Kingdom of God

Lent 2012: 7.2 — Kingdom Come

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of this disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell them, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and thew their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everthing, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

— Mark 11:1-11 (NIV)

Our Lenten journey is drawing to a close. Jesus has come to Jerusalem–that place that he had resolutely set out for (Luke 9:51). He has entered the city.

Through a back gate on a donkey.

Place yourself, for a moment, into the sandels of those who had followed Jesus on this journey. For three years, they have listened to parables, seen the hungry feed, seen the blind given sight, seen the deaf made able to hear, and have even seen the dead raised. And, now, the Messiah–the Rescuer–is ready to enter Jerusalem.

Messiah has come to overthrow the kingdom occupying our land–the land we were promised and told to posses.

And he’s asking for a donkey to ride.

In those days, the king would ride into the city on a horse. He would ride through the main gate of the city. People would proclaim his kingship as he rode.

As one of those who had followed, you have to be thinking that this is it. Jesus is subverting the Roman king, by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and coming in through the back door. Smart. Sneaking in under the radar, but illustrating to everyone around that He is the King.

Yet, even though Jesus has spent three years teaching us about His Kingdom.

That wholly and holy other than Kingdom.

That “where what God wants done is done” (Dallas Willard) Kingdom.

That now but not yet Kingdom.

They still didn’t get it. They’re ready for war. Bring on the guards, we’ll take them! The King is here with us–on a donkey.

As Jesus turned to leave the Temple that night, these Disciples had to be thinking, “Ok, this was just a survey trip. Show the people that the true King has come, look at what we’re up against, and then tomorrow we attack.”

Yet, on the morrow, there was no attack. There was a withered fig tree and a cleansing of the temple. But, no war. No bringing in the Kingdom.

Because the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t come by force.

It comes when God’s people are doing God’s work with God’s grace and God’s power.

It comes when God’s people humble themselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from their evil ways (2 Chronicles 7:14).

It comes when we say “not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).

As we journey through this final week of Lent. This week of Passion. Let us not forget that Jesus didn’t come to rescue Israel from the Romans.

Rather, He came to Rescue us from the Kingdom of Darkness.

He came to make sons and daughters out of orphans.

He came that we “may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).” (John 10:10 (AMP))

Lent 2012: 6.5 — Guest Post: Wendell Fields

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

Wendell and Deborah Fields

Today, we are delighted to have a special guest post. Stephanie’s Dad, Wendell Fields, graciously agreed to author this post for us! We are so excited to have him write for us. We are also extremely grateful for the sacrifices that he and Deborah Fields have made to support this ministry!

Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; my ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.”

I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; behold I will not restrain my lips, O LORD, You know. I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation.

— Psalm 40:5-10 (NASB)

What are the wonders that God has done for you? We sometimes walk through our life’s journey thinking that our lives are monotonous and mundane, but God has shown great interest in us. If you feel that there is no “wonder” in your life, consider these words from Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That is the bedrock of what God has done for each of us – whosoever believes on Jesus Christ – God’s Son – Savior. But that isn’t all. God has “thoughts for us.” What are those thoughts like?

For some reason, I used to think that God was angry with me – that there was something about me that he didn’t like. I had a faulty understanding of who God was, and of His interest in me. I didn’t realize the awesomeness of the value of the Gift of God – eternal life through faith in his only begotten Son. But sometime, over the course of my journey, I began to realize that God wasn’t mad at me. He loved me. Just as he loves you! He had done wonders to get me to believe that! He has done wonders to get you to believe also. Some of the wonders are in the family God put us in. Some of them are in the people whom He put in our paths to speak words of life to us at an important time in our lives. Some of us have experienced wonders of God’s deliverance us from a life of disobedience to life in His kingdom. The process that we’ve gone through should remind us how good He is and how great His love is toward us, even if things haven’t always looked “good” to us.

His thoughts for us are for good and not for evil. There are times in our lives when we ask, “Why do I have to go through this?” “What good is there in this?” When I ask those questions about the small troubles that I have experienced, I’m reminded of the story of Joseph, who was SOLD by his brothers to a group of strangers going down the road. And why? Because they were jealous of his father Jacob’s love for Joseph. Because of his dreams. Because of the coat of many colors that his father made for him. Most of us reading (and writing) do not have a grid for being bought and sold, yet it is still one of the plagues of the lostness of mankind in our world. If we can find nothing else to do for those who are trapped, snared in the evil of human trafficking, then let us pray for them today. Let us pray that they will see the wonders that God has done for them. That they would be set free from the bondage of those who have used them and from the bondage of sin. That they would know that God is not angry with them, but that He loves them, even as He loves us. That He has fond thoughts of them.

What are those thoughts like? It doesn’t matter if we feel that we have sinned little, or if we carry the awareness of sin like a ball and chain, God’s thoughts toward us, according to the prophet Jeremiah, are “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Wow! That excites me as I copy and paste the text into this blog! There is eternal life (a future!) in God’s thoughts for us! There is A PLAN! In my experience, I only see a piece of the plan at a time, but it is exciting and comforting to know that GOD HAS A PLAN FOR ME! Good thing – I’m not good at planning. But God is The Master Planner! And His plans are GOOD! After following Christ for a while, we come to the understanding that God is Good, All the Time! Even when we don’t think He is good, or that He loves us, or that He has a plan for our lives.

 

Lent 2012: 5.4 — Loving Sin More Than God

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not beleive stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hated the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

— John 3:14-21 (NIV)

I remember times in my life where I have deliberately went against the rules and expectations of my family.  After one of these instances, I had gone into the laundry room to change the laundry over, and while I was in there, my parents settled into their office directly outside the laundry room door.  If I was going to leave the laundry room, I was going to have to walk past them, and I knew they were going to confront me about my actions.  I lingered uncomfortably in the laundry room postponing the inevitable conversation as long as I possibly could.  Then mustering up all the courage I had, I left the laundry room working diligently at being nonchalant as I hummed a tune and walked passed my parents’ office as quickly as I could, when I heard, “Hey, Steph…”  Oh, yes, they knew, and the conversation was going to happen right then and there.

There’s no way around it.  It is uncomfortable to be around those we have disobeyed.  We want to distance ourselves from any situation where we might bump into the person, and am I wrong?  We do it with God too.  We know His presence will expose our disobedience, so we walk away from His presence.  In fact, when the sin is presented to us as temptation, we have two choices.  To pursue the sin, or to pursue Christ.  If we pursue Christ, the sin has no hold on us.  If we pursue the temptation, we are in essence willfully telling God, “I don’t want to be near you right now.  I don’t want to be in relationship with you right now.  I want to distance myself from you. I’m going to cheat on you, and I would feel better about myself if you weren’t around to see it.”  We want to hide in the shadows of our sin.

In what area of your life are you loving your sin more than you are loving your God.  Your sin isn’t worth your devotion and worship.  Your sin won’t love you.  Your sin won’t give His one and only Son into the world that those who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  Your sin won’t give you true strength when you’re weak.  Your sin isn’t worth dying for, and thus it’s not worth living for.  Come to the light. Let your sins be exposed.  Repent and receive the life that God has in store for you.  He is a gracious God.  He is worth all your devotion and worship.

Lent 2012: 5.1 — Looking Back

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom.  But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread!  There is no water!  And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Isrealites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you.  Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.

The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole.  Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked a the bronze snake, they lived.

— Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)

Following Jesus requires that we change as we move from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light.  We cannot stay where we are.  We ought to be continually pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, we press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

The Israelites had forgotten all the provision God had made for them, and they began to look back to their past and long for the “good old days.”  They became impatient at walking the path on which God was leading them, and they grumbled and spoke against God and Moses.

Do we ever look back to how things were before God led us to the place where we are and long for the way things used to be?  Do we grow impatient with the process He is working through in us and speak against God and those whom He places in our life with whom we journey?

When we use the language of the kingdom of darkness — complaining and arguing — we take our guard down and leave an open access for the father of lies — Satan — to come in and lie about everything God has told us.  These lies lead to death, and we must confess our sins and pray that God will forgive and heal us.  We must welcome and invite God back into the areas of our lives where there is division, hatred, and lies, and ask Him to take it out and fill us with his unity, love, and truth.  We must keep pressing on!

Lent 2012: 4.3 — Wholly and Holy Other Than

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction!  But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.  As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters?  God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.  Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.  It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven.  And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.  So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those who are called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

— 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NLT)

Paul knows how to ruin a party.  It seems that just when you think you have things figured out, Paul steps in and says, “Uh, wait just a sec.”  Today’s text is no exception to that rule.

What some consider wise, others consider foolish.  What some consider up, others call it down.

First, I believe it’s important that we don’t confuse “wisdom” with “intelligence.”  I don’t believe that Paul is saying that we shouldn’t be educated.  Rather, Paul is saying, “don’t think that intelligence is equal with wisdom.”  Different horses of different colors.  Wisdom requires action.  It is both knowledge and application, and it all starts with a reverent awe of God (Proverbs 1:7).

What Paul is saying here is that the way of the Kingdom is not explained within the realm of man’s understanding.  Kingdom works differently.  It has it’s own set of rules that do not correlate to the rules of the natural.  It is both wholly and holy other than.

Life in the Kingdom takes a renewed mind.  We can’t think of things in the same way that we used to think of them.  Because things don’t work the same way.  In the Kingdom of God there is a different set of rules, because we have a different King.  We have a King who operates His own timetable, His own economy, His own medical system.  Things that aren’t explainable in natural terms happen.  Fear becomes love, sickness becomes healing (and not always as defined by the natural), water becomes wine, poverty becomes wealth, and orphans become sons.

It is wholly and holy other than.

And that’s why we shouldn’t worry so much when people wonder at our “strange existence.”  Kingdom just works different, and it rarely makes sense to the natural man.

As we continue our journey toward the Cross and the Resurrection, we are called to live differently–to be different.  We’re called to live between the “now and the not yet”.  Kingdom has come and Kingdom is yet to be.  And there’s the up-is-down part in all this.  While we’re called to bring and be Kingdom in every situation.  We are called to live a life that is different.

We are called to be wholly and holy other than.

Lent 2012: 1.2 – Praying, Fasting, Giving, Living the Kingdom

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.” — Matthew 6:1 (NIV)

What motivates your good deeds?  What is more important?  That you give the appearance of knowing God?  That people consider you to be a Godly person?  Or that you personally and intimately know God?

Many of us have seen the couple who, when they are out in public, appear to have the best relationship and to be head over heels in love with each other only to find out days later that the relationship has been falling apart for a long time and has now reached the end of the road.  Let’s not give the falsification of knowing and loving God, but let’s have true, authentic relationship together with Him.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” — Matthew 6:2-4 (NIV)

It can be very humbling to be in the place of need.  Who are we really trying to benefit when we give?  Are we putting our generosity out in public so people will regard us well?  Or are we discreetly giving to the needy so as not to draw undue attention to their position of need?  In other words, do we honor the needy, or do our selfish acts of giving humiliate them?  Let’s not rob the poor of their dignity in order to feed our pride.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” — Matthew 6:5-6 (NIV)

Sometimes, we want so badly for people (typically other Christians…at church) to see us as having a close relationship with Jesus that we’ll eloquently compose a beautiful prayer in the presence of those we wish to impress, while in the privacy of our own bedrooms we have not spent time developing relationship with Father.

Have you ever been popular or a guest of honor and had people you don’t know come up to you and talk to you as if you were good friends?  You start to get the idea that they’re hoping to make themselves look more important in the eyes of others.  It just feels fake.  Do you see what I am saying?

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others that they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  — Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)

Ah, fasting….the dreaded abstain from food.  We consider fasting such a sacrifice that we begin to think ourselves extra holy and perhaps a bit radical when we are doing it.  And, of course, the more people who know about this great sacrifice we are making, the more significant we esteem it.  And the smaller our stomach shrinks, the bigger our head grows.

No.  This shouldn’t be.   It’s not about us.  It’s all about God.  All of our worship, our giving, our prayer, our fasting, our sacrifices.  They’re not about us.  The Kingdom of God is not a “me” society.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” — Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Whose kingdom are we working to expand?  Do we pour our wealth into the largest house we can afford with the most beautiful furnishings, making sure that our children are in the most and best extra-curricular teams and lessons and activities that our schedule can possibly fit, driving the nicest car on the block, wearing the latest fashions, dining out any day of the week, and taking our families on the most luxurious vacations?  None of that is eternal, and it focuses our hearts on ourselves.  What would the body of Christ look like?  What would we be capable of if we realized that our worth does not come from all of our “stuff” and if we all lived humbly with very modest means and invested our wealth into the Kingdom of God?  What if it were said about us, “there were no needy persons among them?” (Acts 4:34)

Let’s do this, family.  Let’s live the Kingdom life together, bringing glory and honor to Father who sees us and loves us.

And The Kingdom of God is Like

We are up in the mountains above Estes Park, Colorado along with some friends examining the Sermon on the Mount and how we can walk it out in our lives.

I love the Sermon on the Mount. When I turned back to God in April of 2010, the Sermon on the Mount became one of my daily reading passages. For a little more than a year, I read this passage (Matthew 5-7) each day. Now I read it twice a week. Lately, in preparation for this retreat, and for our Wednesday night prayer class, I’ve been digging a bit deeper into the Sermon on the Mount.

Volumes have been (and will be) written on the topic, and I don’t want or intend to add to those at this time, yet would like to share an observation on this concept of the Kingdom of God.

This phrase (or it’s companion–the Kingdom of Heaven) appears some 140 times throughout Gospel. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven A LOT. Trying to get His followers to understand that He didn’t come to over-throw the Romans, rather came to establish a new Kingdom all together.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like.

We talked, at great length, about this concept in our prayer class at Acts 2 UMC this past Wednesday. What does this Kingdom–that is altogether other–look like in our world today.

As we discussed this concept, and over the last few days since, I have come to a better–yet still lacking–understanding.

One perspective of the Kingdom of God that was presented was that the Kingdom of God is where what God wants done is done.

Another prespective was where there is Shalom instead of broken Shalom.

Finally, Rick Warren’s comparison between the Kingdom of God and surfing was mentioned. He says that you can’t know the Kingdom by just sitting and waiting for it, just as a surfer can’t surf the wave by sitting on the beach.

As I’ve prayed, thought, and read about this concept, I keep coming back to the Kingdom of God being where you can see that God has been at work, and has brought order into chaos.

Often, we don’t see this while in the midst of the situation. We don’t see God’s hand at work. We don’t see God’s movement in the silence or the chaos. Yet, when out of the situation and we look back, it is clear that Kingdom has come to a particular situation. What God wanted done was done. Shalom has been restored. Order has come out of choas.

Be encouraged. While it may still look like chaos, while it may be unclear if or how God is on the move, be encouraged. In the end, as you look back, it will be clear.

The Kingdom is at Hand!

Estes Park from Twin Sisters in the Summer of 2004