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Heaven is more than a place

Heaven is more than a place. It is a realm - a sphere or domain - within which someone and something rules or prevails. Harvey Cox in his book, The Future of Faith, addresses the mistake in seeing heaven as only a place we go after we die: "Still, the word 'kingdom' is problematical. It inevitably evokes the static idea of a spatial realm. The Hebrew word, malkuth, however, does not convey this inert feeling, but suggests something actively occurring. For this reason, in my own teaching I prefer to use the phrase 'Reigning of God.' It implies something that is going on - not a place, but a 'happening.' This is the grammar Jesus used in speaking of it. To be a 'follower' of Jesus means to work to facilitate its coming in its fullness. To follow Jesus, however, does not mean to be a mimic. It means to continue in our times what he did in his."

The Kingdom of Heaven is wherever the King's will, God's will, is done. Where anyone or anything else rules, therein is the kingdom of darkness. Where God's will rules, therein lies the kingdom of heaven. That's why the proclamation was to: "Repenf' -- to bend our will to God's. You change kingdom by changing what rules in your life! Indeed the kingdom of God is within you. (Lk17:21) That is why Jesus would pray: "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Mt 6:10) God's kingdom and God's will are synonymous and simultaneous: where one happens (God's will is done), the other occurs (His kingdom comes).

So the path to the kingdom is not found on a map but in a person - the person of Jesus. When Jesus tells the disciples he is going to prepare a place for them, Thomas exclaims, "but we don't know the way." Jesus answers, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Wherever Jesus rules, the kingdom exists. The kingdom of heaven is wherever Jesus, God's will in the flesh, rules in people's hearts and minds. Jesus brought heaven to earth: "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38) Jesus entered the struggle with us. Through Jesus, the Father entered our world so that we might enter His. And it was this way until the end of His ministry on earth: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done." (Luke 22:42) Likewise, obedience is our calling until the end of our ministry on earth -- Jesus commission: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples ... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The kingdom of heaven is not intuitive. Jesus is often found contrasting the two: "The Kingdom of heaven is like ... " or "You have heard it said, but I say ... " It requires us to not only take on a new way of looking at things but to abandon old perspectives. I waited until I had been snow skiing for many years before I took my first lesson. The hardest aspect. for me and my instructor, was to not fall back into bad habits I had taught myself over those years. For example, he wanted me to keep my weight on the ski tips, or down the hill, when everything within me wanted to lean back against the hill. I mean, who was I going to believe: the expert's instructions or my habits? After all, if I fell, I'd rather fall up the hill than down it! Old habits can be difficult to break even when you know you should.

It isn't knowledge of God's will, but its practice, that brings about the kingdom. Sometimes what prevents us is not our lack of knowledge but our lack of willingness to forsake old ways of thinking. If the kingdom of heaven is to fully come to Harford County, we may have to first repent of building our own kingdom, forsake some our past ways of thinking and acting, and learn a new paradigm. Is it worth it?

Howard Magness



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