Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thy Kingdom Come

In high school I was a tract girl, not to be confused with a track girl, which I only wish I was (I have the scars on my knees from a bad hurdling accident to prove it). I handed out tracts. I personally shared tracts with people. In school. At the mall (until getting kicked out). In the streets of NYC.

Mmmmm- those were interesting days.

Honestly, I loved God with my whole heart and I wanted other people to know the love that I had experienced through Him.

But my framework for sharing with people was skewed. Then, as I've talked about before, I went to college and my faith blew up in my face. God put the pieces back together in a way that I think I'll spend the rest of my life figuring out. I love it. God is continually rocking my world.

Back to tract girl.

When tract girl shared her faith, it would look something like this,"Can I ask you a question? If you were to die tonight, do you think you would go to heaven?"

Answer not really important.

"Can I share with you how I would answer that question?" And onto the tract we would go.


Salvation was about heaven and a personal relationship with God. Believe these four points right now and that was it. Now, as weird as all of that may have been, I hope that God used even that to prick someone's heart in a way that did send them on a path of knowing him. That's the thing about God, even through all of our craziness, he still is on the move in our world.

It's taken years to process this though. The more I dig into the Word of God and the more I read and talk with people, the more I see how the framework we use of "will you go to heaven when you die" is just not getting it. I touched on it in a post this summer, but I'm still in the process of learning and seeing a fuller picture of what the kingdom of God is all about. Particularly, just how important the resurrection is and what it means for us both presently and in the future.

If we base the whole framework of salvation as simply will you or will you not go to heaven when you die than we're missing so much of the richness of God that extends to ALL. OF. CREATION.

I just finished reading N.T. Wright's, Surprised by Hope, and it's one of those books that rattled me and reminded me just how big the work is that God is doing in the world.

Wright says, "...the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us."

This idea is nothing new to me, yet at the same time, if I'm not continually processing it, my mind tends to default back to salvation is about what God does for me. End of story. It muddles all kinds of things up.

About a month ago I wrote a post about Emma's confusion over heaven, and now I realize my own confusion about heaven. So much of what I learned about it growing up was wrong. It's not as if we die and our "soul" is separate and will live forever in this nonmaterial place called heaven. We talk about dying and going to heaven like that's the end of the story. Heaven forever, baby. I remember that phrase from "using your hand to share the gospel," and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm completely fine with keeping it that way. N.T. Wright says, "The ultimate destination is not 'going to heaven when you die' but being bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. (the not merely our own happy future...but the glory of God as we come fully to reflect his image.)" Resurrection is vital to our lives beyond just the knowledge that Christ was raised.

Maybe I just haven't been listening very well (quite possible) but it seems as if we don't spend enough time on the resurrection. Yes, we talk about Jesus rising from the dead. He conquered death. I've heard it said (and have said myself) that everything hinges on Easter. I get that. The risen Lord. He took our sin, and didn't stay dead.

I just never understood all the implications of this. I know, Jesus's human body was transformed. He was the same, yet different. He didn't die and have a soul raised. HE raised. And because of that, we will too. While this is nothing new, I guess for years I've just failed to make the connection between resurrection and everything else that God is doing in the world since then.

Resurrection is so much more than just a point of theology. It's the inauguration of God's kingdom on earth. The new creation has begun. As Wright puts it, Jesus was vindicated about "all that he said about the coming kingdom through his own work, through his death and resurrection has come true."

The resurrection ushers in the beginning of the new creation. 

So what in the world does that mean?

Growing up in church you hear the terms new heaven and new earth. The problem is our culture has been so inundated with all this Left Behind hoopla that leaves us trying to decipher truth from fiction. But Jesus returning isn't some weird, science-fiction, it's about God's commitment to setting the world right, to reign as sovereign king. To reaffirm that what he did in the beginning was not this massive mistake, but it was good as he said it was. His plan of rescue worked (is working). And, it brings ultimate justice for those who have faced injustice, suffering, and despair in the hands of those who continue to distort the image of God in the world.

He's redeeming what he called good from the beginning and, "liberating what has come to be enslaved."

My goodness, it's about the entire creation, not just lil old me.

"The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God's purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of the individual human being must be understood within that context. How God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all."

God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. God is rescuing all of creation from it's current state of decay. And yes, rescuing, in my understanding, is both present and future. We get to be a part of the work that God's doing in the world as instruments of redemption. What we do in this life matters.

But it's God that's going to set it all right in the end. This world's a mess that's not getting any better.

Yes, God ultimately is the one that will set establish his kingdom completely as only He can do. However, if new creation has already begun through the starting point of the resurrection, than it will continue beyond to the future as well. As Paul says, "Our labor in the Lord is not in vain." A point that needs to be expanded upon, I know, but for another post.

While the death and resurrection of Jesus ushered in God's kingdom, we can't forget about his life and teachings, which are the bulk of the gospels.

"When we reintegrate what should never have been separated-the kingdom-inaugurating public work of Jesus and his redemptive death and resurrection- we find that the gospel tells a different story. It isn't just a story of some splendid and exciting social work with an unhappy conclusion. Nor is it a story of an atoning death with an extended introduction. It is something much bigger than the sum of those two diminished perspectives. It is the story of God's kingdom being launched on earth as it is in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus's followers have been equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. Atonement, redemption, and salvation are what happens on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers. To put it another way, if you want to inaugurate God's kingdom, you must follow the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus's saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project."

Yes, please.

I long for purpose. I ache for it, and I believe wholeheartedly that God allows me to be a part of His purpose in our world. I am a new creation.

This only just scratches the surface, but I have to process in chunks. All I know is that the more I learn about who God is, the more I want so desperately to be a part of what He's doing because it's SO GOOD. So much better than I could ever have imagined. So much better than four points that send me to a nonmaterial place of eternal bliss. So much better for this life and for the life to come.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

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