Where is Heaven?

By Linda Tancs

Where is Heaven? Heaven is where God is, our eternal home. But don’t just look up. Look around, too, because Heaven is all around you. As poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau put it, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

In other words, it’s more than just a salvific concept. The kingdom of Heaven is God’s presence in our daily lives, a real-time experience. As Jesus said in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). It comes in the most ordinary moments of life, when we bridge our gaps with others and when we gather in a community of faith. Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel gives us Jesus’s examples of our collaborative role in Kingdom work. For instance, He likens the Kingdom to a mustard seed that we, the people, sow in a field. In other discourse, He likens the Kingdom to yeast that a woman mixes with flour to leaven (Matthew 13:31-35). In each case, God provides the tools for our fruitful use, showing us that salvation is not something we have to wait for; it’s something we can experience in our everyday lives. The same message underlies Luke’s understanding of salvation. The healing scenes he presents give us examples of what different expressions of salvation in daily life look like (Luke: 4:31-37; 4:38-44; 5:12-16; 5:17-26; 7:1-10; 7:11-17; 7:21; 7:21; 8:40-56; 9:37-45; 13:10-17; 17:11-19; and 18:35-43).

Move beyond an individualistic view of salvation and look for the communal aspects of it.

Playing Favorites

By Linda Tancs

Playing favorites is an unavoidable aspect of life. Sometimes parents play favorites; maybe you’re “the favorite child.” Or maybe you’ve been “teacher’s pet” or the favored one in the office. In our imperfect world, it’s often too easy to curry favor with someone and receive extra attention, extra credit or extra money. Acceptance might be based on performance.

God, on the other hand, does not play favorites. As the Bible reminds us, His rain falls on the just and the unjust, the sun on the evil as well as the good (Matthew 5:45). Try as you may, your performance won’t affect your standing. Consider Jesus’s encounters with the “much married” woman at the well (John 4) and Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). He met them where they were at, sin and all. And he’ll meet you there, too. Does that mean you shouldn’t try to be the best person you can be? Of course not. You’ll do your best because you want to please God in recognition of His pure love for you.

The Greatest Gift

By Linda Tancs

Maybe you have been in a situation when, after receiving an extravagant gift, you found yourself saying, “Oh, I can’t possibly accept this.” Our walk with Jesus is a lot like that. Sometimes it’s just too awesome to comprehend that He would surrender His own life to pay for our sins and assure us of everlasting life (1 Peter 1:18-19; Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In fact, a study several years ago found that those who left the faith did so not because God’s Word was too hard to believe but because it was too good to believe. His extraordinary gifts of love and salvation were just too much.

We live in a society of reciprocity. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours. An eye for an eye. And so on. Isn’t it comforting to know that in this life there’s a gift we can simply accept—with gratitude—without the pressure, or need, to repay?

Get Out of the Boat

By Linda Tancs

You’ve no doubt heard the expression “to walk on water,” the accomplishment of an extraordinary feat—or how you may appear to others. Like so many other idioms, its origin is in the Bible (Matthew 14:26-32). When Peter and the other disciples were in his boat on the Sea of Galilee, buffeted by waves, Jesus came toward them by walking on the water. Sensing an apparition, they were terrified, but Peter was at least willing to meet Jesus’ command to leave the boat. It was a bold move motivated by faith. Even though Peter lost his nerve amidst the waves, the rest of the cohort missed out entirely on an incredible experience by remaining within the confines of that boat.

What are you missing out on? Don’t confuse the abandonment of a healthy, bona fide opportunity with a fixation on wanting the same experience that someone else is having simply for the sake of having it (popularly referred to as FOMO, or “fear of missing out”). Are you willing to take a leap? Then get out of the boat.

Sticks and Stones

By Linda Tancs

An old childhood rhyme begins, “Sticks and stones may break my bones.” In the Bible, stones (and clubs) are often depicted as obstacles, even instruments of death. For instance, we’re reminded of stoning as a punishment for sin in the story about the adulteress brought before Jesus for sentencing (John 8:2-5). Also, Jesus reacts disappointedly to his arrest with the use of swords and clubs, as if He were a robber (Mark 14:48; Matthew 26:55; Luke 22:52). And then there’s the imposing stone placed before the entrance to the tomb following Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 16:3).

What are your “stones” in life? Age? Infirmity? Anger? Resentment? Fear? Don’t let them break you. There’s no stone so big that He can’t roll it back. Focus on building a better foundation based on the One who is the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22; Acts 4:11).

Yield and Reap

By Linda Tancs

Yielding is sometimes a negative form of surrender, like when you let someone else’s opinion of your ability dictate your actions or dreams. Other times we get aggravated at yielding, like at a traffic sign that’s delaying where you need to go or when rules of order require you to give the floor to another speaker. But, from a spiritual perspective, yielding is a sign of strength, an ability to trust God.

Think of the great freedom arising from yielding up the kind of self-pity that accompanies a variety of circumstances: past rejection, a friend’s betrayal, lost opportunity. Yet it isn’t easy to yield because we’re taught to stand our ground. Of course, sometimes intractability is a good thing, like resisting peer pressure to engage in unhealthy, unethical or illegal acts. But other times we hold on when we should be letting go. It’s about who’s right and who’s wrong rather than moving forward. We get comfortable with the pain.

John’s Gospel tells the story of a crippled man at the pool in Bethesda who held on to his position at the pool’s edge for 38 years. He couldn’t bring himself (literally and figuratively) to experience the curative powers of that water. And then Jesus came along and simply told him to “get up.” And he did (John 5:1-9). His trust in God overcame his self-pity.

American activist Dorothea Dix once said, “Our minds may now be likened to a garden, which will, if neglected, yield only weeds and thistles; but, if cultivated, will produce the most beautiful flowers, and the most delicious fruits.” In God’s economy, He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5). So yield and reap; don’t weep.

Flavor of the Month

By Linda Tancs

You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “flavor of the month.” It means a person or thing enjoying a short period of great popularity. Applied in the negative, it’s the state you’ve lost when your stock drops, so to speak. Depending on your circumstance, it may mean you’re no longer relevant, on trend, winning, and so on—to your family, friends, employer or acquaintances. Maybe you’ve become, as the late film star Katharine Hepburn famously put it, “box office poison.”

Jesus could relate. One day they’re cheering Him in the streets (Matthew 21:1-11) at His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and just days later another throng wants Him crucified (Matthew 27:22-23). However badly you feel about your own situation, His loss of reputation led to a loss of life—that is, until the Resurrection. So take heart. You, too, can arise anew. Life is full of second chances. As another adage goes, everything old is new again.

Be Inspired, Not Tired

By Linda Tancs

How energized are you? Do you feel like the tortoise—or the hare? If your answer is the tortoise, know that you’re in good company. Recent studies show that, among other factors, stress and social media are taking a toll on energy levels. It’s disheartening, especially considering that Scripture exhorts us to begin each day with zeal and enthusiasm (Romans 12:11).

So how do you put some zest back into life? For starters, it doesn’t hurt to get inspired. As the literary figure Goethe allegedly said, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.” What are you dreaming about? What did you dream about as a kid? What do other people think you’re good at? Do you have a hobby? Another tactic for zeal is gratitude, something encouraged in the Bible (Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 12:2-3). Jesus likewise encourages you to give your tired mind, body or soul to Him for refreshment (Matthew 11:28-30). Don’t be tired; get inspired.

 

Oh, No You Don’t

By Linda Tancs

Writer and poet Khalil Gibran once wrote that we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty and obey only love. That’s pretty much the foundation for the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17). Those rules illustrate our ideal relationship with God (verses 3 through 11) as well as our relationship with others (verses 12 through 17).

Have you ever wondered why so many are written as negative injunctions (thou shalt not) rather than positive ones (thou shalt)? The discipline of social psychology did not yet exist, but the basis for the commandments’ efficacy may lie there. According to some scientists, we judge the violation of a “shalt not” more harshly than the failure to observe a “shalt.” So for the sake of an ordered society, we probably need more “shalt nots” in the form of proscriptions against theft, murder and deception as dictated in the commandments. And for the sake of our relationship with God, we need proscriptions against idolatry and defamation to define, develop and enhance our relationship with Him. Regardless of the form of the injunction, though, we learn through the Ten Commandments to love God and love His children, something Jesus would later say sums up all of the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:35-40).

It’s Okay to Wobble

By Linda Tancs

If you’re of a certain vintage, you probably remember the Weebles toy—“Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” Think of that toy as a metaphor for life. Each of us needs to bounce back in the face of setbacks. Maybe you’ve fallen short in some area of your life—marriage, career, parenting. Just don’t settle for lack; get back on the horse, as the saying goes.

Discouragement scourges and oppresses progress. Consider the Israelites, whose grumbling and complaining kept them out of the Promised Land, ultimately for 40 years even though the journey was roughly only 11 days (Numbers 14:2-4; Deuteronomy 1:2). And then there’s Abraham’s father, Terah, who set out with his family in tow for Canaan but then settled for Haran (Genesis 11:31). In each case, the parties outright surrendered to discouragement and thwarted the progress God intended for them.

Wobble if you must, but don’t surrender (see Proverbs 24:16). Don’t settle for less than God’s best. Pray for the strength to hold on and not give up (Luke 18:1). You can’t reap a harvest without tending to the field (Galatians 6:9).