Bust of Pericles in the British Museum, London, England

How a ride on an elevated train reminded me of heaven

In June and July of this year, I got to go to Scotland and England. I can tell you it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I’m a history buff. Always have been. And it was so strange to walk around a corner in the British Museum and come face to face with a sculpture I read about in a history textbook in junior high. But to a certain extent, I expected that in the United Kingdom. I had prepared myself for facing the reality of Scotland and England, grasping that what I had only read about and seen photos of was actually real.

I didn’t expect to experience the same sensation in Chicago.

That’s where I am as I write this blog post this morning, Chicago. Downtown in a swanky hotel. I’m here for the week for a media event for work. I’ve never been to Chicago before, unless you count the airport, and thus far I really like it. It’s a beautiful city, even though most drivers seem to be a little horn-happy. But as I was riding the Blue Line into downtown from O’Hare, I sat in my seat and realized something.

The “L” really does exist. And it looks exactly like it does in The Fugitive. That movie, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, was one of my favorites growing up, and I realized that the elevated train I was riding in really reminded me of the one where the shoot out takes place between Dr. Richard Kimball and the one-armed man who killed his wife toward the end of the movie. Maybe it’s a silly revelation, but getting to ride on that train solidified in my brain that what happened in that movie wasn’t all a figment of Hollywood’s imagination. Why? Because I experienced it for myself. I didn’t just take the movie’s word for it. I rode an elevated train myself.

And as I rocked along in my seat on the way to downtown Chicago this afternoon, I couldn’t help but rejoice in eager anticipation of another day that’s coming soon, where I won’t have to rely on my imagination anymore.

Bust of Pericles in the British Museum, London, England

Bust of Pericles in the British Museum, London, England

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.

If you’re a follower of Christ, you believe in the bigger picture. You know God has a plan. You know He’s working everything out for our good. You know that this world isn’t our home, and we’re just passing through. Right? You know all those things. But there’s a big difference between knowing them and seeing them, between hearing about them and experiencing them for yourself. Someone can tell you over and over and over again that heaven exists, that there will be no sorrow, that there will be no pain, but how are we supposed to grasp something like that without experiencing it? How are we supposed to wrap our heads around what heaven is when we can’t even wrap our heads around the fact that God loved us enough to let us in for free?

This isn’t what I really planned to post today, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. In this world right now, we don’t see things they way they were meant to be seen. We don’t see God the way He was meant to be seen. The dirt and dust and muck of the world blinds us and makes it difficult to see. But a day is coming when all of that will be cleared away and we won’t have trouble seeing anymore. And all the whys and hows won’t matter because we’ll understand exactly what their purpose was.

It wasn’t yesterday, but it might be today. And if it’s not then, it might be tomorrow. You never know, but God has promised that the day is coming, and God always keeps His promises.  

So, yes, right now our promised eternal life doesn’t make sense. It’s like watching Harrison Ford shoot at a one-armed man on an elevated train in Chicago. We’re just taking the filmmaker’s word that elevated trains really look like that, really move like that, really have people in them like that. But one day, when you get to go to Chicago, you’ll see for yourself that elevated trains really do look exactly like that.

The day is coming when we won’t have to take God’s word on what heaven is like.  On that day, we’ll get to experience it for ourselves. And that’s enough to make me smile this morning.

My brother and our guide Torleif walking along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Give friendship a chance

Have you ever had a close friend in your life? I’m not talking about just a casual acquaintance. I mean a friend who you spend time with on purpose. A friend whose house you visit just because. A friend who you’re perfectly fine with tossing in your car and driving hours beside. In comparison to the many many many people I know, I can count on two hands the friends who fit in this category. But I’m an introvert. Close friends are difficult for me to make because it takes me a long time to open up.

But if you’ve never had this kind of a friend, you’re missing out.

My brother and our guide Torleif walking along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

My brother and our guide Torleif walking along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

I’m sure I’ve blogged on these verses before, but when I think about the friendships in my life that have shaped me and helped me become the person I am today, this is the passage that comes to mind. Like I said yesterday, I enjoy my quiet time, but while being alone isn’t necessarily bad, being lonely is. And being lonely isn’t just depressing, it’s dangerous. You can get into trouble when you’re always alone, and then what happens? Sometimes you can fall into a pit so deep you can’t climb out on your own. That’s why you need friends.

I’ve been fortunate–blessed, really–to have many close friends over the years, friends who have loved me in spite of my flaws and quirks, of which there are many. And I’m doubly blessed to be able to say that in many instances the friends I had 10 and even 20 years ago are the same friends I have today. But on the other hand, some of my closest friends I’ve only known for half that time, if that.

Friendship can be tricky. It’s absolutely risky. Any time you open your heart to someone else, you’re taking a chance. Any time you are open and honest with another person, you’re risking that they will turn on you. And I’m not going to beat around the bush. That’s happened with me on a number of occasions, and in some specific circumstances, it was damaging–more damaging than I care to admit. I’m praying about how honest I should be about that time in my life on here. We’ll see. But without going into the gory details, I can tell you I came out of that time not wanting friends at all.

During that time in my life, I conveniently ignored this passage because I didn’t need friends. I didn’t need people. I was sufficient on my own, and having friends wasn’t worth the pain they would eventually cause. I lived that way for a number of years, holding people at arm’s length, refusing to allow anyone to get close, burying myself in details and busyness. Staying busy wasn’t a problem. It never was.

But a few people broke through my barriers and walls I’d put up, some forcefully, some naturally, and before I knew what was happening, I had friends again. Not just people I knew. Not just people I went to church with. Friends, who I loved and trusted and wanted to spend time with. Friends who I could be myself with, who loved me for me, who didn’t need me to perform, who thought I was pretty cool. And I hadn’t had that in so long, I’d forgotten what it felt like to be loved by choice.

Without the close friends in my life who have invested in me and believed in me and prayed for me and kept loving me in those times when I wasn’t such a good friend in return, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t who I am. And I most certainly wouldn’t know God the way I do. Most of them actually read this blog, and if you guys are reading this morning, you know exactly who you are.

All this to say that if you’re in that place today, where people have hurt you, I know how that feels. And actually probably most everyone around you knows how you feel. One of Satan’s great lies is that nobody gets you. That nobody understands you. That no one around you could possibly identify with the struggles you’ve been through. And that’s a huge lie. You have more people around you who “get” you than you know, and you won’t know until you give them the chance.

It’s a risk, yes. People are people. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone screws up. And people will hurt you. Guess what? You will hurt others too. So extend the grace you hope to receive in those moments to others. And give friends a chance.