Sunburst over Earth

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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

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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

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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…)

Garage sale
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I just discovered that March 2 is one of those obscure holidays that sound made up by a third-grader: Old Stuff Day. Apparently, it’s about not saying or doing the same-old-same-old and doing something new and different. (In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, maybe someone should rename it New Stuff Day.)

Jesus has his own version of Old Stuff Day, except his is for a lifetime.

Don’t be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (Luk. 12:32-33)

Instead of the same old view of this verse, I suggest that Jesus intended something different:

1.) While most people have assumed that the kingdom of heaven is primarily about dying and the hereafter, it’s primarily about life to the full here and now. Jesus offered a new vision of kingdom living in joy, value, and enduring significance. He brought the treasures of life down to Earth.

His gospel is all about a rich, new life—about new wine bursting old wineskins, a new patch tearing away from an old garment. The verse about selling possessions is only one of his many encouragements to get rid of old stuff and to embrace new stuff.   (more…)

English: Bratislava; New Year 2005; FireWorks

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Sometimes, those three little words, “God loves you” can seem terribly patronizing. Despite much talk about love and joy, we live in a Christian culture (in the U.S., anyway) that seems to be on a mission to minimize—even eliminate—human value and success.

In misguided, over-corrected attempts at humility, it makes for a very one-sided relationship with God where He does everything and our only part is to get out of His way.

For example, if we increase sales at work, or write fantastic term papers, or run a great Sunday school class, many are quick to say that we have nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s “Christ living in you.” Any other response brings accusations of pride and embezzling God’s glory—except when things go wrong. Then it’s all you. Humanity is thus presented as having little value, rightness, or anything really worth celebrating. How tragic and crippling!

One of the themes that Scripture consistently reaffirms is human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ core mission on Earth was to restore to mankind God’s vision of value and worth. It was so central, in fact, that he planned to give his own life to show us this reality. (more…)