Heaven Is Real

“Life is hard – but God is good, and heaven is real” – Billy Graham.  Heaven is as real as life is hard.

Isn’t it possible that God might allow eyewitnesses of heaven?  Rev. Graham was at the bedside of the famed preacher, R. G. Lee, who was in and out of consciousness as he lay dying at his home in Memphis.  In a moment of sudden awareness he looked at Rev. Graham and said, “I saw heaven.  I saw Jesus.  I saw my mother.  I never did justice to heaven in my sermons.” Rev. Graham said his own mother experienced a glimpse of heaven just before she died.

I was once alone in the hospital room with a dying man.  But for the monitoring devices he appeared to be gone.  Suddenly, he raised his hand and repeated in an awestruck voice, “Praise You Jesus!”  He had seen something amazing.  After a few respectful moments I asked what he saw, but he never acknowledged my presence.

These apparent eyewitness accounts are not without precedent.  Stephen, just before he became the first Christian martyr, “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).

Someone once asked Rev. Graham if such an eyewitness experience could be real.  He answered, “It’s not a hallucination or chemical reaction in the brain (as some suggest). I am convinced it is instead a God-given glimpse into eternity. Through it, God is reminding those who are present—and us as well—that eternity is real, and Christ is waiting to welcome us into Heaven. He alone is our hope, because by His death on the cross He paid the price for our sins, and by His resurrection from the dead He conquered death and hell and Satan.”

The Bible is certain about an afterlife.  In what is probably the oldest book in the Bible, and after all of the woes he endured Job said, “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:26).  The Psalmist declared, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psa. 23:6).  Before he raised Lazarus back to life Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25).  Jesus made heaven the future home for those who believe.

This has a real impact on how you face life and death.  On his deathbed John Newton (“Amazing Grace”) said, “I am still in the land of the dying, but soon, I shall be in the land of the living!” Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s final words were, “This is the end – for me the beginning of life.”  These men understood that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) and it is real.  Do you?

Mere Virus

During this coronavirus season, two basic human desires emerge.  We do not want to be alone and we do not want to die.

The retired Army colonel and infectious disease expert Dr. Deborah Birx tells us that these two concerns are working against each other.  If we isolate ourselves, we have less chance of infection and death.  If we give in to the desire to be with others, we increase risk to ourselves and them.

Loneliness has itself been called an epidemic.  Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said, “We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.”  So even though we have access to smart phone apps and computers, these are no substitute for in-person human interaction.  The current social distancing and shelter in place demands have their own risk: exacerbating loneliness.

Projections of coronavirus fatalities in the U.S. have dropped considerably over the lifespan of the pandemic.  Initial estimates of 2 million are pushed aside by the latest models predicting 60,000.  They tell us it’s because we are practicing the recommended “mitigation” techniques.  It is also surely a function of the heroic efforts by healthcare professionals.

Despite our best efforts, we will never in this life be free from loneliness, and these human bodies we live in will run out of time.  So, though we have desires to the contrary, they will not be completely and finally fulfilled in this life.  In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis puts that into perspective.  “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

So, you soldier on, with the joy and expectation of another place where you will enjoy companionship and life.  The Bible says, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations, before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth…You turn man back into dust and say, ‘Return, O children of men’ ” (Psa. 90:1-3).  The companionship you desire is with God, and with all those who answer his call to return.  Your desire for life is fulfilled in Jesus.  He said, “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

This coronavirus season has folks thinking about lessons learned in politics, medicine, supply chain, and the economy.  But wouldn’t it be amazing if it causes you to think about finding what you really desire?  If it does, it wouldn’t be a mere virus.

Wait for It

The Resurrection account is trustworthy in part because it reveals Jesus’ disciples acting very humanly as they waited to understand what it all meant.

They argued about who would sit by Him when He began his rule. They couldn’t grasp where or why He was going “to prepare a place.” During His trial, they deserted and denied Him. After the Resurrection, they huddled in fear in the upper room. Thomas doubted while he waited to see for himself.

Give them this: They held out until it all became clear. Well, all except Judas. He missed the point and the big event. The remaining disciples may have been as troubled as Judas and their own sin no less worthy of personal angst. But they waited, and beheld the defining, magnificent moment of the ages. Though the One known as “God with Us” suffered and died, His tomb was empty! He walked, ate, and mingled with them. Dorothy Sayers writes, “They had misunderstood practically everything Christ had ever said to them, but no matter: the things made sense at last, and the meaning was far beyond anything they had dreamed. They had expected a walk-over, and they beheld a victory; they had expected an earthly Messiah, and they beheld the Soul of Eternity.”

Jesus’ Resurrection has been such a defining point in history and humanity’s self-perception that academics and philosophers have been trying to disprove it ever since. They have taken up the challenge laid down by Paul, although he probably didn’t intend it to be. He writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Without the Resurrection, Christianity collapses. Make no mistake. The empty tomb is evidence of a literal, physical, bodily resurrection. That changes everything! A metaphorical resurrection is for a powerless religion that offers nothing to wait for.

Many still question the authenticity of the Biblical record and the uncommon events it describes. Much is written on the convincing evidence of the Resurrection, if a seeker dares look into it. Professor Sir Norman Anderson summarizes, “Even apart from the Resurrection, there are excellent and convincing reasons for believing that He was ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ Is it, then, so incredible that such a One should rise from the dead? It would have been far more incredible if He had not.”

Even if you don’t understand it all, the truth is worth waiting for. Thomas found reasons to wait. Judas didn’t. What keeps you from joining in the expectation of a resurrected life? There’s no need to check your logic or intelligence at the door to join the wait for eternity and the Lord’s return. “For Your salvation I wait, O Lord” (Gen. 1:18).

Who’s to Blame?

Amidst all the scientific inquiry into the coronavirus, we now know who to blame for the pandemic. Evangelical Christians, per the New York Times. I wonder if the NYT is aware that China, Iran, and Italy do not have large evangelical populations, yet they led the world in COVID-19 cases.

That opinion piece mentions the reluctance of a few churches to practice social distancing, then broadly brands believers as “science-deniers.” Which of course makes it easy to blame Christians for whatever ails society. Listen, there’s plenty of science denial going around these days. I’m sure the NYT would deny that a baby is a living, genetically independent human and thereby has the right to life, or that the universe began at a point in time and thereby could not have caused itself. But I digress.

Jesus spoke to the issue of finding someone to blame for a tragedy. He said, “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5). His focus was not on specific fault, but the universal need for repentance. We are collectively and individually to blame for what’s wrong in the world. We inherited Adam’s sin and the whole earth groans and suffers for it, waiting to be set free (Rom. 8:20-22). Jesus is the second Adam, and from Him we inherit life (1 Cor. 15:45). That’s why He calls you to repentance and faith.

We Christians accept the blame for being truthful. Paul defied political and religious sentiments saying, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11). Peter’s narrow-minded claim was, “There is no other name (Jesus) under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus dropped this bombshell, “Before Abraham was born, I Am” (John 8:58). That name was first revealed to Moses at the burning bush as the name of God. Such is our precedent for boldly declaring truth.

Somewhere on a dark road, a neon sign penetrates the night with its message, “Jesus Saves.” Is that an anachronism from an unscientific era or a timeless beacon of truth? If Christians are blamed for something, let it be for holding these simple truths: God created the world and you. Because of mankind’s sin, the world is not as it should be. The remedy is Christ Jesus, the Savior, who came to set things right. By repentance and faith you become alive to God as you wait for Him to make all things new, even as He promised. Could the NYT blame you for believing that?