Yesterday, I was going through some of my grandmother’s things and came across a number of interesting items. Several letters from my father to his mother while he was overseas during World War II, a note to her the day before he left for his service and even an apology for not being as much the God centered son that he knew she hoped he would be. All in all, although I knew this side of my father existed, it was sobering to see these admissions in writing, in his own hand, no less. Nothing was more important to Grandma than people dedicating their lives to the Lord – nothing.
And while I know that my father was more God centered as a youngster, somewhere along the way he decided that religion wasn’t really for him. In fact, I am not at all sure that he was a Christ follower when he died back in 1978 – back when I was 25. I often wonder if my faith had been stronger back then if I could have persuaded him to accept Christ as Lord and Savior or whether my pleas would have fallen on deaf ears. It was a topic we never discussed.
But almost without exception, the rest of Grandma’s family members were believers. Her sister, cousins and parents, as well as most of her brothers, all wrote prolifically on the topic of heaven and the will of God for their lives. Their style of writing was much different from the way we write things today, but I spent some of the day yesterday reading their notes to each other back in the early 1900’s all the way until the late 1960’s. The one theme, within the context of the Christian faith,that they all followed was the idea that each visit they shared was a gift from God and none of them knew when they would be called “home” to be with the Lord.
Each time the cousins or siblings got together, they wrote to one another after their visit. The most telling letters were from my great grandmother Mariah to her daughter, my Grandma Lettie. As Mariah aged, the letters continued to affirm the joy of the Lord in Mariah’s life and her ongoing joy that her daughter, Lettie, loved the Lord so much. In fact, on Mariah’s 90th birthday, back in around 1940, she wrote about how her time here on earth was nearing an end and soon she would be in heaven with Jesus. Of course, her note included the promise that someday they would be reunited in the presence of the Lord in heaven.
In her words, earth was receding and heaven was growing near. Grandma’s brothers wrote much the same way. I was so taken by the concept of earth receding – I have never really thought about that before… but the more I read, the more I understand what they were saying. In fact, I saw a note that I wrote to Grandma back in 1967 when I was 15, a year after Grandpa died and Grandma was alone. I noticed my penmanship, the carefully formed letters and how I tried to make the lines level on the page of the autograph book I signed for her. Now, it’s 48 years later and I have seen quite a bit in my life – so far removed from the young man who penned those words so carefully back in 1967.
Back then, heaven was far in the distance and I was thinking about my whole life ahead of me. Now, decades later, earth is indeed receding and heaven grows ever nearer. That’s not to say that I am ready to head there yet, but in accordance with the will of God, that isn’t my decision to make. One thing is for sure – I see the world differently than I did back then and I respect my ancestors for their commitment to the Lord and their steadfast adherence to their beliefs. How noble it all was. I hope that as I continue to age that I will be able to grow old with the same grace and kindness that they had.
The verse for this evening is the verse that we are all familiar with regarding Jesus going on ahead of us to prepare a place for us. We are told by John, in his gospel, about the future. Jesus tells us, in John 14:2, “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.”
My encouragement this tonight is that Jesus promises that He will be with us forever in heaven. And He wants us to rest in His assurance of this future reality. My prayer is that as earth recedes in our lives and heaven grows nearer, we will will age with grace and deep gratitude for all the blessings that the Lord has bestowed on us. Furthermore, that we will enter heaven with dignity and never lose our faith here on earth. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…