The way back is always difficult.
The path is often long. Arduous. Full of memories.
“Our Father in heaven.
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven.”
There it is. Did you see it?
The last line. On earth as it is in heaven.
What’s happening in heaven is supposed to be happening on earth?
And really, heaven? … perfection, holiness, righteousness, eternal worship, streets of gold, God Almighty. Here on earth?
I am just trying to wake up and pour my first coffee. How does all that show up here on earth? I mean, it sounds really great and all. And I am hoping we get there someday. But how does heaven make it down here on earth?
And then there’s this.
Jesus says, “This is how you are to pray” just before he teaches his disciples to pray this prayer. In other words, he’s saying: Pray like this. Every day. Just after you pour your first coffee. While you’re waking up. Pray “on earth like it is in heaven.”
The challenge for many of us is that we have a default understanding of what we think about when we think of heaven. It goes something like this. Our world is evil. It’s a terrible place to live. Sin, Satan and the rebellious heart of humanity has corrupted God’s design. This world will be destroyed. But God has a better place for those who are faithful to Him.
Those who believe that Jesus died for them. That He died for their sins. Their wrongdoing. They will be saved. Saved from this evil world and God’s destruction of it.
They will go to Heaven. It’s the final “resting” place. The place of perfection. Joy. Eternity. Or in C.S. Lewis’ language, it’s the beginning of the rest of the story.
It’s our hope. It’s what we can be sure of. Not because of what we have done. But because of what He has done.
The only catch is that Heaven is something that we have to wait for.
We haven’t quite got to that place in God’s plan. So, in the meantime, while the world is falling apart, we have to wait. Hang on. Be good. Do our best. Until Heaven comes.
That (or at least parts of that) is often what we think when we think of heaven.
But that’s not what Jesus teaches.
Or, at least, that’s not all that Jesus teaches.
And I might add, that that is not what Jesus was thinking when he told us to pray on earth as it is in heaven.
There is a final Heaven, a time and place where all this is moving, that very much carries many of those ideas of heaven that we have been carrying with us for all these years.
But Jesus was getting at something else. Something a little more real. More tangible.
To understand his teaching in the Gospels we need to think of heaven as the space where God’s reigns, where his effective will is being carried out. Heaven, or the Kingdom of Heaven, is the place where God rules, where his presence and shalom are being worked out here on earth.
Heaven is the body of Christ. His Church. Acting in faith and obedience to the Father’s will. Heaven is the tangible reality of God breaking in with living water. Bread for daily life. Healing from the wounds of sin and heartache. Guidance for the journey of the day.
Heaven is daily bread. Forgiveness of sins. And deliverance from evil.
Heaven is the space where all of a sudden I realize that God has been with me on this commute. When I sense his presence. His love.
Heaven comes when I wrestle with sin, and the light of His love shines into the darkest place. When I confess and turn to the Father. Heaven is there. Breaking in with grace and mercy and peace.
This is heaven. The reign of God. The presence of his love. The kingdom.
Jesus shows us what the in-breaking of heaven is like when he approached the woman at the well and told her he knew her story (“He told me everything I ever did”).
Jesus showed us what heaven is when compassion filled his heart and he touched the leper on the side of the road.
Jesus showed us what heaven is like when he released the captives, helped the blind to see and set the oppressed free.
Jesus said, this is what it looks like when heaven comes to earth.
The New Testament church struggled, faltered at times, but for the most part, many actually believed this (read Acts, it’s all about heaven on earth). That this kind of heaven was accessible to them here on earth.
They believed Jesus.
Not just the part that he died for their sins. That they were saved. That some day they would be with him in “Heaven” for eternity.
No they also believed the part that because of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, that now heaven was breaking into life here on earth.
And because they believed they took Jesus teaching on prayer seriously.
That somehow, because sin, Satan and the tendencies of the heart still has some play here on earth that they needed to lean into Almighty God with prayer and faith, on earth as it is in heaven.
They knew that was all they had.
And the hope of heaven on earth.
Friends, that’s where we are going on this Sunday morning.
I hope you’ll be there.
I’ll be there.
Praying in faith.
That heaven touches earth.
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'" (Matthew 1:23).
God with us.
First to Mary. Then to Joseph.
First to the Jews. Then to all of us.
God with us.
Here on earth.
God in the form of a baby.
On Christmas morn.
He gives up his rights.
Gives up his privileges.
Gives up his glory.
Becomes a servant.
So that we would know love.
So that we would know grace.
So that we would be found.
And not forgotten.
The promise of God being with us is found through the Bible.
When God delivered Israel out of Egypt He promised that he would be with them.
A pillar of cloud by day. A pillar of fire by night.
God with his people.
Through the wilderness.
Then came the Tabernacle.
God was in the Tabernacle. It was his dwelling place.
And the Tabernacle was in the midst of the people.
Through the Tabernacle the people found healing.
Renewal. Freedom from sin.
Life with God.
And God in the midst
First the Tabernacle.
Then the Temple.
And now Jesus.
No matter where we go.
No matter what we have done.
He is there.
This is the promise of Immanuel.
A few weeks ago our boys were helping their grandpa on the farm. Their assignment for the day was to take down a fence.
Fences can be very useful things. They help keep important things in. Things like dogs and chickens and cows, and sometimes even our kids. And sometimes they help keep other things out. Things that are bad or cause damage or pollute or stir up trouble.
There’s no doubt fences can really be good things. The problem is, we often give way more attention to the fences than we need to. Let me share an example.
One day Jesus was walking through the grain fields and his disciples were breaking the heads off the grain. It was the Sabbath and doing something like that was against the rules, while at least the interpretation of the rules by some of the rule-keepers of the day (Mark 2).
It was a common perspective. Sometime later the rabbis would talk about “putting a fence around the Sabbath.” What they meant by that was that in order to guard against the dangers of breaking the Sabbath they felt it was necessary to add more stringent rules to ensure that someone didn’t break the Sabbath. In effect, they “put a fence around the Sabbath” making sure its value wasn’t lost. The problem arose when the focus became about the “fence” and not about the Sabbath itself.
That was Jesus’ concern when confronted about the Sabbath in Mark 2. In response to the religious “fence-keepers” he said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 NLT).
What was Jesus saying? He was reminding those who were accusing the disciples that the real issue is not the fence they’ve put up around the Sabbath but what was on the inside of the fence that really mattered.
The Sabbath then was meant to focus us on God himself. It was there so that we would find rest and new life in Him. It was established so that the worshipper would continue to bring themselves back to the place where their lives were centered.
This wasn’t just the purpose of the Sabbath it was the focus of the law.
The focus of the law, or we might even say, the teachings of God have never been about the fence, or about what’s on the other side of the fence—it’s always been about the One who is at the center.
The danger then is that we can spend too much time focusing on the fence and not what’s on the inside of the fence. The very thing that gives life.
Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill, or accomplish their purpose (Matthew 5:17).
With the arrival of Jesus the centering and life giving reality of the law is fulfilled as we find ourselves dwelling in Him.
It’s in Jesus that we find abundance and life (John 10:10).
The application then of all this is to be careful about the fences that we put up. Fences can be good. They can give us clarity and focus to what’s important. But they can also become a focus in and of themselves.
And the danger of that becomes that we take our attention off the One who is the center of all life and abundance.
The challenge then might be found in a few questions.
What’s my focus these days? Keeping the rules? Staying disciplined? Or abiding in the One who loves me and desires that I simply rest in Him?
Where’s my heart today? Is it anxious? Full of guilt and shame over trying and failing and not measuring up? Why not simply be present to God today? Stop striving and trying to be good enough, just be fully present to Him.
Treasure. We all have it. Every one of us has treasures of some kind. It could be our Coke collection, or our photography equipment or all that Spice Girl stuff we’ve kept since we were in Jr. High School.
Treasures are important to us because we place value on them. Sometimes it’s a monetary value and other times its more a sentimental thing. But either way, we treasure them!
Often it’s the treasures we keep that reveal who we are. We protect them. Keep them secure. Have secrets around them. Spend enormous amounts of time in relation to them.
Maybe that’s why Jesus talked so much about treasure. He knew something about them, and us.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said we need to “store up our treasures in heaven.”
Why? He gave the answer in the very next verse.
Because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
He knew something. He understood the power of treasure. And he realized that if we give our hearts to the wrong kind of treasure then it’s possible we’ll miss something important.
Here it is. Here is the principle Jesus is teaching: Life organizes itself around the heart, so we need to be careful what we give our heart to.
That’s it. That’s why money and wealth and possessions are so important to understand. If we give our hearts to them then we will find they take the place of Jesus in our life. We'll start to serve them. Instead, as Jesus teaches, to use them for the kingdom of heaven.
“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus says, “you cannot serve both God and Money.”
You just can’t do it. You can’t give your heart to two different treasures. For in the end our hearts are ruled by only one.
So if we want to understand money, wealth and possessions, we would be wise to first take some time to understand our heart.
Why Saturday? I mean, why a day in-between?
Couldn't there just have been death, and then the night, and then the next morning the empty tomb? Why the day of not-knowing? Why the day of defeat and despair? Why leave those first followers feeling like all their hopes had fallen down, like the drops of blood consumed by the earth?
[Sunday's Coming will be periodic thoughts that come out of my study and preparation for the upcoming Sunday's teaching]
I worked in a Funeral Home for two years while I was going through seminary. And one of the things I noticed about people when it came to death was it was always an uncomfortable experience. It wasn't just the loss and grief that I observed, it was the genuine discomfort that came when people had to confront what they feared the most.
Somehow, deep within the human psyche there's this fear of seeing our own mortality. Or maybe better, there's this fear of not only losing control but losing everything that you are in the blink of an eye.
What's so amazing to me then, is that in the Kingdom of God, death becomes the pathway to life. In fact, when we read through the Gospels, and particularly focus in on the passion narratives (those passages that tell us about the final weeks of Jesus' life and death) we find that Jesus walks right into death with all of its suffering, pain and horror.
He takes on his shoulders, not just humanity's sin, but the fullness of evil in all of its capacities. You might say, he walked right into death. But the scriptures tell us, that it was because of his death that the victory was won. Evil was conquered. Sin was dealt with. And Satan was undone.
All that opened the way for the resurrection. New creation was now on its way. The early church testified to this--it was his life, death and resurrection that they professed. That was the Good News.
Jesus' death led to life. Not just His life--but yours' and mine as well.
Yet here's the thing. In God's economy the very thing we fear the most, of losing it all, is the very path that we must take.
Faith in Jesus Christ is nothing less than losing it all.
And yet, that faith, that act of death by each of us, opens the door to more than we could ever know.
This is the path we all must take. This is how we follow Jesus.
Into the death that leads to life.
Am I good enough? A young bride shares with her new husband a painful sexual encounter from her past. She's looking at her partner, staring into his eyes, longing for him to give her some sense that she's good enough.
A man finds himself let go from a job and he wonders if he has what it takes. If his whole life is a failure. If he's good enough for anyone. A parent opens an email from of their young adult kids, and it starts with a this line, "I was never good enough for you. I never felt like I lived up to what you wanted my life to be ..."
These are the stories and moments of life that haunt women and men like you and I. These are the kinds of stories that lie beneath the surface of the heart. These are also the stories that become our inner motivators. It's out of these stories that we pursue new narratives, new pathways, new pursuits that lead us to what we hope will be "the good life."
People search for the Good Life in all sorts of ways. And at some point along the way the question often turns from their pursuit of the Good Life to a more personal question, who can be good? And, am I good? They wonder if the "stuff" that makes them who they are is good enough. Or does the hurts and pains and sins and brokenness that clings to their personal story exclude them.
It's in this context of our personal stories that Jesus offers us something else. He offers us a vision of the Good Life. A life that invites us in--no matter who we are. A life that offers to touch the deepest parts of stories--no matter what has happened. And a life promises to transform the way we relate to those around us--no matter where we find ourselves.
Jesus called this the "easy yoke." He promised that it would give rest, rest for the soul.
He said it would come when we learn to pursue Him, and the Kingdom.
And He also taught that many would turn away because they felt the path would cost them too much.
Jesus invites us in to the Good Life. A life that he announces and teaches about in the Sermon on the Mount.
We continue the journey into the Good Life in our Sunday teaching series by the same name.
We continue the journey this coming Sunday, and we invite you to join us.
We continue to encourage the NP Family to reach out to one another, connecting over coffee, inviting others to your house, sharing your life with one another. In fact, I want to challenge us to particularly reach out to others in our church family who aren’t part of your regular friendship circles. There’s a lot of amazing people, and each one of us is connected to one another through our common life in Jesus.
Which brings me to an important thought as we consider this teaching of Jesus. When Jesus commands us to “love our neighbour” our first reaction is often to begin considering just who our neighbour might be. We look around, maybe prayer about it, and then when our hearts have settled on who God is calling us to, we set out to love. Maybe it’s an act of kindness. Maybe it’s being present to them. Or maybe we go “BIG” and we re-order our lives, in some big effort of sacrifice.
I suppose when the day is done all that is good. And maybe, even just a little, the Kingdom has come just a little bit more. But I think what’s missing, at least for me, is the inner work of God’s grace at work in me, and then through me. What I mean is, when people like you and me muster up the energy and begin to focus in on love often do it out of a sense of our own strength. Like a reno project or a P90X workout. But that’s not the “easy yoke” that Jesus was talking about. Loving our neighbour and doing good deeds (something we are going to talk about a little more this Sunday) is not something that comes from us. It’s something that flows from us.
It’s the deeper work of the Good Life when who we desire to be—faith, hope, love, peace, joy—is the natural outflow of who we really are. The Good Life is not simply a command to be better. It’s a command to give up all else and follow Jesus. It’s the command to die to self so that nothing else interferes with the work of Jesus in us. It’s the command to hold on to God in love and faith and worship so that there rises up in us a (super-) natural outflow of love towards one another.
Here’s the thing. If we try to love others, we very well may do some wonderful things. But we also may find ourselves tiring of love. We may find ourselves getting irritated when they don’t love us back like we were hoping. And we may find ourselves feeling burdened under Jesus’ command. The secret then is in Jesus himself—“remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4). Out of this flows what Jesus calls the “easy yoke.” A joyful willingness to serve the other.
May we find ourselves this season, not just busying ourselves with family, friends, turkey, eating and football. But may we find ourselves deeply abiding in the wonders of God’s love. And then may we find our hearts overflowing with faith, hope, love, joy and peace.
Let us love one another, but only as we love the One who loves us with a greater love.