Category Archives: heaven

almost heaven

backlit-clouds-dawn-162568

“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river…” And now most of you will have John Denver stuck in your head for the rest of the day. My apologies to my West Virginian friends, but I’ve never really thought of West Virginia as being “almost heaven”. For that matter, I have never thought about Odessa, TX or Flint, MI, or even Chattanooga, TN as being almost heaven either. Well at least not geographically. However, when I stop to think about some of my encounters in each of these places, I begin to see heaven breaking through a little bit. Bob Benson wrote a poem called Looking for the Threads that I think catches what I’m trying to say:

I used to think,
loving life so greatly,
that to die would be like
leaving the party before the end.

But now I know
that the party is really happening
somewhere else.
That the light and the music
escaping in snatches,
to make the pulse beat faster
and the tempo quicken,
comes from another place.

And I know, too,
that when I get there,
the music and the love and the praise
will belong to him
and the music will never end.

Maybe that’s the almost heaven part? The “light and the music escaping in snatches”. I like the way the writer of Revelation put’s it in his final description, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘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 21:1, 3-4. That new heaven and new earth part sounds pretty awesome. Because I think what limits our scope of heaven and seeing the “light and the music escaping in snatches” is because we are encumbered by time, death, distance, sickness, etc.

Maybe we’ve all experienced the “almost heaven” part, but our vision is limited by those things that will soon pass away. Maybe my visions of heaven in Odessa, TX will come to fruition in the new heaven and earth. I can see me spending a large part of eternity sitting around with Kenny Mayes and just talking about the goodness of God (and hopefully it will feel and smell a bit like his shop). Maybe my vision of heaven in Flint, MI won’t be hampered by the cold and the snow and some of the brokenness that has come to falsely label this great city. I can see myself spending a good part of eternity walking in the fresh grass with Sam Owens just laughing about how grace welcomed us both in. Maybe even the visions of heaven I’ve had from the town I grew up in will fully blossom as one day I find myself fishing with my grandfathers  Raymond Arp and Garland Patterson (who I never got to meet) and us just enjoying being fully in the presence of each other and God.

I’ve never really enjoyed moving away from a place…and it has nothing to do with the geography or the restaurants or the sights or the entertainment venues or any of that stuff. That’s not what defines life for me. But the people who have shaped and changed mine and my family’s life are for me the part that is almost heaven. And much like that same song, they are the path that will help to, “take me home to the place I belong.” This life is short, but I’m beginning to see how beautiful heaven will be through all the folks who have been Jesus to me.

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daniel

It was a little over three weeks ago when he stumbled into our church. I say that because he really wasn’t in the best of shape and had trouble walking. But he came and I greeted him in the normal fashion and gave him a visitor’s packet and told him it was nice to have him in church. It was a different kind of Sunday as we had a special speaker and at the end when we had an altar call Daniel came forward. I went down to pray with him and he confessed that he hadn’t been in church in probably about twenty years. We then prayed together for his re-commitment to Christ and to following after Him. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new friendship for me.

I saw Daniel a couple of more times that week as he attended our Sunday evening Bible study and our Wednesday night gathering. I came to find out he was proficient in Biblical Hebrew although we was self taught…who teaches themselves Hebrew? He was very Biblically knowledgeable, but he had also had negative experiences with the church before, so he was a little gun shy about getting involved. Daniel also struggled with self worth because of his health issues and had several struggles because of that. But I reassured him that at our church that wasn’t something that we based your value on and we were excited to join with him on his journey of restoration and wholeness in Christ.

Another week went by and occasionally I would get calls from Daniel. Wanting to talk or see if he was doing ok with church (he honestly wanted to make sure he was doing it correctly). He was even worried about the sharing he did at our Sunday night Bible study when he floored us all by reminding us that we relate the love of Christ better to one another out of our brokenness instead of our piety (perhaps he should have been the one leading the group). One night he called around the time I was putting the kids to bed, and even though I was tired, I took his call anyway. He was having a pretty rough day and he referenced an illustration I had used in church about needing God, but needing someone with ‘skin on’. Without really thinking about it I got his address, drove over to his house and when he answered the door I gave him the biggest hug I could muster (it might have even gotten awkward). But then we spent almost an hour just talking about life, philosophy, music and more. I think he was surprised to learn that his pastor was familiar with punk bands from the 90s. We even talked about his upcoming baptism as he had requested to be baptized after coming back to Christ.

Unfortunately he missed our next Wednesday and Sunday because he had gotten sick and then Sunday afternoon he called to apologize for his absence. We talked a bit as I was preparing my Sunday evening study on the book of Daniel, his namesake. We even made plans for his baptism and he had made peace with the idea of pouring for his Baptism as our baptistery would not have been very accessible for him. We talked a little bit about his health and weight and I reminded him that his worth was not determined by those things, but by who God saw in him and the journey he was beginning anew with Christ. After a while I assured him that we would look towards doing a Baptism service in a couple of weeks and then we got off the phone.

The next day of the week is one I always look forward to as it is my day off. While the rest of the world hates Mondays, I love them. I am never able to sleep in so I usually have my morning coffee by 6 AM at the latest. As I was finishing up my coffee the phone rang and I saw it was Daniel’s number. But when I answered…it wasn’t Daniel. It was his mother and I sat there numbly listening as she explained that Daniel had had a heart attack the night before and had passed away early that morning. I tried to summon up the correct pastoral response for her, but I was just floored and immediately sick at my stomach…I’m sure I said something like, “I’m so sorry…let us know if we can do anything…” But I know it wasn’t enough.

I found myself going to the shower and just weeping. Why? Why so soon? God he was making changes. He was going to be better. He was going to do better. He was going to be my friend.

And honestly I don’t have any answers. I know he wasn’t in good health and I understand how human biology works and what had taken place. And in my spiritual frame of reference I know Daniel is now made whole before his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that one day I will see him again as God has always seen him. But I miss him. And I wish I had more time. I still do.

So hug your friends. Kiss your spouse and kids. And know that this life is short and we never know what tomorrow may bring.


golden

How many of us love traffic? How many of us love standing in line at the grocery store? How many of us just absolutely love being inconvenienced by other people? I am sure, as is the case with me, that the responses on most of these probably found themselves in the negative column. After all, we are a busy people. There is so much to do, so much to accomplish that it would be so much easier if there weren’t other people getting in our way.

There is a rule that pretty much all of us in the church are very familiar with and a lot of the people outside the church are even familiar with. We refer to it as the Golden Rule and Jesus spoke it in The Sermon on the Mount. It simply states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I love the sweeping arc of that command…”in everything you do”. So whether we are in line, in traffic, inconvenienced, etc. our behavior towards others should be a reflection of how we wish to be treated. And this sums up all the law and the prophets!?! How could it be so easy?

I was reminded of this concept in a discussion recently. I found myself saying, “You know, God loves all of us the same. Regardless of our actions and so I think it is on us to try our hardest to see everyone we come into contact with as God sees them.” Ouch. But I think that’s the rub of it. Those of us who know the truth of God’s love and grace are bound by it as well. In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

In other words, every interaction we have with someone walking and breathing could bear eternal rewards or consequences in their lives. So when we find ourselves in traffic, in line, inconvenienced, whatever, our actions, or better yet our reactions, could be priceless in view of eternity. And honestly, we never know what the people around us are going through until we know what they are going through. So may we live out the golden rule and know that as we fulfill the law and the prophets we just might be helping to shape the eternal destiny of our fellow sojourners.


heaven

Heaven. What a buzz word to bring up! And I promise I am not going fishing for more blog readership….although that would be nice. But I have honestly been thinking a lot about heaven lately and can’t think of a better way to get my thoughts out than to place them online before the entire world…

Over the years of Christendom there has been a lot said about heaven. Even today we have books, movies, TV shows (don’t act like you don’t remember 7th Heaven) and more all about heaven or our humanly perception of it. We are insanely curious about what’s on the other side. We hear stories about people having near death experiences or being dead for a few short moments and then marvel at their stories about what they have seen and experienced. But the fact remains that there is no such thing as certainty about what may await us on the other side of this life. And I think that’s okay. We are after all people of faith.

I have been having some conversations with someone recently who may* be closer to heaven than a few of us and we have been contemplating what it may be like. Their hope resides in the fact that at the moment they meet Jesus that they will turn around and all of their loved ones will be there as well. As God exists outside of our definition of time it will seem as if time does not exist and their earthly familial legacy will be joining them instantaneously with Jesus. I for one love this picture. But I think the reason that I love this picture so much is because of the Biblical hope it contains. A lot of our hope for heaven comes from prophetic hope contained within the Bible. You have the hope of Isaiah and Micah of the mountain of God where ‘swords are beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks’. You have Jesus’ promise contained in wedding vows in John 14 when he says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’. But I think one of the more powerful images of heavenly hope is found in Revelation 21. “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…I am making everything new!”

Here is why this comprises all of my heavenly hope. God fixes the broken things. I don’t really care where heaven is or what it looks like or if I get a mansion or to eat all the chocolate I want and never get fat. I just want God to fix the broken things. I want the things like cancer, abuse, abandonment, genocide, disease, slavery, oppression, war to be redeemed, fixed, restored…and if that is all heaven is it will be enough. Because if the broken things are fixed and we are with Jesus…then I know it will be Heaven.

 

* Contained within this “may” are countless prayers for healing and hope for a miracle.


got my ticket stamped

In the opening line of David Crowder’s “A Collision” album we hear the line, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.” I usually always thought this was simply about the passage from life to death and the anxiety that it holds, but I think there might be a little more substance to this simple line. So often in the Christian evangelical tradition we have been promised that arriving in heaven is as easy as saying a magical one line statement, but does this really sync up with what Jesus has called us to in order to enter into His Kingdom?

Luke 9:23-24 reads this way, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” I know for many of those who claim to be Christian it was as simple as a statement of belief and then nothing else changed…but I got my ticket stamped for heaven. The problem lies in what we mean when we say we believe in something. I believe in the Tennessee Volunteers football team, but I change the channel when they start losing. But to say that one believes in and follows Christ has to require a little something more than withering devotion. The phrase that he uses is that they must take up their cross daily and last time I checked, taking up your cross usually results in death. So let’s play out a little logic here. If we believe we are saved for heaven by following Christ then we not only are going to eventually kick the bucket with our mortal bodies, but we have to die daily as well.

The problem is nobody likes to die…either way. Death contains uncertainty. Yeah there is faith and all that in the hereafter, but what about the now. You mean I have to give up my life, my plans, my dreams daily in order to encounter who knows what for the sake of Christ. Um, yeah. We are called to lose our life everyday and some day that could even result in losing your life (wouldn’t that be something). I remember once reading something by Bob Benson (and unfortunately I am not going to be able to properly cite this) about our passing remarks to loved ones. So often we say “take care” and leave it at that. But he challenged us to say “take risks” instead. After all, if we are calling people to die that is a pretty reckless invitation. But maybe that is what it takes to get to heaven. Maybe that is what it takes to bring heaven to earth.

I wish it were as easy as saying a simple line and then getting your ticket stamped. Maybe Grace is that scandalous. But I also know that Grace is not cheap. So may we become reckless in our abandonment of self and place ourselves in the great risk of following Christ daily. After all, “Everybody wants to go to heaven”, they just need some crazy guides to help them get there.


pain

I have to believe that one’s writing comes best from one’s experience. And my experience as of late (while recovering from knee surgery) has been encountering pain and the cessation of that encounter through the use of pharmaceuticals. Pain is a funny little thing. A little poke-in-the-ribs (or knee) reminder that indeed we are mortal. And yet, this is something we try to escape all of the time. There are pain relievers for every little ache and pain available over the counter for $1 or less. There is a commercial on TV every fifteen minutes on how to relieve what is ailing you at that exact moment. One of the most lucrative industries in the United States today is anti-depressants. It seems we are trying to use everything we can to escape from one of the things that is a part of the natural human experience. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t like pain. I wish we were rid of it, but could it maybe serve a purpose other than frustrating the human condition?

I believe that pain creates longing. Longing, at times, for the ending of our mortality. For those of us who are in Christ, this end is only the beginning of immortality free of pain. Revelation 21:3-4, “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.” No more pain…No more pain…That from which we sought escape. That from which we sought relief…is gone! So maybe pain is a stimulus for something greater. Maybe it is a call for longing for that time beyond time when God will be present from man and pain, suffering and death will be no more. So now, maybe before we reach for that pain reliever or other pill to relieve ourselves of our ailments, we can pause for a moment and think about what that day will be like when our mortal pain is no more…


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