It’s only worship if…

In one church I attended the piano player for hymns didn’t turn up. Being a small church in a hall where the chairs could be rearranged, the set up was quickly changed from a theatre style with a lectern up front to sitting round four centrally placed tables, much like sitting round a large dining room table together.

A late arrival then swooped in, saw the set up and shouted out, “This isn’t worship,” and demanded the seats be put back into theatre style with the lectern up front so that hymns could be sung in a proper formal set up, because “it was only worship” if there were hymns in that style of seating. So we dutifully arranged the chairs back to the original set up, and the late arrival strode up front and led hymns without music.

It was a delicate moment, as I imagine it must be in many churches, where “It’s only worship if” a certain format is followed, and woe betide anybody who tries to change it, even if the old format is totally impractical.

Well, if anyone knew what worship was, Jesus did, because his life was worship from one end to the other. And never was he locked into any format. There was no ‘right’ set up when he preached. It didn’t matter if there were hymns, or not. It didn’t matter which day he preached, either. His only concern was to get the truth out about his Father, and work with those the Father gave him. Where and how that was done varied widely.

And now it’s our turn, as the Christian Church, to get the truth out about Jesus and work with those who respond. In working with those who respond, therefore, did Jesus give any indication that the only proper way to do that is in a building on a specific day of the week, with a formal set up and hymns? No, he didn’t. He met with his disciples in many different places on many different days. They sat or they walked together. There was no fixed format. Was it worship? Of course it was. Jesus was worshipping his Father by doing what his Father told him to do – in the most effective way at the time.

So here we are now, also worshipping by doing what Jesus told us to do. And judging by Jesus’ example, how and where we do it is based purely on what is most effective in the circumstances we’re in. For us without a piano player it was sitting round tables in a more informal set up. It could have worked just as well.

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I need comfort too when others are suffering

It’s hard taking on board the suffering of others. It knocks my day to pieces when bad news comes through about a fellow Christian. It’s depressing. It’s depressing not knowing what to pray about too, because I have no idea if God intends to heal the person’s illness, or stop the person from dying, or if he’ll ease the desperate situation the person is in. I can’t read God’s mind, so I can’t promise the person a good outcome either. What do I say at his bedside, or at church? I feel utterly helpless.

So that’s two of us now suffering. The sick or dying person is suffering and I am as well, and I can’t just blank it out of my head and carry on my day unperturbed, because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26 we can’t help suffering when a fellow Christian suffers. When one part of your body is in pain the whole body feels it. In the church that’s the way it is.

But Paul also made the rather startling statement in 2 Corinthians 1:6 that his suffering brought “comfort and salvation” to others. Oh, so in the church that’s the way it is too, is it? But how? How can suffering cause comfort? And Paul goes one step further too, when he says his suffering brought “salvation,” meaning it actually spared people from despairing.

Paul does not back off the fact in verse 5 that Christ allows us to suffer, but he adds a bit on the end of the verse, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” With Christ, suffering never travels alone. It is always accompanied by comfort. But not just comfort for the one suffering; it’s comfort for the ones watching and hearing about the person suffering too. That’s why Paul could say in verse 7, “our hope in you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” And I appreciate that, because I need comfort too when others are suffering.

Here’s how it works, says Paul: He explains how terribly he suffered in Asia, to the point that he and his coworkers “despaired even of life,” verse 8, but their hope was kept alive “as you help us by your prayers,” verse 10-11. And that’s where comfort comes from for those watching others suffer. It comes from knowing our prayers keep the suffering person’s hope in God alive. Jesus literally transforms our prayers into hope. And how comforting that is, that no matter how badly a person is suffering, our prayers guarantee God’s “gracious favour” on him, verse 11.

Does God also answer before we pray?

In 1 John 5:14-15 John tells us we can be absolutely assured “that if we ask anything according to God’s will, he hears. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Assuming, then, that what we’re asking for is according to his will, like the ability to love one another in chapter 2:23, we know he’s heard us and we know he’s answered.

Ah, but when did he hear us, and when did he answer? Did he wait for us to pray and then answer? Or did he know we’d be praying that prayer, and rather than wait until we asked it he already answered it? I mean, if he knows us that well, and he knows what the Holy Spirit has put into our hearts (Romans 8:27), why wait until we finally form the words that express what’s already in our heart?

This was stirred by an intriguing statement by C.S. Lewis that “We can (in our prayer) at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m.” In other words, we may be praying at noon for some event to happen that God already answered and made happen two hours earlier, because he knew at 10 a.m. that we’d be praying about it two hours later. God already answered, therefore, two hours before we asked.

Does that mean, then, that God has already decided the outcome before we pray? In which case, why bother praying if God’s already decided? But that’s not the point Lewis is making. Here’s what he’s saying in more detail: “When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that the event is already decided one way or the other. (And) the event certainly has been decided. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering.”

He’s saying my prayers may well be the cause of events that happened before I prayed. In other words, my prayers after the event may have been part cause of the event happening earlier, because God knew I’d be praying about it. God still decides the outcome, but he decided the outcome based on a prayer he knew I’d be making later.

Who knows what events God has already made happen based on a prayer I’m making now? But if it’s according to his will he hears. Or better put, he already heard it – and answered it – before I thought to ask.

Victory on Earth Day – part 2

The effect of the cross on Genesis 1 and 2 

Something happened in those early chapters in Genesis that only Christ’s death on the cross could resolve. But what exactly was it? What happened that was so bad that it became impossible for us to resolve?

The prevailing belief among many Christians is this: That it all started with the ‘The Original Sin’, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Their sin was then transferred down to every human being who came after them. From the moment each of us is conceived we all automatically take on Adam’s guilt, his punishment, his corrupted nature, his hostility to God – and even his lack of faith in God as well. We are all ‘born in sin’, therefore, and even babies are classed as sinners too, despite them having no idea what sin is or ever having consciously sinned. They will in time, of course, grow up to be sinners like everyone else, so they too will produce many bad “works of the flesh.”

The result of all this sin, from Adam on down, is God’s wrath, which to many Christians means a one-way ticket to eternal punishment in hell. But, these same Christians say, God unleashed his fury on Jesus instead, and by killing his Son and dumping all our sin on him, God’s wrath was ‘satisfied’ or ‘pacified’. The cross, therefore, was our ticket out of hell.

But it doesn’t resolve several other problems we’ve got, like how do we stop sinning once we’ve been saved from hell? Our past sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death, yes, but we still have a tendency to sin, we can still be tempted to sin, and we still produce bad works of the flesh. Evil still has a free hand too, and it never stops making us humans do horrible things to ourselves, to each other, and to the planet. But the hope that many Christians have, and preach, is that one day we’ll be rid of these sin-filled, suffering bodies we inherited from Adam, and we will escape this evil, awful world that began with Adam, and we will live in God’s blissful presence in Heaven forever. The Earth, meanwhile, with its unresolved evil and suffering will be burnt up and destroyed.

But is that all God created us for – to save our skins from hell, and escape off to Heaven? Is there no other purpose to our lives than dealing with the results of Adam’s original sin?

So what would have happened if Adam hadn’t sinned? What if Adam had done what God said and he did not eat off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? What would have been the purpose of human life then?

If we’ve got NO original sin, no transferring of Adam’s sin to the rest of us, no being born in sin, no sinful nature, no living in sinful bodies, no need for God’s wrath to be satisfied, no evil world that needs to be destroyed, and no need for our souls to be separated from our sin-filled bodies, then what is the actual purpose of a human life now? And what would be the gospel message preached by Christians too? If it’s not about escaping this life and going to Heaven, what would our message be about instead?

And let’s go one step further: What if Adam had eaten the fruit off the Tree of Life? It would dealt with Adam’s life being mortal, because all he had to do was keep eating off the Tree of Life and he could have extended his life for as long as he wanted.

And God must surely have had a purpose for Adam’s life if he’d decided to go that route instead, right? But the question is, “What?” What would have been the purpose of Adam’s life – now that he could live forever? He’s got an unending life, but what is he supposed to do with it? And what would be the purpose in life for all the humans who came after him too?

“Yes, but,” a person might say at this point, “this is all hypothetical, because it didn’t happen that way, did it?” Well, actually, yes it did. Not right away, of course, but all the above I just mentioned, of Adam doing what God said, of Adam not sinning, of Adam not having a sinful body that needed to be separated from his soul, and of Adam being able to live forever, has all happened.

It all happened because Adam wasn’t the only Adam. There was another Adam, a second Adam, a replacement Adam, who cancelled out everything the first Adam did, and he did what the first Adam didn’t do. In the Bible we’ve got two Adams, 1 Corinthians 15:45 – “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit,’” and verse 47, “The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.”

And Paul had more to say about these two Adams, Adam the First and Adam the Second, in Romans 5. To begin with in Romans 5:12 Paul takes us back to what Adam the First did: “You know the story of how Adam (the First) landed us in the dilemma we’re in – first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death” (The Message, used throughout for Romans 5).

The first Adam got us off to a lousy start, but he was only picturing what any human being would have done. The Phillips translation phrases that last sentence in Romans 5:12 as, “no one could break it (the consequence of Adam’s sin) for no one was himself free from sin.” What Adam did, in other words, is what we would all have done, because none of us are “free from sin.” None of us are born with a gene that makes us exempt from sinning or immune from disobeying God. For those who say, therefore, that it wasn’t fair that Adam’s sin was transferred to us when it was his sin, not ours, Adam was only picturing what any of us would have done in his place. And need we look any further than our own lives as proof of it?

So Paul supports the idea of an original sin by Adam the First that let the ‘sin and death genie’ out of the bottle. The potential for sin and death was always there inside us; Adam simply let it loose. “BUT,” Paul then says in verse 14, “Adam (the First), who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.”

Ah, so Adam the First serves two purposes: He not only pictures the potential for sin and death in all of us that gets us all into the same trouble he got into, he also pictures Adam the Second, who would get this problem solved for us. Paul repeats that in a summary of what he’s just said in verse 18: “Here it is in a nutshell: Just one person did it wrong and got us into all this trouble with sin and death (Adam the First), but another person did it right (Adam the Second) and got us out of it.”

So there’s a clear contrast being made by Paul between the two Adams here. Adam the First blew it all to pieces, but Adam the Second put it all together again. And that’s not all the second Adam did either, verse 18, because Adam the Second did “more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into LIFE!” That’s an intriguing statement because it was ‘life’ God had in mind when he created the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. But when Adam disobeyed God he could no longer get into where that tree was anymore. A cherubim and a flaming sword stopped anyone getting in.

The second Adam, however, got us in. He got us into life, the life that the first Adam never got to experience. So, not only did the second Adam get us out of the trouble caused by the first Adam eating off the wrong tree, he got us into the Tree of Life that the first Adam never got to eat off, as well.

It isn’t quite so hypothetical after all, then, to ask, “What if Adam didn’t sin and he ate off the Tree of Life instead?” We can ask that now, because thanks to the victory that Jesus, the second Adam, won for us on the cross, it isn’t hypothetical anymore; it’s real. We really are living in a world where Adam didn’t sin and he ate off the Tree of Life, because that’s what the second Adam made possible. Just as the first Adam passed on the results of his disobedience to us, we are now reaping the results of the second Adam’s “obedience to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). And that, believe it or not, is the world we now live in.

Jesus didn’t die to get us off this Earth and into Heaven, therefore, he died to put things right on this Earth to get us back to what God had in mind for us in the first place – or as Paul phrases it in Romans 5:17, “If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breath-taking RECOVERY in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?”

We’ve been given the chance, in other words, to “recover” what we lost. And according to Paul what we lost was the gift of life, meaning we never got the chance to experience the purpose of life on this planet as God intended. We crashed the system before it even got a chance to boot up.

But that’s not the situation we’re in now. We can now go back to the story in Genesis and read it with this alternative view in mind, with an Adam who hasn’t sinned and he’s eating off the Tree of Life, to see where that takes us instead.

For a start we no longer have to focus on ‘The Original Sin’, because Jesus has already dealt with that on the cross. The entire message that trickles on down from the original sin, therefore – of Adam’s guilt, punishment, corrupted nature, etc., being transferred down to us, so that we’re all born in sin even as babies, bringing down the eternal wrath of God down on us – is obsolete. It’s been replaced by the good news of Jesus’ victory over all that. It means we don’t have to see ourselves anymore as being in vile bodies that must be separated from our souls at death, because Jesus totally eradicated that notion on the cross as well. He died to “redeem our bodies,” not get rid of them (Romans 8:23).

No wonder Paul got so animated in Romans 5:21 when talking about “God putting everything together again through the Messiah,” because at last, we’ve got the chance to experience “LIFE” as Paul calls it. And it’s not life separate from our bodies in some far off place, it’s “life,” verse 21, “that goes on and on and on, world without end” right here. It’s about life on this planet that the first Adam never experienced, but that we can experience, thanks to the second Adam, because that’s what the second Adam is all about.

We see that in 1 Corinthians 15:45, when Paul describes “the last Adam,” as “a LIFE-GIVING SPIRIT.” That’s what Jesus is all about. He’s all about giving LIFE, the life that God always had in mind for us humans here on the Earth, and nothing can stop Jesus in his relentless quest to give us that life, so that we can start living that life now that the first Adam never got to live. Ever since he died, Jesus has become the life-giver, meaning that we can now set our sights on the life that God planned for us humans originally, because we’re living in the new version of the Garden of Eden now, with an Adam who did it right this time.

The obvious question then has to be: “But what DID God plan for us humans here on the Earth if Adam hadn’t sinned and he’d eaten off the Tree of Life?” if it’s true what we’re saying here, that we’re in the position that the first Adam could have been in, of no sin and being able to live forever, the question still remains, “Well, now what? What’s the purpose of my life now?”

Well, let’s go back to Genesis 1 and 2 and see if God tells us. And he does. The way Genesis is written, it’s pretty obvious that the first and primary purpose of human life is to lock onto God – God as Creator, God with a purpose, God who made us uniquely in his image, God who designed a special role for us to play in his creation, God who set up residence here with us bringing Heaven and Earth together, and God who is very happy working with us so we get to know him as he really is.

Genesis opens with one very clear point in mind, then, that God created humans as the one group of creatures he could reveal his treasures and secrets to. We see that in how he designed the Earth as a place where both he and humans could live and work together. Here was this dark, foreboding planet with nothing productive happening on it at all. But this was the one place in the universe where the Spirit hovered, ready for God to say the word “Go”, and into being would come this amazing makeover of our planet into something that could support life.

What an amazing transformation took place, in just seven days too, and all in preparation for two things – for humans and for God. For humans a world had been created that could support and sustain physical life. God created an endless cycle of days and nights and seasons that humans could structure their lives round, land they could grow food on, a steady supply of water to nourish their crops, a vivid array of fascinating creatures all around them, with stars and moon to light the night and the sun to warm them by day, and all of it functioning perfectly to give LIFE – wonderful, productive, enjoyable, purpose-filled life – to humans, both male and female.

Did God then disappear off to Heaven, and let things take their own course from there? No, because on the 7th day of creation, God, having completed this perfectly functioning world, made it his dwelling place as well. He not only made his creation a home for humans, he also made it a home for himself.

We see that in the word, “rested,” in Genesis 2:2, when on the 7th day God “rested from all his work.” Now if that means God went off for a nap, we’ve got a problem, because he hasn’t told us yet what all this stuff he spent six days creating is for. We know he was jolly pleased with it all, because he looked out on his handiwork at the end of the sixth day and said, “Now that is very good,” but we still don’t actually know what it’s for. He’s got everything in place, poised and ready to go, including humans equipped in his image who can look after it, but so what? It’s magnificent, yes, but what’s the purpose of it all?

The 7th day of creation answers that question for us, because what God has just created in the last six days is revealed on the 7th. This planet is his place of rest. The purpose of this beautifully functioning creation was to provide a place for God to dwell in as well. And we can learn from the Ancient World of that time what that means, because in the world in which Genesis was written, when the ‘gods rested’ it meant they took up residence in their temple, not to take a nap after a hard day’s work, but to set up a command post. The gods taking their rest was the sign they were entering the temple and mounting their throne to take command, ready to click the switch and set the whole creation spread out before them into motion.

When God entered his rest, therefore, it meant taking up residence in his Temple to take command, much like a newly elected Prime Minister or President moves into his government residence as the sign that he and his party are in charge, and the operations of their new government can begin.

King David understood this well. He knew God’s desire for a resting place on Earth, as we see in Psalm 132:4-5, when he said, “I will allow no sleep to my eyes…till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob,” which he called God’s “resting place” (8), where God also ruled from (7).

So here we are on the 7th day of creation and God has his resting place, his Temple, his command post and centre of operations, from which he will unfold everything on this planet according to his purpose. Now it will become clear what God has in mind. Everything is about to take on sense and meaning.

All activity ceases on the 7th day and hush descends as the conductor steps onto the podium. He surveys the orchestra before him that he worked so hard to put together to play this piece of music exactly according to his vision. All eyes are focused on him as he slowly raises his arms. Now is the time of transition from rehearsal to actual performance.

A little lift of his heels, a brief upward stroke of his baton followed by a rapid movement of his arms, and the orchestra bursts into sound. The conductor is in his element. He is at rest. And so was God at rest and in his element on the 7th day of creation, with the heavens and the Earth spread out before him just waiting for him to plug it all into the wall socket to power it into motion. And there he sat, totally poised, knowing that what’s about to happen will fulfill his purpose to perfection.

That’s why it was such a “holy” day. God was seated at last in his Director’s chair, so the rolling of his incredible movie could begin. And there’s no evening on the 7th day either. There was no end, therefore, to God directing operations from his resting place. God was in his Temple, in his rest, for keeps.

So now that everything’s in place, including God in his command post, and the wheels have been put in motion to reveal God and his plan, the focus of Genesis 2:8 turns intriguingly to “God planting a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man he had formed” to “work it and take care of it,” verse 15.

A garden to an Israelite reading this would be a beautifully landscaped park with exotic trees and stocked with wildlife, typical of the exquisite temple and palace gardens that kings back then created. So God was creating an exotic park for Adam to take care of, full of “all kinds of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (9), and a river passing through provided water (10).

It was a special place on Earth, an exquisitely beautiful and highly functional terrestrial Temple precinct, where God and humans would dwell and commune together, and it’s Adam’s job to work it and take care of it, which are both Hebrew terms, by the way, for priestly duties. In Temple garden parks in the ancient world, it was the priests who took care of the trees, plants and animals. And now it was Adam’s job to take care of this sacred place where God was dwelling, so that from this engine-room on Earth, the driving force and energy of God’s plan for the world would flow out from God and humans to the rest of creation, much like the four rivers that were flowing out of Eden.

That’s because the rest of the Earth at this point in time was undeveloped. We see that in Genesis 2:4-5, that when God “made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the Earth, and no plant of the field had sprung up,” because “God had not sent rain on the Earth, and there was no man to work the ground.”

Outside the Garden of Eden the fields weren’t producing crops, because there wasn’t any rain and there wasn’t any cultivation by humans going on. It wasn’t a world that would support thriving human habitation, therefore. So there was a huge amount of work to be done to make this planet function for human life, but God had equipped Adam to do it, and he’d also provided a garden where he and Adam could talk over plans and goals together. And this was the way God designed it, so that he and Adam could work in close relationship with each other to make this planet come alive and thrive as he intended.

And the Garden of Eden itself would be a wonderful, visible example of what God had in mind for the whole world. It would attract people and deeply impress them, just as the great gardens of the ancient kings did, so people would want to learn how they could make their little part of the world flourish like that too.

And there you have it, God’s purpose for humans in Genesis 1 and 2. But what makes this so relevant to us is that the second Adam won this all back for us by his death. Like Adam the First we botched up God’s plan for this Earth terribly, but through Jesus’ victory on the cross God has given us the chance to start again, and even correct the botch-up we’ve made as well.

How? By the same method God set up in Genesis 1 and 2, because nothing has changed as far as God is concerned. He still dwells here, he’s still working with humans to fulfill his plan, and he still intends to make this Earth flourish.

As Hebrews 4:9-11 says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.”

In other words, we can enter that world again in Genesis – of God’s 7th day of creation Sabbath rest – when God made this earth his residence and set up his Temple here, so that he and humans could work in close relationship together to enable this Earth to flourish.

That purpose still stands, and even more so now that Jesus the second Adam has defeated sin and death, and the serpent can’t touch us. And even more so now that God has equipped us with the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey God and his purpose for us from the very depths of our being; and even more so now that God has actually made the Church the exquisite exotic parkland of his Temple precinct in this world today, that just like the Garden of Eden is meant to draw people to its beauty; and even more so still now that the second Adam actually dwells in us and we in him so that he and we can work in super close relationship with each other to clear up the mess created by the first Adam, in whatever ways Jesus now makes possible for us.

To “rest from our own work” as God rested from his means joining God in his plan of bringing life and function and purpose to this world, just like the first Adam could have done. Because in joining him we not only begin to understand how great God is ourselves, we also get the chance, like the rivers flowing out of Eden in Genesis 2:10-14, to spread what he’s like to others. And he will equip us to do just that, just as he equipped Adam the First, to be his priests in his Temple who can make that Temple precinct, now the Church, so beautiful it naturally attracts people to it. We can now imagine ourselves, amazingly, as being exotic parklands wherever we go.

To “make every effort to enter that rest” means submitting to God’s purpose for our lives, the one thing the first Adam didn’t do. And submitting simply means trusting God to equip us in our circumstances – no matter how impossible it seems for us to have any kind of impact on people as God’s exotic parkland and priests in his beautiful Temple on Earth – because this is how God designed it to work in Genesis, and he hasn’t changed.

And we can trust him because this is what Jesus won for us on the cross, the chance to go back to Genesis and live as if Adam didn’t sin and he ate off the Tree of Life instead. The cross, therefore, has had quite an effect on Genesis 1 and 2.

Please tell me everything’s going to be all right…

In two of my favourite TV series the same thing happened. In one case a lady was dying from an anthrax poisoning and she was panicking because she could hardly breathe, but a nurse and good friend kept telling her, “Don’t worry, you’ll be all right, I promise.” In the other case, a daughter had been murdered causing intense grief and anger, and a lot of unanswered questions for the girl’s mother, but the young detective’s simple response was,  “Don’t worry, we’ll find the killer, I promise.”

In both cases the response to a frightening or maddening situation was a promise of assurance that everything will be all right. Everything wasn’t all right, however, because the lady with anthrax died that same day, and even though the killer was found in the other case it didn’t end the grief and anger for the mother as to how and why such a horrible thing happened.

Despite the failure of assurance in both cases, and the obvious evidence that we can’t make promises guaranteeing anything in anyone’s future, it is still a cultural ritual in times of suffering and worry to try and put a person’s mind at rest by a promise that everything will be all right. Perhaps it’s an attempt to put our own minds at rest too, because worry, grief and unanswered questions are just awful things that eat us up inside if there is no relief of some kind offered.

So what’s God’s answer to all this? Well, for a start, it’s rather disturbing, because even for Christians God does not heal every illness or resolve every problem, nor does he guarantee immunity from natural disasters, from the typical diseases that kill us, or from the world careening into economic crisis or war. Offering assurance in this world, therefore, that everything will be all right, even for Christians, is clearly an empty and silly promise to make.

What God does offer, however, is the sacrifice of his Son, because in that sacrifice everything has been resolved for everyone forever. The problem of our mortality has been solved, so has our stupid trusting in anything but God that got us into all our troubles in the first place, so has the problem of evil, of suffering, of our bodies weakening and dying, and of our worries about what’s going to happen to us in the future. All of those things have been resolved already.

So when a person says, “Please tell me everything’s going to be all right,” we can safely promise it will be, because God has already set in motion the solution to everything in his Son.

Heaven is for real – right here

Why is it so important to know that heaven is for real “up there,” when heaven is for real “down here”? I imagine it’s because, for many Christians, the ultimate Christian hope is going to heaven after we die and spending eternity with God where he is, and he’s up in heaven, right? And having that hope makes all our suffering down here worth grinding through, all our good deeds worth doing, all our repentance, belief, obedience and going to church worth the reward we’ll get when we’re whisked off this mess of a planet forever to live in the bliss of heaven instead.

And there may be some sort of “heaven” awaiting us after we die, but the focus of the gospel is not us leaving the earth to go to heaven; it’s Jesus bringing heaven to the earth.

God’s goal in creating earth is to merge heaven and earth right here. He demonstrated that clearly in his instructions to the Israelites to build a tabernacle in the wilderness and later a temple in Jerusalem. It was in that tabernacle and temple that heaven came down to earth. It was the place where heaven and earth met, clearly demonstrating God’s wish to be where we are, not whisk us off to where he is. We may temporarily be where he is after we die, but Jesus returns to this earth bringing us with him, and he sets up his HQ down here, not up there.

What Christians are far more interested in, then, is demonstrating heaven is for real down here, right now, because this is what Jesus came to this earth for. He came from heaven, bringing heaven to earth, taught the ways of heaven to his disciples, and told them to follow him, because in following him earth and heaven would merge in their lives too. They would literally become the temple of God, the place where heaven and earth meet, the evidence of which would be Christians doing very heavenly things “on earth as it is in heaven,” like loving their neighbours and not judging anyone as inferior or unworthy of love and respect.

They would demonstrate a very different way that would often conflict with the typical ways and cultures of this world, causing them considerable and sometimes overwhelming suffering. But turning to their Lord and King they would always bounce back with confidence and trust, proving yet again that heaven is for real right here, right now, because nothing in this world can rip heaven out of Christians. They are proof that heaven is here already – and it’s here to stay.