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Monday, November 18, 2013

Faith that Matters

Sunday, November 17, 2013

          I heard about a woman last week who wanted to get her husband tickets to the game between the Denver Broncos and her husband’s beloved Kansas City Chiefs.  NFL tickets can be pricey, so she put up her Wedding ring on sale, on EBay.  A sacrifice?  Yeah but, the Chiefs are 9-0, and they will beat the 8-1 Broncos.  She wants her beloved husband to be able to see it.  It is worth the sacrifice.
          I later discovered, the wedding ring she wanted to sell was from her husband!  Not the one who for whom she was going to buy tickets.  When the radio talk show hosts discussed this woman’s gesture, they thought it she was selling the ring from her current husband.  One of the hosts’ wives called the show.  She was so touched that football mattered this much to this family, she offered to pay for their game tickets so the woman could keep the ring and the man could see the game.  This wife of the talk show, herself a football wife, understands how important football is and how much people are willing to give up for their team.
          Young Mormons sacrifice two years of their lives to travel the world and spread their faith.  Shawn Bradley was a top basketball prospect and after his freshman year at Brigham Young University, he was sure to be a first round NBA draft pick, a guaranteed millionaire.  He put it off for two years.  He traveled and evangelized.  His gospel, the Latter Day Saint faith, is one I reject.  But, clearly it was important to him.
          Young Muslims who get swayed by promises of the most radical sects of their faith give up even more.  Mostly poor people, they are lured by promises of Heaven.  They believe with such intensity that they tape bombs to themselves and detonate right in the middle of crowds of people they have deemed the enemy.  I think this is evil.  Absolute evil.  But clearly, the person willing to be a suicide bomber takes his faith seriously.
          Do we?  I don’t think we need to put our lives on hold for a two-year door-to-door stint.  God does not call everyone to that.  But, do we take the call God does place on us as seriously as Mormons take their faith? 
I reject suicide bombings completely.  I see nothing in that expression of faith that is good or worth emulating.  Do we who follow and worship the Prince of Peace have the same zeal for our God, the true God that extremists and suicide bombers have for their distorted vision of God? 
Do follow after the teachings of Jesus as ardently as football fans follow their favorite teams?  Does living as a disciple of Jesus matter as much to us as the Chiefs beating the Broncos matters to that fan in the Midwest?  If we say yes, it matters that much, then what is the sign that it matters.  If someone observed your life or my life, what would that observer see that would lead him to say “oh, that is obviously a follower of Jesus?”
For affluent people or people in a context where Christianity is the cultural norm faith can become lukewarm.  And this is deadly.  Affluent people see what their money can get for them.  They see how their privileged position in society gives advantages.  The benefits of worshiping God are not as obvious.  It is not clear why we should live in dependence on God and in obedience to God.  Faith is relegated to the margins of our lives.  We don’t stop believing.  We do stop thinking that faith matters very much.  We certainly would not give other things up for the sake of worship and ministry.
The 5th century BC prophet Malachi faced such a state of affairs.  ‘Malachi’ literally means messenger and this ancient God-worshiper was commissioned with a pointed, confrontational message for the people God. 
Malachi does not primarily deal with politics.  He doesn’t talk about monarchy.  He lives after foreign invaders have toppled Israel and Judah’s kings.  The people have returned from exile and live under a governor who is appointed by Persia.  War and politics are not issues.  Malachi’s issue is a faith gone stale in a world where God’s people see the powers around them more than they trust in the power of God.
Are we prone to suffering from a similarly limited vision?  Do money, secularism, consumerism, entertainment, and a thirst for material things all cast shadows that prevent us from seeing God or seeing how import God is in life?
In Malachi, God is the speaker and God begins establishing what is at stake.  Verse 2 – “Israel, I, the Lord, have loved you.”  God recounts how Israel was chosen and protected.  “But,” God says, “You embarrass me by offering worthless food on my altar. … Isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are blind, crippled, or sick?  Just try giving those animals to your governor” (1:7a, 8).
Worship in ancient times involved a system of offering animal sacrifices as burnt offerings.  This was established by Moses and the animals were to be the best of the flock, the first born and unblemished.  Worship in Malachi’s day had degenerated to the point that if people bothered to offer anything at all, it was the runt of the litter, the lame of the flock. 
An analogy for today might be us saying in worship after we’ve paid our bills and after we’ve paid our taxes and after we’ve set aside money for retirement and for vacation, then, if there is anything left, we’ll put a little bit of it in the collect plate at church on Sunday.  Malachi called out the people and especially the priests.  They all knew they wouldn’t dare cheat the governor’s collection on taxes.  There would be painful consequences for that.
We would not think of holding back our taxes or skipping out on our bills.  We would suffer for doing so.  Do we see how holding back in our worship causes injury to our relationship with God?  Someone might respond, when I sing, I worship my heart out.  Malachi responds back, fine, sing your heart out.  When God gets the left overs of your money or your time or your energy, then God sees the place you are giving Him in your life
I heard the story about the woman who wanted to sell her wedding ring for football tickets on a sports talk radio show.  One of the hosts professes to be a Catholic.  Catholics, like Baptist, worship Jesus Christ.  He is Lord for Catholics, which means Jesus is master over every area of life. 
This radio show host, every once in a while, mentions he is Catholic and that it is important to him to be Catholic.  He never mentions Jesus.  His views on money do not suggest that he gives Jesus’ teaching any thought on that topic.  He often regales the audience with tales of heavy drinking, intoxication, and vile language.  He expresses his love for movies a Catholic priest would definitely not condone.  He is ignorant of the most basic Biblical stories, like wise men bringing gifts to Jesus.  In fact nothing in his speech or values would lead a listener to think that he follows Jesus.  Yet he would say being Catholic matter to him.  In what way?
If someone looked into my life or yours, would they think following Jesus matters to us?  I am not saying we have to have it all together.  We don’t.  I am not saying we must be perfect.  We can’t.  The leading saints in the Bible messed up.  I am not saying one major fail or epic relapse dooms us.  But I am asking, and I am asking this of myself and each of us.  If another person just examined our lives, would they conclude from our choices that following Jesus matters more to us than anything?
God’s response to a lackadaisical, half-hearted approach to worship comes in Malachi 1:10.  “I wish someone would lock the doors of my temple, so you would stop wasting time, building fires on my altar.  I am not pleased with you priests and I refuse to accept any more of your offerings.”  People who spend their lives studying the Old Testament will tell us that God’s highest purpose for humanity is worship.  It is in worship that we relate to God.  We are created for the purpose of relationship with God.  More than anything else, the reason you and I exist is to relate to God. 
Our relating to God begins when we gather as his people, his church, and together, we worship him.  What we do here on Sunday mornings matters more than anything else we can imagine.  It matters to God.  God knows where our hearts are in it.  God knows when we go through the motions.  God delights in our heart-felt worship.  God vomits out worship and offerings that are given begrudgingly.
I wish someone would lock the doors of my temple.  I refuse to accept any more of your offerings.

I imagine the prophet day after day in the temple courts, debating with priests.  I can see the priests wanting to plug their ears.  They have to deal with the reality that they serve at the pleasure of a pagan foreigner, the emperor of Persia.  There are foreign powers all around, they are powerless, and now this annoying prophet badgers them to be more faithful to the God of Moses and the God of David.  Well, centuries have passed and whatever God did for Moses and David is not being done now.  So the prophet comes and argues and they argue back.  Or maybe they blow him off.  This happens for a time.
Someone is watching and writing it down.  A poet captures the spirit of these disputes.  Instead of the prophet’s name, the poet simply calls him “Messenger,” “Malachi.”  The poet writes it all down because he can see who truly believes in the power of God; not the priests, the ones who are supposed to testify to God’s reality.  It is this prophet.
Through him, God says, “From dawn until dusk, my name is praised by every nation on this earth, as they burn incense and offer proper sacrifices to me” (1:11).  People who are not the Chosen People; people who do not have the benefit of prophets and a heritage of Abraham and Moses; somehow people all over instinctively know to give their hearts to God.  Through Malachi God says, “I am the great King, the Lord All-Powerful, and I am worshiped by nations everywhere.”  But the priests arguing with Malachi, representing those who have received the revelation of God have now slipped into a ho-hum faith. 
I fear American Christians are constantly in danger of a ho-hum faith. 
But, I see signs that many in our church are motivated by a desire to worship and serve God.  Three recent examples stand out for me.  We had an event, the Fall Festival.  It was planned by our associate pastor Heather.  One of her great joys was that all the volunteer stations were filled pretty quickly.  Does that seem small, people volunteering to run a bounce house for two hours?  Is that really a sign that faith is alive?  There are many ways someone can spend a Saturday morning.  We had about 20 volunteers who decided they believed God was working through the Fall Festival and they valued God’s work enough that they wanted to be part of it.
A second sign is similar to the first.  Heather is planning a major Christmas event – the Bethlehem village.  On Thursday of this week, in her office, she let out a triumphant shout.  Why?  Again, people in our church are deeming that this event is God at work and they want to be part of it. 
Of course volunteering is not something to be done in place of worship but along with whole-hearted, fully-energized worship.  Worship is not done in place of tithing.  Tithing is one expression of worship and when worship matters to us, we give ourselves to all aspects of it.
A third encouraging sign for me came this week.  My wife Candy is leading a campaign for Children’s Hope Chest to raise funds for the medical care for the kids at the care point our church supports in Ethiopia.  Candy gasped as she was tracking the gifts that came in.  Someone made a 4-figure contribution.  I asked if that gift came from here and she said, “Yes.”  I said, “Don’t tell me anymore.” 
The generosity is greatly appreciated, but the point is not for me to know who did what.  All I need to know is I am a part of a church where there are people whose faith is seen in their actions.  Gifts given joyfully and sacrificially are received by God.  The relationship that worshiper has with God is deepened as that person, that volunteer, that singer, that tither trusts God and cares about worship more than anything else.  The reward is the very real sense of God’s presence every day of life. 
Is that reward enough?  Does God matter that much?
I am reading a book of essays by African American theologians.  One talks about the invisible institution – the church of the slaves in pre-civil war America.  Slaves either had to attend churches run by their white masters or they were not permitted to worship at all.  Teaching slaves to read was strictly forbidden.  So, no Bible reading.
And yet, secretly, a few slaves did learn to read.  They would sneak away from the slave quarters, late at night, and have church services, far back in the forests where the white people could not see or hear them.  What did they risk?  If they were caught, they could be whipped, sold, or even killed.  Worship mattered that much.  They realized that their life was in God and apart from God nothing mattered.  They were willing to risk everything just to worship Him in Jesus name and hear the stories of His salvation.[i]
I know some among us recognize how valuable our walk with God is.  Each of us this week should spend time wrestling with the question.  Does my faith matter?  If I say yes, what are the signs?  How would someone who takes note of my life know that Jesus is more to me than anything else?
Let this be the question that troubles each of us in the week ahead.

[i] Dwight n. Hopkins (2003), “Slave Theology in the Invisible Institution” in African American Religious Though: An Anthology (edited by Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude Jr), Chapter 34.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Treasure in Heaven

            In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them.”
            What does he mean?  How do we do this, store up treasures in Heaven?  We attribute divine authority to Jesus; he is God in human flesh.  When he speaks, we are hearing God’s word.  Nothing could matter more than knowing what he means and understanding how to do what he says.  How in the world do we store up treasures in Heaven?   
            This is the finale of a series of talks about the Afterlife.  How do we prepare for Heaven?  I do not mean, how do we get to Heaven?  Jesus gets us there.  His death on the cross covers our sins.  His forgiveness makes us new.  When we give our lives to Him and acknowledge Jesus as Lord, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God.  God will take us to be with Himself.  Are we ready for eternity spent with God?
            This is a potentially odd thought.  Conventional wisdom is Heaven will be awesome, wonderful, fun, beautiful, joyous, unending bliss.  However, conventional wisdom, or popular theology, declares that all good people go to Heaven.  If someone is not guilty of genocide or child molestation, he qualifies as “good.”
            The Bible shatters this thinking.  In fact, in the words of the Apostle Paul, all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Jesus makes the statement that there is “only one who is good” and we know he means God.  Only God is good!  The whole good people go to Heaven when they die idea is crushed.  In fact the New Testament says very little about going to Heaven when we die.
            The theme of the New Testament is that in the coming of Christ, the Kingdom of God has been established.  During his earthly ministry, Jesus announced the Kingdom.  After his resurrection, he charged his church to continue announcing the Kingdom and inviting the lost and hurting world to come to him for life, truly abundant life. 
            As we live and announce the Kingdom, in the course of devoting our lives to that Kingdom, we are told to store up treasure in Heaven where it cannot be destroyed.  It cannot be robbed.  Nothing will happen to the treasure we hold there.  It is always there for us, an eternal inheritance.  To live into it and really get what Heaven is and be ready for life in Heaven, life with God, we need to know what Jesus meant.  We need to know how to store up our treasures so we’ll be ready when it is time to go. 
            Quickly a couple of tangents: first, storing up treasure in Heaven should not be thought of as doing good works to accrue merits.  Our heavenly joy will not correspond to our effort as Christians.  This is different.  This is not a merit based type of idea.
Second, failure to store up treasure in Heaven is not the same as losing salvation or experience disappointment in the afterlife.  The criminal on the cross who acknowledged the authority of Jesus probably did not spend his life storing up treasure in Heaven.  He came to faith right before he died.  He will be with God eternally.  It will be as good as being with God is. 
It is not accruing merits; it does not negate conversions to Christ that come late in life.
            So what is it then?  What is it to become a Christ-follower and then spend 20, 50, 80 years of life storing up treasures in Heaven?

            I turn to the work of Christian philosopher and writer Dallas Willard and quote him at length.  He writes
Invest your life in what God is doing, which cannot be lost.  Of course this means we will invest in our relationship with Jesus himself and through him to God.   But beyond that, and in close union with it, we will devote ourselves to the good of other people – those around us within the range of our power to affect. … And we also care for this astonishingly rich and beautiful realm, the earth itself, of which both we and our neighbors are parts.

Thus to “lay up treasures in heaven” is to treasure all of [the] intimate and touching aspects of heaven’s life, all of which God is doing on earth.

The person who treasures what lies with the kingdom [of Heaven] sees everything in its true worth and relationship.  The person who treasures what is “on earth,” by contrast, sees everything from a perspective that distorts and systematically misleads in practice.  The relative importance of things is, in particular, misperceived.  The person who is addicted to drugs or to some activity is but an extreme case.  All else is seen only in its relation to the object of the addiction.[i]

            The first answer is relationship.  What is it to lay up treasures in Heaven?  It is to put a top priority in life on knowing Jesus.  That matters more for the Christ-follower than happiness marriage, than the success of our kids, than the responsibilities of our work.  If any of those things competes for our loyalty and our time and energy with knowing Jesus, we sacrifice those things to know Him, and to follow and worship Him.  I would contend the more we follow Jesus the better we are in our marriages, our parenting, and our work.  But if it helps to rank things, knowing Jesus is our top treasure.
            Immediately we see in Willard’s comment and in our reading of the New Testament, to know Jesus is to know God.  And to know Jesus is to love people; this is not just any kind of love.  Because we are committed to Jesus, our love for others is for their benefit, overflowing with grace and forgiveness, and given without restraint.  The way Jesus says it in Luke 10 and other places is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
            How do we store up treasures in Heaven?  We love God and love people.  This is a matter of the heart. 
Maybe in a talk about Heaven, we want to hear about walking on clouds.  Maybe we are interested in vivid accounts of the heavenly beings described in Ezekiel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New.  Maybe we would anticipate in a talk about Heaven the promise, the hope, that we will spend eternity with departed loved ones.  I know I hope to spend some time with my Grandmother.  I’d like to get to know the grandfather who died when I five.  There is nothing wrong with these questions.  I believe we will see people we loved if they walked with Jesus. 
If we walk with God today, now, that way of living, the God-oriented life, the Jesus-life, sets our hearts toward Heaven. 
How do we know our hearts are Heaven-bent?  What is the sign that we have treasure stored up there?  Consider the words of Jesus that surround the statement about storing up our treasures.  He mentions forgiveness.  If we refuse to extend grace and forgiveness to those who have wounded us, those wounds rule our hearts and the love of God does not.  I don’t say this because forgiveness is easy.  Deep wounds are just that – deep.  They cut to the core.  We need in the core of ourselves, where the deepest cuts leave scars to discover the forgiving love of Jesus.  Once discovered we extend that forgiving love.
Jesus speaks of the spiritual discipline of fasting – self-denial.  Some in his day made a show of fasting.  They wanted everyone to see how holy they were in going without eating.  Their extraordinary sacrifice was done to gain the admiration of the crowd.  The only time we should fast is if it draws us closer to God.  We practice this discipline for the sake of seeing God more clearly.
Fasting and forgiving are quite different, but in both cases we deal with something uncomfortable.  In one case it is our dependence upon nourishment but also our temptation toward gluttony.  In the other case it is our wounding and our self-identity as a victim, one wounded.  In fasting we declare that as dependent as we are upon food, we depend more upon God.  In forgiving we claim a new identity – not as a wounded victim but as a born-again child of God.  Both are about orienting our lives toward our Heavenly Father.  Both lead us to establish our sense of self in Him.
Jesus tells worry is a sign we are not seeing ourselves as God’s children.  God feeds the birds and drapes the flowers of the fields with beauty human invention will never match.  God loves us more than flowers or birds.  God is aware of our needs and responsive to us.  Trust in God’s care is another way we store up treasure in Heaven, but this trust means letting go of wealth as a source of security and a provider of happiness.  Believing that wealth will make us happy and safe, we end up setting money as the prime master of life.  No, says, Jesus, we cannot truly live that way.  It is either God or money – only one can be master.  It is either worry or trust in God. 
The laying up of treasure defines our lives.  We live as people of faith and people who are faithful.  We live as people who love.  We live with a sense that we are loved.  Clearly such living marks us off, separated from those around us caught in the rat race, the scramble for wealth and power.  It is not that we go anywhere.  We are here, announcing the kingdom.  It is simply that we are living a different story – God’s story.  We are announcing that all around us are invited to step out of a life that leads nowhere and into a life that leads to God.  We are in but not of the world. 
We are also preparing for the life beyond death.  Dallas Willard, alluding to Jesus’s parable of the talents, writes
The universe will continue to exist … and we will actively participate in the future governance of [it.]  … God’s plan is for us to develop, as apprentices to Jesus, to the point where we can take our place in the ongoing creativity of the universe. 

We will not sit around [in eternal heaven] looking at one another but we will join the eternal Logos, “reign with him,” in the endlessly ongoing creative work of God.

… The intention of God is that we should each become the kind of person whom he can set free in his universe, empowered to do what we want to do.

… We should expect that in due time we will be moved into our eternal destiny of creative activity with Jesus.[ii]

            Of course Dallas Willard cannot be more specific than this although he does hazard a few guesses.  We must acknowledge that this is speculative as is any of vision of Heaven. 
            I share Willard’s view because in my estimation, he communicates well the vision of Jesus when Jesus talks about and demonstrates the Kingdom of God. More than going to some Heaven in the sky, far, far away, the eternal Kingdom is God’s Heaven and God’s Earth joining together in perfect harmony, all pain removed, and all barriers to relationship with God destroyed. 
            The more we live in love here and now, the more familiar our entrance into Heaven will fell.  Jesus discussed spiritual discipline, forgiveness, and trust as specific ways orient our hearts.  We could comb through the Gospels for more Jesus’ words, and we could add worship, but only when worship is connected to mission.  We could add evangelism, but only when evangelism is done for the sake of love of people, as an act of compassion.  All these specific works or categories are extremely important and are indicators of our hearts.   When our hearts are set on Heaven, we enter Heaven prepared, with open eyes.  We see clearly.  All that we do here, things done and lives lived in Jesus’ name continue there.
            I close this morning and this series with the word of N.T. Wright.
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of His creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and … ; and of course  every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrection power of God, into the new creation God will one day make.  This is the logic of the mission of God.  God’s re-creation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.  It will last all the way into God’s new world.  In fact, it will be enhanced there. [iii]

            Treasure Christ.  Live in love.  Set your heart in Heaven. 


[i] Willard (1997).  The Divine Conspiracy, p.207-8.
[ii] Ibid, p.378-379, 398-399.
[iii] Wright (2008).  Surprised by Hope, p.208-209.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Uncertainty in Christianity

At our church, much of the preaching during the Fall season has dealt with the afterlife and the unseen spiritual realm.  Also this year, members of our church have gone on mission trips to Ethiopia and witnessed exorcisms.  The direct confrontation with the demonic is not a normal part of our practice of Christianity.  Many in our church have never seen exorcism and do not know what to make of it when they hear stories of it actually happening in the 21st century.  A lot of Christians today would say, yes they believe in demons when reading about them in the Bible.  But, no they have never encountered demons and do not really expect that will happen in their lives.
I believe the exorcisms are real, and I am not upset that I had not been a part of that prior to my Ethiopia trip last March.  I was not upset that I had never seen or experienced an exorcism; nor was I upset or skeptical when it happened.  I am aware that Christianity is bigger than me.  There are places in the world and places in our own country and even our own state where Christianity is lived in forms and language that is very foreign to me.  My experience of following Jesus is not the experience
We easily accept the variety that exists in the faith when we think of worship forms.  We know in some churches everyone dresses in “their Sunday best.”  Worship is very structured, very formal.  There is a lot of responsive reading.  In other churches like ours, there is structure, but not as much.  Ours is a bit more free-flowing time.  We have several elements on Sunday morning (offering, praise singing, preaching, benediction), but not as many as say a Catholic church.  And there are churches with far less structure than even us.  In some, especially newer, start-up churches, everyone is in blue jeans or very casual dress, the pastors included.  There is a period of 45 minutes devoted to worship singing.  Then there is 45-60 minutes of preaching.  That is it.
In worship the fact that there are many different forms does not bother us.  Neither should it bother us that discipleship is lived out in different forms.  I often talk about how science and faith are complementary.  I give a lot of attention to formal education and high-levels of expertise in different professions.  I note how those specialties co-exist with and relate to living as a Christ-follower.  Why?  We are a church with many experts, specialists, and people who are in graduate training to become experts and specialists.  We need to deal with the interchange of science and faith.
In other churches, the needs and issues are different.  The culture is different.  The Gospel remains the same.  God is the same.  However, from perspective, as wide as we may think our worldview is, our view of God is limited.  That does not make it less than someone else’s, just different.  Some of us get a little freaked out by the thought of exorcisms.  One guy I talked to in Ethiopia was confounded.  He could not understand that we don’t do exorcisms.  It is a normal part of his faith life.  And, as he astutely noted, exorcism is right there in the Bible (Mark 16:17).  How could we not do it?

I did not have a great answer for him.  I simply invite Christians I meet to enter into uncertainty when, in their Christian walk they encounter uncertainty.  I don’t mean rashly go in where angels fear to tread.  But I do mean that just because something is foreign to you or me, does not mean it is an illegitimate Christian practice.  God will reveal the truth if we humbly seek it as we see Him.  Prayerfully enter the unknown unless God forbids it.  Doing so can expand one’s view of God and grow our faith.

The Unseen World

The Unseen World (Luke 9:28-36)

       A week ago, I did a wedding, Carter and Rachel.  In an effort to maintain tradition, they were kept apart once Rachel was in her wedding dress.  Carter would not see her in the dress until she walked down the aisle.  However, to get from her changing room to the foyer at the back of the sanctuary, Rachel had to walk down a hallway right next to where Carter and I were waiting.  The door from the hallway was open. 
Rachel’s sister Sarah said, “She’s coming.  Have Carter turn away.”  He turned, but he could hear them in the hallway.  Not seeing one another, Rachel and Carter made small talk.  Then, in those nervous pre-ceremony moments, Sarah asked me if I could pray for the bride and groom.
I stood in the doorway, straddling the door frame.  I extended my arms in a posture of blessing.  One arm was on one side of the wall, toward Rachel.  The other was on the other side, toward Carter.  We all got a laugh out of it, God included, I think.  Prayer is conversation with God.  It is holy and important and serious.  However, God loves us and wants us to have joy and laughter.  A pastor straddling a doorway trying to bless bride and groom without them seeing each other is kind of silly.
But it is more than that.  The whole scene came back to me five days later as I thought about how to conceptualize the Heavenly reality all around us. 
Consider this account from Luke.  Peter, John, and James, feel privileged because they are invited into an intimate moment with Jesus.  There are 12 disciples, but of the 12, these 3 are privileged to have this personal time with him.  So, they make the exhausting climb to a summit.  It is literally going to be a mountain top experience.  It will also be more than they expected.
As Jesus prays, his appearance changes.  He gleamed white.  More than the color white, the words Luke uses to describe the event clearly communicate that Jesus instantaneously had a glow we would understand to be otherworldly.  Something else was there with these disciples and Jesus and somehow Jesus was thoroughly aware of this and had always been.  Yet, the disciples had been completely blind to it prior to that moment. 
Then, they were blinded by it – by the realness, the glistening of that other world.  As overwhelming as it was for them, Jesus effortlessly stepped from one world to the other.  Jesus stood in both worlds at once. 
To call it another world might not be the proper description, not if Dallas Willard is correct.[i]  He believes our physical location in Heaven will be this universe; there is, in his estimation, no other universe; no other plane; no other realm.  I have been saying “otherworldly,” but in truth what we are talking about is parts of this world that are always present and quite real, but unseen.  By “unseen,” I mean we are unable through sensual observation to access this portion of the world. 
It is here; all around us.  It is real and affects us in numerous ways.  But we are powerless to control or even influence the unseen world.  We are affected by it but cannot affect it.  This is what is referred to in Ephesians 6:10. 
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Most of my dealings with this passage begin in verse 12 – “our struggle is against … cosmic powers of this present darkness.”  We become sort of freaked out thinking there are demons at the dark corners of reality messing with us, harming us in sinister, indirect ways.  In fact, if this is correct, that is absolutely true.  There are dark forces, agents of evil.  Their success comes in opposing God by injuring those loved by God.  We are the beloved of God they would damage.
But the passage does not begin with “cosmic powers of this present darkness.”  It begins “be strong in the Lord in the strength of his power.”  A moment ago, I said we cannot access or affect the unseen portions of reality.  God can because God created all the realities of the world, every realm of the universe.  We have access to God in Jesus Christ. 
In the armor of God, we can stand in the face of the devil’s attack.  We read in Ephesians of the belt, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield, the helmet, and the sword.  Those metaphors call us to truth as we understand it in Jesus.  In reading the word, in our prayers and confessions, we must know him.  When he is in us and we give him mastery over our lives, we are covered in his righteousness.  The shoes of readiness: we are ready to share our faith when it is the driving force of our lives and something we pay attention to in prayer and devotions every day.  To be ready, our faith must beat at the very heart of our lives.
Salvation is likened to a helmet and, as in other places in the New Testament, the word of God is imagined as a piercing sword.  When Jesus was confronted by Satan in the beginning of his ministry, he and the devil quoted scripture at each other.  Jesus’ living of the word was true whereas Satan’s was a diabolical manipulation.  We have to know the word and live it.  We have no authority in the unseen world, but with truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and the word, we are in step with the God who has absolute authority.
I stood there in the doorway, standing both with bride and groom as they prepared to wed.  Jesus stands astride two worlds with the bride, His church, and the bridegroom, himself in glorified, divine form.  We are wedded to Him, but until that wedding, at the final judgment and resurrection on the last day, we wait.  While waiting, we live in what we can see, separated from what we cannot.
The great temptation is to suppose that this waiting place is the only real place.  Things that cannot be accounted for by scientific observation may be important, but religion, spirituality, theology – those are not real in the way the physical world around us is real. The world around is explained by science. That is what we are tempted to believe. 
The experience of the disciples on the mountain with Jesus as He is glorified is one example of testimony that there is more.  This does not negate science or lessen the importance of study and research and observation.  The work of scientists is important; even divine.  Scientists, operating in the work of observation and discovery obey the mandate of God to manage his world.  But they do not have the last word.  We look around and realize there is more here than meets the eye.
The disciples were given a glimpse into the next room of reality one that exists between where I am sitting and you are standing.  On that mountain top, when Jesus was suddenly aglow with a light few humans have ever seen, the curtain separating the unseen world was pulled back just a bit. 
We can’t know much by their experience.  It was too short and they were short on details in their later memory of it.  They were amazed by the glorious shine of Jesus.  Then they noted that Elijah and Moses were with him.  I have always wondered how they recognized these Old Testament saints.  There was no photography back then.  We do not have elaborate paintings of the ancients as we do from later periods of history.  Something about peering into the unseen realm gave James, John, and Peter recognition.  They knew it was Elijah and Moses.  How did they know?  I am sure they could not articulate how, but when they were permitted to see, they knew. 
They were also overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion.  In that reality, powerless, using every ounce of energy to stay awake, they heard these Old Testament giants allude to Jesus’ coming execution and glory in Jerusalem.  Moses and Elijah anticipated crucifixion, resurrection, and the attraction of Jesus.  The world would be drawn to God through the salvation he brought. 
Peter had the temerity to speak, offering to make temporary shelters.  He was not heard.  Nor was he chastised.  This was too much and he would have done better to stay silent, but either way, it did not matter.  God moved in, thundering from the thick of the cloud that settled on them. 
It is similar to the experience Moses had in Exodus, receiving the law.  Job too heard God speak from swirling, fierce storm clouds.  But Abraham experienced God as three men, a very different encounter.  With Abraham, there was a great debate between God and the man, and the debate was appropriate.  In the case of two disciples walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, Jesus sidled up as a fellow traveler.  He wasn’t there; then he was.  They did not recognize him.  Then he broke bread, their eyes were opened, and they could see.  And he was gone.  In Elijah’s case, God came not in the storm, but in the silence. 
God is not bound by form.  Your encounter will not be Peter’s.  Or John’s.  Remember John, exiled on the island of Patmos.  The risen Lord appeared in a frightful form and called John, in a vision, right to Heaven.  For John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist and founder of Methodism, God spoke as a reassuring warming in his heart. 
For me, it was a physical, but unseen impossibly heavy weight lifted off my head.  I had driven to Florida to meet a group of friends.  One, a young woman, was someone I thought I would eventually marry.  She was not interested.  It fell flat.  And while it may seem small, that kind of rejection hits a young man hard. I found myself driving back to Northern Virginia alone.  I thought, OK Lord.  Now I have 12 hours of driving to stew.  And for 45 minutes, I drove in a blind, disappointed rage. Then, I physically felt an iron weight lifted off me.  No, I had not been wearing any type of headgear.  My head physically weighed as much as it had when the drive started.  But, something spiritual happened – something far more real than if all I had done was take off a hat.  The weight lifted as God told me my story would not include marrying that young woman.  God did not promise I would meet someone much better.  God never made that promise.  God just drew me to himself.
I go on with experiences of God worshipers in the Bible or believers through history or stories of people I know or of my own experiences.  The unseen world is real.  It is terrifying for those who do not come under God’s protection.  Only God knows who God will cover.  But we know we can turn to Christ and all who in Christ are under God’s covering.  That is why the passage from Ephesians does not begin with cosmic powers of darkness.  It begins commending us, the reading and listening church, to stand strong in God’s power.
At the end of the mountain top experience, the mighty voice in the cloud tells Peter, James, and John “This is my son, my beloved; listen to Him.” 
There is an unseen world, one more real than we can take in with our five senses.  Do we want to live in it in unrestrained joy?  We seek the Holy Spirit and in the word of God we listen to and heed all Jesus has said.  As elusive and possibly ominous as this all may seem, it boils down to a simple truth.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  We listen to him.  In Him the unseen becomes seen.  Or as Paul says it in 1st Corinthians, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now we know only in part.  Then we will know fully even as we are fully known.”  For us to get from now to then, we follow Jesus.

[i] D.Willard (1997), Divine Conspiracy.  I will attempt to summarize some of Willard’s observations in chapter 10 of Divine Conspiracy.