It was a little slice of heaven. Located in an unlikely spot, the center of Jersey City, New Jersey, Heaven visited earth on Sunday. Harvest City Bible Fellowship, a largely Philippine congregation, opened its doors to their second anniversary. I was invited to be a part since we are a supporting partner through our Advance 2020 initiative and, by my count, was only one of three Anglos in the room.
The fellowship, which culminated in a feast at the end of worship that lasted more than an hour, began as soon as we approached the building being leased for their church. The youth pastor, William, was already out front witnessing to kids passing on the street. The sound of the praise team was emanating from inside the building.
I listened for a while to the music, and realized that there were two or three language groups represented in the singing. I could not sing most of the songs, and sadly (as some of you know) neither could I dance as the rest of the congregation was doing. I learned that eight different ethnic groups worshiped together at Harvest.
The service concluded in a small, concrete-enclosed back yard with a baptismal service in an inflatable pool. My phone told me it was 55 degrees. The faces of those being immersed in the waters of baptism told me the water temperature was much lower!
Twelve were baptized that day, representing different age and ethnic groups. Each had a brief testimony that either they or Pastor Ed Ramos shared with the several dozen people who squeezed together to watch this celebration.
I think about it a lot… what Heaven must be like… but Sunday I got more than an passing idea. I got a taste of it… and folks, I can’t wait to get there!
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.
Revelation 7:9 NLT
A few years ago, my father-in-law had a Jack Russell terrier named Whitey. He was sort of off-white, actually, with a prominent brown spot circling his eye. When we first met him, Papaw asked us with a twinkle in his eye, “What do you think I named him?” Of course, we all guessed “Spot.” He said, “No, Whitey,” without ever explaining his logic.
Anyway, Whitey was an energetic, active and slightly aggravating, little guy who would not leave you alone. He constantly carried a green tennis ball in his mouth (because he didn’t have pockets). This ball had seen better days, and was constantly covered in dirt, dog drool, and other assorted materials.
But Whitey’s goal in life… his purpose in life… his passion in life… was to play catch with the ball. And he would aggravate you until you absolutely had to join him in his favorite pursuit, at least for a moment.
Now if we could get in Whitey’s brain, there was one thing there. One thing that brought him meaning, and joy, and a reason for existing; a green tennis ball. He slept with it, ate with it, and took it with him everywhere he went.
I wonder what could happen if we ever got anywhere near that kind of passion and single-minded pursuit as we think about Jesus? As we pursue Him as our highest goal, our single aspiration… and refuse to leave others alone until we share it with them?
I know. We aren’t dogs. Life is more complicated for human beings… choices too many… pleasures too available.
But still I wonder… if Whitey was God’s way of tapping me on the shoulder?
“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
Jesus told His disciples something we need to keep in mind as we approach the seventh word from the cross. He told them, “No man takes my life from Me but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18)
The cross was not an accident of misfortune, a lack of careful calculation on the part of Jesus and His disciples or a plot concocted by evil men to kill Him.
“I willingly lay down my life,” Jesus said.
Nowhere was that more clearly seen than in His last statement from the cross, as He breathed His last breath saying, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
This last statement of a dying man was a word that, in every way, indicated Jesus was in charge of all that was happening around Him… even the moment of His spirit’s release to the Father.
In reality, much of what happens to us seems out of our reach and control. Stuff just happens, we say. And yet behind all the “stuff” that happens is a Sovereign God working “all things after the counsel of His will.” “For God works all things together….”
The Father was not absent or unaware of when Jesus suffered and died. He saw each drop of blood, each bead of sweat, and every insect that landed to feed on the sinless body of His crucified Son.
And when He was dying, Jesus knew His Father was present… was watching. When Jesus let go of His last gulp of air, all of Heaven was in attendance for His homecoming.
Something similar to that happens, we are told, in the death of each saint. It is not only Jesus’ life that was precious to the Father but for those who are IN Christ, the Father also attends the moment of their passing.
“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” And when the time arrives for your last moment on this planet… maybe later… maybe sooner… I can assure you of this one thing:
You won’t be alone.
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