Tag Archives: heaven

What if Every Day Was Earth Day? Heaven on Earth Day?

By Eugene C. Scott

I live in Colorado. I’m not bragging. Just sayin’.

19th Century Denver entrepreneur Frederick Bonfils once crowed, “‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado.” John Denver called Colorado home, writing lots of cool songs about the mountains. Not many other states can claim that. Take Oklahoma for example.

“Visit Colorado for the skiing; move here for the summers,” they say, because we have four distinct seasons. Just when you’re getting tired of 90 degree days, a crisp fall breeze rolls in and changes all the aspens to gold. Then comes hunting season followed by ski season.

Even so, Colorado is not perfect. We don’t have as many bugs as, say, Illinois. And the mountains sometimes block your view. Spring is muddy. And winter is horrible. Like Minnesota with tons of snow (wink, wink, wink).

Never-the-less, many people consider Colorado heaven on earth. I tend to agree, though not literally, of course. But I’m biased. I was born here.

Heaven on Earth Day

I apologize for gloating. It started yesterday on Earth Day, April 22. About 3:30pm my wife Dee Dee, my son, Brendan, and I took a four mile hike into the foothills west of our house. It was a spectacular day, 80 degrees, with a topless blue sky, small white clouds crowning the mountains, the tips of the aspens turning chartreuse, and the earthy smell of being outside and away from man-made contrivances.

Climbing the rocky trail I was in awe. “God is an artist, a craftsman, a dreamer beyond compare,” I thought. “What if every day were Earth Day, heaven on earth day?”

What if we really believed that God created this place and in so creating gave it an inherent worth and beauty? What if, like Jesus, we believed “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

We might better care for it. Admire, love, nurture, steward it.

Some fail to see heaven on earth

Those of a spiritual mind-set have struggled to grasp the God-given worth and beauty of the material world, however. Christians especially have had too little regard for the material, while dreaming of a celestial place called heaven. This dualism has skewed their view of their environment. They become “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” They fail to see heaven on earth.

“This place is not our home,” many of fine-tuned spirituality say while lusting after pearly gates. C.S. Lewis compared our time here on earth to a stay in a fabulous hotel. No matter how nice the hotel, Lewis said, you yearn for home.

Why trash the hotel

Hotel or not, no one but drug crazed rock stars trash the hotel. Yearning for heaven does not mean we ignore God’s command to care for and steward the very place Jesus’ and our own feet touch down.

We are people with two homes

In his book “Christ Plays in 10,000 Places,” Eugene H. Peterson argues that creation is first and foremost about place. This place, not just heaven. “All living is local,” he writes, “this land, this neighborhood, these trees [and here is where radical environmentalists miss the mark] and streets and houses, this work, these people.” (p.72) Like a fine work of art, it all carries the brush stroke of the artist.

God created the very soil we were drawn from. And the earth is not just a platform for our ethereal spiritual selves to briefly settle, like butterflies flitting from flower to flower little recognizing their beauty nor realizing they are a source of life. The material is imbued with spirituality. And spirituality is carried by material reality. They are linked and both are crucial to our lives.

Jesus lived an earthy spirituality

Jesus, who most assuredly lived spiritually, knew this, “Even Solomon in all his splendor was not adorned as these,” Jesus said taking in a hillside of lilies. He was no radical environmentalist. But his was an earthy spirituality: one that saw the touch of his Father in all creation, especially where we least expect it. Not only in flowers, rocks, sunsets, aspen trees, sparkling rivers, but in fishermen, children, prostitutes: people too.

I’m fortunate. I live in a place it’s easy to see heaven on earth. But you do too. Like a room with mirrored walls full of two-year olds, God’s fingerprints are everywhere. We simply have to stoop down to see them.

Where have you seen God’s mark lately?

Eugene C. Scott once yelled at some high school kids who threw trash out their car window. His wife and children were terribly embarrassed and the high schoolers drove off laughing. He is an avid conservationist and loves the outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking, and people. You can join the Living Spiritually community by clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Imagination: God’s Greatest Gift

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom was proof that, though humans were cast out and barred from the Garden, we took a piece of Eden with us, like dirt lodged under our fingernails. For nearly twenty-five years my mother lived in an ugly two-story brick apartment building in a part of the city that no longer had much going for it. No parks, few trees–buggy elms–and only the constant rush of cars going elsewhere surrounded her. Surely no garden.

Yet mom transformed that place. She had a wonderful imagination, an artist specializing in raising rose bushes. Every summer on the canvas of dirt between the apartments and where the cars nosed in to park she created a masterpiece of color and beauty. By mid July, red, yellow, white, burgundy, pink, and multicolored roses splashed their colors against the pale brick and rusted iron railing of that old building. Summer after summer people from all over the neighborhood streamed by to see what mom’s horticultural imagination had wrought.

When mom passed away in 2003, the whole neighborhood groaned in grief. For comfort, my family and I imagined mom, now healed of her emphysema, planting a rose garden in heaven, taking God’s best and giving it her own unique twist. Between tears we laughed and smiled at that picture.

Then at the memorial service, mom’s well-meaning and beloved pastor decided it was time to dispel that notion. We don’t know that there is gardening–or are even roses–in heaven, he said. He read a passage about heaven (I don’t remember which one) and told us heaven is not about continuing what we loved doing here but about being forgiven of our sins. He continued, Only what is true, not what is imagined can bring you comfort.

On one level he was right, of course. Even what we imagine heaven or God–or anything really wonderful–to be like will pale in light of God’s reality. My mom may well have gladly chucked her spade upon entering the Pearly Gates.

But . . .

Imagination is one of God’s greatest gifts. Imagine what life would be like without it (sorry).

Just think. Robert Adler imagined not having to get up from the couch to change the television channel. Viola, the remote control.

But seriously, you name it. If it exists, someone imagined it. Leif Enger’s surprising, glorious novel, “Peace Like a River,” “Star Wars,” the Internet, the artificial heart, my mom’s rose garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Imagination is also what infuses faith. As a matter of fact, faith would not be possible without God’s gift of imagination. By imagination I don’t mean only dreaming up Easter Bunnies. That’s only the starting place. I mean seeing something real that is not yet there–or is not there on the surface of things.

For example, some see the cross only as so much misused lumber or–today–mere jewelry. But Jesus imagined it as the ultimate instrument of healing. His death and resurrection made it so. Our God-given imaginations then let us see into the past as Jesus hung on that cross and at the same time gaze into the future as Jesus welcomes us back to the Garden.

This is the kind of imagination that thrilled atheist C. S. Lewis and made him see that “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.” He read books, like George MacDonald’s fantasy, “Phantastes,” and found faith and Christ buried in the poetry and prose. His imagination was the tool God used to dig out those truths. Later, moving from atheism to belief in Christ, Lewis said his new faith came from having his imagination baptized. We know the end of that story. Lewis then used his baptized imagination to write stories that helped thousands believe in a God who came down into a weedy, overgrown garden to bring it back to its original state. Without an imagination Lewis, and you and I, would never believe.

Traditionally Lent is about fasting, giving up for a time what we think we have to help us yearn for and realize what we don’t yet believe we really do have. This Lent let God baptize your imagination. As Crystal Lewis sings, let God give you “beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair.”

God can and will show you the truth that he has planted beautiful roses even among the harsh, concrete reality of day-to-day life. As Paul said, God can do far more than we can hope or imagine.

So, what was that piece of the Garden, stuck under our fingernails, we took with us from Eden that day? Our ability to imagine what it once was and what it one day will be. And no matter what my mom’s pastor said, I can still imagine mom in the Garden–sleeves rolled up, dirt smeared face, smile a mile wide, pruning back a red rose. One day I’ll join her, I imagine.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

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Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For?

by Eugene C. Scott

Have you ever found something you weren’t looking for? It happened to me a few years ago when I accompanied a nine year-old boy on a search for his lost glasses, despite that he couldn’t remember exactly where he lost them. I went only to quell my guilt for not searching when we would inevitably go purchase another pair. On the upside, this particular nine year-old was a delight to be with even when searching for a needle in a haystack.

We parked my truck near the last place he remembered having his glasses—a long, winding walking path decorated with large river rocks and landscaping bark. The boy had lost his glasses on the way to–or at–or in the universe near–the new skateboard park that was about a mile from our house. I knew the path well and was naively picturing the most likely places to search. But the path had only served the boy as a touch stone, a tether to which he loosely tied himself while looping, wending, and winding to the park. But I didn’t know that at the time so I clung to the path searching every inch of its pavement.

“I didn’t walk that way,” the boy told me shaking his head.

“Where then?” I shrugged.

He pointed off the path to the rocks he had climbed and vaulted from. I searched the bushes around those rocks. Next we left the path entirely and hunted around a statue of a flying horse he had investigated. Then cut diagonally through a parking lot. But even that was not direct. He showed me how he had climbed over the sidewalk railing and dipped behind the dumpster and sauntered through a restaurant (I asked them if they had seen his glasses) and out the back door that let us out on the path again.

I shook my head. His route was truly random!

Back on the path, we peered under every weed in the spot he claimed he had stopped to chase a garter snake.

“I bent over to look at it and I bet my glasses slid off without me knowing,” he said.

I agreed and engaged in the search earnestly. But we came up empty and continued by scouring every dink and dodge he took off the path until we finally reached the skate park.

All the while, we had a fun conversation about snakes and any other nine year-old stuff that came up. He had definitely not taken a mathematically precise power walk and our search therefore, was not systematic. I observed even now, trying to be serious, the boy didn’t so much walk as bounce, light and airy with his feet only touching the ground for the fun of it. He taught me the names of various skateboard moves and I saw the familiar walking path as if for the first time. We spooked another garter snake and marveled at how fast they are. We talked about likely fishing holes in the river. We wondered what fun things we could do with the $70 to $100 his new glasses would cost to replace, if we found his old ones.

Reversing the Apostle Paul’s meaning “I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” and I enjoyed every moment of it. Being a nine year-old ain’t so bad.

Maybe that’s what Jesus tried to get us to see when he called the children onto his lap and told his adult followers to have a child-like faith. Maybe the “kingdom of heaven,” as Jesus talked about it and lived it, is more than a “straight and narrow path” defined by rules and systematic searches and time lines and well-defined adult perceptions and ideas. What if the freedom Jesus promised his followers is better illustrated (and lived!) by a young boy turning his search for his glasses into another adventure? What if our pursuit of meaning and Jesus himself became a fun and loopy path? What if we never find what we are looking for because we are looking in the wrong ways?

On the way back from the skate park, empty-handed, I had pretty much given up the search. I was not surprised. I had begun the search thinking I would not find what I was looking for (to paraphrase Bono) anyway. So, as I walked, I looked down at the ground only occasionally, just because I should.

Then, nearing the point our search had begun, I glanced down and spied my nine year-old companion’s glasses sitting in the landscaping bark folded neatly as if someone had purposefully placed them there.

The boy saw them too.

He squealed; his face beamed; we high-fived. We danced around as if we had found Jesus’ “pearl of great price.”

“I was just praying we’d find ‘em,” he said. “Jesus dropped ‘em right where you were lookin’.”

Immediately my adult mind found a more plausible explanation for how the glasses ended up neatly folded where we had already searched. I wish it hadn’t.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.

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Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door or Many an Un-truth is Spoken in Jest

Mother Teresa died and was greeted at the Pearly Gates by Saint Peter . . . so the typical heaven’s door joke opens. We’ve all heard a thousand different versions featuring everyone from golfers to geriatrics and pastors to prostitutes. Most of them also have Peter asking the poor soul standing at the gate, “Why should I let you in?” The answer is usually the punch-line.

These punch-lines produce more than a chuckle; they also reveal what many popularly believe about life and death and heaven and the God who is supposed to be living there. These jokes show us that many an un-truth is spoken in jest.

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Isaiah 41:17-43:13

Ephesians 2:1-22

Psalm 67:1-7

Proverbs 23:29-35

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Isaiah 41:17-43:13: Because the arts, such as poetry, are often difficult to interpret, many are therefore very uncomfortable seeing the arts as valid ways to communicate truth. God seems to have no such misgivings. This chapter continues the beautiful poem describing God’s power, wrath, love, grace, and concern for Israel and his creation. By using artistic words and poetic concepts, God is able to deliver to us some hard truths we may shy away from if stated in mere propositional language.

Ephesians 2:1-22: “We are God’s workmanship,” Paul writes in verse 10. The word we translate “workmanship” is literally and better translated “poetry” or “artwork.” Would that the Bible translators were more comfortable with metaphorical translations. If we are “workmanship,” we can only be one of many: identical fenceposts standing in a row or silver automobiles rolling off an assembly line. But if we are poetry or art, we are unique, painstakingly written or drawn not just designed with a purpose but carrying a message and an image of the Artist himself. As I wrote yesterday, you and I are works of art!

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Have you ever noticed how the punch-lines of these gone-to-heaven jokes usually boil down to what the person knocking on heaven’s door did or didn’t do in life? According to these jokes, entrance into heaven depends on how good each of us are during our lives down here.

One such joke features Mother Teresa and God eating very simple meals together in heaven. Eventually she asks about the sparse menu. God answers, “Let’s be honest Teresa, for just two people, it doesn’t pay to cook.”

I don’t find that idea funny. If Mother Teresa is the standard my good works have to measure up to, I might as well not even knock on the door. Further, if anyone of us, even Mother Teresa, could earn heaven, why did Jesus let himself be tortured and nailed to a cross to give us eternal life freely? Instead why didn’t Jesus just write out a check-list of attittudes and actions that we could fill out and present to Peter at the gate?

Because, as Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” By definition you can’t earn a gift.

This is the beautiful theological truth behind birthday presents. How ludicrus it would be for anyone upon opening her birthday gifts to say, “Thank you for recognizing how hard I worked to get here. These gifts will remind me each day of the effort I put into my conception and birth.”

Just as there is no way anyone earned his or her birth and the gift of life, so too none of us can earn being born again and the gift of eternal life. All we have to do is receive God’s gift of grace and forgiveness and open it.

Another un-truth spoken in these jests is that Peter usually stands as heaven’s gatekeeper. In reality Jesus gave Peter keys to the kingdom. But since Jesus flung the doors wide open, I’m not sure what Peter’s keys are for. Jesus is the way. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus, even Peter.

Finally notice how these jokes place heaven “up there.” Yet, Scripture speaks of heaven as a kingdom that contains earth. In the end, the earth will be reborn just as we have been. But until then it is an imperfect piece of heaven here and now. We will not walk for eternity on clouds. Paul says we “have been saved” and are “seated in the heavenly realms.” This is all written in the past or present tense. Heaven begins when we are “in Christ” not after death. Heaven is here and now. Yet there is a piece of it to come. Fuller Seminary Professor George Eldon Ladd called this the “already/not yet” truth of the gospel. Our theology lived out and conveyed in these jokes expresses only the “not yet” part of what Jesus gave us from the cross. Paul desperately wants us to live in the “already.” Mother Teresa didn’t care for the sick and dying and castoff of Calcutta to get from earth to heaven. She poured her life out to them to bring heaven to earth.

Please don’t think I can’t take a joke, I love a good comedy routine and punch-line. Still there are many truths and un-truths spoken in jest. We can laugh at both, but eternity may hang in knowing the difference.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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Seeing Is Believing. Maybe Not.

“It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”

Suddenly I feel a cold, dry breeze brush across my face. I shiver and look around in shock.

How did I get here? What happened?

Towering above me a line of ancient white arches stretch from one end of a noisy courtyard to the other. Below the pillars, walking on rough, uneven paving stones, unshaven men, shy rugged women, and children bouncing against the cold, bump and bustle about some business I can’t quite fathom.

Where am I?

A small wiry man next to me asks another, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

The other turns and an ironic smile flashes from under his beard. “I did tell you, but you do not believe,” he says. “The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

Just as suddenly I am back on my couch, Bible on my lap open to the daily reading for May 19. I am once again alone, warm and comfortable. But I am wondering.

What if I had been there? Would I better believe in Jesus if I could have actually seen him?

Would you?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

1 Samuel 24:1-25:44

John 10:22-42

Psalm 116:1-19

Proverbs 15:20-21

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Samuel 24-25:44: What other sacred book, or history of a nation or king, stoops so low as to record a story about a king chosen by God being embarrassed and nearly killed while in a cave for a bowel movement? The Hebrew we translate “to relieve himself” is literally “to cover his feet,” a euphemism which describes how, when Saul squatted down, his robe covered his feet. For me the raw and gritty nature of this narrative, and in the entire Bible, speaks to its veracity. If this sacred book can be that honest about who we are as people, then I believe we can trust it to be honest about who God is too.

Mark Twain, in his autobiographical book, Roughing It, writes that he doubted the veracity of The Book of Mormon for the exact opposite reason. He found it too flowery, embroidered, and trying too hard to sound ancient. It lacked the smack of reality.

Psalm 116:1-19: The psalmist prays that God would hear his cry for mercy in the midst of trouble and sorrow. His cry is not for help received in a far away heaven, but in the “land of the living.” Some have argued the use of this phrase shows ancient Hebrews had no concept of heaven or hell. If so, why have a phrase that differentiates between the “land of the living”? Rather this phrase shows the Hebrews did have some concept of the afterlife and yet saw life here and there as crucial to God. Hebrews did not hold the view that this life is evil (though they understood life as sometimes very hard), and heaven as the only good life. They saw the two places as connected.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

John’s Gospel narrative is beautifully written, evocative. I can almost see, feel, actually hear Jesus’ strong, clear voice. But not quite.

Obviously John was there. If only I too could have been!

I would not doubt, falter, fall into dishonest, fearful thoughts and actions so often, if only I had been able to touch him.

But that’s just one more white lie among the myriad of others I daily tell myself. And it’s almost as if I’m blaming God for my inability to follow Jesus the way I desire.

God, You had me born in the wrong time.

Yet scores of people touched him, saw what he could do in the Father’s name, and failed to believe.

Belief, however, is possible. John ends this account with, “And in that place many believed in Jesus.” What made the difference?

Belief doesn’t have to be big. I think my desire to possess more than I have been given (such as being born in Jesus’ time) defeats belief. Jesus called us not to have mountains of faith but said a small amount could move mountains. I forget that grace-filled truth.

Also, belief is a gift we must receive. God bestows belief on us, but I often leave the gift unopened. I’m similar to the father of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning who disowned his daughter for marrying fellow poet Robert Browning. After her marriage, she wrote many letters to her parents that they never opened.

John tells of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and rather than open them in wonder, they walk away.

Others who opened the gift believed and Jesus calls them his sheep.

Notice belief is an action not just an acceptance of ideas. Today we are often taught that believing in Jesus has only to do with an assent to intellectual truths. Though I intellectually assent to the idea that Jesus actually lived, died, rose again, and in so doing forgives my sins, full belief is more than that. It is acting on what I have assented to.

In my younger and crazier days, standing atop a cliff, I intellectually assented to the idea that a rappelling rope could hold me. But that was not enough. Belief did not become real until I stepped off the rock.

So, I am brought to this reality. Jesus is here with us in a different way than with his disciples. But here he is.  Do you see him? I can act on that truth. In the end then believing is sometimes seeing.

  1. What theme or idea that connects these four readings?
  2. Do you struggle with belief?
  3. When has your belief been most strong?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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