Heaven is real

The recent warm, sunny days have lifted our spirits after the cold days of early Spring. The cloudless blue skies, awakening nature, and the quiet, warmth of longer evenings have brought joy to our hearts. The beauty of the natural world around us, with the magnolia and cherry blossoms, the daffodils and primroses, and the green of the new leaves now beginning to adorn the trees, reveals the unique splendour of planet Earth, on which we are privileged to live. At such times we might wish to be able to stop and stay in the pleasure and happiness of the moment, but it isn’t possible. The daffodils fade, the blossoms fall and the most glorious of sunsets leads only to the darkness of the night.

The deep longing to find lasting peace, joy and fulfilment is something we all experience. The joys and pleasures of this world are real, but all transient. Because we have been created by God with an eternal soul we, inevitably, long for more, for that which endures. King Solomon, who was famous for his wisdom, wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” A prayer, based on words of Augustine, expresses the desires of many, “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; so lead us by your Spirit that in this life we may live to your glory and in the life to come enjoy you for ever.”

Today we seldom talk about heaven and the life to come, but it is fundamental to our very being. We can only make sense of the sadnesses and mysteries of this life in the light of eternity. God is passionately concerned about justice and has set a day when he will righteously judge all people. Heaven is real and is the realm where God dwells in glory, love and unending blessing. Jesus said he was the Way to heaven.

The book of Revelation beautifully describes heaven, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. The one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new! To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. I will be their God, and they will be my children.”

The secret of being content

We are living in unsettled times. Reports in the media portray a spirit of unease and unhappiness in the hearts of some. It seems that when things go wrong, as they inevitably do in this fallen world, we must find someone to blame and to complain about. We see it as their responsibility to make us happy and ensure we have everything we want. Yet we live in country that, compared to most countries in the world, is wealthy and remarkably secure and stable. We enjoy a considerable degree of freedom to live our daily lives without interference from the authorities. In fact, millions of people from other countries would love to live in Britain and some make great efforts, at risk to their lives, to get here.

Some years ago, I met some friends from West Africa at Heathrow. As we were driving along the M4 they asked, “Where are the soldiers and the roadblocks?” I explained that things that were part of daily life in their country didn’t happen in Britain and that the overwhelming majority of our police were unarmed. They were amazed and, also, could not get over the fact that there were no potholes in our main roads! So, if our lives are so blessed and privileged compared to billions of people in the world, why are we unhappy?

We need to learn the secret of being content. When we are content we are happy, satisfied and fulfilled. It has very little to do with how much “stuff” we have. I was talking to a friend who works in a high-class resort to which many wealthy people come. He told me about a recent holiday in which he and his wife saw people who are much poorer than they are yet, he said, they were content. One man wrote, “Contentment doesn’t come from adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire; not in multiplying wealth, but in subtracting desires.” Socrates said, “The wealthiest person is the one who is contented with least.”

Towards the end of his life the apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome. In a letter to the Christians in Philippi he wrote, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

He has made everything beautiful in its time

The Spring and early summer is a beautiful time as nature comes alive. This year I have been struck by the beautiful colours of the flowers and blossoms as they have come one after another: pure white snowdrops, purple crocuses, yellow daffodils, majestic magnolias, delicate almond blossom, pink cherry trees, bluebells, and, now, the May blossom. The sequence of flowers and colours has been stunning and, unmistakably, reveals the hand of the Creator.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon reflected on the meaning of life and wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” Solomon was famous for his wisdom and his wealth. When the Queen of Sheba visited him, and saw his palace and his court, she said, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.” Yet, when Solomon surveyed God’s creation he saw a beauty far beyond anything the human mind could create and it moved him to worship the awesome God of who created this beauty.

Solomon also saw that the beauty of creation is transient; everything is beautiful “in its time.” The flowers fade and fall; their beauty is only for a brief time. It is the same in our experience of life. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation. We bear the image of God and have the glorious capacity to know and love him. Yet, the various stages of our lives quickly pass: the beautiful baby, the boundless energy of childhood, the exciting potential of adolescence, the strength of early adult years, the immense possibilities of middle age, the beauty and dignity of retirement years, before our faculties decline. The inexorable movement of time defies our deep longing to find that which is lasting and totally fulfilling.

The transient nature of life’s beauty points us to the eternity that God has put in our hearts. We echo the words of the hymn, “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” There really is an eternal world, which is even more beautiful than this world. God is there, and the beauty of that world never fades.

Reflections on the River Amazon

I have been in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. At Manaus two great branches of the Amazon River meet – the Solimões and the Negro. It is one of the great sights of the natural world. The water of the Solimões is light brown and the water of the Negro is black. As the 2 great rivers converge the waters do not immediately mix, but flow together side by side for many miles. The massive scale of the Amazon River is difficult to appreciate until you actually see it. One fifth of all the fresh water which flows into the oceans of the world comes from the Amazon. When the Amazon flows into the sea it takes 70 to 80 miles before the fresh water is fully mixed with the salt water.

The book of Ecclesiastes explores the meaning of life when lived without God. The author wrote, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” The water cycle of rain and evaporation means that rivers continually flow and yet the sea does not overflow. Many generations of people have lived by the Amazon River, travelled on it and fished in it. They are now no more, but still the river flows. What does this say to us about the meaning of our lives?

In the Bible rivers are a symbol of God’s blessing. There was a river in the Garden of Eden. In his vision of heaven, in the book of Revelation, John says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”

Water is also a symbol of spiritual refreshment and heavenly blessing. In Psalm 23 David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” In Revelation 7 John says, “For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” So the beauty of rivers like the majestic Amazon points us to the deep and lasting fulfilment we can find in God himself, who created us to know him.

A Vision of Heaven

Large crowds of people are demonstrating around the world. Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets in protest about the policies of their governments. In Turkey the protest began because a large park in Istanbul is going to be turned into a shopping centre. In Egypt the protest is against the policies of the newly elected President. Sometimes the protesters have been dispersed with water cannon and tear gas.

In Brazil the people are protesting at the large sums of money being spent on hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. They want the government to address the needs of the millions of poor people, including those living in the favelas found in all the large cities of Brazil. These people live in shacks with no sewage systems or supplies of clean water. Brazil has one of the most successful economies in the world, but the people see the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. The President of Brazil seems ready to respond to the protesters.

All of us long to find true happiness and fulfilment, and it can be found. True fulfilment is found in God, who created us. The Bible calls this eternal life, which begins here on earth and continues in heaven. In Revelation 7 there is a vision of a joyful crowd of people that no-one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language. They are standing before God’s throne and in front of Jesus, the Lamb of God. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cry out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

These people are rejoicing because God has delivered them from all the sufferings and troubles of this life. They had not cried out to earthly rulers, but to Jesus, who is the King of kings. He heard their cry and brought them safely to heaven. “Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”