Read this because it is Wednesday

On this Wednesday, may we be reminded that we who follow Jesus are part of something bigger than ourselves — something grandly sufficient that has come among us, that offers even to dwell within us.

The Kingdom of Heaven is big. Remember these things and be glad:

The Kingdom is more concerned with effectiveness than efficiency. I’m thinking of the story of the woman who came to Jesus when he was eating supper at the home of a leper (which you just have to love about him). This woman walked into the room and proceeded to pour very expensive oil over his head. Someone said, “She ought not be wasting that expensive perfume in that way. We could be feeding poor people with that money.” And Jesus said, “The poor are not going anywhere. You will always them have among you. What this woman is doing right now is beautiful and from here out wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will be talked about, in memory of her.”

He was right. I’m blogging about her now, two thousand years later. Her story teaches me that resources are not the issue; in fact, our problem may be that we are not generous enough with our resources. We get stingy and try to hang on to what we have in the name of efficiency. The Kingdom is not about efficiency. It is about effectiveness.

The Kingdom is rich. I am not a fan of the prosperity gospel, but I know we don’t trust enough in God’s provision. God made everything and he has the power to shift resources into the path of Kingdom work when people are following Jesus. He does it over and over again. Resources are not the problem. Faithfulness is the problem.

The Kingdom is generous. Kingdom people understand hard soil and sow there any way. And we keep sowing because the results are not ultimately up to us. Growth is God’s job.

The Kingdom engages in the battle. This is the macro story of the Bible. The enemy hates what God loves and is intent on destroying it. There is a battle being waged on the spiritual plane over everything – over every person, all creation, all goodness, all love. It is a lot like the way a real war works. In a physical war, there are people who sit at desks in offices thousands of miles from the front line, saving the world one email at a time. And there are also snipers sitting on rooftops taking aim at enemies who are taking aim at them. Both the emailers and the snipers are in the war, but one of them feels it a lot more intensely.

It is the same with our spiritual lives. There are parts of our lives that are so comfortable that it is hard to make anything spiritual out of them, and then there are parts that feel the battle very intensely. But all of us are in it. The great news in this war (for those who trust Christ) is that the Kingdom of God wins.

The Kingdom goal is fruitfulness. The goal of the Kingdom is not just seed-tossing but fruitfulness. We are wired to have a purpose in this life that bears fruit, so hear this: The purpose of your life is not to provide a paycheck or make a bigger nest egg. It is not to have a bigger house or better phone or more impressive resume. The purpose of your life is not to feed the two inches that make up this life on your timeline, but to bear fruit for eternity.

C. S. Lewis once said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” On days when the small things seem big, when there are more questions than answers, it is healthy to step back and take better aim. Have you forgotten how big the Kingdom of Heaven is? I wonder how it might change the spiritual atmosphere of your home, your church, your ministry, your week, this moment, if you stopped where you are, right now, put your hands in the air and confessed, “God, I forgot how big!”*

 

*I borrow this image from a scene in Joe vs. The Volcano. It remains among my all-time favorite movie scenes.

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How would Jesus vote?

Jesus lived in a corrupt and perverse generation, and what he taught was subversive. Revolutionary.

The people of Rome had been taught Caesar was something like a savior. This had been the accepted truth for generations, since Julius Caesar was declared a deity by the Roman senate. Then Jesus showed up, ushered in an alternative Kingdom, set it down directly next to that mindset and dared the Roman Empire to choose. He publicly announced there was a government greater than Rome’s — a government blessed by God. He taught that poor people and those being held captive and those who were oppressed would find relief in this other Kingdom and that in fact, it was the hope of the world.

Jesus was a rebel.

He was arrested on a charge of treason and put to death. On the day he died the sky went dark and the earth shook. Ominous signs, these were the sound effects of a cosmic shift in power, a curtain falling on the old order. The Romans had just been played by the God of the universe, who used the moment to unleash a whole new religion. Christianity would spread throughout the Roman world, pull down the empire, and become the single most powerful voice of all time.

By the time Paul was converted, Jesus was the reigning eternal King of the Kingdom of Heaven, seated in all his glory in the presence of God the Father Almighty. Revelation tells us he holds the power of hell and death in his hands. When Paul tells the Philippians (3:20), “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ …” he is not talking about a feel-good religion. He’s talking about a cosmic government and a citizenship that transcends any human system. This is why Paul took the message beyond the Jews; this Kingdom — the Kingdom of Christ — wasn’t just for one nationality or one group of people. This was a new worldview.

Hear that: The Kingdom of Heaven is bigger than any one nationality.

Nero was Emperor in 64 A.D. when a huge fire broke out in Rome. It burned seventy percent of the city. Some people blamed Nero for this devastation; to divert attention he tortured Christians. He fed them to lions as entertainment and used them as human torches at his garden parties. The effect of the persecution was the spread of Christianity. Once again, the Romans had been played by the God of a greater Kingdom.

For the last 2000 years, this has been our pattern. Where Christians are persecuted, Christianity grows. Where Christians become comfortable, it stagnates. We have never flourished by giving our primary allegiance to a government. That isn’t how our faith works. Our citizenship is in Heaven.

So how should a citizen of Heaven vote in this election? 

Faithfully.

What drives your decisions, your conversations, your opinions? Are you making your choices under the Lordship of Christ? Friends, our vote should be powered by our faith. Our allegiance as citizens of Heaven is not to a political party or to a national strategy. Our allegiance is to the Lordship of Christ. We who follow Jesus are citizens of the Kingdom of God first of all … or not at all.

Prayerfully.

If I could wish one thing on the Christian culture in the U.S. right now, it would be this: That we would spend as much time in prayer as we spend online. Don’t just ask God who you ought to vote for; ask for his character to flow through you so that your words, actions and attitudes reflect his heart, especially when it comes to those with whom you disagree.

Friends, I suspect real Christian character is proven not by how we pray before the election, but by how we pray after the election. Commit now to wake up on November 9th and pray for whoever is elected. We want that person to be a great President — to be true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent, worthy of our gratitude. This is the heart of humble, patriotic, God-honoring prayer. It is that desire to see our country and its leaders and its people succeed, whoever is President.

Non-anxiously.

Governments rise and fall and God is still God. Countries come and go, and God is still God. November 8th will not stop the coming of Christ or the defeat of Satan. The purposes of God will be accomplished. When Jesus hung on the cross and said, “It is finished,” he meant that no enemy, no other kingdom, no other power would have ultimate control of the universe. The battle belongs to the Lord. We know how the story ends. We win.

Humbly.

Humility (the primary personality trait of Jesus, always characterized by self-sacrifice) is the fruit of genuine repentance. There is something to be said for sober judgment, for falling down before God in an honest recognition of our imperfect state, with a less arrogant defensiveness. There is something attractive about a sincere acknowledgement that we’re on a journey and not there yet.

Kingdom-mindedly

Jesus came to save the whole world, not just our corner of it. As followers of Jesus and citizens of the Kingdom of God, we must live with a memory of the more than two billion people in the world who have never heard they have a citizenship in Heaven. Jesus loves those people. All of them. I’m convinced that the names on the November 8th ballot don’t matter nearly as much as the names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Those names ought to have our greatest attention. They ought to occupy the vast majority of our brain space and the greatest part of our prayers. As citizens of the Kingdom, our lives cannot matter more to us than their lives.

Because that’s who Jesus voted for. The cross is proof.

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Violence in the Kingdom of God

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. – Jesus (Matthew 11:12)

Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God all the time. He seemed always to be trying to get his people to see it, to grasp what it means to live in the Kingdom and have the Kingdom living within us.

In the verse above, he uses a Greek word for “violence” that can have one of two meanings, depending on how you use it. The word is biazetai. In this version, it is translated “suffered violence.”

From the time of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

That’s one possible translation but there are other possibilities. Another valid option is this: “From the time of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing,” or “has been forcing its way in” while violent people take it by force.

So we’ve got two options here, depending on which voice we use (active or passive). Which is it? Is the Kingdom of God suffering passively, enduring the violence of a non-believing world until the day when it finally conquers? Or is the Kingdom of God actively, forcefully advancing — pushing through, refusing to take no for an answer, refusing to be laid aside by people who are surprised by the way it looks?

Refusing to be distracted by … us?

Which is it? Is the Kingdom of God suffering violence or forcefully advancing?

Tim Tennent says the answer is yes. It is both. The Kingdom of Heaven suffers the violence of people who don’t get who Jesus really is. The Kingdom suffers the violence of laziness, the violence of unbelief, of hard hearts and broken hearts. The Kingdom suffers the violence of the dark.

But the Kingdom never quits coming. It never gives up, never gives in, never lets go, never loses sight of the work. If you want to understand how the Kingdom of God forcefully advances, start with what Jesus told John’s followers in that same chapter of Matthew: The blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the possessed are set free and the good news is preached to the poor.

And people will be offended by that (some violently so), but blessed are the ones who aren’t.

That’s why John and his followers were asking questions. Because this isn’t what they expected. They — and we — want force to look like force. We want Jesus to kick butts and take names. But instead, a kingdom forcefully advancing looks more like normal people bringing good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom to the captives, opening the prisons of those who are bound.

This is how the Kingdom comes. It comes in the willingness of God to make room and time for the gentle practice of caring for souls so that no one is left behind. It is one person handing a cup of cold water to someone else.

That’s the force of it, and for a lot of people, that’s an offense because it isn’t what we expect. But that, Jesus seems to say in Matthew 11, is how its done.

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Jesus is a friend of sinners (and Jesus is a friend of mine).

I’m thinking about a first-century gathering. Jesus is at somebody’s house and he is laughing. It is a deep belly laugh. Someone has just said something (maybe about the irony of Levi the tax collector hanging out with a spiritual teacher) and Jesus thinks its funny.

And it is kind of funny how people end up at a table with Jesus. They come in all kinds of ways, as many ways as there are people. Sometimes they come broken, and sometimes — like Levi, who learned from the best of them how to cheat people out of money — they don’t realize what they’ve been missing until Jesus shows up.

This gathering at someone’s house is news. It is odd that it would be news that Jesus is eating at dinner with friends; nonetheless, the religious leaders have someone looking in on this little gathering to see who’s there. They count heads and take names and go back to their people to report what they see. “Jesus is at Levi’s house,” they say.

And eyes roll.

“The food is not kosher. These people are not ceremonially clean. I doubt any of them could quote from the holy scriptures.”

More eye rolling.

That’s how people with a religious spirit do it. They judge everything so it is almost impossible to be okay by their standards.

Jesus does not get their standards. He just doesn’t get it. And when they call him out on it — when they call him on these picky little charges, like meeting with sinners — he says, “It’s like you’re treating a hangnail when a person has cancer. Where is the grace for what is? Don’t you see that when I go into these gatherings, I’m not looking for students to grade. I’m looking for friends to walk with.”

And with friends (you can just hear Jesus say it) you start with what is.

Four times in three verses, Mark mentions that Jesus is at this gathering with sinners. When a word is repeated in the Bible, pay attention. When it is mentioned four times, it means something: Jesus is a friend of sinners.

Which means that Jesus doesn’t save people from sinning. He saves us as sinners.

That is great news for us, but a problem for people with the wrong attitude toward sin. People with a religious spirit don’t just have a problem with sinners. They have a problem with saviors, too. Some people have a problem with how Jesus chooses to solve problems. He doesn’t do it by ignoring sin, nor does he do it by running from sin. He does it by leaning in.

In response to our sin, God leaned in. Jesus, who we believe to be the Son of God, gave up His place as God to become a man. Isaiah 53 says it was the will of the Lord to crush him and Isaiah 61 tells us God did it this way for the sake of poor, bound-up captives. People imprisoned by all manner of brokenness. Jesus healed sick people, gave sight to blind people, raised a few dead people and fed a lot of hungry people.

And Jesus ate with sinners.

The whole time he was showing the mercy and compassion of God, he preached this good news about how redemption works. It is God leaning in, being unafraid of our demons, our diseases, our sicknesses, our poor spiritual sight. Over all our sin, Jesus pronounced the Kingdom of God, inviting us to enter in and be forgiven of our sins and made holy by a sinless sacrifice.

Jesus was that sinless sacrifice. Because he’d lived this sinless life, he became what they called in the old system of sacrifices a spotless lamb. Jesus willingly gave himself to this. He allowed a group of men who were against everything he stood for — who peeked in on his small groups and judged him for leaning in and letting people start where they are — to arrest him, because he called his brand of compassion the very holiness of God.

And that is the Jesus who invited a group of sinners to sit around in a circle with him to enjoy each other and to find their redemption not in who they were but in who he is. Which means we are forgiven of everything we’re not … because of everything Jesus is.

Hallelujah.

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