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The Best Is Yet To Be

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into…an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you. I Peter 1:3-4

The Best Is Yet To Be

Robert Browning’s  words, “The best is yet to be” did not refer to heaven.  And that hardly seems to be the attitude of many Christians when thinking about heaven.  More typical I suspect is that expressed by 9 yr. old Ellen in a letter to her pastor:

Dear Pastor,
I hope to go to  heaven someday but later than sooner.

Love,
Ellen

Heaven is a place we want to go only when we are forced to, when we have no choice–when   the more desirable “life” is no longer an option, when death comes.  Heaven is, of course, better than hell but our expectancy for it is a little like that expressed by Charlie Brown:

Linus-“What would you say you want most of life Charlie Brown…To Be Happy?”
Charlie Brown-“Oh, no…
I     don’t expect that…I really don’t
I     just don’t want  to be unhappy!

We don’t expect so much to be happy in heaven, just not unhappy like hell.  It is sort of the lesser of two undesirable options.

It is not surprising then, that for 20th cent. Christians, heaven has, at best, been relegated to funeral sermons, the periphery of life.  Salvation has primarily come to mean “self improvement”, “success”, or the way to a “more efficient and psychologically sound,” “good life.”

But that is not   the NT.  Heaven is the glorious and ultimate goal of our faith.     It is the culmination of our salvation, the end of our journey.  It is the linch-pen of the Good News.  Take it out and it all falls apart.  Don Hunt is right: “…nothing is more important in shaping how life on earth is lived…than a person’s attitude toward the life to come.”

The importance of heaven is not just to provide comfort about death but to make a difference in how we live–our goals, methods, priorities, ministries, all our life.

Heaven has, perhaps, its greatest impact on our values. The only ones which really matter are those which retain their appeal in the face of death. There is the story about two men walking through a cemetery who happen upon a funeral. A gold-plated Rolls Royce with all the toys—stereo, TV, built in bar, etc. is being lowered into a grave.

One asks, “What’s happening?” and is told, “They’re burying J.B., the multibillionaire.”
He stops to watch in amazement and then exclaims, “Man, that’s what I call really living!”

Without heaven our values can get just as mixed up.

God’s people have always seen this. In Saint Augustine’s classic, City of God, he says human-kind has become so earthly minded, the heavenly vision has been lost. The Apostle Paul saw it clearly when he wrote that the sufferings of the present do not compare to the glory to be revealed. We are told Moses chose to suffer in order to receive his reward. C.S. Lewis wrote that something so absolutely beyond all we have is necessary to the Christian spirit—and happiness. It is heaven which fills that need and gives us perspective.

For the Christian, heaven is our true home. The Bible says we are strangers and aliens here—our citizenship is in heaven.  It is important we remember this is a temporary residence.

Charles Dutton spent years in prison for manslaughter.  Hardly preparation for becoming a star in the “Piano Lesson” on Broadway.  He was once asked how he overcame such obstacles. He said, “Unlike the other prisoners, I never decorated my cell.”  He refused to think of his cell as home.

C.S. Lewis reminded us, “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country…I must make it the main object of my life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

Contrary to popular notion such people don’t become so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.  They, in fact, accomplish much more on earth.

Finally, the outcome of Heaven is indescribable joy. The Bible gives us a hint this way: “things beyond our seeing, beyond our hearing, beyond our imagining.”   It is something so wonderful that even the Biblical writers can only point to it.  We may be inclined to let our minds wander over “gold streets,” no pain, no sorrow or death.

But as important as all that is, one thing is clear.  The greatest joy of
heaven is to be in the “unhindered” presence of Jesus.  The old song writer had it right—“Where Jesus is ‘tis heaven there.”

“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.”  All the greatest of the good and more has been prepared for those who love God.
The Best really is yet to be!

Becoming like Jesus

In the introduction to his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard writes: “The most telling thing about the contemporary Christian is that he or she simply has no compelling sense that understanding of and conformity with the clear teaching of Christ is of any vital importance to his or her life, and certainly not that it is in any way essential.”

All around us we see the effects of this–people who call themselves Christians but whose lives violate the most basic principles of morality not to mention Christian ethics; and others whose lives may be moral and ethical and even have a form of godliness but whose spirit is empty and cold.  There is little or no sense of a close personal relationship to Jesus.

Yet, as Willard continues, “We have received an invitation….to make a pilgrimage–into the heart and life of God….No person or circumstance other than our own decision can keep us away.  ‘Whosoever will may come.”‘

We must be intentional about our devotion, our discipleship and our love.  Jesus’ words to us–his invitations, his instructions–he fully expects us to do.  They are not about nice theories but how we are to live.

What this all means is that Christ-likeness is what God expects of us.  That is not something we achieve, however, but what God does in us as we “practice” His presence and open ourselves to His Spirit.

It is rather simple really.  Feed on His word (read the Bible), talk to Him regularly (pray), worship Him faithfully (publicly and privately), share yourself with others (a friend, a small group, a Sunday School class) and serve in His name.  He will become more real to you and, as you come to know Him, you will “fall” in love with Him.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete….You are my friends if you do what I command you.
-John 15:10,11,14

“And Adversaries”

a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. –I Corinthians 16:9

This statement has always intrigued me.  If Paul had said, “but there are many adversaries” I would not have been surprised.  Probably I would have passed it without a second thought (I do that all too often with the Bible).  It’s the word “and” that catches my attention.  It says to me that opportunity for ministry includes opposition.  It is assumed.  It is not the way I suspect I would have looked at it or perhaps most people.  It would sound more like this: “A wide door for effective work has opened to me, but it’s going to be tough because there is so much opposition.”  And that easily leads to a hesitancy and perhaps even a failure to pursue the opportunity before us.

            We need to remember to follow Jesus, to live as Christians in this world, is always swimming against the current, going against the grain.  So don’t be caught off guard when the going is tough.  But also remember we have Jesus, we have God’s power to overcome.  Paul was once struggling with a personal limitation, sought to be delivered from it but was told My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

That’s good enough.

Spiritual Pilgrimage

I just read an article by Heather Zempel on her experience of a “pilgrimage” to the Holy Land.  She talked about the values of pilgrimaging for our life as disciples.  You can read it here.

However, we don’t have to take exotic trips to benefit from a pilgrimage.  We can visit our childhood church, where we first met Jesus, or other points in our own spiritual journey.

Think about ways and places you can use this tool to grow as a follower of Jesus.

How Am I Doing?

Spiritual evaluation is an important practice for discipleship.  It is to look back and try to evaluate the past.  What did we accomplish? Where did we fail? How can we do better.  The problem is that evaluation of spiritual things is not all that easy.  We can count statistics and we should, but that doesn’t really tell the story.  Spiritual growth or health can’t always be objectively measured.

Several years ago this letter was written to the editor of a British paper:

“Dear Sir,

It seems ministers feel their sermons are very important and spend a great deal of time preparing them.  I have been attending a church quite regularly for the past 30 years and I have probably heard 3,000 of them.  To my consternation, I discovered that I cannot remember a single sermon.  I wonder if a minister’s time might not be more profitably spent on something else?

Sincerely,…”

For weeks a debate was carried on through letters to the editor.  Finally, the uproar ended when this letter was printed:

“Dear Sir,

I have been married for 30 years.  During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals–mostly of my wife’s cooking.  Suddenly, I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal.  And yet, I received nourishment from every single one of them.  I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago.

Sincerely,…”

This is not an argument against the need for spiritual evaluation any more than regular physicals.  It is simply a reminder that it is not as simple as counting people or dollars as important as that is.

We know that when we don’t pray, worship(including hearing the Word of God proclaimed), share our lives together, and minister in Christ’s name we cannot be spiritually healthy and may die.

A spiritually healthy life-style–let’s go for it!