Yet another tragic shooting in the United States. And it has of course brought out the usual plethora of one group of people saying, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you…’ and, predictably, the other group of people who rant on about how valueless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are.
In the very same Facebook group (that I am a part of), I saw two consecutive posts, one saying how useless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are, and the very next post saying that this person appreciated the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that had been expressed for his situation.
Make your minds up, folks.
I know that some politicians and other professional apathists use ‘thoughts and prayers’ as a platitude. And I know that it’s sickening. I know, right?
But I also know that there are many millions of others who, appalled at the violence and suffering, do indeed hold up the victims of these crimes, and their families, in their ‘thoughts and prayers’.
Sometimes, when you live thousands of miles away, ‘thoughts and prayers’ is the best you can do. I’m not trying to be insensitive, but everyone has their own problems and worries and, while we do all we can to help – maybe send money and whatnot – the sheer fallacy of condemning those who ‘have thoughts and prayers but do nothing’ is fallacy indeed. What, do they want us to drop all our responsibilities and fly over to the disaster zone to help personally? What a ridiculous notion. I sometimes think that, in their rage, these people don’t even know what they are talking about; they don’t know what it is they actually want.
And let me tell you something. I have personal experience of the power of prayer. Here’s an example. I know someone who was having an extramarital affair. One night, Fiona and I decided that enough was enough, and we engaged in a thorough prayer battle about that situation, we kicked the enemy’s ass good and proper, and the very next morning the person in question called their spouse and asked to meet up to talk it over. That couple is now back together again and have been so for 25 years or more. The person having the affair ‘suddenly realised’ (at exacty the time we were praying) that this was not the person they wanted to be. Call it coincidence if you like, but it is my firm belief that this person changed their mind because we prayed. I have other examples too but that one will have to do for now. I want to get on with my rant.
My point is that prayer can change things. It is also especially galling that those who decry ‘thoughts and prayers’ are often themselves Christians who profess to believe in the power of prayer. Sorry, but yeah, right. I have actually stopped following one particular person’s Christian blog (and removed it from my recommended blogs/links page) because every third post or so he would continually rant about the worthlessness of ‘thoughts and prayers’.
Listen: Prayer is God’s way of empowering the powerless.
Who are we to say that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are useless?
How dare these people insult the beliefs and caring practices of countless millions of compassionate people, of all faiths and belief systems, all across the world who care enough to think and pray deeply and sympathetically about these poor people who have suffered so? For some of these compassionate people, ‘thoughts’ are the only thing they know how to give. For others, they can think but they can also pray – using the Godly gift that can move mountains. For most, indeed ‘thoughts and prayers’ are all they can give.
So do not belittle the care and compassion of the countless millions who are ‘thinking and praying’ right now for these victims and their circumstances.
You have absolutely no idea how ungrateful you sound.
And you have absolutely no idea what things God is prompting millions of unsung heroes, behind the scenes, to do right now.
Including ‘thoughts and prayers’.
[Edit]: And I must also add that my friend Darren has only today posted on Facebook this very thing:
“Of all the ‘actions’ that you can perform to influence and change another person’s life for the best, secret prayer is the greatest and most effective!”
Today, on the tenth monthly anniversary of my loss of the light of my life, my dear wife Fiona, I thought I would share a little about how we first met.
When people ask me where Fiona and I met, I try to play silly-buggers and I usually say,
“Actually, I was sitting on my bed at the time”
Of course, this doesn’t usually go down all that well with some Christians… but there is of course a ‘proper’ explanation 🙂
Would you believe: we met on the Citizens’ Band (CB) radio. And I was sitting on my bed as I was using it. Mystery solved 😉
It was in late 1981 that I bought my first, very basic, CB radio, using some of my student grant (we still got grants back then…) Funnily enough, back then, as I was in, shall we say, a ‘legalistic phase’ of my personal faith walk, I was really doubtful as to whether or not it was ‘God’s Will’ for me to buy it. But buy it I did (oh, the sin of it!), and I installed it in my Mini car. This is the type of ‘Harrier CB’ transceiver* that I bought:
And, despite my guilt-based doubts, it turned out to be instrumental in several life-changing ways.
Firstly, and quite unfairly I thought, the young lady I was dating at the time (and had been with for seventeen months) sat in my car and used my CB, while I was in prayer meetings, to meet ‘someone else’ and then dumped me. I laugh about it now, and we are still in touch and are actually good friends!
Secondly, because I personally always had to understand how things worked, I studied radio theory and eventually qualified for my Radio Amateur’s Licence, after attending night-school and also teaching myself Morse Code. That was in 1984-85, though, after Fiona and I were married.
Thirdly, and most importantly, I met Fiona on the CB radio.
But it wasn’t on my original Harrier CB that I met her… annoyingly, my Harrier rig (CB jargon for the radio transceiver itself) was stolen from my car while I was at a Leeds United match. And I think Leeds lost too, just to add insult to injury. Someone had decided that they deserved that CB radio more than I did, and so they helped themselves to it. And Leeds came out in sympathy 😉
So I replaced the stolen unit with a more mid-range radio (with a few more controls on it) which I didn’t really like all that much as my voice was distorted on transmission. I therefore sold that rig and invested in a top-of-the-range ‘Harrier CBX’ transceiver, with lots more controls on it, and therefore it was much more flexible. Here’s a picture of the actual instrument, which I still have:
I not only installed it in my car, but I also set it up with a device called a ‘slide-mount’ (which you can see under the radio in the picture above). The slide-mount allows you to remove your rig quickly and easily so that you can put it in the boot of the car, out of sight, where thieves won’t see it. All the connections for the power, the antenna and whatnot, are done with sliding contacts, so basically you can just pull the thing out in a matter of less than five seconds. But it’s also really convenient in another way, because you can also set up another slide-mount in your house, and take your CB indoors with you and use it at home. So I installed a decent antenna on the outside of my parents’ house, set it all up, installed the slide-mount and power supply in my bedroom, and the job’s a good ‘un. Working CB radio in both car and home.
And so, to the story. One evening in the Spring of 1982, at about the time of the end of the Falklands War, I’d had my new ‘Harrier CBX’ radio for about six weeks, and was really enjoying using it. Just before going off to Housegroup that evening, I decided to fill in the last ten minutes before I left with a quick listen on the CB.
Funny how these small actions can change your life.
Sitting on my bed, I switched on the rig, and almost immediately heard a young man calling, somewhat plaintively I thought, for a contact (the phraseology was ‘One-four for a copy!’, meaning that the guy was calling on channel 14 for someone to talk to; a ‘copy’ in CB jargon) So I thought, ‘Oh, he sounds like nobody wants to talk to him’, so I took pity on him and replied, and we chatted for a few minutes. Then he said, ‘My sister’s here, would you like to talk to her?’ And his sister was of course Fiona, and the young man was Graham, who is now my brother-in-law. She’d just that day finished her last ‘A-level’ exam at school, and had wanted to relax a little after all the stress, so Graham invited her out to their dad’s car in which the CB radio was installed. After listening for a while, she decided that she’d like to talk to me.
But, of course, after a few minutes, I had to go. So I said, “Anyway, I’m sorry but I have to go now; I am going to Housegroup”
“Oh”, said Fiona, “That sounds interesting!” Thinking she was kidding me, I said, “What do you mean?” And she replied, “I’m a Christian too!”.
“Which church do you go to?”
“I don’t have a church”
“Well you could come along to mine”, I said. “It’s Guiseley Baptist Church”
“Oh, that’s just along the road from me!”
And so, we arranged to meet up outside the church that next Sunday morning. In the meantime, I had a few more radio conversations with Graham, and even went round to meet him (an ‘eyeball’ in CB jargon) at his house, but Fiona was out.
But on that Sunday in June 1982, I met her, sitting on a bench outside the church, and it was love at first sight, for me at least. Easily the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. I write this with tears as the enormity of my loss hits me again. My first words to her were, “Oh, is it you?” And she said, “Yes!” And so we met. She started to come to my church regularly, and we began to spend time together; to go out for walks together. And we fell in love.
Here’s the front of Guiseley Baptist Church; the flower box to the left of the gate (as we see it here) is where the bench used to be, the one that Fiona was sitting on when I met her. That is the exact spot where I laid eyes on her for the first time 🙂
We were married in that same church in January, 1984. And we had adventure after adventure in the blessed time that we had together. We were inseparable for over 34 years; half a lifetime. And the adventures continued – children, jobs, travels, worship leading, church, friends, dogs, pets, poverty, sufficiency. We learned what life is like both in plenty and poverty, on the breadline, in abundance, with mortgage, with no mortgage, in vibrant health, in inexpressible joy, excitement, and peace; with disease, heartbreak and horror, suffering and bereavement; exploration, grandchildren, holidays, cars, food, rainy walks, dogs, well, you know. Just Life In General. We went through so much together and we were so close, and madly in love, for all that time. I count myself thoroughly blessed to have shared life’s adventures with my amazing lady. And I loved her more than life.
So, I hope that this little story shows you just how awesome God is, at orchestrating a series of seemingly random events, and in so doing to change two people’s lives forever. Our three children, our two grandchildren, exist only because I bought a CB radio, Fiona’s dad bought a CB radio, I decided to just spend ten minutes on the CB that evening, Fiona needed to relax after her exams, I decided to mention Housegroup…all those factors came together and indeed were brought together as just a small segment of God’s Grand Plan that we are so privileged to have been a part of. All the people whose lives have been touched by our music, by our ministry, by our teaching, by our wisdom; it all came about because of that series of decisions and events that shaped the future so hugely for us.
Wow! It’s simply mind-blowing!
Header picture is one of Fiona that I took in August, 1982, and just a month or so before she went off to University in Liverpool. This is the first photo I ever had of Fiona; she is eighteen in this picture (and it was taken on a Polaroid camera) and I kept it by my bed when she was at University.
More testimony of God’s timing, including some from our early married life, is here.
*A ‘transceiver’ is a radio that is capable of both transmitting and receiving radio signals. Transmitter/Receiver, hence ‘Transceiver’.
God loves to surprise His children with wonderful things.
Quite out of the blue, He will pop up something that, for us, is totally unexpected and brings us great blessings. An example from my own life, from two and a half years ago, is here. This sort of thing has happened to me so many times recently that I just can’t remember most of the events. But each time the surprise and delight is real. Some would put it down to coincidence and ‘confirmation bias’, which of course it could be. But these things are so personal, so targeted, that I really doubt that it’s coincidence.
But it’s not just me that it happens to, either. A few weeks ago, I was writing on Facebook about one of my favourite worship songs, and one of my friends came up with this lovely anecdote. I have ‘sanitised’ it of the song and personal details to avoid embarrassment, but have left it unchanged apart from that. Here is the story, just how it was told:
“I know the guy who wrote that song. I was a DJ in a small southern gospel radio station in the south, and I’d sneak in a worship song here and there. One day, I found that song on an album and put it on. A few minutes after I started it, a man came back to my booth, he was a new hire that had just started that day working in the office. He had tears STREAMING down his face, and asked me why I played that particular song. I told him because I’d just found it and previewed it and it brought me deep joy… he was sobbing. 🙂 Come to find out, he’d been struggling with so many things and had been really discouraged. He told me about how he and his wife WROTE that song and how it was just a sign to him that God had not forgotten him… so then of course I was in tears, too! lol, I had to put on a really long cut from the Kingsmen (10 minute song! lol) just to recover. 🙂 “
Wow. What a lovely story, and all because of a song that is one of my all-time favourite worship songs. I have several 😉 … But anyway, here’s the response I wrote to my friend:
“Now that is a lovely story. Wow. It’s one of my favourite worship songs and always has been since first I heard it. I have used that song to bless countless people in congregations large and small, singing it with great anointing and reality. Because for me it’s true. Maybe you could encourage him some more with that. I am going to bed now with my heart rejoicing because of your story”.
I wish I could tell you which song it is, but I want to protect that man’s privacy. Sorry. But really, you could pick any one of the many worship songs I have posted on my blog over the time I’ve been running it, and you can bet there will be similar stories surrounding many of them.
And it’s simply because God is like that. He’s brilliant; He loves His children with a fiery, jealous passion that pales even the strongest natural mother instinct. If He made us to have that sort of love for our own children, how much more is He like that, given that we are made in His image?
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” – John 8:36 (KJV)
About three years ago, I returned to Church life, willingly, and at the direct request of Father God. I say ‘willingly’, because it marked the end of fifteen years of hardly being able to set foot in a church building, and at the same time learning how to live free from deadly church doctrines, rules and expectations. I’d been ‘detoxed’ over that time; I’d learned my freedom. And, you know what, even after I’d gone back into Church, God never once told me that it was time for the freedom to end. (There’s a little more detail on this in my Testimony)
And now I live in that freedom. Freedom from the power of sin, freedom from the fear of death, freedom from being tied to others’ opinions, freedom from having to strive to please God, freedom to be who I am, free in fact to live life to the full with complete freedom from any kind of fear.
This sort of lifestyle is described really well in Romans 6:6-14, especially in The Message translation/paraphrase:
“Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
“That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.”
– Romans 6:6-14 Message
I love that. Never again will death have the last word. Never indeed! Jesus’s Resurrection shows that God was declaring the rule of Death, in terms of its power to destroy and separate forever, was over. In Isaiah 25:6-9, written about 600 years before the death of Jesus of Nazareth, this prophecy is recorded:
On this mountain* the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
– Isaiah 25:6-9
*(‘On this mountain’ referring to the hill of Golgotha in Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified)
I mean, how awesome is that? That 600 years before the death of Christ, the prophecy is that death shall be defeated; that victory was the victory of Christ over death on the hill of Golgotha.
Is it any wonder, then, that I marvel at the immensity of the salvation (the Greek word for this is sōzō, meaning being ‘made whole’) that is offered us in Christ. I wrote about this some time ago but that article still stands. The whole salvation story and the truth of it is starkly real in this age of wishy-washy beliefs, rubbish television programs, terribly incompetent Governments and the like.
This salvation – meaning, as we said above, ‘wholeness’, represents the only real hope for us both personally and as a civilization. But because it is based on the solidity of God and the removal of the world’s main weapon – fear – it alone has the power to change lives and make a real difference to real people today. We are ‘saved’ – sōzō’d – to be free. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1) – not to struggle and try, but to rest in His finished work. It is finished! (Jn 19:30)
So remember – if it doesn’t look like freedom – then it isn’t the Gospel!
I leave you with the amazing words penned by Charles Wesley in 1738, from his hymn ‘And Can it Be‘:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature’s night Thine eye diffused a quickening ray I woke, the dungeon flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart was free I rose, went forth and followed Thee!
“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…
[Edit 29th December 2019] – Today, I found another article on this subject which gives a different, though probably helpful and certinly positive, angle on this subject. Here is the link.
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.
There’s an odd, fairly obscure little Scripture, found only in Matthew 27:50-53, that describes how at the moment Jesus died, an earthquake broke open the tombs of ‘many’ holy people who were, at the same time, raised from the dead. After Jesus’s own Resurrection a couple of days later, these people were seen by many people in Jerusalem. Here’s the Scripture:
“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.” – Mt 27:50-53
I’ve always understood this as happening because of the sheer power and Life that pulsed out from the Cross* as Jesus died. Somehow, however the ‘mechanism’ works, sin and death had been defeated and history had been changed. Nothing would ever be the same again. Life had been released into God’s Creation in such a way that had not happened since He first said ‘Let there be Light!’. And all this was because of the death of the most righteous Man Who ever lived. It’s no wonder, then, that all those people were raised by that power. And, when a Godly person dies, in a similar way that same power is released, bringing life to those who will receive it.
Most of my regular readers will know that my incredible wife, Fiona, passed away a couple of weeks ago. And in a similar way to that Life that poured out from Jesus’s death, I believe that I have seen this Life radiating out from from Fiona’s loss too. She was, without exception, the most Godly person I have ever known.
Within a day of her passing, just like when Jesus died, so much good fruit was released. There were fruits of joy, laughter, reconciliation. Fruit of healing. People felt a light-heartedness, despite the heartbreak of her loss, that could only be explained by remembering her as she was through her life and her final illness. Always radiant, full of joy and laughter, always looking for the joke, that was my Fiona.
And then at Fiona’s memorial service in our Church, every single one of the people who got up to speak about her said about how full of fun and joy she was. As I’ve said, she was always looking for an excuse to laugh about something. Mark, our Vicar, commented on this and said that she was so full of fun, joy and laughter – yes, because that was the way she was made, the way she was ‘wired’ – but that she was also so full of that joy because she was also so full ofGod. And she was indeed 🙂
At the memorial service, many people – who were not all necessarily people of faith – were uplifted by the stunning testimonies of her influence on people’s lives. People I know who are not necessarily people of faith have been touched by the obvious light of this amazing lady’s life, character, friendships, life and death, and also by the shining faith and love manifested in lesser measure by those left behind. In this way, Fiona’s loss has radiated out new Life into people’s lives and hearts, in life-changing power. People who knew Fiona in life were, knowingly or unknowingly, being continually touched by the Love of Christ that was her driving force and the core of her being. At her memorial, even people who hardly knew her were moved deeply and felt something that they’d never felt before: the immense love of Christ that came from her life and ministry. The Presence of God filled that place and some people hadn’t felt that before. That’s much of the reason why it was so moving, because the testimonies to Fiona’s faithfulness and qualities were backed up by the actual Presence of God. Some might put this down to emotion or similar, and I agree that there was a lot of that about. Of course there was. But there was something more: the real Presence of Jesus right there in that place. If you were there and you felt that, and you were wondering what it was, hopefully that explains it for you. And that is partially why it felt as if Fiona was there with us, because Jesus’s Presence was so much of what you felt when she was nearby. I don’t think that anyone who was there went out of that place unchanged, in a good way.
So then, in Fiona, the life of Christ was made literally tangible because, as I have said previously, she was Jesus to others. And even in her death, that Christ-Life was still pulsing out in all its radiance and bringing Resurrection Life to those in that place, whether they realised it or not. It’s no wonder that people were finding the service so incredibly moving!
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints – Ps 116:15 (KJV)
Finally, I would like to share with you the brilliant life-tribute movie that my daughter made to be played in the memorial service. It shows Fiona with her family in various places. The music track is ‘Into the West’ by Annie Lennox, from the Lord of the Rings movie ‘The Return of the King‘. Fiona always wanted it at her funeral….
*By ‘The Cross’, I refer (as does St. Paul in his writings) to, not specifically the actual wooden scaffold on which Jesus was crucified, but to the history-changing events that happened when Jesus died and subsequently rose from the dead. The self-sacrificial death that Jesus died is the single most powerful event in all of history, and that’s what I refer to when I talk about ‘The Cross’.
I love songs like this (especially with such superb piano tracks!), and ‘Holy are You Lord‘, because this is one of the main themes of Heavenly worship – Holy, Holy, Holy – as described in the various Heavenly visions in the Bible, for example, in Revelation 4:8 or Isaiah 6:3. If you’re singing this, you’re singing the worship of Heaven. The worship of those angels and humans described in those passages, the worship of people who can actually see Jesus in all His amazing wonder, power and glory – this is their song. And so it is only right that we join in; even here in our earthly place where there’s suffering, pain and decay, still we can celebrate ahead of time, as it were, in the ‘here and now’ where we know only in part and not in full (1Cor13:12); where we can see the outworkings of God’s plans in all His genius, and rejoice in them!
Here’s the song, then – I Hear Angels.
I hear angels singing praises I see men from every nation Bowing down before the throne Like the sound of many waters Like a rushing wind around us Multitudes join the song
And a symphony of praise arises Tears are wiped away from eyes As men from every tongue and tribe all sing
Holy holy, God Almighty Who was, Who is and is to come All the angels are crying “holy” To the Lamb Who sits upon the throne
Holy holy, God Almighty Who was, Who is and is to come All creation is bringing glory To the Lamb Who sits upon the throne
I see One Who’s full of wonder Eyes of fire, voice of thunder Shining bright, His Majesty All the colours of the rainbow Circle Him and fill His temple So beautiful this is to me
And a symphony of praise arises Tears are wiped away from eyes As men from every tongue and tribe all sing
Holy holy, God Almighty Who was, Who is and is to come All the angels are crying “holy” To the Lamb Who sits upon the throne
Holy holy, God Almighty Who was, Who is and is to come All creation is bringing glory To the Lamb Who sits upon the throne
To the Lamb Who sits upon the throne
I believe I have personally heard angel voices singing.
It has happened to me only once, in about 1992, when I was in a prayer meeting in a hired room in Otley Civic Centre, in Otley, West Yorkshire. During a high, awe-filled lull in the open worship (which I was leading), I could hear music; voices and yet it was not voices; singing but the sound was more like trumpets of all different sizes. I couldn’t hear any words. No other party was in the building at the time; the sound was coming from somewhere below the room we were in. It wasn’t very loud, but it was real, and I shall never forget the sound.
To this day, I still believe this was angel voices worshipping along with our group’s high praise. I’d never heard anything like it before – in fact, it was like nothing I had ever heard – and I haven’t heard anything like it since. Fascinating!
A long time ago, I was a worship leader who played in meetings and services week after week, month after month. Until, of course I burned out! Many of my readers will know of my Dark Night of the Soul, when I left behind me all things Church for fifteen years. And on each occasion that I burned out, I came closer and closer to never going back into leading – or even into Church; each time, that Dark Night beckoned. Eventually, it turned out to be exactly what I needed, but on this particular occasion the ‘only’ real thing was that I never wanted to ever hear again any of the Songs of Heaven.
Except for this one. ‘All I Desire’, from the Hosanna! Music album ‘Almighty‘. Despite everything, this one song just played over and over again in my spirit – and I didn’t mind, despite it being a Song of Heaven:
‘Oh Lord, my God, all I desire is You’.
And, you know, that was exactly what the Spirit was speaking to my heart at that time. I needed to put aside all the works, all the leading, all the action, all the ‘being indispensible’, and just concentrate on my heart’s Desire – all I really needed was Him. So, in His usual complete genius, He gave me the one song that could save my sanity, by putting my focus back on the One to Whom I owe everything.
As usual, it had taken a big crash for me to learn my lesson – if indeed I did. But anyway, here is the song. If you’re blown away by life’s pressures, or especially by ministry pressures, remember your first Love; remember that He is all you really desire, and that all the resulting works and deeds flow from Him and back to Him. Let it be effortless. let it flow from your life in the Spirit, and not from any compulsion.
Hold your ‘ministry’ lightly;
but hold on to Him tightly
(I can’t believe I just wrote that, and I apologise. Too trite for my normal style, and I don’t like ‘Christian catch-phrases’ – but I feel perhaps it’s there for for someone!) 😉
So here it is: ‘All I Desire’, written and led by Rich Gomez.
Sing it. Mean it.
O Lord, my God All I desire is You O Lord, my God All I desire is You
More precious than silver More costly than gold No riches on the earth compare with You
And what can this world offer when all I desire is You