May 9, 2004
True story, only the names have been dropped to protect the preacher. A patient is in the hospital for the third time battling a cancer. The morning of his fourth day he calls his wife and tells her that he is feeling better and that he will ask the doctor if he can go home.
Midmorning the doctor comes by on his rounds. The patient asks when he can go home. The doctor looks up from his clip board with a quizzical expression and says, "home? I don't expect you will be going home this time." The patient was dead within 15 minutes.
Hope is a mysterious and dynamic quality. How are your expectations for your future impacting your life today? Or- how is the life you are living today impacting your future? Your expectations impact your behavior today, your living today shapes your future.
I'm convinced there is one supremely important bit of information everyone needs to understand, to live right and have a blessed future. They should know it before they ever start school. And whether they drop out of school in the eighth grade or go on to get a PhD at Oxford, they will never learn anything more important. That bit of information is this: Your are going to live forever- somewhere- and there is nothing you can do about it. When you started living, you began an unending journey.
Some folks, Marx; Freud; Nietzsche, are convinced that a belief in "life after death" is evidence of emotional weakness or cowardice. They think that only the brave can face the reality of death being the end.
I suspect that any objective survey would find a fair number of fearful in both the believer and unbeliever camps. At any rate this is not the smartest way to approach the issue. If there is no life after death, I don't know how it requires bravery to admit this. And if there is this kind of life, these brave folks who ignore it will find themselves badly prepared for it.
It seems, that a real courageous person is someone who can look at the prospects of living forever and keep his chin up. Most people who kill themselves are looking for relief. They are fearful about living one moment longer than they have to. Being dead doesn't not frighten them, but being alive does.
If God, as Jesus has revealed Him to us, can be trusted, you are going to live forever and there is nothing you can do about it- except to prepare to make that life as desirable as possible.
Part of your future- depending on who you are, is described in Revelation 21.
Verses 1-2 report John's vision of a New Creation. Our current arrangements are not going to last forever. Peter described the change from the old to the new with these words:
Read II Peter 3: 10-13.
John sees the new creation and describes it as a beautiful bride. Relationship (bride-groom; father-son) will be a foundational element in Heaven...relationship and beauty. John has the most difficult assignment in the Bible: describing the indescribable. Heaven is more beautiful than we can imagine, certainly beyond any kind of objective description. It is the opposite of our real life experiences with evil. In the imagination some evil fantasy promises satisfaction. But it never works out to what the fantasy promised. Heaven is the place of perpetual surprise! From one blessing to another and never a moment of disappointment.
Verses 3-4 give us an unexpected picture of intimacy with God. The passage promises that God Himself will set up housekeeping with His people in a place of companionship with Himself. This frustrating barrier that separates the visible and invisible world will be gone. And more amazing, God Himself will be your physican and pastor.
Every horrifying crisis or tragedy you have experienced (death of loved ones; rejection; failure) will be mended and transformed by the individual touch of God. It says, "He will personally attend to every tear you shed." And anything that might have lead to grief will be vanquished- starting with death, and including pain.
The intimacy of a believer's relationship with God will be intense. It will be a the kind of frightening intensity for some. They are becoming the kind of people on this side of judgment- that will be horrified to be that close to God.
But to those who are developing a thirst for God, to those who are "overcoming" all the temptations to find satisfaction or gratification away from God, God says, "To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life."
Appetites are pliable, mold-able, like souls. As a child I did not like vegetables. Thanks to parental encouragement, I am very fond of vegetables (and everything else!). Our appetite for God and the things of God can be encouraged, "transformed" (Romans 12:2).
We can find ourselves identifying with the Psalmist (42:1-2)... as a deer pants for streams of living water, and God promises that person "the water of life." The battle to give direction to your thirst is well worth the struggle.
Perhaps by looking at the kind of people who would be uncomfortable (or even horrified) with a close relationship with God (verse 8), we can see the positive quality that corresponds to closeness with Him.
The first ones "to the fire" are the cowardly. The King James Version is off the mark calling them fearful. First, because the word is not fearful, and second because even the bravest, perhaps them most of all, experience fear.
The cowardly are those, who when given a choice, would deny Jesus, in order to hang on to this life or to avoid discomfort in this life, that comes with being identified with Jesus. God is looking for valiant, adventurous courageous folks. Men like Abraham, ready to go on a journey, not knowing the destination, as long as God is with them. Let others snicker or curse or abuse, I'm with God on this pilgrimage.
Unbelievers are folks who may be aware of the existence of a divine person. But they do not trust that He is good. And they do not believe they are irreparably sin damaged. God is looking for those who have developed conviction; expectations about Jesus. They are persuaded that Jesus is filled with love and is 100% reliable to keep His promises.
The vile are people attracted to the perverted and repulsive. God is looking for those who want His help in becoming people of noble character and pure hearts.
Murderers devalue life which can only come from God. Life is the thumb print of God. It is His gift, and God's people treat it as a sacred sign of God's presence.
Fornicators knock down the sexual boundaries God has tried to protect us with. They prefer a sexual free-for-all like the spirit of the age depicted in frat house movies. His people have discovered the blessing of relational harmony. They know that God's gift of intimacy provides its greatest blessing within the safety of God's limits.
Those who practice the magic arts try to find the answers to life in drugs and the occult. Many times they get so lost in a fog they begin to worship false gods and idols. God wants to help us see the mysteries of creation with sobriety and sanity that can experience the full wonder of God's Spirit.
Last on this list of those who would be a nervous wreck in God's presence are liars. People who depend on spiritual disguises, social masks, and moral deception to lubricate their lives and to make their lives "work" without God. These are people who are frequently posing as someone else. God is looking for people who will take the greatest risk of all: open honesty, about who they are. People willing to throw away their moral and spiritual camouflage and live face to face with God!
The positive side of these eight vices, represent believers who are learning from Jesus how to live an undying life; a quality of life that starts here and fits well with Heaven. Jesus called it "eternal life." Salvation begins with the Spirit of Jesus moving into our hearts. Then we begin to learn and practice this eternal kind of life. Eternal life is not something you have to wait until heave to start living. It's getting to be late at that point!
But salvation does remind us of the huge future we have in heaven. It does give us the hope of living this "life" forever. If ever a doctor tells you he doesn't think you'll go home; you can tell him "home" is exactly where you're going!"
That is, if your future makes sense to you. Is your unending future something that you are making plans for: are you making decisions today in terms of forever? Thinking about life, with Heaven in mind, is how you incorporate your future into this week. And how your life this week merges or blends in to your future.
Where do we get the courage to believe the huge future that John sees for God's people? It is centered in your confidence or trust in Jesus. If you sort of believe your vision of the future will be sort of helpful. But if you know the greatness and love of God as it is revealed by Jesus, then you know the greatness of the future God has planned for you. You know what it means to have "crossed over from death to life." By knowing Jesus, you know your future.