Goonies Treasure Map

Goonies Treasure Map (Photo credit: MontyAustin)

Once you begin to see value in yourself, you’ll also need to see value in transformation. Then you’re enabled to make a choice that makes sense to you. You can intend transformation to live new life in God’s kingdom.

I find it unsettling that after forty years as a Christian, I never really had a complete or practical image of the kingdom of heaven, probably because I marginalized the bulk of what Jesus said. I didn’t see it myself when I read the Gospels, nor did church leaders present it to me.

I had a stronger relationship with my church and bible than with Jesus. Like many, I believed that forgiveness alone would save me. And the cross he hung on, not he, would change my life. Effectively, for most Christians I know, Jesus is worth more dead than alive because his primary value was in his crucifixion, not his life.

The Lord’s life-style didn’t make sense to me. Therefore, I didn’t plan and organize my own life-style around his. I never formed the intent to live the kind of life from above that he did in God’s kingdom. And after forty years, it showed.

For one thing, I saw the kingdom of heaven and salvation strictly as an afterlife issue. The kingdom was far away and far future, having little bearing on the challenges in my current life. Eternity started after I physically die, and passage from death to life occurred only then. For another thing, any necessary changes in this life would happen to me once I espoused the right doctrines, especially those pertaining to atonement for sin.

For me, this constituted trust, faith, and belief. It was the definition and extent of obedience to Christ. My delayed reward would be that I’d one day wake up in a wispy realm with God, engaged in an eternal church service complete with choirs, harps, and lots of Amens and Hallelujahs.

Becoming the sort of person who can stand life with God never occurred to me. I wondered instead how God can stand me. (more…)

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English: The Human Spirit, a 2002 sculpture by...

The Human Spirit, a 2002 sculpture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last few posts have explored the Christian understanding of spirit as heart, mind, will, and character—the essence of personhood.

Spirit can be regarded as a force. I don’t mean an impersonal force like gravity or weather, but a personal force that can know and be known. It can act, interact, choose, and do work as a force for good or evil.

Further, spirit is a force whether housed in an earthly body or not. Paul, for example, alludes to some kind of spiritual body that has substance (1Cor. 15:44). Verses all through the OT and NT consistently describe an active spirit world teeming with angels and other beings who carry out various tasks and deeds.

To put it another way, spirit has power. This is true of God’s Spirit, your spirit, and mine. While God is omnipotent and we’re not, that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. (more…)

English: Compass

English: Compass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faith that needs repeated revival or recommitment should probably be examined to find out why it’s so short-lived. (I’m assuming the reason for rededication is a relationship with God that’s flagging in some way; so there may be other reasons that don’t apply here.)

When I worked as a geospatial analyst, the engineering department had a saying for solving design problems: “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting. If you want different results, you need a different system.”

Today’s widely-taught faith system, presented as something God “does” to us, is a big reason it often flags. The believer is subsequently told that he/she isn’t dedicated enough, or hasn’t prayed enough, doesn’t believe enough, has failed God again, and must once and for all swear commitment to the Lord. I’ve heard it a million times, as do multitudes of diligent, sincere Christians who recommit over and over only to get the same disappointing results.

Some even give up on faith and God altogether.

It’s caused by a simple lack of vision, a solid purpose and plan, a means to carry it out, and therefore, a lack of correctly aimed intention. Who can follow through on something they’re unaware of? So when we’re spiritually starved like this, we can pretend to be filled for only so long before the reality becomes evident: faith that limps along or crashes in the sand.

Yet it’s easily remedied if we read and listen carefully to the words of Jesus, his original disciples, and the earliest “people of the Way.” An entire book is needed to adequately address the manifold wisdom of his kind of faith, but we can review the foundational components.

In A Nutshell

The correct vision: Jesus’ rich view and model of new life in God’s kingdom through partnership with Him—God with man. Without this preliminary vision shift, people can’t pursue abundant strength, peace of mind, and love. To use biblical terms, they can’t “enter” into the world Jesus presents or put confidence in him for everyday living. They remain “blind,” stumbling, or conflicted, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing.

This is why Jesus’ gospel message is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” God’s kingdom around us stands ready to guide, enable, heal, and support.

A solid purpose: learn to love ourselves and others the way Jesus loves us. The idea is to become united in spirit and purpose with him and with one another. To live this new life is the assembling of the great Body, or, the marriage of Jews and Gentiles who become the bride wedded to the Bridegroom to rule and serve with him. God planned this objective even before He created the world.

The plan and means: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For example, willfully indulged anger is the first faith-killer he tackles. Turning away from it enables us to increasingly implement (obey) the remaining parts of his plan—get rid of spiritual adultery/divorce, sworn behavior, score-keeping, outer appearance/image, and hypocrisy, in that order. (More info in my series 6 Steps to Un-sabotage Yourself in Every Relationship.)

When we follow his prescribed instructions, the unavoidable result is transformation and spiritual formation in Christ. The best part is that God hasn’t given commands and left us with no ability, or way, to do what He says. Neither will He do it for us since that would rob us of our roles with Him. God is gracious enough to give us some responsibility and to let us participate!

That’s something we can sink our teeth into, put long-term confidence in, and not be stuck with flagging faith that needs frequent re-starts.

 

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…)