Eternity Is Now in Session
When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be." What about now? Pastor and theologian John Ortberg provides a fresh perspective on the nature of eternity and our own connection to an eternal Creator.
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Pastor and theologian John Ortberg talks with Ron Deal, providing a fresh perspective on the nature of eternity and our own connection to an eternal Creator.
Eternity Is Now in Session
Bob: Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is for us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Pastor John Ortberg says we need to think more carefully, and maybe more deeply, about just what the implications of that command are.
John: So often, we turn that into an obligation of something that we’re supposed to do without thinking about God being lovable. We actually make Him unlovable and think of Him as somebody that’s putting this burden on us; but if I’m living with a lovable God, then He and I, together, will be able to love my spouse, my ex-spouse, my child. Then, all of a sudden, I have resources beyond myself to carry into my relationships with other people.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 13th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Maybe we can do a better job of loving our neighbor as ourselves when we begin to understand that it’s not just us doing the loving—that the God who is love is doing it through us. We’ll hear more about that today from Pastor John Ortberg. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You may have noticed, as we began today, that what we’re going to be listening to is like what you listen to a lot of times on your laptop or on your tablet. We’re going to hear a Skype conversation that took place between Ron Deal and a pastor and author from the west coast—from Menlo Park, California—John Ortberg. Have you met John?
Dave: Yes, I have. He’s one of my favorite authors. Funny story about John—I had him do a chapel service for the Detroit Lions when we played the Chicago Bears. Back then, he was pastoring in Chicago. He got up—you know, I raved about him—he got up there; did a great job, and we won! [Laughter]
Bob: The Lions won?
Dave: Yes; so I’ll never forget—John Ortberg got us something I could never get—a victory in Chicago. [Laughter]
Ann: You’re jealous of that; aren’t you?
Dave: I am jealous.
Ann: It is true. John has always been a favorite of Dave’s. Soon as a book is out that he’s written, you buy it and read it as quickly as possible.
Dave: Oh yes.
Bob: Well, he’s just written a book called Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught About Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place.
Ron Deal sat down and talked with John for his podcast, which is called FamilyLife Blended®; this is Episode 4 from Ron’s podcast. As I said, as you listen to the conversation, you’re listening to a Skype interview. The conversation was a good, rich, robust conversation. I hope listeners will go to FamilyLifeToday.com, subscribe to Ron’s podcast, and listen to all of Episode 4. We’re just going to hear a little bit of it now as John Ortberg talks about how we ought to think differently about eternity.
[FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
John: Many people, when they think of the word, heaven—we often have a cartoon picture. Images are really powerful; so we’ll think about gates, and clouds, and harps. We think of it as this pleasure factory that, if you could just get there, of course, you would be happy. Then we wonder, “Why doesn’t God just let everybody or, at least, more people, go there?”
Whereas, when the writers of Scripture and Jesus, in particular, talk about the afterlife, the idea of heaven is—primarily, it will be about life with God. In heaven, God will be very hard to avoid. Now that’s kind of sobering; because when you think about it, that means that there won’t be any place to run off and sneak in a quick sin. [Laughter] If I would still like to have the opportunity to be judgmental, or superior, or self-promotional, or greedy, or lustful, or deceitful, there’s not going to be a place to go do that.
Learning: “What does it mean to live in God’s presence?” We primarily do that—it is a reality; it’s a spiritual reality—and we mostly experience it in our minds in that ceaseless flow of thoughts and desires. I can begin to live in the conscious awareness of the real presence of God—His love, His favor, His power, His guidance—and I can do that right now. Actually, I think that’s part of why the notion of things like living in the present; or gratitude; or in our day, people talk about mindfulness a lot. I believe what all of that reflects is our deep hunger to live with God in the kingdom of heaven, here and now. Interestingly, now is really where eternity intersects with our lives.
Ron: Okay; there was a whole lot in what you just said there. Boy, I’d love to unpack that just a little bit. Heaven is not this thing that’s just off out there somewhere. Heaven is something that is now; because God has brought, through Christ, the kingdom to this earth. You’re saying that to have an awareness and a consciousness of God’s activity and connection in our lives right now—not just something that we’re going to go to someday, where we get all this reward, and sit on a cloud, and play a harp—but it’s the experience of relationship with the heavenly Father, and that is something He is pursuing in us right now.
If we only had an awareness of that—man, I begin to think: “How would that begin to make a difference in my life as a husband?—as a father?—if I lived every moment with an awareness that heaven is here, and I am trying to bring kingdom stuff to my world?” What kind of difference do you think that would make in somebody’s life if we lived that way?
John: The idea is eternity is about more than just duration; it’s about more than something that is unending. It’s a different quality of life. Jesus, in the Bible, actually, defines eternal life one time. It’s the only time eternal life is defined in the Bible—is in John, Chapter 17, verse 3—He’s praying and He says, “This is eternal life”—He’s praying to His Father—“that they might know You…”—the heavenly Father. It’s an interactive, participative, experiential life—together with God—that begins here and now.
What that means, for me, is that my primary goal in each moment of life is to remain in conscious contact with God—that’s my job, as a dad—that’s my job as a husband. Now, I’m not trying to do this on my own; I’m trying to surrender in any moment: “God, what’s going on inside my spirit—anger, impatience, ego?” and “How do I let that go and seek purely to be a vehicle of God’s love and God’s power?”
The ease, and freedom, and qualitative difference of life that’s available in doing that is something that people have been discovering ever since the time of Jesus. It is the pearl of great price. It is the life that is—we all desire more than we want anything else.
Ron: Right; right. Okay; so I’ve got to jump in, because I’ve got to dumb stuff down for me. [Laughter] I’m fully aware that if you and I are having a conversation like we are now and, all of a sudden, a third party came and stood right here among us—and maybe it’s my wife, maybe it’s one of our children, maybe it’s a friend, or maybe it’s a non-believer—all of a sudden, the presence of that third party dramatically affects what you and I say, how we carry ourselves, if we say it this way or if we say it that way, if we say it hard or we say it soft.
We’re consciously aware of that, and it affects our relationship. If it’s somebody in the room that we like/we both mutually like, we feel comfortable/we trust; then, all of a sudden, we’re relaxed, and the conversation can flow freely. If, on the other hand, it’s somebody we don’t know/we’re not sure of, then maybe we’re a little guarded and cautious.
As you’re talking about God, and walking around life mindful of His presence in our lives—that we’re bringing heaven to our world now—all of a sudden, to me, it’s like that warm presence of that third party, who is here that I trust deeply, intimately, and I’m comfortable with. But you know, at the same time, I really don't want to share necessarily the worst parts of me in a conversation, out loud with you, knowing that He’s listening in on that.
Ron: Man, that’s great to know that God is here—I can be mindful of Him; I can be aware of Him; I can even have a little side conversation with Him, as you and I are talking.
But if I just think God is up there somewhere—has nothing to do with who I am/where I am now—or that He is standing beside me, as a judge and jury; and “If I do one thing wrong…”—those are two totally different pictures; right?—the warm trusting presence versus the judgmental, harsh, angry person that I need to be concerned about.
You’re saying it’s the warm, trusting presence; right?
John: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know about everybody listening to us; but it’s a funny thing, Ron—I find I’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time—I still struggle, at the heart level, to deeply, consistently believe that God loves me all the time.
John: There will, often, be moments when I feel inadequate—or I’m just aware of how messed up I am: that I’m angry, that ego is still such a large role in my life—there’s something inside me that actually almost resists that notion that God really does love and care about me. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to somebody else and to say it to you—to say, “Well, yes; Ron, of course, God loves you.”
I actually think, for all of us, this notion that we are loved by God is maybe the fundamental battle that we struggle with. It’s not just about something that’s warm and fuzzy; often, there’s a high cost to it, because it does demand that I surrender my life and will to God all the time and let go of sin. Sin always cuts me off from the love of God—that’s what’s so dangerous about it.
It is very striking, when you look at the life of Jesus, one of the dynamics that you see is—for Jesus, the line between praying to God and talking to people gets so thin that it’s almost nonexistent. When somebody comes to Jesus, and they need a healing, sometimes He will talk to His Father and say, “God, heal this person”; and sometimes He will talk directly to the person and say, “Be healed.” I think what that reflects is exactly what you were just saying: “If there’s a third person present, with you and me, and I see that person, I may be talking with you; but I know that person is hearing what I say.
John: Even though my words are addressed to you, they are also, in my mind, very clearly going to be heard by this other person. I believe that Jesus was so conscious of the presence of His Father that all of His words, even spoken to other people, are also knowingly addressed for His Father. That’s why, for Jesus, there is virtually simply no difference between just talking to people and praying to His Father. That’s why He can just as easily speak to His Father: “Heal this person,”—or speak directly to that person, “Be healed,”—because, for Him, all of life has become prayer.
Ron: I just got to back up for a second; because I can completely identify with what you just said about feeling inadequate, before the Father—feeling, at times, so unworthy and unloved—unworthy of His love and, perhaps, even unloved—and my shame tells me that.
Ron: I do think that’s a common experience. I don’t think you and I are the only ones who wrestle with that. It kind of goes back to this image we have of this third party with us: “Is God with us, as judge and jury, or is He with us, as a loving grandfather, who is just the guy you want to hop up in his lap and you feel so comfortable with?” The way Jesus portrayed that relationship with the Father is clear that it’s the warm loving presence that we can feel comfortable with; because He was, as you said, talking—almost interchangeably between the vertical and the horizontal—what was going on with/how He was interacting with God and how He’s interacting with others.
If I’m mindful of that, as I’m interacting with my wife, I think that changes how I respond to her. If I know He’s there, and if I’m aware of that—not out of guilt/not out of shame, but out of an awareness that somebody else is in the room—this informs how I bring the kingdom of heaven to this very moment, right here and now. Don’t you think that informs how we parent?—how we’d interact with people we don’t get along with?—all of the above?
John: It’s a very striking thing. Again, I think a lot of us just don’t think about it much. The first command that Jesus gives is, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…mind and…strength.” Now, part of what’s wonderful about that command is it means that God wants to be loved. That’s a very powerful thought—that God desires to be loved. Another implication of that is: “God is lovable.”
John: God would not command us to love Him if, in fact, He was not a lovable being. A good question for everybody to ask right now is: “Is the God that I believe in and think about a lovable person?” and “What qualities make somebody lovable?”—that they’re gracious, that they are kind, that they are well-meaning towards you, that they are good, that you can trust them. All of that is wrapped up in that single initial command of Jesus, “…love the Lord your God...”
So often, we turn that into an obligation of something that we’re supposed to do without thinking about God being lovable. We actually make Him unlovable and think of Him as somebody that’s putting this burden on us. But if I’m living with a lovable God, then He and I, together, will be able to love my spouse, my ex-spouse,—
John: —my child. Then, all of a sudden, I have resources beyond myself to carry into my relationships with other people; and those relationships teach me about God.
Ron: We’re talking with John Ortberg today about his book, Eternity Is Now in Session.
One of the things that you talk about—that I think is just so important for us, as believers, to grasp—is that part of living the kingdom and being a part of the kingdom is—not just waiting, someday, for what will happen—but bringing God’s kingdom to earth, now, as you say, “…bringing a piece of the up there down here.”
It makes me think about I, actually, have a role in joining Him in that. I’m not sure many Christians walk around with a sense that we are joining God in that activity.
John: Yes; let’s talk about that idea of God’s kingdom, because that’s a word that gets thrown a lot but can often be a cliché.
John: In the biblical sense, everybody has a kingdom—it’s very much related to your will. Your kingdom is a range of your effective will; your kingdom is where what you want to happen happens.
Ron: Is that what a two-year-old discovers?—that they have a kingdom?
John: That’s why a two-year-old’s favorite word is “No!” [Laughter] And their second favorite word is “Mine!” What they’re learning is they have a kingdom. Those are, actually, great words. Anybody who is listening to us—we all struggle with it when two-year-olds learn them; but it’s much better that they learn them than they do not, because they’re learning that they have a will; they have a kingdom, and that starts with their bodies. That’s why it’s such a miracle when a little child learns how to walk, and how to move, and how to grasp things—it’s matter/atoms coming under the reign of a personal will—that’s a miracle! Well, that’s kingdom. That’s a real good thing that we all have kingdoms; but then, our kingdoms get all junked up with sin—and we become selfish, and we fight over our kingdoms.
It’s interesting, Ron—I know a lot of the work that you will do is with blended families. Sometimes, in the church, there can be this idea that, if there has been a divorce/if there’s brokenness in a family, it can’t experience the fullness of the kingdom of God. But of course, every family is broken—every human.
Ron: That’s right; that’s right.
John: Genesis is basically the story of one blended family after another. There’s Abraham, and you just go right on through. It’s in those broken kingdoms that God comes to bring restoration and healing.
When I was growing up in the church, I often thought: “You know, God’s going to just destroy this world, so our prayer is kind of like the old Star Trek ‘Beam me up’ prayer: ‘Get me out of here, and take me up there.’” [Laughter] But the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray is: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name,”—people recognize what a wonderful person You are—and then, “Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to an excerpt from Episode 4 of Ron Deal’s podcast, which is called FamilyLife Blended. Ron was talking to pastor and author, John Ortberg, about eternity/about heaven. In fact, if you listen to the entire episode, they talk about the need for us to be more honest about our sin in the church. He talks about how Alcoholics Anonymous is more honest than most Christians are; right? And he talks about how you deal with fear in life.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and subscribe to Ron’s podcast. It’s part of the FamilyLife® Podcast Network. In addition to Ron’s podcast, there’s one from Kim Anthony called Unfavorable Odds. There’s the FamilyLife marriage podcast. FamilyLife Today is available as a podcast—FamilyLife this Week. So you can subscribe and start listening, regularly, to some of these podcasts and get great content like what we heard today from Ron Deal and John Ortberg.
Ann: One of the things I love about John Ortberg speaking was that he addresses that eternal life begins now. It’s not when we die that we experience all this goodness; but he’s saying eternal life is now, and God has good things for us.
Dave: And it’s a little bit, as he said, “…a little bit of heaven on earth.” Now, obviously, we’re not ever going to experience full restoration until we get there, but I mean we pray it all the time—the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Dave: Yet, we don’t expect, ever, to experience that. John made a great point, saying, “God can bring a piece of that here now.” He restores, partially, and that’s eternal life now and extends to eternal life then.
Ann: And that brings real hope—like it makes you anticipate tomorrow, because God is in our midst right now.
Bob: And in families and in marriages—we need to know that we can live out kingdom principles and experience kingdom joy by following Christ and living under His Kingship. Theologians call this the “already/not yet” idea of the kingdom; so there’s an already thing—we have a king; we live in His kingdom; we are citizens of His kingdom—that’s “the already.” The “not yet” is that we haven’t fully realized, as you said, what is ahead for us.
But when we, in our marriages and our families, are surrendered to Jesus and living under His authority, we experience kingdom blessing; don’t we?
Dave: Yes; I love what John said: “One of the reasons we don’t experience that is we want to be the king.” [Laughter] I want my wife to serve me as the king—you hear that, honey? [Laughter] It’s just like that’s still ingrained in us. We see that in a two-year-old, who develops their kingdom mentality. We think we grow out of it; we never do. Yet, if we surrender that to the real King, that’s where we get to experience a little bit of heaven on earth.
Bob: Surrender, and then surrender, and then surrender—
Ann: —again and again.
Bob: —over and over again; right.
Well, again, John has written a book called Eternity Is Now in Session. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online to request your copy. The website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call if you’d like to order by phone: 1-800-FL-TODAY.
If you have not yet subscribed to Ron Deal’s FamilyLife Blended podcast so that it’s delivered to you regularly, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out how you can subscribe. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s also information available on our website about the upcoming 2019 Summit on Stepfamily Ministry that’s happening in October in Chesapeake, Virginia. The theme of the summit this year is “Stepfamilies in Crisis,” and all the information is available now. You can go ahead and register for the event. Again, it takes place October 24th and 25th; and all the information about the summit is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you’re in a stepfamily and could use some encouragement, we have a free devotional that Ron has put together—14 devotions designed for stepfamilies. You can download it from us when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, the information is available there. Get your copy of the 14-day stepfamily devotional; it’s our free gift to you.
Now, David Robbins, the President of FamilyLife, is here with us. Have you had a chance to listen to the entire conversation Ron had with John Ortberg on the podcast, or have you just heard the excerpt we played today?
David: No; I’ve listened to the whole thing.
Bob: You’ve listened to Ron’s entire conversation?
David: I’m so excited to—one, this conversation was an awesome conversation; but all the podcasts that are available to blended families, specifically—there’s nothing really like it out there.
Bob: Well, and the opportunity to provide practical ongoing help for blended families through the FamilyLife Blended podcast is just one of the ways we’re trying to continue to provide practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families.
David: No doubt, we want to do that in as many ways as possible; and this is one of those other ways that we’re going, “Hey, if you’re a blended family, here’s a place that you can go, where you know things are tailored for you and conversations that are happening for you—you can find them.”
Bob: Well, and if you haven’t checked out Kim Anthony’s podcast, Unfavorable Odds, or the Married with Benefits podcast—or if you’ve not started subscribing to FamilyLife Today to receive it as a podcast or FamilyLife This Week, we’ve got a lot available—go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more about the FamilyLife Podcast Network. Subscribe to any of the podcasts that are available there.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear some thoughts from Dave Wilson about what it means for a man to be a man. I hope you can tune in to hear from Dave tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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