During the 2 days with Suresh i preached 7 times. I didn't know i was going to preach 7 times, but 7 different times he gave me a nod about 10minutes in advance and i would pray and start thumbing through my Bible and ask the Spirit to reveal what i should share. That probably sounds more mystical than it really is, but the truth is that i have notes from every sermon series from the last year written into my Bible plus all of my devotional reflections, scholarly notes, and little tidbits and ruminations i've picked up here and there.
My Bible is a very valuable asset.
Anyway, i would pray and toss a few ideas around, and then i'd notice that there was always some idea i'd come back to and that's how i knew the Spirit was drawing me back to that particular concept or scripture.
The cool part was realizing just how powerful certain topics are in a polyreligious context. India is predominantly Hindu, which means that in that religion alone there are 3 million deities and a strongly formed cosmogeny and afterlife (both of which, obviously, compete with our Christian story of how the world was made and what happens to us when we die). Furthermore, there are Hindu temples on every street and people go into those temples at all hours to make sacrifices to idols.
So, when i started preaching about how we're made in the image of God, and how that word image really means "idol," and how God detests stone idols because they devalue our humanity, etc...it hit a wholly different nerve than when we talk that way at home. People understood that the stone idols aren't just fake or demonic or whatever, but that the only true idols are people - placed on this earth to remind creation of God's authority and presence.
Preaching that message there was like controlling the power grid for an entire city, because every lightbulb over every head first got turned on and then began glowing brighter and brighter.
One of the other cool moments was teaching about Simon the Sorcerer (who tried to buy the Holy Spirit from Phillip and Peter). Again, since witchcraft is so prevalent in India, the confrontation between the power of Christ and the powers of darkness was far more relevant and meaningful than back in the States.
Likewise, telling the story of Ezekiel and the Dry Bones was super-cool because the impoverished villagers could totally relate to the feeling of being "cut off," and could totally cling to the hope that there is life to the dead and dying through the power of the Spirit.
I also enjoyed teaching about Jonah and connecting his prophetic task to the mission of Jesus. There were always kids in these meetings, so it felt great just to tell these timeless tales and watch the kids make faces and react to the fantastical bits of the stories.
My favorite message, though, had to be about Isaiah 65 and the promise of the New Earth. I like that topic anyway, but standing in a mud hut, surrounded by trash, reeking of filth and excrement and death and animals and old milk and spoiled food made the promise of something new so much sweeter.
And, as always, it got me thinking about Jackson.
Do you know that, since our final destination is here on this earth remade and infused with God's holy presence, it only stands to reason that the actual town of Jackson, Michigan will be part of heaven?
Think about that for a minute. Based on Is 65+66, Ez 40-48, Ro 8, 1 Cor 15, and Rev 21+22, we know that God will remake this world and put us into it in new bodies to once again be His stewards and shepherds of creation.
But there's nothing to say how long the (re)creation of the world will take. And, since we've got eternity, why have we always assumed this would happen in an instant? There's no scriptural support for an instantaneous re-creation...just a hunch we've all kind of had. Furthermore, both scripturally and practically, we have to acknowledge that God tends to take His time, that He values the process and the formation that comes from doing the hard work of being faithful and obedient.
Put all this together, and i can't help but think that - given eternity and a new physicality and a restored mission to tend the garden - our early task in heaven will be to perfect Jackson.
Don't call the crazy police just yet, i'm simply chasing a logical train of thought down to it's furthest conclusion.
In heaven - the place where God is in charge and things are the way He wants them to be - we will have new bodies - capable of moving at the speed of thought, immune to disease or fatigue - and will be restored to our original operating system as God's tselem - His shadows, designed to look after the world - and we will be placed in a new earth - which is not to say that this one will be destroyed, only that God's presence will be here fully and that presence will heal this world of its present corruption - and we will worship him night and day - which, it's important to remember, means we will work with Him and cooperate with Him (in Hebrew "work" and "worship" are the same word).
All of which leads me to suspect that we might spend eternity fixing up Jackson.
We'd be making New Jackson, akin to New Jerusalem.
We would be unimpeded by all of the things that hurt Jackson now - economy, bureaucracy, corruption, despair - but would have access to limitless resources as heirs of the Kingdom and would undoubtedly continue to learn, invent, and fulfill our mandate as co-creators with God.
How long would it take to clean up the pond at Cascades? To fix up Francis street? To restore our historical landmarks? To re-pave 94? To get rid of every pollution-causing industry and vehicle? To return the landscape back to its original design an meld our city with the natural beauty surrounding it in such a way God would be glorified and His creation cultivated?
More importantly, how long would it take before we fixed every single problem we've spent the last couple of thousand years creating? Ten thousand years to heal the world of our neglect and abuse? Twenty thousand?
And then what?
Then we would still have eternity left to create, to tend, to cultivate, to celebrate, to laugh, to love, to hear and know the stories of everyone who ever lived and weave those stories into creation for the glory of God.
That's quite a pipe dream, i know, but it gives me great hope for the present time because every good activity in which we are involved now is like an appetizer to the eternal entree.
What we will do then we can do now, and has great meaning as a result.
I've said it before: this is what Jesus meant when he said "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
The bad news is this: when you die, you're gonna wake up in Jackson
The good news is this: it won't be like it is now, and you'll get to help make it the way it always should have been.
That's good news for people living in the wayside villages in India, too. God wants things to be different just as badly as they do - as we do - and He will empower us to make things right in the end.
In fact, He has already begun to do just that.