Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Above and Below"

Lynn Malone shares the following about how…

we seem to live in two different worlds, the rich and the poor. A striking example is shared by Brett Blair, a pastor in the Kentucky Annual Conference. Blair shared that some years ago before the death of Mother Theresa, a television special depicted the grim human conditions that were a part of her daily life. It showed all the horror of the slums of Calcutta and her love for these destitute people. The producer interviewed her as she made her rounds in that dreadful place. Throughout the program commercials interrupted the flow of the discussion. Here is the sequence of the topics and commercials: lepers (bikinis for sale); mass starvation (designer jeans); agonizing poverty (fur coats); abandoned babies (ice cream sundaes) the dying (diamond watches).  The irony was so apparent. Two different worlds were on display--the world of the poor and the world of the affluent.[i]

            In the same way that this world seems to be divided between the rich and poor, the Bible makes it clear that there are two realms: above and below.  Psalm 103:11 says, “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.”  Isaiah 55:9 says, “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  Unfortunately this has led to a lot of artistic depictions of heaven being in the clouds, or even in outer space.  Rather than thinking of heaven as another place far away in the clouds, Jesus revolutionizes spiritual thinking by declaring, “the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).”  So while Jesus uses the language of “above and below,” we know that this locational language is merely symbolic for two planes of existence.
            Ephesians 4:9[ii] says, “Notice that it says ‘he ascended.’ This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.”  When John 1:14 says, “So the Word became human and made his home among us,” it literally depicts Jesus moving from the heavenly, spiritual kingdom, to the earthly realm.  Not only is heaven where Jesus came from, but Jesus makes a place for us there.  In John 14:1-4, Jesus says to His disciples:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am...”

            But while Jesus promises Heaven to those who believe in Him, He says something else to those who don’t.  In John 8:21, 23-24, Jesus says, “You cannot come where I am going… You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” 
            Jesus said that there are two worlds—above and below.  The way to enter eternal life (the upper world, the heavenly realm) is to trust the love and grace of God that Christ demonstrates by His life, and by His death.  Through the cross, Jesus was literally suspended between heaven and earth—bridging the gap between the Lord above and the people below.  In John 8:28, Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he.”  Yes, it was when Jesus was lifted up that the Roman centurion declared, “This man truly was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39)!” 
This declaration of faith is the beginning of salvation, the first step toward a transformation that results in a heavenly mind and eternal life.  In Romans 8:5-6, Paul says, “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.  So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”  Being saved is more than just getting a ticket to heaven.  It’s allowing yourself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit so that you can say as Jesus does, “I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me... For I always do what pleases him (John 8:28-29).”
I love the story by J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up—who had a form of everlasting youth or eternal life.  He flies into the Darling’s nursery window to make friends and invite Wendy, Michael and John to adventure with him.  Teaching them to fly, he tells them, “All you need is faith and trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.”  Learning to fly as he does, they follow him to Neverland by following “the second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning.”  There, they join the Lost Boys who have been saved by Pan, and together they meet mermaids, engage with Indians, and battle buccaneers.  Peter Pan is a Christlike character who reminds us that if we have faith and trust, we too can fly.  We can change our place of residence, becoming people of another world, joining those who were lost but now are found.  Following Christ, we can live without fear of loss or defeat.  In fact, we can even stare death in the face and say as Pan did and say, “To die will be an awfully big adventure!”
Jesus’ message to believers and unbelievers is clear:  Those who place their trust in Him may go where He goes.  They become people of the heavenly realm, of everlasting life.  You activate this salvation by faith that leads to a new way of thinking.  Through this new way of Christ, let us learn to fly, remembering that “letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

[ii] All scripture quotations are taken from the NLT.

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