Make Up There Come Down Here
A few weeks ago, when we were talking about experiencing God, I mentioned the book God Is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg.
The last chapter of this book caught my attention. Ortberg builds it around an illustration involving his dog. I’ll leave that for you to enjoy when you read the book, but the basic idea is this: We live in, or near, Gore, in New Zealand, on earth. We look into the sky and we see the sun, the moon and the stars. We inhabit this physical place – the world we can see and touch. But human beings have always had this sense that there is another world. For example, we have this persistent belief that there is something beyond death. Some people may say they don’t believe that, but different civilisations down through the centuries have consistently believed that there is another world beyond death.
Eccl 3:11 God has set eternity in the hearts of men
And yet, we are pretty much trapped in this physical world. We can’t actually visit heaven and be in the presence of God. We have explored space, using instruments like the Hubble telescope. We have looked thousands of light years into space and we haven’t seen heaven. We don’t know where it is. We don’t really have any expectation that hell is in the centre of the earth.
We believe heaven and hell are out there somewhere. There is a persistent belief about that but we can’t go from this world to that world. And people there can’t come to us and bring any proof. Some people do claim to have had a vision, or even to have travelled, to the “other side” but we have to take their word for it. They haven’t brought back any photos – and you’d think, with digital cameras these days…
The only way to really know what heaven is like and to really know what it is like to be in the presence of God seems to be to die.
A Sunday school teacher wanted to be sure that her class understood the gospel – the message that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, not by works. It is a free gift, not earned by doing good things. She asked the children, “If I sold my house and my car and had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the lawns and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven?”
“If I was kind to animals and gave sweets to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven?
She was delighted that they understood that good works don’t get us into heaven. “Well then,” she asked, “how can I get into heaven?”
A 5-year old boy shouted, “You gotta be dead.”
Is the gospel about what happens to you when you’re dead? Is it all about “getting into heaven”?
Many people do have that understanding. The gospel – the good news – is about being forgiven and reconciled to God so that when we die we go to heaven.
Of course, the gospel is about being forgiven and going to heaven but if that is all then Christianity boils down to waiting to go to heaven and it is good news only when you die. I think tens of thousands of Christians take that view: I’m OK. Jesus has saved me. Now I am simply waiting to go to heaven.
Ortberg says, “The problem is, where in the New Testament does Jesus say, “Now I’m going to give you the minimal requirements you have to meet so that you can get into heaven when you die”?
He doesn’t. Jesus’ gospel includes forgiveness of our sins as a gift of grace. It includes the promise that death will not have the last word; that our eternal life with God will never cease.
But it includes more than that… The promise fulfilled in Jesus’ coming is the unifying theme of scripture: Emmanuel, “God with us”. Jesus said, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (p.174)
Christmas reminds us that God’s way has been to invade our world – to be present and be at work, in our world. That is good news. Why did Jesus come? It wasn’t simply to die. There was far more to His mission that just that. Ortberg says, “His overall mission was to bring the reality of God’s presence and power over to our side of the [divide].” Jesus is “Emmanuel”, “God with us”.
How do you understand it? Is the gospel about obtaining your ticket to heaven and it is good news after we die? Or, is the gospel about experiencing God now? Is the gospel about us going to heaven, or about heaven coming to us – now, in this life?
We live in this physical world that we can see and touch. Is the good news about escaping this world and going to heaven, or is the good news about heaven invading this world?
Jesus didn’t say, “When you die, you will enter the Kingdom of God.” He said, “The Kingdom of God is among you. The Kingdom of God is here now.” The Kingdom of God had broken into our world.
You’d hardly know that heaven has invaded this world, would you? It doesn’t seem much like heaven with war and earthquakes and gang violence and murders. But not only was Jesus “God with us” bringing God into our world; not only did Jesus bring the Kingdom of God into our world, He told His followers to devote their lives to this project.
Remember Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Listen to John Ortberg again:
Sometimes people pray a version of the Star Trek prayer to Scottie: “Beam me up.” Many people think our job is to get my afterlife destination taken care of, then tread water till we all get ejected and God comes back and torches this place. But Jesus never told anybody – neither his disciples nor us – to pray “Get me out of here so I can go up there.” His prayer was, “Make up there come down here.” Make things down here run the way they do up there. (p.176)
That makes a huge difference to our lives. Instead of just waiting to escape this world and go to heaven, we have a role in bringing heaven – bring God’s will; God’s way of doing things – into this world.
When we talk about experiencing God’s presence it might just be that we want to feel God’s peace, we want to feel God’s joy; we want to hear a word of guidance. We can think of experiencing God as being all about our emotional comfort – being comfortable while we wait. Is that what God had in mind?
Jesus called His first disciples saying, “I will make you fishers of men”; not “I will make you comfortable” but “I will make you fishers of men.” He left them saying, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” On another occasion he said, “I chose you to go and bear much fruit – fruit that will last.” (Jn 15:16) The Biblical picture is not of us receiving salvation and waiting to be beamed up to heaven. The Biblical picture is of us being called to be agents bringing the Kingdom of God into this world. Ortberg suggests the most dangerous, exciting, life-changing prayer we can pray might be, “Lord, make up there come down here.”
What if we agreed to be people who would pray and work for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? It would start in our own lives – in our own thoughts and words and actions. God’s will being down on earth just as it is in heaven. Maybe we’ve been angry with others but we want to submit that to God and do whatever is right – whatever would be God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. When it is happening in our own lives, then it will spread to our workplace, our family, our neighbourhood, our church, our country.
Ortberg says to start by asking, “Where do I want to see God’s presence and power break into my world? Where would I especially like God to use me to make things down here run the way they do up there?”
For some people it will be in the areas we considered last week: the health needs of people and families in Gore. That’s where some people would love to see the Kingdom of God break in. Maybe it happens when you see people suffering because of poverty or you hear of children being abused or when you see marriages breaking up. Maybe you want to see the Kingdom of God breaking in when you know that thousands of people in Gore alone are facing eternity not knowing Jesus. Maybe you don’t want to see two people in your workplace sniping at each other or criticising. “Lord, your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Then it is a question of how you can be an agent to bring the Kingdom into that situation.
When we wrap people’s presents for free and wash their cars and provide a meal at Christmas, those actions are little examples of the Kingdom of God being present. This is the sort of thing Marj Robertson will be speaking about on Saturday. Ortberg says every time you are in conflict but, instead of seeking revenge, you seek reconciliation and forgiveness, the Kingdom is breaking into the world. Every time you give money sacrificially to someone who is hungry or homeless or poor, the Kingdom is breaking into this world. Every time someone has an addiction but acknowledges the truth and gets help from a loving community, the Kingdom is breaking into this world. Every time a workaholic parent puts caring for his children above his job, the Kingdom is breaking into this world. Every time you love, every time you include someone who is lonely, every time you encourage someone who is defeated, every time you challenge someone who is wandering off the path, every time you serve the under-resourced… it is a sign that the Kingdom is once more breaking into the world. (p.182)
John 17:15-18 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
Jesus’ prayer is not that we be plucked out of this nasty world but that we are sent into this sad world. Sent into the world, just like Jesus was sent into the world, to be an agent of the Kingdom of God.
Ortberg’s main point is that the misunderstanding that we are simply waiting to be plucked out of this world and the good news is only really good news after we die, is keeping many people from seeking to experience God’s presence and power in their lives here and now. It is by become agents of the Kingdom and working for God’s will to be done in our own lives and our homes and workplaces and our society, that we do experience God.
The Bible does talk about waiting but it says we are to use our spiritual gifts and serve God and live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait.
It is by become agents of the Kingdom that we demonstrate that we really do trust Jesus. Those who merely sit and wait may have misunderstood God’s plan
READ Matthew 25:31-46