Vera Mae

Where did you go today, Vera Mae?

She took off her apron
and walked out the door,
down the steps and crossed the street.

She laid down on the velvet patch,
clasped the blades between her fingers
and stared at the blue canvas above.

Where did you go today, Vera Mae?

A tear tumbled down off her cheek,
she prayed, “O God, are you there?
If this is my lot, it’s well with my soul.”

The crisp air hugged her cheeks
and settled down deep in her lungs.
“This is my lot and it is well.”

Where did you go today, Vera Mae?
You left your apron behind
and the screen door wide open.

Where did you go today, Vera Mae?

You left your apron behind.

Life Theology

Heaven: God’s Unpacking of His Glory for Eternity

While worshiping the Lord this morning, I was reflecting on the idea of being like God.  It was one of the factors of Adam and Eve’s first sin.  “You will be like God,” the serpent said.  The fact is, though, that we already were like God.  He made us in his image.  Now, we seek to make ourselves our own God.  However, if you are born again and have a new spirit, a new heart, a new mind, and a new will, you want to become more like Christ and less like yourself.  We call this sanctification.

So, I thought about my asking God to give me grace to “be like Jesus.”  Then, I thought about meeting Jesus face to face for the first time.  He will look at me and say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).  And on that day, I will begin the final process of becoming like him.

But, I began to think about the size of God.  People say, “We serve a huge God!”  No we don’t.  We don’t even serve a big God.  Galaxies are huge.  Planets are big.  God is unsizeable. He holds the galaxies in the tip of his finger.  First Kings 8:27 says, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”  God is not bound by time or space.  He is holy and his holiness is manifested in his glory.  That glory will be unpacked for eternity in heaven.  We will never see the end of it.  And for us, those who are being “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” it will take an eternity to become like the greatest manifestation of his glory, namely Jesus.  In other words, it will never, ever, ever happen.

Let the weight of that sink into your heart.  God is altogether infinitely higher and loftier then we are.  It will take forever for us to become like him.  In other words, it will never, ever, ever happen.


Even in Death, Jesus is Enough

Dave lived most of his life in opposition to God.  For over 60 years, he did what he wanted, how he wanted, and when he wanted.  My dad had known him for quite some time and when Dave became a Christian, Dad was awestruck.  Dave started coming to my dad’s men’s group on Saturday mornings.  One time, Dad called and said, “James, I never thought I’d be praying with Dave Jones at a small group.”

It all started Easter Sunday 2007.  Dave was sitting in the pew at church.  He said, “I just finally got it.”  Dave wasn’t saved and he knew that he needed to be.  God drew Dave to himself and saved him.  Dave received Jesus into his life for the first time.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44).

Dave had battled with cancer before becoming a Christian and this past winter, around late January or early February, the cancer returned.  He wasn’t in good shape after a few weeks.  His voice was raspy and fading due to a paralyzed vocal chord.  His strength was failing.  His energy was lower.  Still, Dave clung to Jesus.  He had a strong desire to live and he was learning how to desire heaven at the same time.  It’s human nature to keep fighting and be healthy.  We run from pain and hurt to safety and security.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

I met Dave at one of the men’s times in Omaha.  Here was a 60-some year old man, yet a spiritual baby, conversing about life, cancer, holiness, and pursuing God.  It was beautiful.  Before I met him, I knew he had been fighting cancer and I told my dad to send him an article by John Piper called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”  Piper had prostate cancer a few years ago so I knew it would come from first-hand experience.  After reading, Dave said, “I don’t know if I see cancer as a gift yet, but I’m learning.”  Dave was learning that Jesus was there for him, though for some reason he designed for Dave to have cancer.

The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21b).

Last week, Dave was hospitalized because his cancer was spreading and wreaking havoc inside his body.  My dad went to the hospital to see him two days in a row.  The second day, I called home, “How is he doing?” I asked.  “He’s 100% worse,” Dad said matter-of-factly.  As our conversation continued, I was so touched as my dad told the story about what happened in the hospital that night.  Here’s the e-mail he sent to his men’s group:

I visited with Dave for a couple of hours on Wednesday at the hospital.  Although he was very weak and in pain, he communicated very well.  We had a great conversation about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We read passages, talked about their meanings, and prayed.  Dave has concerns about his family and friends, especially Steve, his mentally retarded son.  I could tell that his heart and soul was ready to meet his Lord, because his concerns are focused on others and not himself.  Out of the blue he asked me about a mutual friend.  He asked if this person was where they needed to be.  “What do you mean by that?” I asked.  ”Spiritually,” Dave replied.  I told him probably not and he asked if I could talk to this person about Jesus.  Then, I told Dave, “I just talked to [this person] earlier in the day and discussed your life.  I shared the saving grace of Jesus Christ and how it [has] made all the difference in your life.”  The Lord is awesome!  But, I promised Dave I would talk to our friend again the next day and I did…As our visit came to a close, I wondered what I should say to him since I may never see him again on this earth.  So, in my mind I decided to say, “Brother, I love you and I will see you on the other side.”  But, before I could say my goodbye, Dave said goodbye to me first: “Tim, I’ll see you on the other side”.

That night, my dad sat next to Dave’s bed and read John 14:1-6.  Dad read, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.”  When he finished, Dave said in his raspy, cancer-stricken voice, “Read it again.”  I’m sure is nothing more special and comforting than to hear the words of Jesus being whispered into your ear when you are facing death.  It was the last time my dad saw him.  Today, Dave Jones died, and yet he lives because he is home with Jesus.

I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25-26).

As I was reflecting on Dave’s life and death tonight, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why did God save him, give him cancer so quickly after, and then die very soon?  The only answer I could think of is that Dave’s life, despite being finished on this earth, will be used by God to reach others.  Dave did not get saved in vain and he did not die in vain.  Dave’s salvation experience is not a reservoir of spiritual residue.  Rather, God will use it to be a pipeline of blessing to those who knew Dave in order to draw people to his Son.

Dave’s love for Jesus, concern for others, and God-centered attitude in suffering will inspire others to consider this Jesus he surrendered his life to. Though his time as a Christian was short, it was not wasted. And for that, I praise God.

So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).


Pie in the Sky?

During this Lenten season, I’ve been reading meditations by C.S. Lewis from various writings of his in a booklet called A Clean Heart Create in Me. Over the past two days, I’ve been in an e-mail debate with a student over the existence of God, the reliability of Scripture, and things of that nature. It’s sad to see someone who is so violent against the reality that a powerful God reigns over this world. In today’s meditation from Lewis, the reason for this student’s disbelief became clear.

We are afraid of the jeer about ‘”pie in the sky,” and of being told that we are trying to “escape” from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is a ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that Heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that the mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.

May we see that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:8 are so true, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Truly only the ones whom God has given mercy to in order to be pure want to see God. Why would a godless, wicked person want to meet God? That would be foolish! In fact, in Luke 12:20, Jesus told the story of a man who did not fear God and who stored up his treasures on earth and when he died, he met God and God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Those are words I never want to hear out of God’s mouth.

There are godless people all over the world–as close as across the street. So, let us pray fervently and with perseverance that God will put people in our lives who are not pure, so that he can use us as instruments of righteousness to lead them to the table where we eat and drink from.


Near-Death Experiences and Hebrews 9:27

From a study on Hebrews 9:27.

There are great controversies in Christianity today about whether or not “near-death experiences” can happen. A near-death experience, from my understanding, is an experience a person has when they seem to have no breath in them and see to “another world” or into spiritual realities, possibly heaven or hell. Many people have said that these experiences turn them toward God or cause them to think about how they are living. These are very popular in the world today. According to Gallup, as of 1991, 5% of Americans had experienced a near-death experience. This number has almost certainly gone up in the last 16 years. The next two verses (Heb. 9:27-28), I feel, squelch any argument for these experiences. Now, I do not doubt the actual experience of any one person. Those visions and dreams can happen, but are they biblical? Are they a divine gift from God? Are they a tool of Satan to deceive people? The Scriptures should be our final source of truth.

The word “once” in Hebrews 9:27 is the Greek word hepax, which means “once, one time.” The author says very plainly right here: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once.” We only get one chance at life. Once breath runs out of us, we are dead, “and after that comes judgment.” This one verse would seem to shed light on these “experiences.” It would interpret those experiences as what they are: “near-death.” Not death. When a person’s heart stops, it doesn’t mean they have died. There are many examples in Scriptures about a person appearing “dead” but not really being dead (Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52; Acts 9:40, 20:10).

A person cannot see the afterlife of heaven or hell and then go back. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a prime example. In Luke 16, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to tell his family to change their ways of living, “lest they also come into this place of torment.” This seems like one of the “warnings” we hear from someone who just had a near-death experience. The rich man continued, “If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” We see from Luke 16 that after the rich man died, he was in a place of judgment. Revelation 20:14 talks about the lake of fire-which is hell. This is called the “second death.” If someone were to die once, and then die finally, and then be thrown into hell, that would be three deaths! The arithmetic does not add up according to Scripture. Therefore, on the issue of “near-death experiences,” we must say that they may be dreams, visions, or hallucinations, but we cannot say that a real death has occurred in which a person has seen the gates of heaven or the fires of hell. Furthermore, in John 3:3, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born-again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This verse tells us that unless you are a child of God and have a new life in Christ, you cannot even see the kingdom. So, it makes no sense that people who have had these experiences can say, “I saw the pearly gates” or “I was in heaven, talking with loved ones and Jesus.” It simply does not mesh with the word of God.