From Here to Eternity

I announced  it was time to go and my son and his friend scrambled into clean-up mode and prepared to say their goodbyes.

When I opened the door, my little guy turned to call out one final farewell.  That’s when his friend ran to the door and they both leaned over for a sideways hug.  My son then made what he considers the ultimate, laid-in-cement gesture of friendship.  He yelled, “I’ll invite you to my birthday party!”

It’s August.

My son’s birthday is in October.

In the parking lot, I ask him how he enjoyed his time with his “best bud,” and he quickly corrects me.  He likes to call him, “my favorite friend.”

I’ve been thinking  as I watch all my kids, in their various stages of friendship and maturity, about what it really means to connect and belong, to love, to show grace, to stand strong and maybe even stand alone, and how God can bind us together with others in community.

After all, my son doesn’t just  think about his friend now, or about inviting his friend to a party in October.  He thinks about when they’re in middle school  together and then about high school.  He’s got long-term plans for friendship. This is sweet and cute and so “5-years-old,” but what if this is also for me as an adult, too?

In his book, Practice Resurrection, Eugene Peterson says this about  the Church,

The Holy Spirit formed it (the church) to be a colony of  heaven in a country of  death.

This image captivates me.  “A colony of  heaven.”  We can’t be heaven, of course.  We live in sin-brokenness and we are so clearly imperfect.  After all, that’s why we’re part of the Church—because we need a Savior!  Because we’re sinners!  We step on each other’s toes and we invade each other’s spaces at times.  We all battle Death;  it surrounds us in this death-bound world.  The church is constantly battered from without and beaten within by the impact of that brokenness.

Still, we have life.  We who follow Jesus already possess eternal life.  This is what ties us together as believers.  We’re not just in this together for the temporary, or even for a decade.  We’re in this together for eternity, and the great news is that our eternity has already begun.

It’s not “once upon a time.”  Our Kingdom life, our heavenly journey, begins the moment we follow Christ.

How can that change my perspective on loving others?

I feel less pressured, for one thing.  I remember that God has an eternal work in mind.  He brings people into my life and then He moves them on in a new season, and I can let Him direct my steps.  When to cling?  When to let go?  He knows, and  I can trust Him.

When God was preparing to  take Elijah up to heaven, his sidekick, right-hand man, and apprentice (Elisha) knew Elijah was about to leave.

In 2 Kings 2, Elijah told Elisha three different times, “You stay here.  God wants me to go to  another place—Bethel, Jericho, the Jordan.”  He tried to get Elisha to stay behind.

But every time Elisha said, “As Adonai lives and as you live, I will  not leave you” (2 Kings 2:6).  Elisha remained steadfastly by Elijah’s side and ultimately received a double-portion of the Lord’s anointing when he sees Elijah taken up to heaven.

Then Elijah was gone.   God removed Elijah and led Elisha into a new season of ministry without his mentor there any longer.

I remember this also: that eternity has begun for us, but none of us are perfect in the here and now.  I need the perspective of grace and of growth for me and for others: that we’re transforming—we haven’t already transformed.

Paul writes:

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,  equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness (Ephesians 4:11-13 CSB).

We’re in that place now of building  and equipping one another, and we’re in this together UNTILUntil Christ comes.  Until we’ve achieved 100% unity in faith and knowing Jesus.  Until we’ve fully matured into Christ-likeness.

We’re not there yet.  In the meantime, we equip each other.  We build each other up.  We help each other become more like Jesus.  We serve and we minister as He’s called and equipped us for the benefit of the whole Church because we’re in this together for now and for eternity.

 

I was tempted to fret

psalm 37-3

I trekked across the parking lot at Epcot in the mid-day August heat with my two-year-old in tow.

Why were we attempting this feat?

Because my son uses Caprisun juice pouches like most kids use pacifiers or a security blanket.  When he is tired, overwhelmed, scared, or maybe even bored, he asks for a juice.

Normally, this is no crisis.  But that day was the final stretch of a six-day marathon at DIsney.

He was tired.

He was a bit overwhelmed.

He was a teeny bit bored because, while Epcot was awesome, he was too small to ride some of the attractions.

That meant he was cruising through our Caprisun supply faster than I anticipated and I was running out.

No fear, though!  I had more in the minivan.  Hence, my mid-day jaunt out to the parking lot.

We finally arrived, a hot, sweaty mess.  I unlocked the van, plopped him on a seat and enjoyed a few seconds of air-conditioning while I pulled Caprisuns out of the cooler.

He promptly hopped into the front seat and pretended to drive.

Then, we walked back to the park and had a grand old time with our refilled Caprisun supply and a happy two-year-old.

But that’s when I began to fret.

Normally, any time my son climbs into the front seat of the minivan, he immediately turns on the lights.  He has an auto-reflex with buttons.

See button.  Push button.

So, we’re touring around Epcot and I’m wondering, “Did my son turn on the van lights?  If he did, did I turn them off?  Will the van battery be dead by the end of the day?  Will we be stranded at Disney in the August heat?  Will we be abandoned forever in an Epcot parking lot?”

My fretting began as a fairly reasonable question and quickly escalated to worries beyond proportion.

I had to get control.

After all, I’ve never been to Disney before.  This was my big chance to enjoy the day with my family.

I could spend it relishing the moment.

Or I could spend it fretting over a hypothetical future.

It was my choice.

I considered the worst case scenario: He turned on the lights and I didn’t turn them off.  The van battery is drained.  We ask the Disney car-rescue people to jumpstart our van.

Would it be miserable?

Probably.

Would I survive?

Well, yeah.

So, could I let it go?

Yes, I could.

At the end of the day, we found the minivan with its lights off.  No crisis at all.

Had I spent the day worrying, I’d have wasted every joy-filled moment on a hypothetical that never happened.

The truth is, we have plenty of opportunities to fret in life and most of them are for naught.

We often worry over a future we’ll never face and circumstances we won’t even endure.

I certainly had a week full of chances to choose to fret or choose to trust.

Our cat became extremely ill just as we left for Disney.  An odd warning light flicked on in our minivan just as we pulled into the first Disney parking lot. My husband’s car sat at a repair shop back home waiting for the mechanic’s verdict about brakes.

Fret, fret, fret.  I could have done it all week long.

But God cared for us: Cars without the problems we expected, a cat who was better cared for than we could have even cared for him ourselves.

All those opportunities to worry became opportunities to trust Him and find the blessing of His grace and abundance.

During the week, I read Psalm 37 once again:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.

David was tempted to fret also, in his case over evildoers who seemed to get ahead.

But, like me, he had to discipline his vision.

Where was he looking?  At circumstances?  Hypothetical tragedies?  At others?

No, he recaptured an eternal perspective.  What truly matters in the light of heaven? (verse 2).

He focused on God:  trusting Him, delighting in Him, and committing his ways to the Lord.

And then he chose to “do good.”  He didn’t remain paralyzed by the fear and the fretting; he took one right and true step forward at a time and kept on moving closer to God.

We can do the same.

Recapture a vision of heaven.

Fix our eyes on Jesus.

Take the next good step and trust Him with everything else.

Weekend Walk, 05/05/2012–Stressing Over Stupid Stuff and an Undivided Heart

Hiding the Word:

It was all stupid stuff and it all stressed me out.

That afternoon, we spent too much time in the school library during the family reading time because my kids wouldn’t stop reading, which normally makes me grateful, but that afternoon made me a bit frustrated.

Then, while changing into her ballet clothes, my oldest daughter asked me to help her untie the knot in her laces.  “Sure,” I said, holding out my hand for one ballet shoe.

Instead, she plopped two ballet shoes into my hand that she actually had tied together last week because “it looked like fun.”  She was still giggling a week later.  I was not.  Now the slender laces of her slippers were pulled together in a knot that would have made any sailor or Boy Scout proud.

Zooming out of the school bathroom, across the school parking lot and into the mini-van, I still picked at the knot on the shoes unsuccessfully.  When we arrived at ballet, I reached into the bag to pull out the bobby pins and hair net and the other jumble of hair accessories we tote around in order to pull my daughter’s mass of princess-like hair into a perfect ballerina’s bun.

They were gone. We had left them all piled on the bathroom sink at the school.  I tugged a ponytail holder out of another daughter’s hair, made the messiest bun of all time on my oldest girl’s head, and ran into the ballet studio.

I asked the lady at the desk for scissors and held up the attached ballet shoes apologetically.  She haplessly searched for scissors—which she couldn’t find because of course most people don’t need to cut the laces of their ballet shoes before class.  Fortunately, a nice man with a pocket knife slashed the laces apart so I could run the shoes into my daughter, already poised at the barre and pointing her toes.

And so it went.  There were bigger stressors that day.  There were other petty annoyances still to come.  The crazy whirlwind of it all left me dizzy and exhausted, but I knew one thing was true:  Nothing that day was worth the frustrated attention I was giving it.

Nothing there was life-threatening or mattered in the eternal way that some things matter.  They were silly and foolish worries, just pests that nipped at my heels and made the simple treading through my day difficult.

Would less stress have made it all better?  Would untied ballet shoe laces or un-lost hair accessories have improved my day? Perhaps.

But what I really needed, what I usually need, isn’t a more smoothly running life with less obstacles and bothers.

I need the eternal perspective that only Christ can give, the reminder of what really matters now, what will still matter 20 years from now, and what God and I will agree matters when I’m hanging out in heaven and worshiping at His throne.

That’s the perspective Paul writes about in Colossians and it’ll be my verse for the week.  I encourage you to copy it down, pray over it, meditate on it, memorize it and ask God to help it change your perspective this week when life gets hard or even slightly tiresome or stressful.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

Weekend Rerun:

One Heart And Mind
Originally published April 21, 2011

“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name”
Psalm 86:11

Multitasking is my spiritual gift.  Somehow the Apostle Paul left that off of his lists in Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians.  Even if it didn’t make the Biblical list, some of you share this gifting with me.  You mop the floor, do laundry, type emails, care for children, talk on the phone and make dinner all at the same time.  What can we say?  It’s a talent.

Usually my multitasking works quite well for me and truthfully I am sometimes bored when I am simply keeping one ball up in the air instead of juggling several.  But there are those moments, I’ll confess, when I open my pantry cabinet to find that I accidentally put the frozen broccoli away there and when I open up the freezer, there are the spaghetti noodles.  It’s a sure sign that I have too much going on and things are starting to fall apart.

Multitasking may work for me (most of the time) as I clean my house or plunge through my to-do list each day and yet its a choking hand of death on my quiet times with God.

This morning I sat at my kitchen table, my place for meeting with God every day.  My Bible was open and ready, my journal and pen set to the side waiting to be used.  My cup of tea was steaming hot, strong and sweet.  Everything I needed to spend some focused time with my Savior was at my fingertips.  Everything was prepared—-except my heart.

I was distracted.  Distracted a little by projects and to-do lists, the phone and the emails left unanswered.  Distracted by my children asking and asking for help.  Distracted a little by frustrations and situations needing to be handled.  My thoughts drifted to all of those things as I read the words on my Bible’s open page.  Words that normally hold power and relevance for me, the living and active Word of God, now made dull by a scattered heart and an unfocused mind.

Not wanting to give up, I prayed over Psalm 86:11.

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (NIV)

and in the Message:

“Train me, God, to walk straight; then I’ll follow your true path.  Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear” (MSG).

I prayed, “Lord, create in me an undivided heart.  Put me together, one heart and mind—wholly focused on you.  There are so many things vying for my attention, captivating my heart, stirring up my emotions, and setting my thoughts wild.  Please fill me and focus me so that You alone are my heart’s desire.”

It’s not a magic formula, a mystical incantation that somehow brought clarity out of chaos.  No, it was a confession of desire.  A request for God’s strength in my weakness.

I am a forgetful and distracted creature, and I need the help of my God to cut through the clutter and noise so that I can pay wholehearted attention to Him.  That’s why David writes this verse as a petition to God.  He knew He needed heavenly help also.  He asks for God to “give” Him an undivided heart or, as the message says, to “put him together” so that he can be receptive vessel, prepared to hear and receive God’s teaching and training.  David knew He couldn’t achieve an undivided heart on His own.

And yet, I didn’t just pray this prayer and then sit down to the best quiet time ever, full of revelation and inspiration.  It took effort on my part to reject and discard the jumble of thoughts that kept popping into my mind.  I had to stand guard over my heart and not allow it to take my focus off God’s Word.

When I suddenly remembered an item for my to-do list, I jotted it down on a piece of paper and returned to Scripture.  When I started rehashing what was frustrating and upsetting me, I cut off my thoughts and whispered a quick prayer that God would take care of that situation.  And I returned to Scripture.

It was work, but it was worth it.

Paul prayed for the Thessalonian church, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  By asking God to give me an undivided heart, I was making a similar petition.  I was allowing Him to sanctify me (make me holy) through and through—spirit, soul, and body—and this brings me peace straight from the God of peace.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Take Two: Kaleidoscope Moment: An Eternal Perspective

 

Friends, tomorrow is the seventh anniversary of my dad’s death, so today I’m going to share with you my post about his passing from last year’s anniversary. I hope it’s a blessing to you!

Kaleidoscope Moment 2: An Eternal Perspective

Posted on March 29, 2011

 

On this day six years ago, my dad died of malignant melanoma.  I miss him, but I’m okay.

Mostly I miss him in unexpected moments throughout the year.  Like when I hear Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (his favorite) or some jazz music.  Or when I visit the firehouse with my daughter on a field trip (he was a firefighter).  When I see a really good drummer (my dad was the best) or watch the military band concerts on evenings in the summer (he was an Army musician).

I miss him when we look through pictures and my daughters ask me all about him.  I’m sad because the last year of his life, he was so sick and really didn’t look the way I remember him best.  Those pictures are strange distortions of someone I knew and loved.

I miss him, but I’m okay.

His death was one of those kaleidoscope moments for me.  God took my perspective with the patterns I was used to seeing, and shifted it a little.  He showed me something beautiful.

Up until that moment, I had believed in heaven.  I heard the stories in Sunday School and saw the pictures in my Beginner’s Bible as a kid.  We sang songs at church about heaven and I believed what I sang.

But, when my dad died, heaven was suddenly real.  Not some hazy and nebulous concept we teach at church, but a real place where my dad now lived.  The outer shell that we buried in that casket was most definitely not him anymore.  Suddenly, when I envisioned what heaven would be like, I personally knew someone who was there–a face in the crowd that was waiting expectantly for me to join him.

My mom chose this verse for my dad’s funeral bulletin:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV).

For the first time, God taught me how to have an eternal perspective.

I had a friend in college whose mother had a degenerative disease and was ever so slowly worsening.  It was difficult and devastating, but I have never in my life met anyone whose eyes were more firmly fixed on heaven than my friend.  She saw heaven as the soon-to-be home for her mom—a place where her mom would be healed and whole and hurting no longer.  She would talk about heaven in casual conversation and she didn’t care about earthly possessions, worldly success, or what other people thought of her.  Instead, her eyes were fixed on the unseen and the eternal.

I forget sometimes to keep an eternal perspective and then God nudges my heart and holds the kaleidoscope back up for me to see the pattern of beauty He created in the light of eternal hope.

I get angry about something stupid and forget that little petty annoyances mean nothing in the end.  I worry and fret about the small details of my life and forget that in the grand scheme of things, they really don’t matter. I long for a bigger home or at least new carpeting and forget that this world really isn’t my home and what I have here isn’t going to last.

Chris Tiegreen wrote:

When your feet are planted in heaven, you can quit chasing status in this world.  You can live with a godly sense of abandon because you aren’t attached to possessions or even your own life.  You can take risks, although nothing God calls us to do is really risky by eternal definitions.  You can follow Him without fear.

The other day I took my daughters to a festival we have in our town.  We toured the booths, saw some skits, watched the parade and then headed home.  When she got to the car and realized we weren’t paying $5 per child for a 2-minute pony ride, my daughter bawled.  She cried most of the way home, saying, “You don’t understand me or what I like and what is important to me.  You never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give me the things I want.  I’m not going to eat or clean my room or do anything at all until you take me back to ride the horses.”

We arrived home and she sat in time-out.  I checked my emails and other messages and found an updated post for the little girl named Kate McRae that I’ve been praying for.  She’s seven years old.  She has metastatic brain cancer.

My daughter climbed into my lap, face still a little red from tears, and asked me about the little girl whose picture was now on my computer screen.  I told her all about Kate.  How she’ll be losing her hair because of the treatments she has to have.  How she has to take medicine that makes her terribly sick so she can’t eat.  How she can’t be with her brother and sister and can’t go to school.  How she has to live far from home and stay in a hospital.  How her body is weakened by the radiation treatments to her brain.

Pony rides didn’t seem so important anymore.  God turned the kaleidoscope and changed my daughter’s heart by revealing a new perspective, an eternal one.

Paul wrote:

Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:17-21, NIV).

How would your life change if you lived as a citizen of heaven in the here and now of earth?

Would you be more bold in your faith?  Invest more time in worship and prayer?  Build into your relationships more?  Whine less about the things you have or don’t have?  Abandon the pursuit of earthly status in order to gain heavenly reward?  Spend less time worrying about the things you can’t control?  Love people more and be willing to overlook more of their faults?  Be more thankful?  Enjoy the little blessings in life?

So much of my attitude about life, so many of my everyday reactions are tainted because I lose that eternal perspective.  That’s why I need reminders like today.  Reminders that “this world is not my home; I’m just passing through.  My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King