On Earth As It Is In Heaven: A Brief Theological Reflection

“…on earth as it is in heaven…” While we might consider this from the trajectory of the revelation of the God to Israel preceding Jesus’ statement (which would be a fitting approach), we might also consider this statement as embodied in the one leading the prayer: Jesus the Christ. Such a reflection (drawing from the New Testament) offers several hearings of this text leading to praying and doing.
We might understand by “heaven” not an ethereal disembodied sphere of existence “out there” or even “above here”, but as wherever the kingdom of God is present. Wherever God reigns is most properly to be regarded as “heaven”. While God’s reign is not fully experienced “on earth” it is coming to bear “on earth” even as it has from the beginning of creation and the planting of the garden.
Considering such a view of “heaven” we might define “on earth” as that sphere of existence wherein God’s reign is less fully yet being realized.
There is a strange movement that occurs here. It is never as if “earth” is not where God reigns, nor is “heaven” to be regarded as itself such bliss that nothing more could be added to it. No. The kingdom of God is yet more realized in both heaven and earth by the two becoming the kingdom of our God and His Christ. This is not to suggest something essential lacking to the reign “in heaven,” but to appeal to the grace of God towards, in, and for us in his self-giving love embodied in Christ Jesus.
Christ Jesus brings heaven to bear on earth. Or more properly first, the Holy Spirit brings heaven to bear on earth in the virgin Mary. This is “God with us”. God being toward us, heaven toward earth (even in the earth).
Christ Jesus bears heaven on earth as the light burdens being given in place of earth’s heavy burdens. He seeks and saves that which is lost as a light blazing in the darkness. Earth cannot be regarded as wholly other to heaven. Unclean spirits are cast out. Disease and even death itself is demonstrably overcome on earth as it is in heaven. And these are all laid to bear on the cross as one raised up from the earth and lifted up into heaven in shamefulness. Yet the Father sees fit to not leave his Son buried in the earth, but raises him up to ascend into heaven to His right hand as King Jesus. And from there the Father pours out Jesus’ Spirit upon all flesh to fill the hearts and mouths of the saints with heaven on earth until the earth should be filled with the fullness of the glory of God.
And heaven shall be opened and the Christ descend bearing heaven to the earth. At last the kingdom shall come in fullness as his reign continues without end. His throne (the throne of God and of the Lamb) established in His city now come down from heaven and established upon the new heavens and the new earth. It is here, in the two joining, that we are praying toward as Jesus taught us to. It is here, in the two joining, that we are working toward as the Spirit compels and empowers us to. It is here that we (and all of creation with us) are moving toward: the day when the Father in heaven’s name is holified, His kingdom come, and His will done “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Where He Leads I'll Follow

The Winding Path - Leiden, Zuid Holland
The Winding Path – Leiden, Zuid Holland

I never cease being surprised by the many places the Lord will take those who follow his calling. One could never conceive what such a journey might look like. Following Jesus is an adventure.
As a newborn I was prayed over in the Block Memorial Chapel of Trinity Bible Institute (now College and Graduate School). I had been born just a few blocks away in the old hospital in Ellendale, North Dakota. A visiting evangelist prayed blessings over me that someday I might preach Jesus to many around the world.
As a sixteen year old, I heard the voice of Jesus calling me in a church service in Omaha, Nebraska, to give my life for the ministry of sharing Jesus among Muslims. I intended to go straight upon graduation to some far off land and figure things out en-route. Instead, I heard the words of a district youth leader in the Assemblies of God of Nebraska (who went on to serve in missions full-time) addressing the need to commit to training because the cost of serving Jesus demanded that I demonstrate faithfulness to study and be discipled  into the man of God I was called to be. So I enrolled at Trinity Bible College for their Missions Major.
After Trinity I pastored several churches in rural North Dakota and Minnesota over the course of 14 years. This was the result of hearing the call of the Lord to preach followed immediately by an unquenchable passion to do just that. I had not intended to be a preacher (or a pastor).  But Jesus had other plans.
I found myself preaching for youth conferences, family and youth camps, special services, and missions conventions around the region. And I could not help but preach Jesus wherever I found an open invitation. It has led to ministry among German Lutherans and Mennonites, Swedish Baptists, Norwegian and Romanian Pentecostals, and African diaspora on three different continents. I have preached under trees, in soup kitchens, on streets, in stone churches, and private homes. I have witnessed Jesus healing and setting free. I have shared Jesus among the poor of central Mexico and on the streets of El Salvador. I have fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the sick. I have joined the chorus of saints gathered from across Europe and Africa worshiping Jesus in northern Italy.
I now write as one who has been training workers for the Lord of the Harvest for 4 years in two colleges, one graduate school and one seminary (between two countries). I write this as one about to preach on “prayer and action” for a series of meetings in an African church in western North Dakota. Who could have imagined such a thing?
I write this as one who sees the great harvest before me. I am moved to weeping. I am compelled to preach. I am enjoined to prayer. I hear Jesus calling…where it takes me before he comes again, I don’t know.
But I will follow! And I gaze longingly into the future before me!

Prayer (Poetics of Meaning) – A Maundy Thursday Devotion

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable name, murmuring Thou;
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Meanings, I know, that cannot be the thing thou art.
All prayers always, taken at their word, blaspheme,
Invoking with frail imageries a folk-lore dream;
And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
To senseless idols, if thou take them at their word,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
One that is not (so saith that old rebuke) unless
Thou, of mere grace, appropriate, and to thee divert
Men’s arrows, all at hazard aimed, beyond desert.
Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense, but in thy great,
Unbroken speech, our halting metaphor translate.

C. S. Lewis, “The Pilgrim’s Regress,” The Timeless Writings of C. S. Lewis
(New York: Inspirational Press, 2003), p. 109.

feet

May our prayers never be answered in the subtleties of our self-deceit, but according to the glorious and super-abounding faithfulness of Your Son and Your Spirit by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” May the Spirit-groans that longingly beckon for Your sons and daughters to be revealed with Your glory and receive their inheritance be heard. Cleanse our lips and make us clean. We wash our hands, He washes our feet, but who can cleanse our hearts? Who can give us a mind like Yours? Who can make our confessions better than our intentions, better than our stammering and inverted lifeless words?

Hear our prayers, oh Lord, because You hear His prayers and sanctify us to Yourself in the unity of Your Spirit. In this we praise You! Hallelujah and Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Why Prayer Is Not Important

praying handsOnce again, our adult Sunday School class was studying prayer in the Scripture this morning and my mind was taken with the many directions of our conversations with the Scripture. But one thing that came to me in all of this discussion was that prayer is not important.
Prayer is not important…it is essential. We live and breathe by the mercy and gift of Almighty God. We are kept from sin and sanctified to His purpose by His Holy Spirit. We are clothed with His power, by abiding in His presence. Prayer is essential! It is not simply “important”.
While meditating on this (after morning worship), I happened upon a brief article entitled: “Is Prayer Essential?” (by Walter Raymond Beach in Ministry: International Journal for Pastors [April 1968]) which spoke volumes in its short message. The following was particularly poignant:
“We must not conceive of prayer,” wrote the saintly Trench, “as an attempt to overcome God’s reluctance, but as laying hold of His highest willingness.”
Prayer is not designed to change God, but to change us. The chief aim of the prayer is for the supplicant to come so completely into harmony with God that God’s will be­comes his. Then the supplicant becomes a partner with God and is ready to cooper­ate with Him in whatever God wants. He identifies his will and purpose with God’s will and purpose. Then God, if need be, can lift his mind from what he prayed for, to something better. The supplicant will realize that God is working on His plan and that all things will work together for good.
And certainly, our prayers should be in­volved more with spiritual blessings than material blessings. Origen recalled this word from apostolic days: “Ask the great things and the little things will be added unto you; ask the heavenly things and the earthly things will be added unto you.”
You can read the rest of the article HERE.
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* Originally blogged by me at bluechippastor.org on February 17, 2013.

Praying Well

praying handsToday in our Adult Sunday School* we were discussing prayer and my mind was taken to how we as the Church might pray well. We seem to have a penchant for and pride in our “free” prayers as Evangelicals (and particularly as Pentecostals). However, it seems such “free” prayers may more often than not tend toward unguided babbling, self-centeredness, or even childishness over genuinely praying well in accordance with the will of God. (This is by no means to denigrate “free” prayers which form a significant part of my own prayer life).
Three ways in which we might be delivered from such tendencies and pray God’s will better would be to (1) pray with the Church, (2) pray with the Scriptures, and (3) pray with the Spirit.
We can pray with the Church by joining our prayers to those of the Church which goes before us (for example, by following the prayers of The Book of Common Prayer, praying with the prayers of saints of old, etc). We can also join our prayers to those of the wider body of Christ in the world today.
We can pray with the Scriptures by praying the Psalms (properly called the “prayerbook of the Bible”). It has been said that while most Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us. We can pray the prayers of David, Daniel (Dan.9), and Nehemiah (Neh.9). We can pray with the prophets of old, we can pray with the apostles. We can pray with John the Revelator, and we can pray with our Lord Jesus (John 17; or our Lord’s Prayer Matt.6:9-13/Luke 11:2-4).
Finally, we can pray with the Spirit even when we do not have the words to pray. We can pray with inexpressible groanings and know God hears His Spirit’s intercessions (and that of His Son’s) on our behalf being in and through and for us (Rom.8:26-27).
Such helps to our prayers are given that we might know we pray according to God’s will…and when we do, we know we are heard. And we are being shaped more and more after the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.
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* Originally blogged at bluechippastors.org on February 10, 2013.

The Discipline of Prayer Retreat

Jesus took his disciples away from the crowds to be alone with them…in prayer and fellowship…and he also went alone to be with His Father. (Luke 9:28; Matthew 14:23)
This week I traveled to a neighboring town to spend a day in prayer and fasting with some pastors from the region. It was refreshing to offer prayers for each other and know there are others who take their responsibility as a pastor seriously enough to gather for such a thing. I find these “retreats” to be essential to my well-being and success as a pastor.
Just a few years ago I was feeling the wear and tear of ministry and needing to find a place for retreat. My wife and I had searched online for any possible places where I could take a few days and that would not cost a lot. As it turns out the seminary I was attending would let me stay for a very reasonable price. They housed me in a small dorm where I was the only one staying. No T.V. No music. No internet. Just the solace of the few books I brought with me (including my Bible), a laptop for writing and some basic food stuffs. It became my “monastery” for spiritual retreat and I have often found great refreshment as I prayed and studied there.
In other words, I’ve had to discover (and re-discover) the strength and renewing of such times of retreat…both with others and alone. Lord, teach me to pray and find my daily provision in the hand of your Father.
[originally blogged at bluechippastor.org May 12, 2012]

Asking for Blessing or Giving Thanks?

English: Hostess Twinkies. Yellow snack cake w...
English: Hostess Twinkies. Yellow snack cake with cream filling. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a recent conversation, I noted a particular question that was posed about “blessing the food” when we gather to eat. Here are my reflections: We do not ask for the food to be blessed, per se, but we bless the Lord and we give thanks for the food.

  • “We do not ask for the food to be blessed, per se,…” – What I mean by this is that the “food” does not need “blessed” (I’m never quite sure what that is supposed to really mean in many of our contexts). I have been witness to prayers offered for God to bless by making nutritional what was self-confessed by the one praying as not nutritional (think Twinkies). The food that we eat is our choice and responsibility. If we should not consume it because of health issues then simply don’t consume it. However, we do well to not ask for some “blessing” for what we already know to not be blessed by the Lord. However, if it may be “consecrated” (another factor in being “blessed”) then we do well to do so in faith. Whatever we eat or drink must be done in faith. If we can do such, then we may “consecrate” (or “bless”) the food given by the Father for our enjoyment and His good pleasure (cf. Matthew 26:26; 1 Cor.10:16).
  • “…but we bless the Lord…” – If any blessing is to be requested and/or given, it is a blessing of the Lord for His grace and mercy in provision. We do well to bless the Maker of heaven and earth. We do well to bless the Father of Lights who knows how to give good and perfect gifts (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17) to those who ask Him.
  • “…and we give thanks for the food.” – In everything we give thanks, because we recognize ourselves to be the undeserving children of God.  Let us give thanks as our Lord Jesus gave thanks in sharing the supper with his disciples (Luke 24:30).

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ.‏
“Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Let it be said by God’s people: “You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you.” (Deut.8:10 – NRSV)Berakot
 

Prayers and Psalms (for Ash Wednesday)

ImageMay the Lord hear our cries! May the Lord grant redemption to the ends of the earth! May every tongue, tribe, people, and nation praise the Lord! He has forgiven us and we are forgiven! He calls to life…and we live! He is coming again and He is preparing His Bride! Prepare your people to enter into the rest which alone is found in your enduring mercy and grace! Love us with your everlasting love!

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake, Amen
St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)
PSALM 103 (NLT)
Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone — as though we had never been here.
But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!
The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.
 Praise the LORD, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans,listening for each of his commands.

Father, forgive us as we forgive others. Grant us mercy this day to live in a manner pleasing to the glory of your Name. We fall in your presence as those who must give the labor of our hands to your praise. Cleanse our hands that they might be clean. We are those who must surely declare your praise. Give us pure hearts that we might know the joy of your presence.  Keep us in the time of our temptation that we may cling to you. Wash us and we will be clean. Pour out your Spirit and we will live. Let your Son’s judgment be our own and receive us into your glory as well-pleasing sons and daughters. To you alone be all praise, glory, and honor, forever and ever. Amen.

Praying the Imprecatory Psalms

ImageI have found it disturbing (to say the least) that some folks in the U.S. believe that the imprecatory psalms offer a prayer for our current president (from Psalm 109:8).  This is nothing if not disgusting abuse of the Scriptures to promote hate-mongering. However, I’m not so simple as to think the Church should not appropriate the imprecatory psalms into our prayer life, but to recognize that between the Church and the Psalms…is Christ–crucified, died, buried, raised on the third day, and coming again to judge the living and the dead.
So I thought I’d include a brief discussion of Bruce Waltke’s and Derek Kidner’s approach to these troubling psalms:
Bruce Waltke believes that while imprecatory psalms are “theologically sound…these petitions for retribution are inappropriate for the church because, among other reasons, judgment will occur in the eschaton (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Isa. 61:1-2 with Matt. 13:30; 25:46; Luke 4:18-20; John 15:15; 2 Cor. 6:2; 2 Thess. 1:5-9); sin and sinner are now more distinctly differentiated (cf. Eph. 6:11-18), allowing the saint both to hate sin and to love the sinner; and the saint’s struggle is against spiritual powers of darkness, where he conquers by turning the other cheek and by praying for the forgiveness of enemies (Matt. 5:39-42, 43-48; 6:14; Luke 6:28, 35; Acts 7:60).” [“Psalms: Theology of” (pp.1100-1115), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), IV:1106-1107]
Derek Kidner (Psalms 1-72 [TOTC 15; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1975]) writes, “To get fully in tune with the psalmists on this issue we should have to suspend our consciousness of having a gospel to impart (which affects our attitude to fellow-sinners) and our assurance of a final righting of wrongs (which affects our attitude to present anomalies).” He believes we cannot properly hear the answer given to injustice in such psalms “until we have felt the force of their questions” (40). Further, he perceives that there is a sense of rhetoric at play wherein “horror may be piled on horror more to express the speaker’s sense of outrage than to spell out the penalties he literally intends” (41-42). He likens such extreme language to hyperbole for the sake of deep emotional expression that could simply not be expressed otherwise than it is. Finally, he argues that such language is intended “to touch and kindle us rather than simply address us” (42). Where we might think to criticize the psalmist (from some “reasonable” perspective), we are drawn into the “desperation which produced” the cry of imprecation (42). His understanding of a Christian appropriation suggests that rather than judgment being removed (though dealt finally by the cross of Christ) is actually drawn nearer and taken from the hands of the wronged individual and placed into the nail-scarred hands of Christ as Lord (43-45). His reply to the Christian wanting a straightforward appropriation is a “No” because the cross stands between us and these psalms (46-47).
We can hear the cries of victims of injustice and abuse and offer the healing of Christ, but we cannot truly pray such judgment upon individuals least of all those in authority over us (1 Tim.2:1-3).  We can (and must) offer prayers of imprecation concerning the ultimate justice of God that all might be set to rights.  (See also my older post “Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon’s Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock”)
So what are your thoughts on praying these psalms?

Neighbors Knocking in the Night

This morning Jenn and I were awakened at a quarter to 5 by our doorbell ringing again and again. I quickly (or as quickly as someone with only half their wits about them stumbling in the dark towards the door having been abruptly yanked from a deep sleep) answered the door. It was one of my neighbors. He had accidentally locked himself out of his rental house and his garage, and needed the code for opening the garage from the owner of house. So he needed to use a phone to call. After finally getting into his garage and taking off for work I was reminded (in my still half-stupour) of the story Jesus told about the annoying neighbor (and no you won’t find that as the title of the section in your Bible) in Luke 11:5-10

5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him,
6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’
7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’
8 But I tell you this– though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
(NLT)

I was not going to just stay in bed (as nice as that thought was) since I didn’t want my kids being woken up by the incessant ringing (besides I’d like to at least think I’m a good neighbor :-).

The story Jesus told had a slightly different take on the reason that the man gave bread to his neighbor in the middle of the night — the neighbor wouldn’t stop with the asking and in Israel in those days houses were all crammed together and very small. So as the neighbor in the street was trying to get this man to wake up and give him bread for guests (providing food for guests was REQUIRED in a near eastern perspective no matter how much it put you out) other neighbors would have likely heard the raucous and could likely hear the response of the man being wakened. No matter how much the man didn’t want to get up, he would do it just because he was being publicly shamed into doing it.

The whole point was simply that if someone through incessant requests could motivate a response from us (being less than friendly or feeling generous…especially in the night…at least for some of us), then how much more so will God give to us what is good and what is the gift of Himself by His Spirit. The Lord actually wants us to “bug” Him with requests for the blessing of His presence. So don’t quit asking! Don’t quit seeking! And especially don’t quit ringing His doorbell…or knocking…or whatever it takes!