Imagining Heaven

April 27, 2013

Imagining heaven is not easy for us. I suspect trying to describe it to us is like describing New York City to an aborigine. You might say a skyscraper is like a giant hut one hundred huts high, but the reality of a skyscraper is still greater than the description.

Bill Clapper in an article entitled “Beyond Imagination” [Gospel Advocate (June 1997):15-16] pictures the difficulty this way. Picture going back to 1866 and visiting a wagon train going west just after the close of the Civil War. You attempt to explain jet airplanes that can carry hundreds of passengers from the east coast to the west coast in five or six hours. To this group huddled around a campfire, you describe electric lights, hot water coming from a faucet, automobiles, and television. Clapper writes: “We have told them about how we live, and it was beyond their imagination…I can only say that God has prepared a place for us so great that we cannot imagine the wonders of it—any more than people of 1866 could understand the wonders of our time.”

Joseph Bayly captures some of this dilemma in his book, The Last Things We Talk About. He shares a parable:

I accept [heaven’s] reality by faith, on the authority of Jesus Christ: “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

For that matter, if I were a twin in the womb, I doubt that I could prove the existence of earth to my mate. He would probably object that the idea of an earth beyond the womb was ridiculous, that the womb was the only earth we’d ever know.

If I tried to explain that earthlings live in a greatly expanded environment and breathe air, he would only be skeptical. After all, a fetus lives in water; who could imagine its being able to live in a universe of air? To him such a transition would seem impossible.

It would take birth to prove the earth’s existence to a fetus. A little pain, a dark tunnel, a gasp of air–and then the world outside! Green grass, laps, lakes, the ocean, horses (could a fetus imagine a horse?), rainbows, walking, running, surfing, ice-skating. With enough room that you don’t have to shove, and a universe beyond.

Despite our difficulties in imagining it, heaven is real. In some ways, more real than the world in which we live because it will be eternal, while this world is temporary. Paul reminds us of this: “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV). Let us keep our eyes on the goal.

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The Glance of the Lord

April 19, 2013

Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, recorded his invasion of Judah on a prism. It reads: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke…. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.”* The Bible’s account of this incident is found in 2 Kings 18:13-19:37, 2 Chronicles 32:1-22, and Isaiah 36:1-37:36.

The mighty Sennacherib claimed to have laid siege to 46 of Judah’s strong cities and countless villages according to his own account. But in laying siege to Jerusalem, Sennacherib’s officer boasted of being stronger than Jehovah. Lord Byron’s poem recounts the outcome of this boast.

The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay wither’d and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass’d;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax’d deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there roll’d not the breath of his pride:
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentiles, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

God’s decisive battle was fought at Calvary. In the remaining time are the mopping up skirmishes between good and evil. We have been left to pray and to work: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But make no mistake: God is in control. At times, I need to be reminded that the mere glance of the Lord is stronger than all of God’s enemies.

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*Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 288.


Danger! Danger!

April 12, 2013

We live in an information overloaded culture, and part of that information overload is warnings. We have so many warnings that it is hard to pay attention to them. We have so many warnings that we may fail to notice the ones that really count.

Lawsuits are to blame for our warning overload. Disposable coffee cups now warn us that coffee is hot. Everyone knows that coffee can be hot, but the infamous lawsuit against McDonald’s strikes fear in the hearts of everyone who sells coffee. So, we must be warned that coffee may be hot. Companies can no longer assume common sense.

Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch ran a contest for the wackiest warning labels over a number of years. Here are some of their winners.*

  • A label on a baby stroller warns: “Remove child before folding.”
  • A popular scooter for children warns: “This product moves when used.”
  • A household iron warns users: “Never iron clothes while they are being worn.”
  • A warning on an electric drill made for carpenters cautions: “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.”
  • Warning label on a flushable toilet brush: “Do not use for personal hygiene.”

Like villagers in the story of the boy who called, “Wolf,” we may have trouble distinguishing the warnings that matter from the ones that don’t.

But the most important warnings have to do with our spiritual life. They are the warnings of scripture. Don’t let information overload and the rush of modern living keep you from considering and heeding the Bible’s warnings.

  • Luke 13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
  • Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
  • Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Spiritual danger exists unless the warnings are heeded.

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*http://www.mlaw.org/wwl/pastwinners.html


Rules for Good Communication

April 5, 2013

Good family relationships require good emotional and spiritual health coupled with the ability to communicate and solve problems. Unhappy families report either a lack of communication or bad communication. Dr. Nick Stinnett spent twenty-five years studying successful families. His research found six rules for good communication.*

  • Rule #1 – Allow Enough Time. Talking may be spontaneous as chores are done or it may be planned. Time is needed to talk about the pleasant things of the day. Even when talking about a problem, what starts the conversation may not be the real issue, but it will be reached as the conversation proceeds.
    Rule
  • #2 – Listen. All of us have probably heard the old adage God gave us two ears but only one mouth. James warns us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Listening should be active and not passive. You shouldn’t be racing in your thoughts about what you will say next—listen to the person who is talking and also watch for the nonverbal cues, facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.
    Rule
  • #3 – Check It Out. Sometimes we need to check out what the other person means by their words, moods, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. We can’t read minds, and we may miss something communicated indirectly unless we check it out.
  • Rule #4 – Get Inside the Other Person’s World. Each of us has his own unique experiences. These experiences are a lens through which we view the world. Successful communication requires empathy – understanding the other person’s perspective.
  • Rule #5 – Keep the Monsters In Late-night Movies. Successful families with good communication avoid communication killers. They keep the “monsters” of communication locked up. The “monsters” are disrespectful judgments. Critical and demeaning behaviors are caustic to relationships.
  • Rule #6 – Keep It Honest. Strong families have openness and honesty. They also avoid manipulation. Honesty occurs in an atmosphere of kindness and love. Courtesy and consideration are practiced with openness. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:15, 25, ESV).

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*Dr. Nick & Nancy Stinnett and Joe & Alice Beam, Fantastic Families, pp. 77-88