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Meditation: Holding Heaven Back

What if heaven sent us a gift but we tried to give it back?

When Jesus trained and released his disciples, he provided a remarkable level of equipping: “He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9: 1 - 2)

Even among those who welcome the signs of the Kingdom (which include healing, cleansing, and freedom from demonic oppression) there is a tendency to consign the powerful manifestations of the Kingdom of God to another age. “The day will come,” we might be tempted to say, “when he will wipe away every tear from our eyes and set the captives free.” And we would be right because the fullness of the Kingdom is only realized at the end of the age. Theologians call this the tension between the “already” of the in-breaking of the Kingdom and the “not yet” of its completion.

What has troubled me in recent years is our habit of settling for the “not yet” when Jesus clearly gave us a task that requires heaven to break in now. Jesus instructed his followers to seek the Kingdom and order our priorities around heaven coming to earth. We live in the tension--the conflict--of this present age and the age to come. But we are ambassadors of the Kingdom; it should be our native tongue. The challenge--the temptation--comes when we settle for the “not yet” as an explanation for our inability to carry out the mission.

I have a friend who came upon an automobile accident just moments after the collision. A baby was thrown from the car.  He scooped the infant into his arms and began to pray for the child’s life. He cried out until the EMT’s arrived, but the baby was dead. Overwhelmed by the trauma of the event he holed up in his apartment for days, sick over his inability to represent the Lord in a crisis. He was not angry at the Lord: he was dissatisfied with the level of Kingdom authority in his life. “You deserve better, Jesus,” he prayed for days. “You deserve better.”  He emerged from his apartment with a determination to carry the Kingdom with him, because he was disciple. Since that watershed tragedy his ministry has been marked by the consistent in-breaking of the Kingdom, marked by signs and wonders. His theology was unchanged, but his expectation had grown large.

The sick, the hurting, and the hungry are queuing up because their need is now. Should we teach them to be content with the “Not Yet?”

Reader Comments (6)

Wow. Lately I have been drawn to the distinctly un religious, and what I find is myself listening to their stories, captivated. Both by the absence of an abiding hope and by their surprise that I will listen without judgement. You know, because that's what Christians do. Your friend inspires me to see the Kingdom in the lives of those who aren't even looking for it. Do you know what I mean?

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Hi Jen: you're speaking my language when you mention "story." It was Jesus' preferred manner of teaching, and (like you) I image he sat and listened to other people's stories. What's challenging to me is that the book of Acts is full of "stories" from the first-century church, but these were captured in the New Testament not only to record history, but as an example for us as well. I think we would all have more (and better) stories to tell if we were like my friend.

Thanks for stopping by--you are always welcome here.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

thanks, Ray. I think you've got your finger on it. Now to go walk it out...

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAaron McCarter

Hi Aaron: yes, well, about walking it out:

I find *myself* so quick to settle for the "Not Yet." In my heart of hearts I think the Not Yet is the default answer, and that means I fail to pray or proclaim with real expectation of the in-breaking. So this post is first of all about my own shortcomings, and second of others.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

I've been thinking a lot lately about the nowness of the Kingdom. If Jesus will come back and do all these wonderful things, shouldn't we as Christ-like ones be doing that already since we're here? I think about where in Revelation it says that the city of God will come from heaven down to earth. I view the actions of Christians now as setting the foundation. We're to the groundwork, then God will come back to finalize our work.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKellen Freeman

Hi Kellen: I love your phrase \\\\\\\"finalize our work.\\\\\\\" I suspect it's been the Lord's will that we should have been doing these things all along. For example, take a look at his instructions to his followers in Luke 9, Luke 10, Matthew 10, and Mark 16--plus the book of Acts is filled with \\\\\\\"ordinary\\\\\\\" believers doing the works of Jesus. Peace to you!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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