It’s Just a Wedding Ring!

This Saturday Shirley and I will celebrate twenty-three years of marriage. I remember back in 2004 when we were celebrating our ten-year anniversary. Over the previous few months she had been trying to convince me that I needed to buy her a ten-year wedding ring to mark this special occasion. My reply had been consistently the same during the six months leading up to our anniversary, “I gave you a ring when we were married so I don’t think you need another one.” I know that may seem mean to some of you, but that ring had special meaning to me. As the months went on, I kept up my resolve to not buy her a ring, well, at least in front of her. Secretly, I had been putting money away so that I could get her the anniversary present she wanted. Shirley had no idea what was coming that special night.

I remember we were sitting in the restaurant talking about how wonderful the past ten years had been together. We made it through college; we were serving God at a wonderful church; we had a nice house; two dependable cars; we were healthy, happy, and deeply in love with each other. To make things even better, Shirley was pregnant. Doctors had told us just a few years before we wouldn’t be able to have children and yet here we sat on our ten-year anniversary just months away from our first child’s birth. Life was great!

After dinner we continued to talk about all the wonderful things we had experienced together, and I slid the box with the ring across the table and told Shirley how much I loved her.  She immediately started crying, put the ring on, jumped up from the table, and started hugging and kissing me right there in front of everyone! She was overjoyed.

For her the ring was a symbol of my love for her. She didn’t love the ring but was grateful for what the ring stood for—my unconditional love and commitment to her. The rest of the week she was showing off her new ring. She never said to people, “I am so in love with this ring” or “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this ring” or even “This ring has made me the happiest person in the world.” Instead, she was saying things like, “I am so in love with Bob and look forward to spending the rest of my life with Him. Being married to him has made me the happiest person in the world.” She understood the ring was a token of my love. It is a constant reminder that regardless of what comes our way I will always be by her side until death do us part.

I share this story because it taught me a wonderful truth about God and heaven. I often hear people talk about how great it will be to go to heaven. They talk about its beauty and splendor and about how there will be no more pain, suffering, sickness, separation, or sorrow. They eagerly anticipate seeing their loved ones once again. They go on and on talking about heaven when the truth is it is just the wedding ring!

Heaven is going to be great not because of the streets of gold, the pearly gates, or getting to spend forever with our loved ones. Heaven will be unbelievably satisfying because we will be in the presence of God forever. We will be able to behold our Savior. We will be holy and righteous before Him. We will spend eternity with our one true love. Heaven will be great because we get God!

Heaven, like my wife’s anniversary ring, is simply an expression of God’s love for us. We won’t fall in love with heaven, we won’t develop a relationship with heaven, nor will we worship and glorify heaven. We will love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will develop an ever-deepening relationship with our Lord. And we will worship and glorify Him without end!

I am thankful that Jesus is preparing such a special place for me to spend eternity; however, I am overwhelmed at the promise of spending eternity with the one who gave everything so that I will get eternity with Him!

Are You Ready?

I have been reading through David Jeremiah’s book “Searching for Heaven on Earth.” It is a thirty-one day study through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. This is my second time to read the book; nevertheless, every day I find new truths for life that makes living here on earth that much more enjoyable.

I pray that this passage from chapter eight will cause you to think deeply about where you will spend eternity. People often say they are afraid of death, but what they should really be afraid of is their being judged by Almighty God. Are you ready to meet the Judge?

In recent years, doctors and social scientists have been studying deathbed scenes and interviewing people who have had near-death experiences. Dr. Maurice Rawlings, a Chattanooga cardiologist, has written about his research. He observes that death survivors tell us that the moment of death is absolutely painless, regardless of every instinct we have about it. “Feels like fainting,” survivors say, or “like a missed heartbeat” or “a lost breath.” Many have a sense of their souls leaving their bodies on a tranquil voyage down what seems to be a tunnel. But not all the stories have happy endings. Dr. Rawlings was an agnostic and a cynic when something happened to him that changed his life. One day he was examining the heart of a forty-eight-year-old mail carrier named Charles McKaig, from LaFayette, Georgia. McKaig was on the treadmill when his heart monitor became erratic, then flatlined. Surprisingly, Charlie continued to talk for a moment, unaware that his heart had stopped. Four or five seconds later, he looked suddenly dumbfounded. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he fell, the treadmill sweeping his body away like so much trash, as Dr. Rawlings later put it. Rawlings immediately began applying CPR. As Charlie’s heart began beating, he screamed, “Don’t stop! I’m in hell! I’m in hell!” Rawlings thought the man was having hallucinations. But Charlie continued, “For God’s sake, don’t stop! Don’t you understand? Every time you let go, I’m back in hell.” Charlie begged Rawlings to pray for him, but Rawlings told him to shut up. “I’m a doctor,” he said, “not a minister.” The nurses gave Dr. Rawlings such terrible looks that even while applying CPR he said, “All right. Say it! Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Go on and say it.” Charlie said those words, and a strange thing happened. He was no longer a wide-eyed, screaming, combative lunatic. He was relaxed and calm and cooperative. He survived the experience, a changed man from that moment on. He went on to live a committed Christian life. The experience shook Rawlings deeply. He began a long-term study into near-death experiences, and out of his research Rawlings himself became a Christian. What he discovered in his research is that near-death experiences are often horrifyingly negative and terror filled when the person has no relationship with God. Dr. Rawlings summed up his findings, saying, “Most people are deathly afraid of dying. They say, ‘Doctor, I’m afraid of dying.’ But I have never heard one of them say, ‘Doctor, I’m afraid of judgment.’ And judgment is the main concern of patients who have been there and returned to tell about it.” We need to be careful about building our theology on the ambiguity of near-death incidents. Even so, it is interesting that such information often harmonizes with what the Bible tells us. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” says Hebrews 9:27. And one chapter later we read this sobering verse: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

The Perfect Investment

Graceway MediaI remember a few years ago when the stock market crashed.  Regardless of how much power, prestige, or prominence you possessed, it wasn’t going to help protect your investments. Each month I would get a statement showing what was happening with the small nest egg I had been putting back for my retirement.  It is not a lot of money, but it is my money, which I would like to see grow and not disappear. Everyone I talked to told me that I could move it into different accounts that would prevent or minimize the losses; however, they also warned that when the market rebounded the initial jump would get me the biggest gains on my investments, and that waiting it out would be best. As most of you remember, those where difficult months to just lose years of savings.

I have a great desire to be a good steward of all God has entrusted to me.  I want to take care of and properly use all that I have.  I want to make wise investments now that enable me to help others after I retire in ways which are not possible today. In order to do that, I have to be disciplined to dream of the future and not just live for today’s pleasures.

I think this principle was instilled in me way back in Sunday School. I still remember Jesus’ saying in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (ESV).

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” is a concept most people struggle with.  We want our best life NOW! We want a new car and a bigger house every couple of years. We want fancier toys (boats, camper, Jet Ski, golf clubs, guns, video games, electronic devices, etc.) to play with. We even want an annual raise so we can get more toys, but if we don’t get the raise we can always count on VISA, MasterCard, Discover Card, or American Express to get us our wants. We have a strong desire to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, right?

There are many problems with this mentality, but the biggest is we only have a few years to enjoy these toys. Our life is but a vapor. We have maybe seventy years to enjoy these things, and we definitely can’t take them with us. How many times have you seen a hearse on the way to the cemetery with a U-Haul trailer in tow? The treasures of this life have to be protected, repaired, maintained, and insured. We worry about whether they will last, be stolen, break, or even fulfill our desire for fun.

This should make Jesus’ statement to store up treasure in heaven where they last for eternity much more desirable. You see, we may not be able to take our stuff with us, but we can send it on ahead! We can make investments that will last beyond time and throughout eternity. Personally, I have found that investing my God-given gifts according to His commands have resulted in greater joy than any material possession I could have purchased. I have seen families blessed with a car to get to work, groceries to get through another week, a meal after the loss of another family member, and training for job. I know missionaries who are taken care of so they can share the gospel in other countries, I know of villages that have received chicks, ducks, goats, cattle, and even had a fresh water well dug for them.  All these things happened because a group of people decided to think about storing up treasure in heaven. What is their gift in this life? Joy! Unspeakable JOY! Joy in knowing a child will get a meal, joy in knowing that a family has a roof over their head, joy from watching a soul come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of things I could do with the money I give to the church each year, but none of them would bring me the eternal joy and satisfaction which I have found by investing in the treasures of heaven!

Eternal Comfort

In Matthew 5:4 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Without a doubt those who are born again in Jesus Christ find comfort in this life. Often we have to endure great trials, but with the Holy Spirit we are always comforted.  We may be in the midst of a deadly tempest and yet the Holy Spirit will give us a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).  Regardless of where we find ourselves in the brief existence we call life, Jesus has promised us eternal comfort with Him in heaven.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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 21:1-4 ESV)