Posts Tagged ‘kingdom of God’
First, I believe the Kingdom of God is ultimately an eschatological occurrence, meaning that its fulfillment will occur at the end of time when there comes a “new Heaven and a new Earth” (Rev. 21:1-10). However, Jesus taught his disciples that the Kingdom of God was not something that you “wait for” or “go looking for…”
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, ”The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT)
The question that begs asking in my mind then is this; “Can you see or measure the Kingdom of God?” Personally, I think we can. I don’t think I am contradicting Jesus in my assertion. What I refer to as a “seeing” is primarily a tangible evidence measured through “spiritual sight” assisted by and through the Holy Spirit. I realize that may sound convoluted and overly qualified, but I can draw on the teaching of John Wesley to help clarify and support my thinking.
Tangible: (1) Capable of being perceived especially by the sense of touch. (2) Capable of being precisely identified or realized by the mind. (3) Capable of being appraised at an actual or approximate value.
John Wesley is quoted as saying; “God’s kingdom does not come with such outward pomp as draws the observation of everyone.” Yet we can see evidence of God’s reign, Wesley taught. One of his favorite verses was Rom. 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”Real Christians exhibit righteousness and justice, peace, and joy—true kingdom signs.
Luke 17:21 can mean the kingdom of God is within or among you. Wesley combined the two—the kingdom is within you as part of Christian experience through the Holy Spirit, and also among you (plural), especially in authentic Christian community. So God’s reign is visible. With time the kingdom will be increasingly visible as God’s grace works through Christians’ lives. God’s Spirit enables Christians to see what others don’t. We see things not through worldly eyes but through faith and in hope of the coming kingdom.
Further bolstering my position, it was Jesus who said to “Seek first the Kingdom of God…” (Matt. 6:33). So, I ask; “If I am instructed to seek the kingdom of God, shouldn’t I be able to identify what it is that I’m seeking? Shouldn’t the object of my search be something I can recognize?” Of course, these are logic-based questions and may not be relevant as they pertain to the ways and means of God, but I think they are legitimate and worthy considerations nonetheless. My reasoning follows:
- The Apostle Paul defines the kingdom of God with specific words as recalled by John Wesley in Romans 14:17 (“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, ..) Here the kingdom is identified as righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus states the “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you…”(Luke 8:10) which infers that the kingdom is something that can be known and understood to those who choose to follow him.
- The recounting of Jesus’ announcement of the good news about the kingdom of God is found in the Gospel of Mark chapter one with Jesus saying; “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” “Come, follow me…” (Mark 1:15, 17). Jesus proclaims the “kingdom is near…” and then follows the declaration with “come, follow me…” Is it possible that Jesus identifies the kingdom with himself and by following him, those who follow will be taken to or shown the kingdom? I think so.
While there are numerous other references to the “kingdom of God” which might be helpful in this study, I think the information in the aforementioned list is sufficient to help define what and where the kingdom of God is. So, in summary, we have evidence the kingdom of God is something that is tangible: (1) Capable of being perceived especially by the sense of touch. (2) Capable of being precisely identified or realized by the mind. (3) Capable of being appraised at an actual or approximate value.
The question remains whether we are able to drill down more specifically, to how the kingdom of God can be identified and with what words it might be described. I believe that it is possible to include more specificity in our description.
Remembering our list, we are told to associate the kingdom of God with righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus teaches and describes the kingdom of God in a series of parables in Luke 8:4-18 equating the kingdom of God with “bearing much fruit” and “being brought into the light.”
I don’t think it a stretch to equate the fruit that Jesus speaks of as the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his followers. Therefore, I believe it might be safe to say one description of the kingdom of God can be found in the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25 NIV)
I see an interesting parallel with this fruit of the Spirit explanation from Paul and the exhortation of Peter in his second letter imploring his readers to seek Christian virtues as a means of entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-11)
Additionally, the assumption of all the numbered points in our list imply the person(s) following Jesus are walking in wholly surrendered obedience to his will and way as he is Lord and King of the kingdom of God.
“Follow me” infers the follower is imitating the one he follows and Jesus invites us to follow him. It seems fitting then, the actions and attributes of Jesus (God) are our model and Scripture supports this (Ephesians 5:1, 1 John 2:6), Likewise, the Apostle Paul in his Fruit of the Spirit discourse exhorts his listeners to “keep in step with the Spirit.” Much more can be said about these distinctions and directions concerning the kingdom of God, but I believe we have a working model with which we can answer our questions (1) What does the kingdom of God mean? and (2) How is the kingdom of God defined?
Let us be clear that we understand the kingdom of God is ultimately an eschatological (end times) event, but Jesus also defined the kingdom of God as something that is present among us and within us even now. What then does the kingdom of God mean? I believe Jesus and Scripture teaches us the kingdom of God means walking in surrendered obedience to the will and way of God (Phil. 2:5-11, John 5:16-30, Luke 22:42). How the kingdom is defined is found in the attributes and character of Jesus (follow me), Christian virtue (1 Peter 1:3-11), and the fruit of the Holy Spirit becoming manifest in the lives of obedient, surrendered, following disciples (Galatians 5:22-25). The consummate example and fulfillment of the kingdom of God coming in our present midst is evidenced in the practice of believers who love the Lord and God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love their neighbor as themselves (Mark 12:28-31). And, what is love? Love is the seed and the fruit of all that is the kingdom of God…and this love, agape love, is measurable and definable too.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Understanding that we can know, “see,” and measure the kingdom of God in our present reality, an even more pertinent question arises before us… “Do I see the kingdom of God and measure its fullness in my life?” And we pray, Lord, let your kingdom come, your will be done on earth—and in my life—as it is in heaven. Amen.
Book Review: Your Church is Too Safe
Author: Mark Buchanan
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 978031031230
I just finished Mark Buchanan’s latest earlier today. My thoughts are still turning and my heart is still stinging a bit from some of the more (to me) convicting pieces of this book. I don’t think I read anything I didn’t already agree with, but that may be the problem. Here I sit with awareness to some of the truth shared in Your Church is Too Safe, convicted of changes I need to enact in my life, and I’m reminded that I have not moved on most of them…yet. What is it that is written in James’ Epistle? “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” Uhmmm. Yeah. I’m still stinging.
I’ve read all but one of Mark Buchanan’s books; I’ve loved each one and I’ve been challenged in varying degrees by every one of them too. This one has probably left me with the heaviest feeling, probably in part for the season of life I am now facing. I was hooked with the opening sentence from the introduction where Buchanan confesses bluntly; “I’M BORED.” And he goes on to say the following:
As are many people in the church. Bored, and also apathetic, passive, testy, lonely, disheartened. We’re wary and weary and cranky and sad. It’s a long list.
There’ an enormous gap between the life Jesus offered and the life we’re living. We feel it. We see it. We sense that whatever else Jesus came preaching this can’t be what he had in mind: a roomful of people nodding to old platitudes, nodding off to old lullabies, perking up to Jonah-like rants, jumping up to split hairs or break company at the smallest provocation. He can’t have dreamed a church gorging itself on feeling good and allergic to self-denial. He can’t have hoped for a church that was more concerned with itself than with the world it inhabits. When Jesus announced that the kingdom was at hand, this can’t be what he meant. (p.9)
All this and we’re still in the introduction. Mark then finishes the introduction with this statement and “set the hook” deep in me at the same time saying, “It’s a book for those who wish the church looked more like the kingdom.” That’s me; and we’re off and running.
I enjoy Buchanan’s writing style; I’ve already said I’ve liked every book of his that I’ve read (6 of 7). There’s something about the rawness and transparency in his writing that connects me to what he’s attempting to communicate. I’m in the room, sitting across the table from him, and I’m listening… listening. Every chapter contains quotables; I’ll probably be using many of them for weeks to come as I continue processing the challenges Your Church has presented to me. Still, there were several chapters that really sunk their claws into my heart; A Tale of Two Communities was one, Jesus and the Three Spirits and Even the Sparrows are a couple more.
This is one of the more challenging books I’ve read in awhile. It may very well be the context of my life that makes it so, but I think this might be the case for more than a few people. I don’t think I’m the only one who is and has been “BORED.” If you’re comfortable and don’t want to be stirred, avoid the book. If you need just a little bit more of a push to set you on the way of following Jesus in hot-pursuit of his kingdom, get the book as quickly as you can. I’m looking for teammates in a church that pursues Jesus wholeheartedly; maybe we should join up.
Listen to chapter one here:
The Kingdom of God is like…
- King James Bible
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
- New International Version (©1984)
nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
- New American Standard Bible (©1995)
nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
- New Living Translation (©2007)
You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”
- English Standard Version (©2001)
nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches (Matt. 13:31-32).
The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough (Matt. 13:33).
Also in my consideration is The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23) with particular focus on this statement of Jesus; “The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
The first thing that struck me when reading “the kingdom is like…” passages was the drastic and transformative imagery that Jesus presents. I don’t think exact comparisons of these illustrations are necessary and they are not the real point of Jesus’ examples. For instance, he could have said an acorn turns into a mighty oak or the seed from a pine cone turns into a cedar that reaches the heavens. Likewise, the point can be made for the yeast in the flour dough… something “small” had great influence and had amazing transformative power or was amazingly transformed.
As I was thinking about these passages, especially in context with the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-23), I started considering how my previous thinking about these Kingdom of Heaven word pictures might not have been perceived correctly. I have, or had, generally considered these statements as something outside of me and not necessarily within me. I don’t know why that is, but it is. Suddenly, something clicked though, and I began to consider this from a different vantage point… and it seems to make much more sense to me now. Not that my previous thinking was inaccurate, but I was thinking in more of an ultimate and complete sense of understanding. Ultimately the Kingdom of God will be all encompassing and the ruling reign of Jesus will be over all things; the Bible speaks prophetically of this, so yes… those Kingdom of God is like metaphors make sense in those respects. Jesus, in his humble arrival, and with the help of his unassuming disciples ultimately reorder all things on the earth through his atoning sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. I get it; it makes sense… something small and it radically transforms into something much larger than itself. Or is there more?
I think there is more and maybe I’m just a little slow to arrive at this conclusion and everybody else has already seen this. If that is the case, welcome me to the party…sorry I have been late in arriving. So…considering the Kingdom of God, I remember on a couple of occasions in particular Jesus stating that the Kingdom of God is already among you (Matthew 12:28). Particularly in Luke 17:21 I was reminded of several translations (see above) that indicated the Kingdom is within you, among you, and in your midst. I’m very much an “if—then” thinker. I’m always postulating ideas into if/then statements and overlaying them on different scenarios. It was one of these moments that opened up some serious heart examination questions for me with this Kingdom of God is like… idea presented by Jesus in Matt. 13:31-33.
Ok… the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a mighty garden plant or tree, and the Kingdom of God is like a tiny measure of yeast put into three full measures of flour that doesn’t stop working (activating) until it has worked itself through the whole dough. What does that mean to me? If the Kingdom of God is within me or among me like the “seed” or the “yeast,” how has it impacted me? Is the Kingdom growing within me and working itself through every molecule of my being (much like the yeast in the flour)? Has the tiny seed of God’s Kingdom taken root within me and begun its mighty transformative work in me so I no longer appear the same as I used to? Do other creatures of God want to take up residence in the haven of God’s Kingdom which has become my life?
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches…
I’m brought back to the beginning of this chapter thirteen in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the Parable of the Sower and I wonder; which seed am I? Certainly I am not seed one (Matt. 13:18-19) and I don’t consider myself seed two (Matt. 13:20-21). If this Good News of Jesus Christ, the seed of God’s Kingdom has truly been planted within and among me, and Jesus’ words are true about what the Kingdom of God is like… then I will not fall victim of seed three (Matt. 13:22) either. However, I’m not fully convinced when I look honestly in the mirror of my life, that I am seed four (Matt. 13:23)… Radical transformation on the level of Jesus’ descriptions will indeed produce a harvest of 30, 60, 100 fold. I believe my tendency is to be satisfied and give myself applause if I am able to successfully replicate myself; what is that one-fold??? Two-fold??? In either event it doesn’t sound radically transformative as is depicted in Jesus’ illustration.
I suppose the bottom line question in my ongoing meditation is this; “Is the kingdom of God like Jeff?” The truth of the matter is if Jesus’ words are true and the Kingdom has been planted in me, I will be radically transformed into something that no longer resembles my old self. Sadly, we have a tendency to start out down the road of transformation (seed two or seed three) and then fail to allow the yeast of Christ any more leeway in our lives. I desire whole life transformation and I believe the key is whole death. I think I read this one time…
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. John 12:24
Transform me, O My God, through the yeast of your word. May it consume and devour all that am so I might be a deeply rooted tree in your kingdom, a safe haven for others to call home. Amen.
I posted a short video of Francis Chan yesterday speaking from Catalyst Conference a few weeks ago in Atlanta, Ga. I gotta say I love the heart of Francis Chan, maybe because mine beats to a similar cadence. I am certainly an “all in or nothing at all” type of believer. Of course, I think this is the way to believe from what I’ve read in the Bible…although there are some who would argue rather vehemently that point, but I digress.
So, I’ve been considering the video I posted yesterday and questioning what it means to live “normally” according to the actions and words of the first century church. As Francis pondered in the video, are our ways, words, and actions “weird” by the standards that are depicted in Scripture? Francis gave some great examples, so I won’t go into that detail here, but refer you to the video if you need context…but really, are we living in accordance with the expectations of God for His world or do we do everything in our power to excuse ourselves from wholeheartedly following His lead? Do I excuse myself from Acts of obedience because of culture or my own desires for comfort and/or fear of the unknown?
I’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and being stirred by the commentary from Oswald Chambers’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Additionally, I’ve been digging pretty deep into Scripture in general with supporting testimony from the Ancient Church Fathers’ commentaries spanning the past two millennia. I believe Jesus meant what He said in his teaching. I think that interpreting the teaching of the disciples and ancient church fathers with a literal bent opposed to cultural nuance would be (or is), our better bet. The way we live as Christians today is a far cry from what is depicted in the Bible (in my opinion). I don’t want anything to do with modernity or post-modernity’s answer to the gospel. I don’t want to live looking over my shoulder asking questions about “what if this?” or “what if that?” I want to live my life “fully in” with nothing held back from Jesus, all for the glory of His Marvelous Good News.
In my reading this morning, one of the passages I have been reading and reflecting upon is 1 Corinthians 16:10-24. In it Paul gives instructions and encouragement for/from several of the church leaders. What caught my attention were a couple of points he makes in the midst of these specific “people” instructions. He writes:
Gulp. “If anyone does not love the Lord, that person is cursed.” Pretty strong words if you ask me… Yeah, well… I’m not one waiting in line to be “cursed.” So, I think it stands to reason that understanding what it means to “love the Lord” would be rather important to me; that is, provided that I don’t want to be cursed. I get the feeling that Paul isn’t talking about being slandered or getting “sweared” at with this “cursing” either.
The first line I recall about “love” and “Lord” is that I should “love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Mark 12:29-30). For me, all is all and means all; nothing held back… everything is God’s. This means all my hopes, dreams, material possessions, finances, spouse, children, everything. Everything. So, if we can stomach this manner of thinking, let’s consider some other passages of Scripture. As I stated earlier, the Sermon on the Mount is a great starting place. This is what Jesus describes as the way people look, act, and speak who belong to (and in) the Kingdom of God. Let me encourage your reading some other passages of Scripture to stimulate your own heart examination… and, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- Matthew 10:34-39
- John 14:15; 23-34
- John 13:13-17
- James 1:22
- 1 John 2:15-17
- Luke 16:13
- Matthew 12:30
- Matthew 7:21
Finally, a brief reminder of the question(s) posed in this posting. (1) What is weird or normal to the Christian life? (2) What does it really mean to love the Lord; is it more than a verbal confession? I’m sure we’d say yes to the last qualifying question, but do we really live like we mean that?
I withdrew (resigned; “stepped down;” left) from the church plant yesterday. The day before that, I quit my job as it was eroding my soul and consuming most of my waking hours and not contributing much in the way of completing the mission of God to which I have been called. I am now jobless (Laurie continues with her employment, so we are not completely destitute… yet) and without a local church family. At first glance, this circumstance is a little disconcerting (well, ok…with second and third glances it is disconcerting too), but I have recourse…I trust and believe the Most High God. Because of this trust, my hope is complete and my confidence is renewed. I know that my Father leads me and loves me; I know my Father has prepared good works for me to participate in that will bring glory to Him and lead people into His eternal kingdom. Moments of suffering and seasons of sadness are the preparation of tilled soil for “faith seeds” that will bring a harvest of righteousness and glory for the Savior King. My prayer is this will be true in my life and no moment lived from my life will be in vain for my Lord.
People will ask and legitimately wonder what the reasoning is for my actions asking, “Why are you leaving the church plant?” My response is that I am trusting the leading of my heart which I believe is inhabited by the Spirit of God. For whatever reason, I do not feel “at home in my soul.” When we headed out to Washington, it was with a crystal clear vision that God had inscribed upon my heart. At this juncture, I have not realized the manifestation of that vision… or a solid move in the direction of building that vision. To the credit of my church planting partners, they do not necessarily wholly agree with my assessment. They are wonderful, supportive, godly men and I respect and love them dearly; however, I am unable to communicate my heart and vision to them in such a way that I feel understood. Inasmuch as that is the case, I feel that I am not in the right place and I am answering the call to move on. Maybe I am wrong. I will still trust God. I have had a difficult time in explaining my choices to my partners and my inability to adequately communicate my thoughts has been frustrating and humbling, but I will hold fast to what I believe I must do and trust God in the midst of it all. I realize I haven’t offered a complete explanation for my resignation, but at this juncture it is the best I can do. I shoulder the responsibility for my choices and my actions, ultimately answering to God for them. I believe with everything in me that I am doing what I must… even though I do not know where I am going, I truly believe I am following God.
A second question I anticipate will be; “So, what are you going to do?” My answer is, “I don’t know.” I’m trying to find another job and we’ll probably continue to visit area churches as we did before we started having services with the church plant… but in the big picture, what we will do is unknown for the moment. I’ll trust God for that answer and that direction. I suppose to a lot of people it sounds as though I have lost my ever-loving mind and gone completely off the deep-end of irresponsibility. Maybe that is true. We’ll see. All I know to do is to live the convictions of my heart. I can either trust what I sense is the Spirit of God within me or choose a more sensible and safer route. When I decided to live my life completely for Jesus I decided that I would hold nothing back, that I would learn what it meant to live a life crucified in Christ (Galatians 2:20). I am doing that. If I look like a fool to the world around me, then so be it. If I lose everything materially that I have in this world, so be it. If my dignity, credibility, and status in society is completely erased, so be it. It is not that I don’t care about these things… I do, but I care more about living wholly unto my convictions about what the Word of God is speaking to my soul. So, at the end of the day, I might be crazy. I may have lost my mind. I may not be “interpreting the signs” very well. Ok. Fair enough. We’ll see. I’m in all the way, over my head, crazy in love with Jesus and where He leads me I will follow. No questions. The mission phrase for my Free Methodist Church this year is Live the Story, Tell the Story; my answer is… Ok. I’m in.
Naked, Humbled, and Yelling At Walls
I have consoled myself with reflecting on some of the more prominent examples of absurdity from Scripture and remember that God asked Noah to build an Ark because He was going to destroy mankind (Genesis 6:14), Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice (murder) his own son… the son God Himself had promised him (Genesis 22:2), Moses, a single man, was sent to confront the most powerful nation on earth (Egypt) and lead several million people out of slavery (Exodus 3:10), Joshua was sent to destroy and take over a city by shouting and yelling at its walls (Joshua 6:5). He believed God, shouted, and the walls came down, Gideon was sent to take on an army so great “their camels numbered like grains of sand on the seashore—too many to count” with only 300 men (Judges 7:12), Ezekiel was instructed by God to lay on his side(s) for over 14 months to provide a visual aid for a rebellious people (Ezekiel 4:4-6), God instructed Isaiah to walk through the city naked…for three years (Isaiah 20:2), and there are other examples, but these are prominent in my memory. This is to say, perhaps I am crazy…maybe not, time will tell as it did for these prophets and other men of God. At the end of the day, I know that I love the God who has saved my soul, named Jesus, and there is nothing that stands between He and I. My conscience is clear, so I must obey what I feel I am being led to do. I might be following in good company regardless of how absurd it seems now.
I want to assure those of you who have supported us in our decision to move that we still need your prayerful support. Our vision has not changed, our certitude of conviction to do what we believe God has called us to do has not changed. Quite honestly, this is the reason for our latest decision. So, it is with humility we ask for your continued support and prayers. We need them now as much (or more) than we ever have. Additionally, please keep Dan, Matt, and the family of Trinity Community Church in your prayers as they transition through this change.
Like a Punch in the Faith…
So… is it more like a “punch in the face” or a “punch in the faith”??? Right now the jury is still out as I work through the latest in a string of transitions for our life in Olympia, WA. What am I talking about? Actually, I’m talking about “punching a clock face on faith…” meh. Or, something like that… All kidding aside, I started a new job today. Laurie started hers last week. With both of us in our (whispers…) “forties,” it feels a little odd starting over again. I think it was especially odd feeling for me when I was clearly one of the oldest people in the room; there was definitely a generational divide. Much to my joy, there didn’t seem to be any notice of this from the other “newbies” in my training class.
What does this have to do with faith? Everything… I think. Can I take a minute to explain? Okay, bear with me a minute.
Me = first day at work. I’m a growing (ever so gracefully) older man entering a young-adult-entry-level customer service job. My first inclination is to say; “Self, what in the world are you doing here?” I look around and begin to feel scared and/or sorry for myself. I begin to fantasize about doing anything but what I’m doing at the moment. I start to project forward in time to when I am no longer doing the work I’m doing, but something more gratifying and satisfying. Then I remember why I am where I am… Faith. Faith brought me to where I am. Following Jesus brought me to Olympia. Part of Olympia is my willingness to say “yes” to God and trust His leading and His provision. Part of His provision is through my new employer. My obedience to God translates to my becoming a blessing to my employer; all of the sudden the paradigm of my predicament flip-flops and turns from destination depression to divine direction. And that’s how it happens; being led by the Spirit.
It is all too easy to follow the path of self. We do it all the time; protecting self, defending self, boasting self, exalting self, feeding self…self, self, self. However, the journey of following Jesus is about self denial and that presupposes that one scenario will exclude the other. Self cannot follow Jesus; He said so (Luke 14:25-27 and Matthew 16:24). So anyway, pushing self aside and listening instead to the Spirit we find our way to purpose and living in harmony with God. We find our way to unity with the Spirit and advancement of God’s Kingdom and His divine Purpose. And, this is where my day ended… Joyfully exuberant that God would see me feeling as though I were “punched in the face” and reminding me that I was practicing a punch in my faith. So, when I “punch my clock” each morning at my God given new job… I’ll delightfully remember that He brought me to where I am and He’ll teach me, guide me, and use me in the purposes of His choosing all for His glory. I’ll remember to leave self at home.
The Kingdom and the Present Moment
“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25)
I haven’t been able to escape a droning soul whisper; it continues to reverberate like a musical note over and over and over again… “Kingdom of God… Seek first the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 6:32-34). With this lyrical soul whisper there is also a harmony playing simultaneously that accentuates the tonal palate of this God Song in my heart; it sings “Remember the Sacrament of the Present Moment…” (Jean-Pierre de Caussade).
What keeps us from living and practicing the Kingdom of God here and now? Do we plan too much? Are we always looking to the “next” thing? Do we fear failure, do we fear discomfort, or do we just simply fear? I think it may be some or all of those things that challenge, cripple, or crash the Kingdom of God in our lives. I am convinced that we are instructed about the Kingdom and how to live in the Kingdom through the teachings and words of Jesus and his apostles…and this is it; We are to live the Kingdom in the now. Another way of saying this is to practice the presence of God always, or practice the sacrament of the present moment.
Recent decisions on ministry direction have caused me to spend an extended season in meditation upon these thoughts. My reading in the Scriptures has brought me to some lean conclusions. Here is what I have been finding in God’s Word:
“Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs… Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:32-34
- Matt. 12:38 “The Kingdom of God is come upon you…”
- Luke 9:2 “Preach the Kingdom of God…”
- Luke 12:31 “Seek the Kingdom of God…”
- Luke 17:20-21 “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”
- Mark 1:15 “The Kingdom of God is at hand… Repent and believe…”
- Romans 14:17 “The Kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Believe, live in, among you, in you, seek, preach, and at hand… all these words invoke the song of urgency as mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post. The present moment is what we have. As we seek God in the present and respond to Him in the present, with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength…with fully devoted trust (aka belief); the cares and the shadows of this world and its worries grow dim. With our eyes fixed on the eternal; we become focused on the God who lives in us. And, rightly so.
Our ability to live in and respond to god in the “present moment” is the greatest visible manifestation of trust and love. This can only be our greatest response to the receiving of God’s magnificent gift of grace and life.
“The Kingdom of God is upon you… Do not worry… Seek the Kingdom of God first… Love the Lord your God…”
Understanding the importance and impact of these words is evidenced through our desire to honor God through our willingness to be conduits of His love in every moment of life. I think to do or be less is to have missed the message of the Gospel and the failure in understanding of His gift of love.
Epiphany: You are a Light…a City on a Hill
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” ~Jesus (Matthew 5:14-16) NLT
This week a tragic and devastating earthquake hit the small island nation of Haiti…a country that was pretty much destroyed and without hope to begin with. While this (natural disaster) seems like some “unholy” kick-to-the-head while already down on the ground, it could be that God Almighty will use this cataclysmic event to show the world His redemptive and restoring ways. It troubles me, and humanity in general, to think in these terms and I certainly do not try to explain or quantify why God allows certain things to happen. However, if we believe He is Sovereign, there has to be some way that we are able to reconcile the events of life outside the “catch all” of fate. No, I can’t make sense of it from my limited perspective…and I have no desire to try to defend my own thoughts, but I do believe that great good can be the ultimate outcome of a horrible and tragic event.
Haiti has been a victimized and oppressed land for a long time; a long, long time. We have had the ability and resources to bring healing to this country for a long, long time too. It might be argued that it is not our responsibility to be the big brother of the nations (speaking of the United States of America)…however, as citizens of God’s Kingdom (anyone calling themselves Christian) it is our responsibility. I have seen statistics that say the annual “tithe” of the North American Christian Church should be estimated at 200 Billion dollars. Actual charitable (inside and outside of the Christian Church) giving totals 39 Billion annually. This is annually. Yearly. To me, this indicates a renewable capital income. The difference between 200 and 39 is significant. What this reveals is a large amount of untapped discretionary income that could be used for the rebuilding and resurrection of not a country…but a people. We stand on the threshold of one of the greatest Christian opportunities of the modern world. And, we have the resources, manpower, and wherewithal to accomplish the task.
Poverty, hunger, lack of potable water, disease, and a host of social maladies plague our island neighbors of Haiti. In the past two years they have seen hurricanes and flooding added to their plight…and the world turned (for the most part) a deaf ear. I don’t know why a tragedy of such monumental proportion was not intervened upon by a “good and loving” God, but in the cacophony of flattened cities we are hearing…and may we not stop hearing until a nation of people have been fully resurrected and restored to a place of dignity and health.
So, during this season of Epiphany and revelation, I pray for my Haitian brothers and sisters. I pray that the world may see and BE the Light and Love of the Redeeming-Restoring God who loves us in the midst of storm, fire, and earthquake (Isaiah 43:1-4). Jesus told his followers, “In this world you will suffer oppression and persecution.” He also said He would walk with us through the difficult times and regardless of the difficulty of our journey, nothing could snatch us from His hand (Romans 8:38). We are His; forever. This is the resurrection God, Jesus Christ. He is the God who brings beauty from ashes and changes mourning into dancing joy. May we see the dawn of this great Light as the twilight of tragedy fades from our sights.
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
…You are precious to me.
You are honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1-4)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~Jesus (John 16:33)
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:38)
It’s always a joy to share God’s Word…
It was my privilege to “kick off” the first message in our new series The Christian Journey this past Sunday. My message topic was to share the goal of the Christian Journey and to set the stage for the remaining eight weeks of this study. My manuscript can be downloaded here and I’ve included a link to the small group discussion and sermon outline here. As is my practice, I am including the audio file here for streaming or for download.
Christmastide Reflections: LIFE and The Great Light…
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The LIGHT shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God –
“He was made man that we might become God…” St. Athanasius
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me…”
2 Assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you… 3 God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. 5 God, by his Spirit, has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. 10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
“Come and see…” “Go and tell…” Jesus
~Pay attention ~ Be astonished ~ Tell about it ~ Mary Oliver
My soul is exploding…my intellect cannot contain the revelation of the Great Light that has come to us. I do not pretend to fully understand the Incarnation…but my soul knows that it is real! I am alive at the core of who I am in Him. The prayer of my God and Savior, Jesus, is alive in me. His Life gives me life; I can feel His heart beating as my own and I am filled with incomprehensible, indescribable, and infinite joy! But then the paradox of Love wraps its fingers around my throat and begins to choke my joy…while His Kingdom of wisdom, power, peace, and love is as kindled embers in my heart, the bonfire of His Eternal Kingdom is something “remembered forward.” The Kingdom is here, but it is not here. And, tears come to my eyes. I know people who don’t know the Great Light. I know people who are still stumbling in the darkness…and I feel like a traitor. How is it that I can rejoice and celebrate in the Light when so many are blind to this joy? I only stand on the promise of my Savior, the Light, who said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… and Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I pray for comfort. I pray for the Kingdom in full. I pray for boldness to proclaim the Truth of the Great Light who is my Lord, my Savior, me Jesus…the God who Saves. Come and see the Great Light. Go and Tell about the Great Light. May the words His Spirit gives me awake deafened and blinded hearts to this wonderful and glorious Light that has come into the world.