Friday, March 24, 2006

March Gladness: Thinking about Heaven

We've been receiving some very positive responses to the monthly letter sent out last week to the Vital Signs Ministries LifeSharers -- so many that we're prompted to publish the relevant portion here in the blog. I hope you find it of encouragement. If you would like to become a part of the LifeSharer team, please contact us. We'd be honored to put you on the list for these monthly letters.

Dear VSM “LifeSharers,”

Will today’s pro-life advocates be seen as tomorrow’s heroes? Will the history books of the future portray the defenders of the unborn in the glowing terms that are used now of America’s founding fathers, our military leaders, or the abolitionists of earlier eras? To be honest, I have serious doubts such a thing will ever occur as my eschatology (end time doctrine) persuades me that there’s just not enough history left for such a monumental shift in attitudes. However, I am convinced that today’s Christian pro-life advocates will be revealed as tomorrow’s heroes in the only way that really counts and that’s hearing the “Well done” spoken by Jesus Christ to those called by His Name.

Will the pro-lifers be hailed there in the New Jerusalem by shining personages who were once victims of abortion? Many people imagine this, a chorus of cherubic citizens of heaven who were once preborn boys and girls victimized by abortion. The proposed scene includes these little children greeting pro-life activists with shouts of thanks and acclamation for all of the efforts performed in their behalf back on earth. I’m pretty skeptical about that. Because even if there’s a grateful crowd of abortion victims welcoming us, I believe they won’t appear as kids but rather as the whole, beautiful, mature saints God intended them to become in the first place. And yet, sufficient for us all will be that long-awaited smile and the warm embrace of the Savior Himself for it has ultimately been in His service that the believer’s faith and actions (including one’s pro-life work) have been invested down here.

And, from my long experience over these last 25 years in Christian pro-life ministry, this perspective of looking directly to Him is generally true of my colleagues. The shut-in who fervently prays beside her bed for an end to abortion…the sidewalk counselor who prays that her message will be heard by the abortion clinic client…the CPC volunteer who prays that God would use her words to touch the consciences of the young women she will talk to…the visitor to the nursing home who takes seriously the Bible’s description of true religion as that which compels us to visit the widows and orphans in their distress…the parent who patiently cares for their sick, disabled or wayward child…the compassionate, steadfast caregiver whose heart is shared with the needy --- In these various pro-life ministries and a hundred more, the saints involved require the directing, empowering hand of the Almighty. It is a hand that strengthens and helps us perform whatever task of preaching, of ministry, of intercession, of endurance that He asks. And, yes; it is also a Hand that will one day confer a triumphant, eternal blessing when the mission is completed.

So, of course, I look forward with great relish to a fellowship in heaven with those whose unjust deaths we were unable to stop and who God has graciously received unto Himself. No doubt about it. And it will be also be sweet to enjoy the reunion of pro-life advocates who have gone into heaven before me. These will stand in that sanctified family who have been saved by faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary on our behalf, a noble band of missionaries, martyrs and all others who have diligently magnified the matchless Name of Jesus. They make up a “forever family” that you and I (if indeed our sins have been covered by His blood) will be overjoyed to join. All of this fellowship will be fantastic, more than we can imagine. So too will be the fact that we will be at rest from our labors here and finally experience complete peace (no longer bothered with the wars with our flesh, the world and the devil). But, as the Book of Revelation explains, the greatest thrill of all will be to experience the presence of the Holy One Himself, our Redeemer and King, Jesus Christ.

“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 21:2-4, NASB)

Certainly this description has a broad application but think for just a moment about the specific treasure this promise represents to those Christians who have taken seriously the Lord’s command to “rescue those staggering towards slaughter.” Shouldn’t the committed pro-life warrior feel a special thrill at the wonderful promise of no more tears? Imagine -- never again to weep over the millions of aborted children who’ve been sacrificed at the altar of false gods! Never again to mourn over the mothers who turn away from the pregnancy center counselor or who are indifferent to the appeals made by the pro-life activist in front of the abortion clinic! Never again shall there be tears of shame and regret from those whose sins include abortion decisions! All of these tears will be wiped away! And not merely forgotten or ignored, but tenderly wiped away by the hand of the Lord. Oh, be sure He knows all too well the agony, the confusion and the longing for relief that each one of those tears signified for was it not He Himself Who bore on the cross our burdens as well as our sins? But, in that blessed day, Jesus will acknowledge our tears and in an act of awesome and beautiful mercy, He will personally, tenderly wipe them away. How great is the Lamb that was slain (and resurrected!) that we might discover forgiveness and eternal life.

And in wiping away the tears, Christ assures us of the glorious truth promised there in Revelation 21; namely, there will never be another need to cry. Never, forever. No abortion clinics in heaven. No Planned Parenthood. No mortuaries or graveyards. No nursing homes or hospitals. No emergency rooms or pharmacies or sickbeds. No orphanages. No asylums. No temporary shelters for the homeless or victims of abuse. No prisons. No halfway houses. Make your own list! No saloons; no crack houses; no government buildings; no banks; no repair shops of any kind. “The first things,” the vision of Revelation continues in verse 5 of chapter 21, “have passed away. And He Who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new.’”

Guess what? There will not even be any churches there. Beginning at verse 22 of the same chapter, we are told -- “And I saw no temple in it for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

It is that new-to-us illumination of God’s holiness that will “shine away” even the darkness of our memories. Sure, we will definitely have memory, perhaps even a more complete memory of our past than we can now imagine. After all we’re instructed that we will know then in full rather than only in part. But the “stains and pains” of the sinful world will be behind us. The Lord pledges to us that whatever degree or kind of memory we possess, it will not cause grief, distraction or sorrow. Again, no more tears. And so with soaring spirits, glorified bodies, and fulfilled expectations aplenty, the saints will enjoy forever living in God.

These thoughts provide incredible comfort and are desperately needed for those who desire to walk godly in the here and now. They are not meant to encourage escapism but rather greater stimulation to lives of holiness, sacrifice and courage. Unless one has heaven’s prize ever before him, he will fail to be of earthly profit. Conversely, it is the heavenly-oriented that show forth the resilience and inner joy to make even life in the trenches splendid. When we’re having coffee after our early morning ministries of prayer and sidewalk counseling at the 46th Street abortion mill on Saturday mornings, we often encourage one another along these lines. “Won’t it be terrific,” someone will say, “when on Saturday mornings in heaven, we won’t have to meet over at the abortion mill? After all, abortion and all other evils will have been destroyed by God’s holy fury.” And then another responds, “Yeah; that’ll be so fine. But hey; I’ll still want to hang out with you guys. But there we’ll be able to get up, grab D. James Kennedy, Joseph of Arimathea, and maybe the archangel Gabriel and just head over to the heavenly equivalent of Village Inn for coffee together. We might even see the King on our way! Won’t that be wonderful?”

And, as you might guess, even in the laughter that follows such remarks, you can sometimes see a tear or two in some of the eyes around the table. They are tears reflective of the sad truth that though the day of our redemption may be drawing nigh – it has not yet dawned. Therefore, our ongoing war against the culture of death must continue. In the midst of our fight there will still be tears of mourning for the unborn boys and girls who are mercilessly dismembered. And there will frequently be tears of longing as we wonder why God delays the judgment of such a wicked world. But, we can rest in His promises for these passages from Revelation serve with many others to assure God’s people that the day of universal reckoning is clearly on its way. And following that fearsome judgment will come the creation of the new heavens, the new earth, and the ever-new enjoyment of His triumphant presence. No more death. No more anguish. No more evil. No more tears.

Will today’s pro-life advocates be seen as tomorrow’s heroes? Probably not by Barbara Walters or Mike Wallace or the government school civics teacher. But, the Christian who endures, who prays and who raises Christ’s illuminated banner in this dark world? Oh yeah; he or she will be embraced as a hero and given the “Well done” commendation by a Person much more important than any mortal historian. And Jesus Christ’s testimony is the only one that matters.