Is heaven God's home in the sky, or His presence in our lives?
Ronnie McBrayer’s new book, “How Far is Heaven?” answers that heaven is right here — right now, God’s presence in our lives and the world.
“Look no further than where we are,” McBrayer, pastor of A Simple Faith, told The Log. “Wherever men and women submit their hearts, intentions, ideals, ambitions, desires, plans and relationships to the lordship of Jesus, there the kingdom of God flourishes. There, God’s will is done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Father Leo Mahon always described it this way: ‘The kingdom of God is the way God would have things in the world.’ Wherever that occurs, heaven is right there.”
In his latest book, McBrayer explores the “kingdom parables of Jesus” and finds in them an urgent challenge for Christians to reassess the gospel they believe and the role their professed faith plays in the world today.
According to McBrayer, the gospel cannot be reduced to apocalyptical escapism, the religious study of the end of ages.
“Apocalyptic escapists put more emphasis on the imminent return of Jesus, the book of Revelation, and the ready-to-fall judgment of God than anywhere else,” he said. “This can, though not always, lead to a very cavalier attitude about this present world. Why be concerned with the future of planet Earth if it’s all going to burn up anyway, and if the fuse is already lit?
“Personally, I believe in the return of Christ, but rather than thinking he is looming on the edge of the atmosphere, the truth is, I will likely never see that return.”
Rather than asking if Jesus were to return today would you be ready? McBrayer asks what if Jesus doesn’t return for a decade, a century, or a millennia? What kind of world do we want to be a part of then?
“As Jesus proclaims and pointed to it, the kingdom of God is not an evacuation plan to rescue people from earth or to just save people from the sufferings of the afterlife,” McBayer said. “Rather, it is a revolutionary strategy to redeem the sufferings of earth by putting the rule and reign of heaven inside of people.”
In three of the four books McBrayer has written, including “How Far Is Heaven,” the kingdom of God has been the direct or indirect subject.
“This was also Jesus’ favorite subject,” McBrayer said. “Jesus used the phrase kingdom of God or the equivalent kingdom of heaven more than a hundred times in the gospels. As one whose spirituality is very Jesus-centered, meaning I spend much more time reading and hopefully practicing his words, one has to keep the kingdom of God continually in focus.”
As McBrayer, a columnist for The Walton Sun, read and studied the “red letter words” of the gospels, he discovered that Jesus was into storytelling.
“Jesus was not as much into doctrine and dogma as we Christians are,” McBrayer said. “So when he spoke about the kingdom of God he spoke about dinner parties and wedding feasts. He told tales about wandering sheep and prodigal sons. He talked about farmers sowing seed in a field, mustard seed taking over a garden like kudzu, yeast consuming a lump of dough, and a poor man discovering a lost treasure.”
Jesus told stories rather than wrote creeds, and it is these stories that fill “How Far is Heaven?” Many of the parables begin with “The kingdom of God is like …” and Jesus stressed the importance of the present kingdom of God.
“Jesus never defined the kingdom of God, he described it,” McBrayer said. “He expounded about it, but never really explained it. He compared the kingdom of God to certain things, but he never clarified.”
“How Far Is Heaven” explores these kingdom parables and calls for people to reassess the gospel they believe and the role faith plays in the world today.
“When Jesus invited his disciples — then as well as now – to ‘Follow me,’ he was inviting us to get in on the world-redeeming, evil-conquering, status-reversing, life-transforming movement of God that had come to earth,” McBrayer said. “He was inviting us to find a better way to live — to find the power for a better world, today, not just in the hereafter.”