Pearls before swine is one of my current favourite cartoons. This one appeared in a free newspaper today and it particularly made me smile. I like the reference to “Life’s big questions” if you know what I mean?
So everybody knows that Harold Camping was wrong, the rapture didn’t happen and I got to watch Doctor Who after all but even so the whole scenario has got me thinking about heaven again. Camping predicted that on Saturday 21 May the process of Heaven coming to earth would begin. He chose to focus on judgement, scaremongering and some kind of divine favouritism (as he has done before) but was he so wrong about Heaven coming to earth?
I think Heaven did come to earth last weekend. It didn’t come with earthquake and rapture but it came. It does every day and we who are aware of it are sometimes guilty of keeping it to ourselves. Allow me to explain.
- Heaven came to earth when people came together in friendship in a world of enemies
- Heaven came to earth when those who were heavy with tears were, for a moment, given a chance to smile without feeling bad about it
- Heaven came to earth when those who are having a rough time were able to share with each other and gain strength from it
- Heaven came to earth when people were able to serve each other without condition or alterior motive
- Heaven came to earth when people sang, prayed, worshipped, laughed, cried, hugged and played together
- Heaven came to earth when candles were lit and memories were shared
- Heaven came to earth when silence was permitted and hands were held
- Heaven came to earth when God was spoken of, remembered and invited
- Heaven came to earth when evil was overcome with good
- Heaven came to earth when doors were open and meals were shared
- Heaven came to earth when generosity overcame selfishness
- Heaven came to earth when the church-stuff was not allowed to interfere with church
Yes I am aware that some of that will have happened outside of church – in fact it has to – but I believe that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above. Sadly we must also remember that for each of those situations there were times when hell came to earth as well (and too often within churches) but as Christians we have a chance every day to bring Heaven to earth and to bring earth to Heaven.
How about today?
Update: 17 Apr 2013
So it’s nearly two years since I wrote this and today I came across this poem written (and here performed) by Jo Dolby. As soon as I heard it I thought of this post so here it is.
Part of my job is to do with security of websites and their underlying infrastructure. I’ve long held the view that the anti-thesis of security is convenience. Ask anyone dealing with computer system security and chances are they’d agree it’s not a good idea to let people choose their own passwords or pin numbers. There are factors such as the importance of what you are protecting that come into play but in general if you let people choose their own password they’ll go for something which is easy to remember and therefore guess or work out. Pin numbers will be the same: if they can get away with it most people will keep them the same on every system. Convenience for the person undermines security of the system. As this photo proves (I couldn’t find an attribution for this by the way so if it’s yours let me know).
But it’s not just security that suffers by convenience. I appreciate I will sound like Monty Python’s old Yorkshire men (“You tell that to kids today…”) but the truth is that we live in a world where convenience is the key. E-mail, Tweets and Status updates are pushed to mobile phones, bookings are made online or by SMS — preferably on the way to the venue and wireless internet connections are left unsecured and open because it’s easier that way. The phrase of our times seems to be “Can’t be bothered” (or a more colourful alternative) not because of apathy but because of pseudo-laziness. I say pseudo-laziness because this isn’t us not wanting to do something, it’s just us not wanting to take too much time or spend too much effort on it (which I suppose is laziness then). Some believe this is all a product of our drive for an instant world, I think it’s about convenience: you buy a new gadget and you want it to be charged already not wait for 24 hours, joint electricity and gas supply deals are sold not only because of cost savings but because it’s more convenient to deal with one company (until you actually have to deal with them then it’s anything but convenient!), people are encouraged to spend rather than save for things (presumably ‘spending’ on credit) and instead of buying your shopping “when the shops are open” it’s more convenient to dodge the shelf-stackers in the wee hours. I appreciate that there are good reasons for some if not all of these but the truth is that, to take 24 hour supermarkets as an example, once the store is open 24 hours it’s not just those who can’t get to the shops in normal hours who use them. We live in a world driven by convenience and whilst it can be both a nice thing and a dangerous thing it is not something that is likely to change.
It’s important to remember then that it is into this world we Christians are bringing our message. Our message which can sometimes make “store up your treasures in heaven” sound like “save for a rainy day”. A message which we too often present as “Thou shalt not” instead of “Have real and eternal life, more and better life than [you] ever dreamed of”. So what do we do? In a world which says “I can’t be bothered” how do we present “Love your neighbour as yourself”? Can it be that the Christian message is behind the times in ways we hadn’t considered before? Do we need to present it in ways which make it more convenient for people? In truth we already are. Fresh expressions, Messy church, Street pastors are all excellent examples of the Church making itself more accessible and removing the obstacle of inconvenience and they are not the only ones. But is this enough? Is it enough that organisations, churches and groups run these kind of projects or are we in danger of segregating the Church into the old and the new? Many studies have been made and papers written about the problems with running alternate ways for people to “do church” with many very clever people warning about the dangers of ending up with two “congregations”.
It’s up to us
But there’s something which keeps nagging at me. Whilst all these activities, projects and groups are great let’s not forget that many of the key moments in Church growth have come when God moves individuals to (for want of a better word) witness to those around them. This is important to remember. If the world around us is living by “Can’t be bothered”, the only way for me and you to teach them the importance of “Love your neighbour” is to do it. If the culture of saving seems foreign (no matter how good the advice) then the only way for us to demonstrate “Store up your treasures in heaven” is to do it and show it as it is: building for both now and the future. I am sure there are those who will disagree with me but Christianity is not about making God convenient, it’s about living as citizens of Heaven here and now: making God accessible through Jesus, through our words and actions. It’s about being inconvenienced ourselves so that other might experience life-changing grace. Yes it may involve changing our ways but the Church is all about change (despite the picture we present), it’s a “building” that is built of lives, hearts, hopes and love. No building remains the same while it is under construction so yes the Church must adapt, change and grow to keep its arms open to everyone but it’s not the building which lives but the stones it is made of – aka us. It’s been said that Christianity is supposed to be caught not taught and that you may be the only Bible people ever read. Now if you ask me both of those already sound like a convenience.
The skill, talent and dedication on display here is inspiring. The message too. That’s all
I’ve been thinking about heaven again – mostly because because it’s been the subject of recent small house groups at church lately I suppose. Anyway have a look at this verse from Revelation 6:
9When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been killed because they were faithful to the word of God and to the message they had received.10 These souls shouted in a loud voice, “Holy and true Lord, how long until you judge the people of the earth and punish them for killing us?” 11 Then each one of them was given a white robe and was told to wait a short time longer. There were still some of their fellow servants and brothers and sisters in the service of Christ who must be killed as they were. They had to wait until all of this was finished. ( Revelation 6:9-11 NCV )
The souls under the altar there clearly remember what they had to endure to get to heaven – including the painful stuff. This seems to be in conflict with the concept that all the tears in Heaven will be wiped away, there’ll be no more pain and no hurting. This vision of paradise could be somewhat marred by the thought that in the afterlife we’ll not forget the stuff we had to go through here on earth. Most of use would probably be content with just remembering the happy times wouldn’t we?
Or would we?
It strikes me that we need to remember the pain in order to give some point of reference to the good times. A glorious sunset is made even more glorious when comparing it to a dark grey and dismal drizzle from the day before. Even a simple meal can seem wonderful when it comes after a period of starvation. Similarly wouldn’t the joy of heaven would be made greater by the memory of what was endured on earth. Of course it’s true that such memories could bring anger, bitterness or remorse but we need to also remember that – in the case of the first two at least – such emotions are not heaven. As for the remorse, yes it’s possible that along with the painful memories of what happened to us will be the memories of the times we were less than humane, less than faithful or generally missed the mark when it came to our relationship with God and our fellow humans.
This is where the tear wiping could come into it. It’s also worth remembering that – no matter how hard we find it now – it’s much easier to believe in our forgiveness when we are being told – face to face – by the one who is forgiving us. When the hand that wipes your tears also contains the wounds that heal you, its harder to ignore or forget. Of course many times we are more than able to enjoy that forgiveness here, on earth. Sometimes we all struggle though and I find it comforting to know that it won’t always be that way.
Hope is a wonderful thing – don’t you think?
I’ve been thinking about Heaven a lot lately. Not in a morbid sense you understand but more in terms of wondering about the future.
A common opinion I’ve heard about Heaven (even from Christians) is how it’ll probably be boring, what with everyone sitting on clouds and playing harps. Of course any reasonable study of the Biblical passages referring to the afterlife (for Christians that is) soon reveals a much different picture to the one popularised by Renaissance art. That said there will still be things happening which – from our limited perspective here on Earth – may seem to be a little less than enthralling. For example, once we are in an eternal life, where time exists but just does not have the same effect on us, then we are able to converse for longer. Conversations could well take as long as they need, hours, days, years??? On the face of it – that could seem a boredom-inducing experience. Perhaps we need a new perspective on this though.
For my part, my musings have lead me to the opinion that we won’t be bored in Heaven. The reason for this is because being bored is a somewhat selfish state of mind. We become bored because the person we are listening to, the thing we are involved in or the job we are doing is just not what we want to be doing at that moment. We generally have what we consider to be “better” things to do. Will such selfishness exist in Heaven? I think not. Certainly if Heaven is perfect then such attitudes cannot be present. “Looking out for number one” is counter to the core teachings — and life — of Christ. So without the selfishness that breeds it it’s hard to see how we could find anything in Heaven boring.
It’s been a while since I posted something here – and longer since that was specifically applicable to Christians. Recently I was asked to give a talk (don’t like to think of them as sermons as that always conjurs images of people falling asleep) at my church. Having prayed about it I felt God wanted me to speak on His promises. One of the promises I looked at was the return of Jesus and how it should inspire us to live fuller lives here.
There’s a popular but misguided saying which says that one can be so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good and a lot of people have written a lot of good stuff to refute this. I stand among the group that feels this statement is not only false but dangerous as it prvents us thinking about the one thing that should be giving us hope.
The hope for a better future in the next world is not escapism but realism. If we , as Christians, are unable to focus on the glory that is to come then what hope can we honeslty offer to the world we live in. Without the purpose of heaven in our hearts we just become ineffective as ambassadors of Christ. Indeed I would go so far as to say that the problematic (and sometimes shameful) periods of Church history all contain – at their root – people whose focus was solely on the here and now and not the great hope of tomorrow.
CS Lewis said:
“If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
And I agree. We must face life – with whatever it throws at us – with both eyes on heaven and bot feet on earth. If we don’t then I fear life will overrun us and eventually we will shrivel up in our own selfishness.
Joni Eareckson Tada wrote an excellent piece, The Earthly Good of Being Heavenly Minded, for Moody Magazine which I found when doing research for my talk. It’s an honest and frank piece and yet it speaks volumes about her approach to life and just how she “copes” with here disability.