This is heaven…in case earth has eclipsed your perception of it

I used to think I knew what heaven was like. Although it was clear, in my head, that the fullest representation of it was presently out of my reach, I believed very much of it could still be perfectly manifested in my life: It just took a little shifting of circumstances, some adjusting of routine. I was convinced that God, as my Savior, needed to be the One to redeem my portion of mortality into something that was just as much a pleasure as paradise would one day be.

I was not living to be integrated into the new life God had revived me for. I didn’t have a strong interest in deeper, grander plans God might have for my life. I was concerned with identifying Christ most fully as a perfectly-suitable social servant. My idea of a Redeemer was one who operated under the already-established rule of the world. He would fix all the mistakes, He would right all the wrongs. But, He would function like a superhero who helped the world (system) operate the way it was supposed to; His help would be a luxury that made living with evil less daunting.

What I didn’t count on was my Hero having His own agenda. More then setting-the-world-right, He works to usher in a new world–the seat of His kingdom. He saved me and you, not just to protect us from the evil powers of this world, but to make us permanent citizens of the place He calls Home. For the sake of our good, every day, He is testing our attachments to this world we were born into and then born-again out of.

He wants us to realize that this is not all there is, and this is not the best. We may experience His almighty goodness here, but that is because of Him and not because the vessels He uses are distinctly beneficial in themselves. In so many ways, we need to let go of this world–the happiness we long to find here that so easily inclines us to dismiss the joy Christ wants us to find there. We need to let God set our eyes on the revelation of a new order, a new creation that exalts His name and proclaims His works without fail. This is the only place we really belong, now that we have come to know Him.

His heart is ultimately wrapped up in delivering us to heaven: Where we will be wholly united with Him, where our hearts will finally find utter harmony with His, where all death will be over because His death has secured life for us forever. Every day that remains in this temporary holding-place is a day to be marked with waiting, eager anticipation and delight at the thought of being intimately associated with the One who is our Life. In the meantime, we treasure up every new association with Christ that is formed in us by the Holy Spirit and we labor with Him to refresh the world (people) around us with the evidence of heaven’s riches invading the hearts of earthly men.

What else can I choose…but joy?

Sometimes I feel so down and distraught, that I wonder how I will ever be able to stand again. After all I’ve gone through, when I finally see the other side of this trial, will I want to rise? Is it worth it?

If you are in that place, I ache for you. Some of Jesus’ most endearing words come to mind for you:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Matthew 5:3-12

It is interesting that before the Bible tells us these things it says: When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside…[and] Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions.

God’s ministry to us through Jesus

is not about

ignoring pain,

but bringing meaning

to it.

And we who are closest

to Him —

Those…apprenticed to him,

the committed, as the Bible says —

climb up that hillside of the forgotten with him (verse 1).

There He shows us that we belong

with Him,

even in our deepest heart-ache.

Not because of how well we “take” everything,

or how unmoved we are by troubles,

but because He came to make known

His compassion for us —

that we would be assured of

how close we are

to His heart.

The Work He Wants to Do

We cannot force God to do what we want Him to do in our lives, but we do have more power than we think. We can choose to receive from God whatever He wants to do for us in whatever form He chooses.

This is a gift that I think we too often over-look. We should be asking ourselves deeper questions: What could we be and do and have if we let God take first place in our lives? What could it be like to forfeit our earth-bound agendas in favor of abiding by His heaven-releasing promises?

I think it would mean that we were choosing to know God for the first time — not because we knew just how our faith was fully insured, but because we wanted to put no conditions on God so that we could experience for ourselves who He truly is.

Reviewing “The Science of Happiness”

I was reading the above titled article on happiness in an old Time magazine today — something I don’t often do — when I realized just how faithful God has been to me in all the many ways He has given me, both biologically and through spiritual growth, to be able to deal with ongoing realities of life that make me feel unhappy, and sometimes deflated.

I truly have so much to be thankful for, not because my life is wonderful or because I have reached that point of being fully satisfied with myself, but because of HIM. He really is the thing in all this that makes life worth living and continuing — for me, and also for you. Don’t believe me? Then try Him for yourself.

I do not promise that your life will become perfect, or your entire personality will be made still, but He will increase your life, and make you know what it was really meant to be.

I’m determined to watch steps and tongue so they won’t land me in trouble.
I decided to hold my tongue
as long as Wicked is in the room.
“Mum’s the word,” I said, and kept quiet.
But the longer I kept silence
The worse it got—
my insides got hotter and hotter.
My thoughts boiled over;
I spilled my guts.

“Tell me, what’s going on, God?
How long do I have to live?
Give me the bad news!
You’ve kept me on pretty short rations;
my life is string too short to be saved.
Oh! we’re all puffs of air.
Oh! we’re all shadows in a campfire.
Oh! we’re just spit in the wind.
We make our pile, and then we leave it.

“What am I doing in the meantime, Lord?
Hoping, that’s what I’m doing—hoping
You’ll save me from a rebel life,
save me from the contempt of dunces.
I’ll say no more, I’ll shut my mouth,
since you, Lord, are behind all this.
But I can’t take it much longer.
When you put us through the fire
to purge us from our sin,
our dearest idols go up in smoke.
Are we also nothing but smoke?

“Ah, God, listen to my prayer, my
cry—open your ears.
Don’t be callous;
just look at these tears of mine.
I’m a stranger here. I don’t know my way—
a migrant like my whole family.
Give me a break, cut me some slack
before it’s too late and I’m out of here.”

Psalm 39

What I’ve Finally Figured Out

Call me “the Quester.” I’ve been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth. And let me tell you, there’s not much to write home about. God hasn’t made it easy for us. I’ve seen it all and it’s nothing but smoke—smoke, and spitting into the wind.

Life’s a corkscrew that can’t be straightened,
A minus that won’t add up.

I said to myself, “I know more and I’m wiser than anyone before me in Jerusalem. I’ve stockpiled wisdom and knowledge.” What I’ve finally concluded is that so-called wisdom and knowledge are mindless and witless—nothing but spitting into the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-17

I’ve thought about it, if my life was so “good” that I could say that it was exactly what I wanted, would it truly be better than the life I have now? If the things God uses — which I often don’t appreciate in the moment — to humble me and correct what needs to be straightened in my character, were not apart of so much of my experience with Him, would I still love Him?

Sound like a silly question? Not if you consider something He has been showing me again and again and again and again — yes, I’ve needed to see it that much — in this season: If I did not know I needed God, and it was not a fact and an emotion and a definition of who I am that faces me every day, than I would not love God.

This idea takes me back to the verse in the Bible where it says:

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

(1 John 4:9-10 The Message)

So, the very idea that I would believe that I could love God without Him acting in my life, to push me toward Him, is choosing to believe what is absolutely opposed to the gospel. And to find fault with the tools He uses to accomplish this is arrogant; I am questioning God’s knowledge of the nature of my sin and my primary opposition to Him — I am telling Him He doesn’t know what He is talking about, and I know myself better than He does.

Yet, who knows sin better than God? Who has seen its devastation more clearly, and knows from whence this destruction came? Whom can I trust with this grievous heart of mine more than One Whose holy heart can wrap mine up with mercy that can only belong to a God like this One?

Surrender to Live?

I can say I want God’s way in my life and try to leave it at that, but I will soon find that I am dissatisfied, feeling the incompleteness that comes with living life apart from our One central point — the One who holds together all of what we know and see and yet wonder about.

Or, I can realize that there can be no other way with me; it must be His way, or I have chosen to live with less than all I could have in this life. I think that I can have it all if I just live for myself, but this only seems like it is a legitimate hope because I am securely at the head. I think that I will lose out if I step aside so God can take that place that I so fiercely covet.

Yet, will I truly lose out? Can living for more than I can hold onto and keep in-check really prove to be a misuse of my passion and potential? Is it worth it to gain if I have not lost? If I am not willing to lose something I value for the sake of something more valuable — can I really expect to be able to hold onto anything at all?

If I’m already surrendering, I don’t have to fear any loss or disappointment or chaos, because I am not ultimately trusting my circumstances to deliver what I need, but my God. He alone knows what I truly need; He knows what is necessary in mistakes and trials to release me from the power of secret sins, teaching me to realize that life is in Him and not in me or what I see.

If I will live in surrender, I will live in hope. And, if my hope (Christ) is able to hold me, than I cannot fear any significant loss. I cannot rationalize unbelief because I am setting myself up to succeed according to my own resources. Considering all these petty “resources” I have now will ALL ultimately fail me, I must ask myself, “What grounds do I have for trying to convince God that I am right in my ongoing resistance to offer myself wholly to Him?”

I don’t. I would be a fool to believe my own ideas about what is best for me apart from what God has said since the beginning of time — long before I was born, or had any ideas about what I would like to have in this life. God knew what I needed, and was eager to reveal it to me. I have been the stubborn one.

I have been the one who is constantly insisting that I know what is up and what will do great things for me; and all my life I have been convinced that that is not God or anything that comes with Him. One, I cannot control Him. Two, I do not know what to expect with Him. Three, I would rather just be able to do everything on my own.

But, do I think He will not ever-so-patiently whittle down all that opposition in me? Do I think that I have to lead this? Do I think that He will not accept exactly what little I have to offer now, and with that make a way for me to give Him all the rest?

Yes, I often do think all these things, but even this He can deal with. He knows what He’s doing — including where sin begins and the only One who can bring it to an end — because He holds the keys to all the freedom that His perfect righteousness has to offer. I will trust Him.

Appreciating New Life

I have noticed there’s a difference between seasons of testing based, in part, on what sin’s the Holy Spirit is dealing with in me. Recently I went through a trial in which God showed me how helpless I am without Him — how much I need Him to deal with the fears within my heart, that His love might affect me more. In that time God made me so aware of His presence, so satisfied by who He is rather than what He was so graciously withholding for my good. Joy came with the morning, but it also went to bed with me at night. God let me float in the arms of His perfect love, when I should have despaired with any less of Him.

So, in that I experienced a spiritual high while physically constrained to “the valley.” I learned, in one sense, what it means to “not want” as David says in Psalm 23; I walked through the valley of the shadow, spooky with my own weakness, yet passable because His strength never left me; I feared no evil, for He was (ever) with me.

It is still amazing, to look back at what the Lord did with me not even two months ago. Yet, since then it has been as the wonderful Daddy I have come to know has set me down on the ground again, and I have to learn to walk again; walk though it still does not feel safe to move again. I am not my eager, let-me-run-ahead-and-play-while-You-watch -Father self. I don’t want to stand on the ground; I could have stayed at His breast forever. I got such a glimpse of heaven while I was up there, so high above the world. But now, we walk along in the sand together again.

After learning to live according to His perfect gait propelling me along, I am now sorely frustrated with my own, stilted steps. Progress is excessively tedious. I wish I could “rise on the wings of the dawn…[to] settle on the far side of the sea,” rather than accept my position somewhere in the middle of that journey home.

What has earth to compare with the place to which I go;

Yet, how do I keep on till fine’ly there?

But He catch me, but He raise me — His love to show,

How shall I believe what’s seems so rare?

God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!—
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, God,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!

Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.

Psalm 139