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You’re Not Home Yet

There is a story about a missionary couple in the early part of the twentieth century. Having reached retirement age, and been replaced on the field by a younger couple, they were returning by ship to the USA. On the same voyage was a famous movie star, returning after an “on location” shoot in Africa.

When the ship berthed at their destination, the movie star and her entourage were first on the gangplank. Hordes of press and radio representatives were there to greet her, along with a huge crowd of excited fans. The dock was decorated in welcome, a band played, and cameras flashed everywhere. After the star had entered a limousine and been driven away, the media representatives scurried off to lodge their stories and the crowd of fans dispersed.

Sometime later the missionary couple came to walk down the gangplank. No one was there to greet them or to carry their luggage, no one was interested to hear their story. In their hearts they cried out to God, “Lord, there has been all this fuss and to-do to welcome home this movie star. But for us, who have labored faithfully for You all these years, there is nothing.” Then they heard the gentle, loving voice of the Father: “My son, My daughter, you’re not home yet!”

This story has often spoken to my heart. At one time Christianity was totally heaven-focused. We sang about “When the roll is called up yonder” and “In the sweet bye and bye”. We looked for our rewards not here in this present life, but in the life of eternity.

Then someone decided, “We don’t want ‘pie in the sky bye and bye when you die’, we want ‘steak on your plate while you wait’.” The emphasis changed. No longer were God’s people content to wait for eternity for their rewards. Like little children, we wanted it now! Suddenly, being a Christian had to mean success, prosperity and material fulfillment in this life.

Now certainly there is a truth that God desires to bless us. Sometimes, though, I wonder whether maybe God uses a different dictionary to the one we use. His definition of blessing sometimes seems very different from ours. I also wonder whether, in pursuing our definition of blessing, we may be missing out on the greater good which is His definition of blessing.

Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor. 15:19) Is this really true of us? In looking at the Christianity of the early 21st century, especially the variety taught and practiced in the western nations, it seems to me that for many of us, it is not. Many of us could say that, even if we have been wrong and death is the end of everything, our lives have been such that no one would look at them and say that we have missed out on anything.

Yet there are large parts of the Church today whose experience is vastly different. Their faith is costly. For them, belief in Christ can mean everything from loss of employment to loss of life. It can mean imprisonment, torture, and insult. It can mean being disowned and declared dead by their families. To them, a “prosperity gospel” is meaningless. Faith, for them, is not a button to be pushed in order to make a vending-machine god produce whatever they want. Rather, faith is measured in terms of faithfulness, and is hammered out on the anvil of suffering.

I believe they are vastly richer in God than those of us who live with the sanitized, God-will-give-you-whatever-you-want Christianity of the west. I envy them the grittiness and moment-to-moment dependence on God of their walk. I envy them the vitality and reality of their faith. I envy them the clarity of their understanding that our hope in Christ is not just for this life, but for eternity.

No, I am not seeking to promote a morbid and depressing Christianity. There is much in this life that is joyous and beautiful: birdsong and music, nature and art, friends’ company and grandchildren’s hugs. More than that, our faith itself should be a source of tremendous joy in this life. In the midst of it, however, let us remember that this life is not our destiny, but only the journey to our destiny.

Some years ago I wrote a song expressing my understanding of this. The chorus says,

I’ve got heaven on my mind, I’m coming home;
I’ve got heaven on my mind, I’m coming home;
This old earth has much to give
And I delight to live
But I’ve got heaven on my mind
I’m coming home.

We’re not home yet!

 

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