A Closer Heaven

Within a few brief days, a number of pretty intense incidents have sent my emotions reeling into quite a roller coaster.
I have watched my grandmother's terminal illness take another turn for the worse. And I'm scared.
My great-aunt is dying of cancer. Hopefully she'll make it through another couple of weeks.
My neighbor across the street fainted in her kitchen, banged her neck on the counter, and was paralyzed from the neck down.
A friend and coworker of my father, who had been a quadripalegic all his life, was quite suddenly taken to be with the Lord.
As my brother is barely weeks into his new job, he has seen three of his coworkers hospitalized with urgent maladies.
All of these events, one on top of another, have left me exhausted, trembling, and confused. But I have to tell you that all of the above certainly brought me to my knees -- they went crashing to the floor.

I thought I could come up with some kind of neat summation, some lesson learned, something I could wrap up in a blog post and put a nice, pretty, spiritual bow on it. But somehow, I can't bring myself to do that.

What I will say is, heaven seems a whole lot closer now than it ever has been before.

I love the way Max Lucado puts it -- a "Goodbye" on earth is in reality a "See you tomorrow" for the Christian. That brought me so much peace. I remembered the face of my dad's friend and realized he has a new body now, one that's completely whole. He has gone to his heavenly home and is waiting for us.

I really don't want to think of the day my grandma will pass -- though there are some days admittedly where I just can't stand to see her go through anymore pain or discomfort and wish God would take her soon. Then I realize that she too, along with my great-aunt soon, will pave the way for me, to heaven. They'll be waiting for us.

For those who have experienced death before of an immediate friend or family member, it really does bring the reality of heaven so much closer, doesn't it? It almost gives me a giddy feeling inside to picture those whom I love, those who are sick, with entirely new bodies, ones that can withstand the immense glory of God. And I remember what heaven is really all about -- seeing God.

Lately, I had not had the courage to even look God in the face. I so easily become caught up in self-condemnation and shame. Yet the closer I draw near to His cross, the brutal cross which I could never entirely stomach before, the more He is giving me the boldness to look directly into His piercing eyes. That is heaven. Looking into the face of God. The overwhelming reality, the overpowering feeling of "now" in which we are forever caught in His embrace.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that we are closer to heaven than we think. It is literally just around the corner. Heaven is just another word for the place where God dwells. It is not some magical place on a cloud in the sky. It's right next to you. God is right next to you. You can't see Him face to face now. But you will.

Do you know Him well enough? If you were called home or raptured today, would you have gone on enough coffee dates with Him, read enough of His sweet love letters, experienced the joy of His Spirit to really know Him? Because heaven, eternal life, is one big reality of Him. God the Father. God the Son. God the Spirit.
Are you ready to meet Him?

I hope this was encouraging in some way. And if you could, Reader, please pray for the people mentioned above. For me, even. For my family. Praise God, my neighbor was able to itch her nose and move her upper torso, but please pray for complete healing. I'll hopefully post praise reports as they come.


Poured Out

Per request of my good friend who could not make it to study tonight, I scribbled a few notes from my church’s midweek service, in Philippians 2. Being such an admirer of metaphors, and since it coincidentally has much to do with the title of my blog (We are all vessels in the hands of the Master Potter, my pastor said), I copied this metaphor down for being so poignant.
In Philippians 2:17, after Paul encourages the Philippians to do all things without complaining or making excuses so that we can shine as lights amongst our generation (v. 14-15), he says that as he is being poured out like a drink offering, he is rejoicing. "Poured out like a drink offering." I confess, I didn't know what that meant until my pastor came up with an illustration for his interpretation.

Imagine I’m holding a ceramic mug in my hands (since I am oh so fond of ceramic mugs). Now, you can’t see what’s in the mug. It could be water. It could be cranberry juice. It could be coffee (and if you know me, it probably would be). But you cannot see its contents from the way I am holding it.

But say my friend, maybe the one who asked me for the notes from study, comes up from behind and bumps into me (accidentally, of course). Well, you can imagine what would happen. All of a sudden, the contents of my mug would come spilling out. And if it really was coffee that I was storing inside of the mug, well, you would see a flood of coffee-colored liquid pouring out. (Try not to think about the carpet.)

The question is, should your friend knock you over, what would be inside your mug?

Things in life are going to bug us, drive us crazy, depress us, trouble us. Circumstances beyond our control will take us for a spin. They will “disturb the mug,” if you will. What comes pouring out is entirely up to you.

My pastor gave this example. Say you are driving on the freeway, going a casual speed, and someone cuts you off, slams on their brakes in front of you, gives you the, well, finger, and screeches off in a puff of smoke. Your reaction will be one of two things, depending on what is already in your mug.

A. If you have been filling your mug throughout the day with the world, with complaining thoughts, excuses, and selfish desires, your reaction is going to be one of anger, naturally. You might lash back and cut him off in that anger. The thing is, since you were storing up all of that anger throughout the day, it only makes sense that when something irksome happens, that’s what would come pouring out. All that anger was already in your mug. It just took someone to cut you off on the freeway for it to manifest itself.

Or …

B. If you have been soaking in God’s Word, meditating on Him, thoughts tuned in toward prayer and worship, when that person cuts you off, sure, it’s only human to have a reaction of surprise or alarm—even frustration. But then you can return back to a state of peace, because that peace of mind was already in your mug. You might even say a prayer for that person as he zooms off. Nothing can phase you because you have been filling your mug with Jesus all day.

So what is in your coffee mug? What will come spilling out when life gets tough?

Paul said that he was being poured out as a drink offering as he was in prison. In that position, he had every right to be depressed or angry. But he had been filling the mug of his life with God’s Spirit, and because of that, he was able to pen the “epistle of joy”—the letter to the Philippians—as a result of his consistent communion with Christ his Savior. A drink offering is also symbolic of "the joy of completion." It symbolizes the completed work of Christ in what He did on the cross. David, in the book of II Samuel, poured out a precious drink of water that his men risked their lives for by crossing enemy lines to get it for him. Yet as thirsty as he was, he poured it all out, that water. Paul's life was filled with that holy water, that work of Christ, that sacrifice that Jesus Himself was made out of, was filled with.

Convicting, I know. But we all have the opportunity to be poured out as a drink offering. People are watching us, whether we like it or not. Some will bump into us on purpose just to see what will come spilling out. So before life hits you from behind, before times get crazy and you are knocked over by happenstance, what are you filling your little mug with? And are you willing to be poured out so others can see the joy that is in you and glorify God?

Sometimes, God Himself will nudge you just to show you yourself what you’re made of, or, what you're filled with. What will you find? He already knows.


Slowing Down

At the tail-end of graduating from college and now entering a place of rest (thank God), I was struck by a devo I read the other day entitled, "How Is My Walk?" I read from the words of Melody Mead, just coming out of an intensely "busy" season of my life:

"I often try to picture Jesus on His way, talking, touching, teaching, and never hurried. His life would draw me in, calm me down, focus me, and set me on course. As I go my way and walk my journey, does my life do this for others? Or do they look at me and not want my life because it is too full, too fast, and too self-absorbed? Am I making the most of opportunities on which my journey takes me? Do others want to walk with me as I walk with Jesus?"

Immediately, I was convicted. I was filled with stinging regret. I looked back at this last semester of college and realized how "busy" I was. I recalled how many excuses I had made because I was "too busy." I had refused so many opportunities to just spend time with people because my head was always spinning with the next thing I had to do. Truly, my life was indeed "too full, too fast, and too self-absorbed." I knew why others could not walk with me -- I was walking too fast, not slowing down enough to walk at Jesus' pace.

I couldn't go to college Bible study events because of my sorority events. I couldn't go to sorority events because I had something with my church. I couldn't go to a chuch event because of work. I got shifts covered at work because of something with school. And school itself became less of a priority because of all the above.

In all of the darting around from one engagement to the next, the faces of precious people around me would become blurred, less focused. I am grateful for the sweet friendships I was able to cultivate and nurture, but I cannot help but think of the others I could have spent time with but was unable to because I had spread myself too thin. I found myself asking why I was involved in all of these things in the first place. Usually when you find yourself in that place, something is definitely wrong.

I used to envy those people who did 50-something things and looked so accomplished, so together. But I have learned something about busy-ness. For one thing, the more spread out you are with different commitments and such, the less you are able to give to those things. It only makes sense. For another thing, your identity is found in the things you do rather than the person you are: a child of God. You begin to place your sense of self-worth in the works you are able to accomplish.

But at the end of the day, you just end up really tired.

I am so thankful that God has given me the opportunity now to just rest. How good it has been. At first, I was miserable at the thought of not going to grad school or getting an internship or career-launching job. But the deeper God takes me into His rest, the more I realize that my value is found in Him and Him alone, that I need not do anything at all to be loved by Him, and that we are not meant for here. We seek a greater city, a greater existence, yet to come (Hebrews 13:14).

I urge you, brother or sister in Christ, please, do not make the same mistake I did. Don't miss out on opportunities to be God's love to people because you have found yourself caught in busyness. Slow down. Stop if you have to -- don't come to the point where God has to do it for you. Ask yourself, is the work I am doing fueled by a desire to serve God and His people, or is it just work? Am I giving God the glory through my pursuits, or pursuing things that will give myself glory?

If you are in the same place I am in and wish you could go back to redeem lost opportunities, I urge you as well to stop. The past is gone. But you have today. Forget the things behind you and pursue all that God has ahead (Philippians 2:13). Even today, now, in this very moment, lift your gaze upward where it belongs and ask God what He wants you to do in the now -- even if it is to simply rest.

Do not place your value on the things that you do. If you are called to only one job or commitment, be thankful, for you can give 100% to that one thing and do it well. If you are called to many things, make rest in God your priority, ask Him to give you wisdom on spending your time wisely and being interruptible for people.

Remember: God does not want us to do things for Him. He wants us to simply be in Him.