A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Jerry Sittser give a talk on "Adversity as Spiritual Formation" at Biola University. Some of you know that Dr. Sittser's book, A Grace Disguised, helped me work through my grief and pain more than any other. In it, he shares of his own journey through tragic loss (in a drunk driving accident he lost three generations of family; his mother, his wife, and his daughter). As I sat there listening to this hero and fellow sojourner, I was struck by how little he shared about how God's promise to "make all things new" helps him to move forward in faith. Come to think of it, I don't think he talked about heaven at all. For me, the promises of Revelation 21.1-5 have been ones that I've been so blessed by. But for a while now, I've also been aware of an imbalance in my faith life. For every Christian, there is this dual reality of the Already and the Not Yet. In other words, Jesus' death and resurrection as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit gives the Christian many aspects of the faith life that we can experience right now. But there are also some things that are promises that we will not see realized and for which we remain in a perpetual state of longing until that Great Day. As I said, I've been aware of an imbalance in my life. I am inclined to lean too much towards the Not Yet and not enough in the Already. This post is about three things that together has helped my paradigm shift to one that is more in balance.
The first is a brief conversation that I had with Dr. Sittser after his talk. I approached him, thanked him for his insights, and shared briefly of the eerily similar tragedy that I suffered six years ago. Then I mentioned to him that I was struck by how his entire talk centered on the present and how he didn't really talk about heaven or God's promises of the ultimate redemption to come. And he said something that I didn't quite understand at the time, but have been chewing on since. He said something like, "Mark, first of all, don't get me wrong. I believe in God's promises and future glory and all of that. But I don't look at heaven as some far away place that we have to keep pushing towards. I look at it in the opposite way. I look at heaven as something that is moving towards us."
The second, and in true chiastic form (the meat of the sandwich - though the bread of this sandwich is pretty darn good, too!) probably the most important thing that I've been chewing on is a part of the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6.9-13) that our Life Group (weekly bible study/fellowship time) studied a couple of weeks ago. Verse 10 says, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." I was struck that in this brief little verse, heaven is characterized as the place in which God's will is always done. That's what makes it heaven. And I realized that we see glimpses of it all around us, if we have the eyes to see it. God's will is done sometimes here on earth, and when it is we catch a glimpse of what heaven's going to be like. This revelation has made me want to participate all the more in being Jesus' hands and feet to a world that is so dark and needs his love so badly. I want to be a part of this! Don't you?!
Almost immediately after the revelation from the Lord's prayer, I came across the story of a young woman named Sarah. I cannot do justice to her story and if anybody who reads this wants to read about it as she tells it, let me know. She tells it beautifully. But in short, Sarah is a breast cancer survivor. And from her own words, I read about her excruciating journey and how she lost almost everything important to her and moved 3,000 miles away from her comfort zone just to start over because she couldn't bear being in a place that constantly reminded her of all that she had lost. But that's not the end of her story. Two years after moving, on a chance encounter on a train, her life crossed paths with the lives of a refugee single mother and her five children. And somehow God helped her to see how deeply her story and their stories are intertwined. She was able to see a common thread of marginalization and suffering. And after requesting and getting their contact information, Sarah chose to love them with Christ's committed hesed love. Though they no longer live in the same state, she is still committed (4 years later?) to caring for them. Again, I'm not doing her story justice, but I hope you can see how beautiful it is!
So Dr. Sittser starts this whole madness by telling me something that I didn't really understand. The Word comes in and clarifies. Then Sarah's testimony confirms that we can see the kingdom coming right now, even in the midst of loss and pain!
I've since had my blindness continue to be healed as I've seen other beautiful ways that the kingdom is coming. I think of my friend, Marcos, who along with his wife Bridget just formally adopted three children who they were loving through foster care. I think of God's kindness in answering my desperate prayers for my dad, who passed away in December. I think of miraculous openings to share my journey with those who needed to hear it. I think of how God's love is revealed in the life of my church and the ways that we love each other and try to reach those who are lost. So many ways, big and small, that the kingdom is already here. It's no doubt hard to see in a world that is so broken. Forget about the world. If you are at all self-aware it is hard to see in the midst of your own brokenness. But it's there to see. If you can't see it, maybe you can ask God to help you see. It's quite a sight!