people bearing up under the harsh realities of vicious persecution.  But with hope from which their faith and love sprang forth!

So, how could they, or we, know that hope for heaven is anything more than wishful thinking?  Jesus tells us, in the strongest and simplest terms, that’s how..  Speaking of heaven, He said,

“…if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”  –  (John 14:2b)

That is my favorite line in the Bible.  Jesus didn’t lie to people, fostering false hopes.  One of His trademark expressions was, “I tell you the truth!”  Following Jesus comes with real hope, hope for eternal life in heaven.  If it wasn’t so he would have told us.  And hope just makes everything else better.

A Glimpse

A few months before she died, my wife was awakened suddenly, in the middle of the night.  The next morning she struggled to find words for what happened next.  She said God impressed upon her a sense of absolute peace and joy unlike anything she had ever experienced.  She was laughing and weeping as she tried to explain what it was like.  She said she was sure He was encouraging her with a foretaste of Heaven.  That sudden “download” was a source of great strength and peace to her – and to me – as her time grew short.

I’ve recently learned that Blaise Pascal experienced something similar on November 23, 1654, a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey.  His epiphany lasted a couple of hours, during which time he scribbled notes to himself, including these words, found hidden in his jacket after he died:

Certitude, certitude, Emotion, Joy, Peace.  God of Jesus Christ  …  Oblivion of the world and of everything except God.  Righteous father, the world has not known You,  But I have known You.  Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy, Jesus Christ ___________ Jesus Christ 

This morning, I reread the account of Jesus’ transfiguration.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. –  (Matthew 17:1–3 (NIV84))

I’ve always interpreted this strange episode as an instructive encouragement for the two disciples.  I wonder if it was not also given to strengthen and encourage Jesus.  A reminder of things impossible to fully comprehend in this earthly plane.  It occurred shortly after Jesus began to teach His disciples that He must be put to death.   Jesus struggled greatly as His death became imminent. He silenced Peter abruptly when he said such a death would never happen.  He agonized in prayer in Gethsemane.  Perhaps that glimpse of the reality of Heaven was a gracious gift for Him.

I don’t know.  I wonder.  But of this I am sure:  the circumstances awaiting those who die as believers and followers of Jesus are so astonishingly wonderful, we have no words to fully express them.  We also have no currency capable of expressing the value of being welcomed into such an environment of joy and peace.  The best Jesus could manage was an analogy:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.   Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  –  (Matthew 13:44–46 (NIV84))


Your prayers for Ann Maree were graciously answered this morning, around 1:30.

Ann Maree is home at last!    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last October, after the full scope and sobering consequences of her cancer were known, God woke her in the small hours and gave her a foretaste of the unbridled “shalom” awaiting her in Heaven.  She was laughing and crying the next morning, trying to find words to convey what she experienced.  And so grateful to Jesus for His promise to her of that destiny.   This morning I imagine her family and friends in Heaven are saying, “You think that was cool, check this out!”

Here’s a song for Ann Maree, again taken from the Psalms:

“I have set the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the grave
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

(Psalm 16:8-11)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


PS – If you would enjoy seeing some of Ann Maree’s artwork, go to annmareebeaman.com.

No Baloney

What’s the best line in the whole Bible?  What would you choose?  Me? It’s something Jesus told the boys on the night He got arrested:  He said,

“… if it were not so, I would have told you…” (John 14:2)

Jesus wasn’t blowing smoke.  He wasn’t saying nice things just because they were comforting.  He wasn’t going along with wishful thinking or superstition.  The things He told were absolutely so; they were accurate descriptions of reality.  “If it were not so, I would have told you.”

That’s important to me because, over the years, people have told me a lot of religious things that were not so.  They were really true.  And I don’t want to be fooled or gullible.  You hang around funeral homes and you will hear a lot of things said that may not be so.  Comforting? Yes.  Nice ideas?  Yes.  But true?  Maybe not.  “Oh, Wilma has gone to a far better place.”  Maybe that’s true; maybe not.  People who say such things don’t necessarily believe them, but they know they help those who grieve.

Jesus knew His family and friends would not only be grieving but also they would be horrified and frightened.  He knew platitudes might temporarily help, like a kiss on a cut, but what they really needed was a strong dose of truth.  Truth they could lean on.  Truth that would hold when they did.

Here’s the rest of what He said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

Rooms?  Many rooms?  What’d He mean by that?  There’s no good English word.  Bibles used to use the word, mansions, which really gives the wrong idea.  The Greek word refers to places in which one makes his or her home, to live there permanently.  Dwelling places.  He was saying God has many dwelling places where those who “trust Him” (verse 1, above)  will continue to live, even after death.  With Him.

And, if it were not so, He would have told us.

Lean on that.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Who’s in Charge?

“Take me to your leader!”  That line conjures up the old, jittery, black and white, alien invasion movies of my youth.  If aliens did land on earth and asked that question today, depending on where they put down, they’d get very different answers.  Imagine if they landed in Iraq, or Yemen, or even Washington D.C.   Who’s in charge here?  Because that question is not clearly answered, because people don’t agree about who is in charge, it’s chaos down here on Earth.  The nations are engaged in a constant struggle to answer that basic question.

According to Matthew, one of the first things Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection was this:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)

Think about the full meaning of those words.  His authority has no limit.  It extends even to the farthest reaches of Heaven!  And on Earth.  So then, why do we have such global strife?

Think about the movie, “Hoosiers.”  (If you haven’t watched it or can’t remember it, do it today!  That’s your assignment!)  After Gene Hackman takes over as the new coach, he has been given “all authority.”  Trouble is, the members of the team haven’t submitted yet to that authority.  And neither have many of the people in town.  But gradually, firmly, as the story progresses, his authority begins to be established – the authority he already had from the beginning by title.  Jesus has been given (by God the Father) “all authority.”  His authority is gradually being revealed and established, as more and more people have their eyes and hearts opened to it and submit to it.  That was always God’s plan of how to do it.  As He inspired David to write, 3000 years ago,

“The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” (Psalm 110:1-2)

But one day, there will no longer be anything gradual about how the full authority of Jesus is accomplished.  Don’t wait until that day to get it straight in your mind about Who is in charge.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Working for a Living

When you die, what’s going to happen to you?  Most people answer, “I hope I go to Heaven.”  If asked why they would, most will say, “I’m a pretty good person; I’ve tried to be good all my life …  well, most of my life…  there was that one period there when things went a bit haywire, but really, for most of my life I’ve lived by a pretty good standard of right and wrong.”  But when Jesus was asked straight out what it would take, asked by a guy who had really worked hard to follow God’s laws, Jesus told him he wasn’t qualified, at least not yet. (Matthew 19:16-22)

In fact, Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a guy like that to get into Heaven.  The disciples were bewildered.  They were asking, “If that guy doesn’t make the cut, who can?”  Same question each of us asks.  Will I make it?  Have I done enough?

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (Matthew 19:26)

Jesus freaked them out more by saying, many of the people you might think would be at the front of the line to get in to Heaven are going to find themselves at the back of the line.  He illustrated the point with a weird parable about a man with a large vineyard going down to “Labor Ready” to hire some guys to work.  He went early in the morning and then several more times during the day.  But at the end of the day, he paid everyone the same amount, even the ones who had only worked an hour.  And they got paid first.  He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that.”

Huh?  That goes against everything we’ve learned about being rewarded for working hard.  The guy who had really been trying to do the right thing, who really wanted to know, “what do I have to do,” wasn’t fit to get in! And Jesus seemed to imply everyone who does make it receives the same reward no matter how much or little they have worked for it.  Does that leave you with any questions?

That whole section of Matthew (19:16 – 20:16) is connected.  Read through it and you will notice that Jesus invited the man to follow Him, something he was unwilling to do.  In the parable, every one of the workers got the same reward, not because they had worked the same amount but because they had each agreed to go with the landowner.  The landowner, Jesus said, gave each of them the same amount because he was “generous.”

Getting into Heaven is not about working for it, but rather agreeing to follow Jesus.  It’s about being welcomed in with Jesus by the generosity of The Father.  This runs counter to a deep conviction we have.  We think, “This doesn’t seem right; there has got to be some work involved.”

Quite right.  There was some work necessary.  Here is the next 3 verses in Matthew:

” Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”” (Matthew 20:17-19)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

First and Last

Our first exposure to line dancing was humiliating.  My wife and I had turned our most exuberant country swing moves loose at the local roadhouse, when we noticed that all the other dancers were in formation and were laying out beautiful, complex steps – in unison!  Wanting to learn and take part, we joined the back of the group, where we could watch and try to imitate what they were doing.  We were back there, lurching about and trying our best, when they all turned around, putting us in the front.  We watched the rest of that dance from the safety of our table.  I was reminded of that embarrassing moment as I read these words of Jesus:

“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. “ (Matthew 19:30)

Jesus wasn’t talking about line dancing but the “renewal of all things” after the end of this age (verses 28-30).  Throughout the Old and New Testament, God makes clear that there will be a time when He will establish a new and perfect world in which everything will work according to His perfect design (eg: Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13).  Perfect peace, perfect harmony, perfect love, perfect life.  Perfect intimacy between God and His people.  Jesus said, when that  time comes, “many who are first will be last” and vice versa.  But what did He mean?

It’s important to notice that this comment (which He repeated in other settings) immediately follows His observation of how hard it would be for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24).  Not because it is a sin to be rich, but because it very hard for the rich to not trust money and trust Jesus instead (verse 21-22).  In that culture, people commonly assumed that those who were well off were rich because they were held in special favor by God.  Jesus said, “Not so.”  In our day, deceptive preachers, who call themselves Christian, say something similar: “God wants you to be rich.  If you do what I say I’ll make you wealthy.”  The preachers of such heresy invariably wind up rich, but they do so by deceiving gullible people who think success in life is measured by money.  Jesus said, “Not so.”  Many of those who are “first” in this world, will be the “last” to make it into the next one.

However, I believe Jesus’ words held meaning far beyond how big your bank account is.  I think He meant this: When God renews all things, restoring them to perfection, we will probably be dumbfounded to discover who He includes and who has been left out.  Many who seem to be at the head of God’s VIP line may not even make the cut.  Many who seem insignificant and unworthy to our worldly eyes may be welcomed into His Kingdom with open arms.  The “first” in our eyes may well be “last.”

So, where are you – first or last?  Don’t answer that question in terms of how rich or famous or religious or beautiful or successful people think you are.  Measure it by how much you trust Jesus.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

I think I know this guy.  For that matter, so do you.

” Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”” (Matthew 19:16)

We know him because he is our spokesman.  He asked the question we have all asked: “Have I been good enough to go to Heaven?”  “Do I measure up?  If not, tell me what good thing to do so I can take care of it.”

Interesting.  We find out later (verse 22) that this guy is loaded.  Great wealth.  Presumably, if he wants something – anything – he only has to get out his wallet and he can have it.  He’s traded up for a three car garage. He’s sampled wine and brie in Paris.  Got the newest phone.  Or maybe he’s famous, stands in the wings and listens to the sellout crowd chant his name. He’s the guy we secretly wish we were.

But somehow, he realizes that it isn’t quite enough.  He’s not “in” yet.  There’s something missing. He senses that he hasn’t quite done enough good.  Other people look upon him as a good person.  Maybe they even named the hospital wing for him.  But he knows himself too well.  Old regrets steal his sleep.  But no matter: just tell me what good thing to do. I’ll get out my wallet and get it done.

Jesus zeroes in on the word, good.

““Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. ”” (Matthew 19:17a)

The only “One” Who is good, is God.  Anything short of God’s goodness isn’t “good.”  Almost good, pretty good, good enough, as good as it gets – none of that is perfectly “good.”  If you had a strawberry shake, made just the right way at the old fashioned soda shoppe, and then I put a tiny drop of spit into it, it wouldn’t be “good” any more.  You don’t measure good by comparing yourself to other imperfect humans.  You measure good by God’s standard.  Anything less isn’t “good.”

Jesus says,

“If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17b)

If you want to be good enough, do what God has said to do.  Perfectly, like the only One Who is good.  Like the only One Whose goodness qualifies Him for eternal life.  But the guy doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t think that way.  Which becomes obvious, with his next question:

““Which ones?” the man inquired.” (Matthew 19:18a)

How much is good enough?  We will come back to this.  But for now, let’s go stand next to the guy and puzzle over the way Jesus used the word, “good.”

I know this guy, don’t you?

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.