Friday, November 26, 2010

On Earth.

Alright, here it is - the first of my three promised posts. I hope you who read this did not expect these to come in any kind of timely manner. Because of course this one has not, and neither will the other two if I'm any guesser. And, knowing myself pretty well, it's safe to say they won't. I would apologize, but I just don't feel that bad. haha. Anyway, here it goes.

My mom has a friend who is ordained in the Methodist church, not the United Methodist church. She chose the Methodist church because she knew that she probably wouldn't get ordianed by the UMC. Or at least that's how I understand it. She figured she wouldn't get ordained because she has an interesting theology. She doesn't believe in heaven and hell. She believes these two places are what we make of our lives here on earth. I'm not going to say I necessarily agree, but it is quite an interesting concept to me.

I've said before that I think that heaven is "just like earth, but without the stupid." I say this because, really, I like life quite a lot. I realize that I have been blessed beyond measure, and that others are not so fortunate. However there are many who, even in the worst circumstances, seem to enjoy life a lot as well. For years I've had this idea that heaven won't be all that much different than here, but it'll be a whole heck of a lot more safe and less stressful. Of course I've never been to heaven, so I can't say for sure.

Recently the phrase "on earth as it is in heaven" has been popping up in my life. In the high school Bible Study I lead, in my thoughts when I'm driving, in the book I'm currently reading (The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns), just to name a few. With this thougth stuck in my head it's taken me back to thinking about my mom's friend and her idea that heaven may be on earth, it just depends on what you make of it. In looking at that idea in light of the Lord's Prayer I have to say I think she may not be too far off. We really are supposed to strive to make earth "like it is in heaven."

I'm now going to share the section of the book The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns that is found on pages 54-57. You really all should go and find this book and read it. I'm not even a third of the way through and I love it. Of course I can only read a chapter at a time because I have to spend 3 to 4 days digesting everything, but that's the mark of a truly great book in my opinion. Anyway, here it is:

Isaiah 58

The following passage from Isaiah is almost breathtaking in its splendor, its vision of God's kingdom, and what that vision might look like manifested in the lives and communities of His people. Written in the seventh century BC, Isaiah's book was addressed to a people in captivity, a chastened people who had been brutally conquered by Assyria as God's punishment for centuries of unfaithfulness and idolatry under a succession of corrupt kings. They were a nation at the end of their rope, desperately trying to "get right with God." Yet God juded their attempts at holiness to be shallow and insincere. They were just going through the motions of faithfulness - by praying, fasting, holding religious observances and cerermonies, and so on. God first derided their hypocrisy and then cast a soaring vision of what true faithfulness would look like:

Shout it aloud, do not hod back.
Raide your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
"Why have we fasted," they say,
"and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?" (vv. 1-3)

God here acknowledged that the people appeared to be seeking His will and His presence. Their self-image was that of a nation "that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God." They even "seem[ed] eager for God to come near them." In fact, they were actually a bit angry with God, who appeared to be ignoring their fasting, worship, and prayers. But God saw through their veneer of religiosity.

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD? (vv. 3-5)

Yes, God was wise to Israel's superficiality. On the surface, they may have looked godly. But they hadn't changed their underlying behavior. God is never satisfied with rituals and liturgies when the hearts of His people remain corrupt. So He suggested in this passage something that ought to stun our own beliefs about prayer - that because of their hypocrisy, He would not even listen to their prayers! We take it as foundational that God will always listen to our prayers, but this passage suggests that we should not expect God to listen to prayers offered by insincere hearts. So, if God is not pleased with man's prayers and veneration, what does please Him?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to lose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (vv. 6-7)

These words describe a people and a society characterized by justice, fairness, and a concern for the poor. They portray not just a personal ethic but also a community ethic. The reference to "break[ing] every yoke" suggests that any system, law, or practice that is unjust must be broken - whether personal, social, political, or economic. This sounds a lot like what I described earlier as the "whole gospel," the good news inherent in a kingdom based on the character of God rather than of men. And for this kind of kingdom community, a people whose actions demonstrate this level of authentic personal and social change, God offers this amaazing promise:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say; Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. (vv. 8-11)

What a promise! These words requre a little explanation. God will delight in His people when they obey Him. When the hungry are fed, the poor are cared for, and justice is established, He will hear and answer His servants' prayers; He will guide them and protect them, and they will be a light to the world. This is a vision of God's people transforming God's world in God's way. There is no hole in this gospel. This is what Jesus ment when He prayed, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Charity, equity, and mercy are the marks of the kingdom of the Messiah, and Christ wanted it to begin on earth.
Later in Jesus' public ministry, even John the Baptist began to doubt that Jesus was actually the Messiah, so he sent some of his own followers to Jesus for reassurance. they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" (Luke 7:20).
Jesus answered by listing the signs that heralded the coming of the good news (the Messiah): "go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (v. 22). Jesus encouraged John by pointing to the tangible evidence of the coming of God's kingdom through Himself-the Messiah.
If we are to be part of this coming kingdom, God expects our lives - our churches and faith communities too - to be characterized by these authentic signs of our own transformation: compassion, mercy, justice, and love - demonstrated tangibly. Only then will our light break forth like the dawn, our healing quickly appear, and our cries for help be answered with a devine Here am I.

Wow. How great would it be if everyone did just that - showed their faith in tangible ways? Don't get me wrong, I think most people do in small ways, but what if we all did it just a little bit bigger? I really want to spend some time thinking about how I should change my life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to strive toward a life more like the one described above.

I also find the thought that if God finds you insincere He won't listen to your prayers. Something else I've thought about a lot about since reading this passage. I'm always afraid that even if I think I'm sincere I'm not. What is the defining difference?

What if earth really was like heaven? Certainly sounds like a good way to try and live to me. This is something I will continue to think about and chew on. And I'll definitely be looking into careers where I can implement this. Richard Stearns is definitely making me want to work for World Vision. Of course there's still Play for Peace and other organizations of the like. So many options!

Monday, November 15, 2010

You know God's trying to teach you something when...

Ideas, thoughts, and other things start showing up in your life in multiple places.

Sometime when I'm more awake I hope to write 3 entries on the three things that seem to be coming up in multiple places. They are:

- The phrase "on earth as it is in heaven" from the Lord's prayer
- Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats passage
- This quote "the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." -Fred Buechner

Hopefully they will be entries worth your time to read. They've certainly be ideas worth taking over all of my thoughts for the last few weeks of my life.