In the late 70’s, I thought I could learn to play the guitar like Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, and Bonnie Raitt. However, unlike Joni, Emmylou, and Bonnie, at three-years-old I lost the end of my left index finger. I had an unfortunate mishap with our front door. Since all of the guitar chords are pressed with the left hand, playing became impossible. That finger couldn’t reach all the strings, much less put pressure on them. My dad strung my guitar backwards so I could use my right hand for the chords. But, it’s not easy to learn a new instrument when you have to turn everything upside down in your mind. I eventually gave up. It was just as well because I can’t sing worth a flip.
Also in the 70’s, I thought I could escape hell by being baptized, staying away from the wrong crowd, and doing nice things for people. I heard all the scary stories about burning forever in hell. I had burned my hand terribly on a space heater as a pre-schooler, and I remembered what that felt like. Heaven, on the other hand, wasn’t talked about very much within my tribe. Fear of continually burning in hell seemed to be the go-to motivator for modifying the behavior of all us “rebellious” teens.
Then, around 2005, I began to string my Bible backwards. I turned everything I’d ever learned about God and the Bible upside down and inside out. I tried my best to clean my theological slate and start from scratch. (By the way, that’s a process I highly encourage.) It took me about 10 years to completely vet all of my beliefs and find the courage to admit that I had been wrong about so many things. (One of the things I changed my mind about was the idea of burning forever in hell. But I’ll save that topic for another day.) I trusted the Holy Spirit to guide me closer and closer to the truth that I seemed to be missing. I had spent a lifetime cherrypicking verses that I could spout out when someone asked about my faith. Yet sadly, I had never taken the time to read all the thousands of verses in-between. Things become so much clearer when you read the whole book and see the complete picture.
It’s taken a kazillion demanding practice sessions for me to begin playing out my faith to a different tune. I’m learning to see things from a different perspective. Every new heartbreak, frustration, and struggle is as an opportunity to learn something new, not only about the God who loves me, but also about myself. I often have to pause and run my response choices through my new filter. One that strains out any distrust I have in God’s way. Sometimes, that means sending up a silent prayer in the middle of a difficult conversation or simply deleting my last text. Since you and I are convinced of the hope we have in Heaven, then we get the incredible honor of putting that hope on display so others will not perish, but have eternal life! (John 3:16)
I still believe it’s important to understand the consequences of bad behavior, but now more than ever I’m convinced that non-believers want and need to get a glimpse of Heaven. After all, those of us who have put our faith in Jesus entered into a new beginning that has no end. We get to live forever in the presence of God. We’ll be able to sit and talk with Jesus, and I can’t wait to see how the Holy Spirit manifests Himself. But for now, we’re on the earth-side of eternity. Our trust in God and our hope of Heaven should always elevate us above the world’s fray, so that non-believers see a distinction between them and the heaven bound – between their turmoil and our peace. Let’s talk about Heaven more often with our tribes. No one wants to book a trip to a place they know nothing about.
As for me, I still can’t sing worth a flip, but I’m not giving up on Heaven!
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3 ESV)
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)
“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 21:9-11 ESV)
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5 ESV)