“But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” – Psalm 3:3 (KJV)
I have had a new breakthrough in the area of worship.
Since losing my lovely wife Fiona to cancer last October, my soul should have been downcast (Ps 42:5). But, as I have said in a previous post, yes I have been grieving, and yes there have been heartbreak and tears, but my soul is not downcast within me. That which is ‘me’, my personality, my ‘self’, has not been destroyed. It is well with my soul! My worship life; my closeness to the God of all Comfort, has kept me afloat, kept me sane, kept me in joy. Not that I can claim credit for that; I have to say that the worship is my natural response to His closeness; the initiative, as it were, lies entirely with Him. It’s my choice to worship in response to that love, of course, but how can I not? Being surrounded and, yes, almost ‘padded’ by that Love, what other response can I possibly make?
As a worship leader from the Charismatic renewal era, I have led/sung (and still do!) certain types of song hundreds of times: those that express a longing, a hunger for God, for His presence. I suppose they are, for me, an expression of the longing in my heart for more of Him. Because, for me, He is the Centre of everything, I just want more and more. And yet He’s always right there, all the time. I suppose I just mean with those songs that I never want that Presence to leave me. It’s quite interesting in that God is so ‘present’ (although I know He’s ‘everywhere’) in the places where it appears that there is no God. So, in tragedy, suffering and heartache of all kinds, He’s right there. What we need to do is to develop a consciousness, an awareness, of that Presence.
A couple of months ago, someone at our Lifegroup (housegroup) said, “How can you lead worship like that after all you’ve been through?” And the answer is, really, “how can I not?” Worshipping Jesus has kept my focus on Him and that’s been my lifesaver. And so, like in the story I linked to above (here it is again), I have had those heavenly worship times where everything just fades into the background in the Light of His Presence. The troubles and grief are still there, but they are put into the correct perspective by the worship; I am reminded again of the primacy of Jesus and the sovereignty of God; I know He is in charge and this is just so profound.
But now, the worship seems to be taking a new course. Rather than simply affirming the worship of Heaven in my life, and showing me in some small way what Fiona is experiencing in the Presence of God, He’s now letting me see more and more of who I am in Him, Who He is to me, what He’s done for me and what I have in Him. 2Pet1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”. And He has. He gives power for life, He gives freedom from sin, He gives the peace that passes all understanding. He’s lifted my head, and He continues to do so. All the things that happen in my life now, I face from a place of complete rest and confidence in Him. This is the state of Grace; where God’s undeserved favour (in that I have had to do nothing in order to ‘gain’ or ‘earn’ it) is present in blessing and Divine Presence.
And He is the one Who is indeed the Lifter of my head. When the grief and the sadness make me want to drop my head, chin to my chest, He’s the One Who lifts it back up again, to let me gaze on His Face. He’s the One Who lifts my aching heart and fills it with such indescribable joy, bubbling over; the reassurance of His Presence. And this is all so real to me; it hardly seems fair that one man should be given such blessing. As a friend of mine said a few years ago, we had such a life-changing experience of God in our early Christian lives that for Fiona and I, this was the norm. When worship was happening, we were in the thick of it. The Presence of God is so real, so tangible, it’s simply amazing.
And so I want to share this brilliant Terry MacAlmon song, My Glory and the Lifter of My Head. Especially magnificent in this song is the spine-tingling solo by Liz Gustafson, “When the terror of the enemy | Seems to rise all around me | Still I, I will not be afraid | Oh, For there is One greater | He’s my shield and my defender | And He will stand beside me till that day!”
For the reader who does not yet know what it feels like to be in God’s Presence, may I encourage you to ask Him to make Himself real to you today. Be a part of this. Enter into this joy that is just so available to you. Let this song minister the truth of the reality of God into your spirit; let Him breathe his new life into you.
Here we go, then. This is a really great song. Be blessed as you listen!
You’re my glory And the lifter of my head You’re my glory And the lifter of my head For Thou, O Lord, are a shield for me My glory and the lifter of my head
When the terror of the enemy Seems to rise all around me Still I, I will not be afraid Oh, For there is One greater He’s my shield and my defender And He will stand beside me till that day
In the light of my former post in this series, in which C. S. Lewis describes ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’, a saintly lady in Heaven who had amongst her train of followers many animals that she had loved and befriended during her life – and who reminded me of Fiona – I thought it time to address the problem: Do animals go to Heaven? The Bible is silent on this issue, so what does happen to them? And my daughter lost her pet rat this month, when he lost his battle with a probable brain tumour. So, for us, it’s a pretty topical subject.
And, as we are an animal-loving family, I thought it might be an idea to discuss on here whether indeed animals will join us in Heaven, especially those who are ouranimals.
Why is this post part of my ‘Fiona’ series? Well, a few weeks before my wife Fiona died (can’t believe it’s six months ago today that we lost her), she had a real-life, solid waking vision of what was awaiting her when she passed away. I will not go into details, but I will say that the vision involved animals. Part of Fiona’s reward includes animals, very much like ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’. And Fiona loved her animals, and would it not be fitting if her animals were waiting to welcome her when she arrived there? Because I am indeed convinced that she went to be with her animals as well as with her Lord, I have today published this blog post. In this piece, then, I examine ideas about our animals being with us – and with Fiona right now – in Heaven.*
Certainly the Bible mentions animals in the Kingdom. Things like, ‘the lion shall lie down with the lamb’ and similar passages speaking of the peace of the Kingdom to come. And, while the Bible is very quiet on the ‘eternal fate’ of animals, there is the sense from reading the Bible that hints that, as humans are redeemed, so Creation as a whole is redeemed too on the back of our redemption. It’s all a bit mysterious, is that, but the concept certainly is there. Like in Romans 8:19, “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” It’s as if, once the saints come into their inheritance, Creation follows suit. I think Heaven is going to be full of animals!
In my research for this piece, I found many websites that kind-of abstract the whole thing about animals in Heaven. They talk about animals not being able to ‘accept Christ’; not being able to ‘understand salvation’, all that kind of thing. They miss out entirely the idea I mentioned above, that creation longs for the sons of God to be revealed. For the time when everything will be made right. In a sense, we understand salvation on their behalf, and it is through our life in Christ that they too are ‘saved’. Clearly, many of these writers have never known the love and affection of a devoted family pet, or the close relationship of a working animal with its master. Like a draft horse, a Police dog, or similar. When Jesus said that ‘he who loses his life will keep it for life eternal’, there is a hint there that everything you are, everything that formed a part of you, everything that your animals were to you, everything good about your life here on Earth, all that will somehow be caught up and included in your life in Heaven. And so it is my belief that this fully includes your animals. The animals to whom you show love and self-giving, with whom you form a loving relationship.
Also, the great Christian thinker and writer I mentioned above, C. S. Lewis, wrote that in his opinion, the ‘higher’ animals, such as dogs, cats and horses, almost seemed to have a ‘soul’. And therefore, at least some of the animal kingdom would be in Heaven. They have characters; they have personalities. They have intelligence, they have emotions and feelings. Sammy, my daughter’s rat, had a bright, sunny personality; he could do tricks, he knew his name and would come when called. He loved my daughter and you could tell that he knew she loved him. There was real intelligence and, yes, consciousness there. In other words, these animals are, in their own way, persons, and as such, that is what is redeemed. And the redemption idea was what Lewis was strongly hinting at in the ‘Sarah Smith’ passage quoted in my article. Zeus, my German Shepherd dog (he’s the dog in the header picture) is a person – there’s no doubt about it. Those who would sneer at this and accuse me of anthropomorphising Zeus’s behaviour (superimposing human traits onto an animal) don’t have a clue; they have never met him. He’s a person all right. My daughter, in fact, pointed out today that actually animals are, in a sense, far more Godly than we are because they love unconditionally, and forgive easily. And that they don’t have the same ‘walls’ that we have, whether self-erected or not. I read once – it may have been in Lewis, it may not – that animals live actually in the constant, conscious awareness of God. That’s something we cannot know, of course, but I do think there’s something in that; this is maybe why dogs and other pets are used as therapy visitors in hospitals, where they have such marked positive effects on the patients they visit.
And there’s more, this time from personal experience. I remember when we lost our first German Shepherd dog, Jasper, in 1994 (as mentioned in this piece). Fiona had a vision of him jumping up into Jesus’s lap and licking His face. (How Jasper got away with that, I don’t know; we never used to let him lick our faces!). As with all of the visions Fiona had, it was very real, almost like a solid vision, a ‘real dream’. But she saw it, all right. I saw her burst into tears of joy when she saw that picture…it wasn’t until after the meeting we were in that she told me what she’d seen. I’m convinced it was a real God-given vision, by its fruits of peace, joy and hope that it produced. We will see Jasper in Heaven. Well, we have already seen Jasper in Heaven!
This next bit is relevant, so bear with me! Christians speak about ‘Judgement Day’. For most, this is a terrifying concept where everyone’s secrets are laid bare so that God can ‘smite’ (whatever that means!) people for what they’ve done. Let me encourage you, then, for in fact the very opposite is true. God’s justice is, actually, everything being in right relationship, in its right place, ‘The way things should be’, we could say. And God’s judgement is not a heavenly court-room where we are all tried ‘for our sins’; instead, judgement is the means by which God’s justice is achieved; the process of righting all wrongs so that His justice comes into full fruition. That’s what Judgement and Justice mean.
God’s justice and His judgement are therefore restorational concepts, not punitive ones.
Like all Kingdom concepts, it is happening in the here and now wherever Christ’s followers bring Him into a situation. It is also what will happen at the ‘Last Judgement’ and at that point it will be brought to its completion. This is why I look forward to that judgement; I look forward to everything being restored to its proper order and in its proper place, with everyone in right relationship with God and with others. I look forward to everything that was ever wrong being made right, and every injustice set straight. I look forward to everything being ‘the way that it should be’. When viewed in that manner, ‘Judgement’ and ‘Justice’ take on a whole different meaning from that of the angry god taking out his ‘wrath’ on people, to one of a loving God who wants nothing less than peace and wholeness for everything He has made.
Why is this relevant to whether or not animals will be in Heaven? Well, you see, death is one of those things that is ‘wrong’; that needs to be put right. It’s just so hurtful, so damaging and so painful. And permanent too.
Except that it isn’t. Because Jesus rose from the dead, literally came back to life after being dead for days, it shows that in fact God has declared death defeated. Death no longer has the permanence it once had. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory!’ (1Cor15:54 and Isa 25:7-8). And so death itself will be one of those ‘wrong’ things that will be done away with, for ever. So there is nothing to prevent all that our animals were to us, all the love and affection they gave and received, from being given back to us in the next life. Death is defeated; why should this not extend to our animals? God is just that kind of God, Who would do really ace stuff like that! 🙂
And so, if all that was ever wrong is put right, surely then the ‘wrong’, undeserved, sometimes untimely deaths of all these pets will be put right too. My daughter’s pet rat Sammy was only sixteen months old when he died. Rats are supposed to live for two to three years. It’s all wrong. But that too will be put right.
What about animals that were not our pets? How about animals bred entirely for use as food? What about bugs, bacteria and whatnot? Where is the line drawn? Well, we can’t know for certain, of course. For an animal that does not mean all that much to us personally, like, say, a wild animal; an animal that does not ‘belong’ to someone as such; such an animal might be in Heaven, but not actually linked with anyone. I really don’t have any ideas on that, I’m afraid.
But let’s stick to what I do believe. I personally think that people’s pets or working animals – shall we say, ‘conscious’ animals with which we formed a mutually-beneficial relationship – I firmly believe that animals like those will be raised up with us as part of our inheritance as saints.
And finally, there’s this vitally important point too: God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4). This means that everything that ever upset you, everything that ever hurt you, everything will be made right and things will be just as if the bad stuff never happened!I have written about this before, and the same principle applies here. This is part of God’s restorative justice. It’s part of what will happen. The Bible is full of God’s promises to restore – “I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first.” – (Jer 33:7); “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” – (Joel 2:25). Granted, many of these prophecies were regarding the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon, but the heart of God is still to restore. Restoring: putting things back where they belong; giving them back; restoring relationship – including those with our beloved pets.
So, animals in Heaven. Why not? Given the generous and, moreover, restoring nature of God, and that He loves to surprise us and bless us with every good thing, and given that Heaven will be better than anything and everything we could ever have dreamed, why not?
Do our pets go to Heaven?
Yes! They do!!
*And part of the reason for this post is that, in this series, I explore various ideas about the ‘afterlife’ and the grieving process of losing a loved one. Animals too are ‘loved ones’, so I felt for both reasons, and more, it was fitting to examine this topic as part of this series 🙂
The header picture shows my magnificent German Shepherd dog, Zeus. He’s a gentle giant whom we adopted at fifteen months old. When we got him he was a bit of a sad case who was terrified of men (we think he’d been abused by his previous owner), he hadn’t been socialised with other dogs, and he was generally not well-trained at all. After four to six months with us, he’d turned into the most placid, gentle, obedient dog you could wish for. He now gathers a fan club wherever he goes; everyone wants to stroke him and have pictures taken with him (especially Japanese people for some reason). He’s 9 now and weighs in at 55kg, by far the biggest German Shepherd we have owned, even bigger than Bruno. Here he is again, on the beach at Porthcothan in north Cornwall (and the photo is clickable to magnify it):
[Edit 24th June 2017] – yesterday, our beloved Zeusy went to be with his Mum. He died completely unexpectedly; in the morning he was welcoming visitors and doing his walk and stuff, and within twelve hours he was gone. Naturally we are heartbroken but, as I am sure you’ve worked out by now, we believe that he’s gone to be with Jesus and his Mum. I look forward to the exuberant welcome he will give me when it’s my turn…
Lately, I’ve been publishing quite a bit on ‘The Shack‘, by Wm. Paul Young, recently; personally I believe that it is one of the most profoundly influential books of our present age – in a good way. I believe that this book, and especially now it’s out as a movie, will bring more people into the knowledge of our good God than anything else in recent times. This book/movie emphasises the goodness of God rather than the anger that many Christians have majored on over the last couple of centuries. At last, God is publicly being portrayed as benevolent, understanding and loving rather than being armed with a thunderbolt rifle with sniper’s scope.
But of course it has its detractors. And they have – well, it’s almost a ‘mantra’ for Shack-haters – a meme giving thirteen ‘heresies’ that The Shack supposedly presents. I get the impression that, generally (as in the link I share at the end of my post here), most of these detractors have not read the book, but they go ahead and ‘warn’ people about how ‘bad’ the ‘heresies’ are that The Shack ‘spreads’. And it therefore seems to me that actually a lot of this has blown up on hearsay…but anyway the take-home message is that the detractors discourage believers from reading The Shack because it is ‘dangerous’. And this comes as no surprise, because the book actually depicts the path to freedom. If you read the book with an open mind and open heart, trusting God to protect you from all ‘dangerous heresies’, then you will come away from the book with an entirely new outlook on God, and a closer relationship with Him. The enemies of this work do not trust the Holy Spirit to ‘lead us into all truth’ (Jn 16:13), but instead these self-righteous people use the vile weapons of slander, misquoting, hearsay, Chinese whispers, twisting, context breaking, fabrication, and otherwise mauling the pure message of the book – which in my opinion was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and is certainly the genuine product of one man’s walk with God through some of the darkest times anyone can ever experience.
Paul Young has walked the walk; he’s earned the right to talk the talk!
So, here are the ‘Thirteen Heresies’. The reason I am showing them to you is a) to let you see how ludicrous they are and b) to prime you for a rebuttal article which really is excellent.
So, there we go. Actually, many of those points are not actually heresies at all, at least not demonstrably, and indeed many are a matter of opinion. For example, point 7 – ‘God submits to human wishes and choices’ – could that not be what we term ‘free will’? These people are assuming that because these points are under the big lettered title ‘THIRTEEN HERESIES’ that nobody will question the assertions – or even attempt to think for themselves. Well, maybe their intended audience think like that, but not this believer, matey! 😀 Over thirty years as a professional scientist have taught me to question everything (1Thess5:21), and God can cope with that, believe you me. But of course the people who write this stuff discourage questions, at least those with answers they can’t cope with. Remember that most Pharisees will label as ‘heresy’ something that in fact is just something they don’t agree with. Get god on your side, and that backs up your argument and proves your point. Lol. Remember, one man’s heresy is another man’s freedom.
Usually, those in the freedom are the happier people! 🙂
So, to bring this blog post back to the positive, to the upbuilding of the saints, here is a beautiful piece, by Joshua Greeson, which humorously – and yet definitively – answers these claims of ‘heresy’. Click the image below to go to the article. Read. Ponder. Soak. Be blessed.
Now, doesn’t that just lift your spirit?
As I promised/threatened above, here is a typical example – the website I mentioned above – of the sort of ill-informed drivel that ‘Shack-haters’ come out with. Take careful note of all the self-righteous, unctuous, judgemental, passive-aggressive, ‘concerned’ tones they have in their toadying ‘discussion’. This really does make me want to puke, and I apologise for including it, even for comparison’s sake. I’m not even going to honour the site with a picture link!
I am sorry for the negative feel of some of this post; it is indeed very, very difficult for someone like me, who has experienced (and continues to experience) the fulness of God’s Grace in reality, to look at such tosh as that website, and maintain a level and calm demeanour. I feel I need to expose these claims on these websites for the, yes, lies that they are. This is the kind of religion I escaped from a long time ago, and I never want to go back there. But the book ‘The Shack‘ is so full of life and revelation that it’s no wonder these people try to deny it to others. As usual, it’s all about control. They really are shutting the doors of heaven in men’s faces (Mt 23:13). Heaven’s gate-keepers, indeed! I tell you, the tax collectors and sinners are going into the Kingdom ahead of these people! 🙂 (Mt21:31) So, if you haven’t yet read The Shack, please can I encourage you to do so with an open mind. Go into it to read the story – which in itself is a great and moving story – and let God speak to you. To say the most often – used phrase in the Bible: ‘Don’t be afraid’. God will hold your hand and prevent your feet from stumbling (Ps 116:8).
In a rare change to my comments policy (in fact this is the first time!), I actually considered disabling comments for this post. This is because I do not want to attract comments from those who dislike The Shack. There are enough websites out there that try to defame this excellent book, without providing an arena for its detractors here as well. To me, The Shack is positive, and I want only positive things on this blog.
Therefore I will personally screen all comments for this post, and will simply disallow any comments which I consider to be negative.
Sadly, my Auntie Betty died last year (she was 90!), and she kindly bequeathed me a money gift in her Will.
I always like to use a bequest to buy something that will remind me of the person who left me the gift. So, for example, a few years ago my godfather Geoff died and left me £250. We used that money to buy an awning for our caravan, which was very fitting as Geoff was an avid caravanner. And so we think of him when we use the caravan and the new awning.
Since my Auntie Betty was involved with building Lancaster aeroplanes during the War, I decided to buy an aviation-related item with her gift. And so I bought myself a new flying headset. I have been flying light aeroplanes for over 20 years and, up until now, I had never yet got myself my own headset, instead using flying club headsets which are often less than perfectly functional.
The purpose of the headset is four-fold: a) to shield the ears from the loud noise of the engine; b) to enable intercom communication with passenger(s) in the aeroplane; c) to let me converse with the air traffic controllers and other helpful agencies on the ground; and d) most importantly, to help me to build up a picture of what’s happening in the area in which I am flying, up here in the sky and on the ground too (aircraft about to take off, that sort of thing). This is what’s known as ‘Situational Awareness’, or ‘SA’; a skill that takes time to develop and which is vital to survival in the air. SA is basically knowing what you’re doing, where you are, and what’s going on around you. It is gained by a combination of visually searching the sky for other aircraft; keeping an eye on the weather, cloudbase and wind direction; being aware of the condition of the aircraft (fuel state, engine behaviour and so on) and of your own position, course, speed and altitude/height; listening to the radio chatter from other aircraft and relating their information to your own situation; liaising with radar controllers who perform a most useful service by providing an extra ‘pair of eyes’, and more*. And that of course is the part where the headset comes in.
So, here’s my new headset, a brand-new David Clark H10-60, a top of the line passive noise reduction headset which is the best you can get without going into active noise cancellation technology – but those types of headset cost nearly £1,000 and I have always found passive headsets like this one to be perfectly adequate for my kind of flying.
It came with free cotton ear covers (that’s the white speaker covers in the photo); these serve to keep the headset dry in use – flying an aeroplane can sometimes be hard work, and you can get quite sweaty at times! Also, there was a free case to store the headset in when not in use:
And I imagine my cousin Pete (Betty’s son) will be pleased with this idea, because he’s a Pilot too and will totally ‘get it’.
Here’s the headset in place. I don’t like doing selfies and prefer to avoid the limelight, but this one is kind of important as it is intended to show the headset in use. Granted it makes me look like a Cyberman off Doctor Who, a picture of which is included for comparison 😉
I have already flown the headset a good few times and I’m very pleased with it; it’s really effective, it is very comfortable and it’s clean, and of course it also reminds me of my Auntie Betty whenever I fly. Which was part of the idea, of course.
To me, it’ll always be ‘Auntie Betty’s Headset’.
Which is nice 🙂
*Unfortunately, SA is a skill that is all too lacking in many of today’s car drivers. Most of the idiots I see on the roads here in Devon are skilled at ‘Situational Unawareness’. They haven’t a clue what’s going on around them and probably don’t even know what song is playing on their stereo. It’s quite scary if you think about it. So I try not to 😉 In an aeroplane, they wouldn’t last thirty seconds…
No doubt there are drivers of the same calibre where you live 😉
I don’t normally ‘do’ calendar festivals; I don’t particularly think of any day as being ‘special’, whether Christmas, Easter, my birthday… but sometimes these ‘recognised’ festivals do get me thinking along the lines of the things they are trying to ‘celebrate’ on those days. Which, when you think about it, is probably a fair part of the idea.
So, today is Easter Sunday, and I have just got back from Church where, as often happens there, I was completely lost in worship. We’d just finished a song, and David, the saxophonist, just continued to play a haunting little riff… and within a few seconds, the congregation were singing in the Spirit, a beautiful sound of blended, harmonised voices, with what could be heard as discordant counterpoints and undercurrents but because of the dynamics (relative volumes) they did not clash but enhanced the whole song. Quite the most beautiful Spirit singing I have heard in a long time, and only really possible with a largeish congregation because of the way the harmonies worked.*
Actually that’s not entirely relevant for today’s article, except that this article is about Easter Sunday. The day where Christians all over the world celebrate that Jesus of Nazareth, having been dead for a couple of days**, is resurrected. He came back to life; not just the same life as He had before He died, but risen to an entirely new kind of life, thus modelling our own resurrections at the ‘end of the age’.
Death had been beaten. Up until then, death was seen as The End. There were a number of ideas floating around like some sort of afterlife, but up until then, nobody had come back again after having been dead for that long. Isaiah 25:7-8 says:
“On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever”
…and this idea is covered again and again in the Bible. The promise that death would no longer be the terror and threat that, up until the Resurrection of Jesus, it had been.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
This is Good News! It means that Death is not the end. I have had close acquaintance with death and its effects, over the last six months since my wife Fiona died. And I have to tell you that death no longer holds any terror, any fear, for me. This is, and has been, my personal experience. Because I know, because God has shown me, that death is not the end. He has shown me what Fiona has now. And I have seen an amazing woman of God face death with utter calm, peace and serenity – because of what she knew to be true – that again death is not the end.
God showed me lots of really deep things of the Spirit last night (I was in the bath, actually!), one of which was that Death is no longer the worst thing that can happen. He showed me that while at the same time pointing to the last six months, where I have lived in a certainty (not simply a denial of the facts!) that there is a life beyond the grave; Fiona is there, and she is safe in Jesus’s company. I cannot even begin to tell you what an incredible source of comfort and reassurance that is. This knowledge is, quite literally, a Life Changer.
I’ve always had a great passion for the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien; I have posted before on themes related to his work. Now, the following quotation is indeed from the last of the three epic Lord of the Rings movies ‘The Return of the King’; however, these actual lines were not written by Tolkien himself, but by the scriptwriters for the movie. The scene is in the beleaguered city of Minas Tirith, where the forces of Mordor are about to break down the last gate and destroy everyone within. Gandalf and the hobbit Pippin are awaiting their fate as the gate begins to splinter:
“Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.”
– From the movie ‘Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King’
As I said, the quotation was from the movie, but the inspiration was actually from Tolkien himself. In this first quote, the hobbit Frodo is dreaming in the house of Tom Bombadil, early on in their adventure:
“That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind; a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”
– ‘The Fellowship of the Ring‘, Book I, Chapter 8: “Fog on the Barrow-Downs”
This is mentioned again at the end of The Return of the King, when Frodo departs on the Elven-ship:
“[T]he ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.“
– ‘The Return of the King’, Book VI, Chapter 9: “The Grey Havens” [emphasis mine]
One of the main reasons why Fiona wanted the Annie Lennox song ‘Into the West’ played at her memorial service was because she saw herself as fulfilling that promise; she would be going ‘Into the West’, with her Jesus. What an awesome thought.
Here then, I re-present the life-memories video that my daughter made for her Mum’s memorial service, with that song in it. This is the life of a great woman of God, whose confidence in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was unshakeable, that He would carry her through the grey rain-curtain and on ‘into the West’:
No, as Gandalf said, “the journey does not end here”. The ‘shroud that covers all nations’ (Is 25:7-8) has been destroyed. Our physical death in this world is simply the transition from our present life into the even greater, fuller, and more complete Life, beyond the veil of death – beyond the grey rain-curtain, if you will – and into the light, love, power and glory of Heaven. The ‘white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise’. How can one fear Death when you realise this sort of thing – despite being quoted from a fantasy story – is real, that it’s true?
I claim that it’s true. How can I prove this? I can’t do it empirically. I can’t, except to give my personal testimony as to what I have seen, what God has showed me. I do hope it comes across as a transferable idea, that is, that you as the reader can derive some benefit from it. I know it’s difficult when it’s someone else’s story, but hopefully the testimony of someone who has been through this fire, and seen all the things I have seen, will help you in some way if you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, or indeed with life itself. Let me encourage you that the promise of the Kingdom of God is not, in fact, primarily concerned with the ‘afterlife’ – though of course it does indeed concern that closely – but also and especially it concerns bringing the power and life of that Country into our present world.
You see, when Jesus said, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”, (Mt 6:10) He meant it. And He demonstrated it; by performing all the miracles He did, He demonstrated that in fact the power of the Kingdom can indeed be brought into this life, and our lives can be lived in the knowledge and exercise of that power. Because the fear of Death has been defeated by Jesus’s Resurrection.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something that has been transmitted down the ages as something that is true. Granted, that of itself doesn’t make it true, but there is also the testimony of countless Christian witnesses down the centuries, all of whom have claimed that in fact Jesus Christ is alive and living within their hearts by His Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit within them, and their real consciousness of His presence, convinces these people (including myself) that this incredibly weird, far-fetched and too-good-to-be-true tale is, in fact, completely true. (And when you hear spontaneous, supernatural singing like that which we had in Church this morning, that just adds to the convincing evidence for me).
Just think about it like this: the one greatest fear, the most powerful natural force in history, the one thing that most humans spend their entire lives in fear of – Death – is no longer the power that it was. Its power – its ability to damage, to take away, to destroy forever – has been taken away because Death is no longer the end. Jesus said, ‘The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.‘ (Jn 10:10 KJV)
Living in the truth of that awesome fact – instead of fear of Death, Life More Abundantly – absolutely has to be one of the greatest keys to receiving the ‘Peace of God that transcends [goes beyond] understanding’ (Phil 4:7). This stuff is true; it is real, and I have lived it.
Peace to you.
The header image for this post is Gandalf and Pippin’s dialogue transliterated into the Elvish script known as the ‘Tengwar‘, as developed by J. R. R. Tolkien for his extensive development of the languages of Middle-Earth. You wouldn’t have seen this in the movies, although they were a beautifully detailed (and in my opinion accurate) representation of Tolkien’s fictitious world. There is so much richness in the Tolkien books; a whole world invented by the genius of that one man.
*For a good example of this kind of singing, take a look at this video from about 4:44 onwards.
**Most Christians think of Jesus as rising from the dead after three days. I have a problem with that description of the time gap: Died Friday, rose from the dead Sunday. No way that’s three days…there are a number of different ideas about that timescale which I won’t explore here, but suffice to say He’d been dead longer than a mere half an hour, which is the longest kind of time where we have records of people whom we thought were dead but actually they ‘recovered’. Drowning victims, that kind of thing. He really was proper dead and He was resurrected. Wow.
I love the book, The Shack. Religiously intolerant people don’t. It’s so sad that many Christians today are unwilling, because of their preconceptions, to let go of their image of a nasty, intolerant god and instead embrace the real, loving Father God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that so long to live in relationship with us. Proper, living, real relationship, not some fake fraud thing that some Christians espouse. In The Shack, a wonderful picture of God is presented; a picture of a God Who understands, Who feels, Who is compassionate and the source of all Grace.
This brilliant piece, by Baxter Kruger, explores why this novel, and the movie made from it, are such a polarising influence.
Click the picture below to go to the article. And, if you haven’t yet read The Shack, do yourself a real favour and grab a copy. You will find links to Amazon’s sales page for the book on my page on The Shack. Your life will be transformed.
It is said that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I disagree; actually, in my view, puns and ‘plays on words’ are the lowest form of wit.
That said, I’m afraid I have to share this article with you on the subject of ‘Once saved, Always Saved’ (or as its author puts it, ‘Once Shaved, Always Shaved’) . Don’t worry; there is a reason for the pun, which is explained in the article.
In the article, Paul Ellis of ‘Escape to Reality‘ introduces his in-depth study series on the subject of eternal security – that is, how safe is your salvation? I have written on this subject before, but Paul goes into it in a lot more depth in this series. If you have any doubts at all about your eternal security, then this is the series for you.
Click the graphic below to go to the introductory article:
And the link to the series page is here (click the logo below):
This post, after my two recent posts (here and here), completes what is almost a mini-series on the dogged insistence of some believers on following Scripture to the letter and even placing it above Jesus, and thus misusing it completely.
The other day, I read a terrible piece criticising the book (and the new movie) The Shack. The book and movie have brought a lot of people into wide-open freedom already, and I have no doubt that many more will be touched by its message. Personally, I love the book and I can’t wait to see the movie (which comes out in June here in the UK). But it should come as no surprise that ‘religious’ people find that sort of thing difficult – the idea of people finding complete freedom – and so the article was critical, dogmatic and judgemental. The article is here if you want to try to stomach it. I don’t recommend reading it unless you have a bucket handy, it’s so negative.
But the thing that I found most disturbing was that the author of that article wrote this (and I hate to contaminate my blog with this sort of thing):
“In The Shack, Mack (the main character) finds true relationship with God in contrast to those who have traditional Christian beliefs based on the Bible. This subtle message qualifies as a wind of doctrine as mentioned in Ephesians 4.
“There is an undertone within The Shack, that relationship with God is something independent of the written word of God, and nothing could be further from the truth.
“There is no sweeter, no more assuring, no more real and living relationship with God than knowing him through his Word, especially when the Word is mixed with a prayerful heart. Earnest and heartfelt time in the Word of God, is time spent with God.
“Relationship with “the god of The Shack” is not true relationship with the Living God, because it is relationship with someone other than the true God we fellowship with in the scriptures.
“It is through the knowledge of God revealed in his holy written word that we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and as we grow in the Lord we embrace sound doctrine and good biblical theology which makes us spiritually healthy.”
I have to say that I actually feel physically sick from reading this, even if only for the purposes of debunking it. (And I don’t have a bucket to hand…) He’s saying that the only true ‘relationship’ one can have with Jesus is only and entirely through the Bible.
And this is what I am most concerned about. Sure, some people may well have experienced only that ‘Bible relationship’ with Jesus, but for him to say that anyone who has a personal relationship with Him, which transcends that of the Bible, to say that that person is wrong, is plain disrespectful and ignorant. In fact, ‘Ignorant’, in its true sense – lacking knowledge – is exactly what it is. These people know not that of which they speak.
I know what it’s like; when God speaks through the Bible, you do indeed ‘hear’ His voice inside you. I do understand that for any believer reading the Bible, there is indeed a sweetness when God is speaking through the Bible in that way. I fully agree with that. I have experienced that. And that sweetness is sweet indeed. It’s the witness of our spirit and the Holy Spirit within us.
But to name that sweetness as the ‘ceiling of sweetness’, as it were, that it doesn’t get any better than that, only means to me that that writer has never experienced anything better than that himself. I’m not saying that my spiritual walk is superior in any way, just that there is more, much more, than that fellow has yet plumbed. It is suggesting that they have only experienced God through theBible; that they have never experienced the powerful reality of God actually walking and talking with them in their daily lives; they have never experienced anything other than just reading about Him in their Bibles and the sweetness that brings. I have. I can testify to that personally, and my regular readers will be aware of just how much He has brought me through over the last few months in the strength and love of that relationship, since the loss of my beloved wife, Fiona, to cancer last October. The Presence of God is an almost constant, bubbling-up wellspring of joy, power and freedom deep within. (Jesus spoke about this in John 4:14 and John 7:38).
Of course, that writer has it all covered, by asserting that the “…relationship [is] with someone other than the true God”, thus passively-aggressively hinting that it’s the Enemy with whom I fellowship*. Well, there’s a simple test, isn’t there? By their fruits you shall know them. (Mt 7:16) If my life shows the fruits of the Spirit, then it’s a life lived by the Spirit of God, and not by any other shady spirit, thank you very much. And they’re a cheeky so-and-so for trying to intimate that I’m not ‘in Christ’ 😉 Which I am, and I know it for sure. It can happen that people realise that God speaks through the Bible, and the sound of that Voice they make synonymous with the Bible rather than God. I liken it to an iPod. With an iPod, what comes through is the music but the iPod is not the artist that did the music. Similarly, the Bible is (one of the) means by which God speaks, but it is not God and some people make the mistake of deifying the Bible for that reason.
Does this not demonstrate a classic example of people like those Jesus was talking to in John 5:39-40?:
“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want” (Jn 5:39-40 Message).
And so, I want to share with you today a little analogy I wrote some time ago, illustrating this relationship with Scripture against a Relationship with Jesus Himself. Here it is.
It’s like a sad middle-aged man still living with his parents, even though he’s met the girl of his dreams. The Bible leads us to Christ; once we have the relationship with Christ, it should ideally become the main relationship, not completely superseding the Bible relationship – which still exists – but still it is the main relationship. The sad man moves out of his parents’ house and marries the girl. He still has a warm, loving (and somewhat relieved!) relationship with his parents, but now his main focus is his wife. And so it is with Jesus. He is now the main focus and the Bible has done one of its main jobs which is to direct us to Him.
I understand that trusting a living person rather than a book is far harder; with a book you know where you stand; it’s all written down (but even then it’s open to misinterpretation!). The thing is that you stand, and you stand, and you continue to stand. There is no moving forward as God is not allowed to say anything that is not either ‘in’ the Book, or at least closely related to it, in that you hear evangelicals all the time saying that the Spirit will not go against anything that is in the Bible. That is neither Scriptural nor true. He will definitely go against things like hamstringing donkeys and battering children, killing all the inhabitants of a city – and even against the stuff in Job where the ‘friends’ are supposedly proclaiming God’s word but in fact they are doing nothing of the sort. Jesus said’ “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now” (Jn 16:12) and this sort of thing – the Relationship with the Real and Living Person of Jesus – is precisely (but not exclusively) what He was talking about.
Far be it from me to denigrate someone else’s experience of God – for that is indeed what they get through reading their Bibles, as we have already seen. If someone wants to have a relationship with God through the tight limitations of a Book, that’s all well and good, and good luck to him – although if he stops there, with the Bible, then he’s missing out on so much more. But to criticise the true and real relationship of another believer in Christ by essentially saying that that relationship isn’t allowed, because that relationship not only exceeds but indeed transcends the words in the Bible – that’s just not on.
And to condemn someone else’s real and living relationship with Jesus and claim it is Satanic (which is what they are passively aggressively claiming) just because it doesn’t jive with their interpretation of Scripture – now that is reprehensible.
So, I would say for these people: it’s time for them to trust Jesus, both with their own lives, and with others’ too – which are in any case none of their business (Jn 21:22). It’s time to stop criticising and judging others’ relationship with the Lord. Jesus is more than capable of looking after His Church; His people, and drawing near to each of them as He sees fit.
It’s strange, really. My header picture was originally intended to show somewhat cynically that a relationship with a Book is no replacement for a Relationship with a Person, specifically the Person of Jesus by His Holy Spirit. But, you know, the primary function of the Bible is to lead us to Jesus; in some ways, then, we can indeed meet Him in its pages, thus enabling us figuratively to ‘hug’ Him like the picture shows. But the thing is that Jesus exists outside the Book, far more so than He does inside the Book. And that’s the message I’m trying to get across. You can’t limit the Creator of the universe to a book, no matter how special that book might be. There is far, far more to knowing God than simply what we find in the Bible. The Bible is, in fact only our starting point – it introduces us to Jesus, it introduces us to the loving Heavenly Father, and it instructs us in God’s ways. But it must be read with Jesus in mind – remember the Scripture’s primary purpose is to lead us to Christ!
*I know he’s not writing to/about me specifically, but as one who agrees with all the theology in The Shack, it’s as good as him writing about me.
After my recent blog post, sharing a friend’s testimony on how he came to value love above ‘truth’, I wanted to add in some personal observations too.
There are so many Pharisees* in Christianity today. Which is fine in one way; there were believing Pharisees in the early Church too (Acts 15:5).
But one of the main problems with today’s Pharisees is that, armed with their Bibles (unlike the early Pharisees – well, they did have Scriptures, those that could read, anyway, but they weren’t the same Scriptures…) these Pharisees have a way of ‘shutting the door of heaven in men’s faces’ (Mt 23:13) by making belief in God look so unattractive, by brandishing their Bibles, pointing out ‘sin’ in others, insisting on adherence to ‘Biblical’ Rules, and generally being obnoxious. They try to ‘evangelise’ people, and pay lip service to the ‘relationship with Jesus’, but in actuality what they are selling is more of a relationship with a book, not so much with Jesus.**
Jesus also said of these people,
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (Jn 5:39-40).
Or, to quote the Message translation (slightly more paraphrasing, but it gets the meaning across clearly):
“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want” (Jn 5:39-40 Message).
Wow, that’s tremendous .
Another way of putting this is to ask the question, “Which is the most important? Jesus, or the Bible?” Any answer other than ‘Jesus’ is bordering on idolatry (or, more specifically, Bibliolatry). Even the answer ,”Well, Jesus, but….” isn’t really any good. There is no such thing as ‘Jesus, but…’. It’s Jesus first, middle and last. Period.
I don’t even know why I should need to put this in writing, but Jesus has the primacy. Always. One bloke said to me on a forum tonight that ‘Jesus never, ever, ever contradicts the Scriptures’, missing entirely the point that I was making that sometimes Jesus contradicts our interpretation of the Bible. But actually in His earthly ministry He did indeed contradict the Scriptures. ‘You have heard that it is written…do this…but I say to you….do this instead’. And He still does this today, and I realise that will look like heresy to some. When there is a choice between Jesus’s Voice and the Bible, Jesus wins every time. I think that part of the problem is that in the same way that the Pharisees of today don’t trust others to have a relationship with Jesus, so they also don’t trust themselves to have that relationship with Him either, and therefore they miss out on so much freedom.
2Tim 3:16 is the Scripture trotted out almost every time by people trying to prove the primacy of the Bible. But it says there that ‘All Scripture is useful…‘. Not essential; but useful. If Paul had meant essential, he’d have said so!***
So how can I quote Scripture in support of my arguments, like I just did, if Scripture is not infallible? Well, I have several ideas about that which I will share in a future post. But, for now, let’s just say that when God speaks a Bible passage into a believer’s heart, that is the point at which it becomes the Word of God because it is given the life and power by the Holy Spirit. I’ll leave it at that for now.
So remember, Jesus is the point of the Scriptures. The whole idea is to point us to Jesus; after that, the Scripture changes its role to support, training, encouragement and all the other things – and more! – that are listed in 2Tim3:16 – but not as Rules, and it’s not infallible, and it’s useful, not essential.
The Scriptures are there to point us to, and teach us about, Jesus. They are not there to be revered to the point where we worship the Scriptures themselves rather than who they are about.
Jesus always has the last word!
*Historical note: Pharisees were a strict sect of Judaism in Jesus’s time who tried to be right with God through obeying lots of picky little Rules as well as the ‘big’ commandments, and they also looked down on others, non-Pharisees, who did not obey the Rules like they did. Today’s Pharisees, in the Christian sense, are those people in the Church who judge others, point out ‘sin’ in others, and generally don’t get the plank out of their own eye before trying to take a speck out of someone else’s! (Mt 7:3)
**”These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” – Isaiah 29:13, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15:7-9
***And nowhere does the Bible itself claim to be the word of God. So actually, the idea is itself a non-Scriptural concept. Sure, God does speak through the Bible, more than any other book. But the Word of God is a Person – Jesus Christ! – and He has the supremacy (Col 1:18) It’s actually somewhere in between; yes the Bible is God’s ‘word’, but it is not all for everybody all of the time. So a passage saying to go and attack a tribe of people over there and make sure you kill all their donkeys – maybe that’s not God’s Word to you right now?
Three years ago, I came back into worship leading, as my ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘ ended. At that time, we led worship at a local Christian conference/retreat centre, Brunel Manor, and we sang the song ‘Have Your Way’. A song that declares complete trust in God to have His way in our lives, to let Him in and let Him have control. This is the life of the Spirit; a life walking in the Spirit.
When I wrote the piece linked to above (here is it again), I declared complete trust and faith in God to handle the healing of my gorgeous wife Fiona, who at the time was fighting inoperable pancreatic cancer. And yet Fiona died of that illness, but even then I believe that this was her healing. I won’t go into detail on this here, but have written at length on my thoughts on that matter in my series ‘Fiona‘ on this blog. Take a look.
In this post, I am showcasing two of Don Moen’s* lovely songs: ‘Here We Are‘, leading into ‘Have Your Way‘. The idea is to demonstrate that worshipping God, drawing near to Him and entering into His presence, and being conscious of His nearness, naturally leads into an expression of trust. So, in ‘Here We Are‘, we worship God and tell Him how much we trust Him. In ‘Have Your Way‘, we put that trust into practical expression by inviting Him into our lives and our situations, however bad those situations may be. Sometimes things work out as we’d hoped (healing, whatever), and sometimes not – as in our case. But still, God is good, and God is worth trusting. It would be great if you can enter in to these songs and let God in, to do the things He’s longing to do with you. Because it will be good!
Here we are, lifting our hands to You
Here we are, giving You thanks for all You do
And as we praise, and worship Your holy Name
You are here, dwelling within our praise
For every answered prayer For always being there For love that hears us when we call For arms that lift us when we call Oh you have always been right beside us Leading us all along the way We’ve made it through because of You
For days we cannot see For all that’s yet to be For trials we may have to face When we’ll be leaning on Your grace It will be Your strength that saves us Your love that makes us strong And through it all, we’ll sing this song
Have Your way, have Your way Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and have Your way As we wait, as we pray Speak Your Word into our hearts, and have Your way.
One of the really clever things you can do, when embedding a video from YouTube in a blog page like this, is to highlight a portion of the video for people to watch. This is what I have done here, in that you will see that these two songs are simply a small section of the whole video which is actually nearly an hour and a quarter in length. This means that if you would like to view the entire video, you can do that simply by clicking the beginning of the red track indicator at the bottom of the video. Or you can skip to any part of the video by clicking somewhere on the red track indicator.