FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE

HEAVEN!  Do you realize how often that word is used?  I just went on line and scrolled through an enormous list, too long to count, of Film, Book, and Song titles that include the word “heaven, and did you know that “heaven” is mentioned in 291 of Shakespeare’s works.

Then I think about how we often use the word heaven.  We express our exasperation with someone or something by exclaiming, “For heaven’s sake!”  We describe a vacation in Hawaii as “Heaven on earth.” When I moved into my new house, I remember saying, “I feel like I have died and gone to heaven.” I laugh about that one, for I have no idea how heaven feels.  We just use those phrases without really thinking or understanding.

We throw around the word “heaven” so casually.  It has just become a catchphrase.  In fact, for many people, these phrases have no real meaning. 

When we use the word heaven, are we thinking of the sky that surrounds us, or God’s dwelling place, or do we think of heaven at all?

A few mornings past, I awoke thinking about heaven.  Really, I had been dreaming about this blog and how I would put it together.  I looked out my office window at the blue heaven in which our earth is suspended, and I remembered Genesis 1:8, where God first spoke of “heaven.”

We are told that God made the firmament or the “sky,” and He called it heaven.  He was speaking of the heaven with which we are so familiar—the heaven where the birds fly, the clouds form, and astronauts have actually walked.  In the same chapter, we are told that God also made the sun, moon, and stars, and placed them in the heaven He had created.

Through centuries of study and exploration, we have learned a great deal about the heaven that surrounds us.  In fact, the USA has spent $650 billion or, when you consider inflation, closer to $1.17 Trillion on our space program.

Stephen Hawking, the British Scientist, who taught the world about the universe, was a passionate advocate for space exploration.  He stressed that the long term future of the human race must be in space.  “We must not have all our eggs in one basket,” he said. “But we must expand beyond our birth planet or face extinction.”

Hawking was an atheist.  He cared about the human race, I guess, but he had no concept of the immortal human soul.  He declared, “There is no God.” Neither did he believe in life after death, nor a place called heaven.  Hawking is quoted as saying, “Heaven is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark.” 

I have heard about heaven all my life.  I heard it preached and taught hundreds, if not thousands, of times.  I have sung, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be,” and “When We All Get to Heaven” until I can sing those songs in my sleep.  I believe in heaven, as do all those who love and fear God.

Jesus said, John 14:2, 3 “…I go to prepare a place for you…and…I will come again and receive you…that where I am, (in heaven) there you may be also.”  

Heaven is a real place.  I’m as sure of it as I am my own name. Jesus will come back, and I am going to spend eternity in heaven with Him.

However, Jesus made that promise more than two thousand years ago, and still, He hasn’t come.  I wonder at times if we have heard it so often that it sort of becomes like a fairy tale to us.  It may seem like it’s never going to happen.

Cynics ridicule our hope of heaven and eternal life.  They laughingly call it “Pie in the Sky,” meaning that heaven is pleasant to think about, but very unlikely to ever be realized.

The Apostle Peter tells us that in the last days unbelievers will mock saying, (The Message) “So what’s happened to the promise of His coming?  …everything’s going on just as it has from the first day of creation.  Nothing has changed.” II Peter 3:4.

We don’t really know a lot about heaven, or what life will be like there.  Revelation 21 describes an enormous city, 15,000 miles in length, width, and height.  Imagine a city with streets of gold, gates of pearl, and foundations adorned with precious gems.  A River of Life flows down the middle of the street, and there is no night there, neither sickness, nor crying, nor sorrow. 

Though my tiny little mind can’t really comprehend it, still I believe every bit of that. Laugh at me if you wish.  Talk about “Pie in the Sky,” if you like.  Your cynicism changes nothing.

Yes, heaven is a beautiful place, but its physical beauty is immaterial when you consider that Jesus, Himself, will be there, and His beauty will outshine all other splendor.

Hebrews 9:28 says, “…To those who eagerly wait for Him, He shall appear a second time…”

Don’t give up hope.  Be eager for His coming.  Heaven is not a fairy tale.  Heaven is real, and His coming is real.  It could be today.

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

   

 

MORE THAN A COINCIDENCE

A coincidence is the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by total accident—something not planned or arranged but seems like it is.

The Greek philosopher, Plutarch, said, “It is no great wonder, if in the long process of time, while fortune takes her course hither and thither, numerous coincidences should spontaneously occur.”

A few days ago just such a “Coincidence” occurred in my life.  Was it really a coincidence?  Was it totally accidental?  Was it spontaneous?

You can congratulate me!  I am now a “Grandma.” No, not in a conventional way, I was adopted.

Being labeled one of the vulnerable ones, as relates to this Covid-19 Pandemic, I must admit that I have allowed a bit of fear to creep in.  Where, normally, I have felt confident and secure, I am now hesitant to go to the grocery store.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a poster that said, “Adopt a Grandparent.”  It was sponsored by a faith-based group and sanctioned by our city.  The members are reaching out to seniors, who are in need during this crisis.  After some consideration, I decided to swallow my pride, call the number, and leave my information.

A few days later, I received a call from Tom, a total stranger.  I learned that he is a retired professor from ASU, and that he is the president of the local Rotary Club.  He said that he and his wife, Vicky, would like to help me.  “What did I need?”

“I am physically able to go to the grocery store,” I told him, “but I’m a little bit afraid to do so.”

“Don’t do it,” he said.  “E-mail me a list of what you need, and we will bring it to you.”

I sent him the list, saying, “Thank you for your kindness.  I promise I won’t be a nuisance.”

Tom replied, “You are in no way a nuisance.  I have added you to my prayer list.”

True to his word, this couple arrived at my door wearing masks and gloves, and bearing groceries.  They came in, deposited their purchases in the kitchen, and stood at a distance from me.  

“My husband tells me you are a retired minister,” Vicky said.  “What church?”

“I’m with the Assemblies of God,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said. “We are Four Square.  Our pastor is…” And she gave me his name.

“I grew up with him,” I exclaimed.  “His father was an executive with the Assemblies of God here in Arizona, and his sister used to play the piano for me.”

We were all a little astonished—three strangers with similar backgrounds and like beliefs, knowing some of the same people?  What are the odds?

Tom and Vicki took their leave saying, “Call us, if you need anything.  We are here to help you.”

Now, just try to convince me that my encounter with this particular couple was a total accident—that it was just a coincidence.   I will never believe that!  In fact, as a believer—a Christ follower, I don’t put a lot of store in coincidences, for I am convinced that everything that happens in my life is either “Ordained” or “Allowed” by God.

God has orchestrated my life since before it began.

In Psalm 139, (The Message) David speaks to God acknowledging His workmanship.  He says, “You know me inside and out.  You know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing to something.  Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, THE DAYS OF MY LIFE ALL PREPARED BEFORE I’D EVER LIVED ONE DAY.”

Think about it.  God had already planned every day of my life before I was born.  The King James says that He wrote them all in His book—talk about a “Day Planner!”  I figure, up to this moment, I have lived 30,788 days.  That’s got to be some book considering that I’m only one of the estimated 105,000,000,000 people, whose lives God has planned. 

I have not always known God’s plan for me.  At times I have made, what I thought, were my own decisions.  

When I began to realize that God was calling me into ministry, I grieved over the nine years I had spent teaching school.  I begged God to forgive me for having wasted so much time.  Little did I know there was no time wasted, for never could I have done what God sent me to Europe to do without those years of training and experience with kids.  I was in Europe to train others for ministry to children, to establish Sunday Schools and Weekday Bible Clubs.  Never did I think, “What a marvelous coincidence that I have a master’s degree in Education!

I learned that, even when I was not aware, God was leading me—preparing me for His work.  And all the odd, solitary, and sometimes dissonant notes of my life began to flow together like the notes of a beautiful, harmonious symphony.

For more than eighty-four years God has been composing the Fayrene Clark-Reese Symphony, the symphony that is my life.  Every day, every experience, every event adds a measure or, perhaps even a movement to this glorious symphony.  This unique melody, written just for me, flows from the heart of God into and through my heart, and out to a world that aches for a healing song.

I have been called to lift my voice and heart and sing the melody of my earthly years, even through these difficult days, until the greatest of all composers leads me in the song without end. 

My never ending song—my symphony, mingled with that of the Saints of all ages, will reverberate throughout eternity.

TELL ME, WHERE IS THE COINCIDENCE IN ALL OF THIS?

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

EASTER GREETINGS

This has been one of those weeks.  I have been making protective masks for my brother and me.  We are determined to follow the good counsel we have been given.

Like you, I am lonesome for my friends and family, and wondering when and if the day will ever come when we will be together again.  

Easter morning, we will gather “together,” online or via You-Tube, around the throne of God to worship and honor the one who died and rose again, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior.  These are unusual days. I believe they are days of opportunity when we as believers can reach out to those who are scared and uncertain or grieving and share with them the love of Christ.

Keep your heart and eyes open, for God may give you a totally unexpected occasion to minister in someone in need.

Because of this hectic week, with your permission or without it, I have decided to recycle an Easter Blog that I wrote several years ago. 

SO, HAPPY EASTER TO YOU!  BE BLESSED!

RESURRECTION MORNING

We were always awake and out of bed before the sun came up on Easter morning.  With great anticipation, we donned our new frilly spring dresses and white slippers.  Sometimes there was even a pretty little Easter bonnet. It was chilly on that late March or April morning, but no one wanted to cover a new dress with a sweater or coat.

At the church, we joined a long line of cars making their way out Apache Trail to the butte ten miles east of town.  Arriving in the early dawn, we trudged to the top. Someone carried a guitar, or lugged an accordion. Looking east toward the Superstition Mountains we viewed with awe the bright crest of the sun as it inched its way up over the hills.

Then the music began.  “Up from the grave, He arose…He arose!  He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose.” Even as a child, I felt my heart swell with joy as we lifted our voices in song after song.

“He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today.

He lives within my heart.”

Why in the world would anyone want to trudge to the top of a hill in the dark of a chilly morning?  Couldn’t we sing and pray at church? No need to get up so early. No need to expend such energy—

TRUE!  However, I think we just wanted to get as near to heaven as we could on that special day, and we wanted to be there very early as the sun arose for that was when the women came to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty.  On top of that butte, we felt the kiss of heaven as we rejoiced at the truth that Jesus is alive, indeed. We called them “SUNRISE SERVICES,” those early morning EASTER events. 

Our Pastor read the resurrection story from Mark 16 pausing briefly as he read verse 6.  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  HE IS RISEN! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” 

After prayer we skipped excitedly down the hill.  We were on our way to Easter breakfast. A room was reserved for us at the “Feed Bag,” a favorite restaurant in town.  We ate pancakes and eggs. We exclaimed over the glory of the sunrise and talked about the sweetness of the service. We laughed and complemented each other on the beauty of our Easter finery.  Then we went to church.

What, more church?  Oh, yes! Easter had just begun.  There would be more singing, more praying, more preaching and more rejoicing.  This was a day of celebration—celebration of the resurrection—celebration of new life—new life in Christ Jesus. Not only was Jesus alive never to die again, but we also were alive, for because Jesus died and rose again, I too, had received the gift of eternal life. 

Oh, and don’t forget.  There was a Sunday evening service as well.

From this long expanse of years, I am not trying to spiritualize everything that happened on Easter Sunday, but I must tell you truthfully I do not remember the excitement of Easter baskets and egg hunts, though I love the thought.  I know we colored eggs on Saturday afternoon, and I am sure there was a chocolate bunny or two, yet those things do not occupy a large space in my catalogue of memories. It’s those early morning events to which my mind always returns at this time of the year.

Now understand.  I am not adverse to the myriad of Easter symbols we have adopted over the years.  I love the fluffy yellow chicks, the beautiful flowers, the cuddly bunnies and the colorful eggs.  However, for the most part these symbols find their roots in paganism, but I have chosen to accept them as symbols of new life and that is what Easter is all about.

Did you know, centuries ago, we celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25, Annunciation Day—the day Angel Gabriel announced to a teenage Galilean girl that she would bear the Christ Child?  That’s the day Jesus became an embryo in Mary’s womb. That’s the day the promise of new life kindled hope in a darkened world. No wonder we called it a New Year.

So enjoy your eggs and chocolate bunnies, but remember, the greatest and truest symbol of Easter is an empty tomb, for Jesus is not there.  He has ascended to the Father, and from that throne on high, He still extends the gift of eternal life to those who will receive Him.

THAT’S WHAT EASTER IS ALL ABOUT!!!

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

INVESTING IN OTHERS

I am thinking of Mama this morning and imagining what she would do during this uncertain, unsettling time.  I know for certain she would not be idle. I can see her so clearly sitting in her oak rocking chair, her nimble fingers working away at a piece of crochet or embroidery, or most likely mending an article of clothing.

Mama never sat down to rest or even to watch television without some kind of work in her hand.  I’m a little like my Mama, I guess. I’m happier when I am busy.

Some of my friends tell me they are bored.  They are not used to being confined to home and don’t know what to do with themselves.  I am fortunate, I guess, for I have worked from home for years. As an evangelist, having no real office, with books stacked high all around, I prepared my Bible studies and sermons at the end of my dining room table.

Now, however, I am running out of meaningful things to do.  My Bible study lessons are prepared if I ever have the opportunity to teach again.  My book work is caught up, and my reports to the court have been filed. Income taxes, both mine and my sister’s, are completed, I’ve taken care of the mail, and paid the bills, and written my blog, so now, what do I do?

Cleaning closets is way down on my list of priorities, but that’s my current project. My office closet is actually my “everything” depository.  It houses my sewing machine, the ironing board, a file cabinet, books, albums, and all kinds of paperwork. What a mess it was! But—I am finished with it now, and I love sliding the door and feasting my eyes on its orderliness. BEAUTIFUL!  The master closet is next, but I have to work up my courage for that one.

Actually, I am longing to do something more meaningful—something that will make a difference.  

I was born at the end of the “Great Depression.”  I sort of came between the “Greatest Generation” and the “Baby Boomers,” who came along following WW II.  There couldn’t be a more marked difference between two Generations.

The older generation learned values associated with self-sacrifice—hard work, saving money, cherishing family and community ties, and traditional religious faith.  That’s the way I was raised. The “Me” generation or the “Baby Boomers” gradually abandoned these values, and became more involved in “self” than in social responsibility.

I confess I am impressed and encouraged that, in our selfish, self-serving society, people are stepping forward in an effort to fill in the gap.  People of all ranks, from industrial CEO’S to ordinary neighbors, are offering their time and resources. In reality, they are offering themselves in an effort to stem the disastrous tide that has invaded our shores.

It is no small thing to completely reequip a factory in order to produce ventilators or masks, nor should a neighbor’s offer to share a meager supply of toilet paper be disregarded. The woman, who cleans my house occasionally, called a few nights ago just to make sure that I am all right, and “Do I need anything?”  She has no idea how much I appreciated her call.

Now, what can I do to make a difference?  Because of my age and my compromised heart, I am cautioned about going out into public, and I will be a good girl and abide by that counsel.  So, I am hampered. I am limited in what I can do to alleviate the needs of those around me.

However, there are two things that I can still do.

I can pray!  I have a long list of those who need prayer—all the way from our President to my next-door neighbor.  I can’t stop the virus. I can’t diminish anyone’s fears, but God can, so I just keep praying. Honestly, that is the best and most effective thing I can do.

I can also make calls and send messages.  There are other older women, who are alone as I am.  I can make an encouraging call—let them know that someone cares, and offer to get help for them.

Truth is, there is a lesson to be learned in this unexpected, frightening time.  No matter how much we may want to, we cannot live for ourselves alone.  

James 3:16 tells us, “…where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”

Generally, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves.  Happiness doesn’t come through selfishness, but through selflessness—through those who lose themselves in the service of others.

2 Corinthians 5:15 reminds us, “…He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves…”

Getting the most out of life isn’t about how much you keep for yourself, but how much you pour into others.  This is a time to practice being selfless. You will end up getting more than you anticipate when your soul is giving.  In fact…

2 Corinthians 6:10 says, (The Living Bible) “Our hearts ache, (sounds like the present) but at the same time we have the joy of the Lord.  We are poor, but we give rich spiritual gifts to others.  We own nothing, and yet we enjoy (or possess) everything.”

Now is the time to forget about “ME” and invest “MYSELF” in others.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!