More common is the belief that we as human beings are trying to get to that 'other place'.We adhere to laws, regulations, and rituals in order to earn favor with the power(s) of the world beyond that we might be granted a cushy situation when we get there. Christianity has unfortunately bought into this belief, with its image of heaven being as a static location waiting for us when we die, our fire insurance. But the gospels and Jesus himself challenge this notion. The earliest gospels, Matthew and Mark, both put these words into Jesus' mouth, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) has come near." (Matt. 4:17 & Mark 1:15) Quite literally they are stating that the kingdom of God is not a reality that is distant and far away, but it is touchable.
And not only has the kingdom of God come near, it is constantly seeking to invade or intrude upon the lives of human beings. Modern human systems of economics seek to give order, provide security, and deliver a regularity of goods and services. Modern human economics are based on convenience– i.e what can we do with what we have for the most of people with the smallest amount of resources? But the kingdom of God is not founded upon convenience; God's kingdom rests upon sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thus, in our modern lives, when the kingdom of God intrudes upon us, it often occurs through nuisance and disruption.
Last week Friday, as the teachers were waiting for their bus to arrive, one of our colleagues said 'hello' to a cute little puppy in a raggedy red harness. With that cue, the puppy followed our coworker into the midst of our group and began making rounds begging us for attention. As we waited some things became clear. The little dog was dirty (filthy is a better description), his harness was second or third hand, and he had a wound on his back paw. What struck me was that he would not eat a piece of bread that was offered to him by another teacher... this seemed very odd– usually street dogs will take any food they can get. What's more, this puppy seemed to feed on attention, his sole desire at that time was for physical affection.
As we showered wanted tenderness upon this wee pup, the first bus pulled up. Something did not sit right within me. The presence of the bus commanded me to board, to leave the feeble creature on the corner to fend for itself. I stood there staring at the furry beast, and he looked up at me in canine submission wagging his little black tail.
This would not have been so gut-wrenching was I not a Bible teacher at El Camino Academy. This semester the 7th & 8th grades have been wading through the Old Testament survey course. The passage that came to mind as I stood there was Genesis 6:1-13. In this passage, human sinfulness, human rejection of God's presence, human defiance of God's will and desire has brought the entire creation down into a deep hole of corruption from which neither human beings nor animals can escape. Even though they were living 900+ years, human beings were using their time to excel in viciousness and degeneracy and they were taking everything around them down with them.
Since we have arrived in Bogotá, Colombia I have been growing in my love for this city and her people. From the beginning of our time here, whenever Rebecca and I go out, my heart would be wrenched whenever I would see a 'street dog'. Dogs are mangy, stinky creatures sometimes, I'll admit. But dogs as a domesticated animal are dependent upon human beings. If human beings refuse to care or steward these animals, they will end up reverting to pack societies. One of my good friends down here told me that wild dogs kill more people per year in Africa than lions... we should not take creation care lightly.
Maybe it was Genesis. Maybe it was my love of canines. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit. (I hope it was!) When the second bus came, I took off my hunter's green jacket and swaddled the wee puppy in my arms. On the ride to school he fell asleep in my arms. Clearly, he had been on the streets for some time and was exhausted. He came to school and met quite a few school children. We bathed him, and he made us laugh. One of the students tried to give him the name 'Spot.' "But he made us laugh," I said. "Let's name him Isaac."
For liability reasons Isaac could not stay at school. I understood– he had no vaccinations and well, he did have fleas. But what was I to do? Rebecca knew very well that we could not have a dog yet. We have no yard and as teachers we are at the school ten hours a day. The only thing to do was pray. Three anxious days passed. Isaac spent an evening with us. The hospital said they could not come until a week later to pick Isaac up. The school was firm in their resolve; the puppy could not stay for the safety of the children. I have never bitten my nails before… I was about to start.
Then on Tuesday one of the school custodians came and found me. There was a man visiting a friend at the school work project. "What is a puppy doing here?" he asked. The custodian told him the story. "May I take him? I have been looking for a puppy." Praise God. "My plan is to have him vaccinated today." Praise God indeed!
Behavioral problems have been coming up this past quarter. Middle school students have been impinging on my ability to work and correct papers and prepare lessons. What an inconvenience! What a bother! What are they thinking? Can't they just behave?! And then a leading of the Lord. "Celebrate my supper. Celebrate my sacrifice." At the chapel on Wednesday, many students broke down and wept as they were given an opportunity to extend forgiveness and show forgiveness to each other. Many continued to shed precious tears as they came to receive the reminder of our Lord's death for us.
Is the kingdom of God inconvenient? Yes, indeed it is. But does living in God's kingdom surpass any earthly thing, any worldly salary, any care or concern we humans can invent? Yes. Yes indeed it does!