faith

When We All Get to Heaven: John Eldredge's "All Things New"

I am a very self-conscious person. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general I don't like to draw attention to myself. Hence, reluctance to step out on the dance floor with my wife. Or perform a karate kata in front of my class. Growing up in the Baptist church, no one raised their hands to God in praise as they stood with closed eyes and swayed gently back and forth with the music. (I'm guessing that would've been considered too showy, maybe even irreverent.)

My friend Mark Adams thought it was funny, when he and I went to see KISS and Def Leppard in concert, that I stood there in the crowd with my arms folded across my chest while he shouted and fist-pumped with excitement. Vicki Dudash thought the same thing while she was rocking out to the sounds of Elevation Worship. Nevertheless, in both cases I was enjoying the music and focusing on how the guitarists were playing. (My crossed-arms body language frequently confuses my wife.)

In the old hymn, "When We All Get to Heaven," we sing, "When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the jubilee!" I'm thinking when I get there I'll be in the back (where all Baptists and former Baptists like me tend to sit in church), kneeling, relieved and just thanking God for his promise of eternal life - while glancing at St. Peter and whispering my thanks for letting me slip through the Pearly Gates.

Don't get me wrong ... there are lots of things I hope to do when I get to heaven. Reunite with friends and relatives. Discover the true fate of my great-great-grandfather who disappeared in the middle of the Civil War. Have God show me how he came up with the fabric of reality and set things in motion so his Creation would evolve over time. Explore the universe. Discover who really shot JFK.

In his book, All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love, John Eldredge tells us that too much of our imaginings of heaven don't do it justice. It will not only be a glorious place -- it will be somewhere where we are rewarded for having striven all our lives to be good Christians, for the sacrifices we made in the name of doing what's right, for persevering when it might've been easier to give up and give in to temptation.

I'm not sure I quite agree with all of John's theology. After all, the way I was raised, since we only receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, who redeemed us through his sacrifice on the cross, and that this is a gift we don't deserve but receive because of God's mercy, it seems like what we ought to do when we get to heaven is spend all our time thanking God for his mercy and worshiping him. It's as if we should just be grateful that we even got to heaven, period. But John Eldredge says there is more to it than that. There will be rewards we receive for having fought the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7). The Bible is clear that we can't earn our way into heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9), but it is also clear that there will be rewards beyond simply the joy of being in God's presence. 

Another old hymn (by the same person who wrote "When We All Get to Heaven") says "Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown?" When I get to heaven, will I have earned any rewards? Some of those who we see in heaven will have done more for the Kingdom of God than others. Some will have given up more than others, in order to follow Jesus. Each will be rewarded in kind.

"Jesus teaches that his people [will] receive rewards in heaven based on their faithfulness ... Our reward in heaven is based not on the amount of work we do, but our faithfulness in doing what we are called to do."

Faith, and Surviving the Apocalypse

It is with some chagrin that I admit I do judge many books by their covers. Or their titles. Had my daughter not passed along to me When the English Fall, by David Williams, I most likely would not have given it a second glance. But I read it, and I'm so glad I did.

The story is narrated in first person by a devout Amish farmer named Jacob. He and his family are living in a community in rural Pennsylvania when a massive solar storm gives rise to apocalyptic circumstances for the people on planet Earth. Because of their minimal reliance on technology, the lifestyle of Jacob's family and their Amish neighbors is nowhere near as impacted as that of the "English" -- their name for the non-Amish. But as time goes on, and social order breaks down, bringing the starving and the criminal onto their farms, the Amish are hard-pressed to adapt.

Using as he does the main character to narrate the story through a series of journal entries, author David Williams uses a simple style of storytelling that flows easily, mirroring the spirituality and lifestyle of Jacob, his family, and their neighbors. Jacob turns to prayer over and over again, and it is his faith that sustains him through all their troubles. The Amish willingly share with those in need and struggle with the use of violence to combat violence as gunfire comes closer and closer to their homes, week by week, day by day.

In the end, the Amish make a key decision to ensure their survival, a decision based on divine guidance and the ability of Jacob's daughter to share a vision of a different future. In both good times and bad, it is the faith of these people that sustains them.

 

Take Heart: Prayers for the Terminally Ill

Take Heart: Prayers for the Terminally Ill by Judy Sliger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Judy Sliger's "Take Heart: Prayers for the Terminally Ill" is not for the faint of heart. But then many people are not likely to read this unless they or a loved one are fighting cancer. And having the courage to face one's prognosis, or that of a friend or family member, already shows the potential reader of this book is not likely to be "faint of heart." Judy is open and honest, and she doesn't pull any punches. In these prayers she shares with us -- as she talks with God -- the heartaches and challenges and the daily grind of fighting something that has hold of you and won't let up. Even the challenges faced by her family and friends, as they deal with her illness, are something Judy lays before God. And in the process of sharing all this, Judy's prayers share a great deal of wisdom, wisdom we should all take to heart. Her faith in her Redeemer remains strong, despite her "trials and tribulations," despite her struggles, despite the times when her strength fails her for a little while. "Take Heart" is meant to be read in small doses; it will move you, and challenge you, and point you to the One who desires to stand by your side through everything.

Judy is my cousin's wife, and I am so thankful for this chance to get to know her a little better.

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