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Our Lifelong Nostalgia: Home Is Heaven

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    “Joy belongs to those who understand that
    earth is but a rehearsal
    for heaven. Nothing in life is wasted
    that remembers this.”1
    -Calvin Miller

    If only for this life we have hope in Christ,
    we are to be pitied more than all men.
    -I Corinthians 15:19

      “Joy belongs to those who understand that
      earth is but a rehearsal
      for heaven. Nothing in life is wasted
      that remembers this.”1
      -Calvin Miller

      If only for this life we have hope in Christ,
      we are to be pitied more than all men.
      -I Corinthians 15:19

    Before my dad went back to college and became a teacher, he was a sheet metal worker. Once, when I was very small, he invited me to spend the day on the job with him. He was working on a house built up against the red rock cliffs of Sedona, Arizona, long before New Age disciples staked their claim on its powers of convergence.

    I remember the hour-long drive to get there, just Dad and me in his pick-up truck. He shared coffee with me from his thermos, poured it into the lid and let me sip it carefully while we drove. Once at the site, he showed me around, gave me a “play area”, and said he would always be close, so have fun and holler if I needed him.

    It was an early spring day, cold enough to need a heavy coat and mittens, but as the sun climbed high in the sky, the red rocks soaked up its heat. I shed mittens and jacket, roaming and playing in warmth radiating off the cliffs and boulders. Midway through the morning, Daddy took a short break, poured more coffee into the thermos lid for me and hefted me up on a rock to view the vast red canyons and monuments that pierce the sky like ancient war spears. We walked a while, searched for lizards and road runners and watched hawks travel the currents of air. At noon, we sat on the ground together, Indian-style, and ate sandwiches from his lunch bucket.

    Mid-afternoon, another coffee break, more rock-climbing and exploring. Dad showed me the carpenters’ intricate wood work, described how the rocks had been quarried for the front walk-way, showed me the plumbing pipes. He let me handle some of his tools, pointed out the metal duct work and explained how it would carry cool air throughout the house. When other workers showed up on the job, he introduced me around as his daughter.

    That day is indelibly etched in my memory. I was with my dad, on his turf, in his world. He had invited me in to share it with him. If I could have made that day last forever, I would have.

    When I think about heaven, I think about that day with my dad. Imagine! God leading us into His eternal, vast domain and saying, “Come and play!” The wonders of heaven will unfold before us.

    Peter Kreeft wrote that “all analogies limp,”2 and certainly none more than those we construct for ourselves to help us grasp the unknown glories of heaven. But I think I sampled a tiny taste of heaven on that long ago day when my dad bundled me into his pick-up truck and introduced me to another world—a world that, until my father took me there, was only a mysterious, distant place.

    An Ancient Spiritual Discipline

    In the past two years, as I’ve watched people I love die, I’ve thought a lot about that mysterious, distant place called heaven. Within the sweet fellowship of my community, we’ve buried parents, siblings, friends, and a teenage daughter killed by a drunk driver. We’ve walked through the grass of cemeteries, sat in quiet funeral rooms and breathed the rose-scent of bouquets wafting off the wood-grained lids of coffins. We have stood tearful on this side of heaven, while those we love have stepped onto the other side into glory we can only try to imagine.

    Sorrow and pain have pointed our hearts toward heaven.

    For us post-modernists, it usually takes such an experience with intense sadness and death to make us think about life beyond the here and now. For most of us, only great losses turn our thoughts away from our obsession with making for ourselves a heaven here on earth; only deep piercing grief causes us to contemplate the end of our days.

    It hasn’t always been so.

    In early Christian thinking, meditating on the hereafter was a common practice. It was considered a valuable, worthwhile exercise to not only examine life but also to contemplate death.

    Richard Foster wrote, “The notion of reflecting on our own demise is actually an ancient spiritual discipline.”3

    You don’t have to look very far into classic Christian writings to discover how true that is.

    Blaise Pascal was a brilliant seventeenth-century mathematician. He often was ridiculed by his intellectual peers for shifting his genius from mathematics to theology and apologetics. But nothing mattered more to Pascal than pursuing God, getting to know Him, and experiencing an ever-deepening intimacy with Christ.

    His life was short—he lived only thirty-eight years, but he was a man consumed with love for God. Listen in as he prays, “…Grant then that I may so anticipate my death that I may find mercy hereafter in your sight.”4

    Teresa of Avila lived a century before Pascal, and her writings still vibrate with her longing for heaven. “O my delight, Lord of all created things and my God! How long must I wait to see you?”5

    Madame Guyon, writing to a dying friend, said, “I feel my loss, but I am very happy for you. I could envy you. Death helps to draw away the veil that hides infinite wonders.”6

    John Donne wrote that it is our job to make a home in this world while remembering that home is not here.

    This is a challenge to us American Christians, isn’t it? We aren’t in the habit of “anticipating” our death. We believe in heaven; we just don’t give it much thought.

    A Better Country

    “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”7—any Christian who has sat through even a handful of sermons has heard this verse from Hebrews 11, but look at verse 2: “This is what the ancients were commended for.”

    Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Rahab—the list goes on and on—all of them were commended for believing in heaven. But they did more than just believe. Look at verse 16:

    They were longing for a better country—
    heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed
    to be called their God, for He has prepared
    a city for them. (emphasis added)

    It’s obvious, isn’t it? These saints are not heroes simply because of their certainty of heaven; they are heroes because of their yearning for it.

    Nothing so reveals our character and the condition of our hearts like the things we crave; and that’s what makes this passage so fascinating. God is telling us here that our desires, our passions, generate a response in His heart. Think of it as parental pride.

    God is telling us that it reflects badly on Him when His children don’t long to be with Him.

    He’s saying it reflects well on Him when they do.

    I wonder--how many of us live with a yearning to be with our Father?

    How many Christians generate pride in the Father’s heart because they long to be with Him, in His home?

    Made For This Purpose

    Picture it: A farewell message.

    “I’m going away, but I’m coming back again. And when I do, I’ll take you back with me to my home.”

    Jesus’ friends hear Him say He is going to be engaged in a building program, making His Father’s house ready for them—preparing a place for them to live with Him forever.8

    Now step into a Roman prison and see Paul, his chains clanking as he moves about, always tethered to a guard, smelling his breath, hearing his every word, moving in a kind of macabre dance with his every step. Hear Paul say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”9

    And then, as though he’s a contestant in a divine sort of “Let’s Make A Deal,” Paul adds, “If I could choose, I don’t know which I’d want--door number one: to keep on living here on earth to serve Christ and His people, the Church; or, door number two: to die right now and step into heaven to live with Jesus in His home.”

    “I’m torn,” he says.10

    Torn, because he knows that nothing earth has to offer comes close to what heaven has in store for us.

    Torn, because he loves the people God put in his life, and he loves serving Christ through serving them.

    Earlier, when he was free, making tents, traveling as an itinerant pastor, he wasn’t ambivalent. Peek into his thoughts. Read a letter he wrote to the Christians in the church in Corinth: “I choose door number two.”

    Paul would rather be at home in heaven with Jesus than here, on this planet.11

    Why does Paul feel torn about leaving earth for heaven when he’s writing the Philippians, but when he’s writing the Corinthians, there’s not a hint of hesitation? Heaven is his first choice.

    The answer is easy. Read the first few verses of II Corinthians 5 and you’ll understand: he’s been meditating on heaven. The picture of it is clear in his mind. Hear the longing in his voice as he contemplates the “eternal house in heaven, not built with human hands”12—the one Jesus is building for us.

    Here, now, we’re all groaning, yearning to be there, he writes. We’re all living with heavy burdens and yearnings deeply embedded in our souls. Hear that yearning in David’s prayer: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord.”13

    Because heaven is what we were made for. Heaven is our true home.

    “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose,” Paul wrote.

    No wonder Paul would have chosen door number two: Thinking on heaven, getting it front and center in his thoughts--heaven is the only choice. Paul is lost in the wonder of it, mulling it over, savoring it.

    Paul knew what he was missing out on--what we’re all missing out on as long as we’re here, and not there. He had glimpsed it—had a “virtual” tour of it.

    Paul had seen Paradise.

    And he was homesick.

    The Truest Index

    It’s a fascinating account—Paul was “caught up to the third heaven”14—that loftiest place, beyond our atmosphere, above the stellar heavens, into the throne room of the Holy of Holies. He saw the very highest heaven and listened in on the conversations of the Trinity.

    There, he tells us, he heard things he is not allowed to repeat, things “inexpressible.”

    And he knew he was home.

    Some commentators believe that Paul entered heaven through a revelation God gave him during intense persecution and suffering. It’s possible. Others think he might have seen heaven in a vision while he was sleeping. If that’s true, how hard it must have been to wake up!

    This we know for certain: he was forbidden to tell all that he had seen and experienced. In fact, God gave him a “thorn” to serve as a reminder to keep secret all he had experienced, to remind him not to boast about it. A reminder, maybe, of what awaits him, so that when he suffered, persecuted as few of us ever will be persecuted, he could hold on to the reality of heaven and remain convinced that regardless of whatever it cost him to serve Christ here, home in heaven would one day make it all worthwhile.

    But could there be more to that reminder?

    I wonder--could it be that if Paul had told us in detail all he saw; if we could fully know the joys inexpressible that wait for us in heaven, would the yearning for it would break our hearts into tiny bits?

    Could it be?

    In his great novel, The Final Beast, Frederick Buechner’s character Nicolet, musing about heaven, says,

    “There’s dancing there… The angels are dancing. And their feet scatter new worlds like dust. …If we saw any more of that dance than we do, it would kill us sure. The glory of it. Clack-clack is all a man can bear.”15

    At times, if we listen, our hearts beat with a longing for the glory of it, for that which we have not seen, that which we cannot imagine. We sense the discord in our universe, in our souls. C. S. Lewis recognized the pain of our longing and considered it an evidence of the truth of who we are— God’s creation, intended for life in His presence, our true home.

    Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.16

    The Pleasure of Surprise

    G. K. Chesterton wrote that the “chief pleasure is surprise.”17

    Of all the pleasures we expect in heaven, I think our greatest pleasure will be surprise. Surprise, after surprise, after surprise! Jesus will be more than we ever hoped for, more than we ever could have imagined! The sweetness of fellowship with Him, seeing Him, touching Him, hearing the voice of the Father--the extravagance of heaven’s bliss will stagger us.

    New wonder and fascination will erupt with every discovery. Our curiosity will never be sated, our capacity for delight never exhausted. New surprises will await us at every bend in the streets of gold.

    The size of God’s family will amaze us—all of us there together, from every generation, from every nation, every race and every status, from the lowliest of the poor to the loftiest of the rich and powerful—and all our minor differences about the peripheral stuff, like sprinkling versus immersion, pre-trib or post-trib or pre-wrath or amillenial, written prayers or extemporaneous, organ music or guitars and drums—all of it will seem so silly, so inconsequential. Nothing will matter but the joining of our voices and hearts in praise of Jesus who died for us and rose again and built this home for us to share with Him forever.

    Eugene Peterson wrote:

    …Heaven is like nothing quite so much as a good party. Assemble in your imagination all the friends you enjoy being with most, the companions who evoke the deepest joy, your most stimulating relationships, the most delightful of shared experiences, the people with whom you feel completely alive—that is a hint at heaven….18

    But only a hint—because our imaginations, our expectations, can’t fathom the perfect beauty and joy that God holds in store for us. New surprises of grace will delight us throughout eternity. This is a certainty we can bank on because Paul, who saw heaven for himself, tells us so. He tells us that we will live every moment of eternity with the sweet taste of anticipation on our lips. Because “hope remains.”19

    It’s a fascinating study--look at I Corinthians 13 and see the transition as Paul moves into a discussion about heaven–where we no longer “see through a glass darkly”; where finally, for the first time, all is clear, all is fully seen with new eyes. It is there, in heaven’s perfection, that these three-love, faith, and hope--will remain. Forever.

    There is a kind of tantalizing conundrum in the thought of hope carrying over into heaven, isn’t there? Love we understand. Of course, love for God will not dissipate in eternity—it will soar with new wings, higher, fuller, unrestrained and uninhibited, as we see Jesus’ face and understand for the first time the depths of His love for us.

    And faith—faith is our certainty and trust in the character and integrity of the Trinity. We can accept without difficulty that it will surge ever more powerfully, ever more passionately, as we live in the very presence of the immutable God in whose image we were made. Would we stop believing, stop trusting, now that we are seeing?

    But hope? What is left to hope for when once we have gained all that God has promised us? Only this: more and ever-increasing experiences of the riches of God in Christ Jesus.

    Hope will go into eternity with us, filling us with new expectations of grace, new and ever sweeter anticipation of what God will reveal to us over the eons of eternity. We will never stop hoping, eagerly expecting new understanding, new experiences of joy and worship and service. We will never exhaust the vast unfettered reaches of God’s wisdom and creativity.

    A. W. Tozer wrote,

    …Only God can supply everlasting novelty. In God every moment is new and nothing ever gets old. Of things religious we may become tired; even prayer may tire us; but God never. He can show a new aspect of His glory to us each day for all the days of eternity and still we shall have but begun to explore the depths of the riches of His infinite Being.20

    Seeing God’s splendor, breathing heaven’s pure air, our expectations will be heightened, our hopes raised. Every conversation with the King, every encounter with the saints, every horizon, planet beyond planet, will offer us amazing new revelations of triumphant grace from the God of creation.

    Because to live without hope would be to not live at all.

    Because if in this life only we have hope, we are of all people most miserable.

    A Gesture of Welcome

    Jesus is there, in heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father.21 His seated posture demonstrates the truth of His words on the cross, “It is finished.”

    The work of salvation is done, the final exclamation point carved into the stone rolled away from the empty tomb.

    And so Jesus is seated.

    But look! Something happens in the throne room when the martyr Stephen is ready to leave this life and step into heaven. Read it in Acts: Stephen looking up, seeing glory, seeing Jesus standing.22

    Let your mind consider the beauty of that gesture, the honor of it, if you can--Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, standing up when His beloved faithful servant enters His presence.

    Can it be?

    Will it be so for us?

    Will we have lived our lives with longing for Him, with yearning so deep, so passionate, that whatever this life has to offer, it is not enough for us?

    Will we be like Stephen—looking up, our eyes locked on Jesus’ face, our hearts already there, because He is our treasure?

    When we step into His presence, having longed for Him, for Home, will He so honor us, so welcome us that He, the King of kings, the Most High God, will rise to His feet, standing to extend His welcome?

    On that day, we will fully understand the meaning of glory—the smile of God, heaven’s approval, heaven’s applause.

    If we have longed for Him, if we have yearned for heaven—then He will not be ashamed of us.

    We will see with our own eyes the delight that fills His heart because of the hope that is alive in ours.

    Tracking Grace

    “…It is invariably those who see and live out
    most clearly the fact that this world is not
    our true home who also have the ability
    to enjoy life most fully.”23

    Ronald Rolheiser

    Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

    Psalm 84:10

      1. What does it mean to you to think of this life as a “gymnasium?”

      2. What might be some lessons that “even joy cannot teach you?”

      3. What experience have you had that you would consider a “ministry of the night”? How did it affect your yearning for God and His home?

      4. What does it mean to you to think of Jesus standing in honor of your arrival in heaven?

      5. How might a renewed passion for heaven change your life here and now?

    1 Calvin Miller, Into The Depths Of God, 222

    2 Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out Of Suffering, 120

    3 Spiritual Classics, 47

    4 Blaise Pascal, Mind On Fire, 286

    5 Teresa of Avila, Let Nothing Trouble You, Compiled by Heidi S. Hess (Ann Arbor: Chairs, Servant Publications, 1998), 143

    6 Jeanne Guyon, Intimacy With Christ (Jacksonville, FL: The SeedSowers, 2001), 77

    7 Hebrews 11:1

    8 John 14:1-3

    9 Philippians 1:21

    10 Philippians 1:22-23

    11 II Corinthians 5:8

    12 II Corinthians 5:1-5

    13 Psalm 84:1 (emphasis added)

    14 II Corinthians 12:1-7

    15 Frederick Buechner, The Final Beast (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 181-182

    16 C.S. Lewis, The Weight Of Glory, 41

    17 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 27

    18 Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, 183

    19 I Corinthians 13:13

    20 A. W. Tozer, God Tells The Man Who Cares (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, Inc., 1970), 106

    21 Hebrews 1:3

    22 Acts 7:55

    23 Ronald Rolheiser, Against An Infinite Horizon (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2001), 80

Related Topics: Heaven, Messages, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution, Women's Articles

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