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Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Tuesday 27th September 2016

if you fear death, are puzzled by heaven, or wonder if you’ll live forever – #tellhisstory

I was 15, and absolutely terrified of dying. It didn’t matter that I was in perfect health. I didn’t matter that I attended a church where salvation was assured.

Because when the bedroom lights went out at night, the pastor’s promises felt like parroted phrases. My mind divorced itself from the faith in which I was raised. The thought of my own death was a black, rumbling abyss that swallowed me whole.

I carried those doubts into adulthood. Even after I became convinced of Christianity’s core truths, it has taken years to unravel doubt from the scaffolding of my faith.

I think this is why I have such empathy toward people who fear death and dying, who have questions about the certainty of heaven or the existence of God. My empathy comes, not from imagining the fear of a heaven-less existence, but having walked through that fear myself.

Yesterday, I stood at the edge of a lake on a warm autumn day, and I thought about you — any of you who has ever feared death and dying.

And I thought about heaven.
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C. S. Lewis once noted that we humans can be awfully shy about mentioning heaven nowadays. “We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky.’” But, he added, without the hope of heaven, Christianity is false. As Christians, he said, we have a duty to think about heaven because the doctrine of heaven is woven into the whole fabric of what we believe. He said, “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

Our Future Residential Address

By this point in our lives, most of us have loved ones with a residential address of Heaven. Most of us have wondered about our death, and have marveled at how fast the time really goes.

But some of us are afraid. We wonder:

Is heaven for real?

What if I can’t find my way to wherever it is?

Will dying hurt?

Will I be stuck in some limbo land for ages?

Will I be alone after I die?

After I got home from the lake yesterday, I asked some of you, on Facebook, to share your fears about dying. So many of you messaged me privately.

“I wonder if heaven will be fun,” one reader wrote. “Just typing that makes me feel like a shallow loser.”

Another wrote: “One fear is that the room Jesus is preparing for me is the equivalent of the janitor’s broom closet. That God will be disappointed with me when I arrive. I know that he loves me but I don’t think he actually likes me or wants to hang out with me for all eternity.”

And another wrote: “What if I wasn’t good enough. … What if I haven’t ‘checked’ every box on the must-do list to access heaven.”

Jesus must have known we’d have all kinds of questions about our forever home. And He was gracious enough to answer some of them, even as He suffered on the cross.

What Jesus Tells Us About Heaven

Picture the scene. Three crosses on a hill. Jesus in the middle, and a criminal on each side. All of them will die very soon.

One criminal taunts Jesus. “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

The other criminal has come to understand that Jesus is the Messiah. He says: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus responds to him:

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Those verses are staggeringly rich with hope:

1. “I tell you the truth”

When Jesus speaks these words, this is his way of saying, “Listen now. You’re going to want to remember this. Give me your full attention. This is really important here. There will be times when you’ll want to forget, but don’t!”

2. “Today”

Jesus doesn’t say, you’ll be with me tomorrow, or in a few years, or in the next century. He’s promising to immediately reunite with the man on the cross — a promise held out for each of us as well.

3. “You will be with me”

With Jesus. With. If someone you love has already changed residences from earth to heaven, he or she is not alone right now, but in the very presence of Jesus. Your faith is your loved one’s present reality.

4. “In paradise”

This is where our imaginations can run wild and free. What is paradise to you? Maui? Your backyard, with a big tent, and a half-dozen of your best friends? The Isle of Skye? Your lake getaway with the outdoor fire pit? A rustic cabin in the mountains, under a canopy of towering trees?

It’s all that, times a gazillion. This is paradise. You will not be destined for the janitor’s closet.

And don’t feel guilty if you wish for heaven to be fun. All that we truly desire here, is a hint of heaven. Even our desire to live happily while on earth is not some flaw inside of you. “It is your soul’s memory of the original paradise, etched and alive in you.” {quote from my latest book, The Happiness Dare.}

originalparadise

For a moment, try to imagine an unhappy heaven. Try hard to find the dour faces, funeral dirges, gray days, empty tables, and the lonely curmudgeons walking along littered streets. Picture St. Peter at the pearly gates with a scowl. Try to imagine Jesus angrily hanging a Do Not Disturb sign on his front door. Any luck believing in that version of heaven? Oh, I hope not.

Dear friend,

Jesus said it clear: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” And until that day, hints of what’s to come are all around you. Once upon a time, God came down from heaven to bring a piece of heaven for you. Glimmers of heaven are anywhere that you see the good: the perfect ending to the movie, the starry host, bacon, shiny red balloons, a baby’s first smile, and a million things more besides. Bits of heaven are everywhere that you feel a palpable hopefulness, a bit of sunshine in your soul, a glimmer of forever in your right-here-and-now. Heaven is for real, and it is the actual residence of actual people you love.

And you don’t have to earn your spot there. Jesus bought your place. Your part? To accept the invitation into a beautiful relationship that extends into forever.

Love,
Jennifer

Your Turn:

What are your thoughts about heaven? What are your fears, your hopes? Who are you excited to see/meet in heaven?

#TellHisStory

Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there!

Our featured writer this week is Kylie Howell. The title of her post is “The broken hallelujahs” and I hope it will be a comfort to those who are hurting today. Find Kylie here.

To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer

 


  • I love this, Jennifer. If Christians were shy about mentioning heaven in C.S.Lewis’s day, I certainly don’t think it’s gotten any better over the years! It’s been really helpful to me to think about what my friend and favorite teacher, Dallas Willard, wrote about the Kingdom of God (also called the Kingdom of the heavens): it’s the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done is done. “On earth as it is in heaven”? Heaven is where what God wants done is done completely and perfectly, with nothing that is not God’s will. So Dallas would say that anyone planning to go to heaven needs to be awfully fond of God. I always loved that. The things that God likes are so wonderful and lovely–and so much fun! That’s what I love about your Happiness Dare book–you make an eloquent case that God actually cares about happiness. Too many people picture God as kind of a grumpy old man. Kudos to you for fighting that image!

    One more note about Dallas Willard. Just a moment before Dallas died, he said, “There are people we know here!” Won’t it be fun to be reunited with people we know in a place where there is no death, no dying, where every tear will be wiped from our eyes? Bliss.

  • bpaplanus

    I really needed to read this today. I have anxiety over the thought of dying. Will my kids be okay, will they know how much I love them, will they be taken care of? I believe in God and I believe that He sent His son Jesus here to pay the price of my sin and die on the cross. I know I am flawed and make mistakes and that I sin, but I also know that I can ask for forgiveness daily and He will provide it. I know that God loves me despite of all of that. I truly wish that my doubt would stop invading so often. I longingly wish to hear the Holy Spirit, to hear God’s whisper upon me. My anxiety has gotten worse and I know that as long as I pray He will help me keep that anxiety at bay. But boy Satan sure does love to make me think otherwise. It’s a daily struggle.
    My biggest question about Heaven is whether or not I will see my Dad there. I wonder this daily. He was a Jewish man and strong in his belief and I was always told that Jewish people believe in God but they do not believe that Jesus was God’s son. I am racked with guilt thinking that I won’t see my Dad in Heaven that I won’t see that side of my family and that deeply saddens me. I try and have some faith that in the last moments before my Dad died unexpectedly that he might have reached out and excepted Jesus into his life. How do people deal with things like that?

  • Meghan Weyerbacher

    I always love your words, Jennifer! Having walked this path myself too I also have a pull towards the hurting. Even if just to say I understand. This scripture gives great comfort that Jesus does not hold our wrongs against us. He was a known criminal but Jesus saw worth. What hope is in this message, even for the day we live in!!!!! It can be the reason I shout with glee as the news taunts me to grumble and wonder and worry. I can have hope that even the hardest heart can melt in His arms. Love you friend!!!!

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  • When I was a kid and in a certain church, I was afraid of death, because I thought I would be dropped into hell. To me, God was vengeful and unapproachable. But I’m so grateful God led me to the love of Jesus. When I think of heaven, I think of Jesus with His arms wide open, welcoming us in. My greatest desire is to be with Him forever. When I picture my parents there, I see Mom and Dad dancing with Jesus. Depression is nonexistent for my mom, and my dad has no more pain about abusing us. Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing these thoughts. Blessings and hugs to you!

    By the way, in my end of the month post, I share links, books, quotes, etc. My book highlight for this month was The Happiness Dare. 🙂 I list some of my favorite quotes. Thank you for following your heart to write this book!

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Jennifer, I’m so grateful that you shared so transparently. It’s really difficult I think for Christians, and Christian authors, speakers, and leaders of any kind to admit to doubt about heaven. I have had these doubts, and I still struggle. I have no difficulty whatever in believing that Jesus raised the dead–such as Lazarus or the widow’s son. I have no difficulty in believing God raised Jesus. And then I get this crazy notion that, well, that was easy, because their bodies had not yet decayed. But dead is dead. Raising dust or raising bodies barely cold in the grave, it’s all an utter miracle. When I start to consider that God created the earth and heavens from nothingness or Adam from dirt, then I realize God can do anything He wants. Moreover, what CS Lewis said is true. I hadn’t read his quote before, but I have come to this conclusion of late. Everything in the Bible points to heaven and resurrection, including our salvation. If there were no heaven and resurrection, why did Jesus suffer and die? Yes, to save us from our sins, but to save us *for* what exactly?? If there were no resurrection or heaven where we will be eternally in God’s presence, then Jesus never had to die. If I don’t believe this, I make Him out to be a liar, and I negate frankly, all of Scripture, b/c indeed, heaven is intricately woven throughout it. I realize I can’t literally prove it, but this life makes no sense without its reality. More and more I realize that Satan has been having a field-day with my heart, mind, and faith. It is ALL a matter of faith. No, not blind faith, but assuredly, I am believing this truth because Jesus says it’s real. I will also tell you that where I have stumbled is in this separation of body and soul at our death, knowing that when I die, my *soul* only will be in God’s presence. People say all kinds of things at funerals, meant to comfort the bereaved (like walking streets of gold, having parties with loved ones, etc), I know they say this, but they are not scriptural. This will come later. Our bodies are not going to be with God initially. But our bodies will be resurrected on the last day at the sound of the trumpet, and it’s then that the dead in Christ will arise and be reunited with their souls. I can’t tell you why exactly, but I wish there would not be this separation. It feels scary and unnatural to me. God created us as soul-spirit-body-mind entities. And, of course, everything that was meant to be got changed when sin entered into the picture. So I am just asking the Lord to give me hope and comfort that in this intermediary state in which we will temporarily exist, where my soul is with Him, that I can rest in Him, knowing no matter what I will still be with Him, and therefore, all will be well. I am very grateful for your sharing. Just knowing that other Christians struggle gives me hope. And more and more I am sensing God assurance as He gives me the faith and grace to believe.
    Love
    Lynn

  • This post is a breath of fresh air! Thanks for wafting a little celestial breeze my way!

  • I think my biggest fear about heaven is who WON’T be there. I can think of many who I hold dear and love immensely, but who simply do not call on the name of Jesus. They’re fantastic, but that just isn’t enough. Which simply makes me pray harder and speak louder. My second fear is who WILL be there. Because there are some folks who speak Jesus quite loudly, but I honestly, truly, want to smack them sometimes. Is that awful? I want to say, “STOP! Why are you acting like that if you say you love Jesus? How can you treat people like that and then say you follow a God of grace.” While I’d never want to steal heaven from them, I’d also like to be able to live with them in the here and now. 😉

  • Tara Ulrich

    Thank You! I used to fear death when I was a teenager too. But so glad that I can trust in God now.

  • Lyn

    You are a prophet Jennifer. Thank you for so often speaking directly to my heart what God wants me to hear. <3

  • Bettie G

    Because of anxiety attacks in large crowds that began after I was diagnosed with chronic illnesses, I developed a crazy fear that I would not be able to handle the crowds in Heaven! I know, It’s kind of a moot point because I won’t have these diseases in Heaven! But I have loved this quote from your book, “It is your soul’s memory of the original paradise, etched and alive in you.”
    And I have held onto the truth that JESUS has planted Heaven’s Hope in me, so He will carry me through any fears along the way! Thank you for these precious thoughts today!!

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  • Wow. Great post. I remember one night I was putting my son to bed and he started crying and said he didn’t want to live forever when he died. I was a little taken back. Why not, I asked? He said what would he do? How could he not get bored? Maybe he could ask Jesus if he could just live 1 thousand years. I wasn’t sure how to reassure my 6 year old, so I just reminded him about how much God loved him and said that God would not ask us to live forever if it wasn’t fun and exciting living in heaven. After all, God always wants the best for us and life in heaven would be so much better and many times more fun than life on earth. Also boredom did not exist in heaven. Finally he was comforted and fell asleep. But it did get me thinking more about heaven. And so does your post. It seems the more dear people I know that head to heaven, the more I am looking forward to heaven.

  • Susan

    Excellent post. Heaven becomes more and more real (for me) as I lose loved ones – knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that they are in their forever home. It’s not a magical place it is a surety to those who have called upon the Name of the Lord and have made Jesus Lord of their life. The Gospel changes people – it changed me! xo

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  • Julie Loos

    Jennifer- As a child I thought Heaven would involve lots of singing with an organ, white choir robes. and an endless sermon that continued forever. Ugh! Not the place a young child would like to spend.

    As an adult the idea of spending time with my Savior is very exciting, but eating great chocolate and drinking iced tea and not worrying about calories comes in 2nd or 3rd (behind meeting deceased family members of course.)
    Can’t wait to join Heaven’s party!
    Julie

  • love this: Even our desire to live happily while on earth is not some flaw inside of you. “It is your soul’s memory of the original paradise, etched and alive in you.”

  • I love your words today. They are so real and honest and hopeful. You have encouraged me so much. And your descriptions are on point, targeted right to the heart. Thank you

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  • Nancy Ruegg

    I, too, love this insight: “Even our desire to live happily while on earth is not some flaw…it is your soul’s memory of the original paradise etched and alive in you.” Wonderful truth, beautifully said, Jennifer! I used to be concerned about the process of death: What will it be like? How will I handle it? What am I supposed to do when my heart stops beating? Then I came across 2 Corinthians 5:6-9. Paul was confident that if he wasn’t alive on earth, he’d be alive with Jesus and home in heaven. Evidently, the particulars are inconsequential or God would have made them known. When doubts creep in, I try to fight back with Paul’s confidence-building words!

  • We tried to raise our girls with the understanding that dying and going to heaven will be the like the delicious feeling of coming home after a long time away and climbing into the comfort of your own snug bed. There will be that same sense of belonging and comfort only so, so. so much more!

@tammysincerity I want it ALL! 🍭🍬