Saturday, September 8, 2007

Waking Up in a Beautiful Place

We set sail from Rhodes yesterday and arrived at the Greek Island of Santorini this morning. Santorini really is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. It’s part of a ring of islands formed by a huge volcano. The main town, Fira, sits atop a sheer cliff that rises 1,000 out of the azure water. Perched on top of the cliff are dozens of pastel colored buildings that hug the cliff side as if they are part of the natural rock. When you see travel posters for the Mediterranean, you’ll most often see a picture of Santorini.
The ship arrived in the harbor in the early morning hours and anchored there. We are fortunate to have an outside stateroom, so when I opened the curtain this morning, my senses were pleasantly assaulted by the sheer beauty of the scene before my eyes. It was so awe inspiring that I couldn’t help but utter, “Oh, wow!”

When I went to sleep last night, there wasn’t anything to see - only dark seas. Then I went to sleep, and I woke up in a beautiful place. I couldn’t help but think that when my time comes to die, I’ll have the same experience – except that the wonder and awe of heaven will be a billion times greater!

Since the beginning of recorded human history, death has been a lurking adversary for each person. I’ve read somewhere that human beings are the only creatures who know they’re going to die. That’s probably correct, but whenever I read that I remember how in the early Tarzan movies, the elephants that were dying would go to a certain valley for their final resting place. That could be a Hollywood inspired myth, or maybe some basic animal instinct. For sure, we are the only creatures who can think about dying for most our lives.

It always reminds me of the funny story I heard about a preacher who was trying to drive home this point. He shouted, “Every member of this church is going to die!” A little kid on the front row giggled. The preacher didn’t like that so he repeated his statement with more vigor and volume, “I SAID, ‘every member of this church is going to die!’” The same little kid laughed out loud. The preacher just stopped and said, “Son, what’s so funny about that?” The kid replied, “I’m not a member of this church!” Whether you’re a member of our church, any church, or no church, the Bible says that everyone is going to die.

Before the cross, death was a terrifying prospect. Satan used the idea of death to terrorize and frighten people. But the Bible says, “by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and FREE those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14-15)

In our you-only-live-once culture, people are doing everything within their power and income to avoid or delay the slow but steady approach of death. Physical fitness and health should be the goal of every Christian, but we do it to keep God’s temple clean and to be a usable vessel for as long as possible. Some people, including baseball great Ted Williams, have even resorted to Cryogenics to keep their bodies frozen until a future date when science and technology has found a cure for death. Don’t hold your breath, Ted. Oh, sorry, you don’t have any breath do you? I’ve said it would be my luck that if I was frozen after I die, someone would trip over the cord and unplug me!

But death is no longer a threat for Christians. Since Jesus conquered death, those of us whose lives are hid in Christ no longer have to fear death. It’s just like going to sleep and waking up in a beautiful place.

I believe that’s why the Apostle Paul used the term “sleep” for death. “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (I Thess 4:13-14)

A few weeks ago, my secretary received a call from one of our television viewers near Hawkins, Texas. This lady shared that her mother was dying of cancer and that since she was no longer able to attend her own church, she watched me on television every Sunday. Her mom was a Christian, but she was struggling with the fear of dying, so she asked if I would drive out and speak to her mom. I was happy to do it.

I visited with her on the back porch of her house. We sipped glasses of iced-tea as her three friendly dogs competed with each other for my attention. As I asked her the basic diagnostic questions about salvation, she gave a clear testimony of her faith in Jesus, but she shared that she was just afraid of what it was going to be like to die.

I said, “I think it’s going to be like this. When I was a kid in South Alabama, my family would often drive to Panama City, Florida to visit my grandparents. We would sometimes drive back late at night. On most of those return trips, I would fall sound asleep in the car. When we arrived home, I wouldn’t wake up, instead my dad would carry me in his strong arms and put me in my bed. When I woke up the next morning, I would be at home in my bed. I went to sleep at one location, but when I woke up I was safe at home. I believe that when it comes time for you to go home, you’ll just go to sleep here and the next thing you know you’ll wake up and you’ll be home – in heaven.” As a single tear trickled down her cheek, she smiled and said, “Thanks. That helps me a lot.”

One day, those of us who have placed our lives in Christ will wake up in a beautiful place – more beautiful than any scenery on earth. The truth that makes heaven home is not WHAT is there – streets of gold, crystal sea etc. Heaven will be a beautiful home for us because there is a beautiful Savior there.

I’ll see you in the morning.