24. Surfing in Heaven

“Heaven walks among us.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

(1)

Surfing in Heaven. Outrageous thought!
Or is it?

In the late 1940s when Dad surfed Malibu with his small band of friends who were lucky enough to have returned home from World War II (2), he told me he never went surfing in the winter. They did not have wetsuits then, so it was too cold to paddle out! Anyone who knew Dad would vouch for his hostility toward cold weather (or water). After he retired to Hawaii in the 80s, he would even ask for house slippers and sweatshirts for Christmas to stay warm.

Dad described standing on the beach at Malibu on a cold winter day, watching near-perfect waves rolling in without a single surfer in the water. That image has stuck with me. I fantasize about what it would have been like to paddle out in my toasty O’Neill wetsuit to have Malibu to myself back then. Just thinking about it gets me stoked.

It would be a surfer’s paradise.

For me, heaven brings that surfing paradise into sight. I can envision waves better than Malibu peeling off perfectly without a soul in the water. I am giddy with anticipation to paddle out. Getting a clear picture of my future in heaven has completely changed my perspective on life. For a God who moves mountains (3), waves in the world hereafter seem to be within reach.

Indescribable
The Bible paints a picture of heaven beyond anything ever seen or heard on earth. It is hard to grasp what God has waiting for us (4). “Indescribable” is the phrase used by those who claim to have been to heaven through a near-death experience. Being at home with God, creator of the universe, is beyond anything words can express.

My fascination with this idea has been running wild in my mind. For years, I have contemplated what heaven will be like. When it’s all said and done with this life I have been given on earth, heaven is all that matters. In my zeal to envision what awaits me, a sketch came together of how my odyssey will go. It flowed naturally and feels right. In the words of Rebecca Ruter Springer (5),

“I submit this imperfect sketch of a most perfect vision.”

Rewards
In Jesus’ final hours with His disciples before His death, He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in heaven (6), and that they would have great rewards waiting for them when they got there (7). I believe my mansion in heaven will be near a beach, and my rewards will include surfing. That seems like an easy one for a God who created it all (8). To put it from a surfer’s perspective, if Kelly Slater (11-time world champion surfer) can create a near-perfect 6-foot barreling wave in a desert in California’s Central Valley (kswaveco.com), could not our great God fulfill the promise of heaven with something even better? I am betting on it and looking forward to getting wet when I get there! Grab your wax; I am excited you will be with me for the ride.

My portrayal undoubtedly will fall far short of the experience heaven will offer. Nothing in our human experience can reach the divine joy and beauty awaiting us there. I pray that this gives you hope and the will to accept God’s gift to ensure you will paddle out too.

So, here we go!

Jesus’ final dying words to the thief who was hanging on the cross next to Him provides the perfect opening:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:43)

My Imperfect Sketch
My time comes. The angels arrive to take me. Without thought, I float up and away from my physical body. I look down on my family as I assimilate a complete timeline of my life. Vivid images of home, family, friends, relatives, and so much more pass through me as I soak in the experiences they provided. Moving up and away faster than light, childhood memories I had forgotten come back as vividly as the day they happened. Each recollection is like a giant Kodachrome slideshow of my life. Tranquility envelops me as I see each slide in its perfect place. I am at peace and joyful. It is right with my soul. I am grateful for God’s hand in every part of it.

My sense of time disappears as my faithful Grandma Oa appears before me. Oh my! She is so young and beautiful, with her smile beaming at me. I am delighted to see her younger than I knew her.

“I have come to get you, Mike,” she says. “Everyone is so excited to see you!”

I know why without asking. Grandma faithfully prayed for me for many years. Tears of joy come to my eyes as I hug her. It goes beyond words to let her know how miraculous it is to see her again. We tightly embrace, feeling the love of God between us. Words are exchanged without talking. It’s as if we know each other’s thoughts before we think them. Our communication is perfect. There is no misunderstanding. Everything is right.

She leads me down a long path of the most beautiful grass I have ever seen–a brilliant shade of green that rivals the greens at Pebble Beach. It feels like velvet under my feet as we walk. A wondrous variety of plants and flowers surround us, so bright and colorful that I want to stop and inspect each one. They are perfect and appear freshly-bloomed. Everything is pure and clean as if bathed in an afternoon shower. Tall, majestic trees tower above us with hanging branches like weeping willows laden with white flowers of every variety imaginable. Beyond the trees, I see orchards of ripe fruit-bearing trees with a translucent river meandering through. Waterfalls roar in the distance from lush mountains capped with white snow. I want to take a picture. Small birds in the trees are singing joyous songs of heaven’s praise. They drench me with their melodies from above like a mountain thunderstorm. It is breathtaking. The music embraces my soul as I behold an overwhelming feeling of harmony with nature (9). I have never been more alive in my life.

I want to stop and explore the depth of what I am experiencing, but we continue walking, floating among this stunning scenery. I marvel at the perfection; a master gardener is in charge. We reach a rushing creek with water as clear as crystal running over brilliant stones of gold, silver, jasper, emerald, and pearl—even more stones than I can identify. It’s as if a pirate’s treasure chest has poured into the stream’s bed. Beautiful soft music soothes my spirit as we wade along the creek. It is a most breathtaking scene. Time is irrelevant. I could walk here forever.

The sky above is overflowing with brilliant new colors, brighter than a noonday sun. I see no sun; a golden radiance fills the sky, like the afterglow of a sunset in Hawaii, although more intense. Grandma and I are not talking, yet our communication is complete. She knows what I am feeling. “It is well, Mike,” she reassures me. It is well.

Our path opens onto a massive beach with sand like freshly fallen snow. I pause to contemplate how it could be. The sand is warm and sneaks between my toes to nuzzle and comfort me. The air is soft and balmy, giving me energy and vitality. A light breeze feathers my face. I want to lie down and soak all this in, as I would in my youth on a hot day at Big Corona State Beach, where I grew up.

As we cross the sand with freshly-laid footprints, I see a structure that reminds me of the surf shack I’ve known so well at the San Onofre Surfing Club. Its design is perfect, with beautiful wooden surfboards lined across the side and a large white cross on top of a humble wooden steeple. I feel myself being drawn to it as we walk.

The surf shack at San Onofre is a haven of memories over the years.

Approaching the structure, I see it is made from living trees that resemble palm trees growing in the sand. Their leaves naturally cover the roof, allowing the right amount of light inside. Dazzling multicolored flowers like Hawaiian leis grow from the tree limbs and branches. They are intricately woven around the steeple and roof. The air is full of sweet smells like gardenias, which engulf me as I am lured inside.

Euphoria overwhelms me as a hoard of family and friends are there to welcome me. It is the finest homecoming party ever! One by one, they greet and embrace me in mutual joy and wonder of shared experiences. Words cannot describe my feelings. I see mom; how glorious she looks! Her smile and laugh knock me over with emotions. We embrace as never before. Then Grandpa Cannon, Aunt Kathryn. Grandma Mary and Grandpa John wrap me in their arms! It’s as if they all have been friends forever. Then Aunt Sallye and Aunt Norma, my delight is breathtaking. Friends from our church, our pastor Doug Goins, and even a classmate who passed away in junior high school, Scott Lusher. Holy cow!

Then I see the coach himself, John Wooden. Oh my! He looks at me with that Coach Wooden sparkle in his eye and says,

“The most important thing in the world is family and love.”

Everyone is jubilant. The feeling of love consumes me. We gather in the delight of it all for longer than I know as more people continue to arrive. Even our dogs Riley and Redwood playfully push their way through the many people to nuzzle me with cold, wet noses, tails wagging with zeal for a scratch. I immediately roll onto the ground to grab them in playful hugs. Nothing could be better. I hear the words singing in my soul,

“His love endures forever.” (9)

Time stands still. Nobody is rushed or in a hurry to leave. I have lived my whole life for this. It is heaven on earth!

Beyond our gathering, I notice the ocean beyond with perfect eight-foot tubes curling in. Huh?

I move in that direction, savoring the warmth of the sand on my toes. Nearing the water’s edge, I see three surfboards lying in the sand. I am overwhelmed by the scene before me. Angels are singing my praises to God.

I look up to see Dad next to his Bob Simmons surfboard. We embrace forever. Joyful tears run down my cheeks. He is healthy and robust with a tan as dark as a native Hawaiian. I am so glad to see him. Without speaking, he tells me he is sorry. Words cannot express my wonder. There are no longer any barriers between us. It all makes sense now.

Uncle Charles learned the Haka dance on his mission in New Zealand.

Next to Dad is my uncle Charles, his face painted like a Māori warrior, looking as if he is right off the mission fields of New Zealand, strong and full of energy. His board must be twelve feet long of the most beautiful, laminated woods I have ever seen. It is polished to a shiny gloss and looks like a surfboard Duke Kahanamoku would gloat over. He tells me that Dad taught him to surf and then calls out to me in his Māori tongue:

“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.

I somehow know he said, “Let’s go surfing, Mike!”

Dad hands me the third surfboard and I am aghast to see my Hobie Corky Carroll “Super Mini” model that he bought me at the Hobie Surf Shop in San Clemente in 1968. What? It’s as new as the day we picked it up, with the exact blue, yellow, and green acid splash color design. The bright colors radiate between the pure white foam. This thing would glow in the dark! Picking it up, I realize it is lighter than any surfboard I have ever held. I can’t wait to catch my first wave on it. It is ready to go. I call back to them,

“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”

Surfing in heaven? You must be kidding me!
It is a dream come true.

Gazing out, I see a long strand of glittering ivory-white sand extending to the horizon with perfect waves rolling in like clockwork on both sides of the strand; right-facing waves on the left and left-facing waves on the right. I watch the waves on both sides, stupefied. Unbelievably clean barrels are peeling off in succession for as far as I can see. The wave is a flawless combination of a point-break shoulder with a reef-break curl. I could not imagine a more ideal surfing spot. It is too good to be true.

“Lefts or rights?” I call out to them as we pick up our boards. In saying that, I quickly realize that we can go either way—there is no such thing as a goofy foot in heaven. I laugh out loud.

Stepping into the water, its clarity immediately catches me as it washes over my legs. As I wade out, I see a bright, multicolored coral reef with a myriad of neon-colored fish hoovering over the rocks under the crystal-clear water. I pause to comprehend it all while pinching my arm to remind myself that this is not a dream. I am going surfing in heaven.

The three of us are a picture of God’s provision as we beam smiles of joy in anticipation of what we know is coming. “Yeehaw!” I call out as the first wave rolls over me with a sweet smell and flavor. Its taste refreshes me as my body rinses completely dry like water off a duck’s back. Huh? Paddling over my next wave, I am sprayed by a feathering lip that trails a spectacular rainbow of colors in its wake.

Looking down, I notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days in Corona del Mar. I chuckle, thinking how much I love them.

We quickly stroke around the breaking sections with Uncle Charles leading the way. I joke to Uncle Charles and Dad as we crest over yet another feathering lip,

“Only in heaven would I let that one go by!”

The white water explodes in brilliant white light as each wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are creating the light of day in the foam. The contrast with the exceptionally clear water is literally out of this world, like painting daylight onto a nocturnal night sky. I gasp at the beauty of it all before me and give the glory to God:

“His love endures forever.” (10)

Paddling beyond the impact zone, I can see no end to the strand of bleached white sand, with waves breaking on the horizon as far as I can see. Only when I decide to sit on my board to pause and take it all in does it hit me that everything in heaven is interrelated. It blows my mind to consider the implications.

Below me is an extraordinary collection of colored plants, fish, and rock emitting light rays as bright as daylight. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid. I can’t take my eyes off it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see the grin on my face.

Dad calls out, “It’s as if the earth was a black-and-white movie, Michael.”

I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the rejuvenating water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and talk underwater. “This is crazy!” I shout. Fish of unimaginable varieties and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. I swim to the surface to tell Charles and Dad about my discovery.

They call back, “Welcome to heaven, Mike!”

Sitting on my board, I can see this is a surfing photographer’s dream, yet taking pictures no longer matters. The golden glory of the sky is powerful without any heat or sense that I could get sunburned. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak the stratosphere like a Matisse painting with colors I have never seen. I am at total peace to know I am home. I lift my voice to praise God for it. Heaven is way more than I could have imagined.

Time is lost, but irrelevant. There are no boundaries around how long I have been out. The ocean and I are one.

“His love endures forever.” (10)

I look up to see Dad crossing a beautiful deep blue breaking wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of vivid color behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a loud hoot as he sails by me, drawing a straight line across the face of the crystalline water. It is a sight to behold. My dad, ripping across an eight-foot wall on a 1940s vintage balsa surfboard. I howl at him, “Yeehaw!”

Dad surfing Malibu circa 1949 on a Bob Simmons Foam Sandwich surfboard.
(photo by Doc Ball)

Behind him, seven blazing-white pelicans with blue-tipped wings appear in perfect formation, gliding just above the lip of the next wave. They are telling me this is my wave! Swiveling my board around in eager anticipation, I push off, and suddenly am flying down the smooth face of a double overhead peak. The pelicans sweep into view, marking that my time has come.

I stand up and realize my balance is solid, and my feet are gripping my board, as if with booties. There’s no fear of falling. I howl praises to God,

“How great thou art, Lord!”

Screaming across the towering face of the wave feels like I am racing downhill from the top of a snow-covered mountain on skis. The brilliance of the sea life underwater lights my path as I lean right and carve a long, effortless bottom turn. My speed thrusts forward like the afterburners on a jet plane as I stare down the thick lip of the wave ahead, wondering if I can make it.

I begin turning up and down the wave in total confidence of my abilities when seven pure white dolphins propel into my wave from behind as if waiting for me. They cruise in formation leading the way like an escort of military fighter jets. They are guardian angels, magnificent in size and beautiful. In and out of the wave together, they gaze at me and know my every move. The symmetry and elegance of their surfing are beyond words. I follow them turn for turn as we ride along the shore of the strand. They laugh, and I laugh. We make more turns than I can count. We share the perfect harmony in God’s eternal creation.

A dozen dolphins surfing together.

The wave transforms into a soft Steamer Lane-style shoulder as I jet out ahead of the break to carve a roundhouse cutback that makes a complete half-circle around the dolphins, back toward the curl. My trail is marked in the brilliant white light of the foam. The dolphin’s launch in perfect formation as I fly by their glimmering hulks.

Cranking a floater off the white-water lip turns me back into the building face as the dolphins shepherd me into the next section of the wave. The sand is glimmering in the shore break as I streak by faster than ever before on a surfboard, catching a glimpse of dad watching from the shack in his beach chair. He beams a broad smile as I consider how many times he watched me over my life.

Then it happens. In an instant, everything around me turns a glorious fluorescent green as the double overhead curl completely covers me, as if the wave is closing out. I center myself into the barrel of the wave, perfectly balanced against tremendous force. As I speed ahead, fear washes away. The surge of the wave carries me forward in a dense cloud of green spray. Time has stopped. I sense every cell in my body. A brilliant light leads me. I feel perfect. Love permeates my being. It is nirvana. I have never felt better. Thank you, God! Why did I doubt? Words cannot describe my connection to God. Like Moses at the burning bush, I am standing on holy ground. (11)

“His love endures forever.” (10)

Unaware of how long I am there, I am next airborne, launching out of the green room like being shot out of circus cannon. I land softly on the shoulder of the wave and look around to understand it all. An ear-to-ear grin is frozen on my face. I can’t digest what just happened. My soul is at peace. My joy is complete.

The Hodads will have to hear about this one! The green room is much more than I could ever have imagined. I want to go back in, but the wave keeps me accelerating forward.

The dolphins take a final jump in unison as they kick out from the back of the wave while I reflect on the moment that just passed. I hear the praises of their work from above:

“Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth” (12)

Gliding across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier on Lake Tahoe, I leave the breaking section of the wave behind at full speed, as if I am kicking out. My speed continues as I crank another turn on the glassy open water. I see mom watching from the shack with her patented Charlene smile, looking like she is at Malibu in the 1950s. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore that carries me onto the warm white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.

I feel more aware than ever before. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are gone. Finally, I can rest. This is where I belong. Hallelujah to our Lord of creation!

I ponder how the reality of heaven changes everything. This is the life that God planned. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had genuinely believed in the glory of what God had waiting for me. I am overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go and shout the truth to every surfer I know.

Colossians 3:2 (TLB) becomes my mantra:

Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.”   

Thank you, Lord Jesus!

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Silhouette of a Surfer by Jean Beaufort – Source Public Domain Pictures:
    https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=448973&picture=surfer
  2. Chapter 1: Malibu and the Greatest Generation
    Source: https://surfingforbalance.com/2021/10/20/2-malibu-and-the-greatest-generation
  3. Matthew 21:21 (NIV):
    “Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”
  4. Revelation 22:21-25 (NIV):
    “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
  5. Author of: “Intra Muros, My Dream of Heaven,” 1898. Rebecca Ruter Springer captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, she writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.
  6. John 14:2 (KJV):
     In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
  7. Chapter 17: Heaven Can’t Wait
    https://surfingforbalance.com/2022/07/18/17-heaven-cant-wait
  8. Genesis 1:1 (NIV):
     “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ”
  9. Job 12:7-10 (NIV):
    “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
        or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
    or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
        or let the fish in the sea inform you.
    Which of all these does not know
        that the hand of the Lord has done this?
    In his hand is the life of every creature
        and the breath of all mankind.
  10. Psalm 136 (NIV):
    “His love endures forever.” (Repeated 26 times in Psalm 136)
  11. Exodus 3:1-5 (NIV):
    “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
    ” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
    And Moses said, “Here I am.”
    “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” ”
  12. “Angels from the Realms of Glory” is a Christmas carol written by Scottish poet James Montgomery. It was first printed in the Sheffield Iris on Christmas Eve 1816
    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_from_the_Realms_of_Glory

—————————

**Authors Note**

“Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you want to know more about heaven or if you would like a list of books I recommend on heaven.

Will there be seas in heaven?

Revelation 21 (the second-to-the last chapter in the Bible) describes how Jesus sets up his kingdom of heaven on the New Earth and calls it the “New Jerusalem.” This New Jerusalem is where believers will spend eternity with God in their resurrected bodies. In essence, heaven returns to earth with Jesus as our King.

This chapter contains a detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like, including this statement about the absence of a sea:

“and there was no longer any sea on the new earth.” – Revelation 21:1 (NIV)

Throughout Scripture, the “sea” is symbolic of chaos and disorder, which will be absent in the New Jerusalem. Many Bible scholars believe this is the meaning of Revelation 21:1; the turbulence of our present age on earth will no longer be present in the New Jerusalem. We will be at peace in heaven.

Even if we assume this statement means that all saltwater seas are removed from the earth in New Jerusalem, it does not necessarily mean that all large bodies of water and beaches are gone. For example, the book of Revelation speaks of a great river flowing right through the New Jerusalem:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” – Revelation 22:1-2a (NIV)

Surely that river has a source and a destination which ends in a large body of water. Perhaps there will be lakes like we have on earth today. Larger lakes act as freshwater oceans on the New Earth. The Great Lakes region of North America is an example. As we have today, the opportunity for waves to ride on a surfboard seems feasible.

In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn makes an additional argument for having large bodies of water in heaven:

“Another reason I believe the New Earth will have large bodies of water is that, as I argue in chapter 39, the same animals that inhabit our current planet will inhabit the New Earth. Most animal species live underwater, not on land, and most of those live in the ocean. (It would certainly be no problem for God to refashion such creatures to live in freshwater.).”

21. Marathon Faith

“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
-Amish Proverb

In between surf sessions, I love to run.

The physical joy and mental relief that running has provided me over the years are immeasurable. When I look back at the peaks and valleys of my Silicon Valley tech career, the early morning runs in Rancho San Antonio and mid-day runs on the Baylands Trails were my saving grace. Lacing up for a run releases my mind from immediate concerns to the deep inner joy of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air, warm sun, and brilliance of nature, all rejuvenating me!

Running provides a sanctuary where my faith can be strengthened. I prefer to run the backcountry trails into the hills, stopping at the highest point of the run to meditate and pray. I feel closer to God up there, by myself, gazing down on the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley below. It feeds my soul.

I caught the bug in the late 1970s when the running boom in the U.S. was hitting full stride. My first organized race was the Dana Point Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day (a 10K) in 1979. I will never forget that race. My roommate Brad Sarvak and I had the race leaders in view for the first few miles. We had no idea what we were doing. The Corona del Mar High School track coach, John Blair (1), led us on his mini motorcycle as the mile times were called out at a pace that made it clear that we were in deep trouble. And then it hit.

The last three miles are cemented in my memory as the most excruciating three miles of my running career. No matter how much I backed off, the pain increased. I didn’t throw up, but I sure wanted to. I remember Coach Blair asking me later why I didn’t run in high school. I don’t remember what I said, but it had to be something like, “Because it hurts.” I never had that problem with surfing.

Start of the Dana Point Turkey Trot circa 1979. Brad and I were at the front!

The Dana Point Turkey Trot became an annual tradition. As much as I labored in the effort, something kept pulling me back each year. Part of it was testing my endurance to find out how hard I could push the pace. I always felt high as a kite after the race for enduring the suffering. Another draw was the post-race party, which got pretty lively in the pre-celebration atmosphere of Thanksgiving (the draft beer helped!). Eating my fill of turkey and pumpkin pie later that day topped it all off.

I soon found myself running 10k races almost every weekend with my good friend, Ed Mantini. Ed was an Alberto Salazar look-alike, who seemed to run almost as fast. He challenged me each week to lower my time while introducing me to DMSO (2) as our go-to cure for virtually any running injury, which helped to keep our weekly mileage consistently high.

The Marathon
Before long, I signed up for my first marathon, the “Leatherneck Marathon,” at the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. I distinctly remember hitting the 20-mile mark and thinking, Oh, this is what they meant bythe wall” . . . Those last three miles of that first Dana Point Turkey Trot came right back to me—times two!

Before long, I was addicted to carb-loading and the high-mileage training that the marathon required. I decided it was time to try and qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, which required a fast marathon (sub-2:50) to get in (3). Anyone who has run Boston would agree that the excitement, energy, and goodwill surrounding that event are unmatched in marathon circles. Bill Rogers, who won Boston four times (1975, 1978-1980), said it well:

“…The marathon is the king of sports. And certainly, Boston is the king of marathons.”

Rogers wrote the book on “Marathoning” back then (4), while he was also winning the New York City Marathon four times in a row (1976-1979). His success propelled me, and his book became my training bible. I soon learned how to navigate the 26.2-mile beast and began chiseling down my finishing times to finally attain my goal. Thank you, Bill!


Meeting Bill Rodgers after the 1995 Boston Marathon was a dream come true!

The Pace
Looking back, I see distinct parallels between the marathon and my life here on earth. As I cross the twenty-mile mark for my final 10K in life, I can sense the challenges ahead. My pace is slowing, yet my focus on finishing strong is still there. These are the most important miles of my life. In marathoning jargon, my race has just begun!

If I went out too fast those first 20 miles, eventually, I would blow up. A successful marathon requires a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time. The goal is to keep within that pacing range for the entire 26.2 miles. That is much harder than it sounds by the time you reach mile 20.

At the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, I learned this pacing principle the hard way. The first 20 miles flew by, nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I decided I was having a good day. Ha. I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 before the bridge leading to the finish at the state capitol, and that was it. I was done running. I walked all the way to mile 25 when a good friend, Paul Fick, kicked my butt (literally) to make sure I shuffled it in with him for the home stretch. I could not lift my feet above the ground. That wall seemed insurmountable! At one point, a guy called out to me from his porch as I hobbled by:

“Dude, you’ll need a new pair of shoes before you finish if you keep that up!”

I did not think that was funny. I was a physical wreck for several days after that race. The experience completely humbled me. I learned that the marathon requires a certain amount of caution and planning. To go out and run with your gut can lead to disaster.

This pacing principle carries over into life. Our life is not a sprint. Yet, most of us today will admit to going too fast much of the time. Even our kids realize this. Technology is stealing our margins and enabling us to do more than our bodies (and brains) were designed for. Like the marathon, if we don’t slow down, eventually, we will crash. I’ve seen it many times over in my tech career. It is not a pretty sight.

One version of this was told by former Google CIO Douglas C. Merrill in his book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era.” Douglas was in charge of taking Google public with their IPO in 2004, where he admitted to overworking and not taking care of his physical needs. He was too busy for that. Despite all the warning signs his body was giving him, it was not until the day Google rang the bell on Wall Street after their IPO that Douglas realized he had crashed. As he told the story in his book, he was getting into a cab on Wall Street with two female colleagues when they looked at him in horror, “as if my eyes were bleeding.” One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and he saw that the blood vessels in his eyes had burst and were, in fact, bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” He took an extended leave from Google after that.

As a life coach, I was trained to improve my clients’ capacity and set a pace they can maintain for the long-term view of their life. It is mostly about easing up on commitments to allow the body time to rest and recover. I found out myself how difficult that can be. Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that time as a gift from God. My pace may be slower, but I have confidence in the race plan to finish strong.

The Finish Line
The goal of the marathon is to finish, which requires a singular focus on the finish line. Nothing else matters. All the rewards of your training are waiting for you at mile 26.2. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into getting there. I liken it to running as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond the finish is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Crossing the finish line turns the whole event into a joyful celebration. As my wife would assert with childbirth, in the end, the prize cancels out the extreme suffering you endured to get there. The victory parade begins, no matter how much you hurt.

I had never felt more joy and satisfaction at the end of a marathon than when my son Matthew and I embraced at the end of the 2016 St. George Marathon (his first!). The tears were flowing. It was a wondrous moment as we bear-hugged each other, drenched in the sweat and pain of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathons don’t get any better than that.

War Heroes at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)

War Heroes at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)

The Bible tells us that our finish line in heaven will be even better than that! What awaits us at the finish line of life will be beyond anything we can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line strong in this life and hear the words,

“Well done good and faithful servant!” (5)

That euphoria of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. It will exceed what our minds can only imagine. (6) God has mapped out an eternal destination that defies logic as we understand it. Heaven has turned the tide in my life here on earth. My focus now is solely on that finish line banner. I want to spend every day I have left in preparation for the day when I can cross that line into heaven. I plan to be waxed up and ready to go surfing when my day finally comes.

Marathon Faith
You may be asking how I can be so sure of this. How can we know that we will go to heaven when we die? For me, it boils down to faith. Marathon Faith. Jesus paid the price for our salvation. By simply accepting the free gift of his death on the cross, it is a sure thing. It is that easy.

The Bible is very clear about heaven. There are hundreds of references to what it will be like. The book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. (7) Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I have my horse blinders on and refuse to think about any other option. Heaven is the finish line that matters. I am planning to come in running strong. It’s getting closer every day. Don’t miss it (8).

As C.S. Lewis once said:

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Coach John Blair, a Los Angeles Times Millennium Hall of Fame inductee, was a true innovator in the Corona del Mar High School (CdMHS) running community. Aside from coaching cross country and track at CdMHS for 18 years (1965-1982), Coach Blair pioneered ideas for road running events before 10K, and 5K road races came into being. He started the now famous Corona del Mar Scenic 5k (41 years and running), the “Around the Back Bay in May” race, and also launched the “Newport Beach Runners Association,” which helped inspire the Orange County running boom in the 1970s. He was always out in front on his motorcycle, ensuring the leaders did not miss a turn.
  2. Topically applied dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was a miracle cure for nagging running injuries for Ed and me back in the 1980s. I still use it to this day and swear by its ability to cure an injury. I’ve had more than one miracle cure from it!
  3. After the 1979 Boston Marathon, officials lowered the qualifying time from 3:00 to 2:50 for men under 40 years of age.
    Source: Boston Marathon – The History of the World’s Premier Running Event, by Tom Derderian (Preface)
  4. Marathoning by Bill Rogers (published in 1982). Bill Rogers won the Boston Marathon four times (1975, 1978-1980) and the New York City Marathon four times (1976-1979).
  5. Matthew 25:23 (NIV):
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
  6. 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
    However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—
  7. Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV):
    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.”
  8. If you are a bit skeptical, I understand! I am the first to admit that the Bible can be pretty difficult to understand. Especially parts of the Old Testament. I have compiled a short list of books that might help. Click on “contact Mike” on surfingforbalance.com

17. Heaven Can’t Wait

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
-Mark Twain

When I first heard about Steve Jobs’ death, I was in the midst of my marketing gig at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011). It was our annual pilgrimage to shut down Howard Street, bring in the America’s Cup sailboats, and paint San Francisco Oracle red. We needed a couple of iPods for our booth giveaways, so I escaped the madness of the Moscone Center to walk a few blocks in the warm fall daylight to the Apple store near Union Square. I was navigating rush-hour in the city while enjoying the fresh air, when I was stopped cold at a fortress of candles on the sidewalk surrounding the store entrance. Steve Jobs had just died.

Employees and customers were wandering around like zombies, ruminating over the shocking news. It was as if the store needed to cease operations and digest the depth of it all. I even found myself in a state of denial. The suddenness of his passing hit hard. The iPhone 4s had been announced just a day earlier as swarms of techies were buzzing in like bees to honey for a taste of Apple’s latest innovation. And yet the incongruity was that the architect of it all had vanished. No one could quite grasp it.

Without question, Steve Jobs was one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of Silicon Valley. Suddenly, he was gone at the premature age of fifty-six. It was a sonic boom throughout the industry. Silicon Valley was experiencing a Loma Prieta aftershock like never before. We all had to rethink our world without Steve Jobs.

Walter Isaacson’s enthralling biography Steve Jobs was released just a few weeks later. For me, it was a page burner to delve into Isaacson’s account of his life. Jobs and I were born just a month apart, so I was more than curious to hear his story and better understand his genius. In the words of Isaacson, Jobs was the “ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.(1) He combined artistic creativity with technological innovation to upend the computer industry forever.

Steve Jobs was known to “think differently.” His inventions completely transformed computer design and the user interface. To place his impact into a surfing context would be to compare the influence Bob Simmons had on lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s.(2) Simmons was the first to introduce lightweight foam and fiberglass into surfboard design. Prior to that, everyone was riding 100-pound redwood planks. Nobody at that time could have predicted the shortboard revolution that followed as a result of Simmons’ ingenuity. Surfing was changed forever.

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Steve Jobs and the iPhone 11 Pro
(image by unsplash.com)

I was fascinated with how Steve Jobs’ career paralleled the explosive growth of Silicon Valley following the invention of the personal computer (PC). The story of his emergence from the Los Altos garage to co-founding Apple Computers was like reading a Stephen Ambrose war epic on how the battle of Silicon Valley was won. Even his high school days captivated me, including the pranks he orchestrated (I could relate!). Yet, for all those days I spent surfing in high school, Steve was fiddling with computers in his garage, preparing to change the world.

As I devoured Isaacson’s narrative, there was an element of Steve Jobs’ personality that made me uncomfortable and deeply stirred my concern for who he was at the core. At times, Jobs could be a sociopathic monster in his handling of people who seemed to get in the way of where he was trying to go. His unruly antics were well-documented. Some of the stories of him thrashing his people who did not deliver on his expectations were horrific. I think most would agree that he reached the top of the mountain, but it came at an agonizing price to many who worked alongside him. It was a fascinating character study.

Yet, his list of accomplishments were unequaled. A short list of new product introductions in thirty years at Apple speaks to his genius:

  • Apple I, 1976 (Apple II, 1977)
  • Macintosh, 1984
  • iMac, 1998
  • iPod, 2001
  • iTunes, 2003
  • iPhone, 2007
  • iPad, 2010

Despite all this, as I read Isaacson’s account, I could not help but wonder: Was it worth it? At what price did Steve Jobs attain this level of notoriety? How might God judge him? After reading the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Small Fry), who was Steve Jobs’ first child, the legacy of his behavior began to show through. Although he was not always willing to admit that she was his daughter, her view of life with him provided insight into the anxieties of coming into the world as an inconvenience to her success-obsessed father. It was a provocative read for all of us to see the stardom Jobs achieved through the eyes of a child.

Steve Jobs did not appear concerned about God. The treasures in heaven did not appear to be on his radar. He experienced acclaim beyond what anyone could have imagined in his quest to deliver products that changed the world.

As Apple became the world’s first company to record a market capitalization of $1 trillion in 2018, much of the credit surely goes to Steve Jobs. According to our world’s definition of success, he did come out on top.

Yet, I would like to propose that there is another side to that coin. What if we evaluate a person’s life with a different standard? What if everything we do here in this life on planet earth has an eternal value? Would that change the way we all view our life today?

Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven.(3) As good as we know heaven will be, there is one significant point that is missing in that discussion: Heaven does not begin when you die—it begins right now. Today.  To put it in Silicon Valley vernacular, it is happening in real-time as you read this. Heaven can’t wait!

Everything We Do in This Life Matters

If your aim is to build a life of enduring significance, this is a momentous point. I lived most of my life without truly grasping it. Having a vision of my future in heaven has rearranged my priorities and clarified my sense of identity. Eternity is motivating me to take this life very seriously. There is a spiritual battle going on today in our world where eternal issues are at stake. The temptation of the evil one is to lure us into complacency to think that it does not matter how you live this life. That is a lie—don’t believe it. What happens in Las Vegas does not truly stay in Las Vegas!

Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in heaven forever. 

According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime.(4) In Silicon Valley, that is a grossly conservative estimate based on a 40-hour work week (Ha!). Does it matter how we spend that time? The race I had been running was to do whatever it took in those 90,000 hours to maximize my income so I could hopefully cash out early and start enjoying life. The winners were the ones crossing that line first.

Jesus has a different take. He made it clear that there is a direct connection between what you do in those 90,000 hours and the life you spend in paradise.

 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done,” (Matthew 16:27, NIV, emphasis mine).

When we get to heaven, Jesus is telling us that we will be repaid according to how we have lived our life on earth. Even though we are in heaven, and our joy is complete, we will have rewards waiting for us when we arrive. This promise is not an isolated incident in the Bible. There are many examples of Jesus telling us that what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven. It is a recurring theme in the New Testament:

  • “Yes, leap for joy! For you will have a great reward awaiting you in heaven,”
    (Luke 6:23,TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven,”
    (Matthew 19:21, TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven,”
    (Matthew 5:12, TLB, emphasis mine).

Statements like “leap for joy” and “be very glad” are signs that this topic gets special attention from God. He is keeping track of us as we live our life here on earth. Eventually (when we cross over into heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve done.

This is not about doing good works on earth in order to get to heaven. The Bible is explicit about that. Going to Heaven is strictly an act of faith—not an act of works. The apostle Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans in the New Testament.(5) One of the more renowned verses in all of the Bible, which even shows up on the bottom of my In-N-Out vanilla shake cup, states this quite clearly:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16, NIV).

It is important to note that this is also not about winners and losers. We are already in heaven, for crying out loud. Everyone will be a winner! But Jesus is clear that there will be recompense waiting when we get there.

Several books have been written on this topic.  One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever, which hits it head on. It’s a small book and a quick read.

Wilkinson explains that our beliefs (faith) are what unlock the door to our eternal life in heaven. If we believe that Jesus is who He said He is, we will get to heaven. That is what Wilkinson calls having faith. However, our behaviors are what unlock the door to rewards and determine how we will spend eternity. It is our behavior on earth that will impact the rewards we receive when we get to heaven. And by the way, that part lasts forever. I will admit that when I look at how fast my life here on earth has flown by, this forever part has garnered my attention!

So, what will these rewards in heaven be? What might they look like?

The Greek root of the word rewards is misthos, which translates to “wages.” Jesus appears to be telling us that we are going to get paid for our time here on earth, and that it will have unending value in heaven. It’s almost as if we have a savings account for our good behavior on earth that will pay out when we get to heaven. And Jesus is the one who will sign the check.

In spite of my studies in this area, I am far from speculating what those heavenly rewards could mean. Knowing what I do about Jesus, I feel pretty confident they will be specific to each person and well worth the effort. I like the view American Pastor John MacArthur, Jr. has on it:

“There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”

This is having an impact on me now. I am envisioning that a secluded surfing spot with warm water and perfect waves just might be a possibility in heaven. Why not?

As for the behavior God is looking for, Jesus was always on message. It boiled down to one word: love.(6) It seems so simple. It is what the world needs a lot more of today.

The Impact on Silicon Valley

These words rock the life we are living here in Silicon Valley. Jesus came to tell us there is something much greater awaiting in heaven. To put it in surfing terminology, we must learn to paddle against the incoming tide. When I am out at Steamer Lane on a big day the constant push of powerful swells coming toward shore requires constant paddling just to maintain my position in the lineup. Everything around me is going the other way.

In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book (Chapter 42; Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention), Steve Jobs reflected on his death,

“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God.  For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.  But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch.  Click!  And you’re gone.  Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

Our life truly is a mist that appears briefly, and then quickly fades.(7) I want heaven to be proud of the life I lived here on earth. There will be no penalties—we will be in heaven. Yet, the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct that mansion that God is building for us in heaven. Nothing is ever lost or wasted with God. Everything we do on earth will build on the everlasting life we spend in heaven. Every day really does matter.

In his book The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says (8), Chip Ingram frames this point with a picture of a dot connected to a line:

Your entire life history on planet earth is represented by a dot, and your eternal life in heaven is represented by a continuous line that has no end. So, the question to ask yourself is whether you are living for the dot or for the line?

I would have to admit that I have lived the majority of my life for the dot. It’s a ton of work to paddle against those currents when the world around me is going the other way. I live a constant battle to stay aligned with the instruction Jesus gives us:

 “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
(Matthew 16:26, NIV)

Steve Jobs built an empire that left him on top of the mountain in Silicon Valley. It is hard to argue with the success he achieved. He maximized the dot. You might even think of the $5 billion Apple campus in Cupertino (AKA, “the spaceship”) as an iconic symbol of maximizing that dot. It is even visible from outer space!

Apple Park in Cupertino (2.8 million square feet of floor space and 1-mile in circumference)
(image by unsplash.com)

And yet, Jesus came into this world to redefine true greatness. In His kingdom, the least are seen as the greatest. The meek inherit the earth. The servant outshines the ruler. The first end up last and the last are first.(9) Jesus is telling us to focus on the line with no end. Those treasures will last for an eternity.

Heaven can’t wait. It is happening right now.

Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator,” Russell Crowe summed it up well:

“What you do in this life echoes through eternity.” 

—-Footnotes—-

  1. Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster: 2011.
  2. Bob Simmons was the “mad scientist” who pioneered lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s in southern California and is often credited as the father of the modern surfboard. As a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft, he radically changed surfboard design more than anyone else before or since him. As stated on the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center website, “Bob Simmons was the first person to consciously and purposefully apply hydrodynamic theory to create dynamic lift in surfboards; the first one to use fiberglass and resin to strengthen lighter weight boards; and the first one to actually define a surfboard and describe how it works.” Tragically, Simmons died while surfing Windansea Beach in Lo Jolla on a big day in 1954 at the age of thirty five.

    Dad (Jack B Mulkey) was a friend of Bob’s and often referred to him in his memories of surfing Malibu in the 1940s and 1950s. Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”) on the cover of this book. That surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh over 100 pounds.
    http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2016/11/bob-simmons-1919-1954.html
  3. Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven:
    1. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23, NIV)
    2. “You will have a treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 19:21, NIV).
    3. “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection,” (Luke 14:14, NIV).
    4. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Matthew 5:12, NIV).
  4. Gettysburg College study: One third of your life is spent at work
    https://www.gettysburg.edu/news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b
  5. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:9, NIV).
  6. “…The Lord our God is the one and only God. And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these,” (Mark 12:28-31, TLB).
  7. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” (James 4:14, NIV).
  8. Ingram, Chip. The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says. Baker Books: 2016.
  9. Luke 13:30; Mark 10:31; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 20:16 (all NIV)
  10. Christian Leaders on Eternal Rewards:
  • Charles R. Swindoll: “…He promises a reward. And we can be sure He will keep His promise.”
  • Jonathan Edwards: “There are many mansions in God’s house because heave is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness.”
  • Charles H. Spurgeon: “Seek secrecy for your good deeds.”
  • Theodore H. Epp: “God is eager to reward us and does everything possible to help us lay up rewards.”
  • John MacArthur Jr.: “There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
  • John Wesley: “God will reward everyone according to his works.”
  • R.C. Sproul: “If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament clearly teaches that we will be granted rewards according to our works.”
  • Billy Graham: “… and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards.”
  • Martin Luther: “Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward.”

Photo credits on unsplash.com:

16. Opening Day in Paradise

“The serious business of heaven is joy.”
-CS Lewis

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My dear friend Phil Nicholson used to invite my son and I to join him and his son at the opening day game for the San Francisco 49ers at the now-defunct Candlestick Park. Keep in mind that all other games of the season were second fiddle to opening day. This game was like no other.

The 49ers (and fans) went well beyond the standard football fare on opening day, signifying renewed hope for making it to yet another Super Bowl. Everyone was hyped to cheer the 49ers to victory. It was like going back out on the golf course after a long period of not playing. The memories of those bad shots had been neatly sliced from your brain. A 49er loss on opening day was unthinkable. We looked forward to this game with a special appreciation for the experience we knew to come.

The pre-game tailgate barbecues at Candlestick commenced just after daybreak and were more elaborate than ever, with everyone dressed head to toe in scarlet and gold. The 49er logo was visible everywhere; on cars, tables, banners, flags, chairs, ice chests, napkins, mugs, wine glasses, tattoos, clothes, and more! The air was electric with optimism and excitement as we fired up our Coleman barbecue and pulled the root beer off the ice for the boys. Wandering around the tailgate fixings was like peeking in on an open-air Thanksgiving extravaganza. Roars from the crowd inside the stadium started to mix with the barbecue smoke to create a surreal feeling of something magical about to happen. The 49er energy was palpable.

We caught our first view of the field after crowding through the cement tunnel feeling like sardines in a can. As the darkness turned to light, we surveyed the players warming up on the field in their bleached clean uniforms with brilliant 49er helmets. It was a thing of beauty. We paused to soak it in before moving on to our seats amongst the horde of 49er faithful.

The pre-game ceremony signaled that this was not just another football game. Dignitaries were announced. The U.S. military was honored. Retired 49er players were paraded onto the field. History was celebrated. Opening day was unique; it was a new beginning.

It all climaxed in an unfurling of a ginormous American flag covering the entire field as we roared our national anthem with hats placed over our hearts. Four Blue Angel jets swept in for a fly-by at the climax of “the home of the free and the land of the brave”. I was overwhelmed with patriotic fervor that dampened my eyes as the crowd of sixty thousand cheered in praise of the symbolism of our freedom. The 49er players then exploded from the black tunnel to storm onto the field amongst a storm of more fireworks and patriotic screaming. I was already hoarse, and the game had not even started!

Bring on more root beer—it’s game time!

What if God gives us earthly pleasures like this to provide a sampling of the experiences that awaits us in heaven? To stand in Candlestick Park and feel the intense emotion of that crowd as the Blue Angels flew by could be a prelude to exactly that. The Bible describes hearing the voices of hundreds of thousands of angels worshipping God in heaven (1). It is hard to imagine it being any better than that 49er crowd, but the Bible tells us that what God has in store for us is beyond our wildest dreams. This life with God will satiate every desire we have. Our joy will be exponentially amplified. It is what we were created for. We will finally be home. I envision having my dream day in the lineup at San Onofre with best friends and family joining in. Maybe Roy Lambertson’s description of me “hanging ten and giving a “hang loose” hand signal in the tube” is not so far off after all.

I have read more books about heaven than I want to admit to in attempting to understand what awaits us there. The Bible presents that “its brilliance was like a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (2). Yet the real emphasis of heaven is not about heaven’s beauty, but on joy. This joy will overwhelm us to the point that we forget our troubles here on earth. In heaven, everything will be new (3). Earthly pleasures like the opening day festivities of the 49ers game are simply a foretaste of the heavenly joys that await us there. As amazing as that day was, our “opening day” in heaven will make it seem like a day at the DMV.

Seriously.

Opening Day in Heaven

In the Bible, Jesus Christ is the sole authority on the topic of heaven. He is the only person in the history of humanity who came from heaven to live on earth and tell us about what awaited us there. Jesus had a lot to say about heaven. In the book of Matthew alone, He spoke of heaven more than any other person in the Bible. His message was straightforward: Fix your eyes not on the earthly treasures around you, but on the riches that await you in heaven (4). In His short three-year ministry on earth, Jesus was like an army recruit who had memorized the soldier’s creed. He never wavered on that message.

One could argue that God’s purpose in sending Jesus to earth was to tell the world about heaven. Whether or not you believe Jesus is who He said He was (the Son of God), it is fascinating to look closely at what He said about heaven. If we narrow down to His final three days on earth, Jesus was clear as an ear-piercing bell on two things about heaven.

First was that He is preparing a specific place for us in heaven (5). When we finally do get there, Jesus will have our home all built and ready to move in. Some translations use the word “mansion.” I like that picture. As soon as it is ready, Jesus told the disciples He would come to take them there. Maybe my mansion will have an outdoor shower to rinse the sand off from surfing!

Image credit by Gordon Johnson of Pixaby
The Last Supper
(image by Gordon Johnson – Pixaby)

When Jesus said this, He was meeting with His disciples for their final meal together (known as The Last Supper). He was giving the twelve disciples their final marching orders. In three days, He would be crucified on the cross.

To place some context around this, picture the 49er players assembled in the locker room preparing for the final game of their season. Imagine that you are the head coach, and you have announced that you are retiring after this final game. This is your last chance to address the players. What would you say to them? Surely a strategy discussion about how to win the game is in order. A few comments about key plays they need to make. Probably remind them that this is your last game. That would motivate them.

The words Jesus spoke were nothing short of astounding considering the circumstances. The disciples would be carrying the torch forward to spread Christianity to all of planet earth. Not one of the millions of Christian churches worldwide had been built yet. This was ground zero for Christianity. Once Jesus died, the future of Christianity rested on these twelve men.

Yet Jesus did not use the time to review the blueprint on how to advance Christianity after He was gone. He did not explain how they should position His departure. Instead, He left the football field entirely and simply told them He was preparing a place for them in heaven. He gave the disciples a vision of hope for their future.

In hindsight, it seems to have been a compelling play call (6).

The second noteworthy thing that Jesus said during His final hours was to declare that heaven would be paradise:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43, NIV).

In almost the very last words Jesus spoke before His death on the cross, He declared that heaven would be a perfect place. Jesus spoke these words to a dying thief who was hanging on a cross next to him.  As the thief accepted that Jesus was who He said He was, the thief was assured by Jesus that he would be joining him there. In paradise. Imagine how the thief felt to hear that from Jesus!

Jesus is crystal clear that what awaits us in heaven is a real, physical place that will be a Shangri-La compared to what we know here on earth. A paradise for me has a connotation around surfing, with warm water, perfect waves, a white sandy beach, and of course, palm trees full of coconuts to keep me nourished. Why not? My heavenly vision may seem outlandish, but only because we consider it from our earthly perspective. What awaits us there is beyond what we can imagine. It will be a utopia!

Jesus had the foresight to see that giving the disciples a clear view of their future home in heaven would provide them the strength to endure the difficult times ahead. The promise of paradise was the perfect motivator to get them to persevere. Amid all the muck we see around us in the world today, it is exactly what we need as well.

The final score of the 49ers game will not matter when we get to heaven. An opening day win is an earthly treasure. In heaven, we will be perfect in every way; physically, morally, and in our knowledge. We will have new bodies free from the pain, death, and decay of this present world (7). And yet, amazingly, we will be the person we are today. Our memories of who we are, what we have done, and who we knew in our life on earth will not fade. The Bible assures us that Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious one (8). It will all be paradise in the end.

I can’t wait to paddle out.


Footnotes:

  1. Revelation 5:11-12 (NIV):
    “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand.”
  2. Revelation 21:10-11 (NIV):
    “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”
  3. Revelation 21:5 (NIV):
    “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
  4. Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV):
    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
  5. John 14:1-3 (TLB):
    “Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.”
  6. Christianity is the largest religious group in the world, and in 2020 there were about 2.6 billion adherents globally. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups)
  7. I have lived long enough to realize that suffering in this life is inevitable. The Bible does not claim our avoiding it once we become a Christian. And yet, despite our troubles, the Bible teaches that all of it will be forgotten in heaven. Having this great certainty gives me the courage to face the valleys ahead.

    “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4 TLB).
  8. Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)
    “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

9. Peace of Mind

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”
-John 16:33 (NIV)

Quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one regret in life that has lingered. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (the surf had been good!), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure that I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice, I sheepishly told him I was quitting. Enough already. I was seventeen years old and didn’t need a basketball coach telling me what to do.

Or so I thought.

Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon in the basketball world. I appreciate that much more now than I did then. He was an All-American at The University of California at Berkeley (Cal), where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to the 1959 NCAA championship. Rumor had it that Tandy held Jerry West to his lowest offensive point total in his college basketball career at West Virginia University. And if you don’t know Jerry West, he was good enough to have the logo of the NBA modeled after him. Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year!

Coach Gillis was all about defense. He could teach it like Einstein could teach physics. It was quite simple. He taught us to play an extraordinarily tight man-to-man defense by following two principles:

#1: “Crawl inside their jockstrap,” as he used to say, and deny every pass possible.

#2: Protect the baseline as if it were Fort Knox; Don’t let anyone with the ball go by.

Conceding on either point resulted in sprinting the lines up and down the court until you were ready to barf.

Coach Wooden
Paradoxically, another basketball coach emerged later in my life, Coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team.

Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal meant you had to be aware of what the Wizard of Westwood (as Coach Wooden was known) was doing on the basketball court at UCLA. For me, it started when I stayed up late with Dad to watch the KTLA Channel 5 replays of those UCLA games in the mid-1960s. I could not wait for the “Oh MYs” from announcer Dick Enberg as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court, scoring at will, always ending up on the winning side. Dad would tell you that I usually fell asleep by halftime as the replays started at 11:00p.m.

The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins won ten NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships (March Madness) over a period of twelve years (1964-1975), including seven in a row (1967-1973), and had four undefeated seasons (1964, 1967,1972, 1973).

However, I will never forget one loss in 1968 when the Houston Cougars and Elvin Hayes ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak in what was billed as “the game of the century” at the Houston Astrodome.[i] I cried like a baby at the end of that game.

What Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world, and I could not help but be caught up in trying to understand it. Something was quite different about how this man approached the game. Amidst the myriad of UCLA victories, he inspired his players to find their very best within themselves while being as cool as a cucumber watching them do it from the bench.

Even during the tensest moments of a game when his team appeared rattled, he would let them play on without calling a time out. After the game, he was always very humble, giving credit to those around him before himself. Most unique of all, Coach Wooden never spoke about “winning.” His focus was on helping each player become the best they possibly could be on the court. He emphasized the importance of practice, telling his players that the games would go well if they practiced well. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Wooden’s unrivaled success was a puzzle I felt compelled to piece together to see if I could apply it to my life. Fast forward 20 years to Silicon Valley in 1992, and I was starting to see the picture. As soon as our two children, Marisa and Matthew, were old enough to play organized basketball, I entered the coaching ranks, determined to make amends for my regret of quitting Coach Gillis’ team in high school. It was there that the pieces came together, as I modeled my coaching around Coach Wooden’s now-famous “Pyramid of Success,”[ii] which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off.

Hard work was at its core, no getting around that with Coach Wooden. Once you had done the hard work, Wooden emphasized patience (“good things take time”), along with faith (“through prayer”) to be at your best when your best is needed. All this resulted in peace of mind that you could rest in the knowledge that you gave it your best effort. Coach Wooden would add, “You are the only one who truly can judge that!” Soon, I had every player on the team memorizing these pyramid blocks and reciting Wooden quotes during critical moments in a game or practice. The kids were terrific in embracing it, and of course, the parents loved taking the emphasis off winning.


When I read Coach Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach; I discovered a crown jewel that had been missing in my puzzle. In discussing his beliefs on success, Coach Wooden quoted straight from the Bible:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

Right there, in Chapter 13, Wooden spilled the story of his Christian faith and how basketball was of minor importance in comparison to belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. Coach Wooden carried a metal cross of Jesus in his pocket through all those many games at UCLA so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got difficult. He said he would rub the cross for comfort to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.

Oh MY!

This was the missing piece I had been looking for; it fit perfectly. It was so simple, yet so true. The mere idea of attaining peace of mind through faith in the cross in pursuit of success would be a theme that rang true for me in my career for the next two decades in Silicon Valley. I bought several metal crosses as reminders. Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden practiced what he preached. His players all looked up to him for his principles and commitment to his faith. He lived it! That set John Wooden apart and helped him see the level of success he achieved at UCLA.

Meeting Dick Enberg and exchanging stories of those late-night KTLA broadcasts of UCLA basketball games.

The most challenging job of my career was as a field sales manager at Siemens (1993-94), with a $6 million annual sales quota of telecommunications systems. I managed ten sales representatives who fought daily battles for sales territories, new accounts, quota alignment, customer satisfaction, and that very elusive Purchase Order to win a deal against the competition. My Circle of Life centered on work and not much else. I was struggling to find peace of mind at the end of the day, whether I was achieving my sales quota or not. Each day I went home to my family battle-weary, struggling to find success in the midst of it all.

In a panic to find help, I decided to type a letter to Coach Wooden and ask for resources to apply his principles around the Pyramid of Success. It was a long shot; I was hoping someone in his office might respond. Within one week, I had a hand-written letter in a hand-written envelope to me from Coach Wooden himself.

Huh?

He opened by thanking me for taking the time to write:

“Your words of commendation were very kind and deeply appreciated. Many thanks for taking the time to express yourself.”

Coach Wooden was truly demonstrating the principles he was teaching! I soon created a leadership model for my sales team around the Pyramid of Success. We overachieved our sales quota two years in a row while improving customer satisfaction ratings. The puzzle was complete.

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -Coach Wooden

As a coach, father, and follower of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found Coach Wooden’s philosophy to be an excellent way to model the values our holy Bible teaches, both to children on the basketball court, as well as to adults in the business world. It enabled me to go home at the end of the day with a sense of contentment that regardless of how the day had gone, I gave it my best and had peace of mind in knowing that it now rested in God’s hands.[I]


“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
-Coach John Wooden

Footnotes:

[i] Wooden authored and co-authored seventeen books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99. I have listed a couple of my favorites below. A google search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this remarkable man.

  • “Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization” (2005) by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Wooden’s strategies for competitive greatness translated into a leadership principles book for business or sports. A Wall Street Journal and L.A. Times bestseller.
  • “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life” (2005) by John Wooden and Jay Carty. A translation of Wooden’s philosophy with the Pyramid of Success into a self-help handbook based upon each of the pyramid blocks.
  • “They Call Me Coach” (1988) by John Wooden
    This was his first book and a personal favorite. It describes his humble upbringing on a small farm in Indiana and how his relationship with his father impacted him. It also is the only one of his books that covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.

[i] The UCLA Bruins were #1 rated in the country and had won 47 games in a row, including the NCAA Division I championships in 1964, 1965, and 1967. Houston was #2 in the country and led by Elvin Hayes, who scored 39 points (he could not miss!). A footnote is that UCLA’s star, Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career (making 4 of 18 shots), suffering from a severe eye injury the previous week (he sat out the two previous games). Two months later, UCLA destroyed Houston 101-69 on route to their fourth NCAA Championship.

[ii] Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” can be found at: https://www.thewoodeneffect.com/pyramid-of-success/