Our views of the afterlife often make God an afterthought. We imagine reunions with loved ones, no disease, no pain, no sin, no suffering, no tears — all gloriously true! But Heaven is Heaven because God is there. ~ Dr. Luke Stamps, Tweet, February 13, 2022
Even though the title of this book connotes a physical activity, a race with beginning and an end, you and I know that we’re a lot more tired at the end than we were at the start. Given the rigors of his work and the persecution he endured, the apostle Paul knew something about this. And so he wrote about a physical place that will house a resting place for those who know Christ as Savior. A forever dwelling.
“For we know,” wrote Paul, “that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in Heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Heaven is a place. A specific, someday visible reality. In the last chapter, I quoted Jesus’ promise to His disciples about the mansions He was preparing for them. In Heaven:
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? — John 14:2
My favorite feature of Jesus’ statement is the double down of His message. First, Heaven is better than those mansions you and I see when our computers invite us to “visit” some famous person’s home.1 Or just like in those home makeover shows where we watch the faces of the unsuspecting recipients of the complete refurbishing of their ordinary places into spectacular ones, Heaven’s mansion is glorious. Amazing.
Second, Jesus sort of tweaks them with His follow-up. “If that were not so...” It was like He was saying, “Hey, guys. If this weren’t true, why would I have gone to the effort to tell you about it?”
Don’t you just love that?
Earthly death is real. From the experience of losing people we have loved, you and I know it. And so, according to the creation account and God’s only Son’s affirmation, is Heaven. Perhaps nothing alerts us to the reality of this more poignantly than an actual first-person account from a friend.
The woman who wrote the following is a close friend of my wife, Nancy. The account is about this friend’s dad, Del Fehsenfeld, Jr.:
January 7 at 11:55 p.m. my father was escorted to Heaven. What a beautiful illustration God gave us of how exciting it is to be there. Dad’s eyes got so big all of a sudden. He had tears in his eyes that trickled down his face; he began to show excitement. His mouth moved, and then there was a smile. He was trying to talk and say something. That was the most movement we had seen in days. Within the last thirty minutes, he had numerous times showed excitement and peace. The last time, though, was the most dramatic. It was so obvious he was being escorted to Heaven.
Mary, my sister, and I were able to sing songs and talk to him during this time. What a peace was on his face as God took him to Heaven. We are so grateful that God allowed us to see his entrance to Heaven. I told a nurse standing nearby, “This is the day he has lived for all his life.”
You have read — maybe have seen or experienced — accounts like this. People who knew the wonder of God’s grace in their own lives, standing on the threshold of eternity, seeing Heaven for themselves. It’s quite amazing, isn’t it?
Crossing the finish line is going to be a celebration like you cannot imagine. Even better. It’s Christmas morning when you were a kid. It’s your honeymoon. It’s the birth of your first child. Or grandchild. Or great-grandchild. It’s your favorite team winning the championship. The word is way overused, but this time it fits: one day your finish line is going to be awesome.
Perhaps no Christian writer and thinker has done more to help us grasp something of the wonder of Heaven than Randy Alcorn. First published in 2004, Alcorn’s book titled Heaven has sold way more than a million copies.2 He writes, “If you’re a child of God, you do not just ‘go around once’ on Earth. You don’t get just one earthly life. You get another — one far better and without end. You’ll inhabit the New Earth! You’ll live with the God you cherish and the people you love as an undying person on an undying Earth.”3
Another Christian “expert” on longing for Heaven is our precious friend Joni Eareckson Tada. In her own book, Heaven: Your Real Home, she writes, “Every Christian who keeps looking up stretches his or her heart’s capacity for Heaven.”4
And with the sound of wonder in her voice and twinkle in her eye, we can hear and see her say this:
If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn’t surprise me. It would be just like Him. It would be totally in keeping with His generous character... Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy — utterly joyfully, surprisingly superfluous... Heaven is going to be a place that would refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness and joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on His children.5
When people like Randy Alcorn and Joni Eareckson Tada, contemporary writers and wise thinkers, go on and on about the wonder and reality of Heaven, it should convince us, then make us like ebullient kids on their birthdays.
Centuries ago, the apostle Paul also weighed in on this issue about death and Heaven. First, the promise of glory gave him perspective on life when he wrote at the beginning of his letter to the folks living in Philippi:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. — Philippians 1:21
Later in the same letter, Paul penned,
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus... Our citizenship is in Heaven. — Philippians 3:13–14, 20
The night before Bobbie died, our daughters, Missy and Julie, were with her as she rested on the rented hospital bed in the living room. After several weeks of caring for my wife, I had slipped off to bed. As her primary caregiver for months, I was more exhausted than I ever remembered being. I wasn’t there when she repeated over and over again,
Be still, and know that I am God. — Psalm 46:10,
each time emphasizing a different word. She also reported to our daughters that she “saw children playing and white twinkle lights.”
It must have really been something special for her. Like it will be for you and me. So wonderful.
Even better than the metaphorical experience of this man...
You may have heard of a guy named Rick Hansen. Back in 1987, few people in North America didn’t know about him. His name and the wonder of his story were invoked in coffee shops, church narthexes, and barber shops everywhere.6
But just in case you haven’t heard of him or just aren’t remembering who he is, let me stroke the refresh key.
Born in 1957, a scrappy, athletic fifteen-year-old Canadian named Richard Marvin (Rick) Hansen was returning home from a fishing trip with his buddies. He made the unforced teen error of riding in the open bed of a pickup truck with his friend Dan Alder. The driver lost control of the vehicle and slammed into a tree, launching the boys, first in the air, then violently into a ditch. Alder emerged uninjured. Hansen was not as fortunate, crashing to the earth on his head. The impact severed his spinal cord, rendering him a lifetime paraplegic.
Facing the specter of life in a wheelchair, the young man could have yanked the plug on the years he had left, consigning himself to a pathetic existence as an invalid. However, the span of Rick’s life became a travelogue of remarkable achievements, the pinnacle showcasing his “Man in Motion World Tour.”
On March 21, 1985, strapped in his wheelchair, his useless legs tucked tightly in front of him, Rick began what would be a twenty-six-month trek of nearly 25,000 miles, the equivalent of circling the globe, raising funds for spinal cord research. The grueling trip took him through thirty-four countries on four continents. On the way, he faced all kinds of extreme weather — heat, rain, blizzards, windstorms. Rick made his way across all kinds of terrain — deserts, forests, mountains. Mile after mile, he persevered, inflicting incredible wear and tear on his weary body.
Finally, the journey’s summit happened on May 22, 1987, at Vancouver’s BC Place in front of more than fifty thousand people. The celebration included dignitaries of every conceivable stripe. Complete strangers gleefully double high-fived each other. Typically somber and stoic Canadians wept at the sight.
After completing what’s hard to even imagine with our mortal senses, Rick glided across the finish line he had invested more than two years of his life to successfully traverse. A finish line for the record books to be sure.
- Death was not part of God’s original plan for mankind.
It’s true. The exquisite Garden of Eden was, in fact, all the Heaven our first parents should have needed.
When Adam and Eve were created, they were placed in a perfect place. A lush and beautiful garden. Their fellowship with every living thing, including God and each other, was unspoiled.
Dreadfully, when the serpent proffered a lie to the unsuspecting Eve, she caved. Here’s the record of their awful conversation:
So she reached out and grasped the forbidden fruit, took a bite, and offered it to her husband. He shamelessly surrendered, doing the same. The consequence was inevitable and terrible and historic. In fact, centuries later, the writer of the book of Hebrews included a sentence that would not have been necessary had the garden conversation turned out differently: It is appointed for people to die once — and after this, judgment...” (Hebrews 9:27 CSB).
This biblical text cannot be denied. It leaves no doubt. Someday we will stop breathing. Our heart will squeeze for the last time. Our warm, soft skin will be exchanged for a cold, tawny replacement. Our eyes will slowly deflate and recede in their sockets; our mouths will dry up, never to move or make a sound again. You and I will be dead.
The certainty of my own death has taken residence in my thinking from the time I was a small boy. This may sound unusually morose, but it’s true. Maybe it’s because every time I went to church in Lancaster County with my grandparents or cousins, a graveyard was visible and accessible. Right there beside the church, next to the parking lot. At times, I’d detour long enough to look at the granite markers. The ones chiseled with “Wolgemuth” or “Dourte” (my mother’s maiden name) magnetically drew me. Death seemed ever so present.
The relatives we were visiting in Pennsylvania were mostly farmers. Dying was an integral part of their lives. This book is about crossing the finish line. Death. Both you and me. And although reading this could feel like your first steps on a grim journey, I would love for you to picture Rick Hansen’s return to his blessed Canadian homeland after a challenging — sometimes gruesome — trip. Bathed in a cacophony of earsplitting cheers, the man glided his wheelchair home.
Your finish line — whenever you cross it — can be such a spine-tingling celebration. My sole ambition in writing this is to assure you of exactly that.
1.I have been tempted to check these out. Along with their private jets and amazing cars. I’ve even succumbed to this nudge.
2.Randy C. Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004). You see this once in a while. “Sold a million copies.” If the claims are true, this is a big deal. Thin air for a book. The average book sells around five thousand copies.
3.Alcorn, Heaven, 415.
4.Joni Eareckson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home (1995; repr., Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2018), 280.
5.Joni Eareckson Tada, Holiness in Hidden Places (Nashville: Countryman, 1999), 133.
6.“Rick Hansen,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 24, 2008; last modified March 21, 2019, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rick-hansen.
Excerpted with permission from Finish Line by Robert Wolgemuth, copyright Robert Wolgemuth.
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Heaven is real. Heaven is a place. And, it's waiting for every single one of us. Although God's original design didn't include death, everybody is going to die. Do you look forward to hearing the cheers and applause in Heaven when you enter? Come share with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily