Coffee in Heaven: Living This First Life Well

I just bought plane tickets for a funeral this weekend. Friday morning at 4 am I’ll hop on the train to the airport and fly to California to celebrate the life of my Aunt Sharon, who I am sure is now sipping coffee with Jesus at some corner cafe in heaven.  Sharon Runner was an incredible human being whosharon made a beautiful and lasting impact on her community. She spoke out against injustice and stood up on behalf of the weak and vulnerable. She spent her life working in both the private and public sectors, serving as a California State Senator from 2011 till she passed away this month. She was unashamed of her faith and was so much like Jesus in how she proclaimed truth in love, without passing judgment. She loved her husband and children and grandchildren well, and she loved Jesus the most. Her resume was as lengthy as it was impressive and her voice was important. I am honored to call myself her niece and I am so grateful for the legacy of love and boldness and service that she left for the women in our family to walk in. Hers was a life well lived.

This morning I saw an ad on social media that read, “Stop acting like you live twice. Make your days count.” The fancy, bold script sat in the middle of a beautiful, coastal scene with a long, winding road following the edge of the green cliffs. Beautiful. Inspirational, even. I used to subscribe to this way of thinking.  This fear of wasting what little time we might have on earth hung over me like a cloud. What if I miss something? What if there is this great opportunity that God puts in front of me and I didn’t see it or I said no because I was too busy with something else?

Over the last few years, my mindset on this life has begun to change a bit. I still appreciate the sentiment behind the “seize the day” mentality and I think it has merit, in the correct context. The problem with a line like “stop acting like you live twice” is that it implies that you only live once, and that is not altogether true. You actually will live twice, kinda. And it’s your “second” life, and your neighbors “second” life, and your kid’s “second” life,  which should be the driving force behind the desire to live well and make the days in this first life count.

We are eternal.

Just let that sink in for a minute. Who you are, at the core, your most-real-self, will live forever.

You and I and every other person who has existed and will exist in the future have a second life coming. I will die someday. So will my friends and my family and your friends and family. All of us. Death is just as real as the life we are living now.

But death is not the end. 

It is so easy to get fixated on the “here and now” and forget that this part, this first life, is just a blip on the screen. Truly. When you try to map eternity, these eighty-something years of earth living are barely a speck on the graph.

So, if it’s true, if we really believe in a second life, then the days we have here on earth get to be about preparing for what is coming next. That preparation can look differently for each of us and in different seasons. Currently for me, preparing for eternity means pouring into my kids, as they learn and question and decide what they believe about this life and the next, and this God who says He is worth following. Preparing for eternity, in this season, also means using the various platforms God gives me to share the truth about who He is and how He relates to us and thinks about us and what I think about Him and this life. In the next season, preparing for the second life may look like working outside of the home and sharing the hope of Jesus at my 9 to 5 job. Maybe I’ll write a book or have a podcast or, like my Aunt Sharon, run for political office and serve my community by representing them well, for the glory of God.

Paul uses the metaphor of life as a race a lot in his letters to the churches in the New Testament. He talks about “running the race to win the crown” but in 1 Cor. 9:25, he makes it very clear that unlike a race on earth where the winner gets a crown that will eventually decompose, we are racing for a crown that will last for eternity.

And there is an epic after-party once we finish our race.

But, in the meantime, while we are still running, Paul gives really clear instructions for how we should live our first life:

I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple…keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.

2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5

But Paul’s instructions are often paired with a statement regarding why we are to live this way, reminding us that it’s not just about us but about the people we are to bring to the after-party.

There is a second life. There is also a second death. Revelations 21 talks about this second death as being the reality of those who choose not to follow God. It is hard to think about, but the second life promised for those who choose Christ is just as real and just as guaranteed as the second death that is promised to those who choose their own way.

This is why we must live our first life well. There are a lot of people watching us. They are watching how we treat our kids. They are watching how we handle the homeless man by the stop sign. They are listening to how we talk about our spouses. They notice when we leave the shopping cart in the parking lot instead of putting it back.

We have hope. We have truth. And we have the responsibility of living our first life well so that others will notice and want in. 

If I could re-write that ad it would say, “Stop acting like you, and the guy next to you, only live once. Make your days count.” Living this first life well is all about the second life of the guy sitting next to you. So be loud and be bold and be brave and shine brightly. Use whatever platform you have to declare the hope of Christ. Do it all in love. Do it all with grace. Listen to the Holy Spirit and be humble.

We have a lot to look forward to after this. We have family and friends who have gotten a head start on the second life and will get to show us the ropes once we join them. I can’t wait to sip coffee with Aunt Sharon and Jesus and His great-grandma Ruth and Queen Esther and Aunt Karen and my Grandpas and Grandma and Chuck and Judson and the Apostle Paul and swap stories about the crazy things we did during our first life.

I. Can’t. Wait.

Aunt Sharon, I’ll take my coffee with cream. Order for me, please, and I’ll see you soon.

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