(Homesick, Part 2)
Last time I looked at heaven and earth. We saw that as Christians we need to constantly raise our gaze in order to remember our perspective. This week I’m hoping we can keep our eyes firmly fixed on heaven whilst at the same time bring some of that down to earth.
When I recognise heaven as my true home, my attitude to earth will change.
I am here for a short time and have been put here for a purpose. God has put me here as his representative.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
The outside light
There is an uneven path from the road to our house that has no lighting at all. When it is really dark it’s best to get a torch or use the light from your mobile phone to avoid tripping up. Even with our house’s outside lighting, the path beyond the hedge remains in darkness.
I was rummaging around in our garage recently for something – I can’t even remember what – and rediscovered a box of camping gear. When we decided that the only real way to camp was anywhere that had an electric hook-up, we bought this outside light with a long cable. I connected the light to the power in our house, ran the cable to a tree that overhangs our gate, and set a timer on the socket so that whenever it gets dark, the whole path is lit up!
You are the light
Imagine if we as God’s people were like that light: not plugged in to any power supply, not shining in the darkness, shut away in a cold building, helping no one, not even helping ourselves. Look with me at the Lord’s Prayer:
9 ‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
If we’re to pray, Let your will be done as it is in heaven, it will be useful to find out what that would look like – what is heaven like, where God’s will is done perfectly? How much of that can we bring down to earth? So let’s spend some time thinking about what heaven is like and then let’s consider how much of that we might be able to shine in our world.
What is heaven like?
John saw it this way:
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21:1-4)
Let’s think about some really simple points:
Verse 2: It’s beautiful
Verse 3: We will experience the presence of God in an unprecedented way
Verse 4: No tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain.
Sound good? That’s what it’s like where God’s will is done. It’s a beautiful place in his presence where nothing bad happens.
Heaven on earth?
If you had to recreate heaven on earth using only the passage above, where would you start?
Verse 2: It’s beautiful
Do you know what else is beautiful? Your feet.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)
Beautiful feet? Really?
People associate the messenger with the message. Why else do people say, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”? Because we naturally link the man with the message.
If you carry a beautiful message to the people around you, there will be something attractive about you. They probably won’t even notice that your feet stink. I.e. the message is so good that they won’t see the sweat and dirt you had to go through to bring the message. You are attractive if you carry good news, peace, good tidings, share God’s salvation stories and honour Christ in all you do.
This is not a cosmetic physical attraction but the irresistible grace that is found in people who are brave enough to share the goodness of God with other people.
Verse 3: God’s presence
That’s how we come to represent and present this beauty. We can already draw near to God here on earth. And the bible says he will draw near to us when we do (James 4:8).
Then that irresistible beauty will start to radiate from you.
So let’s continue in our resolve to get up, pray, read the bible and ask the Holy Spirit to live through us every day. Because of Christ we can boldly approach his throne. Let’s not neglect that foretaste of heaven that is ours for the taking here today. We need it if we are to carry his message to the world around us. Day by day make the decision to live more by his strength than your own. Achieve this by getting into his presence.
Verse 4: No bad stuff
How can we make that one happen on earth? Well, it’s just a foretaste of the glory that is to come, but let’s spend a bit more time thinking about that using the following words from Jesus:
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
Salt is a Preservative
An old farmer from where I grew up as a child once described how salt was used to preserve meat before refrigeration was widely available. There was a real sense of having to massage salt into the meat so that it would become deeply ingrained into it. The salt has to be pushed hard so that the meat will absorb it. Then, the meat lasts longer as it is protected from harmful bacteria.
In the same way, I believe Jesus is asking his disciples to get right into society. God rarely calls people to a life of seclusion.
How else can we be used to preserve society if we stay in a holy huddle, mixing only with other people who are already saved? That would be like leaving the salt pot in the cupboard! Wherever you are, remember you are God’s ambassador – be ready to smile, talk, influence someone for the better! God might be sending someone your way who you just need to listen to. We are God’s preservative in action! How might God use you to prevent the harmful bacteria of sin, worry, debt or fear reaching the people around you?
Salt adds Flavour
The idea I am encouraged by most here is that Christians are not intended to be bland, boring or irrelevant. How cool it would be if people thought a party or gathering is always better if you are there. I imagine Jesus was fun to have around, a magnetic personality. He was interested in other people, which is always attractive. I’m not saying we should try to be something we are not. Just be yourself, and if you’re really enjoying life because of God, don’t be afraid to let it show!
How do you add flavour to your workplace? Appoint yourself head of morale. Make coffee. Listen. Lighten up!
Put the big light on!
Peter Kay jokes about how in Northern England we refer to the ceiling light as the big light as if it is some monstrous obstruction. Jesus tells his disciples not only that he is the light of the world (John 8:12) but that we are too! (Matthew 5:14)
Light is Visible
I’m not saying here you should go out of the way to get yourself noticed! But if you are adding flavour to your environment, whether it’s your home or wherever you spend most of your waking hours, God should be seen in you. You might not be aware of it but at some point, if you are living a Spirit-led life, someone will tell you they see something different about you (in a good way!) As we were about to move from our last home, our neighbour took us out for a drink and pressed us for information on what it is we’ve got that he hasn’t: “This is my last chance to ask you!” If someone knows you’re a Christian, be aware, they are watching! What do they see?
Light is a Guide
As we build relationships outside of our cosy Christian culture, and as people begin to trust us, because they have witnessed firsthand our honest, visible Christianity influencing our surroundings for the better, it’s inevitable that people will eventually ask your opinion on some issues.
…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. (Luke 12:11-12)
I take this to mean, be prepared in your heart but don’t script the whole thing. Be always open to God leading you to the point where you are able to share something of what God has done for you. But don’t worry about the words – God wants you to rely on him.
When someone asks for a listening ear, or shares a problem, or wants to know what you think about a situation, don’t worry if you haven’t prepared an answer for that particular question. Inwardly ask God to speak through you. By faith, share what’s on your heart. And keep listening both to the person’s responses, and to God’s inner voice!
Heaven on earth in the early church
One final place to find out how all this might work is in the way God began to build his Church after Jesus ascended into Heaven.
First, the apostles knew what to expect. Mark records it this way:
15 He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on people who are ill, and they will get well.’ 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:15-20)
Acts 5:12-16 states that the apostles continued to heal many other people. Healings and other miracles were the signs that added credibility to their message.
Later Paul writes to the Romans saying that he has proclaimed the gospel, “by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.” (Romans 15:19).
In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John had just been released from prison. The believers gathered together to pray. Here’s the end of their prayer and what happened afterwards:
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:29-31)
Is this a church that is represented by my unplugged outside light locked up in a garage? Or does it look like a community of believers who are plugged in to the one true power source, shining light in the darkness so that people can find our home and make it their own home too?
Let’s open ourselves up to the leading of the Holy Spirit to bring good news that makes our world a little bit more beautiful, illuminates God’s presence, and eradicates some of the evil we see around us.