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I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever: Ps. 23:6

I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever: Ps. 23:6

By Ted Schroder,
July 3, 2016

"Forever"! "God has set eternity in the hearts of men." (Ecclesiastes 4:11) We cannot imagine that our lives will one day end. Since we are created in the image of God there is a homing device built into us to connect us with the Eternal One. Sin disrupts that connection.

The promise of the Gospel is that Christ restores the connection with the gift of eternal life to all who are united with his death and resurrection by faith. "Christianity lays great stress on the value of individual persons and declares that they are destined for eternal life. Hinduism and Buddhism, especially the latter, deny this high value to individual persons and Buddhism in most of its forms denies their hope of eternal life. That is a point on which if one is right the others must be wrong" (William Temple 1881-1944).

But what is the nature of that eternal life? Jesus said that he came that we "may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). "Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). Eternal life is life in God's kingdom. It begins now as we enter God's kingdom and is fulfilled in the resurrection. David describes it as dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Ps.27:4). This is called, in theology, the Beatific Vision. "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 Cor.13:12). This is direct communication: "face to face" and not by faith.

In my office hangs an etching entitled, Nearing Home. It portrays a flock of sheep followed by a sheepdog and a shepherd, trudging up a lane towards the sunset as the day draws to a close. They are nearing their destination, where they will find food, and familiar shelter, and safety. Our anticipation of eternity will depend on our familiarity with our eternal home. It will depend on our memories of it, and our expectations of it. The house of the Lord is the place of God's presence. If it is alien to us, if it is not home, but we are strangers in it, then we will not enjoy it. It could be hell to us. But if it is home, in the sense of the place where we feel accepted and affirmed, safe and fulfilled, whole and joyful, at peace and content, stimulated and excited by the prospect, then it will be heaven to us.

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He 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 21:3,4)

Home is where we dwell in the direct presence of our loving heavenly Father and he dwells in us. The canvas of my earthly life would be filled with places and people through whom I have experienced the presence of God. It would be a large painting, a mural of how the grace of God has touched my life. When I return to those places, where the Lord has met me, I revisit those memories, and my heart is strangely warmed again. Is it too far-fetched to consider that God has given me those experiences to prepare me for eternity? Is not the house of the Lord going to contain for us aspects of the familiar?

Listen to what Jesus says about this: "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." (John 14:1-3)

The Father's house has many rooms. There is plenty of room for diversity and individuality, and privacy. The house of the Lord will be as large and as colorful as his physical creation. It will be a new heaven and a new earth. There will be opportunity for fellowship, for affirmation and acceptance, for community. There will be an absence of loneliness and rejection. But there will also be an opportunity for solitude, for quiet, for reflection. You can go into your room and shut the door!

How do we know that we are going to dwell in the house of the Lord forever and enjoy it? How do we know it will be heaven and not hell for us? It will depend on whether it is home to us, whether it is familiar, whether in this life we are preparing for it by experiencing the loving presence of the Lord now. What we are now, we will be, for in this life we are soul-making. The choices we make, the character we develop, the aspirations we desire are who we are in the house of the Lord.

"I take into that world just myself as I have made it. If I have made the best of myself, what more should I desire to take? Consciousness, Memory, Thought, Love, Character. If I have not made the best of myself, if I have acquired a distaste for God, for holiness, still I take in myself just as I stand. Think how tremendously solemn that makes life here. It is the place of character-making for the life there. I can never, never, never get away from myself. I shall be always be myself. You remember what our Lord said from the other side of the grave: "It is I myself!" (Luke 24:39) It is I myself, the very same self. It is they themselves, the very same selves whom I love and who loved me so dearly. In that solemn hour after death, believe it, your boy, your wife, your husband, who is experiencing the startling revelations of the new life, is feeling that life as an unbroken continuance of the life begun on earth. Only the environment is changed." (J. Paterson Smyth, The Gospel of the Hereafter, p.111)

What do you take with you into the house of the Lord?

"The treasures of memory, of disciplined powers, of enlarged capacities, of a pure and loving heart. All the enrichment of the mind by study, all the love of man and woman, all the love of God, all the ennobling of character which has come through the struggle after right and duty. These are the true treasures which go on with us into that land where neither nor moth nor rust corrupts." (ibid.)

Assurance of a desirable life in eternity rests upon listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd and following him. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-29)

Where do you want to spend eternity? There is no one who needs to be excluded from the Father's house. Jesus tells us that the Father is watching for his children to come home, if they will listen to his voice and follow him. The picture in the parable of the prodigal son is that of a Father who throws an extravagant party for the repentant and humbled returnee. Who would not want to dwell in the house of the Lord forever if they were greeted with such love and compassion, and restored to fullness of life?

As you face the supreme crisis of your life, and you feel your life ebbing away, believe that you are going home where you will be safe and secure in Jesus.

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island Plantation, Florida

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