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FOCUS – Heaven on the way to heaven

Lt. Amanda ReardonSome months ago I was driving home from a long day, stewing about all the things that were bothering me. None of the issues were big, but I was using each minor irritation to piecemeal together an oversized monster named “Life’s Not Fair!” This monster attempted to hold my mind captive as he nursed off every unpleasant thought.

Then I saw Camelback Mountain. Camelback Mountain is basically a huge rock on the eastern side of Phoenix (where I was living at the time). When the sun begins to set, it often reflects off the mountain in such a way that the orangey mountain glows with a purplish hue. The sky was pristine that day, and the royal palms swayed rhythmically in the breeze. I thought, “This is stunning. This is one of the more beautiful sights I have seen.”

Then it occurred to me that I drove home that way every day. That view was before me every evening.

Somehow, in light of God’s spectacular creation, my problems seemed insignificant, unworthy of thought. I had never noticed how lovely my drive was every day. The monster in my head had me too preoccupied. For the same reason, I was not noticing the beauty in my life. I not only felt ashamed that life’s minutia had overtaken my brain, I felt cheated. I had a wonderful life, full of countless blessings, but I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Perhaps the best thing about Thanksgiving is that it causes most of us to step back, look at our lives, and find what is sweet. We are laden with blessings, but are often so slow to sense it. I guess we try a bit harder at Thanksgiving.

I am reminded of the time the apostles James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came with their mother to Jesus (Matthew 20: 20-28). On their behalf, their mother requested that her sons might have the two most honored positions when Jesus established his kingdom. Apparently it was not good enough for them that they had been chosen, out of all the people of the land, to be in Jesus’ inner circle. It was insufficient that, of all the people of all time, they had the honor of being two of the apostles of the Christ. They want to be the top two!

Now we, of course, look at this story through two thousand years of history. We understand more readily than they that Jesus’ kingdom was not simply an earthly one, but a heavenly one. We know that they were somewhat ignorant as to the magnitude of their request. Yet I want to shake those boys by the collar and say: “Would you look at the big picture here? Can’t you see that out of the millions of people who will devote their lives to Christ, you are two out of a mere twelve who get to live with him? You can see him, hear his voice, smell him, touch him…isn’t that enough for you?” And to their mother: “Two of your own sons will go down in history! Two of your own children are intimate friends of the Messiah! Do you require more for them?”

The family of Zebedee appears very foolish in this story. I wonder about my own foolishness…. Have I devalued my blessings and said to God, “I want more!”? Have I failed to appreciate my material wealth, my health, my friends and family? Am I overly accustomed to the idea of my very salvation, while the angels marvel that the Son of God would lay down his heavenly crown as well as his earthly life for me?

I once heard Major Lyell Rader say, “Well, it’s been heaven on the way to heaven.” At the time I thought, “Lucky you. Life’s not that easy for me.” What I did not wish to admit was that Major Rader was not testifying to a problem-free life. He was testifying to an attitude that had been brought captive to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). This enabled him to open his arms and embrace life ­ good and bad.

Sometimes I cannot get the Major’s words out of my head. I have taken his simple statement as a challenge. Have I learned to be “content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11), to the point where my life seems like heaven? There is a temptation for Christians to claim contentment through clenched teeth. Since the trials will not disappear, we must simply unclench. We must find life’s beauty while weathering the trials.

If we can do that, Thanksgiving will be more than just a holiday. It will be a way of life.

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