I am so grateful when people share their stories. We all learn: story teller and listener alike. Last month, I heard a missional microchurch planter tell his story. I’m sorry I don’t remember his name – Daniel, I think. Anyway, he shared his struggles with leaving a traditional church and starting a missional community in his home. After some painful trial and error, he started telling his unchurched neighbors what he and his little group were doing: they were trying to make the neighborhood more like heaven than earth. His neighbors got it and appreciated it. Who can’t get behind that sort of conviction.
It’s a simple idea, but far reaching. And many of us have been praying for that for years in the Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I gave that some thought before preaching this past week. I had a little help from something I heard John Ortberg preach. If it sounds eloquent, it’s probably his. But here is what I said.
Heaven is invading earth and we’re a part of that. In Matthew 16, Jesus made this clear when he told his disciples that he was building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Hell had prevailed on earth in many places and Jesus was doing something about it.
Now when I say hell, I want you to know that I’m not talking about some kind of cartoonish figure in a red suit, forked tail, horns, and pitchfork. I’m talking about the biggest problem the world has ever faced. That problem is hell, and hell is at work wherever the will of God is defiled – whether that’s out there or in here. Every time an old person dies in isolation, unknown and forgotten; every time a little child is left unloved, unwanted, uneducated, unnoticed; every time racial or ethnic differences divide a street or a city or a church; every time money gets worshiped or hoarded; every time a lie gets told; every time generations get separated, get divided, get suspicious, get standoffish; every time a workplace becomes dehumanizing or fear-based; when families get broken down; when virtue gets torn down; when sinful habits create a life of shame or a culture of shamelessness; when faith gets undermined, hope gets lost, and people get trashed, that’s our problem because that is where hell is prevailing. It is not acceptable to Jesus that hell prevails. It is not okay.
So Jesus invites us to pray, to ask for God’s help and intervention to make earth more like heaven. In doing so, he also invites us into the struggle. He invites us to pray so God can do what he needs to do in each of us so that the world becomes a different place. You see – God wants heaven to come into our hearts so that God can work through us to make earth more like heaven. When heaven comes to earth, you see, no one drinks themselves to death, no one takes their own life, no one beats up helpless people and posts it on YouTube – because when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven there is no despair, no cruelty, and no abuse of power. When heaven comes to earth, people are valued because God values them. When heaven comes to earth children are cared for and protected; they receive lavish love because Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” When heaven comes to earth, needs are met, forgiveness reigns, people love across differences, grace overcomes every divide, and money and power are used in ways that bring joy, meeting needs and always, always honoring God. When heaven comes to earth families are sustained and supported. Families become places of refuge and kindness, where the generations meet at a common table, where virtue is understood, appreciated, and celebrated, and where people get built up. When heaven comes to earth courage, hope, faith, love, and joy characterize each day, and no one suffers alone, no one cries alone, no one dies alone, and no one ever, ever loses hope.
And there’s good reason for hope, because, you know, there once was a movement that changed hearts in the right direction – that changed the world. The movement transformed societies, nations, and even empires from cruelty toward kindness, from despair toward hope, from emptiness toward purpose. It was started by an extraordinary guy who found some ordinary people and said, “follow me.” And they began to do the same extraordinary things he was doing. Later he told them “teach others to do the same” and the movement spread. Now those in power worked to shut it down. They eventually killed the leader – but he wouldn’t stay down and it didn’t stop the movement. They persecuted the next group of leaders and eventually made the whole thing illegal, but God had to have been in it, because it just kept spreading. Wherever the movement showed up, everything was turned upside down. And it still happens. The movement is still going on. It’s going on right here in this neighborhood, in this house. It is a movement of mission and discipleship called “the church”. Our church is part of this movement. It has lasted 2000 years. It will go on to eternity. The Church was established to address a great problem and our church, and each of us, by extension, are called to address the same problem. Yep – Jesus wants to the kingdom of heaven to prevail in our neighborhood.
So, wherever you are – now is your chance. What is God calling you to do to make this world a little more like heaven? If you aren’t sure or are just looking for some ideas, let me make a suggestion: try Michael Frost’s BELLS strategy. (Bless 3. Eat with 3. Listen for the Spirit. Learn Christ. See yourself as sent.) You can read a little summary I’ve written about it here – and I tell a story about one of my experiences with BELLS here – or do a search for Michael Frost’s excellent (and usually free) ebook entitled “The Five Habits of Highly Missional People.”
Blessings on the journey. And may God work through you to make the earth around you more like heaven.