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Living Halfway in Heaven

I had just finished the Sunday morning sermon last week when Sashko* walked up to me and said, “Jesus sounds like a wonderful person.” Let me back up just a minute and explain this question. Jordan is a drama major at the Sofia University of Dramatic Arts. We have met a few times, but this was his first time attending our Sunday service. I say that I just finished my sermon, but my sermons look a lot different here than they ever did back in the United States. Every time I start to preach, I ask everybody to be patient. This is because my Bulgarian is not stellar (to say the least!). I explain to everybody that the most important thing to me is to be clear about the Good News about Jesus because I believe if we “come and see” this Jesus it is enough to capture us for life! So, I stop every now and then to ask if I am understood, if everything is clear, and if anybody has any questions. Needless to say, some of our services go for 2 hours. It’s not an emotional high or incredibly dynamic presentation, but we get the Good News.

Sunday afternoon worship.

As I said, that morning was Alexander* first Sunday with us. I had preached about the encounter that the first disciples had with Jesus and how Jesus’ life must have been incredible, and Jesus knew it, because he answered all their questions with a simple: “Come and see.” Wow!

His life, an encounter with Jesus, was enough to capture their lives forever! It was enough to walk away from everything to be with him. So, after our worship Sashko says, “Jesus sounds like a wonderful person.” Then, before I could answer, he said, “You know if he was that great, I understand why Christian people really look forward to being in heaven with him. That is the big thing, right? I mean, getting to be in heaven with Jesus forever?”

His face! His face! You ever look at somebody’s face and see that the door of their heart and mind is cracked open just a bit, just waiting for a discovery to throw the doors wide open, and you just get the feeling that this is the opportunity, the God given possibility, to share that Good News for which your own soul longs, for which you live and breathe, and for which you and the Lord have pursued Alexander all the way to Sofia, Bulgaria for?! I tried to keep my cool: “Be cool Joshua, be cool.”

I said, “Yeah that is a big important thing for us, because just imagine life forever with someone as incredible as Jesus. You get to come and see him all day every day without end. It would be like your whole life starting all over again every minute.” He was thoughtfully shaking his head back and forth in agreement.*

Then I said, “Can I tell you something about my own story?” His head kept shaking. “I had a great dad. I mean a really great dad that I loved being around. He was somebody that I really liked to spend time with. He was also a Christian, like me. He died when I was 19. I believe that, one day, I will be with my dad again in heaven with Jesus. That gives me a lot of joy. But you know, I have not seen his face, heard his voice, or gotten to be with him in over 15 years. Sashko, I cannot tell you what it is like to cling desperately to memories of his voice, his smell, his laugh, his face, and everything else about him, and to lose the battle bit by bit. The promise of eternity is great, but if it does not start till after I am dead, then I do not get to be with my dad, or Jesus, for a long time yet.”

The meal after worship.

He was now looking at me like I was giving the wrong sales pitch. “But Sashko, it is not that way with Jesus Christ. He is alive today. Christians do not believe we have to wait until heaven to be with Jesus. Sashko, we are standing with Jesus right now! He is in this room, here, now, in this ordinary house. An incredible eternity with this incredible Jesus does not start sometime later. An incredible life, with this wonderful Jesus, starts right now, today, in this room. That is why I am Christian. I have never had a friend like Jesus. He is so close. I feel his touch. I hear his voice. I know his presence. Heaven is only half the reward. Sashko, just getting to be with Jesus… I am already living halfway in heaven.”

He just stood there looking at me. Then he said, “I think I get it. Sorry about your dad.” He walked away to talk with someone else in the room. I began to wonder if I scared him off! I am happy to say that I did not. I have seen him since then and I believe and know that the Spirit is at work to throw open the doors of his heart.

I want to give God some thanks and glory here. The last month for me has been one of the most incredible seasons of my life. This is not because of some sort of success, because I haven’t had any problems, or because I have no stresses. It is because about a month ago I repented of a lack of hunger and thirst for the presence of Jesus Christ.

I was reading the book, Imperfectly Perfect: Character Sketches from the Old Testament, by David Busic and I read this: “Did you know that the first sign of spiritual slippage in your life is being satisfied with where you are right now? When you’ve lost your passion for more of God, it is a sure sign that you need to tend your fire.” I just felt so convicted. What am I doing?! I then read the opening quote to the chapter from Blaise Pascal’s memorial: “The year of grace 1654…from about half past ten at night until about half past midnight, FIRE.”

I have journaled of the FIRE these past weeks. I have had incredible moments of discovering the presence of God, being challenged, being called, being filled, and finding such peace and passion. I have just been spending quality time with the one whose life is so incredible that once I “come and see” I must pursue him! I feel like I am trying to explain the taste of music here! I think some things cannot be explained. They must be experienced and known personally. It is a good thing that our Lord is so personal.

This is just a witness for Jesus. I have discovered such life in abundance in sharing the life and presence of Jesus. The repentance, the presence, the hunger and thirst and its satisfaction are all gifts of grace. God is living today! His presence is enough. Do you hunger and thirst for him today? Do you know he is right there in the room with you as you read this? Your Lord is so close. I am living halfway in heaven here in Sofia, Bulgaria! Join me!

*Special Cultural Notes:

  • Names and nicknames in Bulgaria: We are still struggling to understand how nicknames work in Bulgaria, and when to use them. In this post I use Alexander and Sashko to mean the same person. This is because Alexander = Sashko. Many Bulgarians have names like this: Borislov = Bobo/Borko/Slavi, Yordan = Dancho, and Svetlana = Svetla/Sveti, and Gergana = Geri.

  • Signaling Yes or No with Your Head: In Bulgaria they use head gestures in the opposite way as they are used in the United States. Shaking your head back and forth means yes and nodding up and down with a click of your tongue means no. People also bob their head from side to side to communicate agreement. Jude and Kate are beginning to do this intermittently, so words are more important than ever in our house! Although these are also becoming increasingly bilingual.

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