They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
This comes from a heart overflowing with praise to a God Who never ceases to prove His wisdom, love, and concern for us. What should have been a regular post has become a momentous opportunity to rejoice and be glad. God’s goodness and love have filled Walt and me with joy. After spending better than two hours taking inventory of how many blessings were stored up, fell into place, and braced us for what's just happened, we stood in awe of all we’ve got to thank God for. But before I share a little of what we’re marveling about and how it affected today’s post, suppose I bring you up to speed.
Walt lost his job yesterday.
When I finish a post, I sit still for a bit, trying to “listen” for keywords, verses, or themes leading me to the next day’s topic. In no way am I intimating subjects come via epiphany. Mostly, I rummage around in my head for something I pray will inspire you—a thought or two that hasn’t gone stale or popped up recently. Night before last, “Heaven” kept crossing my mind, I kept pushing it aside, and it refused to go away.
Writing about Heaven makes me nervous, since many Christians view it as our reason instead of our reward. I’m convinced following Jesus in this life is what our purpose must be. Doing it to ensure eternal bliss and/or escape torture strikes me as self-serving, contrary to His example and teachings. So I’m wary about even slightly suggesting faith’s driving goal is getting us to Heaven or saving us from Hell. If we obey Christ, our hope for Heaven is secure. When the urge to write about Heaven wouldn’t be ignored, however, I clicked on BibleGateway.com to do a keyword search. My eyes fell on Hebrews 11.16, nestled in the epistle’s famous roll call of faith heroes. Here’s the full passage:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11.13-16)
From a Distance
When Walt called with the news he no longer was a TV news writer, I understood. I’d been led to Hebrews because less than 24 hours later, we’d be challenged to see and welcome God’s promises from a distance, to know a better country lay ahead. It’s far too early and completely impossible to speculate what it is or where it will be, but we know with all certainty it’s prepared and waiting to be found. As 1 Corinthians 2.9 explains, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
This Word is true for each and every one of us. Setbacks will force us to view and embrace God’s promises from afar. As with Abraham and Moses, we may not see all God’s promised us reach fruition in this life. Nonetheless, in His time per His plan, He’ll honor His word. If we feel like aliens and strangers here, it’s because we long for a better country, a home of our own. And by faith we’ll find it, if not now, most assuredly in the life to come. Did not Jesus teach us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven?” Yielding to God’s will is our greatest desire and only hope. If we discipline our hearts and minds to that end, no matter what we’re told or who believes otherwise, God is honored to be called our God and prepares a place for us.
The possibility Walt’s position might close has been on our radar for some time. His station started slashing jobs months before the economic meltdown led its nightly newscasts. The cuts got wider and deeper with each round until they sliced into the newsroom’s marrow. Things got to the point Walt was doing the work of three people. It was tough, discouraging, and exhausting. We prayed for the best, prepared for the worst, and believed however it went, we’d be better for it. While Walt’s misery got real old real fast, fresh promises were on the rise, set in motion two years ago when he decided to explore a new interest. It seemed like a lark at the time. We now know it was much more.
He signed up for an improv comedy class, thinking it might be fun. It was. So he took another, then another, and finished the series of classes open to the public. (The famous theater offering the classes forbids students to publicize any affiliation with it prior to their "graduation show." But as we live in Chicago, you probably know what it is.) Again, on a lark, he auditioned for admission to the school's conservatory—the professional training ground for countless comedy legends. It took two tries, but he got in and has been working diligently on his new endeavor ever since. (He’s terrifically funny on-stage, by the way.)
Now, for those still with me, here are a few things that stoked our joy and amazement at how perfectly timed God’s plan for each of us is. What began as a casual pastime two years ago formally ended with Walt's very last session of instruction on Monday. All of the layoffs occurred on Tuesday except his, as it was his day off. When we got wind of them that evening, the size and nature of the cuts told us what to expect. Yet Walt's joy over an achievement two years in the making blunted all anger and anxiety. He went to work ready to respond with gratitude to his bosses and colleagues for their contributions to his career. They hardly anticipated that from one who should be outraged at getting tossed after 12 years of service. Nor were they poised for his treating this like the gift it is, giving him time for other classes, workshops, and performances he couldn’t attend because he worked evenings. (They’re underwriting it, too; his severance package combined with unused vacation will carry him through Christmas Day.) Closing their door opens dozens of new doors for him. He’s looking for a better country.
One Step of Faith
Is it foolish to believe a few coincidences weakly tied to a darkly clouded day harbinger far brighter ones? Some may think so. But 1 Corinthians 1.27 tells us foolishness and weakness are God’s preferred tools: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” We see this repeatedly in His Word. It’s foolish to imagine an elderly, barren couple can give birth to a nation. Yet Abraham and Sarah did. It’s weak-minded to think a wanted killer can defy a king to free thousands of slaves. Yet Moses did. It’s crazy to suggest an untried leader can conquer a city by organizing a march. Yet Joshua did. They and so many others saw and welcomed God’s promises from a distance. Looking weak and sounding foolish didn’t frighten them. They longed for a better country, a home of their own prepared by God. He’s got a better country prepared for us all. We get there by following Jesus one step of faith at a time.
(Tomorrow: All Things at All Times)
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