1.The Bible is our textbook.
2. The Holy Spirit leads our discussion.
3. We are authentic here; no masks allowed.
4. If you feel something being said is unbiblical, you have the right to speak up and respectfully ask where the other person found that in Scripture.
Such were the guidelines of the community in which I lived this summer. Every Sunday night, a ragtag bunch of young adults gathers at the home of a dear couple named Kevin and Laurie. The structure is simple: eat a meal together, share where you’re at spiritually, pray for one another, and have a Bible-based discussion. Nothing fancy; no frills. Just honesty and following the Lord.
And yet, my first night there, it felt like home. I had found the happy circle of believers even in this small town, and I fit right in. I love the saints and I loved seeing these precious ones work out their salvation, even in a little place in Texas nobody has really heard of. If I had only listened and not participated in discussion, it would have been worth it. And so I listened and spoke and read Scripture and prayed and laughed a lot (they’re a merry bunch), and then the time came for me to leave.
I have a happy circle of believers in Arkansas, too, but it was hard to leave these dear ones. However, I am young and the seasons of life fly, and as this one drew to a close, I packed up my bags and left.
But I remember well my last night with them, in which there was so much joy in living I let my heart fill to the brim. I sat next to the man named Daniel as we played telephone Pictionary and successfully misinterpreted, to his chagrin, his every drawing. I talked to the dear co-op students, both coming and going, had a final catchup with Kevin and Laurie, exchanged hugs with the girls. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks and went home full- mostly of joy.
A week prior to my actual leaving for college, I had to go to Arkansas for a wedding. I remember the sadness I felt at leaving town, made double by the fact that my leaving would be permanent within the week. I had just had several of these dear friends over the night before and I was keenly feeling their loss. However, during my quiet time that morning, I had a sudden and hopeful thought and texted my friend Hannah- “Community was never meant to be disrupted. And the best community finds its center in Christ. I think I might be looking forward to eternity for the first time!!”
Let me give context to this message– I have always been scared of eternity. Deathly scared. I know it sounds bizarre but have you ever thought about the fact that heaven NEVER ENDS? I was the freak child who showed up downstairs way-past-my-bedtime to tell my parents that I couldn’t sleep because I was, for all intents and purposes, afraid of living FOREVER. You may laugh (and rightly so), but if you truly believe that our life is never-ending, it’s a little overwhelming. Most days, a thought of eternity is simply an opportunity for me to say, “Lord, I trust that You are good and eternity—even eternity—will be wonderful because You will be there.”
And then, this summer, I felt the breaking of community and wondered at my sadness—and suddenly found a reason, and within that The Reason—to eagerly anticipate even the unceasing nature of heaven itself. For in heaven, there will be no more broken community. I will get to sit and laugh and converse (will we do those sorts of things?) with every believer who has ever lived. The ones I’ve known and the ones I haven’t. And so my hope began to grow.
But I remembered the words of John Piper- he is constantly saying that heaven wouldn’t be heaven without Christ. He is right. I cannot desire heaven simply for the company of my friends; though they are sweet, they are neither fulfilling nor ultimate. No, it runs deeper than that. My desire for heaven springs from a desire for community-rather, communion- with God himself. If He is not there, it is nothing. The reason I long for heaven is because I long– I long– to see the invisible face of God himself and to simply exist within His tangible presence.
Fast forward- it’s my first week back in Arkansas. I sit under the teaching of a local pastor. He has us imagine, for a moment, the glory of being in communion of God, free of the weight of sin. O God! to be in that place!
One of our summer-company is there, even now. The man named Daniel, whom I sat next to during Pictionary? He suffered an accident and is now with the Lord. Nineteen years old.
And I think again- this is wearisome news. It is still unreal and I ache for his family. Life gone, at so young an age. And yes, he is lost to us, but o friends, he is not lost to Christ. Daniel now beholds the “joy of every longing heart”. And because of this, I am yet a bit jealous. He is seeing Jesus. Right now.
And that, friends, is why eternity will be awesome. The fount of life, the joyful Creator himself will be there! O friends- o friends- could we ask for a forever as fine as this? Could we merit a destiny as full of joy- full of God himself? And in Christianity we find not only the joy of living but the joy of dying- dying in our mortality that we may be raised to behold the Immortal. And yes, it will be lovely because we will be with this glorious, unchanging, faithful, life-giving God, and we will be seeing him and tasting him and savoring him and praising him—together.
To close- dear Daniel, you and your keen thoughts and your joy will be sorely missed. But as C.S. Lewis jubilantly called to Mr. Van Auken over the sound of British traffic—“Christians NEVER say goodbye!”
1. Quote from “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by Charles Wesley.
2. Quoted from A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Van Auken.
3. Photo Credit: Lucero Cervantes