Heaven For Real People

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about heaven recently.

Because, honestly, this world is a tough place.

A family friend is fighting for his life in a Boston hospital.  Other friends are facing all kinds of trials – difficult relationships, divorce, single parenthood, losing a child, depression and psychosis, debilitating health problems, kids that have been abused…the list goes on and on.  It’s tough to keep hope alive with a broken heart.

So, when you sit there in a hard plastic hospital chair holding your tears back, the hope of heaven becomes a precious thing.  This life?  It can be hell.

And because this planet is all we know, it’s easy to forget that heaven is real.  Maybe, then, it’s a gift to be cracked open and vulnerable, to ache with longing for a perfect world where “every tear will be wiped away.”  If the suffering that fractures our hearts drives us deep into the hope of eternity…then it’s not for nothing.
When your heart breaks for the brokenness in this world, in another person, in your own story…GOOD, because we haven’t arrived yet.  Not by a long shot.  In fact, Jesus points to the hope of heaven as a reality that can fuel our days here on earth.  (John 14).

And yet, are you bored by the whole idea of heaven?  I was.

Aimlessly floating on a cloud in some dreamy place for all of eternity doesn’t really excite me.  Honestly, the idea of a million-year nap is WAY MORE EXCITING TO ME.  Stretched out and sleeping for as long as I want?  Deal!  But really…what are we looking forward to, if it isn’t anything better than a good day here on earth?  Friends, I have great news:

Heaven is to earth what a 10 course meal is to a greasy sack full of fast food.  There’s just no comparison.

We’ll see that the junkie’s high and the gambler’s rush and the sex addict’s orgasms and the politician’s power addiction and the celebrity’s fame and the gourmand’s delight is nothing but a flitting shadow, a weak and anemic thing compared to the pleasures of heaven.  Our problem, C.S. Lewis reminds us, is not that we are too difficult to satisfy, but that “we are too easily pleased.”¹

Heaven won’t be the clichéd strumming-on-harps-endlessly bit.  I can guarantee it.  It won’t be what you think…  It will be the best thing you can imagine, times 100 million.  Your synapses will explode with colors, sensations, sounds, smells, tastes that will blow away anything this earth can offer.

This is the great hope of the Christian – whether we live for a hundred years or mere moments. 

  • When this world is filled with disappointment, we don’t have to despair.  We’re not home yet.
  • When people let us down and relationships disappoint…don’t forget, we’re still in a fallen world with sin-crushed people.  Better things are in store, because…we’re not home yet.
  • When it feels like a marathon, or a battle, or some endurance test…it is.  This life is growing things in us like grit and courage and compassion and resilience and genuine love for others.  But it’s not our final destination.  We’re just not home yet.

If we want to know what heaven will be like, we need only look at the character of God to get a good idea of what’s in store.  In Scripture, we are given a picture of a God who is wildly creative, profoundly compassionate, deeply relational, passionately just, and categorically magnificent.  He is authoritative.  He is kind.  He does not suffer pompous fools lightly.

He’s the beauty in the sunrise and the strength in a soldier’s arms.  He’s the gentleness in a mama’s lullaby, the sweet vulnerability of soft newborn cheeks, the fierce wildness of an untamed frontier. 

Hang in there, friends.  There is so much beauty and joy and utter delight ahead, just waiting for the Christ follower.  A day is coming – what a glorious day! – when we’ll see it all fully, sharply, distinctly.  We will see with the utter clarity we’ve missed all our earthly lives that Jesus is beautiful. 

That His heart was always for us, and that He is all goodness, and that there is nothing, NOTHING in all the heavens and the earth that can ever come anywhere close to Him.

Heaven is more than a final destination – it is a the climax of a fully restored relationship with God.  Heaven is beautiful, because Jesus is beautiful.  Heaven is only for the Christ follower, because Jesus is the ONLY way to know God, the only way to know lasting peace, and the only way to get to heaven.

Hospital beds, messy relationships, and all the cruelty of this life will be swept away in one moment and we’ll see the face of God as clearly as He’s seen us all along.

And until that day arrives, let’s be busy about our Master’s work – doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly before Him. (Micah 6:8).  Because some day, when you’ve run your race well, fought the last fight, and endured to the bitter end…
 
You’ll be HOME.
Grace, peace, and better-things-in-store,

 

¹C.S. Lewis: The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses.

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When The World Is A Scary Place To Raise Kids

He was wearing next to nothing…

…and that’s with a generous measure of optimism.  We were driving home from church, and my 6 year old’s gasp made my gaze whip to the rearview mirror.  She was staring, horrified, at the rider of a motorcycle on our left rear bumper.  The rider was garbed in a head scarf, with no other clothing visible.

“Mama, why would he do that???”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard that question, and it won’t be the last.  I’m more than sure of that.  We’ve talked about a broad range of topics, and there’s plenty more to come.  I cringe when I think about this world my kids are entering.  If there were bubble-wrap suits for their souls, you can believe that they would be wearing them!

Sheltering…it’s my go-to response.

Cuddle those love bugs up on my lap and keep them little and blissfully ignorant.  But that’s pure selfishness (not to mention, it won’t work.)  Friends, we can monitor their friendships, curtail their electronics, sanction their reading, and even homeschool these babies of ours, but there is no sheltering them…not when the drive from church involves leering, nearly-naked people.  Not when hot button issues splash across the front pages of checkout aisles and on the airwaves.  Not when the latest fairy tale movie turns into a tug-of-war between opposing factions.  Not when even close relationships disappoint and are pock marked with imperfections.

No, sheltering isn’t practical, nor does it recognize our children as future world-changers.

They are people with a call on their lives, a mission to fulfil, and dreams that will almost certainly scare me witless.  They need to be protected from issues too weighty for their small shoulders, but only for a short season.  Faster than I am ready, we need to talk about gritty things.  They need to know that falling short is the human condition and that grace is the only thing that sluices through any amount of sediment.  They need to know that we all sin and struggle mightily.

They need to know that no heart is immune to foolishness, that no relationship is perfect, that people will disappoint and be cruel, but that Jesus is bedrock solid.

More than being sheltered, they need truth.  It’s what sets people free, and isn’t that, more than all the hovering and fretting, what they need?  If I get to the heart of the matter, I want my precious ones to be free.  I want them to soar, weightless and joyful into a world that is cold and disappointing, and I want the truth to be the wind under their wings.  And as we preach the Gospel to them, we imbed it on our own hearts.  There will be talks about the headlines in the future.  The bombings, the shootings, the stabbings, the ways children are exploited and abused.  We’ll need to talk about the horrors of Hitler and slavery and man’s sickening brutality to man throughout history.

If I send them out, sheltered from all that is negative, they have no immunity.  They need to be prepared for the dazzling and terrible things they will encounter in this world.  They need to know that evil is real, but that they don’t have to be afraid.  John 16 should be every parent’s speed dial when it comes to horrifying headlines and fear of the future.  When all is said and done, Jesus’ words in verse 33 say it best: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV).  When they’re little, we can lay the groundwork for those later talks.  The playground gives myriad examples of people being foolish or hurtful or selfish.  Heck, 5 minutes in our living room is plenty of opportunity to showcase all of those attributes.  Because, honestly?

The enemy isn’t out there, some wild-haired extremist or creepy guy with too many tattoos…the enemy is in your house, seducing you into believing that if you just do it right (whatever it is)…then everything will be peachy keen.

The enemy is in my superiority complex, my self-hatred, my secrets.  The enemy is in anything that tempts us to forget that Jesus is the way, the only way to ever get anything even halfway right.  Sheltering is ineffective, because although there is rampant evil in dark alleys and lurid magazines and locked behind prison walls…evil is as close as the nearest human heart: yours, mine, and even theirs.  Sheltering fails to recognize that we’re all terminal with sin, that Jesus is the only antidote for all of us – for the prim housewife and the tattooed biker, for the Hollywood star and the Hindu priest, for the homeless and the hedonist, the terrorist and the model citizen.

Speaking the truth all through the years about human tendencies, about how much we all need Jesus, about how prone we all are to forgetting all the important things and focusing on all the unimportant things…this can be even better than sheltering.  We can relate the Gospel to skinned knees and snobby kids, and it is equally relevant to nuclear warfare and genocide.  We MUST integrate what we’re seeing, (whether it’s unclothed men on motorcycles or hurtful words or coveting our neighbor’s sandbox toys) to the truth in Scripture that ultimately points back to God.  This is what it means to, “Talk about [God’s law] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8 NIV).  This is the dialogue that can continue through the years as they grow and mature – and it needs to. 

Because when the world falls in on them, whether it’s in 6th grade or their 60’s, this is their shovel and their shelter: the sturdy grace of a risen Savior.  You and I won’t always be there, hovering and editing and protecting…but Jesus will never forsake those kids, just as He’ll never forsake us.

He’s all the shelter that they – and we – will ever need.

 

 

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Some Days Aren’t Pretty

 Some Days Aren't Pretty - www.searchingformyeden.com

Some days are just plain hard.

Some days the ugly comes pouring out.  Some days it’s not sacred ointment I pour on His feet, but soul-vomit and tears.  Do you have those days, too?

When the haggard woman staring back is NOT so much the kind, sweet, put-together girl that you want to see, but some crazy lady who looks like she is one espresso shot shy of a latte.  (If you know what I mean.)

And as much as I want it to be all picture perfect, my life just isn’t.  Grouchy attitudes, unpleasant realities, and peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches smashed into car seats happens.  Irritations simmer, personalities collide, and the laundry mountain isn’t going anywhere.  (Except up.)  It is days like this when I most need to be reminded of the truth of the Gospel.

Jesus came to save.

And oh, it is His love that saves.  I don’t need to be reminded of how far short I fall, I need a love that never fails when I do, again.  The gospel holds up.  It takes the worst of us and gives back grace.  This is not a porcelain love to be admired on a tidy mantel shelf – it is a sturdy love to build a life on.  It is a hammer and nails kind of love that will hold you together when everything else is falling apart.

Love is not just for the pretty days, the sunshine and popsicle days, the days we’re kind of almost winning this whole life thing…it’s the arms that hold us when our world has crashed in.  When it’s the darkest night we’ve ever seen, the deepest pain we’ve ever known, when we are at the utter and total end of ourselves.  Love sustains.  In the face of senseless brutality, and the horror of evil played out in the reality of a fallen world, this love does not flicker out or wither away. It is an anchor, a beacon, a refuge.  It’s not going anywhere.

And in the mundane, the hormones-awry, kids-are-fighting, and hubby’s-late days, it still holds up.  It is the fabric of our very life, the fiber that weaves our torn pieces together.  This is not some cheap, synthetic blend that pills and wears through the first time it hits hot water and throw up.  This Jesus love is rugged.  It can endure the day-in, day-out tug of war between the girl we want to be, and the girl we are when the poop leaks out of the diapers and becomes something to use as finger paint.  (I am not. Even. Kidding.  Toddlerhood is a very body-fluids-intensive time of life.  Also, I use Lysol wipes by the case.)

When Psalm 61:3 reports that God is a shelter and a strong tower, it’s easy to forget that the writer knew what is was to have his world collapse.  His father in law literally ordered a hit on him, his wife was given to someone else, and he found himself rejected and betrayed multiple times.  His child died.  One son raped his daughter, and another son killed the rapist.  And that’s just the abbreviated version.  And yet, this grieving man found the love of God to be the one thing that could hold him up when everything else in his life was knocking him down.

I see it written all over the pages of sacred Scripture, and scattered across the ages of history: this faithful, sustaining love.  And yet, I hesitate.  I get distracted.  You, too?  When my wonder dulls, and I gloss over the truth about Calvary, I miss out.  My family misses out.  Because THIS day is not beyond His ability to redeem, too.

Saving grace is not just for eternity, it’s for here and now, too.  Jesus’ favorite place is not the church pew, but your kitchen table.  And your office.  And your laundry room.  His love is the most important thing, not because we must spend hours sitting and admiring it, but because it is the sturdy thing that carries us through the ugly moments, the hard things, and the endless routine.  His love elevates taking-out-the-garbage-and-washing-dishes mundane into something holy.

When we serve with love, drudgery becomes opportunity.  The gospel saves, yet again.  Not just your soul, but your day.

Because the Gospel is Christ’s love, applied.

And it makes all the difference.

Grace, peace, and wet wipes,

Kelly

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Imago Dei – Image of God

Imago Dei.

Latin, meaning the image of God.  A tiny grouping of letters scattered inky over pristine white, 5 terse syllables, but what does it mean?

It means that engraved through your very core, you bear the signature of a God who cannot forget you.  Like any good Father, He can’t help but love you.  He can’t stop thinking about you.  He will go to any lengths to save you.

His were the first eyes to see you, microscopic in your mother’s womb.  Glinting back at Him, was you.  A fragment of His nature runs stitched through your soul.  A piece of Himself, sparkling and irresistible.  He made you.  And He loves, loves who He made.

Hear me in this: you are not a mistake.

You are beautiful and immutably priceless.  You are idiosyncratic, and that’s a good thing.  You are uniquely you, because you are like Him as no one else is or ever will be.  Eternity pulses through your veins because you are linked, irrevocably, to Him.

You are forever and hopelessly His favorite.

You are Imago Dei.

He likes your early morning inclination, your determination, your shy.  He likes your gentle.  He likes your eraser collection, your obsession with old books, your weird quirks, your silly habits.  He likes your night owl tendencies, your flair, your loud.  He likes unique.

Don’t, I beg you, scrub your personality in favor of some notion that your quirkiness isn’t Christian.  Jesus likes quirks.  He likes funny.  He likes YOU.

Align your will and actions with Christ.  Live out Scripture.  But do it in the unique way that’s all yours.  You, love deeply through your individual gift.  You, share Jesus in the way that He’s equipped you best.  You, dare to be Jesus to a world thirsty for Living Water.

We need you to be you.  Desperately.  In a world of chain stores and too many imitations, we need original.  We need genuine.  We need people who are living out the Gospel, authentic and unafraid.  Strong and gentle and able to live outside the lines.

We are not called to be boring people.  Why do we automatically assume that we all have to fit the cookie cutter mold, when never once in Scripture are we told to all be the same?  Never once.  I think we might just assume that because the Pastor or Pastor’s wife or that amazing Christian speaker is (insert description here), that “Oh, that’s what good Christians look like.”  They do.  That’s who they are.  And it works for them.  But you are not them, and trying to be someone that you are not is a sure recipe for disaster.  Be unique.  Be yourself.

I have spent way too much of my life confusing self-transformation with progressive sanctification.  The first is something I do.  The second is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of an obedient Jesus-lover.  He will change you, but only in the best way.  Only in the way that makes you more like yourself, more like Himself.  Like tarnished silver transforms as it is polished, He rubs the sin nature and ingrained selfishness off through the tumble and friction of life.  Until one day, His face shines back, clear and beautiful.

Imago Dei.

Doesn’t it awe you when you really think about this: He imprints a part of His very nature on your soul.   When you let it out and live who He made you to be…we see a flash of Him.  It’s beautiful.  When we all live it out …when the church unites…a picture emerges through the jagged and imperfect jigsaw pieces.  Jesus.  “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but some day we will see face to face.” (Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:12).

The Jesus I see in you, and in my family, and my church family, and believers I meet everywhere…it’s all a heavenly glimpse of the One we long for.  When I see Him in another person…it points me to Jesus.  The best parts of you make me hunger for heaven.

Because the best in you…is Him.

And oh, it’s beautiful.

 

This post first appeared on Faith+Testimony May 2016

 

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When Suffering Hits Your Loved Ones

The phone felt hot against my cheek as tears streaked down my face.

My nose was raw and dripping, and a headache pounded to the staccato beat of my racing heart.  My friends – from both ends of the country – were rallying around me as my world crumbled.  I was adjusting to life with a newborn and a toddler, my husband was in the middle of testing for a new job that would require major changes, and I received news about precious family members that literally broke my heart.

I was stressed to the max, and found myself flailing often.  Sleep deprivation, grief, and major changes were seriously challenging my equilibrium.  Yet in the midst of it, my friends not only chose to walk through the difficult days with me, they pursued me.  Called me.  Texted.  Checked on me.  Made meals.  Held the baby.  Played with the toddler.  One friend flew out across the country to visit and help and make me laugh for a week.  I’ll never forget that week.  Another friend, who hates to cook, not only drove 30 minutes to make me dinner, she cleaned the kitchen and swept the floor.  We visited and prayed together, and there were a few crumpled Kleenexes by the time we were done.  Priceless.  I could tell you story after story, but you get the picture.

I am crazy blessed with incredible women in my life.  CRAZY blessed.  There are my prayer warrior friends, my encourage-with-just-the-right-verse friends, my listening friends, my speaking-the-truth-even-when-I-don’t-want-to-hear-it friends, my laugh-and-cry-together friends.  They have encouraged and blessed me in countless ways, but one of the biggest gifts I’ve received from them is this: learning how to be a friend to someone who is suffering.

Life is filled with heartache.

If it’s not our hearts that are hurting, it’s someone we love stumbling through pain and suffering.  It’s tempting to look away, to walk away, to distance ourselves from the raw, the vulnerable, the tangled and bewildering.  The truth is, if I can’t apply a pressure dressing, I don’t want to see gaping wounds.  You know?  I want to fix it, to say just the right things, to magically make it all better.  And if I can’t do that, then I want to run like crazy in the other direction, because I am utterly terrified of messing up.  Of adding to the burden.  Maybe you relate.

And when it comes to looking into their pain-filled eyes?  I’d rather play chicken with a freeway full of semi trucks.  I hate tears, and I hate to feel helpless.  But that is exactly what you sign up for when you choose to love someone authentically through a season of heartache.  You either walk away completely, or you say yes to all of it – the tears, the mess, the deep confusion, the simply sitting with them through it.  There are no words to fix a spattered heart.  Sometimes, you just have to hold their hand and not let go, and hope that it might be enough to remind them that Jesus won’t let go, either.

We get the privilege to choose to walk through the valley.

Yes, it is a privilege.  It’s a choice.  Not because we have to, or because we want to, but because we don’t want them to walk alone.  It’s love to sit with them in their misery and quietly acknowledge their pain.  It’s love to pray with and for them.  To get off the phone and fall to your knees on the spattered kitchen floor and weep as your heart breaks for them.  It’s the love Jesus said will mark us as His disciples.  There is nothing that turns good friends into family like walking the scorching sands of suffering together.

We get the privilege to be Jesus to the brokenhearted.

It’s easy to sing about being the hands and feet of Jesus, but it’s not always easy to live it.  It’s not convenient to change plans last minute, to write an encouraging note, or to pray without ceasing when the newness has worn off.  It’s hard to listen and not try to fix the thing.  (Oh, how I want to fix the thing!)  It’s good work, this being-Jesus-to-others.  You get to use the unique gifts of your personality and season to love like Jesus through the dark times.  I am no good at speaking comfort, but I can sit quiet (even if it kills me!), I can pray, and I can make some mean comfort food.   Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes and peach pie are my way of showing love, and I bet you have your way.  There’s no one right way to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Your gift might be encouraging texts, intercessory prayer, giving a hug at just the right time, connecting them with resources, taking them to coffee, sharing a verse, or a million other ways to remind them that Jesus is near to the brokenhearted.  It’s so beautiful to see the unique ways that we can minister love and pour compassion to others when they need it most.  Something as simple as a text saying, I’m praying for you can be a huge boost of encouragement!

We get the privilege to point the grief-stricken to Jesus.

We can give the hugs and encouragement, the gift of presence and meals and telephone calls, but we are not their Savior.  Your encouragement, my help, should always point them back to the original source: Jesus.  He is the only one who completely understands their unique pain.  He suffered for each of us on Calvary, and He suffers with them through the darkness.  They need to be reminded when they forget that the love of Jesus will never fail, even when they do.  And yes, even if you do – even if you feel like you’ve messed up this whole helping them through the dark thing, God’s got this.  People fail all the time, which is why we so desperately need a perfect and unfailing Savior.  Don’t ever forget that you are not the light source – you only carry the light.  There is freedom for them and you in this truth: ultimately, they need Jesus.  Point them, always, to Him.

And when the suffering of those you love overwhelms you, rest in this: Jesus holds you, too.

Grace and peace and hope-hugs,

This post first appeared on iBelieve.com on September 12, 2016.

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