TIME OUT FOR WHINING

Earlier today I had an appointment at the 5th Avenue Starbucks. I consider that place my “worldwide ministry headquarters”, and the four comfy chairs there are my “pastoral counseling office”. It’s relaxed, there’s good coffee, and it has clearly-marked exits. Most people require all three of those when talking to a pastor.

I’d been talking over plans to possibly expand my ministry with my friend, whose advice I value. But as I was driving away, I began to think my plan probably wasn’t such a good idea after all. My friend had been encouraging, but also pointed out some obstacles. Bottom line – I probably wasn’t ready to conquer the world as quickly as I’d thought.

So whenever I’m faced with a disappointment, whenever I see a roadblock in my path, whenever I see the signposts on the roadside saying “Dead End” and it’s clear I need to turn around, I do the same thing you probably do.

I complain.

As I drove toward home, my car and God heard a whole cellar-full of whine. I’m surprised my car didn’t just drive itself off the road to get out of its misery. But as I asked God why, I did see one clear sign:

Serenity Walk

“What the heck is a Serenity Walk?” There was a little parking lot and a pathway wandering off into the woods.

“Great place to get mugged”, I thought. path 2

However, at the moment I really could use some serenity. So I pulled over, got out of my car, and started lumbering down the path to “commune with nature”.  I’m usually fine with nature, until it starts communing back. Some folks like roughing it, but not me. You call it “camping” – I call it “homelessness”.

As I walk, I notice there’s really nothing here but woods. They pay a guy every week to run his double-wide riding mower through it to keep a path cleared. Other than that, a whole bunch of nothing. Maybe that’s a harsh review, but I suppose it takes a lot more than just trees and an abundance of mosquitoes for me to reach my serenity peek.

Did I mention I probably have malaria now? Thought I’d complain a bit more…

Anyway, I’m realizing there’s a very subtle line between “serenity” and “boredom”. Activities some consider boring become serene depending upon your circumstances. A cool breeze seems “serene” if you just got out of a tornado.

So the same pathway that’s boring to some will seem serene to the guy going through a crisis. There are times you’re so stressed, you just want to get away from all the noise. That’s when a lonely walk through a boring patch of woods is a welcomed relief.

I call it “boring” – you call it “serene”.

Right now, I’m not stressed. I’m frustrated with the pace of my progress, and wishing more could happen quicker. Not only in my life, but my progress in this pathway too. Unfortunately, there are no markers to let you know how much farther you have to go, just educational pictures about “Land Mitigation”. So you keep on marching through instead of turning back. Backtracking now could take just as long as walking through.

Now I’m sweaty and irritated. No idea how much longer it will take to get back to my car, and parts of my body are sticking together. There are some nice placards along the route, with lots of wonderful information about the plant life found along the path. Just nothing I care anything about. They’re answering questions I’m not asking.

Wow, that’s exactly how God leads us.  He never tells us how much longer we have to go before we reach the goal, just to keep on going. In fact, if He had told us how long/tough/crazy this journey would be, we might not have ever set out on it in the first place.

So He keeps us clueless, sometimes mercifully so. If He told us how desperately hard the journey would be, we’d fall into despair. Instead, He’s mum about the details. We ask, “How much further, Daddy?” He says, “Oh, just a ways more…”  And then He laughs a little to Himself.

I remember all my complaints and questions to God. He’s just like the placards, completely avoiding my “big questions”. God ignores a lot of my questions the same way I ignore some of the dumb things my kids ask. It’s not that I don’t care, I simply know that some of the answers won’t help even if I give them.

“Why am I going through this?” “Why did this have to happen to me?” That’s what Job asked for 40+ chapters, only to get a big “none of your business” from God at the end!

Well, it doesn’t really matter “why” right now – what matters is that you get through it. So stop asking questions as if that’s going to make the path any shorter. No matter the answer, you’re going to have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When this path is over, then you’ll know it.  Then you can rest.

Sometimes we whine to God thinking He’ll say, “Sorry, what was I thinking? Abracadabra – you’re done!”  We think God’s plan is going to change if we complain enough. It’s not as if He’s your mom at the grocery store, and you’ve managed to badger her into buying the Count Chocula cereal instead of the Wheaties. No, He’s tougher than mom, because He knows just how much you can take.  So He pushes you to that exact point…plus a little bit more.

Well, there’s the end of the path ahead, and I’m wondering what was the point. God didn’t answer any of my questions here. Appears I took time out of my trip home for absolutely nothing.

Hmmm…”time out”. Is that what this was? God gave me a “time out”, taking me on a pointless walk in the woods. I whined, I complained, but He was silent, refusing to respond.

No response except for teaching me about “the path”. He walked me along a winding trail to nowhere, and taught me to just be quiet and keep moving forward.  No epiphanies, no helpful signposts along the way – just sweaty trudging along a “serene” path, never telling me how long the journey would take.

OK, got it. I’m done complaining now. Let’s move forward.

I guess it wasn’t a pointless trip after all. If I ever get frustrated enough in the future, at least now I know a good place to bury the body.

WING AND A PRAYER

wing People often ask me to pray for them. Guess it’s an occupational hazard. But seriously, I don’t mind it at all. In fact, I consider it an honor anyone would value my prayers over their lives.

Sometimes I’m a little overwhelmed by the needs I’m asked to pray about. One guy’s in jail today, separated from his kids and afraid he’s going away to prison. He asks me to pray he will get out, but I have a funny feeling he will probably won’t. It’s not that I lack faith God has the power to set him free. It’s that i understand a little of how God works.

Truth is, God may not want him out yet – the guy might go right back and do the same crime again. More than helping us escape, God wants us to learn from the situation we’re in. Ironically, we’re often praying for God to get us out of something He led us into in the first place. He sent us there to change us, and He won’t let us out under the transformation is complete.

“CAN I SPEAK TO THE MANAGER?”
Sometimes I’m afraid when people ask for my prayers, they’re expecting big results because I’m a pastor. It’s as if they think I’m someone who really has the Big Guy’s ear. So instead of their prayer being one in a million offered up right now, they go to someone with real influence. They think I’ve got connections!

That’s where the TV preachers make the big money. They say, “I’m really tight with God, so if you send in $19.95, I’ll send you the healing cloth/anointing oil/trinket of the week and God will give you what you want”. Sorry, I can’t do that. I know in my heart of hearts that my prayers are no more special than the next Christian’s. I do believe that God hears my prayers and listens to me, but no more than Joe AverageChristian.

So sometimes I’m a little uncomfortable with people’s expectations from my prayers. I’m wondering if they’re going to be disappointed if/when my prayers don’t seem to pay off for them. I’m willing to pray all they want, but i also know God doesn’t get my OK first before doing His will. In fact, in my own life I can assure you God does whatever He wants.

I have been around that group who thinks they can “proclaim it in faith, speak it into existence”, and it will happen. That’s sounds very empowering, but it also sounds like heresy to me. Only God speaks things into existence ex nihilo, and commands things to change. Little old me is left with humbly asking Him to do it, and then accepting His ultimate will. I know that doesn’t sound very impressive, but it actually is tougher to believe in God when He doesn’t do what you want than to convince yourself He’s your cosmic errand boy. The former is faith – the latter is living in denial.

SPIRITUAL FIRST RESPONDER
Some of the people who ask me for prayer see God as little more than a 911 call to be made in emergencies. The same way you’d rarely call the police or fire stations on a daily basis, they don’t talk to God until they’re really facing a cliffhanger. True, they’ve ignored Him for 99.9 percent of their existence on this earth. But now that they’re in trouble, good old God is supposed to hop to it and fix the problem lickety-split. 

I think some of us have an exaggerated opinion of our own importance. We’ve heard all our lives that God loves us, so we think He’s a sucker for any con we want to pull. Sorry to break it to you, but while God does loves you, He’s not emotionally needy. Yes, He wants your love, but He’s not dying to get it. Actually, He already did that once. That should be enough – the next move is up to us.

It’s funny to me that while everyone is so quick to tell God what they want, few people ever stop to ask what God wants. And what God wants is the key to understanding how prayer really works.

METHOD ACTING
When I study for a part in a play, it always helps to know my character’s “motivation” – the thing that makes him tick. If I figure out what it is he wants the most, my actions and delivery on stage come more naturally. 

It works the same with God. If this whole existence really is about Him, then we’d better get to know Him and figure out what it is He really wants – what’s His “motivation”.  And all through the Bible, it’s clear that more than us simply following rules or believing certain doctrines, God truly seeks a relationship with us.

That’s probably why your last dozen prayers fell flat. You were asking for damage control of some situation, while what God wanted was for you to know Him. While that may sound heartless to those who are going through pain, it’s really not.  God understands that more than anything we’re asking for, knowing Him is the one thing that will truly make us happy and fulfilled in life. 

So in our unhappiness, we keep asking Him to take our butts out of the fire. Instead, He keeps putting us through that fire so that in our desperation we will finally cry out to know Him…and finally find true happiness!  It should be so obvious when we see that pattern repeated all through the Bible. Yet that’s what I have to help most people understand about their prayers…

They pray to get out of prison. God gives them fulfillment in the midst of that same prison.

They pray for physical healing. God gives them spiritual strength as a result of going through illness.

They pray for more money. God shows them what matters more than money, and in Him they find true riches.

If we are truly following God and learning from Him, we eventually catch on that this relationship with Him is all that really matters. We see that our friendship with God is the source of all strength, and ultimately the answer to every prayer.

PRAY FOR ME
I prayed with a friend today who is worried about his marriage. He spent most of an hour explaining the situation to me, and why he thinks she might leave him. As he spoke, I began to worry because I knew he would probably be asking me to pray that God saves his marriage. That would surely be high on my list of things to pray for, but I know that answer will only come if his wife listens to God. As much as I want that answer for him, I know that it may not be the answer in the end.

When we finally sorted through all the details, my friend got to the point. He said, “As I’ve cried out to God these past days to save my marriage, I’ve realized that what matters most is not my marriage, but God! I’m starting to realize that even if my wife walks away, I’m gonna be OK because my happiness depends ultimately on God, not her. So either way, I’m good”.

Tears running down his face, he asked me to pray with him that he would respond properly no matter God’s final answer. As we bowed for prayer and linked our arms together, I knew my friend understood something most people don’t. 

He knew the ultimate answer to every prayer we pray is found in the very Person we’re praying to. It is not what He can do for us – it is He Himself. 

And when our prayer is for more of God, that is a prayer I can guarantee He will always answer with “yes”!

AMERICAN PIE

When I think of Billy Graham these days, I get a bit melancholy. I miss his more fruitful years of ministry, because it was a much more spiritually vibrant time in our nation’s history. I long for the days when people believed all you needed was a good man who’d stand up and proclaim God’s Truth. But now, I’m not sure what it would take to pull us back from the brink of destruction.

A friend stopped me on the street last week to talk. He surprised me by telling me he actually reads my articles (this is in addition to my mom… at least I hope mom is reading?).

After his initial kind words of support and agreement with my article, his face suddenly dropped and became pensive.

“I think we’ve lost it,” he said dourly.

“What do you mean?” I asked

“We’ve lost our country. I don’t see how we can survive. Things are too crazy, and too many people are only out for themselves. We’ve finally gone past the point of no return, I’m afraid…”

This surprised me because even though I had met the man before through volunteering, I had never known him to be particularly religious. In fact, he seemed to have no religious agenda in his statements. To him, it simply looks that morally the wheels are coming off. I stood there with my mouth hanging open, stunned by the pessimism of his words.

Disclaimer: I normally try to avoid making extreme statements, because you lose credibility if you sound like you’re only trying to shock people. And religious guys carrying sandwich boards proclaiming “THE END IS NEAR” are really quite passé nowadays, along with the whole sackcloth and ashes thing.

Nobody likes a Chicken Little. And then when the sky doesn’t fall, you’re the one left with egg on your face (see what I did there…Chicken…egg…is this microphone on?)

However, as I looked at this man and considered his statements, I had to say that, for the most part, I agree. Without any sense of sensationalism, I believe we’re desperately, perhaps irretrievably lost.

How’s that for encouragement?

Fiddling While Rome Burns
We’re severely divided politically. The polarization of angry opinions leaves no room for seeking common ground. We have forgotten how to talk with civility, to respect those with opposing views, on BOTH sides of the aisle. My gut is that most politicians know it’s just a racket and say whatever will get their side motivated – the height of cynicism.

And the church? Well, here we sit, and sittings what we seem to do best. After all those years of voting against this and against that, we’re rarely able to articulate much of what we were “for”. So tell me…what WAS it for?

In the political arena, Christians have rarely managed to show more love than anger, and now we are paying for it. Few buy our talk about how much we love them, because we seem to put much more energy behind our anger over social issues than behind helping people. Our words say we love, but we are often much more invested in reaction.

Most people in our culture have forgotten what the church was supposed to do in the first place: many see us as the religious Kiwanis Club or Masonic Lodge. To call us irrelevant now would make VCR’s and UHF channels look in vogue by comparison. To the vast majority of our culture, our churches are the place they go to get married or attend a funeral. Why would anyone waste time there on a weekly basis? Isn’t there anything on TV?

Meanwhile, our churches stopped reaching out to the lost in our community and instead raised money to build bigger buildings. We said those buildings were all meant to attract the unchurched. But in truth, they were really for us and our kids. Focusing our social lives around huge recreational facilities, we didn’t have to mix with all those yucky non-Christians from the real world. We circled our wagons in our new “monasteries” rather than engaging and changing the culture. Now the circle grows smaller as our cultural influence evaporates like the morning mist.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against churches owning buildings. But too many of them sit empty most days of the week, and are rarely used to reach beyond church members to the community. I served one church that put lots of money to build a gym…right across the street from another community gym! Why in the world did a church need it’s own gym when one was right across the street? Why in the world wouldn’t we get involved in THAT OTHER GYM and try to be salt and light in our community?

Most baptistries lay empty now, except for baptizing our own church kids, or rebaptizing existing members again. Even the most evangelistic of denominations, Southern Baptists, have been declining over the last several years. Much bluster has been feigned to address this decline, with a million causes and as many possible solutions.

As I have watched from within the church, my diagnosis of the decline is a simple one. I believe we don’t sharing our faith anymore because it would demand that we actually care about someone other than ourselves. Yes, I know that’s harsh, but most Christians choose their church the way others choose fast food in a drive through window. But church has become, for us, merely a tool to meet “my needs” or those of my family. Not “Onward Christian Soldiers”, but instead “Welcome KMart Shoppers”.

The traditional family is on life support, and I think we’re at least partly to blame. So many Christians have abandoned the commitment of our marriages because, just like the world, we “just didn’t feel fulfilled anymore” by our spouse. Too many “good church men” I’ve known ran around on their wives, but found satisfaction that “at least we’re not perverted like the homosexuals”. That was always an easy target to divert attention away from our own sexual sins and infidelities, wasn’t it? Our “moral high ground” was underwater.

Revive Us Again
Before anyone thinks I’m just pointing fingers here, let me state clearly that I have been a part of the problem. I too loved the comfort that a church focused on “me” could offer, and most of the time what I’ve done in Jesus name has been “Too little, too late”. I am currently in recovery from my addiction to the Church of Me. They always say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem…

I do believe only God can help us now, but I’m afraid we’re still too arrogant to ask Him. We have spent so much time speaking for Him, we probably wouldn’t recognize God unless Oprah sat down to interview Him.

At different points of our history, when our nation was in great moral distress, people did something simple and seemingly futile, and usually as a last resort – they prayed. Waves of great spiritual awakenings swept through our nation during the Great Awakening of the 1700s, and then the 2nd Great Awakening of the mid 1800s. Most of our greatest hymns come from those revivals, and they were the genesis behind the tremendous evangelistic meetings of a southern preacher in the 20th century named Billy Graham.

Since Billy, we haven’t really seen another great move of God. And that’s why I think we’re in trouble. I believe we’ve made a mess no President, congress, or pastor’s conference can fix. Our country’s problems are so big only a God-sized solution will work.

Bottom line: we need God to bust through our doors, sweep us up in His arms and save us from ourselves. Like a father would save a drowning child, like a spouse would pick up their addicted loved one in their arms and take them straight to rehab, we desperately need that kind of a rescue from God right now.

On Thursday, Nov 7, 2013 Billy Graham spoke to the nation on TV for what he says is his last sermon. He spent about 30 minutes calling us back to God and back to the cross of Christ. It was a message not unlike any other he’d preached before – simple, direct, calling for us to face the fact we are sinners in need of God.

Frankly, it’s not a message our nation wants to hear now – we all feel too good about ourselves and our sins. I wept as I listened to this Godly man and His simple message. I wept not only because of the beauty of the unvarnished Gospel, but also because I think we are tone deaf to the music of God’s voice.

I was moved as I realized this was Dr. Graham’s last opportunity to make a difference in our sin-sick world. My hope is that, God willingly, it’s not our last opportunity as well…

IMAGINE HEAVEN

attic 2

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!

REIMAGINING HEAVEN

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…

HEAVEN’S ATTIC

“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 certainantique-wood-file-cabinets-omxfdtqh 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…

TOP DRAWER

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)

SECOND DRAWER

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)

THIRD DRAWER

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)

BOTTOM DRAWER

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!