Monday, May 30, 2011

Swamped and on the Go!

A lot of disruptive work on the Manse that will affect my living and working, preparations for travels to see family and relatives, and time on the road will be my lot through June

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Jesus Type of Learner

Preached on Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scripture readings:
Isaiah 12-1-6; Matthew 13:44-52 (RSV)

There was a story on the radio about teaching personal hygiene to young children. The teacher introduced the idea of frequent hand washing to her kindergarten class. But she introduced it by using a shocking and radical example. She asked them, “Have any of you ever picked your nose?” They answered her question out loud, without any hesitation, and they all answered with the same, single word. Guess what that word was? “Have any of you ever picked your nose?”

With one voice, they all answered “No!” And the teacher said, “Oh come on now!”

Jesus was having that kind of teaching moment with his disciples. Jesus spent some time telling his disciples the seven parables or stories that we can read about in Matthew chapter 13. When he finished, Jesus checked to see if they were getting a handle on the very core of his message; the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes!”

I suppose we could just take them at their word, but we know them too well for that. We don’t understand them at all, unless we remember that the gospels make the disciples famous for their unbelief and their lack of understanding.

At least we have to remember this for our own sake, because we will find no help for our unbelief and or our lack of understanding unless we know that the gospels were written to be God’s word to us. This is the secret humor of the gospels. We need God to speak to people like us who are likely to not understand anything, and yet say that we do.

Well, they meant well. And they got what they deserved by being given an eighth story or parable. And this one was harder than all the rest. And this is why claiming to know what you don’t know can be dangerous; because Jesus used this eighth parable as a job description for his disciples.

And you know that the disciples are proxies for us. They are us and we are them. Their job and our job is this: “Therefore every scribe (every teacher of the law) who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder (or homeowner) who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

Since I am getting old, I think of the older translations and the word scribe, here. How are we scribes? The newer translations describe our job as being “teachers of the law”; but that’s confusing too, because we are called to be teachers of the good news.

The law is about obligation without power. The good news is about the grace and power of God to transform our lives into new lives.

There is this radical difference that Jesus wants to make possible in us. Words like “scribe” and “teacher of the law” would make the people who listened to Jesus think of experts and authorities. It sounds as though Jesus called his disciples and us to be experts and authorities. But this is not the case. Really Jesus wanted his disciples and us to be an alternative to the world of experts and authorities. Jesus wanted us to be alternatives to a system of spiritual status.

In the kingdom of God there is no higher office than disciple, and disciple means learner. In the kingdom of God, you don’t know anything, and you are not good to anyone, if you stop being a learner at heart.

The disciples were, by the very meaning of the word “disciple”, learners. They were trainees. And they weren’t even very good ones. They were the type of learners who were afraid of admitting that they didn’t understand anything their teacher had told them.

The emphasis here is not on your status as an expert, but on your learning and instruction in the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God.

It’s hard for us to think about this because, in our world, a kingdom is always a place. It is a land, and people, and history, and customs, and laws, with borders. In our world, a kingdom is a place where you can usually come and go as you please, at least with a passport or visa.

In the Bible, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are the presence of God in all his power and glory. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God mean being with God the King; and God being completely himself with you; and God making your whole living environment different because he is right there. Everything in your life and the world you live in clicks into a new place with new priorities because God, the King, is there.

Now I had, growing up, the kingdoms of two grandmothers. Their kingdom would be at hand whenever one of them would come and stay with us for a few weeks.

In the kingdom of my grandma Evans everything had to be just right. Everyone was polite and positive. No one was loud. Everyone did an awful lot of listening. When she was there at your house, her presence and power and glory determined that everything would try to be just right.

In the kingdom of my Baci, everything had to be fun and laughter. Her presence, and power, and glory determined that people would eat a lot, and cook a lot, and play games, and put puzzles together, and tell stories, and talk a lot, and laugh a lot.

I loved both my grandmas. They both had endearing qualities, and I learned from both of them. But I enjoyed the kingdom of Baci much better than the kingdom of Evans. And as a learner in the kingdom of Baci I escaped from my extremely reserved and dignified self that I inherited from the Evans family.

My Dad had rebelled against that kingdom of Evans all his life, but he had passed the genetic code to me, and he had taught me to live by its rules in spite of himself. He was a father according to the laws of the kingdom of Evans.

The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God do not have boundaries where you can come in and go out as it suits you. God’s kingdom is God himself who is always there; who can be ignored but who cannot be escaped.

The kingdom of God is how the presence, and the power, and the glory of God reach out to you, whether you want them or not. And they are a huge bother and irritation if you don’t want them.

Jesus, in spite of all those parables about the kingdom, had not really told his disciples, yet, about how the kingdom would rule them, and shape them, and change them. Soon Jesus would tell his learners about the cross, and about the resurrection. He would tell them, and us, about giving his life as a ransom to set us free; free from our sins, and free from the power of evil in this world. (Matthew 20:28)

Knowing Jesus and belonging to Jesus puts you in the kingdom: and the kingdom is the same as living in the presence of someone who has saved your life; someone who has died for you. Jesus has died for you, and risen from the dead for you. Through his Holy Spirit, he continually nurses you to health.

It is like having lived through a fatal disease that was in your blood; and Jesus put his blood in you to save you. How do you live with that? It’s like living in the shadow of an illness that could come back, and Jesus continually treats you with new dosages of his blood.

The question is: how do you learn to live like that? And this is not a bad thing. You can really live again, really better than before, because you understand everything so much better. And you know the difference because you have passed from death to life yourself. There is an enormous joy and freedom in this. This is the new life in Christ.

This is why so many parables speak of treasure of some kind. It’s like living on the street and then, years later, having a home that is truly your own; and a family and a community that values you, and loves you. These things are treasures.

How would it change you to live such a life, in such a kingdom? You would never get used to it. You would never take it for granted. No matter how hard that old life, and that old kingdom, had been you would never get tired of sharing your stories of passing from the old kingdom to the new kingdom.

Old stories would bring it up. New events and situations would bring it up: you would share treasures new and old.

You would never see yourself as an expert, or as an authority; because you could never quiet believe that you had arrived. It would seem like news that was too good to be true. But this news is true. You would always be seeing this news a new way.

You would always be a learner; and, as such you would be the humblest and the most non-self-centered expert and authority in the world. You would be the perfect alternative to a whole world of people who are ready to be spiritual experts and authorities.

You would always suspect that you were a secret bumbler, just like the first disciples. You could never escape the feeling that someone else could share the treasures so much better. And that’s the way to be.

You would always be a Jesus type of learner, because you would always be a little befuddled. You would always be a Jesus type of learner, because your life would be the life of a kingdom person. Your life would always lead you past yourself, and beyond yourself.

Your life in Jesus, in his kingdom, would always lead your thoughts, and words, and actions, and plans to make room for the gifts of Jesus. You would be a Jesus type learner because you would always be ready to bring out the treasures of your life in the kingdom.

You would know the story of your life in the kingdom well enough to know what treasure would fit what occasion best. You would know how to use each treasure to meet a need, or an issue in this world, or a person who has not seen the treasures of the kingdom.

Through Jesus you have come home, and Jesus has made his home your home. Jesus has made you a homeowner in the kingdom. He has made you permanent, and you have become an owner of the treasures. You know what treasure will be the right one, with the right story attached, so that the person who has not found their way can hear the story, and come home, and find that treasure for them selves.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jesus and Parenthood

Preached Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, 2011
Scripture readings:
Isaiah 49:14-16; Luke 2:40-52

Mary was being a very good mother, and she was speaking from the same page for Joseph, who stood at her side as a very good father, when she asked Jesus, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” There was fear, and desperation, and a fine loving-anger in her voice.

And it seems to me that Jesus, the twelve-year-old, was perfectly normal when he wondered if his mother was crazy. “Why were you searching for me?” And we see, in this story, the holiness and the mystery of parenthood in the light of Jesus.

Luke is the only gospel that tells us anything about the childhood of Jesus, and Luke only tells us this one story, right on the edge of adolescence, right on the edge of becoming a teenager (right on the edge of adulthood as the people of Israel counted it).

Some people would like to know more about Jesus’ childhood and younger years, and so would I. But I believe that the story which Luke chose for us tells us everything we need to know. I believe this one single story is the model story that no other ancient story about Jesus measures up to.

Luke shows us that Jesus was no ordinary child. just as he grew up to be no ordinary grownup. At the same time, Luke shows us that even the ones who knew Jesus best (including Mary and Joseph who knew the messages of the angels about Jesus) thought of him as being perfectly ordinary and perfectly normal.

Luke shows us that this was a complete misunderstanding. It was a mistake. Yet Luke will show us that it was the normal mistake that everyone made about Jesus; when Jesus was a child and when Jesus grew up.

Jesus was perfectly normal in the sense that he was not weird or scary. He was a stealth messiah. His camouflage was perfect.

Luke tells us that the typical thing about Jesus, when he was growing up, was not that people were in awe of Jesus, or afraid of him. Luke tells us simply that people liked him. The more Jesus matured, the more he grew “in favor with God and with his fellow humans.”

The word favor, here, is actually the word for grace. But here grace is used in its humblest way. It means there is something appealing here. There is an attraction going on. People liked him because he was likeable. Jesus was appealing even when he was driving his own parents crazy.

There is one more thing I need to mention, before we go on to talk about the mystery of parenthood. Luke, here, also gives us a taste of the mystery of the trinity; because Jesus “grew in favor with God.”

Now, we say that Jesus is God; God in the flesh, God incarnate (which means God in the flesh), God as a human. How can God grow in favor with God?

The word trinity is not in the Bible, but the phrase, “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is found a significant number of times in the New Testament, in various forms; backwards, and forwards, and inside out. The New Testament teaches that there is only one God and yet, at the same time, the Father is God, and the Son is God.

For instance, in the gospel of John, John calls Jesus the Word, and he teaches us that “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1, ff) And in the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (14:9)

There is something in the nature of God that is like a father, or a parent. In Isaiah we read that this fatherly nature loves us with a motherly love that outdoes the love of any mother. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15)

And there is something in the nature of God that is like a son, or a child, or even a servant. There is something that loves to listen, and serve, and obey, and admire, and adore. We see this in Jesus, in this story from his twelfth year.

That humble something in God which is like a son, or a child, or even a servant, is what we see in Jesus. He came to show us His Father and to bring us home to his Father.

He did this by making himself small as a baby, small as a boy scolded by his parent. He made himself small to serve us in our smallness.

He made himself our servant. He served us by doing the dirtiest work in the world. He made himself a carrier of sin. He made himself a sacrifice on the cross, scolded by the holy people of his day who put him there. He made himself a sacrifice for the healing of the sins of the world and our sins too. He carried us with our sins upon the cross; so that we could die to our old self, and live a different kind of life in fellowship with God.

As a boy, Jesus stayed behind in his Father’s house where animals were sacrificed for sins. He stayed behind to learn something from the teachers thin that house because he was going to grow up to be the sacrifice that no other sacrifice could compete with. Without understanding what they were doing, Mary and Joseph’s were the perfect parents to raise such a child.

Now this story in Luke doesn’t tell us the mystery of problem children or problem parents. It tells us things about parents and children that should not seem strange to us. It tells us some things we need to know about being children and parents.

There is something in God that we call Father. A girl named Jenny went away to college and after a few weeks her parents called her on the phone, her roommate answered the phone and the father asked to speak to Jenny, and the father heard his daughter’s voice ask the roommate, “Who’s on the phone?” And the roommate said, “I don’t know, but he sounds parental.”

There is something in God who loves us with a father’s and a mother’s love. Well God created us in his image and there is supposed to be something parental in all of us. The two most important things God has done have required parents. When God created the world, he created human parents (Adam and Eve). They were to be our faithful parents whose job it was to be an example of the absolute faithfulness of God. They were to be parents of a human race that trusted the faithfulness of God and live accordingly. They were not faithful and our world has suffered for it.

When God set up his plan to save human souls, and make a new creation, and bring us back into harmony and peace with him, God made his plan to include parents. These were Mary and Joseph.

God’s plan was to become the perfect human who would willingly stand in our place for our sins: but his design required parents who could be trusted to teach the perfect lesson. The best child in the world needed parents he could count on to be faithful as God was faithful.

It is interesting to notice that the best child, the most trustworthy child in the world, was not understood or appreciated by his parents. They did not say or do all the right things, but they loved him with the best love of which they were capable. And Jesus obeyed imperfect parents and did what he was told because he was blessed with parents who were faithful.

It seems that the child Jesus could be trusted to do what he knew was right. I don’t think that was out of ordinary at all. But you still had to keep an eye on him. Jesus might go out and do something that you had never imagined he needed to be told not to do.

It was like me, when I was five years old. I never actually stuck that coat hanger in the electric outlet, because I had been told not to do it. I was just doing an experiment to see what would happen if you put a coat hanger really, really close to an electric outlet. I knew how to be obedient down to the very letter. I was normally a very good boy. And that is why the good boy Jesus could stay behind in Jerusalem.

Otherwise Jesus meant well. He was subject to his parents. He took them seriously. They were his parents and he was their child.

We can see that Jesus’ mother Mary, and his foster father Joseph, were not perfect parents. They didn’t know what their child was capable of. They didn’t know that he was capable of holding hold his own in conversation with learned theologians. They didn’t know how much their son was capable of identifying with God as his Father. They didn’t know that Jesus, as a twelve-year-old, was capable of leaving them without telling them, when he had something that was really worth doing. Should they have known?

Jesus was only a year away from being bar mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah means a son of the commandments, a son of the covenant. Jewish boys, on their thirteenth birthday, were recognized as being, spiritually, adult. They became officially accountable to God for themselves. And yet no one really thought of a twelve year old as a grownup in the sense of being mature.

Mary and Joseph were not perfect parents, they made mistakes, but they were safe parents. They were faithful and caring. And that made them safe parents.

What children need are not perfect parents, but parents who are safe; who are faithfully and lovingly consistent and caring. Being able to depend on our parents is God’s first strategy for teaching us to depend on him.

Depending on God is hard without that first lesson. God has to resort to other ways that are not so simple. But I think this is part of the grace of God to parents. It is the grace of giving them a great responsibility. What matters is the fact that what God looks for (even in his own family) is not perfection but faithfulness.

They used to call the birth of a baby a “blessed event” and this must be true, because babies and children teach the necessity of faith. It must require a lot of faith to hold a small tender life in your arms without fearing that you will break it. And it takes faith when you realize that you are responsible for caring for this young life even though you realize that it will require much more strength and wisdom than are capable of. Fathers have told me that it was holding their first child in their arms that told them that, now, at last, they really needed to become different people.

There was a pet owner who prayed, “Dear Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am.” The parent of a baby, or a four year old, or a ten year old must pray, “Lord make me the person my child thinks I am.” When they are older, I guess you have to pray, “Dear Lord help me not to be as embarrassing and irrational as my teenager thinks I am.” But if you have made it your priority, as a parent, to be faithful, the embarrassment will not keep your children away from you.

Even when almost grown up twelve-year-old Jesus set off on his own he still depended on his parents. He knew that he could always count upon their faithfulness. And Mary and Joseph came looking for him, and they took him home with them, and they proved worthy of the child Jesus’ trust.

This is a connection that never entirely goes away, no matter how capable we may be of taking care of ourselves. A parent will always be a parent, and a child will always be a child.

This is a mystery. I mean (by mystery) that it is a continual re-enactment of God’s own faithfulness, grace, sacrifice, and devotion.

One of the mysteries of parenthood is that it is never a right. No matter the history of how that child comes to you, that child is always a gift. The child is always a trust. God entrusts you with the care and nurture of a life (an immortal soul) that is not yours except to be cared for in trust.

Here is a life that you will do a lot to shape, and yet that life has a mind of its own. Even in the mother’s womb that child has certain qualities. These come from God and you have to begin with what God has given you.

Parents and their children both play a part in a story whose author is God. The plot is God’s plot. Parents and children are working for God together.

The Bible says that parents have the authority, but they are not to misuse it. (Ephesians 6:4) For parents, children have the centrality. Parents must allow the plan for their lives to change in such a way that their lives revolve around their children. Children are the gift of God, not the parents’ toys. God wants parents to use their heads, and their authority, with faith and love; and most of all with faithfulness.

God is in charge; and faith means entrusting your children to the Lord. We trust that the Lord knows what we do not know. We trust that the Lord can do what we can’t do. That is part of the plan.

The Lord’s Supper is a reminder that we are all part of God’s family. Besides our own family circle, we all sit at a table where the Lord is the host and the parent.

In another way, it is the child Jesus who is the host at this table. Each one of us has a child Jesus in our heart. His presence is small in us, and we have to be responsible to nurture his life in us. We have to see the world through his growing eyes and we have to allow the child Jesus to take us on an adventure that is completely beyond our wisdom and strength. Each one of us is called, in this way, to be the mother or father of this child Jesus.

At this table, the Lord knows that grownups and children all need to be fed and nurtured. We all need a place where we can come home to be refreshed and find rest.

Here is our home, here at this table. We come together as part of a family that is much too large to gather at this one small table, so that we can follow the Lord within our own families.

The Lord wants you to sit down with him, whether you are a parent or a child, or whether you think you are neither. He wants to give you grace in your family, and in the memories of your family, as you learn to be part of the family of God.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Meaning of Heaven

Preached on Sunday, May 1, 2011

Scripture Readings: Revelation 21:1-7, 9-14 & 21:22-22:5; Luke 23:32-43

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 RSV) Jesus said this to the criminal who was dying on the cross on his right:
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NIV)

That criminal had to be surprised by what Jesus said, and even confused by it. He would have been surprised, and confused, and somehow set at rest by the love that came through Jesus’ words so clearly.

But, he would have been surprised and completely confused by the words “today” and “paradise” going side by side. He would have recognized that paradise meant heaven; the home of God and the angels. There was God’s paradise.

But the Jews of that day commonly believed that paradise for humans meant the thing that God would, someday, in the future, create on the earth, when the judgment and the kingdom of God came to earth. That would not happen until the resurrection of the dead.

The Jews commonly believed that, in the period between one’s death and the resurrection, the soul lived a kind of shadowy, drowsy life: perhaps the kind of life that goes on in a library or a doctor’s waiting room. (1 Samuel 28:13; Psalm 6:5; Psalm 88:4-5, 10-12)

But they did not all think this way. They had conflicting ideas about this. They truly wondered what it might mean to say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.” (Psalm 23:6; and also see Psalm 73:23-24; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 139:8)

The dead had some kind of life, but they were not sure what that was. They would still belong to God, but they were not sure how they would experience that.

What shocked and confused the sorry criminal was that Jesus seemed to say that they were not going to be resurrected into paradise someday, but that they were going to die their way into paradise that very day.

The sorry criminal who asked Jesus to remember him was surprised and confused when Jesus put the words “today” and “paradise” together, because Jesus was giving him more and better than he had asked for; more than he ever dared to hope for, more than he believed possible.

I believe that this is how God works. I trust that, in Christ, God gives us more and better than we dare, more than we hope, more than we believe. This is typical of the God revealed in the Bible.

The word paradise is not a common Bible word, but it is a common Bible thing. It belongs to a group of words that mean “garden”. But a paradise was a noble garden. A paradise was a garden for royalty, and nobility, and other important people.

There is a royal garden at the beginning of the Bible, called Eden. There is a royal garden at the end of the Bible called “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ.”

A paradise was a garden like a park. It was a garden for great people. But it wasn’t just a fancy ornamental garden. It was a fruitful garden. It was a garden for smelling, and tasting, and eating, and drinking. It not only had flowers, but also fruit trees, and herbs, and water, and fish, and birds.

It was a place for fellowship. It was a place to be refreshed. And it was a place to be at home.

Eden was designed to be the home place of the human race, where we would share a home together with God. The New Jerusalem was designed to be the heavenly home of the new human race, of which Christ makes us a part. And we will share that home place with God.

So, paradise is another word for home.

Paul talks about our being at home in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, in the fifth chapter. It starts out: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in the heavens, not built by human hands.” (5:1) And then he says, beginning in verse six: “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” (5:6-9)

Some people think that the first thing we will do, after we die, is sleep. Now it is true that home is the place where we sleep best, but even more than that home is the place where we live. It is the place where we are truly and fully ourselves.

Paul uses the idea of being at home in the body to describe being physically alive in this world. When our bodies are healthy and well, we are at home in them. We work. We play. We relate. We live. We are truly and fully ourselves.

And then Paul says that we can be away from our bodies and at home with the Lord. If we play fair with Paul’s words (the way he has used them up to this point), this would mean that, when we are not alive physically in this world, we are living with God. We are at home, and truly and fully ourselves. This is the paradise that Jesus promised to the dying thief. He also promises this to us. This is heaven.

To be at home in the body is a fruitful and beautiful place to be. To be at home away from the body, with the Lord, is also a fruitful and beautiful place to be. It is paradise. Paradise is heaven.

And then the Book of Revelation shows the paradise that is heaven coming down from heaven to earth, at a future time, when the judgment of God has come, and the living and the dead are brought together in the resurrection, and heaven and earth are made new.

Paradise is described as a city, and I don’t like that. Then John’s vision flips the city on its head and it turns into a garden. It is described as a garden with trees and a river. And it is described as the Bride of Christ, the Bride of the Lamb.

In the Old Testament, God’s people, in the form of Israel, were described as the Lord’s bride. (Isaiah54:5-7 and Hosea 2:19) In the New Testament, God’s people, in the form of the church, are described as the Lord’s bride. (Matthew 22:2-14 and Ephesians 5:32)

So in some ways paradise is not a place, but it is a relationship. It is a way of joining people into intimacy with God, forever, together: a network of people who are enjoying the presence of God together, and enjoying each other.

This is heaven. The garden of paradise tells us that there is peace and serenity in heaven. The city of paradise tells us that there is no real distance from others in heaven. Heaven must include other people.

We are talking about things that are beyond our understanding; but, if God is beyond our understanding, and if he loves us, and if he wants to share himself with us, then God will have to take us to a place, or to an experience, beyond our understanding.

I mean who can understand “streets of gold as clear as crystal”? And how could we ever really want such a thing? We certainly don’t need gold as clear as crystal.

Our understanding of the joys of heaven is like the understanding that a four-year-old would have of a honeymoon. A four-year-old went to a cousin’s wedding and, at the reception, he heard all the talk and jokes about the honeymoon, and he was confused by it, and he wondered what it was all about. So he asked his Dad.

His Dad carefully did his best. He said, “Son, when you grow up, if you get married, your honeymoon will be one of the happiest times of your life.” “Will I be able to take my toy dinosaurs along?” “Uh…no…you probably won’t take your dinosaurs on your honeymoon. But you’ll still have a great time.” “Then can my friend Zeke come with me on my honeymoon?” “No, Zeke won’t come.” “Then I don’t know if I want to go on a honeymoon, Daddy. It doesn’t sound like much fun to me.”

To say that paradise, at first in heaven, and then (later on) in the resurrection, is the best home of all homes is comforting, because it enables us to imagine heaven being full of comfortable things; but gold, and jewels, and blazing light, and thrones, and crowns are not comfortable things at all. Just the opposite!

The truth is that these strange things don’t stand for themselves. They are symbols. They are picture language that means that Paradise is full of glory.

The problem with glory is that most of us are not looking for glory, either. We are embarrassed at the thought of glory, or we would be embarrassed if we thought other people knew that (deep in our hearts) we were out for glory. And we sure don’t like it when other people are trying to hog all the glory.

Remember that paradise is us and God. Paradise is a fellowship, a team of people and their God. It is the gathering of all God’s people who have ever lived, and ever will live. John tells us that the glory of God will shine on everything in that city. Glory is something in the nature of God that God will share with us.

Imagine glory being the clothing of God. Think of what it would be like for a little girl to dress in her mother’s dress, or for a boy to wear his dad’s boots and hat: dressing in their parent’s glory. They picture something in themselves that fills them with wonder when they think about their parents.

Or think of a small child singing in a Christmas program, or riding a two-wheeler for the first time, with their mom and dad watching. They are in their glory, but there is nothing egotistical or proud about that glory of theirs. They are full of glory because their parents are full of pleasure in them.

A toddler walks because someone who loves them is holding out arms of love and strength to them, and beaming with pride and joy. Glory, for us, will be a life where we will be able to see God’s pleasure in us reaching out to us. In paradise God and the great host of the family of God will reach out to us in pleasure, and we will reach out to them in the same way.

There are walls around the paradise at the end of the Bible. I really don’t like walls except as places to put bookshelves.

Sometimes I have thought that the walls around paradise, in the Book of Revelation, were about shelter and safety, but the gates of the city are never closed, so safety and shelter are not the issue. No one will think about such things any more, in that life.

I like to the that the whole purpose of the walls around paradise in the Book of Revelation is nothing more than an excuse for having those pearly gates; all twelve of them. A gate is a door, and a door is for access. Doors are for going in and out.

For us, a lot of life is about going out, letting go, leaving behind. But paradise is about coming in. It’s about people and pleasures coming together, instead of pulling apart. Paradise is about hellos, and not goodbyes. Paradise is that good kind of home.

The sorry criminal on the right side of Jesus looked his own life straight in the face, from the point of view of his own cross, and he firmly believed that he deserved to die there. He was getting what he deserved. That is what he said. It was right and fitting.

Then he said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He doesn’t mean just, “Think of me.” “Remember,” in the Bible means act upon me, deal with me, take up my case.

The criminal knew that his own cross was his proper fate. His life had been the kind of life that deserved that kind of death. He saw himself as he was. He had nothing in his life that would connect him with God. And there was nothing he could do about it.

Then he looked at Jesus, and Jesus seemed like a king, even while he was dying all battered and bloody, beside him, on the cross. Somehow he hoped that Jesus would take another good look at him, and see if something else was right for him; something beyond hope.

Jesus did just that. Jesus looked at him and saw that paradise, today, was exactly the right place for that sorry human being.

Here, beside Jesus, was a person who would thrive on grace. Here was someone one who would thrive on forgiveness and never take it for granted. Here was someone who would thrive on being known forever as someone who had been truly forgiven with a costly love. Here was someone who would love to come in, and come home, at last, for ever, and hear God say the amazing, impossible words, “Well done!”

That is the meaning of heaven.