Thursday, September 2, 2010

Central Passion Number Two

They’ll let anyone teach at some universities, and I’m proof of that. It’s the beginning of the semester in our irenic little town. Fall freshmen have descended on the small Christian college like autumn leaves: beautiful, but doomed. Poor kids--31 unsuspecting students are now subject to the central passions of my life with Jesus.

They don’t suspect it will take me 16 weeks to share the two convictions that inform my life: the king and his kingdom are breaking into the here and now.

In the very first week I survey the class, “How many of you think Jesus is a worthy role model?” Every hand goes up. “And how many of you think you could live up to his example?” No one stirs. No hand is raised. This introduces passion number one: why would anyone choose an impossible mentor? I’ve written about it before.

Just when they recover from central passion number one, I subject them to central passion number two: what if the good news isn’t about us going to heaven, but instead it’s about heaven coming to us?

With each new class I invite my students to engage in a spiritual exercise. Would you like to play along? Here is the question we must answer:
What if you woke up tomorrow morning to find that heaven had come earth? What would your world be like?
I ask each student to imagine heaven on earth. Here are a dozen answers from my new best friends:
  • “If Heaven came to Earth sickness would turn into strength.”
  • “God would be everywhere. God would give advice, spend the day with you, make sure everyone was fed, and most importantly share his wisdom with us all.”
  • “Heaven’s nature would begin to alter the workings of the earth and wipe out the impure creations of man.”
  • “No one would be lonely or without a companion.”
  • “Life with my daughter would change for the better. I would not feel that sense of silent discrimination from those who live in glass houses . . .  we would not be the topic of whispers about a situation people truly know nothing of. We would not suffer judgments from those people with ample imperfections of their own.”
  • “This little town, what some would call a boring place, would flourish with excitement and love and unified happiness that we were living amongst the living God.”
  • “No one would have to suffer because in God’s home you can find everything you need.”
  • “Famine would be completely erased. Sadness would be no more. Not one tear would be shed”
  • “If heaven came to earth it would be a continuing cycle of great accomplishment.”
  • “The people on earth would be 100% stress free. No one would ever need to worry about anything at all . . . They would laugh and carry on as if they had no sense of time or worry . . . the normal stress I feel in my chest and head would be gone.”
  • “How could you be sad with so much love and compassion around you?”
  • “Heaven is where you can go to be yourself and to be with Jesus.”
Can you feel the hope rising within you? In the coming weeks these students will be forced to listen to me turn their gospel upside down. I’m convinced the good news isn’t solely about going to heaven when you die, it’s about what God has done to bring heaven here to earth.

In this class we will spend the entire semester on Matthew 5, 6, & 7. That’s the “Sermon on the Mount.” It’s astonishing how many people think no one could ever put Jesus’ words into practice. It’s more astonishing still how many people think that because his words are poetic or beautiful that he somehow didn’t expect us to give them a try. Last semester one well-meaning student told me “Jesus preached this sermon in order to prove to us that we couldn’t possibly do any of that stuff.” Really? Would the greatest teacher who ever lived simply come to point out what losers we really are? Would God send his Son on a mission designed to fill us with shame and inadequacy?

That’s the most challenging part of this spiritual exercise. These young students intuitively long for the beauty, the grace, and hope of heaven. Why do they believe they must wait a lifetime to experience His good gifts? How about you?


  1. Ray, I'm a big fan of spiritual exercises. That one is terrific. I'm going to steal it. (Okay, borrow it.)

  2. I'm engaged in another spiritual exercise right now: I let people steal from me. Blessings!

  3. I feel absolutely full of hope after reading this. And also stirred up! As you know from reading my blog, I've been shifting my own understanding of "the good news" and struggling to find concrete ways to live it out. This post just gives me a boost in that direction. Going to read Matthew 5, 6 & 7 again.

  4. Thanks for sharing. This is so filled with hope. I'm thinking this would have been a good class to take. :) Looking forward to hearing more.

  5. Ray, I'm a big fan of spiritual exercises. That one is terrific. I'm going to steal it. (Okay, borrow it.)