This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Greatest Hope

Life is hard. It can include frightening situations, emergencies, tragedies, sorrows, loss, obstacles, challenges, and trials. Life can present problems that man cannot fix and for which he can find no remedy. Life can rob hope and bring despair.

Consider worldly responses to such difficulties.
·         Self-reliance: I'm tough. I can beat this.
·         Resignation: I'll make the best of it, lemonade from my lemons.
·         Stoicism: It is what it is. I just have to tough it out.
·         Indulgence: I'll drown my sorrows with alcohol, diversions, or rewards.
·         Counseling: My therapist will give me coping strategies.
·         Detachment: I'll never let anyone get close to me or hurt me again.
·         Bitterness: My anger will give me strength.
·         Suicide: I will end this awful life.

The Bible reveals much better responses for Christians. It reveals that believers can learn more about God through trials and can be encouraged by His love and faithfulness. The Bible teaches Christians to trust God and be assured of His good hand in all things. The Bible teaches believers how to have peace and enduring faith and how to grow in maturity. It teaches Christians to pray and to be thankful in everything.

While this wealth of helpful instruction exists, one truth about dealing with trials is exalted above all others. The glorious truth of unparalleled benefit is the promise of heaven.

First Peter, a book about suffering, presents this truth very clearly. In the opening verses to believers who had been driven from their homes into exile, Peter presents the great hope. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Peter 1:3-5). Peter describes an inheritance from which no deficiency can arise due to its inherent nature, which no outside force can contaminate, which cannot be diminished by any means, which is guarded by God who holds it in readiness, and which waits for believers who are protected by God so that they survive to receive that inheritance.

These words of hope about the inheritance are not without purpose. Peter continues his thought in verse 6: "In this you greatly rejoice." Due to the difficulty of their lives, these believers were not rejoicing naturally; Peter acknowledges their present reality as having "been distressed by various trials" (1:6), but the hope of heaven was intended to bring rejoicing even in those circumstances.

Peter continues to direct the believers' gaze heavenward with an admonishment to focus on heaven above all else. "Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:13). Peter encourages them that heaven is coming soon. "The end of all things is near" (4:7).  He reminds them that God "called [them] to His eternal glory in Christ" (5:10). Christ's suffering, presented as an example for them, was linked to "the glories to follow" (1:11 & 5:1). 

Paul echoes this teaching in First Thessalonians. "Comfort one another with these words." What were the comforting words? "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (4:16-18).

When Jesus saw that His disciples' "heart [was] troubled," He encouraged them by saying, "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (14:1-3).

This truth sustained Abraham and other heroes of faith. "For he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. . . . All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. . . . They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (11:10, 13-14, 16).

Focusing on heaven doesn't make troubles disappear or get easier, but it provides important perspective. Christians are pilgrims, aliens, strangers, exiles, and sojourners on this earth. Compared to eternity, this pilgrim life is very short and its accompanying weight insignificant. "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (II Corinthians 4:17).

Believers should certainly draw encouragement from the Bible's other truths, but when those other truths fail to lift their spirits in especially difficult trials, this great truth remains: Soon this life will be over, and eternity in heaven awaits.
·         We will be reunited with loved ones.
·         We will be free from pain, sorrow, and death.
·         We will be delivered from our awful sin nature.
·         We will finally have perfect, complete peace and unity with God.
·         We will finally see the One who is so precious to us.
·         We will be able to embrace, thank, and adore our Savior.
·         We will remain in glory with Him forever.

"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Corinthians 5:1).

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