I know…I know. I said that I wasn’t going to get “heavy”…but sometimes I just can’t help myself. I have been considering deep questions presented to me earlier this week…Then I woke up this morning with this song in my head…and the two seemed to go together. OK…lighter fare will be on the menu tomorrow. Today it’s steak and loaded potatoes!
“Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us…Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for…And no religion too.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions…I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one” ~ John Lennon
What a hypnotic and mesmerizing song. Why do I find it so alluring and so repulsive at the same time? What in the world could I find “wrong” about this song…? It’s beautiful. It is Utopian. It is ideal…peace and sharing…living as one. That is the ultimate goal right? A brotherhood of man. So why does it feel incomplete to me? Why does it feel like an unframed picture with ragged edges…A picture where at the center, the natural focal point, there is a gaping hole. It is missing something essential.
Why would it matter that we strive for a world without greed or hunger or war…if we are only here for a finite amount of time…Why does it matter that we get along with one another and not wreck the world for future generations? What is it about us that longs for us to live in peace…together…as brothers and sisters?
The world of this song is one dimensional…it speaks of what we could create but fails to mention why we would care to try. The words have no more weight than a paper thin imitation of something that is deeper than any mind and imagination can even begin to fathom.
The song sounds profound…yet feels incredibly insufficient.
Such is life.
Life…the gigantic organism that we see through a microscopic lens.
It is like the ultimate iceberg.
What people see is what they get…and yet it is something else too.
Time and time again, we are inundated by more than we can manage…we are constantly stooping over, hyper-focused on scooping and clearing out our little world to stay afloat and not sink and drown. We are at the mercy of the current…adrift…without competent leaders. We think that if we can just get around this one thing that is causing so much trauma and drama then we will have a chance to breath and patch ourselves up…and then things will go smoothly.
But it doesn’t take long before we are being flooded again and we fear that we are going under yet again.
We are always wondering, “why me?” and never asking “what is the lesson that I need to learn?… to move on and away…to move forward?…to get out of these dangerous waters?”
While on our journey, we hear about that which is beyond our limited vision…but it seems like a tale, a myth. We don’t see it, so we don’t believe in it or understand.
Some of us are never warned of the danger…or told of the ways to find safety. Then we are truly searching blindly without a compass.
…some of us hear and perhaps catch a glimpse that there is “more” than meets the eye… but it seems like such trouble to try and figure it out. Ignoring requires less energy. Ignoring avoids the questions upon questions bound to happen. Ignoring avoids the discomfort that may come. Ignorance is bliss.
I had a conversation earlier in the week with a brilliant young man who is struggling with some heavy Spiritual/ Theological/ Philosophical questions. “Isn’t it enough that we live productive, thoughtful, helpful, kind lives? I understand people following Jesus’s ideals of loving each other and caring for each other… but people who don’t know Jesus can do this. I don’t understand why Jesus is important. I don’t understand why heaven is important. Shouldn’t we be trying to make THIS world a better place NOW instead of focusing on the NEXT life?”
No? Maybe? Yes?
Which box will you check?
First I want to say that I feel like I have pulled the “Chance” card in a Monopoly game that directs me to “Advance to Go…and Collect $200 dollars..and then I receive another $200 in my next move for passing “Go”. I feel like the human being who has been given a full days wages even though I was hired ten minutes to closing time. I feel like the Princess who had Prince Charming spot her at the ball and fell madly in love at first sight and took her home to live happily ever after.
I feel like this… because I feel like I have gotten to take a short cut on my quest to find God. I have gotten to go up and up and up the ladders and have avoided the chutes.
I know God… because I can see who He is when I look at Jesus.
I don’t have to riffle and shuffle and sift and sort. I don’t have to determine Who God is by first discovering who He is not. I don’t have to wait for him. I don’t have to hope for him. I don’t have to wonder what He might be like. I can see it…He has showed me clearly. And He is good. He is more than good…He is lovely and beautiful. He would not just be my best friend IF He were here. He IS here. Always. Right beside of me walking with me and talking to me!
My heart aches that people don’t know who he is because they see him like they see their strict, authoritative, critical, harsh, rough, hypocritical, distant father.Sometimes fathers are like that. And sometimes they are weak and passive and don’t stand up for you when you need protection. And sometimes they are brutal and break your body and spirit and heart.
And that is a good reason that God came to us as a brother and a friend instead of as a father.
I always disliked the song by Jim Reeves, “This world is not my home…I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door…And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
So, we are not to conform to this world…but we are to be transformed. I get that…we are supposed to be different than people who kill and steal and sleep with another person’s wife or abuse or neglect themselves or others. We are to be “salt and light”. We are to preserve and add good flavor and attract life to us…we are to draw people and lead people and expose dangerous or dark things that could harm.
We are in this world…and for the time being it is our home. Make the most of it. We are wasting precious time.
Let me clarify: There are people who literally go to church and sit on a pew once or twice a week for their entire life and hear the promise that if they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior that when they die they will get to heaven where the streets are paved with gold and everyone is wearing a white robe and wearing crowns and singing like angels. And that is enough for them. That is what they look forward to. For 80 years that are waiting for their reward – death and heaven. They feel safe. They feel certain and confident. They can’t wait to get to the pearly gates and join the throng of other Saints. Are they planning on lounging by rainbow fountains…being fed grapes by chubby cherubs? Are they going to adorn themselves with jewels and wear fuzzy slippers and eat truffles?
What a nightmare. No wonder my thoughtful young friend did not care much for the idea of heaven! What is the purpose of all that self-satisfaction. Most of the people who have this view of heaven have been spending most of their time on earth self-satisfying already!
Why would people who have worked to take care of others or right wrongs or make injustices just ever want to be in that heaven?
My Grandfather, Daddy John, was the first person that made me consider what heaven may or may not be like. Daddy John was an East Tennessee farmer. He was born into a large family of hard-working, always joking, playful, fun-loving, money poor but life-rich people. He and a mule cleared hundreds of acres of land and prepared fields for crops… and pastures for live-stock. He built his tobacco barn and his dairy barn and his corn crib and his smoke house. He dug out ponds and a cistern. He built the house where my Grandmomma, Aunt Mitzi, Uncle Mac and my Mom lived. The home that he built and lived in his entire adult life was within sight of the house where he had been born and raised.
He was not highly educated or a traveler…but he had a large view of this world…and the next. In the hardship of his life he did not have the luxury to ignore that there was “more”. He daily had to seek out and depend on a depth of strength that can’t be explained to anyone who has not discovered it for themselves. It must be understood through experiences.
A life in Heaven…after a long life of work and hardship…A life of relaxation…laying around and basking in the glow. It would seem to be a pleasant thought for a man who had worked his whole life…who had experienced types of physical and emotional pain that many of us could never imagine. Heaven… So much better than a week at the beach. So much more relaxing than sitting outside in a rocking chair at sunset with a tall glass of sweet ice tea. A place with No hardship. No war. No pain. No sickness. No sadness. Who would NOT want that?
My Daddy John was not interested in a heaven where everybody lays around. He said that his heaven was going to be a place where he was mending fences…and taking care of animals. He had loved living…and his plan was going to keep on loving it. His eternal rest would be working.
How sad for people who have never found joy in working for something meaningful…who have not loved living even if that means putting ourselves out there to be hurt…who have not taken advantage of opportunities life affords… who are waiting on the next life and who are failing to live this life…
Can you imagine what God will say to those people? I have a really good idea…he has said it.
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25)
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
So….we are a bunch of comfortable people sitting on our pew with our one talent sitting in our lap. Can you see it?
And there are other people outside of the comfort and safety of their church and home who are putting what the Master gave them to work…and getting a return on what they invest.
And my brilliant young friend with questions about God and Jesus and heaven is standing back and watching. He is wondering, “Why are the people in church…the people who are talking the most about God and Jesus and heaven…the people who are the most loudly professing their hope in God and Jesus and heaven…the people who are vehemently criticizing and quickly pointing out the error of others who choose not to join them on their pew…why are they not investing what they have been given? Why are they hoarding? Why are they not loving? Why are they not living?
Living is messy.
We get bruised and battered and dirty. We get torn and tattered.
Living is not tidy. We cannot live in our Sunday best outfits with our hands on our lap. Sunday Best is upright. uptight and inflexible. Part of the Sunday best outfit invariably includes our precious talent pinned firmly on our lapel. It is a medal of honor…what the Master gave us. How did we forget his directions of what we are to do with it?
Our Sunday best should look like our Monday and our Tuesday and our Wednesday and our Thursday and our Friday and our Saturday Real…we should be thoroughly spent. Our fingernails should be dirty from helping where we are needed and our shoulders should have the tear and snot stains of children and babies and hurting friends and strangers and our shoes should be scuffed up and our arms should be scratched up. We should be living human Velveteen Rabbits.
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”~ Margery Williams
We are not here to sit in buildings on benches with itchy clothes on and wait on the Kingdom of Heaven. We are here to put on our work-clothes and usher in the Kingdom of God. Now. Here on Earth.
“Oh Lord, you know I have no friend like you. If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door… And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
Hog wash! Poppy cock! The angels are not beckoning from heaven’s open door…not yet…not unless your body is dying.
Heaven is not your home…not yet. And if you don’t know what you should do, I will tell you: 1) Be a friend. Jesus loved his friends. In Ephesians 5:25 Paul says…”Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Jesus did not love a building…he did not love a denomination. He loves his people.
Jesus was rarely in a “church” building once he started his ministry…unless it was to tell the people inside that they were close-minded and legalistic… busy following rules and criticizing those who were not following the rules …forgetting that God is full of mercy and full of grace and full of forgiveness and full of love…and that God will forgive AS we forgive others. And that God will Judge us by the same measure that we judge others.
Jesus’ message to the people inside of the “church” buildings back in his day was the same message that the people inside of church buildings today need to hear. “Your hearts are hard and cold. What are you doing for anybody outside of these walls? Where are you investing your talents…are you investing them…or are you holding them close waiting for my return?”
Let’s hear the very next parable of Jesus found in Matthew 25:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The reason that I want to go to heaven is NOT because I don’t want to go to hell.
The reason that One Day I will look forward to heaven is because God made us for relationships…with each other and with Him. That is why we are thoughtful and kind and good here…not because of the reward that we will get from God when we get to heaven but because we care about each other. We love.
And if we, in our selfish and moody and less than perfect state can love and be loved…can you imagine how amazing it will feel to be loved by God who is generous and constant and perfect. If we are able to recognize and appreciate the beauty in this world that He has created for us to enjoy…can you imagine how much we are going to appreciate and enjoy the beauty that we will see when we are not distracted…when we are not constantly trying to stay afloat and not drown?
That is why Heaven is important. Because if we can love each other in this world and see the magnificent glimpses of beauty in this world, then being in the presence of God who is Love…and seeing His Creation without the mar of our toxic touch… is something that I simply can not miss!
But I can wait.
God has His Kingdom in Heaven ready…but we are necessary to complete the work here. We have talents to invest. Investment involves getting dirty and emptied of all that we have to give. In Living and Loving we will exhaust ourselves and ironically, be re-filled to overflowing simultaneously.
What we have to give is not scarce, but abundant. The more we give away the fuller we become. We won’t ever become empty…we will be filled. Again and again.
Without us to give a glimpse of the Love that will be found…of the connection that can be expected, there will be people who don’t care about Heaven.
That would be equivalent to a person hiking all day with a vista at the top that was the most amazing scene one could experience…and the person deciding to turn back when they are just steps away.
It would be like a person driving across the country to see the majesty of the ocean for the first time and deciding that checking into a hotel a half mile away and laying out by the pool all week was sufficient.
It would be like a person who lived on a mountain top with a wall of windows facing East and West. In the morning the person would open the Eastern Curtains after the sun had risen and the sky was no longer magical. In the afternoon the person would close the Western Curtains before the sunset colors began to dazzle.
A heaven full of one talent white robed bejeweled pew sitters is not Heaven.
What Jesus taught is not just nice Ideals.
And I pray that the way that anyone who does not know these things finds these things out is through an overwhelming Joy Unspeakable…a Wonder so inexplicable that there is no doubt Who the gift came from.
I pray you do not find Faith through pain… but I would rather you Know. Peace can be found in pain when you Know. Comfort can be found in the most uncomfortable situations if you Know.
Knowing is not cerebral…it is not gotten from seeing the tip of the iceberg. Knowing comes from experiencing the massive, immovable, depth.
Go deep. Ask for wisdom. Open the eyes of your heart. Ask. Seek. Find.