*Adapted from a message I gave at a retreat Fall 2016
Scripture tells me Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven. Well, since God knows the desires of my heart and the way He’s wired me, I’m sure the place He’s preparing reflects that. So then, let me tell you how to find me in heaven:
My place will be the one with the split rail fence. It has a long driveway lined with willow trees and probably resembles a Craftsman. The lawn is cut Lynden style–edged properly, golf course green, with immaculate mower lines. There are sunflowers and hydrangeas, a wrap around porch, hammock out back. The coffee pot is always on. Around me are fields, acres, quiet privacy. No one’s mansion is too close. Heaven is plenty big for me to have ample space, right? I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m independent. I’m self sufficient. I’m an American, dang it!
Ah, but as I study Scripture and my faith grows, I notice something about what God says regarding heaven and eternity, that I previously overlooked: God’s ultimate dwelling place is His church.
1 Peter 2:4-10
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Oh. All believers are like living stones? Built together? Like, pressed up against me? Your stone against mine? Uh, I don’t like group projects. You might drag me down. Worse, you might see my incompetency. Either way, I'd rather work at my own pace. I can show you what I’ve got if I can go it alone. Built together? I was told that my relationship with Jesus is my own personal faith. Now I’m seeing there are a lot of “we” “us” “people” types of terms in the Bible. So, does this mean your mansion might be a little close to mine? Like “group project” close? Hmmm...How very un-American.
I began daydreaming about my ideal neighbors on my heavenly street of gold. “Ok, Lord, you could set me by Cath Jansen. She influenced my faith greatly when I was young and I’d love to hear her loud burst of laughter coming from across the fence. I'd be ok near Sommer and Jasmine–we usually end up cramming in the same bed when we visit each other, anyway. I’m willing to be built together with the friends who sit on the porch, telling stories and making me laugh until my sides hurt.
But all believers? Believers who have hurt me, burned me, judged me? It doesn’t sound very “heavenly” to hang out with them. Lord, have you taken a good look at your Church here on earth? Sometimes they devour their own. I see glimpses of them as your treasured possession but I’ve also seen the messy, trashy gossip spilling out of the other side of the mouth that speaks grace and forgiveness. I have to be built together with these characters?! I’d really rather head over to my own property and draw my blinds before the mess is all over me."
Then, I studied the book of Revelation. Over and over I read this passage,
Revelation 21:2-5New International Version (NIV)
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Ah, small minded Shilo, when we arrive in heaven all will be made right. ALL. All of the sin and quirks that I can’t look past in others will be made right. People’s boundary issues won’t be issues. My own hang ups like wanting the house to be clean before I have people over, my fear that if I reach out I’ll be taken advantage of, my own self righteous, prideful independence will be forever transformed. The old order will pass away!
We will see each other as God has seen us all along–people made in His image, covered by Jesus’ forgiveness, with gifts and personalities to contribute to the group. He will make everything new. All things new.
This isn’t just information here. This changes me today. If I know one day I will see you without your defense mechanisms, without your addictions, without the complications of our communication mix ups, how can that change the way I treat you, love you, and interact with you today?
If your human, flawed trait is stubbornness but I know your God-given trait is perseverance and loyalty, can I trust the Holy Spirit will continue working in your stubbornness to bring out the perseverance and loyalty He intended? Can I look at you knowing one day it will be perfected? In the meantime, can I enjoy the you that isn’t a finished product? In each stubborn decision can I love you and trust it will be beautiful when you operate in perseverance and loyalty 100% of the time? Can I trust Him to do His work, starting now and continuing straight into eternity?
God is going to dwell with us for eternity, folks.
Uninhibited–our faith will be sight.
All the gaps in our belief will be filled!
I've struggled to understand the concept of God’s Church. His people set apart and put together for eternity... ragtag group, aren’t we? Here in the U.S. we get to church hop whenever we disagree or get bored. We are so focused on our individual salvation, our individual quiet time, and our individual growth that we forget God designed us to be interdependent. We work hard to construct lives where we won’t need anyone. "Serving" and "community" are things to check off our list, not a way of living. It's easier to remain slightly detached, roll my eyes and say, "I love Jesus, but man I can't stand His church."
Jesus sees the bickering, the judging, the way one person's sin impacts the entire group, too. He knows we aren't necessarily a likable bunch. Yet God, in His grace, puts all His stones together whether we feel warm fuzzies or not. He is at work in the process of our lives. He knows we will disappoint, hurt, and break yet He chooses to love, to restore, to walk beside us as we learn to cling to Him. His presence is not confined to being just between me and Jesus. It's our entire community. Then He asks me to embrace His Church, too. He asks us to embrace His Church before she's made new. Not only that, but He gives us His Holy Spirit to help us love the same flawed Church He has chosen to love:
1 Peter 1:22-23
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
What am I wanting to keep for myself? In what way do I hold back from being part of God’s people? What sin am I engaged in that I believe won’t impact the Church? Am I a lonely stone? Am I building my fence high so your mess doesn’t eek over into my yard?
1 Peter 2 again:
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,
How's that for a powerful identity!?
that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Knowing the end of the story impacts how I live today. I pray through my questions: How is the end of the story changing my perspective in current relationships? What stone is stacked against me? Am I too focused on the uncomfortable feeling of other sinful, flawed people in my space to recognize that God is doing something beautiful, unifying, and eternal?
If Jesus comes back today–trumpets sounding! Here He is! The big moment and perfect culmination of my faith!– and I slowly look the the believer on my right and on my left…do I think, “Ugh. You? This sacred moment and I’m standing next to YOU?! You’re kind of putting a damper on this moment.”
Which believer do I hope I’m not shoulder to shoulder with when the trumpet sounds? What is God asking me to do in that relationship (or lack of)? Where do I need reconciliation and forgiveness? Is it in specific relationships or towards a specific church? Or Christians in general?
Lord, may I have your perspective. These are the people I will celebrate with! Yes, even those who have hurt me, burned me, judged me. They are your stones. If you’ve forgiven me you certainly have enough grace for them. These differences will be nothing when you are stacking us together in your forever Promised Land.
There is an expiration date on this life, on these trials, on me rubbing you the wrong way, and you wishing you could get space from me. My favorite verse in Joshua comes as the Israelites have entered the Promised Land:
45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
Every promise was fulfilled. How many more promises will He fulfill when our not-so-fulfilling experience on earth is over?
So please, when I'm annoying, self righteous, in your space, and you're hoping I won't end up in a mansion near yours...remember with me that God is establishing Himself in me. His work isn't done, but it will be.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Just throwing myself out there a bit...