Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Hope of Heaven

Part of the well-known Lord’s Prayer says: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.

Jesus is asking us to request that the way God does things in heaven will be done right here on this earth. We know God’s kingdom is based on the characteristics of God. He is a good, merciful, and life giving God and those are things He wants to see on earth, and asks us to pray to that end. To me heaven is a far superior reality being invited into our current reality. And I find it interesting that it is Jesus himself who is teaching us that this is a prayer of paramount importance to the believer. In fact Jesus said “when you pray, pray this way…”

We are to ask God to send His kingdom and kingdom ways to this earth. And ask that God’s perfect will be done on earth. Clearly this is a bold prayer because when you look around you realize God’s will is NOT being done on earth. Journalists are still being beheaded and pre-teen girls are being kidnapped in Nigeria and nearly 9 million children under the age of 5 die every year. Jesus wanted God’s will done on earth and He knew it would take some mighty praying. This prayer is Jesus desire to see the perfection and goodness of God colliding with humanity.

So we are praying for “heaven on earth” in the sense that God’s will would start happening right here on earth. Right now! That crime and poverty and rape and kidnap and injustice would stop. Wonderful thought!

But do you know that the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer we are all commissioned to pray is just an interim prayer. It is the one we pray for right now when the world is still a very messed up place. And there is so much injustice to fight. And we need “Your will be done ON earth” very badly.

But one day we will not be on this sin sick planet anymore. Not as it now exists. We will be on the New Earth. And God has promised to live here with us. Wait. What did you say? God is going to live here on this earth? Well, yes!

Here’s what it says exactly:

Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’

So when I think about eternal hope, a hope that has no end…and a hope that does not disappoint that is exactly what Revelation 21 describes . . . A place with no more “death or mourning or crying or pain.”

I think often about the Love and Light of God the Father. Do you know what Revelation 21 says about when we are here together on the New Earth? The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. His love and light that are not confined by anything, that are not held back by our fear or the surrounding darkness. A place where Love is infinite, forgiveness abounds, and people see themselves through the sacrifice and justice of Jesus Christ, fully healed.

On the New Earth everything I have just been saying will be felt by all who are on the New Earth. You know there are days when you still cry and mourn and feel pain. There will no longer be a disconnection between our hope and our reality. Our hopes will have become reality. Our faith will be our eyes! The Hope of Heaven will literally be heaven ON earth. The Holy City of Jerusalem comes down out of heaven and takes up residence right here. Isn’t that an amazing thought?

When I reflect upon the hopeful reality of Heaven/the New Earth, my heart feels more connected to the mercy of God, to His Spirit moving in and around me. I think about Jesus’ magnificent and humble sacrifice. I anticipate a redemptive end to the story of my life. It gives me power to live in the moment, fueled by a certainty of a merciful future. It propels me towards kindness.

But back to today. 2015. When Jesus has me praying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth”. God wants to bring as much good and safety and kindness and justice as He can while we are still living with sin and sorrow. He truly wants His kingdom to invade this world NOW. So, if I care about injustice and sorrow I should get busy praying the Lord’s Prayer. Even though I know one day all sorrow will be gone. But I can want as much sorrow to be gone now as possible.

What I believe and hope for when we invite Heaven to come into our world is a transformational encounter with the Love of God. The kind of encounter that shapes us, shifts our understanding of the everlasting, beautiful, loving nature of God, and turns every day into an explosive, powerful adventure.

As part of my understanding of the powerful adventure available to me right now, I know that God expects me to fight injustice. His Plan A for injustice is the followers of Christ and other goodhearted people everywhere. And there is no Plan B. So if I am committed to seeing God’s ways invade this unsafe and treacherous world, I have to find my place in the battle. Believers in God have been called into spiritual war for the whole time this planet exists. We are not in peace time and we should not act like it. Each of us can find our place in the spiritual war effort whether it’s on the front lines, helping with the supply chain, in communications, funding the war or in the reserves. We all have a place!

We know the Lord is going to return someday. Did you know that according to one estimate, there are over 2,000 references to the second coming of Jesus in the Bible? For every prophecy concerning the first coming of Christ, there are eight that look forward to His second. I recognize that you may be rolling your eyes right now, thinking that you’re going to hear about some wild-eyed predictions related to the end times. Don’t worry -- I’m not going to do any date-setting, for as Jesus said, no one knows about that day or hour.

Even though Bible teachers differ over the details of His return, there is widespread agreement that Jesus is coming back. Jesus said in John 14:3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” The Bible clearly pictures the coming of Christ at a time when the world does not expect it but it will be a wonderful surprise for those awaiting his return.

The coolest thing is that Revelation 21 lets us know that the “Place” Jesus is preparing will end up being right here. If you are one of those Christians who has worried you will be having to listen to boring harp playing for eternity, that is not true! The Bible says when Jesus comes back we are going to reign with Him! Reigning does not sound boring! (Apologies to all my harp playing friends. David who fought Goliath also played the harp and I personally love music and play the piano.)

I think one of the reasons the bright hope we have in the future matters to me is because I am a victim of abuse. That abuse lasted for about 20 years and then there was an almost 20 year healing process. I lost some ground in my life because of someone else’s wrong doing. And that is true for many of you who are reading this blog. It applies to those of you who are survivors of abuse but also to victims of things like human trafficking, poverty, war and famine. There are a lot of very difficult circumstances some of us deal with who live on this planet. Some of us have had so much taken from us that even though much will be restored in this life there is much that never will be. There are physical and emotional scars many of us are left with. We may be stronger people, but we have some scars.

What I love about what God plans to do when we get to be with Him on the New Earth is restore things to the way they should have been. The Bible talks about our bodies and minds being completely restored and that we will reign with Jesus. I know that is almost more than we can take in. But those of us who have had our bodies ravaged, by cancer or by a perpetrator of abuse, one day our bodies will be new and whole. And we will get a “second chance” at life. We will still be us, but we will have new bodies and there will be no “death or mourning or crying or pain.” Imagine! I almost struggle to understand how I would live without pain and sorrow. But God says it is so. And I am looking forward to that time!

So, am I one of those Christ followers who sit around doing nothing and eating bonbons because “one day it will all be better?” No! I am an active participant in life and think it is my responsibility to tell as many people as I can about this amazing God who loves them but also to alleviate suffering in this life. There is a lot of work to do here. But I do look forward to a whole, beautiful creation filled with people who are not broken any more by sin and the damage it does to us…

In my previous writing I have written a lot about the storms I have experienced in my life as I was growing up and as a young man. And I have had plenty of storms since, storms all throughout my life . . . storms of financial difficulties and health difficulties and more. I try to keep the perspective that when I find myself in the middle of the storms of life: "Even if I do not know when, I know someone is going to come." That someone is Jesus Christ, of course - and his coming is called "the blessed hope and glorious appearing." We persevere through the challenges of this life because our hope is built on the certainty of Christ’s return. When the waves get high, keep your eyes on the heavens for the one who has promised to come again. I’m thankful that Jesus meets us in the storms of life. Always remember that when the storms show up, so does the Savior.

That leads me to a question: Is there a storm in your heart right now? If so, I hope you run to the Redeemer for refuge. The best way to weather the major storms of life is to make sure you are anchored to the Rock of Ages.

If you have never turned your life over to Christ and received His salvation, please do it before it’s too late. 2 Peter 3:9-10 says “God isn’t late with His promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining Himself on account of you, holding back the end because He doesn’t want anyone lost.” He’s giving everyone space and time to change. You can experience the beginning of heaven on earth and continue by living in heaven forever. I hope you join me in this great joy of salvation and great hope of heaven and then watch with me for the return of Christ from heaven and join me in heaven forever!

Mark Phelps