For Ever and Ever

‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ Luke 23:43

The words of Jesus on the cross to the guilty criminal have been repeated as words of encouragement throughout the ages. They have been said to sinners seeking salvation, they have been uttered to those who feel they have no hope. We know that as Christians when we die these words will be true for us as well.

As I read the story again this morning, I was struck by a new thought. That dying thief has been in paradise ever since. If he returned to our world today he wouldn’t recognise it. In 2,000 years, in every country there have been unbelievable changes. Cases of crucifixion are very rare today, we now fly through the air like birds and hear our friends through our ear even when we can’t see them.

Yet that thief has no less time in heaven than when he first went there, he has no less time or more time. The word ‘time’ will be obsolete, it will lose it’s meaning. As I write this I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve looked at the time notification on my desk top. In heaven the phrase ‘at the end of the day’ will not exist. we’ve got for ever and ever there. I can’t comprehend it.

Do Not Worry

just imagine the scene, a sudden squall arising on the lake with darkening skies and increasing winds. Impetuous Peter had plunged into the water to meet his Master. Then things began to look dangerous, he wasn’t walking on the water, he was drowning in it. Then Jesus stretched out His hand and gripped hold of Peter’s. As skin touched skin Peter was held tight; he was safe.

For us to have the same experience we don’t need to plunge into freezing water, life throws up enough problems of it’s own. I sometimes think that human beings are programmed to worry, because there are even times when we worry because we have nothing to worry about.

As I was waiting for medical tests and then for the results, I worried. Was it a big problem or was it nothing at all? In my head I thought about every ensuing scenario. The answer to my worry was in the Bible. Someone has researched out how many times we are told in the Bible not to worry. God knows that there are times in our lives which will be hard. He knows we will need these encouragements. As our hand is grasped in the hand of God, may we remember ‘Do not fear, for I am with you.’

Washed Clean

Some of us are very respectable Christians; by that I mean we put on a holy veneer. When I ask fellow Christians, ‘How are you.’ The reply I often get is, ‘I’m fine.’ Yet I know that they’re not actually fine. I realise that like myself they have problems. Some of their troubles I might know about and others i don’t. I wonder why we Christians have this veneer of respectability.’ Even as Christians we can’t always cope.

We can’t treat God in that way. He knows all about the ‘un-fine’ parts of our lives. He knows things about us that we could never share with anyone. It’s not possible to hide anything from Him. He even knows what we’re going to say ‘before a word is on our lips.’ How much more knowing is it possible to be? There is no point in being respectable with God.

Then comes the wonderful part. He knows all the bad parts about us and yet still loves us unconditionally. Although we weren’t with the disciples in Biblical times Jesus still washes our feet today. Metaphorically speaking , our feet are dirty and scarred, having trudged through the filth, deceit and lies of this world. There is nothing to commend us to God, yet His love for us is infinite. We have all walked places we should not have been. None of this lessens His love. So like Peter, we can say,’ Not only my feet but my whole body.’

Bunting

My Christian writing group was meeting at my new home for the first time. None of the members had been to mine before so I tried to make the travelling directions as easy as possible. Whether they were coming by bus or car I sent them a little map I’d drawn myself. I also suggested that people used their SatNav or downloaded Google Earth. At the last moment I found some bunting I had and draped it on my bushes. I wanted people to feel welcome.

I’m pleased to say everyone found my home easily and we had a pleasant afternoon. But it made me think about the welcome we will receive into heaven. The time is coming for all of us when we will be standing at the gates of heaven. Having left this earth we will be battered and bruised, worn and weary. Like my visitors we won’t have been there before. It is a moment we have reflected on and waited for. Will there be bunting out in our honour?

Having read the story of the Prodigal Son, we can imagine the welcome that our Heavenly Father will have for us. Our time on earth will have seemed long as we wait, but it is only a blink in the Father’s eye. The last steps to the heavenly gate might have been extra difficult. But as we arrive the angels will be rejoicing and the welcome will be ‘out of this world’! By His grace alone we will have countered all the schemes of the devil. The welcome will be far more than a strip of bunting!

Who Is It?

“After days of turmoil and anguish we went back to what we did best. Returning to the boat and fishing together gave us a sense of stability.The breeze on our faces and the smell of the salt in the air was a feeling of normality. Not that we were being very successful, labouring all night with very little to show for it. As dawn was breaking a man was walking along the shore-line and as often happened gave us some advice.

‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some,’ he cried. We had nothing to lose, so we tried and suddenly we were hauling in over a hundred fish. In spite of working flat out John managed to look back to the shore and excitedly called out, ‘It is the Lord.’ As we looked ourselves we realised it indeed was Jesus. There He was on the beach making a fire to cook our fish on.

Peter, impulsive as ever, threw himself into the sea and waded to the shore. It was left to the rest of us to do the hard work and pull the bulging nets onto the beach. No fish ever taster better or conversation sweeter. The birds sang chirpier and the rising sun was brighter that morning. Our Lord was back with us.”

Seeking Guidance

It was a mighty job that God gave Moses to do; to lead a large squabbling crowd to the Promised Land. We read that so often he was overcome by the problems. It was at times like these that he took himself up the mountain to talk to God about it .He returned to his people with God-given wisdom and one time had with him what we now call the Ten Commandments.

Elijah’s place of refuge was the desert Time and time again he went out there to commune with God. Ahab along with his prophets as well as his scheming wife Jezebel all became too much for this man of God. He needed to talk to God and get His guidance. David found help as he wrote, sang and prayed his psalms. The words he penned have resonated to this day.

The God of Moses, Ellijah and David is also our God. Our worries and problems might be different to those in the Bible, but we still have our problems. Every morning as i wake up and talk to God I always have at least one pressing problem to bring to Him. Sometimes more than one and I’m sure it’s the same for you. As we feel worried about today’s problems, we can look back a year, a month or even just a week. Where are the problems of those days? It is likely that we’ve forgotten what they were, God has dealt with them. Where the problem is on-going, we can pray for God’s grace.

Live in Peace

I live in a community where not everyone gets on well with each other. I imagine that is true of every group of people. I witness various groups , some weeks certain people are friendly, then they fall out. This is a human failing that sadly happens all over the world. No wonder we have wars and political unrest. God knows the state of the human heart and our likelihood to be in disagreement, which why Paul needed to write in 1 Thessalonians 5:13 ‘Live in peace with each other.’ and again in verse 11, ‘Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’

Disagreements on a small scale lead to upsets, loneliness and sadness., on a national and global level they can lead to war and great loss of life. On a personal level we need to be a friend and accept friendship. The letters in the New Testament are full of Christian advice in this matter. We are all living on this planet together. We need to realise that if we are feeling lonely or sad, so might the other person and we can treat them as we would wish to be treated. As Psalm 133 says ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live in harmony.’ Psalm 133:1

Lazarus

It is reported in John 11 that Jesus spoke twice when Lazarus died, onle to Lazarus while he was still in the grave. ‘Lazarus, come out,’ and ‘Unbind him and let him go.’ His first message was heard by the ‘dead’ man and still in his grave shroud he emerged from the tomb. Then Jesus spoke to those standing nearby. ‘ ‘Unbind him and let him go.’ Does that mean let him go from the ties of death. Lazarus was no longer a dead man but a living one.

When we are released from the ties of death through our salvation, do we continue to hang on to the power of sin or make a great and glorious break from it. Do we revel in the total completion of our salvation? Our salvation is a complete act. We can’t be partially redeemed. Its integrity is a change from death to life. There can’t be a greater reversal. Our time on earth and the everlasting time in heaven are revolutionary. Nothing can ever be the same again.

As one missionary said, I believe it was Gladys Aylward ‘Once you have seen, you can’t unsee.’ We don’t need to stand by the gates of heaven. we can plunge right in. We have received the welcome.

Pruning

John 15 reminds us that God is the vine, we are the branches. When we do not bear fruit we will be pruned. As we know from experience this is not a particularly pleasant experience. The vine needs to be firmly rooted in the ground just as we need to stay firmly rooted in God. Then He can work on us to prune as necessary,

The shrubs in my garden are not at the stage of being pruned. Maybe that will come in a few years time. They need to become established first. Something we need to do with God; we are to be established and rooted in Him. To cover the many empty spaces in my garden it seemed good to invest in shrubs. I’m now starting to hide the bare fences and some blossom is appearing on my planting. I needed to start by preparing the soil, just as God prepares our hearts. I had to make the holes (always a problem for me to make them large enough). The shrubs are now in and at this stage I can only tell them by their labels. – clematis, buddleia hydrangea, plus some with names I’ve never heard of before. In actual fact my hydrangea was planted by the previous owner and that is thriving, no doubt due to an abundance of rain.

I hope i can benefit from this slow and careful p[lanting for many years to come. Our witnessing to others is not a quick job, it needs dedication for years. I can only dream of the days when I will be able to sit in the gaarden ans admire. . I imagine the butterflies and flying insects buzzing all around. . I cpmfess I am limited to working on dry days and they are not very plentiful.

Bad News

Results of tests and visits to doctors do not always end in good news, or tests can be inconclusive. The diagnosis does not always line up with our prayers. I hope that our questions at this time are not like the disciples in John 9 when Jesus meets the blind man. ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents?’, they asked.

In my life at the present time I think of a friend’s elderly husband who has had yet another heart attack and also suffers from poor memory. Another acquaintance of mine has a 17 year old son who is in hospital with a life-changing diagnosis.

Since the fall that we read about in the Bible ,there has been illness and suffering. When a family is suffering in these ways it is difficult, if not sometimes impossible to see God’s hand at work. How we hate to see our loved ones suffer or be in pain ourselves. We question how God can be glorified through these experiences. There are no simple answers. We know we have been allotted three score years and ten (though often longer) and we also know that there awaits for us a place where there is no suffering or pain. I think that we can only pray for God’s comfort, healing where is it His will, and a closer walk with Him.