Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever Psalm 23

                                                                 Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]

    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]

    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

I did my first funeral 35 years ago. There have been some years that I have had as few as one, single funeral. Last year I did nine funerals, the most I’ve ever done in a single year.

Most of these funerals are celebrations of a life that has been long and wonderful. There are many wonderful stories told at the service. There are tears, yes, but for the most part, death has come fully expected and well prepared for.

Some funerals, however, are very difficult.

I did a funeral for a young child who was 5 years old at the time of his death. His casket was in the sanctuary. It was so small. I imagined that it would have been so easy for one person to have picked up that casket and carry it.

I remember the funeral of a young man. He was 17 years old, killed by a drunk driver. I think every student in the school, and every teacher he ever had came to that funeral.

There were a few funerals for suicide victims. There was one woman who had been murdered by her husband.

I remember Don, a single parent. When he died I had to tell his 5 year old daughter about her Dad’s death. Her first question was, “Who will take care of me?’

But no funeral is harder than for the person who died without faith. These funerals are the ones that tend to be longer. The friends who get up and speak talk on and on and on, as if by ending their eulogy, the life of that person will vanish. The tears for that person are more painful than even for those of a child or teenager.

I sat in a funeral not long ago and I watched the deep sorrow of these non-believers mourn the death of someone they loved deeply. One of my staff members observed that so often people come to church to get hatched, matched and dispatched, meaning that many people come to church only for baptisms, weddings and funerals, but there is no faith that brings them here at other times.

The funeral of a non-believer is the saddest funeral of all, because that’s it. That’s all there is.

St. Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians, “we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”

Christians believe that there is more to life than this physical realm. The Psalmist wrote, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

What does that mean?

What happens to us when we die?

First, Heaven is a place beyond our ability to comprehend. What we would like is a travel brochure or a map or some photographs to show us exactly what heaven is like – but we don’t have that. We cannot conceive of more than anything more than a bare glimpse of heaven.

I can conceive of the distance of 10 miles, but I when I think of a million miles? That’s beyond my ability to comprehend.

I can understand having a credit card debt of $100. But a national debt of trillions of dollars? Between a trillion and a billion I can’t conceive.

To imagine heaven? That is impossible. And the reason it is impossible to comprehend is because it is so much better than anything we have experienced.

I’ve had a good life – I can even imagine it getting a little bit better -- but Heaven is so far, far better than any of my experiences that I simply cannot conceive with my limited imagination what it is like.

The Bible tells us what Heave is like in I Corinthians 2:9, which says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”


Second, having said that Heaven is beyond comprehension, one of the few things we can say with certainty about it, is that it is a place of joy. We might not be able to fully comprehend how much joy there is, but we can say that heaven is a place of joy. In heaven there will be no disappointment or pain. Death will be no more. Sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 51:11). The Bible teaches us time and again about the joy of heaven, and nowhere is this more clearly stated than in Revelation, when it is said that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).


But this is not to say that heaven will be a dull place. Heaven will be interesting and exciting because we will never stop growing spiritually and intellectually. We will understand things in new ways, for Paul in I Corinthians says this: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).


What is heaven like? Heaven is a place of fellowship. Many people have expressed concern to me about whether they will know their loved ones in heaven. Everything in Scripture points to the reality that we will know each other. In fact, we will know each other even better than we do now. Paul described Heaven in one of his New Testament books by saying, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that we will not know one another.

Jesus told the interesting story of a rich man and a beggar-man named Lazarus. Lazarus went to heaven after his death, and the rich man ended up in hell. The story describes how Lazarus recognized the Old Testament man, Abraham, even though he had never seen him in life.

I know that when I die I will see my sisters, my parents, my grandparents, my friends who died before me.


The final point about Heaven is that we should not be anxious about it. We should have faith and trust in God. Death is a difficult process, filled with fear of pain and the unknown, but for the faithful, these fears should not be related to whether or not there is a heaven or about what heaven is like.

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. . . . I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-6).