I pushed open the decorated door and walked inside my parents’ home; college finals behind me, home cooking ahead. Moments later, my parents told me the tragic news about Pan Am Flight 103. Thirty-five fellow students from Syracuse University were also going home for the holidays that day. Like the words to the Christmas song, they had promised, “You can count on me.” Then a bomb exploded on their plane. Now they were all dead.
Death, someone once said, is the smelling salts of life. Nearly 13 years later, terrorism struck close to home once again on September 11, 2001, and this time it uncovered a disturbing, personal discovery.
It began when, as the editor of Cru’s magazine, I drove from Florida to New York City just hours after the 9/11 attacks, in search of a story. For two intense and uncertain weeks, I covered Cru’s response to homeland terrorism.
During an evangelistic outreach near Ground Zero, I met a man tormented by the death of his friend in the Towers and the subsequent suicide of a lover. Dmitry was undone. As we spoke, I quietly questioned the value of what I had to offer him through a relationship with Christ. I could not imagine how surrendering his life to Jesus could effectively ease his pain and loss. I could not answer his many “whys?”
If Christianity only promises hope and peace for today, I wondered, if Jesus only died for my current happiness, then Christianity was not enough for Dmitry. His “today” could not be corrected so simply.
It took a few weeks before I realized where my theology had gone wrong. Jesus did not die so we could live nice, neat lives. He came because we needed someone to pay for our sins. Somewhere along my spiritual journey, I had distorted the truth. Instead of honoring my citizenship in heaven like Paul challenges us in Philippians 3:20, I had made earth my home. I had exchanged an eternal perspective for something cheaper, easier and incomplete.
But death, in all its rudeness, reminds us that “now” will end. Indeed, there is more than just now. Our challenge, as Christians, is to live the now in light of eternity. Are you living for here, or for the hereafter? To truly answer that question, you may need to wrestle with reality. Do you think about heaven? Does it motivate you? Does heaven really matter to you? Why?
Don’t settle for simple answers. In “I'll Be Home for Christmas,” the songwriter promises to go home, but admits at the end of the song, “if only in my dreams.” Expect more from yourself than just romantic idealism. Choose where you will call home, and then start living for it.
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