I’ve got issues with how people talk about heaven. It bothers me that the most popular Christian books are “proofs” of the afterlife instead of accounts of how people have lived out the kingdom of God here on Earth. Last week, part of my sermon text came from a passage in Hebrews 11 that refers to the hope of the Israelite patriarchs: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises… They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” It is one thing to live in the hope of a promise that will not be fulfilled in your lifetime; it is another thing to live in a nihilistic indifference to God’s beautiful creation because you’re ready for Him to burn it up and rapture you away. The way that my favorite podcast preacher Jonathan Martin put it in his sermon last week is that we don’t need to get ready to leave Earth and go to heaven; we need to be ready for the day that God brings heaven to Earth.
What was beautiful about Jonathan’s message was that he presented a very balanced perspective to an issue in which there are often two sides — the “kingdom” people who are focused on working for social justice and establishing the present reality of the kingdom of God and the “heaven” people who are focused on getting people right with God so they can spend eternity with Him. Jonathan named the fact that privilege can presumptuously inform both sides of the debate. It’s not just the case that suburbanites who want to sanctify their apathy about the world’s problems adorn themselves with the label of “pilgrims just passing through.” It’s also true that people who want to “build the kingdom now” are often coming from a place of youthful invincibility that can be scornful of others in desperate situations who just want God to pull the plug and beam His people up.
But what made this a uniquely beautiful message for me personally was when Jonathan spoke about our sense of time. He observed that many of us feel like the clock is ticking on our lives. We have dreams and goals that we’re not sure we’re going to accomplish. But the good news is that in Jesus Christ, we have all the time in the world, and God will bring to completion the good work He has started in us. That’s what Jonathan said that literally made me cry and made me cry right now to write this sentence. To believe in the resurrection and the final consummation of God’s kingdom means that we believe that nothing will be wasted.
You all know that I’m a diva. I’ve spent a lifetime wrestling with delusions of grandeur and a need to be important and famous and make an impact. God has used my monstrous ego, I think, but I still write “Crucify my pride” more than any other prayer that I put in my journal. Perhaps it’s a very normal thing when you’re 35 to get anxious about whether you’re going to achieve in life whatever it is that you’re supposed to achieve and wondering how “far behind” you are after having wasted your twenties.
I went to a conference this week where I heard presentations from people younger than me who have already started multiple churches or are lead pastors in 1000+ member congregations. It’s very hard for a diva to sit in the back row of a big room where you know almost nobody and wonder if you’ll ever be the one in the front talking. And it’s so scandalous and embarrassing to me to be tormented by these silly, narcissistic thoughts. I guess the reason I’m broadcasting them to you is to crucify them.
I’ve always felt this overwhelming sense of urgency about the message I’m supposed to share with people. The evangelical church is in a crisis, because it has to be in a crisis so that my earth-shattering word from God can be relevant. Unless I write my uber-important, paradigm-exploding book in the next two years, then something unalterable will happen to the universe and it will be too late.
I’ve had two different cancer scares in the last year, both times blood coming out of two different places it shouldn’t have. One turned out to be ulcerative colitis; the other they don’t know yet, but there isn’t anything in my bladder and kidneys that’s not supposed to be there. I was mentally preparing myself for a stage 4 diagnosis that would then force me to throw myself furiously into the book or at least make enough of an outline so that somebody else could pick it up and finish it. Finding out the good news in both cases, it made me question even though I had real legitimate symptoms how much my neurotic sense of urgency hyped up the “scare” in my head.
I even worry about things like how much longer physical paperback books will exist and whether it will be too late to publish mine whenever I get around to writing it. Will there only be blogs five years from now? I worry that I’m going to pick up another book at one of these conferences and find out that somebody else has already said everything that God has given me to say.
It isn’t just ego that makes me neurotic about these things. It’s a sense of responsibility for the words and ideas with which I have been entrusted. The thought that they would languish in a Microsoft Word document on a forgotten hard-drive somewhere is devastating to me. Similarly, I don’t know what to do with the fact that I speak Spanish fluently and almost feel more at home in Latino culture than my own. Am I supposed to be a missionary? But why the hell would anyone in Latin America need a privileged gringo to come down and take work away from pastors who need to support their families? So if I don’t use my Spanish in some kind of purposeful way for God, is it wasted? Will God be disappointed?
What about all the nights that I spent learning how to make electronic music on my computer, every few months thinking that I had arrived and then listening to a professional track and realizing how exponentially further I needed to get despite how exponentially I had already grown? Electronic music simply doesn’t have an outlet for amateurs. There are no coffee-house open mics where you can play mediocre techno songs for people to give encouraging golf-claps for. It’s either club-ready or it’s not. Period. I went to a rave in New York City in 2003, and God told me that worship could be like that, so I thought I was supposed to make a rave church and that dream has been fueling every minute that I’ve spent producing music since then. You can’t make rave churches when you’re over 35, can you? And I will probably never not suck at making dance music. So is all of that wasted too?
All of this is why I so desperately needed to hear that in Christ, we have all the time in the world, and that God will bring to completion the good work that He’s started in us. My greatest fear is the thought that any gift that God has given me would be wasted. I wrote a (bad) song several years ago about how haunted I am by the parable of the talents. I need to trust that He won’t let me bury His dreams into the ground like the servant who wasted His master’s gold. It’s hard to know whether trusting that means that I’m supposed to stop trying to smash my way through every door that is closed in my path. I have literally cussed God out multiple times in my journal over this topic. He didn’t have to give me these gifts and words; and He will have to kick down the doors and scream in the ears of the major players who are ignoring me (whoever they are) if He wants me to use them to His glory.
I’m trying to trust you, God, but it is so damn hard to be patient. Thank you for giving me that word from Jonathan. Use it to bless, comfort, and ignite others. Keep throwing those seeds out.