Heaven Ain’t What it Used to Be (and Hell is Changing Too)

Heaven-and-HellJeffrey Burton Russell is the author of a book entitled, Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven and How We Can Regain It. According to Russell, those who identify themselves as Christians in the United States have only a vague and superstitious concept of heaven. “It’s not that heaven is deteriorating,” says Russell, “but we are.”

The problem isn’t that people don’t believe in heaven. They do. According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, 71 % of Americans believe in heaven and 64% believe in hell. Those percentages have dropped some over the past 50 years, but they still remain quite high.   However, what people mean when they speak about heaven and hell has changed a lot.

Fifty years ago, most people had baseless superstitious ideas about heaven; those ideas included saved people becoming angels, floating on clouds, and playing harps. Today, many people choose to think of heaven as a vague condition of happiness, which may be temporary and lead to another plane of existence such as reincarnation. The Bible teaching that heaven and hell are realms in which souls will dwell for eternity is lost on modern America. And many Americans apparently consider themselves too sophisticated to believe that heaven and hell are places of reward and punishment, respectively.

The Bible is clear that God wants us to be motivated to go to heaven and to avoid hell (read 2 Peter 3:13-14 and Mark 9:43-48). To be properly motivated, it is crucial that we maintain a clear and correct understanding of heaven and hell. We must not trade Biblical concepts for the empty superstitions of popular culture. Here are some truths that need to be firmly believed.

1. Heaven and hell are both rewards. Heaven is a reward for the righteous and hell is a reward for the unrighteous. Jesus promised His disciples that if they would suffer persecution for His name they would receive a great “reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). Comparing Christianity to an athletic contest Paul wrote, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:25). In Matthew 16:27, Jesus said, “the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”

2. Heaven and hell are both permanent. In heaven, the saved will enjoy “an enduring possession” (Hebrews 10:34) described as “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away” (1 Peter 1:4). Heaven is an eternal home.  The saved will inhabit “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Hell, on the other hand, is described as everlasting punishment. At the Judgment, Jesus will send the unrighteous “into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). It is “the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:45). Those who go there will “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

3. Heaven is a place of rest, but hell is a place where there is no rest. Heaven is described as “a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). But for those in hell, “the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11).

4. The saved will reign with Christ in heaven. In heaven, it’s not just that the saved are treated like royalty, they are royalty! God’s word promises that “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12), and that the saved “shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:9).

Heaven and hell will be as the Bible describes them, no matter how the concepts of men change. God’s children will so live as to gain “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4)

 — Steve Klein

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Longing to go Home

Longing to go Home

Life is brief. “Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor” (Psalm 39:5).  Death is necessary.  “It is appointed unto man once to die” (Heb. 9:27).  We are but a moment’s sunlight, fading in the grass.

We view death as the enemy, and indeed, it is.  It brings separation, suffering and sorrow.  As Christians, we do not glorify death or minimize it in any way when we say that, horrible as death may be, we long for what is beyond it: A home with God.

Many of us have had the experience of being away from home for an extended period.  Invariably, there comes a point when we want to go home.  On trips to third world countries, the thing that bothers me the most is not the primitive conditions, the strange food, the lack of hot water, the tick bites, the police road blocks, or the cold nights in a tent or unheated building.  It’s the longing to be home with family.

In New York in the spring of 1927, Lillian Alling, a poor young immigrant girl, became very homesick and decided to return to her family in Russia.  Because she had saved only $100 and would not accept lifts from strangers, she set out to walk the 12,000 miles home.  Equipped with maps, a knapsack and an iron rod for protection, this fragile girl passed through Chicago, Winnipeg, British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska, arriving in Nome in July of  1929.  It was just the halfway mark of her incredible journey.  Soon after leaving Nome, she was spotted approaching the far western tip of Alaska.  That was the last anyone on this continent is known to have seen or heard of her.  She apparently succeeded, as she had planned, in obtaining a boat and rowing across the 36 miles of the Bering Strait to Siberia.  She really wanted to go home, didn’t she?  Do we?  We should!

Listen to the way the apostle Paul describes the Christian’s desire to go to heaven in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2.  He writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”  We groan, longing for home!

If you look carefully at the text in 2 Corinthians 5, you’ll see that Paul’s longing to go home was founded firmly in the confidence that he had a home to go to.  “We are confident,” he says, “yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).  This confidence was based on faith in God, and in the recognition of all that God has done to prepare us for the journey from mortality to life.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” “Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God” (2 Cor. 5:7, 5).

Nearly everybody will tell you that they want to go to heaven, but how many are willing to walk the long walk of faith to get there?  How many are willing to let God prepare them, rather than just assuming that they are prepared already? How many have a confident longing to go home?  Do you?

– Steve Klein

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When My Father Calls Me Home

running homeI remember doing something when I was a youngster that kids don’t do much anymore — playing outside!  If dad or mom wanted me, they’d usually just open the front door and holler down the street, “Steve!”  If I was within earshot, I’d come a runnin’.  When I got there I’d be informed as to why I was called home. Maybe there was a chore to do, maybe it was time to get ready for church, or maybe it was supper time!  Of course, occasionally I was called home because I was in trouble; perhaps I hadn’t finished my chores, or my father wasn’t pleased with my work. For this reason, the moments between when I heard the call to come and when I came running up to the door were sometimes anxious ones.

As a father calls his children to come home, our Heavenly Father will one day call each of us home. We do not want that moment to be one of doubt, anxiety, or fear — and it doesn’t have to be.

The end of a good life is like a parent calling a child home after the child has done his chores and then spent an afternoon playing joyfully in the neighborhood.  One elderly Christian whose friends and loved ones had passed on before him said that he felt that he just got to stay and play a little longer.  But no matter how long we may stay, this life will end for each of us, and the Lord will call us:  “For man goes to his eternal home, And the mourners go about the streets” (Ecclesiastes 12:5).

After death, there’s judgment (Hebrews 9:27).  And that is the thing that can create a lot of anxiety about being called home if we are not prepared.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Once, when I was in the fourth grade, I was playing with friends down at the end of the block on the street where we lived.  I heard my dad calling in the distance, and, as usual, I immediately started sprinting home.  It wasn’t really time for supper, so I was thinking maybe this time I was in trouble!  Had I forgotten to do something I was supposed to do?  My mind raced faster than my feet.  I ran up the steps of the front porch to find my dad sitting there looking at the newspaper. He’d hurt his back at work recently and was in quite a bit of pain.  He looked up at me and asked me to pick up the rubber band from the newspaper that he’d dropped on the ground.  I was tired from running home.  But I was glad.  Glad to be home.  Glad to do something, even though it was a small thing, to serve my dad.

If we have been happy to serve our heavenly Father here, we will be happy to be called home to serve Him there.  If by His grace we have lived lives of purity and holiness here, we will be truly at home in His presence.  Let us “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” when He calls us home (2 Peter 3:14, ESV).  Let us look forward to receiving “the things done in the body” because we’ve done the good things that our Father has asked us to do.

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The Water of Life

flowing-waterfallI recently learned that the story I was told as a boy about the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth is a MYTH!  Even as a youngster, I suspected that the Fountain of Youth itself was mythical, but now to learn that Ponce de Leon never actually even searched for it… It makes me think that I’ve been drinking from a fountain of gullibility all these years!

In John 4:14, Jesus promised to give water which would become in those who drank it a “fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  Myth?  Something for the gullible to believe in?  One might think so, except for the real evidence that Jesus rose from the dead never to die again.  Hundreds of reliable witnesses attested to His resurrection, and many were willing to die rather than alter their testimony.  And then there’s that otherwise inexplicable empty tomb.  So, it seems more than credible that Jesus possesses everlasting life, and it’s no stretch at all to believe that Someone who has eternal life could share it with others.

The Scriptures describe Jesus giving us eternal life as if it were as simple as Him giving us a drink of water.   But this water is special — miraculous in fact.  What gives it its life sustaining properties?   The answer lies in the Source of the water.   Revelation 22:1 reveals that “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal” was “flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

In Chapter 11 of “Heaven: O For a Home with God,” we wrote the following:

Before God’s throne, Jesus fulfills His promise and gives “of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts” (Rev. 21:6).  “For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters” (Rev. 7:17).  And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).

I’m getting thirsty.  How about you?

“There’s a fountain free, tis for you and me
Let us haste, oh haste, to its brink”

– Steve Klein


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The Way that Leads to Life

difficult wayI have written much about the glorious expectation of heaven.  If you are like me, you find strength and solace in allowing your mind to dwell on the wonders of that eternal home of the soul.   But in focusing on heaven, and cherishing it as the home we have been created to inhabit, we must be careful not to generate false expectations.  Not everyone will make it home.  In fact, most will not.

“…the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  (Matthew 7:14, ESV)

Of all of the inconvenient, unpopular truths that have ever been spoken, these few words of Jesus, uttered near the end of His sermon on the mount, may be the most troublesome for the average person.

Why is the way hard that leads to life?  What makes it so hard?

The way is hard because believing can be hard.  Whoever believes can receive the gift of eternal life (John 3:16), but believing isn’t easy.   There are impediments!  Satan makes sure of it.  He veils this world in the darkness of man-made philosophy, human suffering, false teaching, and misplaced priorities.  The apostle Paul describes this sad reality in these words: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

The way is hard because you have to obey the gospel and keep commandments.  The Bible declares that God will punish “those who do not obey the gospel” with “flaming fire.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).  As we’ve said, some hear the gospel, but choose not to believe it.  Others want to change or adulterate it to suit their personal preferences.  And still others believe it, but choose not to obey.  They may even express contempt and disdain for the very idea that one must obey to go to heaven.  Yet, all over the pages of the New Testament, we see that obedience is necessary for salvation, and that failing to obey is the sure path to doom.  “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8).

The few who enter heaven “are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).

The way is hard because you have to give up things – passions, pleasures, possessions, and sin.  A wealthy young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to have eternal life (Matthew 19:16-26).  Although he’d been keeping the commandments, Jesus told the young man that he lacked one thing: He needed to give up his possessions.  “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  “And the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” 

It’s strange, but just like this young man, many find it hard to give up things they cannot keep in order to gain things they could possess for all eternity.  Jesus makes the point bluntly in Mark 9:43-48:

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—  where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—  where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’   And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

 Yes, the way IS HARD that leads to life.  But, what an adventure it is, and what a glorious end awaits!  In the amazing words of an old hymn…

There are so many hills to climb upward,
I often am longing for rest,
But He who appoints me my pathway
Knows just what is needful and best.
I know in His word He hath promised
That my strength, “it shall be as my day”;
And the toils of the road will seem nothing,
When I get to the end of the way.

(When I Get to the End of the Way,  Charles Tillman)

 

~ Steve Klein

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The Saved and the Innocent: Making Heaven Brighter

fatherchildIt is hard to imagine a world so bright and glorious that even the sun and moon could add nothing to its illumination.  But there is such a world.  For Christians, it’s the world to come, and it’s called heaven.

As John saw the heavenly city, he described it as a place that “had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.  And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it” (Revelation 21:23-24).

There is something fascinating in that description.  God’s glory illuminates heaven.  There is no need of sun nor moon.  Yet, MORE glory and honor is brought into the city by those who inhabit it.  It’s as if, unable to be made more glorious by any physical source of light, heaven is somehow beautified by the light-filled beings who enter in.

Every human being who as ever lived will inhabit eternity…somewhere.  Those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus will dwell eternally in heaven (Revelation 5:9).  Other beings will be there as well.  Angels to be sure, but also innocent children.

When a husband and wife, through the providence of God, conceive a child in this world, an immortal soul has its inception.  If the child passes from this life in the womb, or anytime before adulthood, the Scriptures indicate that the child is safe and will enter the heavenly abode — “for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:13-14).

It is a painful and traumatic experience to lose a child; it is an experience that my wife and I have had, and that my parents also went through.  But there is comfort in the hope of being with the child in the world to come.  When King David’s infant son died, he said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).

The desire of a loving parent to spend eternity with an innocent child who has passed on can be very powerful.  In fact, it can change the entire trajectory of a person’s life.  And ultimately, it changes heaven itself.  In the glorious light of God’s presence, the sweet presence of innocent children will surely make heaven all the more extraordinary.

May every adult who has been touched by the loss of a child be inspired to seek the comfort that the child as found in heaven.

 — Steve Klein

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Have You Noticed The Robes?

whiterobesIn the book of Revelation, the apostle John is given the thrill of a lifetime — the opportunity to see into heaven itself.  In Revelation 7:9, he sees, “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”  The scene is fascinating.  It’s not just one thing catches your attention.  Everything does.  The throne.  The Lamb.  The size of the numberless multitude with palm branches.  And every one of them is clothed in a white robe.

But how could so many human souls have robes that are white when our own righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6)?  John is told how.  All of these people who are gathered around the throne of God in glistening white garments “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

Two things about the robes must not escape our notice:  First, the people in heaven had washed their robes.  Did you get that?  They had washed their own robes.  Nobody did it for them.  They had taken action.  Second, the robes had been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  There would have been no opportunity for anyone to wash their robes had the Lamb not provided His cleansing blood!  We have access by faith into grace.  God provides the blood through His grace (Ephesians 1:7).  We apply it to our souls in faithful obedience to the gospel.  “You have purified your souls in obeying the truth…” (1 Peter 1:22).

I long to stand before the throne of God adorned in a robe clean and white.  Don’t you?   The Lamb of God has provided the cleansing agent so that we might wash our robes!

So, with your mind’s eye, take a look again at what John saw.  Notice the robes!  All of the robes of all of the redeemed before God’s throne are white robes.  None are spotted.  None are stained.  Wouldn’t a dirty, stained or soiled robe be out of place in such a scene?  Wash your robe!  No matter how filthy and grimy it has become, no matter how long the stains have set in, not matter how you’ve failed in your efforts to conceal those embarrassing black blotches, no matter what a wretched sinner you have been, be assured of this one thing:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

 – Steve Klein

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Lapho Ezulwini (There in Heaven)

Heaven is not a home for me alone. It’s not just for people who look like me, live in my country and speak my language. Heaven will be home to all the redeemed of all the ages from every corner of the globe. The apostle John was privileged to view our heavenly home, and he “looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes…” (Rev. 7:9).

If you are like me, you have probably considered some aspects of this before. You may have wondered if you will see your loved ones and relatives in heaven. You’ve probably imagined getting to meet great Christians like Peter and Paul there. It will be their home too. But have you ever tried to picture all the people on earth right now, far flung all over this planet, whose culture, language, and social status are all entirely different from yours, who will also call heaven their home?

On trips to Africa in recent years, I have been privileged to sit with native brethren in Christ in huts, and block buildings, and under the shade of trees, and hear them sing hymns to my God and theirs. The Ndebele Christians of southern Zimbabwe speak a language that is both beautiful and mystifying to my ear. To hear them praise God in song from their hearts is touching even when one does not understand their language. But to have the words translated for you, and to realize that a beautiful song that they love to sing is about our mutual home in heaven, is extraordinarily moving.

Lapho Ezulwini is a song they sing over and over again. Translated into English, the words mean something like this:
There in heaven, it is my home.
There with the Lord, it is my home.
There will I rest and rejoice.
Now I remember, it is my home.

There is no stubbornness in my home.
This is a different world from my home.
We are in darkness here on earth.
They are in light, in my home.

The Savior is there in my home.
It is where I will see Him at my home.
He is its brightness. He cares about it.
Nothing frightening enters in my home.

I long to be there in my home.
I draw myself closer in my home.
Lord, quickly find me.
Let us meet in my home.

Even now, as their voices echo in my mind and resound in my heart, I am filled with a desire for heaven. O for a home with God!!

Listen to a snippet of Lapho Ezulwini as sung by a group of my brethren in Gwanda, Zimbabwe, in July of 2015.

 – Steve Klein

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Winning the Triple Crown

American Pharoah.  If you have followed sports and national news recently, you know the story.  Misspelled though his name may be, the thoroughbred is horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.  What an amazing feat by a marvelous creature.  But it pales somewhat when I recall another horse that won that Triple Crown back in 1973.  His name was Secretariat.

I am old enough to remember Secretariat well.  He won all three races — The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and the Belmont — in record times that still stand today.  In his victory in the Belmont, he led by 1/16 of a mile coming down the backstretch and finished an amazing 31 lengths ahead of his nearest competitor.  But his most impressive run may have been in the Kentucky Derby that year.

secretariat31lengths

In his Derby effort, Secretariat broke slow out of the gate, but still ran the first quarter mile of the race in a respectable 2515 seconds.  The second quarter mile was faster at 24 seconds.  The third quarter mile went by in 2345 – he was still accelerating. The fourth quarter mile was faster still at 2325 seconds.  And the last quarter mile was run at the blistering pace of 23 seconds flat.  He was still accelerating as he crossed the finish line!!!

I pray for a heart like Secretariat’s to finish strong in the spiritual race that ends at the throne of God.  To be able to run harder at the end than at the beginning would be such a joy. And like the great apostle Paul, my hope is to “finish my race with joy” (Acts 20:24).  Fairly late in Paul’s life he wrote, “I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven” (Phil 3:14, CEV).

No one knows exactly how far along they are in their race.  But for me, I am certain that I am near the final turn — perhaps even now on the backstretch.  With every stride, a voice within seems to say, “Run harder!”  Let the one who holds my bridle use the whip as often as He needs to keep me moving faster and faster.  “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:132).

“Run harder!”  Three crowns await – a heavenly triple crown!

  • The crown of glory. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).
  • The crown of life. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
  • The crown of righteousness. “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

 “You know that many runners enter a race,

and only one of them wins the prize.

So run to win!

Athletes work hard to win a crown that cannot last,

but we do it for a crown that will last forever.”

(1 Corinthians 9:24-25, CEV)

As you contemplate running your race, you might enjoy watching Secretariat in his 1973 efforts in the Belmont and Kentucky Derby.  Run hard.  Finish with joy!

– Steve Klein

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Heaven — The Ultimate Vacation Destination!

vacatinIt’s vacation time!  Schools are letting out for the summer across our nation.  Families are looking forward to vacations in the mountains or at the beach, and a fortunate few may even visit some exotic luxurious destination in a distant land.  But no vacation spot on earth can compare to the glories of heaven.

The Christian’s ultimate destination is heaven, which offers wonderful amenities and gorgeous vistas to be enjoyed with beautiful people for all eternity.  While heaven is not a physical place for fleshly bodies, it is a place that the Bible describes using earthly metaphors.  Imagine seeing an advertisement for a vacation spot that has these features and amenities:

  • You’ll stay in a mansion prepared by Jesus. In John 14:2 Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you.”
  • Everything is new and nothing decays. The Lord promises that He will make “all things new” ( Revelation 21:5) and that nothing can destroy what we’ll possess (Matthew 6:20; Hebrews 10:34)
  • You feel great every day. There is no pain or sorrow! (Revelation 21:4-5)
  • You have a glorious body without diet and exercise! Philippians 3:20-21 promises that Christ “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.”
  • Your mansion is in a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people. The glory of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ illuminate the city, “and the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it” (Revelation 21:21-25).
  • And all of this can be yours at no cost to you! It is given freely for eternity! (Revelation 21:6-7)

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Do you wanna go?

The good news is that if you have been born again, your reservation has already been made by God Himself.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope…to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

If you’ve ever had to cancel a vacation reservation at the last minute because “something came up,” you know a little about disappointment.  Let’s make sure we keep our reservation in heaven.  Let us make going to heaven our greatest desire, and let us pursue that desire with our most diligent effort, no matter what comes up.  “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:13-14).

– Steve Klein

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