Lord’s Prayer – Part 5

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

As we continue our indepth look at the prayer which has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, we look at a phrase which is connected to the one from yesterday. Yesterday we examined the phrase, ” thy will be done.” Jesus continues that thought by adding “on earth as it is in heaven.” Here Jesus is providing a comparison of the spiritual realm and the earthly realm. (For a discussion regarding heaven and earth, review the devotion from June 23, 2021.) Specifically in regard to how God’s will is fulfilled is lifted up here.

First we are confronted with the reality that we are dealing with two different sets of actors in these realms. In the heavenly realm, the ones fulfilling God’s will are spiritual beings such as angels and redeemed souls. We get an image of this in John’s vision recorded in the Book of Revelation. The actors in the earthly realm are humans and creation as a whole. Each set of players have different abilities and limitations.

From Jesus’s inclusion of this phrase, we see his perception that while in the spiritual realm God’s will is consistently followed, the same is not true in the earthly realm. This is a fact highlighted in yesterday’s devotion. This phrase also directs us to Jesus’s desire that there be a more consistent following of God’s will by humans and creation. God desires all of humanity and creation to exist in harmony with one another as was intended when God first created all.

Jesus reminds us in this prayer that we have been given an example to follow and a goal to obtain. Understanding how the spiritual beings as described in Scripture respond to God’s will, we have examples set before us. The redeemed souls of individuals who have gone before us also provide a set of examples as we look at how they fulfilled God’s will in their lives. Having these examples to follow, our goal then is to do God’s will in our own lives.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 2

Over the next few days, the devotions will be focused on a common and frequently utilized prayer within the Christian community, the Lord’s Prayer. By examining the words found in this prayer, the opportunity to obtain a deeper understanding may be possible. This will enrich those times when we share in the prayer either as a community of faith or individually.

The most common source of words used in the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9b-13. A shorter version of these words are located in Luke 11:2-4.

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9b-13 (NIV)

The next phrase which occurs in the prayer is “who art in heaven.” This phrase calls to mind the spiritual existence of God. Heaven is a spiritual realm. There are no boundaries or limits to this realm. It cannot be seen by the human eye and the only descriptions of it are found in apocalyptic and visionary writings. Jesus places God in such a setting in the prayer so we understand that God is not confined by the aspects of the physical world of which we are a part.

The concept of heaven has been a bit troublesome over time. In ancient civilizations, the idea of heaven was associated with space and the sky. These areas were unattainable physically by people prior to the onset of the scientific and industrial ages. So the people became accustomed to viewing heaven as above them. Since we have a different understanding of sky and space, our understanding of heaven shifts. As mentioned above, our understanding no longer is a place which we can point to but instead we know heaven as a spiritual realm which is not physically obtainable.

In today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us that God is a spiritual being who exists in a spiritual realm.

To read Part 1 – Click here

As A Child

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:1-9 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how a baby or young child can bring a group of adults to a complete stop? Quickly the child becomes the focus of everyone around. Maybe it is their sense of innocence which causes one to want to stop and watch them. It might be our need to recapture our own youth in their actions and how they respond to the world around them. The craving for the simple demonstrated through them may draw our attention. Whatever the reason, a child can lead us to pause in the midst of a busy life. An individual may even be caught smiling or releasing a chuckle.

Jesus was fond of using a child to communicate the type of behavior and viewpoint which is expected of his disciples. Jesus is asked who can be considered the greatest in heaven. Jesus does not directly answer the question but instead he places a child before them and says that unless a person adopts the ways of a child, the person will not even get to heaven. Before someone can strive to be the greatest, the individual must first be a part of heaven by having the eyes and attitudes of what in that society was considered the lowest, a child. Jesus follows this idea with a warning not to be a stumbling block to others and/or one’s self.

In many ways, what Jesus says here can be difficult for us to accept. We are taught from an early age how important it is to be the greatest in whatever we attempt in life. Part of this greatness comes from maturing. Another part comes from amassing knowledge. For some, accumulating wealth, status and prestige are also essential parts of success. Jesus turns this upside down. He lifts up innocence, humbleness, curiosity, acceptance and joy as found in the example of a child as the important pieces. Are these not qualities of a young child at play? When these qualities are present, there is an openness. This openness allows for the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to unfold before us. The stumbling blocks are when we try to diminish these qualities.

Your challenge, a challenge we all have before us, is as we mature and gain knowledge, we must never let go of the parts of our childhood which keep us open to the mystery of heaven.

Citizenship

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Philippians 3:12-21

Election Day has arrived in the United States. Many voters have cast their votes prior to today through absentee, mail-in, or early voting. Today is when those votes, along with the ones from people who go to the polls today, are added together to determine who has been elected. This year we vote not only for senators, representatives, county officials, judges, and city officials but also for the President of the United States. There is uncertainty this year if we will know the winner of the election or not tonight. No matter what, it is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to participate in the election by voting. If you are reading this when the polls are still open in your area and you have not cast your ballot, stop reading and go do so right now. If you have already voted, thank you.

In the passage today from Philippians, Paul speaks of being citizens of heaven. He tells us that this citizenship has been obtained through Christ.  Paul reminds us that we should turn our heads from what is behind us. Our faces should be toward what lies ahead. We should set the goal of striving after Christ’s example. Some will focus on what they can obtain now, on earth. Paul encourages us to reach for what is obtainable with our heavenly citizenship.

On this day when our citizenship in the United States is front and center, Paul’s words speak important ideas to us. Being reminded that we have citizenship in heaven puts our earthly one in proper perspective. With citizenship comes responsibility. Our citizenship in the United States carries a core responsibility as well, exercising our right to vote. Our heavenly citizenship gives us the responsibility to follow the example of Christ.  As we complete the election cycle, Paul’s reminder to look ahead is important. We cannot change the past nor can we change the results of the election so we need to move forward. In our moving forward we can work on changing opinions as God guides us, this may result in changing our own opinions at times. No matter if the election goes the way you desire or not, never forget that we are all citizens of the United States and more importantly, citizens of heaven.

Going To Hell

One of the most important realizations which I came to after spending some years studying the Bible is that the Bible is written with a lot of imagery. This is understandable for various reasons. First, the accounts which we find in the Bible today came to us from an oral tradition. Second, the telling of these experiences and stories happened when there was no such thing as a printing press, motion pictures, televisions, or computers. Third, as humans, we try to relate events, experiences, and complex thoughts to something which helps us to make sense of whatever we are discussing. Together, these lend themselves to the use of imagery. The speakers and eventually, the authors of the Bible relied heavily on imagery. This is an important fact when people of the 21st century attempt to interpret Scripture. (For more thoughts about interpreting Scripture, see my post Word by Word.) It is also important when dealing with this post’s subject matter.

Last week I wrote a post regarding my understanding of heaven. (See Is This Heaven.) I thought that it made sense to follow up that post with one on my understanding of hell. Much of what I communicated in last week’s post applies to hell as well. I do not believe hell is a physical location. Hell is not the place of eternal punishment. There is no being in a red suit with a forked tail holding a trident or pitchfork. There are no boiling pots of hot lava with stone walkways running through them. There are no endless torments designed specifically for the person who is supposed to be sent to hell. All these are images which have been created over time based on someone’s interpretation of Scripture (often the book of Revelation) or through horror stories passed down through generations.

My understanding of hell and any Scripture which may lend itself to the concept of hell is that this is truly a human construct. The details of hell and evil lie within the human spiritual and psychological components. Let me try to unpack that a little for you. For me, hell is living without God. The only way that this reality could ever be (if it truly could ever be) is because a person has totally rejected the existence of a supreme spiritual being. God is the English name given to the supreme spiritual being which Christians, Jews, and Muslims acknowledge but is not the sole name humans give to this being. Therefore, I am not saying that using a different name for the supreme spiritual being other than God is the qualifier here but instead that a person rejects that there even is such a being.

It is also important to note here that I do not believe that God (which is the name I will use throughout this post since I am a Christian) EVER rejects ANY human. Why this is important is because it means the action is taken by a human and not God. This also means that God never leaves the person but that the person lives as if God does not exist. For me, living as if God never exists would be hell.

I think it is also important to deal with the misconception that God created a location labeled hell as a place for eternal punishment. Again, imagery used in the Bible has led to this interpretation. But when you truly study the passages containing such imagery (example: Matthew 13), you see that the issue being addressed is a person or persons who have chosen to reject God. The imagery is to help people understand what the life experience would be like if a person chooses to deny God’s existence and design for life.

In summary, my understanding of hell is that it is not a place but more a description of a person’s possible spiritual and psychological state. A state which we have been fully released from by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection if we will accept the new status which God has given freely to each of us.

Is This Heaven?

Thirty years ago, a movie was released which starred Kevin Costner and told the story of a man who built a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farmland because a voice had told him that if he built it, all the great baseball stars would come and play there. One small piece of dialogue from the movie Field of Dreams became famous, especially in Iowa:

“Is this heaven?”

“No, this is Iowa.”

One of the “ghost players” arrived at the newly constructed baseball diamond and asks the question. Costner’s character provides the response.

I am prompted by this movie scene to consider the question, “What is heaven?” In the movie, the baseball diamond seemed to the ghost baseball player like it might be heaven. A lot of people refer to a certain setting as being like heaven. Images of golden streets and angels with harps are presented as ways heaven may look. While these images and settings my bring comfort and give us a sense of something grand, I am not certain that they truly are heaven.

At the start, I have to be honest and state there is no concrete proof of what heaven is or is not. Jesus tells stories that give us more a concept of the nature of heaven and not a physical description. People recorded in the Bible speak of visions which are often associated with heaven but are not intended to give us a physical description. I think there is a significant reason for this vagueness. In fact, this vagueness is part of what creates an image of heaven for me.

I am convinced that heaven is not an actual location. While we are accustomed to looking toward the sky when referencing heaven, this comes more out of Greek and Roman cultures and their mythology than any theological understanding. Heaven is a spiritual reality which cannot be understood fully in our physical nature. This prompts us to create images in our mind, so we are able to gain some type of grasp on the concept of heaven. Creating physical images to understand spiritual realities is common among humans.

My belief is that heaven should be understood as being present with the fullness of God. While we are physically alive on earth, we get glimpses what heaven is because we receive glimpses of the presence of God. When the fullness of our spiritual being is unbound at the time of our physical death, then we will experience the fullness of God who is spiritual. Becoming aware of the fullness of God which already surrounds us now, though we are incapable of fully experiencing this fullness, is to me experiencing heaven.

As wonderful as Iowa is and a baseball field may be, it is not heaven. Heaven is present in those places but heaven is not a place of itself.

How does this align with your understanding of heaven? How do you disagree with my understanding of heaven?