5. Misery in Heaven

Part 5 in the series, My Summer Vacation 2010

Juan Diego and I walked solemnly out of Christ’s house. I didn’t want to leave because I had so much to ask Him. How could He expect me to awaken His comfortably sleeping sheep if they don’t want to wake-up? I wondered if I was being sent on an impossible mission. Again I thought of the man who asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brother about hell.

So immersed in thought was I that I did not pay much attention to the happy people around me or to where we were going. My heart was heavy. Imagine that. There I was in heaven trying to figure out how to keep Christ from losing his beloved sheep who worship with their lips and not their hearts? Am I my brother’s keeper? To attempt to correct the vain is an excellent way to make enemies. Then I thought about the proverb that says that a wise man will accept correction, but a fool will only hate you. Perhaps Christ knows that there are a few wise men among the vain, and it is those I must seek out at my peril. To abandon this call would be cowardly, surely deserving of doom.

This is no vacation, I thought, it is like waking up to a living nightmare. I felt as if I was about to fall off a cliff. Where is that guidance and encouragement He promised?

Exhausted by my fretting I tried to clear my mind and simply enjoy the light and abundant joyful life surrounding me. After all, I was among the elite successful. I wanted to absorb as much of their strength as I could. I never expected people in Heaven would have bodies until I remembered that when Christ came back from the dead and ate fish and honey, He said that He wasn’t a spirit. Looking around I noticed that the people in Heaven seemed to be from every country in the world. I saw Orientals, other Asians like Israelites and Russians, and I saw Europeans, Eskimos, Africans, Hispanics, Indians and Native Americans. There were also plenty of people who carried in their genes delightful combinations of all races. Maybe they were all Americans or all Catholics I thought with a chuckle!

Jumping right out of my internal musings, I looked over at Juan Diego and asked, “Where are all the people who have died but who aren’t here in Heaven?” and without waiting for his reply I added, “Will I see my parents and my grandfathers. I want so much to see them again. Are they here?”

“For the most part,” he replied, “non-residents of Heaven are doing what they had been doing their entire lives that kept them from being here, those who cursed are cursing, those who thought only of themselves are still thinking only of themselves. Those who spent all day judging everyone around them are still judging everyone around them. We are all waiting for the end of time, but they aren’t as free and happy as these Heaveners. Most of them, I’m afraid, are suffering as much if not more than they did on earth. But there is hope for them at the Great Judgment, and so they wait and hope. Those who are lucky enough to be prayed-for are being refreshed and have the greatest chance of making it in the end.”

Just as he said those words, Juan Diego and I turned a corner which opened onto an immaculately manicured park full of colorful flowers where a bearded man stood up from his bench and walked over to greet us.

“Hello, I am Peter of Damaskos. The Lord received reports of your fretting and sent me to help you. You overestimate what is expected of you my friend. Simply try harder to be a good example to others; first you must live it before you can teach it. You don’t need to be confrontational and argumentative. Identify your mark and pray, making corrective comments gently but consistently.

Then pray for those who you have distressed and those who distress you. Whatever you do, do not harbor the least trace of rancor as rancor weakens your soul and then you will not be able to endure with forbearance when the time comes to pray for them who mistreat you as the Lord commanded.

Your prayers will dispatch angels from here who can enter the souls of men with fertile soil to guide them to the wakefulness and the purity Christ seeks. Do this and you will return to live among us.”

Peter then hugged me with the same warmth of Jesus and excused himself. I looked over at Juan Diego who was already piercing me with his cerulean eyes, and asked how I was doing.

“I may survive.” I said sheepishly. “What’s next? Can we go to the beach for a picnic?" I added desperate to lighten-up.

8. The Last Day of Heaven

Part 8 in the series, My Summer Vacation 2010

"Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2,3

I thought about this passage as Juan Diego was taking me through the meadow of sunflowers. As with the other trips we had gone on since he woke me up that first morning, I had no idea of what to expect, but like an infant the only way to respond was wide-eyed and ready.  

September 1st was rapidly approaching, and I didn’t want to leave. I knew that like a child, I had no choice in the matter. To be humble must mean to surrender my will; to go merrily along with God and His most loyal servants like an infant with neither fear nor resistance. I vowed on my return home to study my baby and maybe even my puppy too to watch real humility in action. 

Juan Diego knocked me off that train of thoughts by announcing, “I have some bad news. We have run out of time. There were others who wanted to meet you, but something big is about to happen, so they asked us to leave immediately.”

“What?” I asked, suddenly gripped by fear. “Is Jesus going to return to earth? Is this the end of the world?”

“I can’t tell you, please walk faster, and don’t talk. I must be ready to receive instructions.”

Odd how we think we want to be in the Life of the Ages to Come until it becomes a reality. I have grown comfortable dancing with evil.

“I don’t want to go back down to earth just in time for its annihilation! Let me stay here! I’ll wait here; you go!” I screamed.

“Don’t be absurd, weren’t you the one who was just thinking about the virtues of humility. Walk faster. This place will end too, remember?”

Juan Diego turned out of the field of sunflowers into a huge cornfield, which I guessed was designed to keep me from seeing anything at all. Soon I noticed that it was a corn maze. Juan Diego grabbed my hand and swiftly lead me through right and left turns that had my mind spinning. Not spinning exactly, since I couldn’t think at all; probably another intentional maneuver on his part.

Suddenly, we emerged from the corn maze to find ourselves back at the airport. Elijah’s airplane was there with the stairs down and the familiar group of people boarding. No one spoke.

I couldn’t believe that this vacation was ending so abruptly. I never even saw my parents.

“Stop that!” said Juan Diego. “Haven’t you learned anything? If you ever expect to live with God you must be more humble than that. All you want to do is wine and complain about what you don’t have. Wake yourself up, man! This is the time to focus like never before; be ready for the Great Day. “

Was he serious? When he had said that I needed to be back before creation day, I thought he meant creation of the first earth. Could it possibly be that the time has come and now is when the old earth will pass away and the new earth will be populated? With a flash of thought, I wondered how that place will differ from heaven. Then I quickly remembered the part about the Great Judgment seat of Christ? Yikes! Double yikes! With a frenetic mind I moved to what I had read about the last day on earth. If the bodies in graves will rise, and the heavenly people will descend to meet Jesus in the sky, well, what does that mean for us in this plane?

As a child is carried in and out of places, all new and different without a modicum of fear or complaint, never knowing good or evil, so too was I expected to pass nonchalantly through the biggest cataclysm the universe has ever known.   

My band of brothers calmly filed into Elijah’s plane. Not a sound could be heard among us. Yet I was sure that the angels and saints were hearing plenty as prayers for peace and safety, and mostly mercy were being transmitted.

Juan Diego and I took our seats in the middle of the plane. The sound of Elijah’s familiar voice over the loud speaker was welcomed. “Are you ready?”was all that he said. The stewardess was much more solemn than before, no smiles, as she went through her monologue of instructions.

The plane took off. In silence we flew through the quality of light I had grown accustomed to in heaven. Then we entered into a darkness that made me feel as if we were at the bottom of an unfathomable ocean, deep beneath any sign of life. I searched for memories of Gospel passages about the end times; dear Matthew with his precious warnings and instructions carried through the centuries of human history for this moment. My mind continued to flitter with wonder about what was happening at that moment in heaven and on earth.

Outside the plane burst a conflagration in the sky unlike anything I have ever seen, volcanic, shocking.  A white light, bright as lightening but slower appeared in the darkness to reveal the face of Christ, nothing but His face until the darkness returned. The light then slowly saturated the black sky until all was grey. Could we have reached the void that existed before the creation of earth? I knew it, we have arrived at the zero zone, no good or evil, only a void through which we must travel to the new universe.

In the void, my mind went blank; I didn’t even think to say the Jesus prayer but I was no longer afraid.

Still, silent, gray, timeless, void

Elijah’s voice broke the silence to announce, “Okay folks, this was a drill. Please prepare for the descent. We should be arriving in Washington DC in 15 minutes. Make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened, and trays are in the upright position.”

Drills were never mentioned in any of the churches I attended. I was glad to know that in heaven they aren’t so negligent. I looked over at Juan Diego wide eyed and in shock only to see his big toothy grin. My vacation had ended.   

9. The Fall from Heaven

I returned from heaven with a renewed commitment to Christ and His mission. I think by not letting me see my parents or anyone else I had known personally I was made to realize that Jesus might have meant it when He said, “You must be perfect” and “The way is very narrow and few find it.” The highway to heaven theory must be wrong, where all a person has to do is the very same thing that demons do, that is to know that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to free-up Hades and restore the bridge to God that was demolished after Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden. Demons don’t go to heaven; I now know that for a fact.

Lying in my very own comfy bed, I pondered the advent of the New Year, the one that begins in September, when it is believed that God first created earth, when schools from east and west start to teach students anew. How could I become a better disciple? Does the word discipline have anything to do with discipleship? I wondered if the words disciple and discipline had that uncanny relationship in the Greek language too.

Then I remembered how sad Jesus was when He told me that people worship Him with their mouths and not their hearts because someday and forever after they will not be with Him as they fantasize they are now. It is so easy to make Christ in our image and likeness. He is as pliable as our imaginations make Him. The unspoken theory seems to be that when we get to heaven we will suddenly be changed, all of our faults and weaknesses, i.e. our self indulgences will instantly disappear. Who would want that? If people refuse to conform to the image and likeness of God here and now, when it is entirely their own free will to do so, where people love and die for freedom, who thinks it is a good idea to be forced into the mindset of God in order to live peacefully with the martyrs and saints? That would be murder!

Dying to self is one thing, a good thing, at least Saint Paul thought so when he said in Corinthians 15:31 that he dies every day. Martyrs were willing to die when they were given a choice between death and renouncing Christ. But does anyone want to be murdered? Would God even want to murder any one, to hold them up at gunpoint and force them to change their minds and hearts, or would He change His rules to accommodate hypocrites and liars because they meant well, and believed they would get in?

Just to be safe, I thought I had better enroll anew in the army of Christ. To be a Christian soldier is to be disciplined just like any other kind of soldier. Every day soldiers wake up to a life of doing what they don’t want to do, for a cause that they want very much. Soldiers freely relinquish their wills to their superiors because they trust in their wisdom and mission.

It was then that I had this funny feeling that meant first I needed to get out of bed early, and so I did. It was time to go to back work.