For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. [Phil 1:21-26]
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. C. S. Lewis
Christians who have accomplished great things for God have lived with this tension: On the one hand, there is a desire to stay on earth and glorify God with the time they have left; and, on the other hand, they possess a desire to leave the earth so that they can enjoy the glory of seeing the face of Jesus forever.
That is what Paul is writing about in the passage we have before us. He really wants to go to heaven. He is not like the little girl who sat in the front row one Sunday morning. The pastor asked from the pulpit: “How many want to go to heaven?” Everybody raised their hand except this little girl. Thinking she must not have heard the question, the pastor asked much louder a second time, “How many want to go to heaven?” Again, all raised their hand except the little girl. So, the pastor asked her directly, “Honey, don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?” She answered, “Oh yes, when I die! I thought you were getting up a load to go now.”
I have a hunch that is where most of us are. We love the thought that when we die we will enter into heaven, but we don’t want to go now. For some of us, the reason may be that there are too many things we want to experience and see yet. We want to see our kids grow up or our grandchildren born or enjoy retirement or complete unfinished business. For others, I suspect, they really haven’t thought that much about heaven. They are anchored in this life and death and heaven just don’t seem all that inviting right now.
But for soldiers and pilgrims of Christ, heaven is not just encouragement for the old or the terminally ill. It is powerful motivation for daring exploits of service and sacrifice on the earth. The promise of heaven is a reminder that the best is yet to come. Nothing in this life can keep us from the everlasting joy of seeing Jesus in all of his glory. Like our Lord, we go through the great battles of life with courage and confidence because of the joy that is set before us. [Hebrews 12:2]
Heaven is also a reminder that our God is sovereign over every power and moves all things for His glory and our good. Our days are numbered and our God has written down the date of our departure in His book before we were born. [Psalm 139:16] If we are alive, then His mission for our life is not complete. We are surrounded with family, friends and strangers who do not know Jesus and who do not know the joy of sins forgiven and the promise of eternal delight.
Recently, I had the moving experience of sitting with 300 of my high school classmates. Fifty-years had gone by since I last saw them. I had the privilege of giving the invocation at that gathering. As I stood there looking at those “mature” faces, I thought: We have pretty much lived our lives. When we last saw each other, life was a just dream and an adventure. Now, it is almost done, almost over, history. Many of those faces revealed a lifetime of pain and disappointment. Tears came to my eyes as I thought how blessed I was to walk with Jesus all those years; to know the joy of sins forgiven and a life that had eternal consequences. That thought was reinforced when we saw a list of dear friends who were no longer living. It was a sobering reminder of how important and short our lives are.
The Lord graciously gave me the opportunity to witness to one of my grade school buddies. In high school, he was very religious and on occasion told me how I was in danger because I didn’t worship on Saturday. [He was a Seventh Day Adventist.] But, he had gone to his denomination’s school to become a doctor and his professors there caused him to doubt his faith. In his words, he was now an agnostic.
In previous communication, I had told him how my studies in theology had strengthened my faith rather than diminished it. He expressed a desire to discuss faith when we got together at our reunion. So, at the banquet we spent more than two hours discussing the questions he had. He was a pathologist, so his mind was very probing and precise. He had questions I think he thought had no answers. I was able to show him there were answers to each of his questions. Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can open his mind to the eternal reality of God and his need of redemption, so I suggested he read the gospel of John with a simple prayer: “Lord, if you are there, open my eyes so I may see you.” I will follow-up to see how the Lord is speaking to my dear friend.
I also had the joy of being with family in a July 4th reunion and at the wedding of my niece in August. Here, the issue was just the opposite. My sons and their cousins are still young. Much of their living is still ahead of them. But, they are surrounded by a dark culture that is largely secular and in many cases against Christianity. They do not have the advantage I had of being raised when Christianity was the predominant religious influence nor have most of them been shaped by churches that made a serious attempt to create in them a Biblical world view. And, given the condition of most of our churches today, I don’t see that serious deficiency being corrected soon.
So, what can I do for them? If I am still breathing, then I am here for their “progress and joy in the faith.” I determined to devote the rest of my days toward praying and encouraging them so that their “joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” I was blessed with godly parents, a supporting church family, a Bible-centered university and a host of Christian brothers and sisters who inspired and supported my faith throughout my lifetime. I have an awesome heritage and I have a very great responsibility.
What shall I do? First, I will ask for help for me! I need to be the kind of person my family will listen to. My interest in the youth must flow out of a genuine walk with my Lord. These kids are being barraged every day by voices that claim to be concerned about their welfare while offering the latest gimmicks designed to provide complete joy, excitement and satisfaction. My life must offer a genuine and attractive alternative. And, this won’t happen by me putting on a happy face but me seeking the Lord’s face. My prayers and my involvement in the Word must be motivated by a passion to know and be like Jesus. Only Jesus, active, living and speaking through me has the power to overcome the world’s glitzy promises.
Second, I must become active in their lives, loving them as Jesus did. He cared about us enough to come all the way down from heaven to live and walk among us. How does an old dude relate to hip kids? I am just going to love them. I am going to care for them and try to be there for them when they need help guidance and counsel. I am going to point them to Christ and His Word. He won my mind and heart. He can win their heart and mind. He satisfies my soul. He can satisfy their souls. He has made my life a wonderful and exciting adventure. He can do the same for them.
Third, I will pray for them. God is sovereign and only He can open eyes and change hearts. They need to see the glory of God in Christ. They need to see that He is the One who truly satisfies and meets the deepest longings of their hearts. They need to see their need and His glorious provision for them. And, prayer, my prayer for them, will be answered by my God, who has given me the burden for them in the first place.
The promise of heaven also reminds us of the terrible threat of hell. This is serious business. I know the condition of our youth and our world at times seem almost too far gone to be saved. But, our God is the Giver of life. If you are saved, you are a miracle of God’s grace. If He saved you, he can save our kids. Tattoos, hip-hop, rap, alcohol, drugs, sex and wild parties are no match for the splendor of God in the face of Jesus. If we are alive, we still have a mission to complete. Their salvation, our joy and God’s glory are at stake. Let us wage the good fight until the Lord calls us home to eternal celebration. Let us do our best to see that our old friends and young family will go with us.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92253 USA | 619.829.2390
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