Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Heaven and Me

Heaven is a joy to me.  Richer in relationships, deeper in delight, more abundant in adoration than I thought in my early days. 

In those days when I was first seriously wrestling with life and life after death heaven came into view.  Mostly, heaven in contrast to hell.  Hell seemed less than hospitable, so I leaned toward heaven.  I had heard heaven was a place of beauty and your needs were taken care of.  It was the good place.  The place where your loved ones were housed in mansions, and they anxiously awaited your arrival.  Heaven sounded good to me.  I wanted to avoid hell and get into heaven.  

On TV, I heard Billy Graham say heaven was available, but I needed to receive Jesus.  He went on to say I needed to repent of my sins and receive Jesus.  That is to invite Him into my life and to commit myself to Him.  I thought I should do that.  Billy said to send a note to him and let him know.  I took out a crayon and wrote a note and sent it to Billy Graham Minneapolis, Minnesota because he said that was all the address I would need.  I received a Halley’s Bible Handbook and a nice letter from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Hell had been avoided. 

There was upheaval in society coming out of the 1960’s and into the early ‘70’s.  There was a conflagration breaking out inside me.  Much of what was happening was the transition of life from child to adult, but there was something else.  Questions about life came wave after wave.  I observed those around me, and it seemed life was a continuous circle of get up, get ready, go to work, go home, get chores done, go eat, go hang out, go to bed, and do it over again tomorrow and the day after.  There were breaks in the routine, but then back to the routine.  Then you die.  I wondered about the purpose of life.  Everyone else appeared to accept the routine.  The only exceptions to the order would come in the form of attention-getting-accomplishments and lots of money.  Life it appeared was best lived by those with fame and fortune.  But I wondered how heaven and hell fit into that view of life. 

My curiosity coerced me to visit local churches, read books on philosophy and religion, and go to lake’s edge and contemplate the meaning of life.  I sensed something beyond the natural.  Something that was warm, personal, and dynamic.  But then hellish creatures showed up.  Disturbing beings of darkness coming in the night, following me and inciting fear.  I decided to take up my King James Version Red Letter Bible and read at night.  It worked.  The reading of the Bible gave me a reprieve from the attacks.  The quiet allowed me to get some sleep.  I was finishing high school, but none of my classes had prepared me for this kind of experience.  There may have been people around who knew how to handle these things, but I didn’t know any, and I was not about to talk about these kinds of things.  Seeing life as more than just the routine of eat-work-sleep-repeat but also a supernatural element added to the intensity of finding out more about the meaning of life.  The longing for more of a connection to the eternal was increasing not so much as an escape from the strange creatures of the night, but because it seemed right and that it was there I would find what life was about.  On a rainy night on a gravel road north of Chouteau lost in my inner being and longing for the connection I was moved.  I stopped the car, got out and walked in the rain on the gravel where I called out to God.  He touched me there.  Raindrops and tears mixed as the knots in my heart untangled.  God met me in a new way.  He opened the door in my heart and in my mind so I could move on and discover more of Him.  A new process had started.  I found the purpose of life was connected to the Creator of life, and I was thrilled.  I gained confidence in the battle with the dark invaders.  The Lord was my strength. 

Over the years, I have crossed paths with enlightened and wonderful people who have corrected, instructed, and encouraged me in this journey with the Lord.  Vital to me is Cass, my wife, who centers me and has given herself to join me in this adventure.  The interchange of life in faith and struggles in life have helped shape my heart and have made my days of walking with God like a plant that bends to follow the sun.  The Kingdom of Heaven has appeared in this broken world in the midst of living life and provides glimpses into the eternal heaven. 

God has shown up in various ways, and more of heaven has been revealed over the years.  A profound moment took place ten years ago on June 26th.  Unlike any other experience, I had had before the God of heaven manifested Himself.  I was shaken.  I was questioning.  I wondered about my mental state.  I think of Zechariah’s encounter with the angel Gabriel in the Temple (Luke 1).  “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.” Luke 1:12 (NLT)  Yep, I can identify with that response.  Gabriel lays out a whole plan from God for Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, and their coming son.  Zechariah’s response was to ask questions.  He was standing in the Temple of God with an angel of God, and his response was to talk about the practical and the impossibilities, not the majestic and magnificent things   I stumbled as the Lord spoke.  I questioned as He laid out incredible things.  I wondered at what I was witnessing.  I was also humbled, consumed, thrilled, scared, numb, and overwhelmed.  I was caught in a wave of liquid love.  I was alert in ways I didn’t know possible.  I was receiving information at incredible speed, and I was able to process in ways that seem multi-dimensional.  I have not and probably will not recover from the night God stopped by. 

Avoiding hell and gaining heaven seemed like such an important goal.  As I understood things that was the purpose of the Christian life.  Many books were written to say as much, and many church services are built around that very core.  I found in my younger years that just getting heaven after death was not enough.  That kind of Christianity left people adrift in the world living the same kind of lives everyone else was living except they had an escape hatch at the end of life. 

Discovering that connecting with God was where life happened.  It was with Him.  Relating to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit was where life like a river flows from deep within and overflows into the world.  In the Lord’s prayer, we pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  God answers that prayer.  He can be experienced now.  His will can be done in you and me.  Enjoying a taste of heaven on earth is possible.  There is more, of course.  The whole earth is not really listening to the Lord, so that is yet to come into reality.  But something of God’s revelation of heaven and Himself is available.  He has shown it.  It is life-giving.  That kind of life with God happens by determining to seek Him and to know Him.  It requires embracing Him and His ways.  Just looking for a way into heaven falls short of the full experience available to those who long for God.  Heaven is a by-product of a relationship with God.  Hell is the by-product of rejecting a relationship with God.   

Heaven, the one above, is remarkable.  The senses are uplifted by the multitude of colors, fragrances, and sounds.  Breathing is deeper as if reaching to the toes.  Freedom of movement in the atmosphere of heaven is unlike anything I have experienced.  During the Lord’s visit, He escorted me to heaven for a time.  I saw things I didn’t expect, and I didn’t see things I would expect.  Of course, it is not confined to a single spot but is quite expansive with a lot of variety.  The God who made the earth added a lot of variety so that should be expected in heaven, but I hadn’t really thought of it before.  He took me to meet with a crowd of people.  It was an enormous encouragement to me that this crowd of witnesses were cheering for me in my life of faith like Hebrews 12:1 says.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”   I was definitely sold on the idea of running the race.  As Jesus was my escort it was easy to think of keeping my eyes on Him as Hebrews 12:2 says.   “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”  Heaven is a real place, but it is not the place but relationships that really make it special.  There were things Jesus said that could be shared and other things that are not to be shared.  It seems that is not unusual in spiritual experiences with Him.  He was interested in people getting closer to Him so they could experience Him in new ways both now and forever.  I think that is an awesome thing.   I hope in some way to help people get closer to Him. 

Heaven, truly, is a joy to me.  Richer in relationships, deeper in delight, more abundant in adoration than I thought in my early days.