This Is Not Heaven

61555202_676562199467770_2025329413687607296_nThis time of year is spectacular in Southern Ontario with its breathtaking array of flowering trees. There’s magnolias in all their splendor, the heavenly scent of lilacs, and cherry blossoms that take your breath away. The birds join in nature’s show adding songs that span daytime and reach into dusk.

Yet however fragrant the blooms, however sweet the birds’ chorus, all of this is just a mere scent of heaven. Anything of any beauty we experience here is only a small taste of things to come.

Amid these fleeting pockets of beauty and moments that take our breath away, we’re aware that the here and now is not heaven. Alongside the beauty, there’s heartache and hate, pain and poverty, tears and turmoil. There’s darkness that displaces light and depravity that dipells hope. Sometimes, despite the fragrance of heaven, the next breath is difficult and painful.

The world aches and our hearts throb, yet we try to replicate heaven on earth. We seek comfort, perfection, and beauty while desperately avoiding pain. We numb ourselves to distract the discomforting soul sores or the courage that it would take to face them. As a result we’re addicts clinging to cheap imitations of heaven while trying to break free of our various pacifiers. We reach for anything that will displace the pain for a while, silence the desperate cry of our hearts, or fill our empty places while running from the very thing that offers us the heaven we seek.

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No matter how beautiful the flowers, how idyllic a moment, how much a vacation feels like paradise, or a person like perfection, all pales in comparison to the real deal: knowing Jesus. It’s that friendship that fills the heart holes, heals the hurt, wipes away the wounding, and purchases the paradise you’re longing for. But to find it we need to release our misguided grip on the here and now, stop trying to fabricate heaven on earth, and reach for the promise—the person—of Jesus.

When we do, all that once seemed so important will lose its shine. All that we use to deal instead of heal will lose its lustre. This is how the apostle Paul put it: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

Strangely enough, heaven comes down—bursts right into the imperfection, heartache, futility, and falsehood, answering the groans of humanity with a healing love. A kind of love that makes room for the mess of this place, while cleaning up the garbage in our lives. In Jesus, we find the answer to our deepest needs, peace in the imperfection, deep joy despite circumstances, and the promise of a heavenly home.

What would it take for us to loosen our grip on the things of this world, to trade in the comforts we’ve tucked around our lives attempting to buffer the blows and ease the pain? In an act of faith we can reach for—or return to—Jesus and let him be the peacemaker and joy-giver of our lives.

This week’s song: “What a Beautiful Name”

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  1. What are you doing to numb the pain, fill the void, or find happiness? Is it working?
  2. If not, try Jesus. He’s been the answer to my deepest needs.

 

 

 

 

When I Die

Twenty-six springs have passed since we moved into our neighbourhood. I can’t say how long before we arrived, but even back then an elderly couple lived at the corner house across the street. Every spring their garden came alive and apart from winter, you’d be sure to find them planting, puttering, and tending their blooming menagerie.

This spring, as every other, their flowers are once again pushing toward their prolific show. The green beginnings of new life poke out from the soil declaring winter’s end. You wouldn’t know it to look at the garden, but something is different; one of the caretakers is no longer there. The man sits alone in that sacred space the two of them once shared. The flowers silently about their cheery work won’t tell you that late last summer, the woman passed away in her beloved garden as her family gathered to celebrate her birthday.

Though shockingly sad and sudden, a small space in me can’t help but think that’s just the very place she would have picked; departing from this world on the same day she arrived several decades apart in the place she most loved. Now her garden lives on—a flowering legacy for others. All the beauty she painstakingly sowed now being enjoyed by every passerby.

I think of my life. Will I sow flowers? Will others be left better than I found them? Will the things I’ve done make some small, meaningful impact for good? Will beauty poke out of the dark crevices of others’ lives because of some small deposit dropped into their soul? Perhaps a kind word or deed, an encouragement or offered shoulder in the storm.

I know it’s not just about kindnesses. It’s about choices. One thought in particular nestles into the fabric of everyone’s thoughts, especially as the latter years settle in: where will I go after this? Many prefer to push away thoughts of death, but I’d rather face them head-on. Eternity awaits, and though I don’t morbidly live for my last breath, I should live each day as if it were my last.

I’m sure my flower-loving neighbour had no warning of the sudden heart attack she would experience that day. In this way, I too cannot predict how many days I’m gifted with or which moment will be my last. But I want to be ready: better prepared than I’ve ever been for anything in my life.

When I leave behind the shell I was given to move me through this world—the one that enabled me to speak and write out thoughts, to reach out with hands to comfort, to walk to the places I was meant to tread—my spirit will live forever. That’s where the choice comes in. We each have a decision to make, and it affects where we spend eternity.

It’s not complicated. At least, it wasn’t meant to be. There’s only one decision to make, and I can make it well ahead of time. And I have. I chose Jesus. I chose to accept his free gift of life and love he purchased for me (and you) on the cross. I admitted my sin, asked for forgiveness, and now live each day assured that when my time comes I’m saved from hell, and will be with him forever in heaven. There’s not a thing I can do to assure heaven except to believe and receive Jesus. I cannot take anything with me save my faith in him.

I’m sure heaven’s gardens are glorious. It’s my hope we’ll dance there together among the flowers!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

~ John 14:6

“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 21:4

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  1. If tomorrow were your last day on earth, are you certain where you would spend eternity?
  2. If not, a simple, heartfelt prayer can change that. There is no formula. Just speak to God and tell him you are sorry for the wrongs that you have done, that you believe Jesus died for them and paid the price so you can spend eternity with him in heaven. Ask for his forgiveness. Move forward with his Holy Spirit as your guide.
  3. The best way to learn about God is to read the Bible, find a Christ-centered church, and surround yourself with other Christ-followers.

 

On Novel Writing, Deadlines, and Perfection

heavenpicRecently, my novel was handed over to the publishing company. It has taken a mere sixteen years, since it was first conceived, for the submission of this final copy. Finally, after countless chides from my family to get it published, numerous edits, and one title change, One More Tomorrow is officially out of my hands.

The process of writing a novel—or the creation of any art form for that matter—bears some striking similarities to our lives. Well-lived lives, like well-written books, are crafted by thoughtful decisions, intentional choices, inspiration, imagination, creativity, and untold toil undertaken over its entirety. Even as I handed my manuscript over, I knew it would never be perfect. There could forever be tweaks, cuts, and additions, but there was a deadline, and so I gave it away.

Our lives are just the same.

It too will never be perfect. It has a deadline, and you need to give it away.

No matter how hard we try, no matter how we imagine it, painstakingly craft it, and steer the process, our lives will never measure up to our expectations. Our days, we ourselves, will never be flawless. There will be times when those around us will fail us, circumstances will crumble, and we will be less than perfect.

But the here and now, and all that we make of it, isn’t all there is. And despite all our efforts—all our cuts and edits—to achieve perfection, we can’t become good enough for all that comes after this life. We weren’t meant to achieve perfection, nor was life meant to be perfect. Because this life, with all its aches and pains, is not heaven.

As bleak as this sounds at first appearance, it’s actually good news. Forget trying to be flawless like you wish the manuscript, the painting, the song, or the dance of your life to become. There will be plenty of time for that later when perfect is the norm. But like my book, our lives have a final submission date. That date occurs on the day you pass from life, to death, to eternal life.

On that day:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

~ Revelation 21:4

Until then, we can rest in knowing that there’s nothing we can do to be good enough for this moment—for eternity. No amount of hard work, good behaviour, rule following, or believing we are better than the person next to us will gain us an admission ticket into heaven.

Jesus alone bought our passage; we only need receive it by faith.

Everything else, the cuts and edits, will come as a result of his life in you. You give away your life’s manuscript, and he does the work crafting it—and you—into his masterpiece. He’s the only one who can make you fit for forever.

For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 

~ Hebrews 10:14

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  1. Have you found your rest in Jesus? I would love to hear your story!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Days Written Down

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This week I wrote my final entry in my son’s childhood journal I kept for him over the past twenty-two years of his life, begun on the day he was born. The years have rushed by, and, reading over a few of the entries, I was reminded of many events and beautiful memories I knew I’d forget to tell him about had I not written them down. Now that he’s married, I plan to wrap up the journals to give to him this Christmas.

I’m excited for my son to read the detailed documentation of his life as seen through my eyes. My hope is that he’ll be encouraged, see himself from a different perspective, and possibly get an even greater sense of who he is. More than that, I hope he will see how dearly he was loved by his dad and me at every stage, and how we were cheering him on every step of the way.

This recent journal writing has reminded me of our Father in heaven. Take a look at these verses. I have to say, they kinda blow my mind.

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” ~ Psalm 139:16

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” ~ Psalm 56:8

God keeps track of the things that concern you and me. We’re in his book! Tell me that doesn’t blow you away just a tad?

But I’m thinking God doesn’t need to record our stuff in case he forgets, or to keep a naughty or nice list. I also doubt he keeps track of all our sorrows in order to make sure we receive the “Get into Heaven Free” card by meeting a tragedy quota, or because we’ve managed to reach the good works threshold (more on that in a sec). I like to think it’s partly because of this:

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” ` Luke 8:17

I can’t say for sure, but wonder if when we are in our final home in heaven, all that we’re going through right now – the good, the bad and the ugly – will make sense. All the tears, the sorrows, the why-is-this-happening? – all of it. And, when it is, I think we’ll marvel at how remarkably connected it all was, how many parts and people were affected as a result, how it served an eternal purpose, and possibly understand all that was happening in the unseen places. Some may say in heaven it won’t matter anymore, but I like to think it will matter a great deal. Enough for God to write it down.

There is another book I would be amiss to not mention. The Bible speaks of the Book of Life, where all of humanity’s names are recorded. Our names are not found in this book if we’re really good, do a lot of good stuff, or suffer a ton. Our names are found in this book only if we’re found in Christ. This is the reason Christ died: to ensure our names wouldn’t be blotted out, and thus ensure our forever home in heaven with him. The only thing that would limit Christ’s saving work is our failure to respond or our rejection of God’s grace.

I hope to one day ask God if I can have a peek at the writings he kept concerning me. Maybe you will too. I think we will be in awe, not only of God, but also of our life’s story as seen through God’s perspective. And just like the journals kept for my son, I think we will be encouraged to see ourselves – and our past circumstances – from our loving Father’s perspective. We will learn, in full, how dearly and securely we were loved at every turn, and how he was cheering us on every step of the way.

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears…  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  ~1 Corinthians 13: 9 & 12

I want to leave you with this hymn. I think it’s an appropriate and beautiful way to conclude and punctuate the above ideas. Take time to ponder the poetic lyrics:

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
in ev’ry high and stormy gale
my anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
support me in the ‘whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found,
dressed in His righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

~ Edward Mote (1834)

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  1. It’s my greatest hope that you are found in Christ. I’d love a reading buddy in heaven 🙂 He is just a prayer away.

Still Room

“Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” ~ Jesus

The day after Christmas, my lifelong friend’s father passed away. Hearing the tributes at this man’s funeral made me consider what a well-lived life looks like and reminded me that our time here is limited.

So much of our lives can be spent on achievements – the gaining of accolades and things, yet it’s the unremarkable, ordinary bits that have a way of squeezing to the forefront, while the larger become the lesser and blur into the background.

We each leave an impression; our own individual indent on our patch of time here on earth. The things we do are meaningful – even the smallest of them. Surprisingly, the most mundane, everyday bits are perhaps most memorable – the parts lived in-between the “big stuff” instead of that which we might consider the main or most prominent events.

The echo that remained in the wake of this father’s last days wasn’t the accumulation of treasures and trophies, degrees or diverse portfolios. Resonating most powerfully was the very ordinary way in which this man lived his life and how a final decision altered his eternity.

It appears the achievements of a life well-lived are not actually the “achievements” at all. Paradoxically, greatness may resonate most fully through quiet kindnesses, a hand held out to the needy, a listening ear, or simple silence – the countless breaths between the fanfare.

I was also reminded of how, as long as you have breath, it’s never too late to find God.

This same father wondered why he had let go of God at the age of fifteen, and if it was too late for him. He had spent fifty-nine years away from God, but grasped hold of the Father two short days before he died.

See…even if, in the last cluster of moments, we wonder for half a heartbeat if there is still room in heaven for us, still a hope, still a chance to return from a lifelong detour, even then God’s offer still stands, even then His embrace is fully enfolding, even then heaven assured.

This father found, not unlike the thief on the cross an arm’s length or two from Jesus, that heaven is secured by a simple, repentant cry, “Is there still room for me?” or, “Remember me when you come in Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

There is always room enough for you and me under heaven’s canopy.

May you experience an extraordinary life in Christ.