Musings on the Kingdom of Heaven

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

“But what do you think about this?

A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.

Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” Matthew 21:28-32 

I am a poster child for “fly over” America. I live in the middle of the United States in a nice, middle-class house. I have a husband, two kids, and a dog. I drive my kids to sports and school.  I am a typical “soccer mom” (minus the soccer and the peppy smile and cute blonde pony-tail . . . I’m the mom hanging out in her car with no make-up and lots of gray hair, trying to finish an overdue library book while drinking lukewarm coffee).

I am rarely pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled internationally and seen poverty, but it doesn’t touch my day-to-day life. I go to church with a lot of other hard-working, suburban, mid-westerners.

Yes, there are hipsters and hippies and refugees in our midst, but the count is small.

Sure, there are probably a lot of us living paycheck to paycheck, but not too many who are skipping meals due to lack of money.

This is my little piece of the world.

Not to say there isn’t pain and drama and sin in my church – there is – plenty of it. Just like every church in the world, the seats are full of people silently suffering from depression and anxiety. Whether in their past or present life – there is the struggle of addiction to porn, drugs, alcohol and gambling. There is divorce. There are past childhood wounds. There is future baggage being created. There is gossip and anger. There is hurt. There are struggles.

There are also the same faces that are seen every Sunday – the church leaders, the greeters, the childcare volunteers.

And then there are the invisible Christians. There are those who walk in and walk out of church, unnoticed. There are those who never even walk in the doors, because they are ashamed of the baggage they carry. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who go to church in prison as they serve a life-sentence. There are those who never show up on Sunday morning because they are in a nursing home or hospital.

In my mind, I see the “Kingdom of Heaven” being my church on a bigger scale, just without the ongoing sin and pain.

And it some ways it will be. But in other ways it will be much different.

In heaven, the invisible Christians will finally be seen. And they won’t be last. They will be first. The death row inmate who gave his life to Christ in the final hours will be leading the choir. The former thief will be at a place of honor. The invisible Christians – the poor and the hurting – will be those with the best seats at the table.

There will be people from every nationality and ethnicity, worshiping together. The prostitute with the preacher. The murderer with the cop. The man who struggled with same-sex attraction and the man who struggled with judging others. The republican and the democrat. The liberal and the conservative. The socialist, the libertarian, and the communist. The rich and the poor. The elderly and the infant.

Maybe it is time that I open my eyes and see others the way Jesus sees them. Love them the way Jesus loves them. Show compassion like Jesus showed. For all I know the homeless man I pass on the way to church might have a seat reserved for him in heaven, at the right hand of Jesus. The woman who keeps her head down at the grocery store and looks like her life is a mess . . . might be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Then he said,“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:1-4 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:10 

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 

“I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to his disciples,“I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said,“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:23-26 

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Matthew 20: Showing up Late for Work

Today’s #BibleReadingPlan had me read Matthew 20:1-19. Recently my pastor taught on this passage, which showed me this parable in a light I’d never seen before. You can listen to the sermon here on Journey Church’s website.  Pastor Phil Human does a great job illustrating what this parable means . . . but I’ll take a shot at summarizing as well.

  • God is the boss of heaven. He is a kind boss. He is merciful. He is generous. He is loving.
  • Someone can turn to God in the twilight of their life – and God will welcome them into heaven just the same as someone who served Him their whole life.
  • Our focus shouldn’t be on what others are doing, how much money they are making or rewards they are getting . . . our focus should be on the tasks God has given us and our relationship with Him.
  • I need to humble myself and be grateful for the gifts God has given me.

The Parable:

6 a.m.: A landowner went into town to hire people to work in his vineyard. He found a group of laborers and agreed to pay them a set amount for working the full day. (For example, $80)

9 a.m.: Same landowner is back in town and sees some people standing around doing nothing. He offered them a job to work in the vineyard for the rest of the day. They didn’t negotiate a pay rate, but he said he’d pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

Noon: Same as 9 a.m.

3 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

5 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

7 p.m.: Everyone comes in from work and stands in line to get their pay. They line up from how long they worked. At the front of the line are the guys who only worked for a few hours. I imagine they aren’t even tired after only working a few hours. The landowner hands them each $80.

When the guys who had been working all day see this they start to do the math and get excited, thinking if the landowner paid these guys $80 for working 2 hours they are probably going to get $520 for working 13 hours!

But as they go down the line, the landowner hands everyone $80.

The guys at the end of the line were extremely upset with the landowner and didn’t think he was being fair.

But in reality, he was paying them exactly what he had agreed to pay them. They weren’t getting ripped off. They were being paid the going rate for the work they did. But, the landowner was being kind to the others and the 6 a.m. workers were jealous.

As Pastor Phil said in his sermon, most of us hear this parable and get a little indignant just like the 6 a.m. worker.

But now switch things around a bit . . . let’s get real. I’m not a 6 a.m. worker. I may have been a “Christian” from a young age, but I wasn’t actively running the race until a few years ago. And when it is hot, I take a lot of water breaks. I give into temptation. I get easily distracted from the tasks God has given me.

Am I really a 6 a.m. worker? Not by a long-shot.  Not even a 9 a.m. or noon worker. I’d probably say I’m a 3 p.m. worker . . . but if I’m honest I’m actually a 5 p.m. worker. I spend the majority of my day hanging out in town. And I give God the left-overs of my energy and time.

God asks me to spend time with him. To love him with all my heart and soul. To love my enemies. To love my neighbors. To care for the widows and the orphans. To be patient, kind, merciful and humble. 99% of the time (or more) I am none of these and do none of them.

But God, in his kindness, is going to give me the same reward of admission into heaven as He gave our mentors from the Bible – Peter, Paul, Mary, Stephen. By God’s grace, I will enter heaven just like martyrs, missionaries, apostles and saints.

Instead of getting indignant about the 5 p.m. workers getting $80 . . .  I need to look in the mirror and see myself for what I am: A 5 p.m. worker.

I should be on my knees thanking God for his kindness and mercy because I am being given a gift far more generous and wonderful than I could ever earn or will ever deserve.

 

 

 

Traveling to the Dominican Republic

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San Juan de la Maguana

I love traveling, but probably even more, I love planning trips.  I love putting together the budget, researching and planning the itinerary.  Maps.  Travel time.  An hour spent on TripAdvisor or Sygic is an hour spent in my happy space.  I could daydream about traveling for hours.

Planning for our November/December 2016 trip to the Dominican Republic was pretty similar.  My brother and his wife and children live in the DR, so part of the trip was visiting family and seeing their work.  The rest of the trip was about relaxing, hanging out at the beach, eating good food and creating memories.

I also had big ideas about what we were going to experience and learn.

  • My spiritual life was going to blossom (and I was going to get great photos for my blog).
  • My children were going to experience new cultures and foods.  They were going to have their eyes opened to poverty and have a life-changing experience.  Probably they would come back to the U.S. and never complain about anything again after seeing how people live in real poverty (OK, I am half-joking . . . but part of me really hoped for this).
  • My husband was going to discover a love for world-traveling that would catapult our future travel experiences into a new realm.

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Reality was a little different.

Day one we flew into Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic.  It was pouring rain and we were unsure if my brother was going to be able to pick us up or his migraine would keep him at home, which would mean we’d need to find our way from the airport to a taxi to a bus station to buy bus tickets (we don’t speak Spanish) and take the 3 hour drive to San Juan de la Maguana.  All by ourselves.

Fortunately my brother’s migraine cleared up enough so that he could pick us up and drive us to his home.

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The drive through Santo Domingo in the rain

San Juan de la Maguana was beautiful.  And not to sound biased, but I am pretty sure I have the most adorable nieces and nephews in the world.  San Juan de la Maguana is surrounded by mountains and hills.  Beautiful people.  Delicious food.  We visited villages where my brother and sister-in-law are working and met their co-workers.  Their ministry is pretty amazing – if your church is looking for a missions partner or if you are looking for a ministry to support, check them out:   Miguelandkristina.blogspot.com

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San Juan de la Manguana

My children did get exposed to different cultures and a different lifestyle.  No traffic rules (at least not enforced).  Being a minority.  Lack of hot water.  No air conditioning.  Not speaking the language.

They also got sick.  So did my husband.

By the end of day four of the trip I had dumped about 1,000 buckets of vomit.  I’m exaggerating.  But it felt like I did.  My 9-year-old thought she was going to die.  My husband wasn’t very happy with me and my status as an expert trip planner was quickly deteriating.

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Due to vomiting children our bus trip back to Santo Domingo was delayed by several hours, but armed with Ritz crackers and plastic bags, we climbed onto a lovely Caribe Tours bus and made the trip to the capital where we transferred to a private van to take us to Dreams La Romana Resort.

Here is the good, bad and ugly:

  • The vomiting continued.  We were very careful about not drinking water so I’m not sure if we had a bug or ate something bad.  But by the end of the trip we’d gone through lots of bed sheets and Pepto-Bismol.
  • The beach at Dreams La Romana was lovely.  They had free snorkeling gear, kayaks, peddle boats, etc.  I spent hours floating in the clear, calm water viewing fish, stingrays and starfish.
  • Even though we were staying at an all-inclusive resort they had sales people who tried (relentlessly) to get us to sit through a sales pitch.  We didn’t do it so I don’t even know what they were selling, but they got pretty upset that we didn’t participate.
  • The food was pretty good and there was a good variety.  We could have probably enjoyed more if we weren’t sick.
  • We did not do the upgraded “preferred” package and I thought the beach and pool-area were completely lovely without the upgrade.

After three days at Dreams we headed back to Santo Domingo and stayed at the Real Intercontinental which had just opened.  It is a beautiful hotel.  Fantastic service.  The pool is amazing and the food service was great.  Below is the view from our room.  Pretty amazing.

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Panoramic View of Santo Domingo from the Real Intercontinental

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The last day we went to the Colonial Zone (Zona Colonial) which is the oldest constantly inhabited city in “The Americas,” dating back to when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.  We only had a few hours in the Colonial Zone, though for a thorough exploration I’d suggest at least a day (or two) to tour everything.

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The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor

The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor; the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1512 and completed in 1540

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On this trip we created lots of memories – some good, some not so good.   Pepto-Bismol became my best friend.  My girls came home from the DR and still complain about “first world problems” but seeds were planted and hopefully their eyes were opened to a bigger view of the world.  My husband put his passport away.  I’m not sure if he’ll ever get it out again.

I think all of us have a better appreciation for what we have.  And we better understand what we don’t have.  And what we don’t need.

And that is something that all the trip planning in the world won’t prepare us for or provide.

So until next time (and hopefully there is a next time), “Adios” Dominican Republic.  Thank you for the memories!

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