Late last year I read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, for the first time, and there were certain points he touched on in this book that really stood out to me and resonated with my spirit. One of the main things that stood out is when Rob spoke about the concept of bringing heaven to earth. I have often found Christians focus so much on the afterlife, whether heaven or hell, they miss out on what is happening in this life, also not taking responsibility to see true change come in the world we live (due to its “impermanence”). So as we Christians barricade ourselves in our comfortable Christian boxes, protecting ourselves from being “tainted by the evil things of the world” and waiting for the day Jesus rides in to save us, many people outside those Christian-bomb-shelter walls are living in pain, suffering, poverty, injustice, inequality, and a literal hell on earth. Rob says,
“When we choose God’s vision of who we are, we are living as God made us to live. We are living in the flow of how we are going to live forever. This is the life of heaven, here and now. And as we live this life, in harmony with God’s intentions for us, the life of heaven becomes more and more present in our lives. Heaven comes to earth. This is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, ‘May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ There is this place, this realm, heaven, where things are as God desires them to be. As we live this way, heaven comes here. To this place, this world, the one we’re living in.
Now if there is a life of heaven, and we can choose it, then there’s also another way. A way of living out of sync with how God created us to live. The word for this is hell: a way, a place, a realm absent of how God desires things to be. We can bring heaven to earth; we can bring hell to earth. For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities. Ways of living we can enter into here and now. He talked very little of the life beyond this one because he understood that the life beyond this one is a continuation of the kinds of choices we make here and now. For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? but how do I bring heaven here?
…What’s disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering – they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies. Jesus told us to.”
I like this idea! And what I have seen, through reading about him, is Jesus is less interested in people getting condemned for the things we, and the religious leaders of his time, often perceive as “sin”, and more interested in how we are treating each other, and even more specifically how we are treating those less fortunate than us. You can read in Matthew 25 where Jesus speaks about judgment day, and the criteria with which people were judged were not the usual “murder, stealing, divorce, abortion, homosexuality” and the lot people often rant about. Jesus judged them on how they treated hungry people, homeless people, people in prison, the sick, and he went as far to say that if anyone does something for one of these people who are in need, they have done it to him, but if a person leads a life in which they neglect to look after those less fortunate, then they have in fact neglected Jesus himself.
I recently got invited to fly up to Rustenburg to speak to the youth group of Assembly of God, and in some of the schools in the area. As soon I found out the kind folks up there wanted me to come back up and spend some time with their youth, I began wondering what I might speak on this year. Last year they invited me up for the first time and I spoke in several schools in the area and then in a couple of youth services in the week. It was an amazing time. I enjoyed meeting the youth of the church, schools, and those who live on the streets of Rustenburg; but I felt a special connection to the guys on the streets (maybe for obvious reasons).
A few weeks before going to Rustenburg, when meditating on an appropriate topic for the Friday night youth meeting, I felt the concept of Heaven on Earth impressed on my heart. The ideas and concepts grew further in my heart and mind as my trip to Rustenburg grew closer. I got here Wednesday and have had an amazing time hanging out with the kind people up here. To my pleasure, I have gotten several opportunities to also hang out with the guys I met last year, and some new faces, who live on the streets. On Thursday Leseng, one of the youth I had lengthy conversations with last time I was here, said, “Obama (Did I forget to mention they call me Obama?), you know winter is coming and it is getting cold. I don’t have a jacket,” and another chimed in, pointing to his feet, “Yeah, and I don’t have shoes.”
I told them I didn’t have anything for them just yet, but that I was going to a youth service on Friday night and I would share their plight there. They were happy with that idea. So last night at the youth service I spoke on the concept of bring heaven on earth; ushering it in, in the hell that many people find themselves in. Many of the youth from the streets had also come to the service and they seemed to agree with what I was saying on a deeper level than most. In the end of my talk, instead of an alter call, I shared the predicament of Leseng and the others, and gave the youth the opportunity to bring heaven to that situation, right then and right there; I called for them to take off their shoes, socks, shirts, hoodies, jackets, scarves, caps, and yes, even pants, because many of them played soccer before youth and had an extra pair, and bring them to the front of the church.
I told them to only do it if they wanted to. And sure enough, little by little, the youth began bringing their items of clothing to the front, and the pile grew and grew. Some of the youth from the streets watched in utter disbelief. I watched in absolute amazement as the pile of, mostly name brand, offering grow and grow. How wonderful! After the service, when the shoeless youth cleared the room, some of the guys from the streets got a chance to have their pick at, not just what they needed, but what they wanted. They looked like little kids on Christmas morning.
Frank, wearing a brand new, name-brand hoodie and a new pair of shoes, approached me with teary eyes and said, “Eish! This was good Obama! Miracles happened here tonight!”
“Indeed they did Frankie! Indeed they did.”