Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus ...

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus College with Jesus Green to the left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, we looked at a surprising debate over Jesus’ sense of humor, noting that he said to take heart and to be of good cheer.

Today, I thought it would help to add that “take heart” doesn’t mean “buck up.” We can’t just tell ourselves, “I’m going to be of good cheer because Jesus says I must.”

That’s a little like trying to put a puzzle together without the corner pieces. No one can do what Jesus says to do without first having four foundational pieces he assumes are in place when he gives any command:

  • Vision
  • A plan
  • A way to implement the plan
  • Will (or heart) and desire

Vision

If there were a single most-enabling factor for a transformed, joyful life, it would be vision. We can’t do much of anything without a clear picture of God, His kingdom, and what He’s up to with humanity. We also need to see ourselves the way God sees us—who we are, where we fit with Him, where we’re going, and why:

  1. We’re created in God’s image to rule and serve the Earth with Him.

  2. We’re to learn to do it safely and wisely, without arrogance, ignorance, or ill will. Loving God with all our heart, and loving neighbors as ourselves is Christianity 101.

  3. We learn by stepping into the kingdom of heaven, God’s world without end for Jews and Gentiles alike. 

  4. We increasingly bring our own little kingdoms—i.e., personhood, life, and will—into God’s larger kingdom. Our kingdoms are the current arenas in which we practice God’s Word, where the “bride” prepares herself.

  5. Our future thus comes full circle to (re)inherit the Earth and reign with Jesus.

I love the way Dallas Willard puts it: “Jesus brings us into a world without fear…and invites us to live now in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good.”

You can read more in my articles A Vision of Purpose and A Badly Needed, Clearer Gospel. (more…)

Sunburst over Earth

Image via Wikipedia

In Part 1, we discovered that the kingdom of heaven “at hand” can be defined as the range of God’s effective will; and the Greek term tou ouranou  means “air” or “atmosphere.” Heaven is the presence of God in our immediate surroundings.

In Part 2, we learned that heaven has “compartments” and that heaven and Earth are distinct, but connected. The kingdom isn’t strictly a dwelling place; it’s a dwelling community and system—on this side of death’s door and beyond.

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luk. 17:20-21) Again, Jesus means “in your midst,” among you.

As Jesus illustrated in one parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Mat. 13:33) The kingdom is progressively expanding—not larger or stronger, but fuller of citizens as it works its way through mankind. But it isn’t literal yeast, just as its opposite “yeast of the Pharisees” also isn’t literal yeast.

Likewise, heaven isn’t merely a literal, far-off city with streets of gold located on the re-made Earth. Yet it isn’t strictly an ethereal, non-physical thing, either. Neither is heaven just a symbol, or an eternal, boring church service, or a limited place of sinless perfection.

Solid Hope and Assistance

We need hope and a glorious hereafter to look forward to, of course. But Jesus knows we also need a present hope and solid solutions for today. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mat. 6:34) (more…)

Sunburst over Earth

Image via Wikipedia

In Part 1, we discovered that the kingdom of heaven is more than a location, more than somewhere we go when we die. The kingdom is the range of God’s effective will; and a consistent translation of the Greek term tou ouranou means “air” or “atmosphere.”

 Thus, Jesus’ good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand means that God’s heavenly kingdom is available to anyone who seeks to live within it—not just after they die, but while they live everyday life.

The idea that heaven is a multi-faceted system and that at least some of it is familiar rather than completely foreign brings an awesome new perspective. Heaven, or, “the heavens,” has something like compartments, regions, or dimensions—call them what you will. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” We enter by being “born” into it, i.e., choosing to step in.

This perspective is crucial because most people, religious or not, see heaven as a solitary thing, and accessible only in the afterlife. We’ve singled out perhaps the “seventh heaven” to define a place of flawless perfection where evil doesn’t exist, where God dwells, and where His will is instantly carried out. While that’s true, it’s the only aspect of heaven we’re familiar with today.

But, Paul, for example, describes being caught up to the “third heaven” where he heard things he’s not allowed to tell (2Cor. 12:2-4). He says twice that he’s not sure if he was there bodily or spiritually. He doesn’t explain what the third heaven is, perhaps because his early readers already understood it. And the environment must have been familiar enough or Paul wouldn’t have been confused as to whether he was there physically or spiritually.

The “first heaven” is as near as the air we breathe. It’s where God mingles with man and Earth in our region of His beloved creation. We perceive Him with our physical senses—sight, hearing, and touch—precisely because He wants us to perceive Him. So He shares His kingdom right where we are so we can interact with Him in the land of the living. (more…)

Sunburst over Earth

Image via Wikipedia

What did Jesus mean when he said that the kingdom of heaven is “at hand”? I always thought he meant “out there, but coming soon.” I assumed it was meant as a threat for sinners and an insider’s promise for those on the spiritual A-list.

But it was actually meant to encourage sinners and put religious peacocks in their place. That’s why it was (and is) such good news.

Those who considered themselves spiritually elite—namely, the Pharisees, chief priests, and religious “experts”—were far from God. Whereas they wouldn’t associate with “unclean” sinners lest they defile themselves, Jesus not only associated with them, but physically touched them. The folks that religious elitists had labeled as outsiders were the very people with whom Jesus walked, dined, conversed, and lived.

So his context of heaven at hand was really a divine myth-buster, as I’ll attempt to show in this series of posts. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” holds multiple surprises today just as it did in the first century!

Kingdoms Clarified

We normally think of kingdoms as political realms or state entities having a physical location, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Kingdom. While this is partially true, a kingdom is actually a system; and it may or may not have physical boundaries. (more…)