Sunday, April 23, 2017

Up There Down Here

“Jesus is not saying, ‘Make sure you pray a prayer of repentance, start going to church, and wait for Me to come back.’ He is saying, ‘You can live a radically different life because there’s a new world order that just broke in, so stop walking in the direction you’re going, turn 180 degrees, and walk toward Me and life in the kingdom of God’.” Hugh Halter

Several weeks ago I preached on the Lord’s Prayer as part of our series on the Gospel of Luke. More recently, I finished a book by a favorite author, John Ortberg, where he worked through that phrase, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Like many of you, I was wrongly taught that salvation is all about heaven, in the future and after this life. It’s not.
  Sometimes as Christians we pray and live out a version of a Star Trek prayer to Scottie, “Beam me up!” The Christian life is not just about getting our final destination taken care of, where heaven is merely our retirement program. Christianity is much more than just the afterlife. It’s not about hanging on down here, treading water until we’re all ejected.
  Jesus never taught us to pray, “Get me out of here so I can go up there.” No, His prayer was “Make up there come down here. Make things run down here the way they do up there.” Salvation has two parts, present and future. Salvation is not just about heaven. It begins by living out heaven and bringing God’s Kingdom here by living heavenly now.
  In that interim before we are called Home, as John Ortberg puts it, “it’s to pray and by God’s grace be part of advancing God’s Kingdom by making up THERE come down HERE.” We’re to be grace-filled. We’re to be Jesus now in this world. That’s nothing short of a spiritual revolution.
  The Church is not to entrench itself into some spiritual fortress, holding out until we’re finally rescued. No, you and I are to storm the gates of Hell (Matthew 16:18), rescuing Satan’s victims. It’s truly revolutionary! We’re to break out of our safe “Holy Huddles.” How do we do this?
  By continuing to develop personally as followers of Jesus. It’s tempting to jump ahead to doing, when we must first focus on being. It means regularly being in God’s Word, prayer, worship and the local church community. First, move forward with your own spiritual health and growth. God’s Kingdom must first rule in your life. Up there coming down here begins in you. It’s not perfection, it’s a direction. It’s always tempting to focus on the superstructure and ignore the foundation.
  By genuinely loving and caring for others. Our first “others” are those closest to us, spouse, children and extended family. Sometimes it means loving when we’re not loved in return. Sometimes it means loving when we’re treated unlovingly in return. It spreads from there to neighbors, co-workers, church family, etc. It’s not loving abstractly; it’s love in action.
  It means saying kind things when you’d rather return verbal fire. It means showing respect, being nice, kind, encouraging and compassionate. It begins with saying the right thing and is followed by doing the right thing.
  It can be something as simple as stopping and listening to a child or a senior citizen. It might be giving a ride to someone who doesn’t have adequate transportation or making a meal for someone who’s ill or who recently lost a loved one. It’s making cookies for a new neighbor and going out of your way for a new employee to help them learn the ropes. It means dropping a note of thanks or affirmation. It will probably mean being taken advantage of, but you’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for Jesus. 
  By loving and making a difference in the lives of the poor, broken and marginalized. Who is there for those who have failed? When I fail, I know who is always there for me – Jesus. If those who have so greatly experienced God’s love and forgiveness are not there for addicts, ex-convicts, teen parents, the divorced and the broken – who will be?
  What about the immigrants, legal and illegal? Too many of us spout political talking points and forget these are real people with flesh and blood needs. Kingdom commands, not government policy must drive us.
  Twice God has used our family to minister to illegal immigrants. When we stepped up to help (one lived with us while employed in the area), we didn’t know if they were legal or illegal…and didn’t care. They were image-bearers of God. We didn’t break any laws. We just sought to help someone in need. Sadly, when we’re politicized instead of Kingdomized, we look at immigrants and those from different ethnic groups with suspicion. While I’m not suggesting we do anything illegal, we must be aware that our mission is set by King Jesus, not a particular political party.
  What about those who’ve done jail time? Or, are addicts? If those who themselves have been forgiven and restored fail to offer hope and restoration, who will…who can? It’s not easy. It takes time and commitment. The failures will often outnumber the successes. But God has not called us to be successful, He has called us to be faithful.
  By sharing the Good News. It is tempting to focus on humanitarian and social results. Yet, if we help someone break an addiction, find a job, get back on their feet financially, restore their marriage, etc. yet fail to share the Gospel with them, what have we truly accomplished. 
  The best way to share the Good News is to first begin with a relationship, yet it’s a relationship with an end in view. Because the greatest gift I can share is the greatest gift that I’ve ever been given, forgiveness and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the ultimate of make up there come down here one life at a time. 

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