The Distracted Quest for Heaven on Earth

The Distracted Quest for Heaven on Earth

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources


Vulnerable

The congregation in Laodicea thought things were great. They were God’s children, who enjoyed prosperity and contentment. It had to have come as a shock to be called out:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

Some of the most pointed accusations in Scripture were made against the believers who had been unwittingly assimilated into the trappings of life in a sin-infected world (Romans 12:21; Galatians 6:7; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Hebrews 13:9; James 1:16).

It is important to realize that each of us is vulnerable to being lured into thinking like the world. We need to grasp this point to understand the next point.

We Are Challenged by Wealth

Jesus said,

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24)

When I think of being rich, I think of millionaires and billionaires. I typically don’t think of myself as rich.

Scripture more describes than defines wealth. The rich could throw “large amounts” of money into the temple treasury (Mark 12:41). They were well fed and comfortable in contrast to those who suffered and hungered (Luke 6:24-25). By this standard, when compared to the billions of people in the world, most of us would qualify as being rich.

When communism fell, we had guests visiting from Ukraine and I took them to the grocery store. They stared in amazement. The shelves were many and overflowing. In Ukraine, the shelves were mostly empty. I grumbled when I could not find cinnamon raisin bread, they rejoiced if they could find any loaf of bread.

That experience forced me to look more critically at wealth and its trappings.

James suggests that wealth can feed into the pride of self-accomplishment (James 1:10). Look at Paul’s instruction to Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:17–18)

We know that a rich person can be a follower of God (Genesis 26:12-14; Matthew 27:57), but wealth has a way of changing a person.

Wealth seemed to blind the rich man to the need of Lazarus:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19–21)

Consider Our Lives

When I travel I do so in a climate-controlled car. I live in a climate-controlled house. I complain about roads with potholes. I don’t like a restaurant that lets my food get cold. And I am frustrated that Amazon cannot give me same-day delivery on everything.

When we built our home I took a builder’s model and redesigned it. I laid awake countless evenings thinking through every element of the design and build process. I wanted it to be perfect.

We built a beautiful home, nestled in the woods. It is a quiet cul-de-sac and we have wonderful neighbors. Yet, since we moved into the home in 2000, we have made changes. We wanted charming and tranquil landscaping. We wanted a deck and then we looked for the “perfect’ furniture for the porch and deck.

I decided to reverse the swing of an outside door. I wished I had added a window to an upstairs room. In time, we were tired of the carpet and wall colors. During the pandemic, we remodeled the kitchen.

Not everyone gets into the living space like we do. Sometimes we put this kind of attention into finding the perfect spouse, the perfect church, the perfect friends, and having the perfect children who can attend the perfect schools.

As for material things, we may focus on our homes, cars, vacation spots, jobs, or hobbies. No matter what it is, we feel it needs to be better.

We save our money, plan our next course of action, and set out to change what at one time we thought was terrific. We find a better vacation site. We lock in a better restaurant. We identify a better job, a more comfortable riding car, and the list goes on. Given time we often look to upgrade.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. (“Mere Christianity”)

Where We Find Contentment

The Apostle Paul describes contentment this way:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:12)

Paul calls it a “secret,” yet he knew it and he was telling others about it. This contentment was a secret to the world. It was not to be found in riches, relationships, food, or even in the intentional deprivation of these things. This contentment came from the power of God the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural change in people whether they are rich or poor, surrounded by friends, or isolated in loneliness. It is defined by the single relationship that we have with God through Jesus Christ.

So What?

For over 35 years I have spoken and written about our purposes in life, the role of suffering, and why people fear death. As I reflect on those matters, there is an undercurrent activity that challenges all of us: Fidgeting with our lives to establish a heaven on earth.

The Laodiceans did not see the accusation coming. Perhaps you felt the same way. Yet, consider what it is that you have established as your purpose in life. Why do you fear death or the loss of a loved one? Why does the suffering of others tug at our hearts, but our suffering baffles us to indignation?

Concerning death and resurrection the Apostle Paul wrote:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:19–20)

Imagine for a moment that what we read in the Scriptures is really true. I know – we always say we believe that – but now embrace it personally. What if our careers were never about us but about serving God and others (Matthew 22:37-39)? What if where we live was about serving God and others (Acts 17:26-28)? What if our abilities to play beautiful music, fix things, imagine new concepts, and so forth are all about serving God and others (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 4:10)? What if our wealth, our possessions, our investments, our worldly gains are not about us at all but about serving God and others (2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Philippians 2:3-5; Colossians 3:23; 1 Timothy 6:17-19)?

We commonly sing, “I am a stranger here, heaven is my home” and yet like the Laodiceans, we get assimilated into our culture. We measure progress by the world’s standards. We attach contentment to progress made in a sin-infected world. Death, therefore, comes as the dark figure with the sickle, interrupting and destroying our plans and aspirations.

We are then challenged by the words of Paul:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 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! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:21–24)

Everything spoken in Scripture about this world portrays it as infected by sin (Isaiah 24:5-6; Hosea 4:1-3; Romans 8:19-21), inhabited by sinful people (Genesis 8:21), and destined for destruction (Matthew 6:19; 1 John 2:17).

This same Scripture speaks with equal clarity about heaven with God as our home (John 14:2-3), where we go upon death (John 11:25) as an eternal existence (Daniel 12:2). It has all the characteristics of paradise (Luke 23:43; Revelations 7:15-17) and especially, it is God’s gift to us through his Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

Heaven is for real and it is our home. The sooner we realize that the sooner we accept our present sufferings as nothing compared to the surpassing greatness that lies ahead (Romans 8:18). This is not heaven. The best is yet to come!

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