• Yes, there is bad religion.  But there is also wonderful religion.

I never thought I’d see hostile tanks rumbling through a European city. Or hear the wail of air raid sirens. Or watch live video of non-combatants making Molotov cocktails. I can only imagine how Europeans who were alive during WWII feel about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Several years ago I was leading a Bible study, talking about how Jesus’ first public words were “The Kingdom of Heaven is here!” I mentioned, somewhat offhandedly, that when a practicing Christian dies and goes to heaven they should find it familiar territory. I was surprised when I received pushback about this. A rather grumpy member of the class said I was wrong.

My current “Steve the Pastor” series on Facebook is about prayer. You probably know that the first request of the Lord’s prayer is “Thy Kingdom come.” I often pose the question, “When you pray for Aunt Edna’s arthritis, how are you praying for God’s kingdom of heaven to happen on earth?” (And I love Aunt Edna, by the way, she makes sublime oatmeal cookies).

This begs the question, what does the kingdom of heaven look like? How do we pray for it to happen? How will we know when it arrives? There are two ways to imagine this. First, compile all of Christ’s teachings to form your kingdom vision: people healed, demons subdued, everyone, including sex workers and traitors and Romans, are dearly valued, and people share with one another. That’s a beautiful image.

The second way is a wonderful spiritual exercise: imagine heaven. No sickness. No hospitals. No sadness. No police. No locks on doors. No poverty or inequity. No one is forgotten or neglected. There are no missiles or fragmentation mines or soldiers. There is no war. We are so saturated in our fallen world it can be difficult to imagine a life without all of this. By the way prayerfully imagining this heavenly existence is a spiritual practice quite suitable for the Lenten season.

As followers of Christ, the “kingdom-of-heaven-test” is crucial. How am I making heaven a present reality? And how am I praying for the kingdom of heaven to infiltrate today? We pray for peace in Ukraine. We contribute to those in need. We show loving-kindness to people who are different. We elect those who pursue peace. Heaven gets closer.

John Lennon was on the right track when he wrote “Imagine:”

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…”

However, Mr. Lennon also said “Imagine there’s no heaven.” But for anyone who understands what Jesus was all about will know: heaven is the solution. In the future and right now.