Have you ever had one of those ‘eye-opening’ moments? Those moments where something that maybe you knew as head knowledge, or had heard from someone, but didn’t really get, became clear to you? When you suddenly got it.
I like to call them ‘oh yeah’ moments. Because whenever I see people have those moments they pause, and then go ‘oh yeah’, starting at a lower octave and then raising the pitch as they get into the yeah. It’s actually quite a funny thing to see, especially when you do get it and have done all along.
I suspect God must have a right laugh at us, seeing us finally get things which He’s known all along – and I mean that in a good way, you know the way you laugh at something in hindsight which you couldn’t at the time. I think that’s often how God laughs – with us, not at us, but He can laugh whilst those things are happening because He already knows the outcome.
Anyway, I had one of these moments the other day whilst reading my Bible and looking at some of the teachings and sayings of Jesus. It got me thinking about heaven & hell in a brand new way.
Jesus talks about the kingdom of Heaven being here & now, and that with His coming the kingdom has arrived. When He leaves He charges His disciples to go out and make more disciples, to build His kingdom on this earth.
There’s a lot of talk about the kingdom being a present reality – something that is present in our midst, something we can find for ourselves and participate in right now, and that every act is a spiritual act, every time we affirm the teaching of Jesus through our actions we are bringing a bit of the kingdom into reality in this world.
I’m sure you’ve had those moments where no matter what you believed, you’ve sensed that there was a bigger story going on.
It’s in those moments, when we come together to serve and give ourselves – the kind of thing Jesus talked about doing – that I think we get a glimpse of God. When communities of people come together to serve one another out of a sense of injustice and love for people who are in pain, there is often a sense of something bigger happening, something almost divine occurring.
In those moments, as a Christian, it almost feels like heaven crashing into earth. And it didn’t matter whether those people were Christian, Atheist, Jew, Hindu or Muslim. It was still heaven crashing to earth.
We’ve all had those moments I think when we feel a bit of heaven crashing into earth. Maybe it’s in something we’ve seen in the lives of others, or something someone has done for us when we’ve been in need. But in those moments we feel like something bigger is at work, we feel something deeper.
That’s when heaven becomes a reality now.
As a Christian, I have chosen to participate in the building of the kingdom of God here and now. That’s fundamentally what the invitation to follow Jesus is all about. It’s about choosing to participate in the building of God’s kingdom and making it a reality on this world – and playing whatever role God has already planned for you in making that kingdom restoration plan a reality.
You see, the problem is, not everyone chooses this way. The rioters in London and all over the UK didn’t choose this way. Murderers and rapists don’t choose this way.
And if followers of Jesus have chosen to way of the kingdom of heaven, then it makes perfect symmetry that those people have chosen instead the way of hell. Rob Bell in his most recent books states that he sees people choosing hell in this world around us all the time, that hell is a present reality as much as heaven can be, and he’s absolutely right.
We need to stop seeing hell as some place somewhere else where people suffer punishment forever in fire and brimstone, and as a present reality in this world now, which many people actively choose right now.
But it’s not just those we all would say have chosen the way of hell who have chosen this way. We all have, to one degree or another, chosen the way of hell. Even those who have chosen to participate in the way of Jesus, in reality, often choose a different way. We’re all broken and screwed up. That’s what we often call sin.
This is one reason why it’s not just what we say we believe that is important. It’s what we do and how we live. That’s ultimately is what demonstrates the truth of what we believe. People argue over whether it’s what you believe or what you do that’s important in faith. But they are actually one and the same thing. If I say I believe in fair trade then go and buy unfairly traded products, which in all likelihood, I probably do or have at some point, my actions are demonstrating I believe in unfair trade. If I say I believe in forgiveness and then don’t forgive someone – then I don’t really believe in forgiveness, do I?
Jesus is interested in what we believe and how we live – right here, right now – and they are intertwined.
Do we try to live in the way of Jesus, try to build His kingdom?
Are we at the core of our being seeking to bring love, peace & justice into the world?
Are we living – or at least trying to live (because let’s face it, none of us gets it right all the time do we?) – in a way which promotes His values?
Or do we say we believe in Jesus, because He takes care of our sins and gets us into heaven, and then the rest of the time forget about Him. Use Him like an insurance policy to take care of our eternity and make us feel better about ourselves.
Is He just a security blanket that helps us sleep at night, and gives us peace of mind about what happens when we die?
If it’s the latter, then we are saying one thing and doing another. We’re almost acting, we’re being like the Pharisees – hypocrites. Jesus uses a metaphor from acting when he talks about the Pharisees, like putting on a mask, essentially saying they do all the right religious things and put on the right mask publicly and before God, but underneath there are things they are doing which are totally contrary to that. Honestly, I know I’ve been like that – said one thing, done all the correct, religous, ‘Christian’ things, then gone out and denied Him by my actions.
Recognising that, and feeling the honesty of those moments, and the truth of my own sin, the worst of me, isn’t a pleasant experience.
You see the harsh truth of it is that it’s not if we’re building a kingdom, it’s which kingdom we’re building. If we’re not building the kingdom of Heaven, we are still building a kingdom. It might look like ours, but in all honesty that’s a lie. Anything that’s not the way of Jesus is essentially choosing the way of hell over the way of heaven. Which, essentially, in a small way, is bringing hell to earth. Whenever we enter into something which is contrary to God’s way for us, we are bringing a bit of hell to earth – it might just be a glimpse of hell, but it’s hell nevertheless.
We need to have our eyes open to the fact that hell is a present reality which people choose every day, and if we choose to follow Jesus we need to choose Him every day, and we must be participating with Him in the restoration and reconciliation of all things – which literally means all things, everything – in all we do and how we live.
Which brings me neatly to the passages I was reading. Check out the following passage from Luke 6 verses 37-38:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”
Now this could easily be interpreted as Jesus talking about how our actions now will have consequences when we come to meet with God. Indeed, that may be part of what He is referring to.
But I don’t believe He is just talking about eternal consequences here. I believe that just as heaven and hell are present realities, that what Jesus is talking about here are what the consequences of our actions will be now – not just in the future.
A great example is the last verse. The measure you used being used for you.
That happens all the time. If you publicly take a stand on an issue and then people see you doing the exact opposite, you’re going to get judged on that and condemned and called a hypocrite.
Indeed, it may be a standard that others don’t all aspire to. But for example if myself, as a Christian, who is meant to set higher standards for living – God’s standard – talk about how God’s way is best in one particular area and then do the complete opposite, people are going to judge me by that higher standard. It’s the same for any belief system which advocates a way of living that sets higher – or different – standards to the rest of society.
For example, if I talk to people on and on about how abstinence before marriage and it’s then discovered that I have been sleeping around with lots of women – or even sleeping with a woman prior to us getting married – then people are going to use the measure I used to judge me, when if anyone who doesn’t have that value or preach that doctrine did the same, they wouldn’t be condemned.
So the words of Jesus are not just about a reality that will happen in the future – indeed some of them may not be – they are just as much about present realities in our lives. Right here. Right now.
You see there are a few passages where Jesus talks about what will happen, and often we read them like He’s talking about some time in the future, or when we die – but I believe He’s talking about our present and immediate future, rather than just a future after we die or at the end of all things.
Which brings us back to heaven and hell.
I didn’t get into the whole huge debate which went on a few months ago on this topic. I wanted to get some space and get some true perspective on it. I’ve read Tim Keller and Rob Bell’s books on the topic and I intent to read Francis Chan’s take on it in due course.
To me though, as I reflect on what I have always believed and what I have read and reflected on so far, it appears to me that, as Rob Bell puts it so beautifully puts it, love gives freedom.
Through the cross Jesus gave us the freedom to choose the way of His kingdom or the kingdom of hell. As far as I can see though, that choice isn’t something we merely choose in the future, it’s something we choose right here, right now – in everything we do, in how we orient our lives, in the things we hold up and the things we condemn.
In our words and our actions, in every choice we make, we are choosing heaven or hell – and you only have to look at all the suffering in the world to see that many people are choosing the way of hell, the way of greed, suffering, selfishness, prejudice and injustice.
That impulse that rises up in anger against these things – which often leads us into questioning God and to many actually blaming Him for them, is actually a God impulse.
It’s a heavenly impulse. It’s the anger and pain at injustice that God feels much more deeply than we do, because His love is perfect, way beyond our comprehension and understanding – and we feel that impulse because at our core, we are made in His image, and He is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
That impulse, that anger, that sense of injustice we feel is I believe God telling us that we need to take a stand, that we need to take action. That there is a better reality waiting for all of us, if only we are willing to take part.
That invitation is open to us all. Right here, right now, and every day. Same as that invitation to build an alternative kingdom. They are both here. Now.
The good news here is that we have the chance to make heaven a reality in this world, right here, right now.
In our homes. At our jobs, in the places we go, in our relationships, in every thing we do.
God’s kingdom can be a reality now, this very day.
We have it in our power to make that possible.
God is inviting us to be partners with Him in His great rebuilding and restoration project for this world.
I can tell you now as well that there is a job for you in that. That God’s got a role all planned and lined up for you, just as He has for me. If you struggle with accepting that, join the club. I do as well. I don’t get why God would pick me to do anything for Him when there are so many who in my opinion would be far better qualified and more deserving.
Oh and one other thing, if you think brokenness, suffering, bitterness, or doubt disqualifies you, think again.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say God would rather we came to Him honestly with our brokenness than try to hide behind religious conformorty. God knows all about our brokenness and He’s ready for any questions, doubts, fears or anger you have – it’s not like He doesn’t know about it.
He wants us all to come to His party.
Just as we are.
God wants us to come to Him in our brokenness, with our fears, doubts, insecurities, failures and questions. With all the ways we have brought hell to earth. There isn’t anything He hasn’t dealt with before, and He’s in the business of reconciliation, restoration and healing. He’s got more patience than any saint (funny that…).
Nothing is a surprise to Him.
One way or another, life is a journey – and we weren’t designed to do this alone, and we don’t have to have all the answers, we don’t need to meet some criteria to be of use to God. The thing is, that even in our brokenness, bitterness and suffering, even with all the ways we’ve knowingly and unknowingly built a kingdom that’s not God’s, God has already placed infinite value on our lives, and has infinite love for us. Even before we were born.
There’s no conditions or limits placed on His love, His grace or His blessing.
None. It just is.
Again, I’m talking to myself here just as much as you.
Something I struggle with the most is letting go and trusting God. There’s still a part of me that is trying to hold on, suspicious and thinking God is secretly out to get me. That’s the battle I am fighting right now, but it doesn’t mean God can’t use me or indeed isn’t using me – and His love for me isn’t dependent on any of that anyway.
It just is.
It’s His party, it’s His kingdom, and I’m invited – we’re all invited, without condition. All we have to do is say yes to the invitation.
There’s no ‘dress code’ either. You can come just as you are.
He’s waiting for you.
Do you want to participate in the kingdom of hell, or the kingdom of heaven?
Do you agree with what I’ve said?
What’s your perspective on the heaven/hell debate?
Have you ever understood before that God’s invitation is merely to ‘come as you are’?
If you have already come to God have you ‘come as you are’ or are you holding back?
Are you ready & willing to partner with God in His kingdom?
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