One of our EPM staff was going through the junk folder for messages sent to my Facebook page, because sometimes what is screened out as spam or other junk shouldn’t have been! She came across this treasure of a message sent several months ago:
Dear Mr. Alcorn, I am reading through your book Deadline for probably the 7th time since my mom first read it to me as a young teenager back in the day.
I am 36 now, the mom of four children living on a farm and learning what it looks like to disciple young souls. One of my greatest delights is talking with them about eternity. So much of the content of what I share made its way into my own heart through your books.
As I was reading Deadline last night I kept coming across sentences I’ve underlined over the years—parts that stood out or affected me. It hit me just how much your writing has affected my Christian life and I’m now passing that on to my kids. Your books were always available in our “bookstore” at my church growing up, and I read most of them.
I remember the time before God used your writing to open my eyes to biblical realities, when I felt guilty for not being excited about Heaven. I imagined an endless worship service in the clouds—I loved worshipping Jesus, but I also loved exploring, learning, eating and drinking and fellowshipping and laughing—and thought I’d be missing that part of being alive on Earth. Thankfully my young mind was still soft and the Holy Spirit was at work, and your books opened my eyes to the Scriptural realities of Heaven and what awaits us.
My two best friends in high school (godly girls who loved Jesus, who are still my best friends!), and I would talk about the glories of being in the place we were made for with the person we were made for. In fact, I have a vivid memory of sitting up until 4 a.m. with one of them in our junior year of high school, talking about the possibilities you’d opened up in your book about what Heaven could be like. We both knew that if your imagination could come up with such amazing possibilities that awaited us in Heaven, how much more amazing reality would be, as 1 Corinthians 2 reminded us.
Because I’ve read Jake’s journey of salvation and Finney’s early days in Heaven and Doc’s sobering realizations in hell, the story should be kind of rote by now, I’d think. But it’s not. I still cry when Finney hugs his mom, when he sees Jenny and when he falls down before Jesus. When I read Deadline, I think about the baby in Heaven who I never met in these Shadowlands, and I’m filled with so much hope that the ache will be redeemed. I think of more and more cherished saints who I adored, who are now on the other side, and who will maybe be at my welcome party!
I am a contributing writer for Hope Mommies, a wonderful website used to bless moms who are walking through grief. I was fixing my Linktree page on my Instagram account today, and I pulled up an old article I’d written for them. As I read it, the echoes of your truth reminders and their impact on my life stood out to me all the clearer since I’ve been reading Deadline. Having a biblical view of eternity was and is one of the biggest guard rails God has used to keep me near Him during the few dark times I’ve had in my life.
And they give me hope that even when I face the trials that are sure to come my way, my heart can be steadfast in hope because I know where my true Home is. I know I am a sojourner. I know death isn’t the end, but chapter one of the un-endings Story made possible by Elyon Himself. I know whom I have believed, and He is who I was made for, and He will keep me until the end.
Thank you for your faithfulness to use your imagination and writing gift and pastor’s heart to remind us of realities we are so easily blinded to.
Thank you for that wonderful letter, Lauren, and thank you, Lord, for rescuing it from the junk folder! (We will be asking Lauren’s permission to post the wonderful article she mentioned as a guest blog.) What a testimony to God’s faithfulness behind the scenes, working through the books in the lives of young people, who, unless they write and tell us, we would not ever know about in this life.
I believe it was divinely orchestrated that this letter would remain in the junk folder until last Wednesday, December 7, so I could read it on what was a day of nostalgia for me as I was reflecting on the fact that it was exactly 54 years ago Nanci and I met. So let me tell you some of our story, and how it relates to this letter in my mind.
If our lives were the product of random chance and accidental meetings, rather than providential divine appointments, my entire view of life would be radically different. If just a few dozen things, not to mention hundreds and thousands of other things, were just a little different, Nanci and I never would’ve met, our lives would’ve been totally different, and the children and grandchildren we know would not exist.
If Nanci’s best friend Debbie did not “happen” to be assigned locker number 503 at the brand-new Sam Barlow High School in 1968, and I hadn’t been assigned locker number 504, I never would’ve had daily conversations with her. If Debbie didn’t have an interest in my friend Don, she never would have proposed that she and Don and her friend Nanci (a freshman at Franklin High School, 14 miles away) and I go on a double date (with Debbie’s dad as our driver) to watch the premiere of the movie “The Odd Couple,” starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau. It was showing in a double feature at the Village theatre on 122nd in Portland, with Julie Andrews and James Garner in “The Americanization of Emily.”
Between the length of the movies, the intermission, and the drives to and from, Nanci and I spent 5 1/2 hours side by side that night we met! Humanly speaking, what were the chances of my locker and Debbie’s being next to each other? And to be honest, as Nanci and I watched those movies again many years later, we marveled at the lack of awareness on the part of Christian parents allowing their daughters to watch those movies, much less for them to be out with Don and me, who were both 100% pagans! (In their defense, Nanci’s parents were not aware of the double date plan, they just knew she was spending the night with Debbie! And, of course, Christian parents can always trust that other Christian parents will make wise decisions about what their kids are doing when they stay overnight, right?!) In a world of hands-on Christian parenting, that night never should have happened. And yet, how many things that never should’ve happened does God choose to use in His master plan?
Back to Lauren, the reader who sent us the letter: she talked about staying up till 4 a.m. excitedly talking with a friend about Heaven when she was a junior in high school. That would’ve been just after the Heaven book was released, but it was Deadline that captured her imagination about Heaven and being with Jesus. Who knew? And who would know now if Lauren hadn’t written, and someone hadn’t thought to skim through a junk folder just in case…?
I don’t know that I ever would have written Deadline apart from the death of my mom, when my daughter Karina was just 2 1/2 years old and Angie just a few months old. And the death of my best friend from childhood, Jerry Hardin, eleven years later also profoundly impacted my writing. (Finney’s death in the book is closely modeled after his death.) And just how did Deadline get into Lauren’s hands in the first place? Who in her church had read my books and decided to put them in the church bookstore, and who recommended them to that person in the first place? And what did God do to touch Lauren’s heart so that she is now reading it for the seventh time all these years later? (Reminds me of the teenage boy I met who told me he had read Dominion eight times, and it’s by far my largest novel, nearly 600 pages!)
What if I had not met Nanci (all the odds were against it) and come to Jesus a year later, would I ever have written Deadline? Since my name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, I won’t ask the question of whether I would’ve come to Jesus without meeting Nanci, but I certainly believe she was central to His plan in drawing me to Christ. Even though the circumstances of our meeting and the fact that we were together in a serious relationship 10 months before I came to Jesus were not God’s moral will, they were part of His sovereign will.
Until a few days ago I didn’t know about Lauren, just like we don’t know the vast majority of ways that God has used what ANY of us has ever said or done or written, right? This isn’t just true of professional writers or speakers—all of us have also written (including letters, emails, texts, and social media posts) and spoken things throughout our lives, which we have no memory of but that God has used powerfully in the lives of others (the Jimmy Stewart movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” reflects this).
Related to this, I think what Jesus said in Matthew 25 has far greater implications than we realize. His followers don’t know how their words and actions affected not just people here and there that they don’t remember, but how they have affected Jesus Himself: “Whatever you did for others, you did for me.” it’s not just that the righteous didn’t realize they were doing what they did for Jesus; I think they are clueless about the depths at which they have affected thousands of people throughout their lifetimes, and not only through direct actions, but through giving and praying. When you have lived a godly life over a period of decades, you can’t begin to remember most of the impactful things you have done, and many of them you haven’t just forgotten, but never realized were that impactful in the first place.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)
Jesus made emphatically clear that He is watching and will never overlook the smallest act of kindness and goodness, but will reward us one day for it: “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded” (Matthew 10:42, NLT). Whether remembered or forgotten in this life, none of this will be forgotten in the new world Jesus is preparing for us.
Consider these words in the second to last chapter of the Old Testament, affirming that there is kept in Heaven “a scroll of remembrance” that includes our names, and according to other texts whatever we have done for Jesus in our lives, including our smallest positive influences on family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, strangers and anyone else (Hebrews 6:10; Colossians 3:23-24; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15):
Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.
“They will be my people,” says the Lord [Yahweh] of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:16-18)
Because Wednesday was the 54th anniversary of the day Nanci and I met on that blind date as high school freshmen, I have been pondering all of the people who prayed for us that we didn’t know were praying for us, and all the people who helped us that we didn’t know were helping us. Then there were the ones that we knew about, but ultimately forgot about as our lives became filled with other people. One of the wonderful things about Heaven will be reuniting with people we knew in this life, and seeing them through eyes of deep appreciation for what they did for us, some of which we were utterly clueless about. And then we will see all the people who indirectly affected us but when we actually hear their stories, we will realize their impact on our lives was far weightier than we could’ve imagined—all to the glory of our sovereign God of providence, who works all things together for our good.
Imagine the stories we will hear about peoples’ prayers and giving that we never saw in actions or heard in words, but which touched our lives deeply. I am convinced that at the banquets after the resurrection, on the New Earth, there will be a gradual and ongoing unveiling of the sovereign work of God in our lives where we will have opportunity to express our gratitude, not only to those we know who impacted us so much, but also to those who impacted us without us ever having a clue.
An Invitation from Eternal Perspective Ministries
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Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.