June 5, 1991
The ZUM ROTEN BÄREN in Freiburg, Germany was constructed in 1311. Its heavy wood beams and thick walls stand firm today. German people have every right to claim their buildings will last several hundred years!
My husband and I stayed in this 680-year-old “Red Bear Inn.” The rooms were redone, no doubt several times, yet it has that antique flair that cannot be imitated with fake beams and modern leaded glass. Plush carpets are new, decorated with an outline design of a bear, but the polished floors are old, old wood, that doesn’t creak. Neither do the thick walls carry sounds.
No one knows the name of the original inn-keeper but there have been thirty-six recorded owners since 1387. Probably none of them thought their inn would last so long. They worked hard to maintain their property while they owned it, and over the years a legacy evolved. Now this quaint old inn still welcomes guests. It is an enduring earthly heritage.
A delightful meal and evening in such an old inn raised the question: Am I doing anything that will last? Sometimes Christians say, “Only one life, it will soon be past... only what’s done for Christ will last.” Does that mean our accomplishments could still be around in several hundred years? Or does it refer to the eternal significance of Christian living?
The Bible does affirm we only have one life. Hebrews 9:27 expresses it in a rather negative way: “...it is appointed unto men once to die...”
Scripture also affirms the brevity of life. James says it is like a vapor that appears for a while then vanishes. The Psalmist says it is like a blade of grass that blooms then withers away.
As for enduring value, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians mentions that. He said God will use fire at the judgment seat of Christ to evaluate the deeds of Christians. Some of what we have done will be like wood, hay and stubble - burnable. It will go up in smoke. Other actions will be gold, silver and precious stones; they will pass the test of fire.
According to this, some things Christians do will be like most North American dwellings; only good for the lifetime of the owner. But other things will endure, even longer than the Red Bear Inn; they will last forever. However, establishing an enduring heavenly heritage is not quite the same as hiring carpenters to remodel a worn-out building or interior decorators to replace old oak with new. We can’t use existing materials at all.
Instead, that which will last for eternity must come out of that which is already eternal. Since our natural lives will some day be over, our natural lives cannot produce eternal legacies. Our deeds, no matter what we do, abide in this world only. We could build an inn, or a dynasty, but even if future generations kept it in good repair, neither ourselves or the inn or the dynasty will last forever.
The Bible says the only thing eternal is the life of God, the self-existing One. Amazingly, this life is available to us through a personal faith in Jesus Christ. When we have His life, Scripture says deeds done at His direction and relying on the power of His life, have eternal impact.
Thus building a heavenly heritage requires extraordinary remodeling and replacing. The old life that perishes must be recognized and seen for what it is, and yielded to God. Then the eternal life of Christ must be received and relied upon, not just as a ticket to heaven but for living in this world. As we depend on Him in every way, God assures us that when our original structures (our bodies) finally give out, there is something left that cannot decay. He has given us an inheritance or legacy that will remain for all eternity.