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Today's Devotion: Things Always Improve

When Hezekiah came to the throne of Israel, the land was traumatized by a reign of terror instituted by his father, King Ahaz. During his reign, he promoted child sacrifice, idolatrous worship, disastrous warfare, and religious persecution. He closed the temple of the Lord and prohibited anyone from worshiping Jehovah. When he died, his 25-year-old son Prince Hezekiah became king, and things changed quickly and dramatically. Hezekiah was a true worshiper of the Lord, and he immediately reopened the temple, mobilized the priests and Levites, reestablished worship, and promoted revival.

God prepared the people for that moment, and the land recovered more quickly than anyone could have imagined. The people rejoiced when the events took place so suddenly.

There’s a verse that says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). It is a faithful reminder that problems are temporary, but our blessings last forever. We persevere by faith and trust during the night, but as the dawn appears on the horizon, the sun rises quickly bringing hope and light. So don’t give up—God is preparing you to rejoice.

The best is yet to be and we can’t lose for winning!
Vance Havner

Years ago, an Ohio teenager named James ventured out to seek a job on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Canal, leaving his widowed mother at their farm near Cleveland. A captain of one of the boats hired him as a deckhand and driver. James had a knack for falling into the canal. Over and over, he was rescued. But one terrible night while working alone on the deck, James tumbled over the railing and into the black and treacherous water. The sides of the boat were too slick and steep to climb. The boat was gliding by swiftly, and the rain was pouring. The other crew members were asleep in their bunks, and James knew he would perish.

As his arms thrashed about, James felt something—a rope. He pulled on it, and it was secured to the deck. Using all his strength, the boy hauled himself, hand over hand, up the side of the boat. Collapsing over the railing, he was amazed to be alive. Then he thought of the rope. He'd been uncoiling a rope before falling, but it was not attached to anything—just a coil of rope sitting on the deck. He had apparently pulled one end of the rope after him in his fall, and the other end had miraculously caught in a crack in the planks as firmly as if tied with a sailor's knot.

Only Providence could have saved him, and James realized God must have a definite plan for his life to have orchestrated such a miracle. "I thought He had saved me for…something greater and better than canaling," he later wrote. He was struck by the thought that God had a future for him, a plan that stretched ahead, not just through life but also into eternity. The boy returned home, pursued his education, and lived as though God had already mapped out his life. He later became a minister and the twentieth President of the United States—James A. Garfield.

Something wonderful happens to us when we realize God has a plan for our lives. Psalm 139:16 says, "You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed" (NLT).

You and I are in this world for a reason, and God has plans for us. The only way to maximize our potential is to focus on the long view and begin living with heaven in our direct line of vision.

Heaven is not a theoretical subject, and God has not spoken about it to satisfy our curiosity. God has shared details of heaven to keep us hopeful, motivated, diligent, and enthusiastic in our work for Christ. Sometimes we call this "living in light of eternity."

Paul David Tripp said, "Jesus not only gave us a future, but He also restored our ability to live as we were designed, with eternity in view." Dr. D. A. Carson wrote, "Living with eternity in view vitalizes faith and calls forth love." The great reformer Martin Luther said, "There are only two days on my calendar, today and that Day," referring to the day when Christ will return and we'll be with Him forever.

Some people scoff at Christians' fascination with heaven. They tell us we're in danger of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. But the opposite is true. Mindfulness of heaven leads to faithfulness on earth. The more we're aware of our eternal future, the more diligently we'll serve God now.

The Bible suggests many ways in which we're changed by living in view of eternity. Let me give you three of them.

Purity

First, heavenly mindedness cultivates greater purity in our personal lives. The book of 2 Peter makes this very clear. In chapter 3, Peter discusses the dramatic events that will end world history as we know it and usher in the new heavens and the new earth of eternity. He wrote, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" (2 Peter 3:10–11).

He continues with this command: "…be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Peter 3:14).

The apostle John makes the same point: "Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).

Have you ever opened your home for a dinner party? Perhaps you've invited a church group over for a special event. When Donna and I entertain, we work hard to make the house presentable. Sometimes we'll touch up the paint or rearrange the furniture for the group. We want things to be spic and span so we'll not be embarrassed. We don't want people to find dirty towels in the bathroom or crumbs all over the kitchen floor.

When you're expecting a special guest, you get ready! Christ may come at any moment, or the Lord may call us to heaven at any time. The more mindful we are of those facts, the more diligently we'll work to remain morally and spiritually prepared. Heaven is a place of purity, and God is a holy God. It's impossible to settle our minds on those realities without wanting to grow in the purity and holiness that will please Him.

Positive Attitudes

Second, heavenly mindedness leads to positive attitudes. The nineteenth–century pastor J. C. Ryle said in his quaint style, "But reader, there are positive things told us about the glory yet to come upon the heirs of God, which ought not to be kept back. There are many sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comforts in their future inheritance, which all true Christians would do well to consider. There are cordials for fainting pilgrims in many words and expressions of Scripture, which you and I ought to lay up against time of need."1

Psalm 48:1–2 says, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great King."

There is no way to overemphasize this. Without heaven, we are without hope. But those who live with heaven on their minds realize the truth of Romans 8:18: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

Life is hard, and every day comes with a new set of pressures, worries, and burdens. We're living in a world of death and decay. It is dangerous and chaotic, and our personal lives are roller coasters of emotional ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. If life led to nothing more than a cold grave, there would be no reason for hope. But those who focus on God's promises of heaven can ride above the storms. Like the psalmists, we rejoice over God's glorious dwelling place.

Purposeful Work

Third, heavenly mindedness leads to purposeful work. In Matthew 24, Jesus outlined the events leading to His return and to the establishing of His kingdom. He ended the chapter with the parable of the faithful servant: those who work diligently while their Master is away will be overjoyed when He returns and He finds them about His business. Jesus said, "Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods" (Matthew 24:46–47).

Heaven is filled with rewards for work "well done" here on earth. God performs His work through His people. That's why we are still here. Our work for Christ must be directly or indirectly evangelistic in nature. We long with all our hearts to see other people secure their R.S.V.P.s for heaven, and we must be about our Master's business.

Let's be so heavenly minded we're of great earthly good, for as the old couplet says: "Only one life, twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last." That's a rope we can grip whenever we feel we're drowning in life's alarms. It's an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. How wonderful to live with eternity in view!

1J. C. Ryle, Home Truths (London: Wertheim, Macintosh, and Hunt, 1859), Vol. 2, 215–216.

Complete audio message as heard at Shadow Mountain Community Church

What's Up With Heaven?

Complete audio message as heard at Shadow Mountain Community Church

Everyone has heard the expression, "Oh, this is just heaven!" Granted, it's a figure of speech, but it betrays the casual approach most people take to something that is biblically serious. Since heaven is the eternal home of Christians, we should know all there is to know about it.

If you work your way through the nearly 700 occurrences of the word heaven in the Bible, you soon realize there is a plurality of heavens. In fact, the Bible specifically speaks of three distinct heavens. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his visions and revelations, he told them of a time when he was "caught up to the third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2). That clearly implies there is also a first and second heaven.

The First Heaven

The first heaven is the atmospheric heaven—the sky with its clouds and birds and life–giving oxygen. Isaiah 55:10–11 says, "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be …." In this passage, the word heaven refers to the atmosphere that yields its rain and snow to the earth.

The Second Heaven

The second heaven is the vast universe in which we live, filled with billions of stars, planets, dust clouds, meteors, and galaxies. The story of the creation of the second heaven is told in Genesis 1:14–17:

Then God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth.

The Third Heaven

The third heaven is the one Paul had in mind when he wrote, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Corinthians 12:2–4).

This heaven—the heaven of heavens, the highest heaven—is the locale of the throne and the dwelling place of God. It is Paradise. It is our eternal home. This is where we will soon live side–by–side with God and with the angels and with the redeemed of all the ages.

What we think about heaven determines how we live today. I can tell you from my own personal experience and from my years of pastoral ministry and Bible teaching, when you study the biblical doctrine of heaven it will stir your heart and change your thoughts. The truth of heaven not only provides anticipation regarding our future; it also comforts us on behalf of those who have gone before us. Heaven is already a heavily populated land, filled with glorious residents. When we arrive there, we'll receive a grand welcome.

Here are answers to a few questions about heaven along with Bible passages you'll want to study on your own.

Are the streets of heaven really paved with gold?

Gates made of pearl, foundation of precious stones, streets of gold… . We've heard these descriptions of heaven, and they are directly from the Scriptures. In the book of Revelation, John gives us a glimpse of the New Jerusalem in all its majesty:

She had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates.... The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: … jasper … sapphire … chalcedony … emerald … sardonyx … sardius … chrysolite … beryl … topaz … chrysoprase … jacinth … amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. Revelation 21:12, 18–21

This is the New Jerusalem—heaven's capital—described in Scripture. This is the Father's house Jesus described to His disciples, where He was going to prepare a place for them, and where He has prepared a place for us (John 14:1–4).

Is there a purgatory?

There is no purgatory or middle holding ground for souls where they have a second chance to gain forgiveness from their sins.

The Bible does teach about an intermediate heaven. Every believer who died prior to the Ascension of Christ went to this intermediate heaven called Paradise (Abraham's bosom; Luke 16:19–23).

But when Jesus ascended after His death, He went into Paradise and took all who were there—all the Old Testament saints, all who had died and believed in God before the Ascension—with Him to the third heaven (Ephesians 4:8–10).

This means that believers no longer go to the intermediate heaven upon death. The soul and spirit of today's believers go immediately to the third heaven, because Paradise is no longer an intermediate place; Paradise is now with God (2 Corinthians 12:2–4).

Do dogs go to heaven?

The Bible does not clearly state whether we will see our pets again in heaven, but there are Scriptures that suggest the presence of animals in heaven.

In Isaiah 11:6 we are told that during the Millennial Reign of Jesus on earth, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." A similar scene is painted later in Isaiah 65:25. It's clear there will be animals on earth during the millennium and that predator and prey will live in harmony.

Later, John gives us a glimpse of heaven in Revelation 19:11, 14: "Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war… And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses." Jesus and His armies will ride white horses to capture Satan and the False Prophet and cast them into the lake of fire forever.

It seems pretty clear that there will be animals in heaven. Whether the ones we loved on earth will be there is uncertain. Whatever the case, we know the character of God and His love for us. He gives "good gifts to those who ask" (Matthew 7:11) and "gives us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17). Heaven will be a place of joy and peace and the richest of blessings as we live in the presence of God and enjoy His good gifts for eternity.

What is the Lamb's Book of Life, and will my name be in it?

The Bible says that in heaven there is a book called the Lamb's Book of Life (Revelation 21:27). And the names of all who will be in heaven are recorded in that one book.

William R. Newell, a great Bible scholar, said there are four things to be noted about the Book of Life:

  1. It is the absence of one's name in the book, not the absence of one's good works, which dooms a person.

  2. Evil works are not the issue. Many of earth's greatest sinners' names are recorded in the Book of Life because they accepted God's offer of salvation.

  3. Those whose names do not appear in the Book are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15)

  4. All names found in the Book were written before the Judgment Day. There is no record of names being recorded (decisions being made) on that day.1

We cannot earn our passage to heaven simply by being a good person or by living a good life. Ultimately, we will not be granted entrance to heaven unless we repent of our sin and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior—then we can have full confidence that our names are recorded in the Book of Life.

Will we know each other in heaven?

We will be recognizable in heaven, just as Christ was identifiable to His disciples when He returned to earth after His resurrection (John 21:12–13). But we will have new physical bodies that are designed for heaven, not earth.

Because we will be God's people made over, we will be perfectly compatible with one another and able, for the first time ever, to enjoy the intimate fellowship that we all long for in our hearts. Along with anticipating heaven itself, imagine having the unlimited opportunity to fellowship with people from all ages of history—even people we've only read about in books.

There's a whole list of people I'd like to meet: David and Joseph and Daniel from the Old Testament, C.S. Lewis, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, A. W. Tozer, and many others.

What an incredible time of fellowship! We can't possibly comprehend it completely; we're going to live together in community and be able to have unlimited fellowship with one another for all of eternity.

Do I have a "guardian angel"?

As far as I can determine, there are just two verses in the Bible that indicate there might be guardian angels in the world today. The first is Matthew 18:10: "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven." Apparently, some of God's angels are assigned to stand ready before the Father to respond instantly to His command for protection and care over these children. Jesus calls these particular angels "their angels." And that's why some people have used this passage as proof that everyone has an angel.

The second passage that seems to support guardian angels is in Acts 12. After Peter was released from jail he went to the home of Mary, where a group of Christians was praying for his release. A servant named Rhoda answered Peter's knock at the door. She was so excited to hear his voice, she left him outside and ran to tell the believers Peter was at the door. They didn't believe her and reasoned the person at the door must be Peter's angel.

Now, those are the only two passages that I'm aware of that allude to the idea of guardian angels. Having said all of that, let me also present to you the other side of the story, because while many believers throughout church history have believed in guardian angels, others have rejected the idea, feeling these two texts are not proof enough to construct such a doctrine. As you read the Scriptures, there were many times when more than one angel was called into action on behalf of one of God's chosen. Several angels carried Lazarus' soul to Abraham's bosom. And Elisha and his servant were surrounded by many angels. The psalmist writes that all the angels rally for the protection of one saint.

Now, we can't know with absolute certainty whether or not each believer has a guardian angel. But we do know that God's angels care about us and that they can intervene in our lives as they are called by God—and that's a wonderful thought!

What if my earthly body is cremated? Will I still receive my new body in heaven?

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes, "And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body" (verses 37–38).

Paul is using an illustration here. If you put a kernel of corn into the ground and let it grow, the green stalk that comes out of the ground is not the kernel. It's part of the kernel; it represents the kernel; but it's not the same as the original kernel. In other words, the body that comes out of the grave on the day of Resurrection is different from the body that went into the grave.

Whether we have a body in a grave to be resurrected or our body is to be destroyed by fire or some other disaster, an incorruptible body will be resurrected to join with Christ in the air on that great day.

How big is heaven?

The Bible doesn't tell us the full expanse of heaven, but it does give us the measurements of the New Jerusalem, the capital city of heaven. It will easily be able to house all of the people who have ever trusted in Christ. And this heavenly city will not be crowded by any means.

In Revelation 21:16, John says, "its length, breadth, and height are equal," each "wall" measuring 12,000 furlongs. This means the New Jerusalem is about 1,500 miles high—that's more than 2 million square miles on the first "floor" alone! And given that this city is cubical, we can assume that it will have more than one level. Remember, we cannot fathom the grandeur of this place. It will be unlike anything we have ever seen, and there is no question that it will be able to house every believer who has ever lived.

Can people really go to heaven and return?

It seems the bestseller list goes through a revolving trend where books are featured that list details about someone's near–death experience, during which they say they glimpsed scenes in heaven. I take those stories with a grain of salt because they don't represent our definitive source of information about heaven, which is only in Scripture.

But the Bible does tell us the apostle John saw heaven. That's how we have the book of Revelation!

Revelation 4:1 tells us John was given a vision of heaven. He saw a door open and found himself peering through a portal into heaven itself. When God allowed John to see a glimpse of the beauty, brilliance, and worship in heaven, he then obtained a new perspective on his life here on earth. His exile in Patmos was seen in view of the home that God has prepared for us—a home that is just as real as our temporary dwelling but is inexplicably glorious and will last for all eternity.

1William R. Newell, The Book of The Revelation, 9th edition, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953), 334.

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