Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries, February 2022
I had finished my brief sermon for our Sunday afternoon church service at Aksarben Village Senior Living and the last music video had been played. That clip, by the way, was a rousing rendition of the southern gospel song, “I’ll Have a New Life” performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny & June Cash, and the Statler Brothers. The reception to everything in the service had been wonderful, but that last song, with its promises of new bodies, new minds, and a whole new creation to live in, was especially embraced by our elderly congregation.
And then, as we do every Sunday, we passed out the coffee, lemonade, and cookies (Claire’s chocolate chip cookies were on the menu that afternoon) and began visiting. In one of those conversations, Doris and I were talking about that last song and the supernatural comfort it provided for those dealing with the traumatic trials so commonly involved in growing old. Doris, is a dear nonagenarian (FYI, that’s someone in their 90s) who loves Jesus and has a firm hope of heaven. However, she was candidly sharing with me about how hard it is, not only to have one’s body and memory fail, but to have one’s sense of purpose and significance fade away also. She then asked me if I had any thoughts about how to face these problems.
My reply, as I remember it, centered on 3 things. First of all, even the hard trials that we meet here on this sin-scarred earth can, if squarely faced with faith in God, turn out to serve our eternal interests. This life isn’t all there is. Indeed, its primary purpose is to “fit” us for the life to come. God’s lovingkindness is always at work in His adopted children, preparing us to better enjoy heaven’s splendor. Our Father is wise, compassionate, and sovereign. So, even if we don’t understand or like it now, God’s will is always for our very best. Heaven’s first day will prove it! So, I told Doris, we must endeavor to hold on to Christ. Even more important, we must rely on the Bible’s repeated promises that, whatever befalls, Christ is holding on to us!
The second area of my answer dealt with the reality of suffering in another way. Let’s face it; far from being “the golden years,” old age frequently introduces us to the toughest challenges of our whole life. Sickness. Grief. Disappointment. Lack of mobility. Loss of purpose. Loneliness. Worry and anxiety, even fear. Pain. Second-guessing one’s past. No doubt about it — the rigors of age are extremely unfriendly companions.
And yet, even these tests prove an important and comforting lesson; namely, God isn’t finished with us yet! As long as He keeps us here, God has work to perform both in us and through us. Sure, our bodies disappoint us, even fail us. We may have a lot less memory, money, or mobility than we used to. And the oh-so-progressive world may want us shut up, shut out, and shut away. It is hardly surprising then that we might begin to believe that we’re just taking up space. Wrong!
The mere fact that Jesus offers us these very tough tests in our old age means that our loyalty to Him is still of the utmost importance. He will see us through these challenges all the way to our day of victory. But He will also be with us in the very midst of the trials. Weaning us from the world’s transitory fashions and pleasures. Calming and tenderizing our hearts. Building our faith. And conforming us more and more to the image of Christ.
“But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, yet our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18)
The Christian is saved from the penalty of sin by trusting in the finished work of the cross. That’s a done deal. Jesus died in our place, taking our deserved condemnation on Himself. But the Christian’s present life is one of sanctification; that is, where the Lord “works out” the supernatural effects of our salvation in practical, day-to-day living.
Here’s how Jonathan Evans (Tony Evans’ son) put it in his recent book, Your Time Is Now: “But while salvation is free, sanctification is not. Yes, God wants you to be saved, but He also wants you to be sanctified. Sanctification is just a seminary-style word that means spiritual growth. Don’t trip on it. God has given you perfection through Jesus Christ, but God is still in the process of perfecting you to be like Jesus Christ on earth (I Corinthians 11:1)…But what you need to understand is that justification is a gift, while sanctification is a grind. Justification means you are sinless in the eyes of God, but sanctification means that you progressively sin less because of the work of God in your life…God says that He justifies us for free, but sanctification requires our cooperation and participation…But Jonathan, how long is this gonna take? My answer is the same as Paul’s. It’s gonna take ‘until the day of Christ Jesus.’ And no one knows how long that will be until that day comes. It’s an indefinite day. That’s why we should never quit.”
Of course, Holy Scripture is quite clear in its teaching that the Christian who dies is immediately drawn into the very presence of the Lord. All of the “molding work” of the divine Potter has been completed and the believer now lives in righteousness, peace, wholeness, and fellowship with the Triune God and all the saints who preceded them. But, if we are still here — no matter how we look or feel, no matter if we are abandoned or disdained by others, no matter by what particular trial we feel surrounded — we are still a “work in progress” as our Father lovingly, wisely draws us into a deeper, more consistent dependence on Him. What the devil would like us to regard as wasted years, years where we’re just waiting to die and cross over Jordan may, in truth, be the most valuable of all the days in our sanctification! That’s a great motivation to trust God more fully, more joyfully, more hopefully. And then persevere.
Finally, I shared with Doris (and the little group that had gathered around us as we talked) my practice of what I sometimes call “dreaming forward.” It is something I’m doing with ever-greater frequency as I exercise my faith in God’s promises of heaven. After all, the Bible teaches us a lot about heaven…a lot more than what we normally envision or anticipate. I think that should change. For instance, the old adage which criticizes the Christian who is so heavenly-minded that he’s of no earthly good is far off target. It is, in point of fact, the heavenly-minded Christian who is happier and more productive (in both prayer and good deeds) than those who are stuck like duct tape to the here and now.
But on to the “dreaming forward” idea. That afternoon I described to Doris and the others one of the few recurring dreams I used to have, a dream in which I was diving off gigantic boulders into a cold lake formed in a Colorado rock quarry. I further explained that this wasn’t just a dream but actually a memory for, many times in my teenage years back in Colorado, I went diving and swimming in just such a place. It was a large rock quarry southwest of Denver which gathered the cold waters coming out of the mountains. And even though I had been a competitive swimmer with Green Mountain Swim Club and had spent many glorious summers in the Green Mountain pool, none of that came close to the challenge and reckless exhilaration of diving off those towering heights and into that mysterious, magnificent quarry lake.
Well, over the years, the dreams of those aquatic adventures had become bittersweet as I realized the sad truth that you can’t “go home again.” For instance, in this case, that rock quarry is long gone, itself submerged under the waters of Chatfield Reservoir. And, of course, this body of mine would no longer take kindly to a 35-40 foot plunge into cold water!
But a few years ago, after my first reading of Randy Alcorn’s detailed study of the Bible’s teaching on heaven, I was moved to freshly consider a few of the Father’s precious promises to His adopted kids. Among those promises is the assurance that Jesus is preparing a place for me in the New Heavens and New Earth. And in that splendor-filled city, I and all the saints of God will live forever in new, glorified bodies — yes, physical bodies. And we will dwell with God in the midst of a redeemed, glorified creation — yes, a physical creation. Therefore, I find it extremely comforting to balance my present sufferings and limitations with Scripture-inspired anticipations of the bountiful rewards, beauties, pleasures, and fellowship opportunities the Lord has waiting for me.
So, though I do not at all condemn nostalgia (that is, dreaming of the past), I will tell you that I now prefer “dreaming forward” in gratitude and expectancy to my heavenly prospects. And, yes, I explained to my friends that afternoon, that includes my fervent hopes that there will be a high cliff waiting for me somewhere in the New Jerusalem with a gorgeous, deep, and unbelievably refreshing lake below. I can easily picture my Lord Jesus leading me to the edge of that great height. And then, with a broad smile, He lets go of my hand and points down to the crystal clear water below. “Denny, I’ve long treasured the moment when I would give you this special gift. Go ahead, My son; dive in!”
Doris had been holding my hand throughout my narrative and she whispered, “That is so lovely.” I said, “I totally agree. But what about you, Doris? I bet there’s a few things you would like to ‘dream forward’ about too. Like a reunion with loved ones who have gone before? Or meeting saints from all eras and parts of the world? Perhaps looking around the beauties of God’s glorious city? And, of course, forever feeling young and whole and pure with complete freedom from pain and forgetfulness and weakness?”
Her answer? Well, you know what her answer was. And it’s the same answer you have to such questions. Yes! Yes! And a wholehearted yes again! So, please let me encourage you to add to your anticipation of heaven by “dreaming forward” yourself. Let such habits sweeten our daily lives even as we continue our battles with old age, lawlessness, suffering, easily besetting sins, the chaos of a world lost in obstinate ignorance, and the wicked schemes of the devil. Oh yes; looking forward to heaven’s splendors will help us all to better behave as heavenly children now.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6: 19-21)
“So if you, despite being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matt. 7:11)
And now, a few end notes…
* The Walk for Life in Lincoln was an absolutely outstanding event with a lot of activity around the Vital Signs Ministries table too. Read about it on Vital Signs Blog where you’ll also see photos.
* Are you frustrated in trying to make sense out of what passes itself as news nowadays? On Vital Signs Blog you’ll find frequent posts featuring compilations of some of the most important, most enlightening articles from the alternative media. Check ‘em out.
* The next Vital Signs Book Brunch will be on Saturday morning, February 19th at 10 o’clock. The book under discussion that morning is a genuine classic, a book that is exactly 100 years old and yet which couldn’t be more relevant to today: G.K. Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils.
* If you would be interested in joining in a Vital Signs forum featuring Republican candidate for Governor Brett Lindstrom, please let us know.
* The next VSM letter-writing party is especially important because Nebraska legislators will be dealing with a lot of good bills (and a lot of bad ones too!) The date? Tuesday evening, February 15th. Interested? We hope so!
* Specific prayer requests? More opportunities for Denny’s speaking and our “When Swing Was King” shows…Recovery from a couple of health issues…Denny’s beginning a new writing project…And, given the pressure on Roe v Wade, the radical left is growing more vicious every day. So your prayers for God’s protection and empowerment on our public pro-life witness are more necessary than ever. Thank you!