Saturday, March 14, 2009

Visions and revelations

A recent paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science detailed archaeological discoveries from villages of the 16th-century Taino Indians of Cuba. The substance for which Tainos traded all the gold of their Colombian heritage was loved for its iridescence, reddish hue, exotic origins, and connection to the supernatural realm. They called it turey, for heaven. The metal they craved was an alloy of zinc and copper: brass on the shoelaces of the Spanish explorers.

A television news story reported that alcohol is prohibited in U.S. military camps in Iraq. So how do some soldiers relax and let down their crew-cut hair? With cigar-appreciation evenings. “A good cigar is heaven,” rhapsodized one warrior, as he released a cloud of toxic exhaust. (Smoking one cigar may equal the “hit” of up to three packs of cigarettes.

An older brother traded his posterity and share in a vast estate for a bowl of lentils cooked by his younger brother. The first king of Israel put an end to his own reign and dynasty—for some sheep and cattle of a conquered hilltop village. A younger son wished his father dead so he could spend his part of the estate on riotous living, but he ended up hungrier than pigs.

Surely God blesses us with wonderful things, people, and situations that are the best experience we can have on this planet, but these blessings are only a reflection or shadow of the glorious experience to come in heaven.

Paul talked about visions and sight in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. He had been snatched away to heaven, whether bodily or in spirit he didn’t know, and he had seen and heard things that were inexpressible, even unutterable. He wasn’t allowed to talk about it, he said.

The visions and revelations of heaven he received were so glorious that he’d been given a handicap to keep him from being conceited. Many Bible experts believe that the “thorn in the flesh” was eye problems or partial blindness, a result of Paul’s Damascus Road experience, or a remnant of his many scrapes with death. In Galatians 6:11 NIV, he wrote, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” which some scholars believe to be an indication that he was sight-impaired. You know how painful it is to have just an eyelash or bit of chaff in your eyes. It might as well be a thorn!

Paul believed that the handicap which weakened him made him completely dependent on Jesus Christ, who paradoxically made him strong. Paul was so empty of self that there was only room for the strength and power of the Lord. If the handicap was poor vision, even near-blindness, then Jesus provided the painless, unimpeded, telescopic and microscopic vision that Paul lacked.

Because of Jesus, Paul saw the most important visions and revelations: the things of God. He used his spiritual sight to focus on “things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:8, 9, The Message.

Paul would never have compared brass or cigars to the “third heaven,” or Paradise, the very presence of God beyond the atmosphere and outer space. He would never have traded soup or livestock for his eternal heritage. Paul considered riches and worldly pleasures as dung, refuse to be flung away, so that he may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8) Paul’s eyes were zoomed in on Christ, the source of eternal life, the One who has gone to prepare a place for His beloved children.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to fling away the worst, the ugly, the cursed, and cling only to the things that God’s eyes show us? Things so beautiful, blessed, and praiseworthy that we have no words for them; things outside our dimension, like colors and vibrations invisible to our “naked” eye; or so invisibly small or so far from our reckoning that we forget their presence.

God shows us, by glimpses of joy in our little world, visions of what He can hardly wait to introduce to us. When we take pleasure in the laugh of a child, the warmth of an embrace, the scent of rain on the desert, the bliss of chocolate, or the fiery sunset after a blustery day, we have treasures. They’re gifts given to us by a loving Father, who invites us to lay our heads on His shoulder and listen to His heart beating with love.

Mmm, that’s heaven.

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