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Lately, I've been thinking about my friend Charles and missing him. He spent the last decade of his life as the director of student services in my hometown school district, on the front lines of advocacy for some of the most vulnerable children in the community. It was a role he relished.

Charles died of leukemia a few years ago. His friends gathered on a scraggly piece of land along the Tallapoosa River in north Georgia for his memorial service. He loved that piece of land and the river that runs through it. He used it as his sanctuary.

I use the word "sanctuary" intentionally, for Charles wouldn't enter a church. See, he had lost a good deal of faith in politics, education, matrimony, and he seemed to have lost the most faith in religion. Yet, Charles never lost his hope for living in a better world. He kept wishing — and tirelessly working —for nothing less than the Kingdom of God (though he disagreed with my terminology).

The "Kingdom of God" can invoke images of a dreamy heaven where haloed angels live in the sweet by-and-by; but I just don't think that heaven is that far away. Jesus taught that having faith is not so much about moving up and out when we die; it is about embracing and fostering the presence of God in this current world.

I believe that one day all of creation will be remade. I believe the world will be divinely washed clean and all things will be made right. But I do not believe such faith gives me permission to be a spectator waiting for utopia. Such faith compels me to act, as Charles did, living as God would have this world to be. Such faith invites me, not to wish for a brighter future, but to work for it. Implement it. Practice it. Live it.

It never troubled me that Charles didn't go to the "House of God" on Sundays. Rather, it encouraged me that he went to do the work of God every day. I was never bothered by his claims to have no faith. Rather, I was challenged by how he actually practiced his faith. Not all of God's work is done within the four walls of the church house. In fact, the lion's share of it is done outside, because that is where it is needed the most.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

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