I realize that I’m a nobody. I’m just a small house church leader in SE Calgary who’s voice is but a whisper in the midst of great speakers such as people like David Platt. But, I couldn’t help but cringe as I listened to these words in his post “Why You Should Not Believe in ‘Heaven is for Real‘“. Have we so lost our imaginations to the power of telling our story?
My mother lived to be 39 years old. I was 15 when we both were in a car accident in 1994 where she passed away and I would spend the next 3 months fighting for my life in the General Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Over that year I witnessed several miraculous experiences but one will be with me for the rest of my life.
I laid there, starring at the wall at the foot of my ICU bed listening to the beeps and the whirrs of the machines around me. Then a small pin light appeared at the foot of my bed. It grew over the next few minutes until it was the size of maybe a yoga ball that radiated all around the room. I didn’t really think or feel anything until a voice spoke to me from the light. My eyes filled up with tears and I could feel my self choking a bit as I heard my mother’s voice. It was warm and filled with love and only spoke a few words. She said, “You and your father will be ok.“
It perplexed me in many ways that I won’t share here but I felt a great sense of hope and peace knowing that my mother was with Jesus. Perhaps that is what many of these experiences and stories of the miraculous are meant to mean; a struggle or paradox between our rationality and reason with the ever present tense of the Kingdom of hope and peace being near! Should we ever hide these stories? Should we be quiet out of the fear that others simply will not understand?
David Platt is right that several of the biblical authors also experienced prophetic visions of heaven with Isaiah seeing the Lord on a throne with his robe filling the Jerusalem temple and angels all around him (Isa. 6); Ezekiel envisioning fire lashing out with gleaming metal (Eze. 1); not of Paul’s vision, but the testimony/story of another man’s vision of the “third heaven” – “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” (2 Cor. 12:2) (Interesting to note here that Paul himself accepted the story of a fellow believer while leaving the wonders of it up to God); and of course John’s vision of doorways to heaven, thrones, and voices like trumpets (Rev. 4)! Yet each grappled with what words to use to describe what they saw and each were ostracized, judged, and told to be quiet by the priests and community around them much like those who share such stories today.
There were also many who experienced resurrection and coming back from the dead such as the young girl who Jesus laid his hand upon as she “awoke” (Matt. 9:18-26); a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17); and most famously, the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Again, you are correct David Platt that the scriptures do not speak of any stories or experiences that these people shared and yet, that does not mean they did not share any. What stories do you suppose Mary and Martha shared with the villagers and those they saw in their travels? What experiences could Lazarus have spoke of while being dead in the tomb? Who are we to say, or were you there?!
I don’t profess not to struggle with some of the details in people’s visions like Colton Burpo’s story. But I don’t doubt at all that they experienced something significant that greatly affected the trajectory of their lives! So in what ways can these visions and dreams speak to us today?
In the first sense, these events happened to these people and their experiences have deep and meaningful significance to them. They have a right to speak of them and share how God may have spoke into their lives! We may not understand or even agree with everything they share but, we cannot deny that they experienced something in their life and it is shaping who they are.
Secondly, by listening to their stories we can find symbols of hope! By witnessing their testimony and the radical transformation that it has on their lives, we find an epiphany of God’s presence, love, and recognition to our existence. Though we know only in part, God’s glory is still in these stories. They are visions of God’s Kingdom come near in both the personal experience of the individuals and the communal promise of hope to the greatest story ever told!
Perhaps the greatest way we can treat these stories is by taking the advice of James, being quick to listen and slow to speak so that whatever righteousness God might work (James 1:19-20), might be done so through His works and not our own. Or should we become like the Pharisees commanding the crowds to silent at Jesus’ presence?! I think not less the stones begin to cry out! (Luke 19:40) If we all were willing to cry out “The Kingdom of God is near!” without fear of the judgements of others, perhaps then yes David Platt, we will recognize heaven is.. for real!
Lastly David Platt, regarding Kevin Malarkey… Who are we to speak against a person’s birth right and family name let alone that of a boy?! Does not the bible speak of the significance to a person’s family name? These are names of importance, history, meaning, and they deserve respect and honour in any room! To demean and mock them with a tact of bullying is in no way an act of Christ discipleship!
This might completely have you question the legitimacy of my Christian faith but, I am fascinated by apocalyptic films and television shows like ‘The Book of Eli‘ and ‘The Walking Dead‘. I guess I’m just enthralled by the wonder of how society and humanity would live without all the electronic, web connected, and media driven devices we are so used too and impacted by on a daily bases. As I get drawn into the stories and lives of these characters I recognize a simplicity to their practices and yet they each struggle to find meaning, purpose, community, and direction. They become heroic to me in their synergistic desire just to simply live and thrive as a community in mission; even if it is with flesh eating people all around them!
Speaking of eating… I like to say this simple quote while watching these shows that absolutely drives my wife nuts; “Everything’s got to eat some time!” I laugh as she squirms and blurts out with sarcasm, “Erik!” But it is true, is it not?! We might like to think differently but the reality is that these worlds of flesh eating zombies and cannibalistic appetites really aren’t that different from our own world. We simply give it a different title so that it sounds more economic and humane. The word we use is “Consumerism“.
Millions of people spending hours a day wanting, desiring, craving, and some times even obsessing over the self perceived drive for MORE!! And it doesn’t seem to matter how we get it either, whether through sweat factories, cheap labour, political bullying, even war; we want more and even after we get it, we might be subdued for a brief moment but ultimately we fall back to that same drive for more tech gadgets, more money, more clothes, or more vacations. Our lists for more can be never ending! What is it that quenches the scales of guilt towards greed in Dante’s Inferno? A pound of flesh!!
A few days ago I took some time to simply unplug from the grid. No TV. No internet. Ok, I did listen to a little music but who can escape the melodic guitar solos of the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Paige, and Stevie Ray Voughn?! It was a day of simplicity as I cleaned house, did some reading, and hit the weights in my basement. I felt great, rejuvenated, and even a little nostalgic to the days when I lived without all the electronic gadgets my wife and I use today (yes, it is a reality that I’m beginning to get that old!).
Jesus would often retreat to the mountains or go off on his own to unplug from the demanding world around him (Luke 5:15; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). Perhaps it was in the same way that he found rejuvenation, a time of refocus, and reconnection with his Father and the mission he came to complete. A mission not so much to take and consume but one to give and submit too. Of course, to complete that mission he couldn’t stay in the mountains; he had to return to that demanding world. Yet, even in the midst of those demands, he was not distracted from the very real purpose and work he came to complete.
My time in retreat reminds me that I have this same need for refocus in my own walk of faith. I must be willing to unplug from the demands of a consumer driven world if I am to become the person that God really wants me to be. I cannot allow my passion and desire for knowledge and understanding of God’s Word to become self consuming and absent of the actual practice of its calling and purpose. To do otherwise might place me into the same realization that one of my favourite characters, Eli, tragically comes to see in himself saying, “I spent so long trying to protect the book; I forgot to do what it says!” If I am not walking in submissive nature to faith and service, I am only one of the walking dead consuming anything and all in the name of more.
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” God’s words here leaped in my heart as I reflected on the meanings to a rule of life. A rule of life must not be one of doctrine, complexity, or teaching, but rather an embrace of breathable naturalism and simplicity to which we ascribe in living communal practice with an expectation of becoming that which we are. Fyodor Dostoevski put it as, “The whole law of human existence lies in this: that man be able to bow down before the infinitely great”
The submission to communal life as a Christian is not sustainable through the life of just one and as our creator, it is God who first makes those relational ties with our inner being as he seeks intimacy and knits the fabric of life into the community around us (Jer. 1:4-10). Miroslav Volf rightly identifies that, “The Christian faith is not primarily about human doing but about human receiving. The barebones formal injunction to which the gospel can be produced is, ‘Receive yourself and your world as a new creation.’”
Catalyzing this receiving of new life and intimacy is the reality of God’s being in the foundation of love. This is not a reaction of motivated love but rather, “God’s love for humanity [as] freely given… The one true God does not need anything from humans, but exists as self-complete and yet not self-enclosed plenitude of self-giving and other receiving of love.” It is in a submission to receiving that love that we can then reflect it in response as an attribute to our being in the imago Dei. This existence however is not limited to our relationships solely between God and us but also in creational community. As we live deeper into this rule of life we recognize that love is not quantifiable and therefore not ours to give and receive, rather there is only one love in the identity of God which is shared and mirrored by all of his creation and intrinsically woven into the DNA of communal practice.
The universal inclusiveness of the Christian community gives birth to an alienation of its practice from that of the world’s understanding. Volf reflects the thoughts that, “through the new birth into a living hope, a ‘sect’ is born. And indeed, before the new born child could take her first breath, her difference, her foreignness, was manifest.” Hospitality and acceptance in the world’s perception is founded on a belief that it is quantified through personal individual meriting and yet, as Christians we fully live out an inclusiveness of hospitality and acceptance for all, despite difference, diversity, or social dictums. We love and entertain as God loves and entertains all!
The freedom in this endeavor to pursue God’s love and redemption of all things, returning his love to that which he creates, brings not a sense of enslavement, but a radical becoming and returning to who we are and who we were meant to be. No longer are we trapped by the self-consuming rules of ego but catalyzed by the movement towards communal self-realization and the rule of life. In Volf’s terms, “Every act of knowing God both satisfies and engenders human curiosity, every encounter with God both quenches and deepens human thirst. In the infinite being of God, the incessant movement of the human spirit begins to arrive at its final rest.”
Rest… indeed, a life long meditation on the practice of Sabbath!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Je 31:33–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Dostoevski, Fyodor, Quoted in Philip Yancey’s, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find. (Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000),123.
 Miroslav Volf, Captive to the Word: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 51
 Ibid, 140.
 Ibid, 89.
 Ibid, 177.
“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” – Jeremiah 1:6
Jeremiah was a young man and it seems he felt boxed in by the the pressures of his society’s and cultural expectations for qualification and vocational purpose. It was in his own thoughts and mind that the people around him and the fellow Jewish countrymen would find him lacking. He was too young, lacked in education, failed in pedigree, and generally had no authority for speaking on behalf of God or truth.
It seems like things have not changed much since those days. So often we fall into the patterns of society’s expectation of boxed in rules, perimeters, and requirements for the right to be considered qualified to speak or enact visions for change or mission. Success is even margined by the cultural expectations of independence, self sufficiency, and quality being judged through numbers or profit. It seems authority and power always comes back to that which the individual presents over that of others.
These social and cultural expectations scream at us, “You are not good enough!” “You cannot achieve or act because your not gifted enough, educated enough, wealthy enough, old or young enough, in the right titled or position of authority!” “You lack the abilities to succeed!” It is a worldly noise that fills our minds with the distractions of self doubt to the point that we just simply give up. We don’t even bother to try, and why should we? The world knows we will fail and we know we will fail.
It was here, in this mind set of self doubt, that God spoke to Jeremiah and like him, unless we are willing to quieten our own self defeat, we will miss hearing and listening to our creators voice and calling.
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:6-8
Jeremiah would not find his authority in the world’s expectations but rather would only find it in his relationship with the Lord. He was not to look to his society’s or cultures expectations of character and abilities but rather that of God’s character and abilities entering into his life and personhood.
God has placed you and I in a very special community and neighbourhood! When we look at our neighbours we are not under their judgements but rather sent to them by God’s presence in our lives to speak with his words, love and act with his understandings, and deliver a Spirit of freedom from the worlds expectations of success, power and authority. We live not within the boxed categories of the worlds view but that of our creators view of abilities, talents, and gifts which with him in our lives is endless!
“Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,” – Jeremiah 1:9-10
My neighbour is from Toronto and is a huge Maple Leaf fan. Try as I might, I can’t convince him that the Calgary Flames are a far better team! I must admit, I know I’m dreaming here a bit but, the hope of another 2004 Stanley Cup run just can’t leave my heart. Why am I sharing this story?
Despite the political differences my neighbours and I might have, the reality is God has placed all of us over this separation or relational gap. My neighbour and I can cross over the thresholds of our sports, political, ethical, and religious boundaries and embrace a conversation to which God can speak through and to both of us. We don’t have to have all things in common to relate as it is God’s presence that bridges the words and worlds between us.
“to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Listening to the voice of God in the relationship I have with my neighbours begins to break down the barriers of communal self defeat. No longer are they strangers, they are friends and they impact the person I am today. As we share in life together we begin to find parts of our worlds coming together which shape the meanings to authority that we have and our relationships with God.
It is in these relationships that I can plant seeds of thought through my actions and words which can bring God’s presence just a little closer to my neighbours and friends lives, whether they know him or not. In some sense, I see them doing the same with me. Together we are building community which in relationship with God, becomes a building of the Kingdom.
My Heavenly Father,
The past few weeks have been a blur to me and yet I have anguished over the news reports of the death to a young boy in our city back in May 2013 (Click Here). It is incomprehensible to think of the strife and pain he went through as his parents starved him to death! Why would a mother and father do this to their own son? Why did they not seek help from others?
I’m under no delusions either and I recognize sin has a communal role also. So where were the neighbours to this young boy? Where were the doctors who could check on his health? Did no one notice anything? Or did they turn and look the other way, unwilling to be involved, unwilling to care? Where were you God when this boy slowly weakened to the point that he submitted to the powers of death?
Jesus, your words echo in my heart as I contemplate the complexity of sitting on the side of the Mount of Olives; “Blessed are you who hunger…” (Matt. 5:6). To hunger, it is a state of lacking that transcends the simple need of food and substance. We hunger for purpose, for meaning and significance, for the awareness that you and those around us see us and receive us in communion. That in the breaking of bread we find not just the physical nourishment of food for the body, but a healing and communal fare that speaks into our thoughts and our souls.
Martin Luther King said that, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” The hunger that this boy experienced was not just one of his physical symptoms but of the hunger his parents spiritually and mentally lacked. It was a hunger the community and neighbourhood had lost sight of in the love for those who live so close.
I too live in one of these neighbourhoods Lord. I too struggle with the pains of hunger, the deeper desire for who I am in you; nourished and sustained in the calling of your sacrificial love and the reflection of your eternal presence here in my home, my block, my city. I lament my apathy for communal neighbourhood practice Father. I repent and ask for your leading to the bridges of the full sustenance of community and brotherly love. It is in this “thirst for righteousness…” that I submit.
Righteousness… where do we find this Father? Where is the justice and hope for this boy? The Jews called it shalom, a place where things are as they should be in peace. In some sense it is in the keeping of saying, “In peace I come. My peace I give to you.” Culturally, when a relationship is made, one would not leave the other until that peace is experienced; be it in giving of service, food, hospitality, or wisdom.
My knee jerk reaction in the desire for justice for this boy is to say an eye for and eye, “Let the parents starve!” Yet, is this a place of shalom Lord? Should I find justice in the vengeance of death? I realize in reality that the answer is no. We must also seek righteousness, seek shalom with these parents who lay in starvation for the proper calling you have placed upon them. They are broken, wounded to the spiritual and mental purposes you created them for. In seeking your shalom with these parents we must sit with them, speak with them, nurture them to your presence in the hope of repentance and healing.
Hope… yes, I see you Father, sitting at the side of this boy as he anguishes in his room. I realize that understanding comes at the bigger picture of the whole which is solely in your thoughts. Yet, here you are. Bringing shalom in the hope of your eternal presence amidst all this hunger. Here is a place of submission that justice will be in your receiving and embrace of this boy’s eternal life. This is a hope I can be “… satisfied.“
Satisfied… A place of contentment where your eternal presence and love supersedes with authority over all places and times of strife, anguish, hunger, and suffering. Richard Rohr brings the words of, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” It is to this spirit Lord that I live into the satisfaction of knowing, amidst the brokenness of my city, my community, my being, that you are present, you are righteous, and you are hungry to be with me. – Amen
God knew me! What does that mean? How does he know me? It seems incredibly powerful to think about the fact that God dreamed of what I would be like! The things I’d say and the things I’d do! To fathom that he even knew my faults!
The reality is I am still learning about myself and I don’t fully know who I am in the course of life. That is what I really am about; I am journeying through life slowly learning more and more deeper, who I am. The realization being that if I really want to know who I am, I need to seek the one who created me as only he can fully know who I am.
Still, I can make some key notes in my characteristics…
- I am a man. It seems silly to note but the reality is my sexual identity creates a defined role I have in existence. That role being not only individual but also in my community and society.
- I am a husband. This of course creates a intrinsic reality that my character and identity not only shapes just who I am but also that of my wife too. Of course the reverse of that is also true in that she shapes who I am too.
- I am intelligent. It’s not meant to sound in any kind or arrogance but, God wants me to learn and as such learning is meant to be done not just in knowledge, but also in exercise. Intelligence is the willingness to take knowledge and process it into wisdom.
- I am passionate and emotional. I cannot lie, I shed a few tears every once and a while when a good movie is on. Joking aside, I can be very passionate about the callings I have and the people who are a part of my life. I do not think I should separate my emotions from the decisions I make in life. Of course, I don’t think my emotions are the sole elements I rely on for my decisions.
I could go on here with some other notes but this is a start.
I think it is interesting that God also said he “consecrated” me. In that way, my separated sense of self consciousness and self awareness was given by him. There is, in a sense, a piece of God inside of me as who I am. A finger print of sacred exists in a way. I am unique!
“I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)
There is a realization here that God created me with a purpose, a mission in mind. A prophet is one who not only hears from God but speaks with and for him. It is a vocational calling to which transcends my identity in everything I do and am. I have a deeper calling to listen to God and respond to him whether in actions or words.
That vocation however, is not separated from the appointment of that calling to which is the “nations”. A nation is not necessarily a political country, but rather it can be a people group of affiliation or locality. In that sense, I realize that my identity is to listen and respond to God’s presence in the midst of all the people who are around me in life. This means in work, at home, on the street, and anywhere I find myself at any given moment.
These are a few thoughts I have had while meditating through Jeremiah 1:4-19 as a start.
It’s been a week of Face Time and Skypeing into Dallas Texas with a new tribe out of Rochester Michigan as I start my studies for the MRE (Masters of Religious Education) and Missional Leadership out of Rochester College. I wasn’t sure what to think of hitting the books again and although being unable to travel, I was a bit nervous to using Skype as I had never done so before. It took a few days to settle in but even sitting in the comfort of my home, the Intensive Week lived up to its name. I am exhausted!!
Listening to the stories of the other students really moved me and inspired me as I could see the awesome impacts of God in their lives! Story after story of deliverance, compassion, suffering, redemption, and God led mission left me feeling very small in the world and yet recognized as a brother in a Kingdom far greater then I or you could imagine! I greatly look forward to growing closer and learning from this tribe in the years ahead!
A few days in, the language began to incline and I recognized the old familiar tongue of missional latitude that I suppose I should expect from higher education and deeper waters of missional thought. From the discussions of narrative and meta-narrative to the formulation and defence of hermeneutical interpretation, I recognized a need to brush up and grow my linguistic skills. This left me with a pondering to our roles in community and how we embody biblical, or God’s word, in the community narrative? (Ah yes, it seems to be taken an old road again! ;) )
A few days ago, a fellow student made the statement, “I’m struggling with the big words.” My mind reflected to seven years ago as I left the Bible College and started enacting the call of mission in my community. Over and over my family and friends would tell me, “We don’t understand this missional language you are speaking. You have to speak to us like a normal person!” Epiphany hit me, Alan Hirsch was right! Even as missional leaders, we need to learn the language of the community and for the next seven years that is exactly what I learned to speak!
The role of missional leadership is to take the missional narrative and linguistics and in a sense, learn to become a translator who embodies God’s word not only in action but in spoken word. The meta-narritive is taking the hermeneutic and putting it into the story of… the Simpsons! ;)
Yes, I’m back into the deep end of the pool again and I’m sure there are some sharks about, be they institutional or my own endurance to tread water and keep my head up. I just pray that as I swim away from the boat again, that as I come ashore, Jesus is there waiting by the fire. (Interesting note of thought – the last boat I swam from was the institutional church (See Here). Now I’m swimming from the “missional” front lines!)