|“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which |
God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
When someone I particularly love dies, I always try to imagine what it will be like for them at the moment they leave this earthly life and wake up in heaven. A lot of song writers have tried to portray what this might be like in song. Among those songs are titles like “O What A Day That Will Be,” “When We All Get to Heaven,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “Finally Home,” and “Welcome Home, Children” to name just a few.
Many years ago, I wrote a tribute short story when two dearly loved saints in my church went home to be with the Lord within days of each other. In that story, I pictured their crossing over to heaven as if they suddenly found themselves riding on a train. As the train entered the station, a great crowd had gathered to greet them. There, standing on the platform, was the Lord Jesus Himself. The welcome celebration was amazing. All their loved ones who had gone on before them were there to greet them and show them around. But, it was that warm and loving embrace of Jesus that made them feel they had truly come home.
Of course, I have no idea exactly what it will be like to pass from this life to the next. Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” So, I’m quite certain Jesus will be there waiting to welcome us. I also do believe that every family member who has preceded us, and who was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, will be there to welcome us to heaven.
One of the most gripping descriptions of heaven comes from a few paragraphs written by C. S. Lewis in his book The Last Battle. This final book in Lewis’ classic set of tales, The Chronicles of Narnia, describes what the Book of Revelation calls the new heaven and the new earth. Here’s what Lewis wrote:
Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the glass there may have been a looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different—deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked like it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.
It was the unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia so much is because it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”
I very much suspect that will be our reaction when we reach that “golden shore.” And now, my dearly loved sister-in-law knows for certain. After nearly a year and a half of battling multiple myeloma—a dreaded cancer of the blood—at the age of 67, and with her beloved husband of just a few weeks shy of 47 years and one of her three daughters by her side, she has left her disease behind and is now at this very moment sitting at the feet of Jesus.
For my part, I have known this magnificently wonderful woman since she was a mere girl of 15. Gorgeously attractive, unbelievably talented as an artist, full of kindness, gentleness, and great grace, she had a deeply devoted faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. She who grew up on a dairy farm and once adamantly stated, “I will never marry a farmer!” did indeed marry one of the finest Christian men and dairy farmers in Chautauqua County, New York.
Together they raised three truly wonderful daughters, my beloved nieces. And those young women have, in turn, graduated from Christian colleges, married Christian husbands, and presented their parents with ten beautiful grandchildren.
Our sorrow at her passing is so profound that I do not have words to describe it. We are so very glad for her that her fight against this horrible disease has ended. But, we are so very heartbroken for ourselves that we will never again in this life hear her twinkling giggle, or see her loving smile, or see more of her beautiful new artwork.
At eighteen months old, her youngest grandson will never get to know his grandmother in the same way that his older sisters and cousins have. But, he will hear stories. Man, will he hear stories! And, he will see photos—hundreds of photos. And, most importantly of all, someday in the far, far distant future, he will get off that train in heaven and his grandmother will be waiting there to greet him. “Welcome home!” she will say with a smile. “I’ve been so much looking forward to spending some time with you. I am so very proud of you. I love you so very, very much.”
A Scripture that has certainly defined my sister-in-law’s life comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul found in Philippians 3:14:
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Dearest Charlene, we mourn your passing. But, we praise God with a “Hallelujah!” that you have won that prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Some of us will likely join you in the not-too-distant future. Others will come when their God-appointed days have ended. We will someday spend all of the rest of eternity viewing the majesty of heaven, the beauty of Christ’s smile, the glories of the angels, and we will all exclaim, “We have come home at last! This is our real country! We belong here. This is the land we have been looking for all our lives... Come further up, come further in!”