Previews of Heaven

Previews of Heaven: Wanting More

This reflection series is about Heaven. To download this reflection series, go here.

Open Door

A good movie preview will be so impressive that it will almost distract you from enjoying the movie that brought you to the theater in the first place. The preview will be tattooed in your mind and the daily countdown to the release date will move slowly. A good movie preview will always leave us wanting more.

The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is a process of daily transformation. We often do not see ourselves progress, but, at various moments in our walk, we realize that something in us is changing or has already changed. There comes a point where reading the Sermon on the Mount no longer feels like a list of impossible demands placed upon our limited human hearts, but rather realistic expectations of a renewed heart. The more one becomes recreated in Christ through his sacrifice and grace the more one begins to reflect his nature.

The more we let Jesus into our lives, the more he is revealed in and through us. We are born again in him, and therefore we find unity in our character with his.  At this point we no longer view certain things in the same light as we used to. To begin with, troubles no longer seem like the end of the world. Our jobs cease to define us.  Our relationships cease to guide us.  Our money ceases to control us. The more we become privy to the foretastes of heaven, the more we realize that all earthly things do pass away but the joys of heaven are ongoing, without end. As we walk deeper into this new life and existence in the Holy Spirit, there emerges a push and pull on the heart of two very different worlds.  While we value the time and opportunities God has prepared for us in this world, we anxiously anticipate finally seeing and being with the Lord. Paul puts it perfectly in his letter to the Philippians:

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. (Philippians 1:22-26)

The words “death” and “the end” loom over our lives, applying pressure in one direction or another. We know how fragile this life is, and how with each passing day we inch closer to the end and further from the beginning. Many people are scared of death. This fear is completely understandable. Life is enjoyable, but more than that, it is known. Death is an end we know nothing about.  We never like to see the end of something familiar and good and death signals such an end. With the knowledge of death constantly looming overhead, we feel pressure to achieve or become something in the time we have left. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that breaks that chain.

Jesus proclaims that to believe in him is to have life, not death. And in his words we come to the understanding that this life is simply a preview for something else, something wonderful, something confidently promised and assured. Whenever Jesus speaks about heaven in the Gospels, he always says that it is “like” something. The reason he teaches about heaven in this way is because to describe heaven accurately to a human mind is impossible. A human mind cannot fully understand it. He uses the word “like” because heaven is “like” nothing else we totally know of yet.  There exists no true comparison for us to appropriately use.

In his brief, powerful dialogue with the thief hanging next to him on the Cross, Jesus clearly believed in the place he so confidently promised to lead the man after their suffering was to end.  Jesus described it as “paradise,” and so we must believe it to be, a place of life in Jesus that does not come to an end. Forever enjoying the presence of the Savior. For the Christian, this desire for Heaven isn’t about what we will get or see or do there, but about knowing Jesus completely. This process begins here in this life, but not until Heaven will all the work of God in us be made complete.

Previews of Heaven: The Best Moments

This reflection series is about Heaven. To download this reflection series, go here.

 

Open Door

source

The relationship between the moviegoer and the movie preview is a complicated one. On one side, we appreciate the previews because by them we stay hooked into the world of movies and entertainment. By watching previews we are updated on the latest and greatest in cinematic brilliance.  Our interest in movies remains consistently high. On the other hand, the movie preview can be something we’d rather do without. The sole motivation that brings us to the movie theater is the feature film, not just a preview. It is for the feature that we blocked out 3 hours in our schedule and paid for our tickets.  We know that in order to stay excited and in tune with the latest movies, we must see the previews.  Therefore, we accept the preview more as something to be endured than enjoyed. Previews are made to achieve three primary goals. They should:

  • Display the best moments
  • Make radically confident claims
  • Leave us wanting more

Over the next three weeks, we’re going to use this analogy of a movie preview to compare with the way Christians are instructed to think about Heaven while we are living for Christ on the Earth.

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It’s always amazing how a two minute trailer can make almost any movie, regardless of the true level of cinematic quality, seem worth watching. This idea reminds me of an episode from one of my favorite television shows, Seinfeld. In one particular episode, the flawed “people’s person” George Constanza finds himself dating a girl who has no knowledge of his long list of faults, flaws, and setbacks. He proceeds to act like everything he’s accomplished in his life (a job with a steady and competitive salary, knowledge of New York City and a stable standard of living) had all miraculously come together within days. By doing this, he hoped to impress his new girlfriend with his sudden success and accomplishments. While telling his friend Jerry about this plan, he said, “You know, if you take everything I’ve done in my entire life and condense it down into one day, it looks decent!”

This is exactly what a movie preview attempts to do. The preview has two minutes to condense the best moments, the most action-packed fight scenes and the funniest one-liners into a compact one-two punch experience that will leave everyone anxious for its release. This is why so many movies wind up failing at the box office. In many cases, the preview outdoes the feature film.

Speaking in terms of our earthly life and its relation to heaven, what we experience in this life is what the Bible calls a “foretaste.” Embodied in the life of Jesus Christ, then regenerated in the lives of disciples, are experiences and foretastes of things unknown, yet promised. At the heart of each of our lives are experiences of purity and perfection that are only attained and experienced intermittently.

Paul writes about these experiences by comparing them to “fruit” when he writes in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

During our lives, God willing, we all will experience each of these at their purest form at least once. These moments tend to last only for a little while, but we remember the experience forever. The moment we were truly loved by someone, we never forget. The moment someone was truly faithful to us, we never forget. The same can be said about all nine “fruits.” These fruits are born out of the Spirit and the Spirit is born out of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his being and identity, Jesus embodied all of these fruits. They are, in turn, recreated and reflected in the lives of those reborn of the Spirit.

The difference between the way that we experience this “foretaste” and the way that a movie preview attempts to impress a moviegoer, is that there is no secret that the movie preview is attempting to sell something that cannot entirely satisfy. If the movie is not as good as the preview, the audience is unsatisfied. But even if the movie is as good as the preview promises, it’s still simply a movie. In this case the audience, while completely entertained, leaves exchanging comments like, “Well, life’s not like the movies.” But the essence of the fruit of the Spirit as a foretaste to something unknown, something wonderful, and something promised, is the truth that the foretaste is for something that exists.  That offers satisfaction, and ultimately delivers. This “thing” is heaven, and it is there that we not only can experience these fruits individually, but also where we experience all fruits simultaneously in an ongoing coexistence with the “gardener” himself, God.