I love and appreciate the incredible artistry of John Lennon’s music. But I’m afraid he wrote one of the dumbest lines in musical history. In the first line of one of the greatest songs of the 20th century, Lennon writes, “Imagine there’s no heaven…”. He then says, “Imagine all the people living for today”. I get it. Being the eternal optimist, he thinks people’s problem is they’re so focused on “pie in the sky by and by”, they’re missing the importance of living for today.
Sorry, but I think he got that one completely wrong. It is only heaven that makes any sense of this life.
True, “living in the moment” may help us prioritize what’s important in life and not waist time on things that don’t matter. I wish I had a lot of my kid’s childhood years back, so I could focus more on them and less on my job. I wish I could remember all the cute things they said to me, how they looked on their 3rd birthday, and all those crazy homemade birthday and Father’s Day cards they made me.
However, if there were no heaven, this life would truly be is a cruel thing. Good people often suffer, while bad people have a discouraging way of getting away with things, or even getting ahead of the good folks. Injustice stands unanswered, wrongs never righted. Because of this reality, many people look at this messed up world and say, “There’s no way a good god could ever exist in this place”.
That’s the whole point. “This place” was never meant to be the final answer. This present realm was only the starter kit, the testing ground. It is as if you started a great story, introduced the protagonist, presented the great dilemma he must triumph over…and then he dies. The end. What kind of lousy story would that be?
This world sets up the story, the great eternal struggle we all participate in. It’s never the easy story we hope it will be. There is always disappointment, even tragedy. Heroes die, dragons are left to roam the countryside wreaking havoc, fair maidens become old maids. Without heaven, it’s a story without a purpose, missing any satisfying denouement whatsoever.
Imagine there’s no heaven? Not on your life!
Fair warning though: heaven is not the boring place you’ve heard about. I got my mind blown last year when I attempted to read the book HEAVEN by Randy Alcorn. I say attempted because it was about the length of your average Harry Potter book – looooooooonnnnnnng! I was researching a sermon on heaven and thought I’d knock it out in a week, but that never happened. What I did have time to read was amazing, and completely shifted every expectation I had for the place.
Suffice it to say, the eternal home we will enjoy bears little to no resemblance of a TBN television set. It will not live down to the low expectations of your average Southern Gospel ballad about “them pearly gates ’n street of gold”. Yeah, those are in the Bible, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Bible talks about the heavenly throne of God coming down to a renewed, glorified earth, creating something altogether new. The best way I know to describe what that will be like is it will be earth like we know it now…only on steroids and in ultra high-definition. There will be mountains, streams, trees and oceans, but in a greatly heightened sense. And we will roam it for an eternity, sent on never ending adventures by our loving, creative God.
This “heaven” will be more palatable for the science fiction geek who loves Tolkien than the Gospel quartet singer with the bad toupee. So any imaginings of a sleepy Sunday afternoon picnic filled with harp playing and naked baby angels should be discarded quickly. Not to sound too much like your last teen camp motivational speaker, but the real heaven is truly gonna rock!
Come to think of it, if I had a chance to talk to Mr. Lennon about his song, I don’t think I’d scold him for it. I’d simply say, “John, that place you were describing where all the people get along so beautifully…that in fact is “heaven”. Of course you want to live in a place like that, but we’ll never see it on this earth. Mankind will have to go through an amazing transformation before we will ever be that kind, that loving, that selfless to each other.
That transformation is exactly what the Bible talks about when we go to meet Jesus. The Apostle John gives us a sneak preview of coming attractions in this mysterious and amazing passage…
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” – 1 John 3:2
So when we die, those of us who are God’s children in relationship with Him will meet Jesus. And when we see Him, just being near Him in His full radiance and glory will change us radically. We will become the full, unlimited version of ourselves we were always meant to be, with all the sin and imperfection melted away. Just as the earth’s impurities are purged, so ours will be as well. When He is finished, we will be perfect, transformed beings…just like Him.
MONDAY MORNING QUARTER BACKING
Today, I’m not feeling so transformed. It’s Monday, a truly tough day for most pastors. It’s the day Satan crawls up on our backs and whispers to us everything we should have done the day before, and convinces us what abject failures we are.
“Remember, you were going to say ‘such and such’ to illustrate that sermon idea? Genius, you completely passed over it on your notes! Can you not even read anymore?”
“Not such a great crowd today, was it? Nothing like as many people as that successful church across town! I guess their pastor knows what he’s doing…”
“Where was ‘so and so’ yesterday? Haven’t seen them in church for a couple of weeks now. Wonder if you did or said something to make them mad? That would be just like you, Einstein, saying something stupid and driving people away!”
Yeah, did I mention I love Mondays?
One of the more glamorous tasks I get to do on Mondays is filing sheet music. Our church meets in a school, so we have to bring everything back with us after each service. I can either stare at the music on my dining room table for a week, or file it in my metal filing cabinet. Yes, I’m sure that’s how Joel Osteen spends his Mondays as well!
So I’ve actually let the music pile up for a couple of weeks now, and I really have to get it filed. I’m doing it, but I’m also listening to all that Monday Morning Quarterbacking from Satan as well. The more I hear, the more I feel like a failure. With each page filed, I feel like most of my life’s work has little more gravitas than this busy work in my hands.
As despair and a pit of meaningless falls on my shoulder like a thick black cloak, a voice speaks to me in my mind. I recognize the voice – it’s God. No, it wasn’t an audible voice. It was something much more real than that.
As the voice speaks, I see a picture. I guess you might call it a vision, though I know that sounds very spiritual. Visions are things much more spiritual people than me see. Mystics who wander the desert, prophets, people with TV ministries – that bunch. So call it what you will. But I saw something, heard something, and then saw myself in the vision too.
It was as if God had fast-forwarded everything to the end of my life. It was a vision of the day I enter heaven. Here’s what I learned and saw…
“There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” – John 14:2-4 (MSG)
In heaven’s attic, there’s a file cabinet with your name on it. No, this is not mentioned specifically in Scripture, but I’m pretty certain of it none the less. I saw mine as an old style wooden cabinet with squeaky rolling drawers, made of oak. All furniture in heaven should be oak, I think. Strangely, there are actually two sets of file cabinets with my name clearly marked on them.
There’s light peaking through a nearby window, illuminating the dust particles dancing through the air. This is the attic room of heaven where things are stored away for future reference. This cabinet has been waiting for the day of my arrival, tucked away for safe keeping. Only I am allowed to open it, and now upon my arrival it’s time for me to do so.
I know what you’re thinking. You’d be afraid. Any file cabinet in heaven with your name on it has got to have some pretty awful stuff in it, right?
What do you think would be there? Lists of sins, from my earliest years? Every casual word I tossed off to slight someone? Perhaps some photos from my teenage days. How about tax returns, or ledgers revealing how I spent my money and how much I gave to the church?
Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. If this were your vision, you’d be really sweating now! You know you absolutely must do this – it is the task of everyone who enters the halls of this eternal home. But there’s so much you’ve tried to forget. Old age brought the sweet benefit of erasing some painful memories from your thoughts. Now to relive all those mistakes, all those wrong turns into the cul-de-sacs of life – it seems quite an excruciating, torturous task. But it is your task and mine, and no one else can do it for us.
I take a deep breath, walk over and pull open the top drawer of the file cabinet to the right. I realize as I pull it that I’m holding that breath. I look down.
It is empty. Nothing. I then open the second, third, and fourth drawers – still nothing. This file cabinet, with my name clearly marked across it, is completely empty.
Now my eyes fall to the cabinet on the left. I nudge it just a bit, and I can tell this one is heavier than the other cabinet. There is something inside it.
I hold my breath again. I take the handle, slowly pulling the top drawer toward me…
There are plastic sandwich bags bulging from file folder after file folder. I nudge one open, but still can’t see down into it. Finally, I pull the file folder out of the cabinet and open it. Extricating the plastic bag, I’m astounded to find hair clippings. There’s a label on the bag, reading “David – first haircut”.
It’s blond hair. I’d completely forgotten my baby hair was blond, before it turned later to brown…and eventually gray. Now I’m flipping through folder after folder of plastic sandwich bags, each with hair from every period of my life. Someone has carefully kept a sample of each phase, every change.
It’s as if a father had lovingly placed samples from every period of my life. When I get to the end of the files, it strikes me as odd that even my gray hairs have been kept. So this father somehow managed to find me adorable even into my latter years, seeing that phase just as precious as the first.
At that moment, I remembered these words…
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” - Matthew 10:29-31 (NKJV)
The next drawer below catches my attention, and I pull it open to see what’s inside. This one is filled with papers. There are cards, letters, and small scraps with writing on them. Every birthday card I ever received, every thank you note is collected inside. Another folder is filled with Father’s Day cards, and another with anniversary cards from my spouse. I’d thought they were all lost forever! Tears fill my eyes as I pour through all the loving things written to me by my children, wife and friends.
But then I notice the folders containing nothing but scraps of paper. At first I think they’re pages put through a paper shredder, but as I pull one out I notice there’s tiny Helvetica typing on each strip. In quotes, I read, “I would never have made it without your help. God truly brought you my way,” and then the name of the person who’d said that to me so many years ago. Every kind thing anyone had ever said to me…or about me…is carefully typed on a single strip of paper.
Some of them I remember immediately, but some catch me by complete surprise, causing me to gasp with discovery. I never realized a kind word I said made any difference to that person. I never knew how much I meant to them. Some scraps are made up of thoughts from that person’s mind, so I had never heard them before. They were going to end their life that night I spoke to them, but God used my feeble words to revive their hope and courage. The drawer is filled with scrap after scrap of these quoted blessings.
I’m now sitting on the floor, tears rolling down my face. I’m wondering when I’ll even have time to go through all these folders. But I’m reminded I have an eternity now to remember all the beautiful things I’d forgotten, thanks to someone taking the time to collect every single one of them. Things I’d have never remembered or known, kept safe for me to see upon my homecoming.
Then, I remembered these words…
“I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” - Matthew 25:36-40 (NKJV)
Here on the floor, I look in front of me and notice the third drawer. As I open it, I notice a scent like a fireplace within it. Inside are just bag after bag – no one had even bothered to separate them by files or dates. Within the bags, nothing but ashes. And on the bags are written the words, “Vain works”.
These are the things other than my sins I was most worried people might find someday. You see, all my life I’ve been a fairly religious person. In my heart, I truly have loved God. But in addition, I’ve loved something else – people recognition.
There have been times when I saw a person’s true need and reached out to fill that need for no other reason that to “be Jesus” to that person. I wasn’t looking for attention, and was only focused on helping as Jesus’ hands and feet on the earth. That’s not what these bags are filled with, though.
These dark, musty bags are filled with all the self-glorifying attempts to appear spiritual I’ve made. Every time I did a good dead in order to be seen by someone else. Each time I gave money to a worthy cause, but not as much to help but to feel good about myself. I not only wanted to convince other people I was good, i wanted to convince myself too.
Jesus promised me that every dead, vain work done for my own glory but be burned up in the fire. I had always taken those words as a threat, that at the end of my life I would be left with no rewards but only ashes. But what i was feeling now was an intense emotion of relief! I had always feared my selfish heart would one day be exposed to others. I dreaded that one whom i had helped might find out how little I was thinking of their need and how much I thought of myself!
What a thrill to realize now that God had no plans to expose me. His purging fire was a comfort to me, for now all the selfishness that often lay side by side with my compassion had been mercifully burned away. These ashes would never tell my secrets!
Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:13-15 (NKJV)
Sitting in the floor, I’m stunned in amazement. But now my eyes fall on that last drawer, and my mind tells me what it must contain still left to be discovered. When I pull the handle, there’s a great amount of dust in the drawer. It’s as if things have been left unattended here for quite some time. Each file contains the heading, “Sins – David Gipson,” and then a month and year next to it. Each page has typing in the same Helvetica as before, but I cannot make out the words clearly.
In fact, each page is impossible to read because each is stained beyond repair. Every single page has a large brown stain covering all the words. The stains are darker in the middle, but as they trail to the edges you can tell the stain’s original color seemed to be a deep shade of red. Suddenly it hits me – these are blood stains.
Even stranger than that, on each file folder there’s a stamp reading, “Cancelled. April 14th, 1977”. Why would they all say that? What was so special about that day?
Then I remember. That was the day I asked God into my life. It was the day I embraced the cross of Christ and His sacrifice for my sins. And on that day, the blood of Jesus had completely covered over every one of them. The pages would never be legible again.
Amazingly, even the sins I’d committed after that date were still marked with a cancellation date of 1977. It’s as if even sins committed after that date had already been blotted out in advance. All that’s left now of all my sin and selfishness are ashes and blood…
“And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” - Revelation 12:11 (NKJV)
As I sit there in a stunned amazement, I sense a presence in the room and feel a hand on my shoulder. Looking up, I see Jesus smiling down at me. He says, “How’s it going, Dave? Find anything interesting?” Then a mischievous grin spreads across His face. I think He even chuckles a bit.
“You’ve done this? You’ve saved all these things and kept them waiting for me until today. I never thought…”
“…that I cared that much?”, Jesus interrupts. “Oh yes, David. My Father and I have been so looking forward to this day. You have no idea. And the fun’s only just begun!”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Well, of course we’ve got a big reunion planned for you and all your friends. The party’s just getting started, so we’d better hurry. But I wanted you to see these things first so you’d understand when all these people come up to you. There’s a lot of folks who are pretty excited you’re here now, and can’t wait to tell you some of the things you’ve read in person. So how about hopping up off the floor, and let’s get started!”
“Get started doing what?
Now the grin widens into a smile so bright, it illuminates the entire room. “Making a whole new cabinet full of memories, that’s what! What do you think that empty file cabinet is for?”
Your turn will be soon, my friend. Your file cabinet is waiting. So make sure you are filling those top two drawers to overflowing!
Watch Dave tell the story of HEAVEN’S ATTIC – click here!