Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We need each other

It has been a bit of a slower week.  The client flow is light.  I got the first 1000 slide digitalized, and I am on my own, with lots of silence surrounding me.  In such times I usually pick up a book.  this time the book is "Searching for God Knows What" by Donald Miller.  He has a wonderful chapter in which he talks about the fact that Adam, in the midst of Eden's glory, felt lonely.  Bottom line?  Adam needed someone else.

".... you and I", Miller writes, "were created to need each other... It is a striking thought to realize that, in paradixe, a human in incomplete without a host of other people."

Sitting here in the darkness of an early winter's evening, alone, I am struck by the truth of that statement.  We need each other.  

Of course that creates problems for those of us who are essentially loners.  Yes, I know, it seems odd that a person who has been a minister, a fund raiser, a counselor, and an executive director, should see himself as a loner.  But I am!  I love my space.  And when I am in a place where I am one on one with another... I don't always feel safe.  I realized once that I would rather stand up in front of 500, even a 1000 people and talk, then be in a social situation where I would have to interact with one other person for any length of time.

And yet, I know that without those others whom I reluctantly (sometimes) let into my life, I am not complete.  I need other people.  And some people are gracious enough, or perhaps grace full enough to take the time to connect with me, and be a part of my life.  

So in these days, as we go forward toward a new year, I would like to say thank you... to those special people who touch my life.  I won't name you!  There are too many, and no one likes a blog that is way too long.  But I hope you know who you are.

And to all of you, I say thank you.....

I would like to close with a passage I often use as a benediction in my church.   It comes from Paul, via J. B. Phillips.  "Now may the God who suffers us to endure, and gives us a parent's care, give us a mind united toward one another.  And then as one person we will sing from the heart, the praises of God.....  So open your hearts to one another, as Christ as opened his heart to you, and God will be glorified".  (Romans 15)


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Testing God? Thoughts in time of chaos

There are days that make one wonder.  Months too.  Even years.
I have to admit, its been an "interesting" year.  Seems like little has gone right, and a lot of challenges have emerged.
Now I like a challenge as well as the next person.  But seriously God!
Would it be asking so much to get a little break here?

I mean state budget cuts;
A total transformation of the mental health system in the state, which may be awesome, or may be a total disaster;
some personal chaos (as if that ever ends)....

Add it all up and life seems to be almost more than one can take....
And often we wonder if we are up to the task.
I know some people even such such stuff as a test...
as if struggle is the way God measures our faith, our resilience.

I think that is a bunch of ....
Well lets just say that is not the way I think of it.

I like what Brennan Manning says:  "Scarcity and broken relationships aren't about God finding out what I'm made of -  God knows what I'm made of - its the other way around.  In or out of friendship, in scarcity or abundance or just enough, my life is about finding out what God is made of ."

Challenges give me a chance to learn, in a way that good times can never offer, just how amazing my God is.  How loving.  How forgiving.  How patient.  

There is one amazing thing about moments that put God to the test.  God doesn't fail.  God is always there.  With love, power, forgiveness, hope, with all the things we need.

On this "day after Christmas", in this time before the New Year begins, that is a good thing to remember, and on which to base one's future!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Christmas Wish

In the past several weeks I have had more than one person I am working with tell me that they let other people control them.  But worse, that they let others define them.  And in some cases let others diminish them, even "erase" their sense of self.

In reading a Brennan Manning book (Poser, Fakers, & Wannabes) I ran across the following passage.  

"When a person finally accepts the profound mystery that she is totally loved by God and there's nothing she can do about that, then she has a fighting chance at embracing her core identity as Abba's Child.  And then she slowly gains emancipation from all those controlling relationships.  She shifts what psychologist Julian Rotter called the locus of control - the place where decisions about change are made - from external control to internal self-control."  

This ties in so beautifully with what Paul says in Colossians 1.  "The Secret is this, Christ in us, the hope of glory"

I am more and more convinced that the secret to being the person God wants us to be is quite simple (not easy, but simple).  Turning inside, and connecting with the Christ in us, and becoming intimate with our God.  And then, in the context of that intimacy, discovering who we really are.  Our true self.  Our "created to be" self.  

When we have this profound sense of God's presence, and this strong inner sense of who we are in Christ, then we can be in the world in a totally new way.

No longer does fear, greed, hate - all those things of the world - no longer do other people, our culture, and all those other forces, have the power to define us.  We are already defined by God, and by our grace filled relationship with that God.

How that kind of strong inner core would transform how we think, feel, and yes, behave.  We can only benefit from an internal locus of control however, if there is something good and strong inside us. If what is inside us is vague, if we are empty, or worse, if our inner self is cluttered with the stuff of the world, and the stuff other people throw at us, we will not find there the peace, the hope, God wants for us.

So our job is to constantly go inward... to that core.  And there find our God, and there find the empowering Spirit, and there find, who we truly are :)

This Christmas season, my hope is that we all receive the greatest gift of all.  That sense of God's indwelling, and of that self that we were always meant to be...


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rooted in personal intimacy with God

Henri Nouwen sometimes wrote remarkable things.  Today I ran across this quote from his book "In the Name of Jesus."

"When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible but not relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative."

This really got me thinking
About leadership
About dealing with adversity
About being strong!

The key to being a child of God in this messed up creation has everything to do with personal intimacy with the source of life, God. More specifically, the Christ in us.  As we become intimate with that presence, then we find, and can become intimate with our true selves.  And then, and only then, can we function in the world in the way Nouwen describes.

I was thinking about the abused woman, who loves God, and wants to be God's person.  She has been taught, forever.  Give up your self.  Be a servant.  And now, as she seeks to find her true self she things it is wrong to stand up for herself.  Wrong to set boundaries.  It feels, harsh and unforgiving.  But with Christ, setting boundaries, holding firm the the self, not allowing another to erase her can involve being soft.  Without giving in once again to slavery to a one who is not God or Christ, but acts like he owns her.

I was thinking about those in power in Washington DC.  Imagine if you will, if they could have passion and power, without relativism and rigidity.  Would they, if they were securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, be able to make decisions based on God's teachings, God's priorities, God's love, rather than political expediency, or a search for personal power?

I was thinking about the church.  And about how it would be if the leaders of the church did not have to pose, and did not focus on power and rules, and law, but instead were willing rest their leadership on personal intimacy with the source of life.  And were willing to be real.

The fact is, that historically, God has done God's best work when working through those who were not posers, but people who were aware, often painfully so of their own inadequacy.   As Brennan Manning would put it, "God works through the broken-hearted who know they don't have the courage to go on.  God works through the weak who know they don't have the strength to carry on. God works through the poor who know whatever it is, they can't buy it."

It all comes back to understanding it is all about God.  And what God can do, and will do.
So, for all those who are battered, abused, confused, struggling, weak, and yes, sinful.  This "grace" is for you.  Believe it!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Water in the desert

The body slumps in the chair
Every inch protesting at life
Beaten down
By events that rip and tear
By abuse and fear
Hatred and greed

Their minds echo the sad refrain
I am nothing
I am not enough
I deserve what I am getting
God hates me

They have been told this too many times
By fists that have battered
Words that have scorned
You are stupid
You can’t do it
You are a whore
A loser

And even those who talk gospel
Have had no gospel
Only more demands
More calls to sacrifice, to become less
How can you become less when you are nothing?

And yet
Deep down
A spark of the divine still glows
That true self
That created to be Self
Still lives

Christ is in
Even this one so battered
So shaped by the sin and misery of this world
And even the smallest fragment of this divine presence is enough
Be it as small as a mustard seed

And with Christ that true self
Can be birthed again

Christ speaks
In that dark, almost empty space
You are a child of God, believe it!
You are God’s daughter
You are God’s son
You, that you I imaged from the beginning of all creation
That true you
Cannot be erased

God loves you
God wants to do his new thing
In your life

Water in the desert
See it
Believe it!


Isa 43:1-3, 19
1 But now, this is what the Lord says —
he who created you, O Jacob,he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord, your God,the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Birthing God

Today in church we read the familiar story of Gabriel visiting Mary
The story of Mary is an intriguing one.  This story brings up a lot of stuff.
But for me all comes down to what Mary did!

What is the one thing Mary did?  Above all else?
Mary birthed God
She delivered God to the world

How did she do that?
Well there are two things really obvious… First, Mary couldn’t have done anything without God’s amazing activity.  No way that she, a young woman who “had not known” a man was going to be able to have a baby…. Sorry… doesn’t happen. 

But the other obvious truth is this - God couldn’t have done what he did without Mary’s yes…..
God needed Mary’s “yes”, and she could have said “no”

In his book Peculiar Treasures, Frederick Buechner imagines what the angel Gabriel could have been thinking when he told Mary not to be afraid: ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. And as he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.”

Mary had to give her yes
Say yes to God’s choice of her
Yes to God’s love
Yes to God’s capacity

We have to give our yes as well
Our job is to birth God,  to deliver God to the world

John wrote in his Gospel… “See what love God has shown, that we should be called the children of God.  And that is what we are!!!!”  Brennan Manning takes that verse and says this…The highest calling in our lives is becoming like Jesus. This is not copying what Jesus does… It’s the very life of Jesus flowing in us and through us and out of us because God’s Spirit has taken up residence in the heart of us. 

In short.  God is birthed through us as we become open to the presence of the Spirit, and Christ moves through us… and we begin to live Christ, in love, compassion and forgiveness.

But how do we do this?  Well the first thing that is obvious is that it isn’t about our capacity.  We are often faced with things are at least a little beyond us.  And few of us, as we look at what life is throwing at us, say “Oh yeah! I feel total capable, bring it on!!”  No, it is all about God, with whom all things, all things are possible.

So the real key is our willingness….

I had a friend who use to talk to Senior High Students about the symbolism of hands
He pointed out that what we do with our hands often reflects our receptiveness.
Hands out - pushing away; rejecting.
Hands up - ready to receive; welcoming.
Try it.  How does it feel when you hold your hands out?  When you open and lift them up?
As you do, the different postures almost set you up for a different attitude.
Hands out - No! Wait.
Hands up - Ok! Come on.

Ever notice how some people seem to instinctively put their hands out.  They’re the skeptics of the bunch.  Won’t believe it unless they see it for themselves.  If it isn’t logical, if they don’t understand it, they don’t have time for it.  They tend to stand back. They tend to resist.

Unlike “hands up” people.  They’ll receive what you say. They’ll go along with what is told them.  Not necessarily gullible. But open. Receptive.

Hands out?  or Hands up?
Our choice is important

Through Mary the sacred came into the world
And the world was transformed by the Sacred, redeemed by it…restored

That is what happens, everytime we birth God….
Every time we are willing, God becomes a part of the world
And God’s presence cannot be denied

Author Regina Ryan writes these words in one of her books.  “Are not each one of us invited to conceive the Sacred One within our(selves)? Are not each one of us called upon to wait for the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit… ? Is it not our job to nurture God by healthy devotional practice, honoring the body, and celebrating the mystery of life that is (continually) taking place in each one of us?”  To this day, if Jesus Christ is fathered by God, he is mothered and made manifest by you and me. Kind of makes you proud, doesn’t it? How essential humanity’s role is to deliver God to the world?

The question that comes from this story is simple are we willing?
Are willing to believe in what God can do… and echo Mary’s words,  “Nothing is impossible with God”
Are we willing to accept our acceptance and let God dance in our soul,
Will to let the Spirit overshadow us….?
Are we willing to birth God, deliver God to the world?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shouting the Gospel

In his book Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claibourne makes this challenging statement.  “If you ask most people what Christians believe they can tell you.  Christians believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that Jesus rose from the dead.”  But if you ask the average person how Christians live they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life.  Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus along the way.  …..”

In Advent we are challenge to think about the coming Kingdom of God..
And about Kingdom living…..
What does that look like?  How would we be if we embraced….another way of life?
What would it look like if we were to, as Shane Claibourne puts it, “shout the Gospel with our lives?

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, in his finally instructions in chapter five, we get some idea of what Kingdom living should look like.  This is not a negative snapshot -- or a dark one, or a rigid one.  Not at all.  In fact the life portrayed here is wondrous!  Amazing!  But definitely not easy.

1.  The first suggestion about what it looks like to participate in another way of doing life is this.  “Over come evil with good, do good to one another and to all.  In Romans Paul would say similar thing when he said, “don’t overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good.”  And then he hammered the point home with graphic illustrations of what he was talking about.  “…IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is so alien to the way we often think!
     We want to get even
     We want to make the bad people pay
     We want to aggressively keep ourselves safe
So we respond to hate with hate, brutality with brutality.

But we are commanded to overcome evil with good.  Why?  Because unlike responding to evil with evil, hatred with hatred, overcoming evil with good actually works

A young American was once riding a train in the Suburbs of Tokyo.  At first the car was mostly empty, holding just a smattering of women and children, and a few old folks.  Then suddenly, at one stop, the door opened and a man staggered in bellowing violent curses. He wore dirty clothes and was big and very drunk.  Screaming he swung at a young mother holding a baby, knocking them to the floor.  As the man stood in the middle of the car looking for his next victim, the young man stood up. He was young, in good shape, and had been in aikido training for three years.  He figured he could grapple and throw this obnoxious man.  He was determined to protect the innocent, even if it meant meeting violence with violence

Then, as the man staggered toward him, roaring threats, a voice suddenly shouted “Hey!”  And there stood a tiny little man, easily in his 70’s.  “Come here” he said to the big man, “let’s talk!”  “Why should I talk with you?”  “Whatcha been drinking” asked the old man.  “I’ve been drinking sake!”  “Ah, sake”, said the old man.  “That is wonderful.  I love sake too. Every night my wife and I, she is 76 you  know, warm up a bottle of sake, take it out the garden, sit on an old bench, and watch the sun go down… We like to see how our persimmon tree is doing.  My grandfather planted it.”  “Yeah” said the big man, “I lover persimmons too.”  “And I bet you have a wonderful wife?”  “No,” said the big man..’my wife died.  I have no wife, I have no home, I have no job, I am so ashamed of myself.”  Tears rolled down his check.  “My my” said the old man.  “That is so sad, sit down and tell me about it.”  

A short time later as the young man left the car he looked back and saw the drunk man lying on a seat, his head in the old man’s lap.  The old man was softly stroking the man’s matted hair. 
That was love in action.  That was a time when someone overcame evil with good.

The second thing we are asked to do in this passage is rejoice always.  Again, not an easy thing to do. 
We often don’t feel like rejoicing.  Indeed, quite the opposite.  We feel like being angry, and bitter.  We feel like wallowing in the negative.  And there is a lot of negative to wallow in… but we are told to rejoice… be joyful

How can we do this?  We can do this because the source of our comes out of the assurances we hear from Isaiah. God offers us salvation that is tangible and real. Isaiah tells us that through God’s messenger God offers good news (hope) to the oppressed. God binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty to the captive (those held in slavery), release to the prisoners, restoration in the year of jubilee, justice or vindication, and comfort for those who mourn.”

 In these acts, we see God’s shalom or peace created. These are real, tangible things that touch us in this life not some wish for the life to come.  We can be joyful because of our God. Because of who God is, and what God does, and how God loves us.  We are challenged to remember where our joy really comes from.  Because sometimes we forget.  And we think other things, such as wealth, or jobs, or other people can be the sources of our joy. 

But we are called to remember where we can really find the joy we seek.  To focus on that source of joy, and not all the others, that disappoint. 

The third mark of “another way of living” is chronic prayer. Pray all the time !  Paul suggests.
I can’t say I’m good at this, but there it is.  Always stay connected to God.  Never let too much time pass without checking in.

Being in relationship with God is kind of like having a friend, a long ways away, someone you care about and love….What do you do?  You work at staying connected.  You email, you text… you check in.  You share your day - You share your joy and your pain…..and even across the miles the relationship flourishes….

Paul suggests that kingdom living involves that kind of intentional connection with God. Remembering God, all the time.  Having God on the edge of our consciousness at all time.  Slipping into thoughts of God.  Sending thoughts toward God.  Sending love toward God, all the time.  The way we do toward that person who is our beloved.

Give thanks in all circumstances is the third suggestion.  Are you kidding God?
Be thankful for budget cuts?
Be thankful for a struggling economy

Yes, be thankful in the in midst….
There is a Contemporary Christian song called Beauty for Ashes sung by Crystal Lewis based on this Scripture. Some of the words are, “He gives beauty for ashes, Strength for fear, Gladness for mourning, Peace for despair. When sorrow seems to surround you, when suffering hangs heavy o’er your head, Know that tomorrow brings, Wholeness and healing, God knows your need, just believe what He said. He gives beauty for ashes, Strength for fear, Gladness for mourning, Peace for despair.

We place our faith in God who cares for us, who is not indifferent to our suffering, but who is compassionate.  And because we have this kind of God there are reasons, even in “the midst”
Even in times of fear and mourning, despair, there are things to give thanks for

Above all the love of God, and Grace

As I thought about this passage I thought about my father’s illness… My dad was a workaholic, yes it must be hereditary.  But in his illness he had to slow down
He learn to sit, and talk, and listen, and share
And he had people come by….
And say… Dr. Paul… I want to tell you how much you mean to me

He might never have known….how much people cared.  He might have missed out on so many gifts.  So in the midst, he could give thanks.  There were things for which he wasn’t thankful for.  But there things he could find, always things he could find, for which to give thanks.
Give thanks in all circumstances
He learned to give thanks for the gifts that were coming his way….

So now we come to the bottom line of the passage.   Don’t quench the Spirit

I think of it this way.  As we think about Advent living, we can ask ourselves four questions, each day.
First, what “positive, good thing” can I do this day, to respond to the evil I see around me?
Second, what can I do to nurture joy?  How can I focus on God and God’s love and power in such a way as to find hope and joy, in the midst?  In what situation do I need to look for joy?
Third, how can I “connect” with God.  In what way can I seek to nurture contact with God?
And finally, what is a gift God has given me this day, for which I can say thanks?

This is how we let the presence, the reality of God burn in our lives and our hearts
This is how we participate in the Kingdom
This is how we participate in another way of doing life

Friday, December 9, 2011

Waiting on the Lord

On a winter’s Day

White capped sentinels
Thrust into startling blue
The frigid sun slowly slides behind the hills
Casting out weak rays of warmth
That bounce off rocks and trees
The smell of smoke wafts through the trees
And the coldness of the air takes one’s breath away

It is an amazing day

And yet beauty is not just in the eyes
But in the heart and mind of the beholder
And on this day
Joy does not fly

But lies trapped by
And loss

And so not even God’s grandeur
Can lift the heart
And cause the soul to soar

And yet one is told
To wait upon the Lord
And that in the waiting
The resting
Will come an answer

And one will once again
Soar like an eagle
Into that startling blue

And so I wait

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Self Talk

To know, know know me is to......
What is it any way?

To love me?
 I don’t think so.

Oh, I look Ok to most people.
A little chubby,
A little the worse for wear
But not bad.

A reasonably nice guy

I don’t kick cats
Beat kids
Or steal from widows.

My epidermal self is pretty good.
I can make almost anyone think I’m nice
For a while.

But get under my skin
And its another story.

Look beyond what I can do
To who I am

Look beyond the surface
To the heart

Look at me closely
And you will quickly change your mind.

There I am, Rolling in the ooze and slime and old decay
A thing of darkness
Better left alone.


I have always struggled with self-talk
I don't talk nicely to me :)
Nor do most of the people I work with as a counselor
And sometimes things happen in life.
We make a mistake
We face difficult times
Even, perhaps rejection....

and our inner committee (or ins some cases Jury) goes to work
and our self talk is negative and destructive...

But there are always two versions to the story
Our version, and God's
And in God's version we are always loved
Always accepted
Always worth time and energy, and yes forgiveness

Think of the prodigal son whose version of the story was that he was not worthy of being a son
Not God's version at all.  He was still seen as a beloved child

Think of the elder brother whose version of the story was one of neglect and rejection
But God gently noted that he had received many gifts, and was always, always loved.

Right now my self-talk is not very positive
But I do know one thing
God's version of my story is far better than mine :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Another Way of Life

I was wandering through Shane Claiborne's amazing good "The Irresistible Revolution" in which he insists that Christians are called to be radicals.  Not super heroes of the the faith, but "ordinary radicals" who in basic, simple, Jesus informed ways live out their faith in this world.

He comments that while most people know what Christians believe, very few know how Christians live, because we have not shown them another way of life.  We just live like everyone else, and sprinkle in a little Jesus here and there.  

But as Christians, we are to live lives that are clearly different, because of our relationship with God.  Our lives are to "shout the Gospel".  

In a world of fear, we are to be about hope
In a world of injustice, we are to be about justice
In a world of greed, we are to be about economic equity and giving

I ran across some people who have developed a little thrift shop to raise money for a helping the poor in their community.  They don't dream that big either.  But I love their motto.  "We plan to change lives, 25 cents at a time!"  (That is the average cost of stuff in their store).  And they are.
In this Advent season my goal is to think about how I live
and about how I can be an "ordinary radical"  (Thanks Shane)
and impact the people I meet each day
the community in which I live
(I am not a big enough thinker right now to think I will change my country, or the world :)

Care to join me? 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Building the Kingdom of God, now!

Advent is about the arrival of God into history
An arrival thousands of years ago
And about an arrival yet to come.

It is about God arriving and dramatically setting right a world gone wrong. 

We have the clear message in so many biblical passages,  that the way things currently are will not do.  That what is must give way to something else.  Stories from the prophets, Jesus, and even the people like Paul and Pete  all insist, that all is not right in our societies and that something has to change, radically.  The transformation anticipated is a monumental and all-encompassing upheaval. 

New heaven and a new earth!
Radical transformation

But, are all these passages “future talk” ?
Is all of this talk about the coming of the Christ, and the coming of the Kingdom of God simply a matter of something that will happen in the future, and take us, essential, out of this world?

Let’s think about this new age
And about the Biblical images of this new age.

First, these powerful images are all about transformation.
Think about Isaiah (40),  and that rough ground becoming level,  about old wine becoming new wine, swords being made into pruning hooks.  Think about injustice giving way to justice, and greed giving way to generosity

The new age is about radical change, about what is not working, being made right

We are told that at some point God is going to say “enough” to anything that threatens the peace (shalom) – that hinders what God intends for the world….The time will come when those things will go away.  Not only will the bad things go away, but the new, good, peaceful things, will become the norm.

But here is the second thing  it is important to notice.  For Jesus, and the people who followed him, the Kingdom, the new life, was going to be HERE.  They did not talk about a future life somewhere else, in a mystical place called heaven with gold streets and harps and robes… they anticipated a future where THIS world would be restored, renewed, redeemed - and there would be shalom on earth

This leads to the third thing we need to notice.  Not only is the Kingdom coming, it is near, it is emerging now, and God’s people are called to be engaged in the process of pulling that future into the present - the Kingdom of God into the Kingdom of earth.

Remember the rich young ruler, who asked how he could participate in the age to come?  Jesus told him.  “Sell all you have and give to the poor!”  Jesus took the question about life then, and made it about the kind of life the man was living now.  In short he dragged the future into the present.

Jesus often uses the phrase the Kingdom of Heaven.  But the reality is that Jesus, who as a Jew would not say the same of God, was probably substituting heaven for God.  So he was really talking about the Kingdom of God. And what Jesus tells us is that the time will come when earth and heaven… when the Kingdom of Earth and the Kingdom of God, will be in the same place… will be the same thing.  They will be one.  

People, this impacts how we live!!!  For many people faith is fire insurance.  They have faith and do what they so when they die and go to the other place it will be OK.  But there is a problem with this.  Rob Bell says it this way, “If we think only of that heaven, up there out there some place.  That other place… if we believe that we are going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world?” 

This is why there is a dearth of social concern among many Christians. They are focused on someplace else, and have functionally abandoned this world.  What they do in this world is only for the purpose of getting them to that someplace else.

This does not make Christians great citizens of the world.  Oh they get excited about a few pet issues.  But to a great degree many of the great social and economic ills are simply not on the radar screen.  Spirituality is all about the soul, and that other place where the soul goes.

But if Jesus really means what he says, than taking heaven, and the age to come, seriously means taking this world seriously. Because we have to believe that God has not abandoned human history, but is actively at work in it, and at some point is going to transform it -   then we don’t do what we do for the sake of heaven, for the sake our sure arrival at another place.  We do what we do, as God’s people for the sake of the Kingdom, which is also here…. In this world.

Think about it this way.  Around a billion people in the world today do not have access to clean water.  People will have access to clean water in the age to come, so working for clean water access for all now is working toward the age to come.

Again, our job as Christians is to drag the future into the present.”  It is trying, as we can, to bring heaving to earth right now.  A very biblical concept.  Remember that thing called the Lord’s Prayer, which we pray every Sunday?  What do we say….every week?  Your will be done “on earth as it is in heaven”

You can’t talk heaven and neglect earth.  You can’t focus on the earth and lose sight of heaven… they go together.  I really like this phrase from one author.  Our eschatology shapes our ethics.  Eschatology is about last things.  Ethics are about how we live.  Our eschatology, our view that heaven and earth will become one, should instruct how we behave in this world now.

So, we are to pursue the life of heaven now, anticipating the day, when earth and heaven are one.
Here is a list Bell comes up with of things that belong in the kingdom.  That reflect kingdom living.
Honest business
Sustainable living
Making a home
Tending a garden. 
These are all sacred tasks now to be done now because they will all be part of the kingdom to come!!

Being greedy
Hording resources, while allowing others to go hungry our without medical care
Nurturing hatred
Allowing injustice
Ignoring the vulnerable…

None of these are OK if we are living in anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they are in heaven…So we should be working to make them go away.

That is why I am sad when I think about the 1% and the .1% who control and horde so much of our wealth.  That is not kingdom living.  That won’t be in the kingdom.
But I am joyful
I am hopeful
When I think of all of you who are working, and living, in anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they are in heaven

I am hopeful, when I think of the things happening in Lostine, Oregon
the market,
The community garden
The community kitchen
Of sewing rooms
And the wellness program

I am hopeful when I see people working to raise money for the poor
And giving money to the poor
When I see wood being cut, split and delivered

I am hopeful when people are giving,
And loving,
And generous,
And forgiving,
When people have mercy on the wounded
And seek to help the vulnerable….

Because in this way we celebrate advent every day of our lives
And we drag the future into the present
And we begin to build the Kingdom of God