I turned fifty this summer. Now I need glasses. I say, “What?” more than I used to. And I think about dying…
When my kids were little, their idea of Heaven was the “Magic Kingdom”. Several years ago a friend gave us a gift that put Disney World in our grasp… if, we drove.
I came up with the idea of surprising the kids because I cherished that moment of glorious revelation painted on their grateful faces, as I would exclaim, “We’re going to Disney World!” Also, we knew that at 3, 6, 8 and 9, they couldn’t bear the wait… the weight of waiting. They’d self-destruct from a combination of joy and longing.
As summer approached they pressed for information about summer vacation. I didn’t want to lie. So I plotted out our course and realized that we’d be driving through Junction City, Kansas, where I had been born. The next time they pressed, I said, “Kansas! We’re going to Kansas!” They jumped up and down and said “Yeah! We’re going to Kansas! What’s in Kansas?” I said, “Stuff! There’s stuff in Kansas, hotels, swimming pools…stuff.” They started dreaming about Kansas.
One day at McDonald’s the Happy Meals were promoting Disney’s new Animal Kingdom. My daughter looked longingly at some plastic gizmo and said “Dad this is so cool!” I asked, “What is it?” She described this magical land. “Where is it?” I asked. She said, “A place called Orlando—it’s really far away. We could never go there.” I said, “Yeah, but we’re going to Kansas! Trust me, it’ll be great.”
The day finally came. After 7 hours of driving, as we pulled off of I-70, the kids could barely contain themselves. They were looking and yelling, “There’s a motel! There’s a swimming pool! There’s a bowling alley!” We met the pastor of the church where my Dad had pastored years before. He showed us all around the old stone building. He showed us the house in which I had lived as a boy. Then we all sat down on the front steps across from the park. Mom got the secret bag out of the mini-van. I turned on the video recorder and began the pre-arranged dialogue with pastor Underhall-Pierce.
“Well, we’ve seen the church and my old house, what else is there to do here in Junction City?” I asked. “Oh you could go to the lake,” he said. “We have a lake in Colorado,” I replied. “Well, there’s the bowling alley.” The kids all screamed, “Yeah! The bowling alley.” “But we’ve got a bowling alley in Colorado,” I said. It went on like this for a while, the kids getting more and more frustrated. Finally I said, “You know, we’ve got a lake, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, playground and a Tasty Freeze in Colorado… I think we oughta just leave.” The kids were incredulous. I then said, “Hey where would you end up if you just kept going on that I-70 out there?” He said, “Well golly, if you just kept going you’d go all the way to the ocean and if you turned right when you got to the ocean, you’d end up in Florida.” I said, “What’s in Florida?” He said, “Disney World!” I said, “DISNEY WORLD! Let’s go to Disney World!” Mom pulled out the Mouseketeer hats. I started jumping up and down. And Coleman, my three year old, said, “Shoot! I wanted to go to the park.” Another said, “Aren’t we gonna stay in Junction City?” Another said, “I wanta go bowling.” And another, “I wanta stay in a hotel.” I said, “We will, but we’ve got to just drive a little further and we’ll stay in lots of hotels.” Then Becky exclaimed, “I DON’T WANTA GET IN THE VAN!”
It was the most anti-climactic moment of my life. I was so frustrated… and embarrassed in front of this fellow pastor—what spoiled kids! Finally I just forced them back into the van. “JUST GET IN THE VAN.”
As I slammed the door and prepared to apologize to Pastor Underhall-Pierce, I think God spoke to me, not in words, just a thought: “Now do you understand Peter? Do you understand what it’s like to be your Daddy?”
You see, it’s not that my children expected too much. They expected too little. Their dreams were not too large, but far too small. They had settled for Junction City. And make no mistake, the bowling alley would be fun; the Comfort Inn would be fun… for a time. But after three weeks, sitting in front of the Tasty Freeze watching the trucks drive by, Junction City would turn into Hell.
In English Bibles, there is no single word consistently translated “Hell.” In the King James Version the word most commonly translated “Hell” is the Hebrew word “Sheol,” which is then rendered “Hades” in the Greek New Testament. “Hades/Sheol” is the shadowy underworld—the realm of the dead, the realm of ghosts. And it begins here and now. It appears to be for those that hang on to this world and the things of this world, those that hang on to control. You see this world is a junction—a Junction City world. It’s full of wonderful things, but those things are signs. They point to something. You read the signs and keep going.
Hell starts here and ends here. Heaven also starts here (at least in us), but Heaven never ends. Heaven will invade this world. This world will be utterly filled with the Glory of God who is The End. Yet, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Heaven starts in the van. Jesus is the van—if what He said is true. He said, “I am The Way.” “Jesus” literally means, “God is salvation.” It’s the Spirit of Jesus in us, that has faith in the Grace of God our Father; that hopes in a reality better than this Junction City World; that loves even when it hurts… that get’s in the van.
See? My children had Junction City in their grasp, but the Magic Kingdom looked like nothing but a painful van ride. It looked like a cross. It looked like death. It’s the Spirit of Jesus in us that says, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”
Now you may think, “Fine. I get the analogy. But why do we have to stop in Junction City at all? Why this messed up world at all?” I’m not sure exactly, but I think it must have something to do with learning Faith, Hope and Love.
I do know that once we arrived in the Magic Kingdom, it was just that much better because we’d stopped in Junction City on the way. It happened several times. We’d be standing in line for Space Mountain or something and one of the kids would look at me trembling with joy, as they would exclaim in wonder, “This is SO AWESOME! Daddy, I can’t believe I wanted to stay in Junction City. I love you.” They had the Magic Kingdom AND they had me AND I had their faith, hope, and love. I had their hearts.
Well anyway, like me, maybe you need glasses. And maybe you have to say “What?” more than you used to. Maybe you’ve been thinking about dying…
Well, maybe your Father is taking you to the Magic Kingdom.
So… get in the van.