This Sunday I’ll be preaching, and I want to de-centralize the preparation process a bit by asking for your thoughts.
The overall series I’ll be starting is one called Missional Spirituality. The series will deal with questions of how we live missional lives; the context within which a missional life makes sense (narrative theology), and the specific ways we organize and arrange our lives to live missionally. This Sunday I’ll be focusing on Heaven, and how a missional life is shaped by our vision of what Heaven is. We’ll be reading most of Revelation 21 together, and discussing how a vision of Heaven shapes our lives right now.
So here’s what I’m wondering: how do you view Heaven? When you pray, "Our Father, in Heaven," what feelings does it evoke? What does it mean that God is "in Heaven?"
I’m also wondering what your thoughts are on holiness. What images and associates does the word conjure? What’s a good definition of holiness?
Any other thoughts on how a vision of Heaven affects how we live our everyday lives? Or is there really a danger in being "so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good"?
When I was young, heaven was a place in the clouds, not unlike where Jack, of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ fame, went when he climbed to the top of the beanstalk. With the passing of time and experiences, I think of heaven as a realm, a kingdom, existing separate from the time and space of earth, but with the coming of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven broke through and periodically continues to cross the boundary and come through into this realm of time and space.
Regarding holiness, I would define Holiness as relational purity, whether it is in relationship to another, the environment, or even to myself.
…being “so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good”…
If heaven is a place that will always remain separated from earth, this will affect our relationships. Can anything we do as ‘earthly good’ make a redemptive difference, new creation, without being heavenly minded?
To answer the first of your questions:
One day, about 10 years ago when I had been studying Revelation I was driving in the country on a beautiful sunny day, and I was overwhelmed by the glory of creation. Instantly this thought occured to me for the first time that heaven came first, and that everything I saw around me was a “dark reflection” of the throne room of God. I’ve never lost that feeling of awe.
I believe the physciality of heaven is the perfection of all things earthly. Reading John’s revelation I see that he compares his heavenly vision to things on earth- only better. Christ: Fire, rushing water, stars, the sun, jewels. The Throne: a rainbow, lightning, thunder, a sea of glass. Even the living creatures: a man, an ox, a lion, an eagle, wings, and eyes.
This may seem to be a simplistic interpretation, but to me it will always be a beautiful gift. It gives me a strange joy to think that a lion on earth may have designed after angelic beings in heaven, and that our oceans are images of the sea that surrounds the throne of God. Even in our sinful state, God loves every human being enough to give us a home designed after heaven.
I think this is the basis for: Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
I hope that helps you in some small way.
Benjamin Sternke says
The responses have been really helpful so far. I’d love to hear more thoughts. Even if you don’t believe them yourself, perhaps there are some common perceptions out there about what heaven is like, or what holiness is all about?
I think of heaven as a realm that is beside and around us. I believe that we all experience glimpses of heaven. My understanding of heaven is of a kingdom that is already here, yet is still to be made known and revealed. We, as believers, have the opportunity to reveal the reality of the kingdom of heaven on earth by living incarnational lives.
I kind of think of Heaven as described by C.S. Lewis. Its every good thing we know, only more real. What we know is just a shadow of what God’s kingdom is. God’s prescence fills the air so it is truly a real breath of fresh air. God’s Holiness is perfect and without decay–that to me is the clear clear water of a Mountain spring–only clearer.
When I think of ‘heaven’ I am always reminded of my Jewish friend’s description: heaven is the ‘place’ where messiah rules.
I tend to go with heaven being a parallel universe or reality to our time and space. I think it intermingles with our reality (as NT Wright described so eloquently in Simply Christian).
I don’t have a flippin’ clue about holiness. Never have figured that one out, but Carol’s definition struck a chord. Never heard of it that way.
I shy away from those who would traditionally be considered ‘too heavenly minded to be any earthly good’ because the language they tend to use is foreign to me now (and to most of western culture, IMO). But I also believe there are some especially gifted in expressing thru worship, creative arts, teaching, praying, lifestyle a more ‘real’ sense that heaven isn’t very far away. Then again, there are those not gifted in those areas who think they are, and are just annoying. The latter are part of the ‘no earthly good’ part.
I definitely don’t believe heaven is a place. I think of living my life as if my reality were ‘heaven’…when love and kindness rule. When suffering and hate are unknown. I no longer consider it a place I need to convince others exists so that they won’t go to hell. (which I also don’t believe is a place). Heaven informs my life, but not in the same semantic category it used to.
Forgot…wanted to say heaven isn’t a place I hope to go to someday. It’s a state of being I try to live in every moment. So missionly speaking, I don’t see my commission as talking about a ‘place’, but about living in that ‘state’ all the time….healing the hurting, caring for the oppressed and poor, that kind of thing. Not necessarily getting people ‘saved’.
Bob Harvey says
As to heaven(s), I agree with Cindy, I tend to consider that it is/they are more a state or a dimension than a different place physically. But, I also think of the throne room and the sea of glass mostly during worship as a future place that we can visit occasionally.
As to holiness, I think of purity, perfection and approval (being examined, as in our hearts and motives). I also think of processes like the common one of refining metals, clearing off the dross (requires heat, Refiner’s Fire, etc) and then beyond purification there is shaping (potter’s wheel image) and then glazing (kiln, more heat). Getting us to look and sound like Jesus. A parallel thought is maturing, growing up.
Being heavenly minded I think relates to maturing. God has many attributes which compliment one another vs. contradict. We learn to do the same both individually and in community as part of the body and being in this world. If we concentrate on love/grace and neglect authority/peace, we are out of shape or need someone else on the missional team to balance us out. Paul preyed that we would have both. If we are so missional that we fail to change our kid’s diapers (our elderly parents) or fail to put food on the table, then we are trespassing into “no earthly good.” Part of growing as a christian is learning to keep our eyes upon Jesus (in heaven and in circumstances) and praying (to heaven, w/o ceasing) but still functioning as a steward of what God has called us to on the earth. I’m sure there are better/more examples.
Benjamin Sternke says
Thanks for the comments, ya’ll! They helped shape the message. I decided to mention holiness in Part 2, and simply focus on a theology of heaven for Part 1, and how seeing a future is essential for us to live “missionally” in the present. At the end of the message we’ll simply spend some time “soaking” in Revelation 21-22 to get a feel for our future (too many people think it’s an endless church service, or endless boredom).
In Part 2 I’ll focus on how our future (Rev 21-22) is a place of Presence, Holiness, Beauty, and Abundance and implications for our lives today as we anticipate that future.
Side note: Bob, I would define changing a diaper as a way of living missionally – I am intentionally meeting the needs of those who cannot help themselves. Changing diapers is the same as feeding the poor, really. A missional Christian (as I am defining it) sees no dichotomy between keeping our eyes on jesus and functioning as a steward.
Bob Harvey says
I like one of the thoughts of being missional as being “of earthly good”. That’s very good.
Here are Lyrics to Chris Christian’s “Too Heavenly Minded”
Too Heavenly Minded
As Jesus walked down the street
Within the reach of the crowd
His power was both felt and heard
What He said was not said loud
He felt a woman touch His garment
He stopped to find her ill
Power left His body
And though her faith she was healed
If we are too heavenly minded
We’ll be no earthly good
If we’re not close enough for the world to touch
We can’t be what we should
If we are too heavenly minded
We might miss the hurting crowd
We’ve got to keep our eyes on heaven
And our feet on the ground
He visited the sick, the poor
The hungry and the lame
He was close enough to the people
To hear them call His name
He never called attention to
Perfection He maintained
He carried out the words He spoke
To everyone the same
Now I am not saying we shouldn’t think of heaven
But people here have got to see some good
Cause if we are only heavenly minded
We may never touch the souls we should
Benjamin Sternke says
gina, I think the song represents a view of heaven that isn’t biblical: that it’s a non-physical, ethereal place of spirits that has nothing to do with the physicality of our bodies and our Earth. But biblically, our future is here: heaven comes to earth, we are resurrected to new bodies, the Earth is resurrected and restored, and we live a real, physical existence on this real, physical planet.
Because of this, I think Jesus’ ministry was firmly rooted in his “heavenly-mindedness” – he was actually inaugurating heaven on earth ahead of time – making God’s future a present reality in healing and teaching and proclaiming the kingdom. We are called to do the same. Because of that, I think the only way we can do any earthly good is by being thoroughly “heavenly-minded”.