About sixteen years ago Lisa and I loaded up our family for what would be a very memorable camping trip. It was one of those trips that years later stands out in my memory for multiple reasons, one specifically that came to mind as I was thinking through my last message in our series focused on Resurrection.
The trip was to Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa in Southern Colorado. Lisa and the kids had arrived with another family earlier in the day, and my friend David and I drove later that evening, after work. It was our first time to the dunes, and by the time we arrived it was pitch dark. As we drove into the campground there was just enough moonlight to make out the faint outline of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range in the distance. We knew the dunes were there, but in the darkness they couldn't be seen. We quickly collapsed into our sleeping bags for a good nights rest.
The next morning I woke a bit late, and crawled out of our tent into full sunlight. Standing and looking toward the sand dunes, I was stunned. They were huge. Massive! I had seen a few pictures, but in real life these were far bigger than I imagined, and right on top of us. In fact, what I had perceived the night before to be the Sangre De Cristo mountains in the distance had in fact been the Dunes themselves, less than a quarter mile away.
Here's the point: As western evangelical Christians, our concept of "heaven when we die" is often analogous to those sand dunes when I came up on them in the dark. Little more than a dim outline in the distance, with even that outline being confused for what it really is. There are plenty caricatures of Heaven, such as wearing a robe while playing a harp while floating on a cloud. A common idea is the one-dimensional concept of heaven as a place Jesus will come and take us to, while delivering us from this evil world, with the implication of Heaven being a place infinitely far away. And, in comparison to this world, Heaven of course would be, well, heavenly. But at times we even hedge on that, saying things like "I really hope there is Bar-B-Q in Heaven, because if not, I'm not sure it will be that great!" (I grew up in Texas-smile. You could substitute 'sking', 'beaches', 'ice cream', or anything else you really hope makes it through from this earth to the next). At times the main point of heaven almost seemed to be that it wasn't hell, and as long as we avoided that, well, then anything would be really good.
But then, when we slow down to closely look at what scripture actually has to say, these distant and confused outlines start to change into the view of the sand dunes I was confronted with in the full light of morning. Stunning. Breathtaking. And a lot closer than thought. I wasn't in the dunes yet, but there they were, dominating the horizon, tantalizing us with the pending excitement of launching into their midst. Likewise, while Scriptural references to the great Hope of Eternity are like (to quote N.T. Wright once again), "Signposts pointing into a bright mist", this mist is far clearer than we may think. There is of course so much we don't know, but what Scripture does show us is stunning, breathtaking, a great mountain of hope that is so much closer than we think. Far from the caricatures of clouds, robes, and harps, the New Testament vision of Eternity is one of a physical, relational, social, and culturally active dynamic, freed at last from the ravages of sin and death, where God's Glory is evidenced in all things, and He is at the center of all things. As the famous song proclaims, we can only imagine, but God has graced our imagination with glimpses of Eternity from the goodness of His Word.
It is into this bright mist of eternal hope that we will fix our eyes this Sunday here at Trinity. If this topic may be encouraging to you, I invite you to give this Sunday's message a listen. As always, I sincerely value your prayers for us here as we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus and express Him to the people of the Vail Valley. Know that we are praying the same for you in your home communities.
By the way, I'm pretty certain there will be Bar-B-Q in heaven. (Smile!)
In the Hope of Eternity,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV)
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)