I’m Feeling Homesick

sunset
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

Over the winter I read the book Heaven, by Randy Alcorn. My Sunday school class is now working through it, and I’m getting seriously homesick for that place. Do you ever look around this broken Earth and think, I could leave all this behind without a second thought? I sure do.

Maybe I’m just starting to get to that age. As a kid, I remember being so afraid during the Gulf War, thinking the end of all things must be near. I pleaded with Christ not to come back until I’d experienced college, marriage, children. Then during my 20’s, when I struggled with debilitating arthritis for several years (a symptom of Crohn’s), I started seriously thinking how nice a pain-free life would be. Even though the arthritis has been in remission for eight years and I forget I have Crohn’s most days, that is starting to become my regular way of thinking. In fact, I turn 40 in two weeks, and instead of bemoaning the fact that half my life is past, I’ve been cheering that I’m halfway done!

It’s not that I hate my life. Quite the opposite. I eat well, sleep well, exercise, and stay busy. I thoroughly enjoy playing with my kids and watching them grow into well-balanced, godly people. I actually like my kids! I do a lot of camping, I love to get out in my garden, I enjoy creating music, and I find huge satisfaction in writing and selling my novels. I love life. But when I look at the state this world is in—ridiculous government debts, disregard for unborn and elderly life, the gay movement, broken families, a general belief in evolution, wars, famines, genocide—I start to think real seriously about living under a just and perfect Ruler. I look forward to the absence of starvation, disease, and conflict. I long for a time when we will no longer even be tempted to sin, and every relationship will be pure and unselfish.

But I love it here on Earth, you may be thinking. How can I give up sunsets, mountains, and the joy of physical movement for some spiritual realm I don’t understand? This is where I recommend Alcorn’s book again. Through careful Bible study, he shows us that Heaven won’t be all that different from what we know right now, except it will be perfected. Because Revelation 21 tells us how God’s residence, the City of God, will come down to Earth. Our final destination is not some spirit realm. It is the New Earth. God will come down to us, and where He is, that is Heaven. Did you get that? God will come to us! That absolutely blows my mind.

God created us physical beings. In the beginning, he provided us with a physical home and he called it “very good.” We blew it, but through Christ’s sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, God has provided the means to redeem mankind and renew all of Creation. He hasn’t changed his original plan. It will be the same, only better! In fact, I find good reason to believe even animals will be made new. Alcorn uses solid scripture to present his case then uses it as a springboard to do some very interesting speculating. (He distinguishes clearly between his imagination and biblical fact.)

heaven alcornIf you dread the thought of dying, or if you’re curious about what lies ahead, I strongly encourage you to read Alcorn’s Heaven. I know I wrote something similar only a few posts ago, but gaining an understanding of Heaven has seriously changed the way I view life and death. It’s made me homesick.

Folks, we are in for a treat. But the only way to enjoy what God has planned for us is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t we spread the word? Who have you shared Heaven with lately?

The Great Gatsby and Heaven

great gatsbyBecause I write novels for kids, most of my pleasure reading takes the form of middle grade and young adult selections, but I like to poke my way through classic literature as well. I usually have one going on my Kindle all the time. Over the past year or so I’ve read several books by Jules Verne, Les Mis, The War of the Worlds, The Phantom of the Opera, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hobbit, and Frankenstein, along with several classic children’s books like Alice in Wonderland and The Princess and Curdie. I find value in checking out books that have stood the test of time. They usually contain themes that resonate with humanity across the generations. Many times these themes are positive. Sometimes they are not.

I just finished reading The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a work heralded as a nostalgic, enchanting tale of the era of jazz. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: “The book received critical acclaim and is generally considered Fitzgerald’s best work. It is also widely regarded as a ‘Great American Novel’ and a literary classic, capturing the essence of an era. The Modern Library named it the second best English language novel of the 20th Century.”

I say it’s a terrible commentary on a life lived without God.

Jay Gatsby is a self-made millionaire, though his success smacks of the underworld. He’s well-known in New York for throwing lavish parties, which are attended by all the social elite. It’s all done for the benefit of Daisy Buchanan, with whom he’s in love. His bid to woo her away from her husband ends in backstabbing and murder. In the end, the narrator laments that Gatsby was chasing a dream that was better left in the past. Yet he understands Gatsby’s motivation for looking backwards when only lonely decades stretch before. Happiness eludes us though we run toward it with our arms out. It’s a bleak, hopeless take on life. One that, unfortunately, so many identify with.

heaven alcorn

Last week, I finished reading Heaven, written by Randy Alcorn. If only I could hand out a copy to everyone who picks up The Great Gatsby! As Christians, we have the promise of eternal life. Not life with pain and suffering as we know here. Life as we’d want it to be lived here. For we will live here, on this remade earth, in the presence of God and in the absence of sin. This formula equals the fulfillment and satisfaction Mr. Fitzgerald’s characters were seeking in their gin, sex, wealth, and socializing.

As Christians, we don’t always understand what hope we have to offer the world. We don’t understand Heaven. We have this image of floating in the clouds in some disembodied state while strumming on harps. No wonder no one seems to want to go there! But Mr. Alcorn uses scripture to explore the truth about Heaven. He does it in a way that makes it digestible. He paints it in terms of what we are familiar with. After reading this, I’m telling you I’m awfully excited to go there.

Of course the ticket comes with a cost: acknowledging that there is a God, admitting that He is righteous and we are not, and surrendering to His will. That’s a price steeper than many folks wish to pay. The alternative, however, is the useless seeking and bitter disappointment of The Great Gatsby during this life and something worse after death.

I won’t be recommending The Great Gatsby but I certainly recommend you get a handle on the future life God promised us by reading through Heaven.

Peace on Earth: Reflections on Christmas, Newtown, and Heaven

christmas

“Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

Christmas is the season when our hearts resonate with these words. We long for wars to end, for humans to demonstrate love, friendship, and understanding toward one another. How many wistful songs are written about this? How many poems and greeting cards? Peace is one of our most basic desires. It’s what the angels promised. But this weekend, in the midst of our seasonal celebration of peace, I wept as a young man opened fire on a room full of first graders.

How do we reconcile such a promise with a world full of Adam Lanzas, Charles Mansons, Adolf Hitlers? We can’t. That promise hasn’t taken effect yet. It was given at the first coming of the Prince of Peace, but it’s fulfillment must wait for Christ’s second coming. When he returns, Jesus Christ will rein for a thousand years. It will be a period unlike any this earth has ever know. Imagine an absolutely perfect ruler with perfect judgement, perfect justice, perfect laws. Yet, the millennial kingdom is only a picture of heaven. There will still be a final rebellion. Only after it is put down, after the wicked are judged and the heavens and earth are renewed will the angel’s prophecy reach it’s complete fulfillment.

I’ve been reading a good deal about heaven lately, and the more I learn, the more I long for it. I’m excited to realize it will be here on earth! The earth was created as the perfect habitat for people, with its atmosphere, water supply, temperature, beauty, and seasons, and that plan has never been revoked. Because Christ inserted himself into his own creation and sacrificed himself for that creation, everything he made will be remade. That redemptive work is much more far reaching than we realize. Every effect of sin will be rectified. Every effect! Anything less would be a victory for Satan.

That means earth will again be “very good,” with no sickness, no death, no drought, with food enough for all and people who will no longer even be tempted to sin. Animals, once created as immortal companions to humanity, will be renewed, gentled, and perfected (yes, I believe that means the original animals). My garden will grow without weeds. Stars, mountains, plants, earth’s natural resources, the food chain, all will revert to God’s original plan. The earth will once again be given to humanity to govern–we won’t fail this time–and the New Jerusalem, God’s own city, will come down to us

That, perhaps, is the most thrilling to me. God will not require us to “go to heaven” as some disembodied spirit doing unfamiliar things in some alien realm. God can exist as such. We cannot. We were created as physical beings, we’ll be resurrected as physical beings, and we will do familiar, physical things in the familiar, physical world that was prepared for us. God will enter our world and make himself accessible to us forever. How absolutely amazing is that?!

Since we will be in bodily form on the renewed earth, I think our heavenly existence will be much like the one we now experience. There will be dining, travel, music, work, leisure, friends, outings, sports, and celebrations. But there will be no sin to mar any of it. No disease. No death. All our separations will be temporary. There will be no famine, no war, no school shootings, not even anger. And we will meet Jesus. Finally, the peace we long for will be realized.

I weep for those who lost children and loved ones this weekend. As a mom with a child the same age as the Newtown victims, my heart is heavy. This world sucks. I have not lost a child, but I live with Crohn’s disease. My son has dyslexia. Marriage is a constant struggle. And my dog just lost a leg to cancer. I’ve experienced the effects of sin firsthand, and I long for their removal. But the promise of heaven is only purchased through Christ’s death and resurrection, and only those who accept his sacrifice for the payment of their sin are eligible to experience it.

If you’ve encountered the Child of Bethlehem, this Christmas you can join me in anticipating the day when “Peace on Earth” will become a reality on earth.

My Opinion on Furry Souls

I’ll probably take a lot of flack for this post, but I really don’t care. For years I’ve quietly disagreed with the leaders of mainstream Christian denominations who tell us animals will not live beyond this life because they don’t have a soul in the sense that a human does. The truth is, that’s all opinion and speculation. The Bible does not specifically address this issue, and for good reason. The Bible is God’s message of redemption for mankind, not animal kind. So its pages only hint at his intention toward animals. Therefore, my opinion on this matter is as valid as theirs. And from what I understand of scripture, my opinion makes a lot more sense.

Now I totally agree that humans and animals are different. God made man in his image and gave him a special ability to commune with him. Man holds the highest place in all creation. Yet God made animals, too, and he called them “very good.” They pleased him. And they had purpose: he made them for the companionship of man and for his own glory. God also demonstrates his concern for animals throughout scripture by providing the ark and by ordaining laws for their humane care. He provides for the wild ones. He sees them when they fall. It’s clear God loves them as part of his creation. And as you’ll see, they were meant to be an eternal part of that eternal creation.

God made three distinct groups of living creatures: angels, man, and animals. All three he created immortal. In the beginning, there was no death. Angels had a choice to follow God or not. Some did. Some didn’t. They do not taste death. Some will live forever with God; others live forever in torment, according to their choices. God made no way to redeem angels.

Man was also given the choice to love or reject God. One man’s choice doomed all mankind to death (though it is true we each reject him individually). Man also doomed all creation with himself. God provided a way of redemption for mankind which we can choose or reject. He also promised to renew all creation.

God also created animals with the intention that they would live forever. But when mankind fell, animals were doomed to death as well. They were innocent victims of man’s sin. Their innocence is accentuated by the fact that it was their blood that was shed for the remission of sin until the innocent Son of God, whom animals pictured, shed his blood once and for all. Animals did not reject God and therefore have no need of redemption. God promised to renew all creation, of which animals are a part.

Christian leaders tell us animals don’t have souls. It is true they don’t commune with God in the way mankind does. But to say they just end seems a stretch to me. Animals were created with the same unique life that men and angels share. They have emotion, spirit, personality. They love, they feel, they think, they suffer. The same Hebrew word is used to describe the unique life of men and animals. They’re animate. They live just as man does, unlike rocks, trees, or stars. In the beginning that life was intended to continue indefinitely, even though they couldn’t commune with God as man could. Why would that difference exclude them now? Why would their spirit not continue as it was meant to? How could it not, if their life was created as an eternal essence? How could the unique life God gave them just uncreate?

Also, we know there are animals in heaven. The lion and the ox, the wolf and the lamb, the white horse. I’ve been told those can’t be the same animals created on earth. Why not? If God created angels to live forever, and they do, and if God created humans to live forever, and they do, and if God created animals to live forever, and obviously they do too, why would God create new ones for heaven and uncreate the originals? That’s just not in keeping with what I understand about God’s plan for his creation or his plan for other eternal lives. Even wicked men and angels continue. Why would God not renew the original animals when all creation is renewed?

Let me emphasize one more time that man is more precious to God than animals. God strongly desires that men turn to him. That is why he gave us the Bible. That’s why he sent his Son. Man is the epitome of his creation. Animals are subservient to man. God eventually gave man permission to kill animals, to eat them, to sacrifice them. Animals turned fearful, turned predator. We are all fallen together. Yet animals are one of only three classes of creatures that God gave spirit, that he gave life. Nowhere in scripture do I see that God revoked this original intention. Everywhere I see that the original will be restored. Animals were a part of God’s eternal plan for creation in the beginning, they still are, and they will continue to be beyond the borders of this present, fallen age. Animals were created to live.