Miscellaneous Stories

HEAVEN

I, Baruch, write this as a witness to the powerful message of the Apostle John, who experienced the great Revelation. I was his secretary and was privileged to be the first to hear all that he had envisioned. I hope that my humble insight regarding his experiences will be of some help in the growth of your faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God.

You see, the Apostle had visions – many of them – experiences that he never forgot!

He saw the very door of heaven opened. He actually entered into another existence, beyond anything he had seen or known before. Almost everyone has hoped and dreamed of being able to go to heaven – but that would be after death! This opportunity was amazing because he was not dead, and yet he entered the full Kingdom of God!

He could not describe the process of getting there. It was so quick and so insignificant compared to what he encountered when he arrived. There were amazing events with strange creatures and objects. Sometimes he was shown great destruction, sometimes great glory.

But, when it came to describing heaven itself, he said it was like the New Jerusalem had come down out of heaven from God. The new City of God – pure, pristine, radiant and glorious. Every angle and measurement perfect. Every ingredient the most pleasing and stimulating to the eye. It was truly dwelling in the very presence of God. Inspiring beauty was all around. Even the streets were paved with gold – for gold could be used there just for the beauty of it, as pavement – for its value was equal to any stone or brick in the hands of God!

Nowhere in this city was there a Temple, or a worship building of any kind. At first this seemed odd to him. He thought that if there was ever a city that would be expected to have a place of worship and for that place of worship to be glorious, it would be heaven. And then the realization hit him.

There was no need in this city for a “place” to worship god. The purpose of a temple on earth is to have a place set aside amidst a world in rebellion, where God can be worshiped and honored.

In this heavenly city, there was no need of having a reminder to worship God. God was in their midst. God was a part of all that they did. Heaven was their Temple!

And he noted that there was no sun, or moon, to shine and give light. On earth those heavenly bodies had stood as the great reminders of the ultimate source of light and life. Many cultures have even confused them in their greatness for being gods, themselves.

Yet, there, in the full presence of God, symbols and reminders were no longer needed. God’s very glory was the light. In that heavenly city, their lamp was the Lamb of God, Jesus, Himself.

With God always present, and God’s radiance always shining, there was no night in the heavenly city. Along with no night, there was no danger or no need for wariness. There was also no loneliness, emptiness or despair.

With God’s ever-present light came direction, inspiration, assurance, fulfilment and confidence.

As the Apostle looked around the city, gathered there was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and languages.

Yet, with that wide variety of people, there was no prejudice – no racism, sexism, ageism or any of the other stereotypical prejudgments that easily come to humans in the broken context of our fallen world. The city had no ghetto, no poverty and no inequality. No one lorded it over another, for everyone knew who the Lord truly was, and that all had a place and a purpose! All who gathered were brothers and sisters in the loving community of God and the grace of the Lamb.

This was his description of heaven. It was a wonderful place of glory, inspiration and love. It was place where God lived with God’s people. It was a place here death would be no more – nor mourning, no crying, nor pain!

Then, I, Baruch, asked the Apostle, “But what was it like to live there in the heavenly city? What did the people do?”

He answered that their day to day lives were not much different in task than what they had done on earth. They worked at tasks that challenged them, and that required their creativity and diligence. The difference was that the work never became toil, as it has become on earth after the Fall into sin. Hard work led to accomplishment of the task. People pulled together to help one another with the goal of serving God. No one worked with ulterior motives, nor tried to take credit for something they had not done, nor hid their new discoveries from others to get ahead. The joy of the work was derived in its service to God and not in getting ahead of someone else.

As a need arose, all discovered that, together, they had the means to meet the need at hand. Jealousy, envy or covetousness did not arise, because all were fulfilled already in their relationship with God. There was no inner emptiness, or sense of lacking, that made them look with envy to the lives of others to try to fulfill their own hearts. It was not necessary. Each person was uniquely gifted to have a part in the goals of the whole community.

I, then, asked the Apostle if they had recreation available – experiences of fun and enjoyment that were not directly related to their tasks. He laughed and replied, “Of course!”

There were wonderful opportunities for them to have time apart from their regular routines. Opportunities were available to be together with others for enjoyment, even games that challenged them in their creativity and skills. Opportunities were also available for individuals to explore, learn and grow on their own. Although, of course, “on their own” was but a figure of speech from our world, for in heaven they were never alone the true sense of isolation. God was always present. Never a stifling presence, or a spoiling presence, or a presence of negative, judgmental authority. It was just that God was THERE. And, therefore, in their solitude they could be separate, and yet, never lonely – by themselves, and yet, always safe. Recreation never took them away from God, never led them to suffering, never required foolhardy risk and never left any regrets. It was true and complete RE-CREATION!

And then, I said, “If there were no temples, when and where did they worship?”

The Apostle laughed again and reminded me that temples and services of worship were needed on earth because we sinfully live much of our everyday lives without God. While God may come to mind from time to time in our work, we do not make God the center of all that we do and say. Therefore, we need a time to re-center ourselves, to confess our sinful forgetfulness of God, and to confess our times of hurting God and others. And since worship has not been a constant part of our tasks, we need to take time to worship the wonder and majesty of God.

In the New Jerusalem that is constantly taking place. As they walk down streets that shine like gold, and see splendor that makes their hearts leap, they give glory to God. As they work at their tasks either individually or with others, they are at work in and with God. As they celebrate or recreate, they are in the presence of God. Worship is life and life is worship in heaven.

And finally, I said to him, “Why it does not seem that the city which you describe is that much different than what would be possible for us here on earth without sin!”

His countenance changed and he became deeply serious.

The Apostle said, “Dear Baruch, what you have said is very true, but the way that you have said it betrays how deep is the chasm between heaven and earth! You said ‘without sin’ like that is such a minor thing. It is sin – that deep and full willingness of each of us to live our lives with little thought of God, with little need for God, with little concern for God’s expectations in every situation – that makes our lives more Hell than Heaven! Sin is a cancer that eats away at all of Creation, giving us little understanding of what true Life is meant to be. Sin leaves us with thoughts that, at times, see God as our enemy, as the spoiler of our fun, and other times, as some tool of ours that we can use or discard upon our own whimsy.”

“Yes, Baruch, the only real difference between heaven and earth is sin, but that difference is such a chasm that there is but one bridge large enough to span it. And that bridge is the cross of our Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God, who suffered that death because of His tremendous love for us – a love that could bridge the terrible chasm of sin. I yearn for the day when I may live in the full presence of our God in that heavenly city, and commit myself this day to an even deeper life of obedience and faithfulness that I might draw as near as is possible to God here on earth in my remaining years. And, I desire to share with those I encounter every day that amazing grace and love of God in God’s Son, Jesus.”

I, Baruch, was never so deeply awed by God as I was that day in that conversation. I love Jesus Christ and I will serve Him until the day of my death and, in Him, step forth to my journey into the New Jerusalem.

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. What was it about how heaven was described that meets your expectations about heaven? What left you confused, challenged or disagreeing about what heaven could be like?
  2. How would you picture worship in heaven? Would you expect there to be place of worship? How will that serve people in heaven, if so? How might it be possible to live here and now in the statement “Worship is life and life is worship?”
  3. One would think that there would be no racism, sexism, ageism or other prejudices in the life of the church. How do these prejudices raise their ugly heads in our faith experiences today?
  4. Recreation seems like such a silly question regarding heaven. But, how might the experience of being spent as one works yield the need for re-creation – even in a context in which we think all is perfect? How might this change your attitude toward your need and or use of recreational experiences now?
  5. What are ways that we underestimate the effect of sin in this world? How have you downplayed the sin in your life?

WHAT DO YOU SEE? (II Kings 6:8-23)

Let us call him Caleb – named after the one who first saw the Promised Land for what it was and was ready to enter. (See Numbers 13) Our Caleb was on a very privileged life journey. He was the attendant – the lead disciple – of the prophet, Elisha. While he had been a disciple of Elisha for a while, he had not been the attendant for long. Gehazi had been in that position until he contracted leprosy due to his own selfish misuse of his position (See II Kings 5 and the story of the healing of Naaman). Caleb had no desire to go down the road of misusing this opportunity for his own gain. He just wanted to faithfully serve this amazing prophet of the Lord and he shares this story:

I have lived in the days of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha. I heard the many amazing stories of Elijah, and have witnessed personally the miracles that Elisha has performed. But now, I was privy to his personal faith journey. I watched and waited upon him as he meditated and prayed daily for long periods of time. I realized just how much he loved the LORD God and waited upon the LORD’s revelation – seeking to be sure that what he discerned was truly divine. He was a model for me in this. As I watched and learned, I, too, prayed and listened in ways that I had never done before. I always knew that prayer mattered to God and for my life, but I only saw it as a daily obligation and discipline. From Elisha, I learned that the LORD hears prayer personally and communicates with us, if we are willing to listen! As a calling, prayer will change one’s life!

I tell you it was uncanny and impressive how Elisha would focus in his prayer time and discern things that no one could possibly know. Yet, he knew. If it was necessary after one of Elisha’s prayer times, I would be sent out to share the message to whomever it was directed. This took me at times into the very court of the king of Israel. Amazingly, I was welcomed and heard because I was the servant of Elisha. It was his message that brought this authority for it was so consistently accurate and important. Most recently, my work had been to reveal the whereabouts of the king of Aram and his armies. This information had foiled attacks by the Arameans.

On my first journey with the prophet, we were led to go to Dothan. When we arrived, there was nothing about the early stages of our time there that indicated the amazing things ahead. We talked with some of the village leaders and were welcomed and a place was made for us to eat and sleep. Little did we know that the king of Aram had learned of our journey there and was prepared to eliminate Elisha.

I was up early the next morning and decided to take a morning walk. But, when I looked out beyond the city I saw a portion of the Aramean army that had come overnight to surround Dothan. It seemed such a desperate situation and I ran and woke up Elisha. “Alas, Master, what shall we do?”

Elisha’s immediate reply was so calm and reassuring that it has become more than just a memory for me. Elisha said, “Do not be afraid for there are more with us than there are with them.” “There are more with us than there are with them.” The words were puzzling. At that moment, I thought, “What! How can this be? It is an army with horses and chariots!”

But then, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” And that was exactly what took place. Immediately, I could see that the surrounding mountains were full of heavenly horses and chariots of fire – so much more numerous than what the king of Aram had mustered and sent against us.

“There are more with us than there are with them.” A glimpse. A perspective. A seeing differently than I had ever seen before.

As the Aramean armies made their move toward the city, Elisha prayed, “Strike this people, please, with blindness.” And they were struck blind!

Elisha walked up to the leader of the armies and said, “This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” We led them all the way to Samaria, through its walls, and into the very presence of the king of Israel! It was as if they were not just blind, but fully under the spell of the prophet’s voice as if it were the very voice of the LORD. He spoke and they obeyed!

When we arrived within the city, Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.” It was at that moment that their eyes were opened and they realized that they had been led right into the capital city of Samaria and were surrounded by an army of Israel. “Seeing” and “not seeing” was becoming much more complicated for me. It is not just a simple thing of the eyes. So much to learn!

It was what happened next that helped me to see the perspective on power that the LORD had given to this prophet compared to even the king. For, the king said to Elisha, “Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” From a human perspective, this could be a gut response: These were enemy soldiers of Israel and they were at the mercy of Israel’s king. Why not kill them all?

But, Elisha said, “No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.” The king did just as he was told – and, sure enough, Israel had no problems for years after that with the Arameans!

What an amazing day. As I look back with time and the opportunity to think through what had taken place, I have prayed that I might have a deeper faith to see as Elisha had modeled. As I look on that day these are some of the insights that I have gained:

Elisha experienced no fear because he knew that the LORD was more powerful than those armies of the Arameans. In fact, there is always a sense around Elisha that he trusts in the power of the LORD over every situation and seeks to respond as he is led in each as it arises. He sees the world differently than ordinary people. “There are more with us than there are with them.” This sense of vision and power is never about Elisha’s will, but about his ability to discern God’s will for each situation. For Elisha, the LORD matters, and in that faithful focus is the source of his power. It seems that it is never about Elisha and always about the LORD.

With this understanding that Elisha was not afraid came the realization that I was truly afraid that morning. And, fear clouded my experience of faith to where I just ran to Elisha – I did not pray, nor did I even think to pray when I saw those armies. I ran! Fear had a negative effect on my faith in a way that I lost focus. The LORD may still have led me to go to Elisha, but it was fear, not faith, that took me there. Fear is a powerful motivator for human beings. Savvy leaders can use it to get their way with people – make them fear things that may not require their fears. And, when we react purely out of fear, our ability to see where God would lead us becomes clouded and even lost.

Finally, power can corrupt one’s judgment. I saw this in the king when those armies were at this mercy. His blood was up and he wanted to destroy them. The opportunity to have the upper hand guided his judgment and clouded his faith such that he could only see it as an opportunity to kill. Thankfully, he turned to Elisha for guidance and Elisha saw the greater good of a gracious response. Power is quite a temptation. Inspired and guided by God powerful things can be accomplished. Without the LORD’s guidance and purely our own wills, our own priorities and our own perspectives, power can become purely destructive.

It can just come down to how and what you see.