“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Lk 17:20-21 (NET)
American Christianity has many myths that include…
- the myth that you can live your Christian life alone
- the myth that life is without suffering or persecution
- the myth that heaven has little if any influence in our daily lives.
It’s no wonder that the American brand of Christianity is associated with consumerism, individualism, and many other threats to the faith. Dallas Willard, the great, passed-on former Philosophy professor at USC called this “bar-code Christianity,” the thought that Christianity is just a label, without much of a transformed life to show for. This is not too far from what the religious folks thought in Jesus’ day, thus Jesus responded with the quote above…that heaven, the Kingdom, is right here, in our midst…in the “air” if you will. For at least the last dozen or so years, I’ve been training my eyes, and training the eyes of others to see God’s Kingdom right in front of us, to seek His Kingdom in the present. But 2014 brought about a major inflection point for my own personal experience of the Kingdom.
2014 has been a huge year for me to realize heaven in my daily life. That thought is foreign to many I’ve talked to, among both churched and unchurched friends. In the western world, we’ve still got a long way to go to integrate our work life with our spiritual lives. Here in the West, we see heaven as a place you retreat to after you die, so we live as if we are divorced from heaven, as if Monday at work has nothing to do with worship and God’s presence. Truth is, Monday morning work begs for the Greatest Commandment to be lived out. Perhaps Monday morning is where the fruit of obedience to the Greatest Commandment could shine brightest.
And among my unchurched friends, heaven is seen as completely divorced from the present life. I don’t blame them. The western church has long broadcasted a “life insurance” Gospel, that is, a Gospel that only has relevance when we “escape” or leave from this world. Most “sinful nature” teaching, and many songs that speak of “flying away to heaven” cement these erroneous pictures into our souls. Much of the western church is broadcasting this “divorced from heaven” message to others. Contrast this to the church in the East, especially where the church is persecuted. The trials there force Jesus’ followers to realize the joy and peace of heaven in their present lives, even while in prison. For them, heaven, God’s Kingdom is so ever present. This is beautiful, and often missed here in the West.
I’ve lived a life divorced from heaven for YEARS and YEARS. Living overseas for many of my summers in my 20’s exposed me to the lives and testimonies of many Jesus followers who have been persecuted for their faith. Those experiences opened the door to realizing “heavenly living” here on earth. The key was this. They lived as God’s beloved. In contrast, I chose to live as a victim, unloved. My MO was to kill my own soul, thinking “I” was not important at all. So I deadened what I felt, even what I wanted because I really believed I was not important at all.
My time overseas with believers in Asia opened the doors to “heavenly living” like I’ve rarely seen here in the West. But it was not until I went through the recent challenging few years for my family that I have really began to experience heavenly abundant living in the here and now. And the following verse is probably the most descriptive of this experience.
Abundant Living on earth:
“I am the door for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:7-10 NET)
Living in abundance is part of this present “heavenly living,” the word being defined by its immediate context (and the whole book for that matter). I’ve taught this concept for years, but 2014 was a year where I realized this abundance more than any other year. How?
I’ve written about some of the health challenges faced by my family, with my wife on bedrest a few years ago, and the challenges with my son. Before that all happened, I lived under the delusion of information. I was prized for what I knew and how I could convey that information. But with tremendous irony, I taught that information-only teaching was not God’s intention; I’ve even taught that too much “bible information” could be detrimental to our souls. The delusion, the lie for me was “I know it, therefore, I have integrated it.” But that information, all the Greek, Hebrew, and everything else from my seminary days, never meant I had integrated the information into my heart. To think that it did was the lie of the “thief.”
I believed these lies, the lie that the more I knew, the more “abundant” my life was. And as the verse says, my life was severely constricted, robbed. This did not happen overnight.
Spiritual Tumors were killing my soul before I experience God’s Abundance
For years, I aspired to be a “walking Google search engine,” part of my old Mr. Spock persona that I carried around for years. I was rarely “present” because I lived behind my cloud of information. Like the sun in Seattle weather, or like the head of a shy turtle, the real “me” might peek out once in a while, but life was more comfortable behind this cloud, and so I remained hidden. I could certainly “fake” being present because I became a master of being able to spit out regurgitated information relevant for the present moment. That meant I could teach, preach sermons without prep, and make it seem like I was “tuned in” when really I was simply accessing the web of content in my brain. I had a well-developed info-access system that could fool people, some people, that I was present when I really was not. My wife has never been fooled by me; my former Epic Movement team was not fooled either (which is why I choose to work with them). Slowly, I began to see the “cloud” I was living behind.
The health challenges of my family forced me step out from behind that “cloud” more than any other time in my life, to retire the lies that live could be lived behind a cloud. When I say “forced,” I mean this. With my wife stuck in bed and my son still in diapers at age 6, there was nothing I could access from my “cloud” of information to fix the problem. So I found myself increasingly sitting in the PRESENT. Accepting my circumstance, and beginning to grieve the losses were the entry points into this PRESENCE, into God’s presence, the Kingdom at hand. And 2014 was a year of living in that PRESENCE more than any other year. God met me in this presence. If the lies I believed in were a spiritual tumor killing my soul, it’s as if God used the challenges of my family as the cure to begin to eat away at this tumor. And 2014 was a year when enough of that “tumor” was eaten away to where I could experience being “present.” That means I’m feeling more and more than I ever have, able to say “no”, able to feel, able to grieve, and able to voice. Like a song that has to be sung, like a poem that needs to be spoken, there’s a picture of heaven that needs to be realized. Kingdom Rice was started to contribute to this “heaven on earth” picture, specifically, that an Asian approach to the Bible can unlock MAJOR doors of discipleship and evangelism to reach the nations.
If you’ve made this this far, and you feel you might have read this post before, this is technically a repost of something I deleted…or rather, it morphed into this post. But a few people actually wrote me encouraging me to repost this one. So here it is!
Abundant living is heavenly living. Thank you Jesus for a taste of encroaching heaven! May your Kingdom continue to come to earth, right here, as it is in heaven.