Posted in Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

Your Kingdom Come (a long post)

Matthew 6:10 “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (NRSV)

I remember praying the Lords’ Prayer when I was young, and really enjoying this verse.  Of course, I learned it in King James, so it was “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done.”  It was poetic that way.   I’m not sure I ever spent much time wondering what it meant though, because everyone around me wasn’t too worried about the Kingdom of God Coming – even thought that was what Jesus had taught us to pray.   Instead, everyone seemed more focused on “Thy Kingdom is where I’m going to arrive”.

The focus, then, was less on the Kingdom – and more about me.

It’s interesting for us to note, that nowhere in the Lord’s prayer does it say, “And Jesus, let me get into Heaven someday.”  The emphasis here is not on an individuals’ eternal security and destination.  The emphasis is on a restored and healed relationship here and now.  The emphasis is not about where we will go “someday”.  The emphasis is on how we join together in praying God’s Kingdom arrives “on earth as it is in heaven.”

So what does this mean?

There’s a story I remember hearing around the campfire many times growing up.  It seemed to be a favorite, and I’ve changed it a little…but I think it gives us a great way…a parable…of thinking about the Kingdom of God.

Many years ago in a world similar to ours, there were no humans yet.  The world was filled with animals and creatures of every kind and size.  They couldn’t get along, and constantly fought over who was the greatest creature in the land.  The bear argued that he was the greatest, because he was huge and strong, and could defeat anyone in battle.  This led to huge arguments and chaos, and God couldn’t take all the noise.  So God decided to throw a blanket over the entire sky, making it completely dark for all the animals.  The fighting continued.

Finally the bear who had been bragging about how tough and strong he was, decided he could climb up to the sky and rip the blanket off.  He commanded the snakes to weave themselves together tightly and rigidly, in order to form a tall ladder he could climb.  Sure enough, they formed a giant ladder, and up he began to ascend, one rung at a time.  As he reached the top of the highest rung, he took a gianst SWIPE across the night sky.  As he did this, he lost his balance and fell down, down, down…SMASH onto the ground.  They say his snout used to be long, and when he fell he landed face first, which is why his snout is so much smaller today.

Next the elephant and the moose began to fight about who would try next.  They both felt like they were the obvious next choice, and as they fought, they rolled right over the beaver’s tail – which is why it’s still flat today.

The fighting continued until the Jaguar was able to get everyone’s attention.  Now in those days, the Jaguar was one of the prettiest, dazzling, filled with color animals in Gods’ creation.  He felt pretty sure of himself and his ability to draw attention from both creation and the blanket.  He felt like he could simply climb the ladder and command the blanket to fall, and down it would come.   The other animals thought this option at least stood out as unique, so they voted on trying it.  As the Jaguar climbed, he took his time.   He smiled to the left, making sure all the animals were looking up at him, admiring his colorful coat and his bravery.   He looked to the right, making sure the animals were all appreciating the way he skillfully climbed, and the way his eyes glowed with such an adventure.  As he slowly made his way up the ladder, he was taking so long that the snakes began to lose their hold.  They shook and trembled at the confidence of the Jaguar, and eventually lost their hold – and the Jaguar tumbled down, down, down, WHAM!!  As the Jaguar hit the ground, his colors fell off in every direction, bringing color to what we call the wildflowers today…and leaving the Jaguar completely black.

Next, the voice of the vulture rang out above the others.  He reminded them of how incredible a flier he was.  He offered to fly up and tear down the blanket.  Without waiting for other to agree, he pushed off and began to flap his wings.  WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH – he was flying so hard and so fast, he didn’t even realize how close he was getting.  Finally POP!  The vulture’s head burst right through the blanket.  The animals below could only see the vultures body, and could see he was struggling, because all the heat from the sun was concentrated on his head and neck.  He was pushing hard as he could to get his head back through the blanket, and finally he freed himself and fell down, down, down, BOOM.   The animals gasped when they realized the vulture had lost his beautiful long head feathers, and from then forward the vulture has only a red bald wrinkly head.

The animals complained, “We’re going to live in darkness forever!!”  As the cries quieted down, they finally heard the soft, timid voice of the hummingbird.  He was offering, “Um….hey everyone. I know I’m not the biggest, or the strongest, or the wisest…and I’m not sure I could tear down that giant blanket.  But I think I could do something.”

The hummingbird flew up and poked one small hole in the blanket, and light began to shine through.   He flew over a bit, and POP, poked another hole….then another, and another, and another.    As the light began to shine through, all the other animals were silent.  Slowly they began to talk, and be thankful for the light.   They began to laugh, and smile, and see the value in each other.  As God saw they were beginning to get along again, he removed the blanket.  But he knew they might forget what had happened, so every night he replaced it as they rested, so they might look up and remember what had happened that night.  The bears’ swipe still exists, we call it the milky way.  The hole from the vultures’ head, we call the moon.  The first hole poked by the hummingbird was the biggest, and we call that the north star.

It’s a silly story, although it’s whimsical and filled with imagination. We know scientifically, it’s not true, and yet it helps give an illustration to the words from our scripture.  We join Jesus in praying, “Your Kingdom Come”.

We know that God’s Kingdom that Jesus talks about here is not something we’re “waiting for”.  Even within this prayer, Jesus says, “On earth as it is in heaven.”  That means God’s Kingdom IS, RIGHT NOW, fully in heaven.   So when we pray for the Kingdom of God to come, we’re not praying for a point on a timeline to arrive.

We’re not praying for a traditional “KINGDOM” the way that we think, with all our Disney Movies, and Braveheart, and Game of Thrones.  We’re not praying for a giant walled city to plop down on earth.    When the word “Kingdom of God” is used in scripture, it often means where the “REIGN AND RULE of GOD” exists effectively.  Those places where the dominion of God is made manifest.

We are just like those animals.   We look at the world that exists around us.  We see the darkness that has come because of sin.  We know that just on the other side of what is visible – is the realm where God is fully present and Lord over all things.  We join with God in the mission of proclaiming the Reign and Rule of God in and through our lives.

We use phrases sometimes to get each other excited about what is happening for the sake of the Kingdom.  Our family was excited to join the Kingdom work in Hungary.  We may even say things like “Break new ground.”  or “Take new ground.”  or “Gain new ground for the Kingdom”.  But in reality – we know that by his death and resurrection, Jesus has become Lord over all things seen and unseen.  Listen to the words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (1:15-20)

So here’s the truth: The Kingdom of God has arrived.  Jesus knew everything was about to change, and was announcing the Kingdom was “at hand”. It’s just on the other side of the veil, and the veil is thinner than you and I might expect.

The only problem is – the world has spent so much time living under the blanket of darkness, and figuring out ways to become “okay” with it.  How do we respond?

It’s not about being filled with pride about the strength of our movement or numbers.  It’s not about planning an event that climbs the ladder and takes a giant SWIPE on our own abilities to remove the darkness.

It’s not about getting distracted, figuring out the best ways and strongest ways to make the biggest impact, all while accidentally stepping on others underfoot – as the elephant and the moose, to the suffering of the beaver.

It’s not about becoming so focused on one person and their amazing gifts at attracting attention, or making Jesus “look good” so that everything becomes built on their abilities…like the Jaguar.

It’s not even about “aiming high” and trying to fly higher than anyone has ever gone before – and sticking our necks into places where we might get burned – based on our own desires – really healthy desires, to remove the blanket.  We may just find ourselves burned out, like the vulture.

Instead, humbly, Jesus calls us to be people who pray.  People who, like the hummingbird – recognize the Kingdom is already there, just beyond the veil.   It’s not my job to remove the entire veil.  But it’s within what God has empowered me to do – to join God in the Kingdom arriving in many small ways, shaped just the way God has created me.

So how do we join God in doing so?  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, living as the presence of Jesus on earth still today, looking to the Father as Jesus did – we join in acts of Love, offering grace, and inviting others to know the Love of God not just as theory or theological fact – but as tangible and transforming presence.  Proclaiming by our very lives, that there is a reality just beyond the world we’re presented with.  There is a system of power, and a way of life built on love that goes deeper than any pattern or system our world is familiar with.  It’s not about us transforming reality, but about us helping the TRUE reality to arrive as we offer ourselves to God fully.

It’s not about you starting a Bible study, planting a church in your neighborhood, or volunteering 20 more hours a week in what happens at church.

It’s about you seeing your neighbor, your enemy, or that person you walk by every day and usually pretend not to make eye contact – but this time, actually seeing them with the eyes and heart of Jesus.  Proclaiming in that moment by the way that you respond, that the Reign and Rule of God’s Love is more important than any other system, any other social influence, any political correctness, or even more important than what is expected of you as an evangelical Christian in America.

It’s about the Reign and Rule of God being more important than any other identifier we claim.  It’s about the Kingdom of God becoming more important than our nationality, more important than our brokenness, more important than our egos, or our bank accounts, or anything else we might be tempted to make decisions according to.

Yielding all of these things, we submit ourselves to make decisions according to the Kingdom of God.

This sounds mysterious.   It sounds so mysterious, we might even be tempted to use it as an excuse.  Well….shucks….how am I supposed to know what GOD would do in this situation?  God is so mysterious and otherly.  You know what I’ll do for now?  I’ll pray about it.

Unfortunately, “I’ll Pray About It” has often become our way of saying “I’d rather not do anything sacrificial or uncomfortable about it right now.”

Thankfully, we aren’t left in the darkness when it comes to how the Reign and Rule of God are proclaimed and arriving in our visible reality today.  It’s the next phrase of Matthew 6:10 – YOUR WILL BE DONE.

It’s a command, an imperative statement.  It’s simple and humble, and completely different than the ways people were used to praying to their Gentile Gods.  There were plenty of Jews, who’d been taught forms of prayer to God.  There were also many Gentiles in the crowd, who were used to attempting to “bend the ear” of their god that this prayer was worth hearing.   They’d swear upon this or that, or make great sacrifices and declarations.

In contrast, the prayer Jesus teaches his followers…not only to pray, but to live lives shaped by – is this: “Let your will be done.”

We know that God’s will is not mysterious and unknowable.  We have that promise in Romans 12:1-2.  “Therefore I urge you, my dear brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

So even though there may be moments of discovering how God’s will is to be worked out in our individual lives, homes, families, churches, and situations – we know the overall will of God.  We know what God desires, and the ways of the Kingdom – because we’ve seen it revealed in the life and words of Jesus Christ.  We read just a few moments ago – Jesus – “in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.  We have the words of Jesus himself – “the Son can only do what he sees the Father doing.”  So if we want to be involved in doing the things that Jesus would do, it’s important to pay attention to what His Love looks like – both in the days recorded in scripture – and as the body of Christ works to reveal His Love through the Church today.  Not to mention, simply to serve “The Least of these”, whom Jesus has said “whatever you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for me”.

This is the will of God.  It doesn’t have to be a GIANT SWIPE across the sky.  It doesn’t have to be, becoming political or social medial leaders or influencers in order to shape public policy, or get a million likes on a status update.  It doesn’t mean we have the most popular church in town that all the (fill in the blanks with whatever the current target audience is) want to go to.

It simply means….who are we, and what can we use to proclaim the Kingdom of God’s Love today?   Not on our own strength, but humbly stepping forward and saying – “I know there’s an unseen reality here that is much more substantial than the reality we see and perceive, and I’m going to live according to it.”

But that’s hard sometimes.

We live in a world of Bears, and Moose, and Elephants, and Jaguars, and Vultures.  When Jesus stepped up to live in a way that proclaimed “Thy will be done”….he spoke those words in a prayer of tears….asking the Father if there was another way besides submitting to a long, anguishing death on the cross.  When we humbly offer ourselves to God….and say God, allow my life to be shaped by this prayer…..we offer ALL of ourselves.   Our goals, our desires, our pride, our comforts…..ALL.

We bring it to the altar, and say…..God….I’m not the strongest.  I’m not the wisest. I’m not the (whatever)-ist.  But I can do something.  I know your will as revealed in Jesus, and I know your Kingdom is right here….right now.  Use all of me, to help make that visible.  Use all of me, to proclaim your Lordship here.  Use all of my family, my resources, and everything I previously thought was mine…..to make one more place where the light of your Lordship can shine through.

Your Kingdom come….on earth, as it is in Heaven.

And we have a promise that one day, the veil between earth and God’s full Kingdom presence will be worn so thin, nothing will hold it back as God completes what He has already started.

Remember – we’re not waiting for His Lordship to become a reality – He IS ALREADY Lord of all things.  What we’re waiting for….and what we’re actively involved in participating with every moment of our lives – is making that Lordship known, proclaimed, and visible as His Love transforms lives and communities even now.

Will we offer Him everything toward that end?   Will we pray this prayer…and allow it to shape our lives, as we’re called to “pray continually”?

Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts, Uncategorized

Kingdom Trajectory of the Distanced

PSA: This is an oddly “nerdy” post. A paper I’ve recently written for class. Reading back over it, I thought “wow, I like that.” So I decided to share it with you.   This does not endeavor to explore all theological issues, or explain/cover all the breadth of topics involved in God’s activity.  It’s just another blip of a pixel on the moving picture of a church talking about God together. 🙂

INTRODUCTION

Dr. Ken Schenck has said that, within the Bible, you can find a kind of trajectory, a “flow of revelation.” There is throughout scripture a common direction, and unified revelation of the heart and mission of God’s loving activity. Because of this, it can be beneficial to examine a given specific pastoral issue not only in the light of a certain scripture; but illumined by the whole of scripture. By doing this, we can observe the connections between scriptures. We may also come to a fuller and enriched approach to our topic, given the broad scope of the library within the Bible.

The pastoral issue being examined here is: “What does effective Christian leadership from a distance entail?” Obviously the term “Christian” would not have existed in a pre-Jesus world, but we can apply the term broadly to describe the approach to leadership taken by God’s people. In modern contexts, we may have anything from local representation by video preaching, to a desired “virtual presence” by pastors on social media. Before we set expectations of ourselves, or those leading God’s people, it is important to examine how God’s people have led from a distance in scripture.

In this paper, we will examine briefly both Old and New Testament contributions to our understanding, as well as what both offer us moving forward. The history, present, and future of a God who personally embodies leadership both “among” and yet “from a distance” offers us both a hope and a shape for our lives as we join His redemptive activity for Kingdom coming.

OLD TESTAMENT

Shaped by Law

After the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve are forced out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23). This creates a problem of “distanced” relationships that must for the first time be overcome. Relationships with each other, creation itself, and most importantly God, experienced a distancing caused by sin. Because of this, sacrificial systems are put into place, humanity must work the ground, and relationships are obviously strained and require more purposeful work than before.

This pattern continues with Abram, where within the span of just a few verses God calls Abram away from the land of his father and family (Genesis 12:1), and later promises that through Abram all the families of earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3) We can assume that “all” here encompasses his own family, and so we have a story of God’s people being drawn away for the purposes of being used to reach those they’re distanced from.

As the story of God’s people continued, distance continues to be a problematic result of a broken world. As a result, God’s people are enslaved by fellow humanity, but finally “set free” as God moves on their behalf, and begins to reveal himself as wanting to “re-place” the people closer to Him as he tabernacles among them. (Exodus 25:8) Doing so, God also offers words that are to shape His people as unique among all people. He gives His people the Law, by which they will be shaped uniquely as His chosen. Christian leadership from a distance begins here to take a unique shape of passing on, or declaring uniquely, the words given by a God who shapes His people by the Law. The same power found in God declaring “Let there be Light” (Genesis 1:3) is now seen in commands such as “Honor your Father and Mother”. (Exodus 20:12) God is conquering distance by shining uniquely through the light of His people into the darkness of a broken humanity.

The power of “word”, then, continues through the story of God’s people. When they listen and allow themselves to be shaped by His Words, they experience the blessings of a distance rendered powerless. When they forget or neglect these words, they find themselves struggling. Into such moments, God often sends someone to speak on His behalf. We see this happening in Jeremiah, as God speaks to His people living in exile. Even though they’re distanced once more from the “promised land”, God reminds them they needn’t be distanced from the careful ways He has shaped them as His own. Through the prophet Jeremiah, they are reminded of their identity and told that through the ways they honor God, the physical distance is rendered powerless. Even the distance of time itself is robbed of it’s power, as God promises that in 70 years He will restore His people.

Revelation of God

It’s important for us to remember in all of this, that even as God works to reconcile great distances, it is not only for those He is communicating with in that moment. As we saw in His words to Abram, through God’s people ALL families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3) Throughout the Old Testament we see God revealing Himself in unique ways through things like dreams (Numbers 12:6), visions (Isaiah 1:1), and the words of the prophets (2 Samuel 23:2). God wasn’t attempting to remain a mystery only to be unlocked by those who could decipher His ways. Gods’ desire was to be known, His Love experienced, and His people to join with Him, even and especially to those who still seemed most “distanced”. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

In practical terms, often physical distances were handled with words as well, in the forms of written word. In 2 Chronicles 30:1 we read, “Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (NIV) This is a great example and reminder that most often when someone is offering Christian Leadership from a distance, it comes in a form of invitation to counter that distance either by actual travel, or symbolically by responding to a specific call to respond toward God’s desire – as in Esther 9:30-31, “And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation.” As the festivals of God’s people were celebrated, His people were united across physical location and generations, thwarting any power of time and space to distance God’s people from each other, relating well to creation, or the joy of His loving desire for their lives.

NEW TESTAMENT DEVELOPMENTS

Shaped by the Law Fulfilled

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17, NIV) Jesus helps open the New Testament by providing continuity to a God who offered the law as a response to the brokenness of humanity and a people being called out for the sake of all others. Now these people would have a “living word” (John 1:14, NIV) through whom God was communicating a living version of that which the law, comparatively, had only begun to reveal.

The power and presence of the word continued to grow at this point, as Jesus invited humanity to “Follow me”, and transformed this group of people by removing the power of distance – both physical/literal, and figurative/spiritual. This continues even after his death and resurrection, as the Holy Spirit empowers and continues through all people what had begun in Christ. As Paul writes a letter to the early church in Ephesus, he shares a prayer that they would receive a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17) for the purposes of knowing God better. Such knowing is in direction of defeating any power of distance, and bringing invitation to receive the hope of that which Paul saw as the direction of God’s activities found earlier in that same chapter. “when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10, NIV)

With this new understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, the growing collection of writings seem to shift. Now centered on Jesus, the focus moves beyond understanding how to follow commands and measure requirements for cleanliness, toward communicating and proclaiming the Lordship, Love and New Creation Life found in this community shaped by following Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the temple curtain is torn, we understand the distance between humanity and God has been transformed forever in important ways. No longer exiles, all were now invited and given place at the banqueting table of the Kingdom of Jesus (Matthew 22).

Revelation of God in Jesus

As the Kingdom trajectory of those formed by the living Word of God continued, it grew increasingly important for the word to be shared exponentially throughout a humanity that was now completely engulfed in invitation to New Creation. Especially in the beginning, the number of people who had heard or experienced Jesus first-hand was incredibly small. Still, the desire for God to be known and revealed is powerful, with all the resources of humanity and creation at God’s whim. Transforming lives such as Saul/Paul, God discovered and created unique ways to spread the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ throughout the ancient world. This happened both through letter writing, experiences of lives transformed/made new, and simply population growth in areas where humanity flourished.

The letters of Paul make up about ¼ of the New Testament itself, and in them we have revelations of God and his heart for a creation made new. His focus on the good news of Jesus Christ was central to the development of the early church. As John MacArthur writes, “Virtually every one of Paul’s New Testament epistles defends and clarifies some crucial point of doctrine germane to the gospel message.” (MacArthur, 2017)

This pattern of Christian leadership from a distance continues throughout the New Testament, even through to the final book “Revelation” written by John from the island of Patmos. In a series of letters meant to traverse great distances of time/space/brokenness, he is instructed to write letters to seven churches. Each of those letters communicate important truths to the global church today, seeking to faithfully follow, proclaim, and embody the Love of a God who is omnipresent. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are connected and able to connect others to this New Creation. As scripture reminds us, “If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This “life of the age to come” is something mysteriously connected to and transforming the words we speak and write, in many of the same ways as those original words “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3)

CONCLUSION

“According to the book of Revelation, Jesus died in order to make us not rescued nonentities, but restored human beings with a vocation to play a vital part in God’s purposes for the world.” (Wright, 2017) This is not a “new idea”, but rather something God has been actively pursuing and bringing about for thousands of years already (Ephesians 1:5). Even from the beginnings of distance caused by sin, God was working to bring redemption and healing to the brokenness.

Of all the debatable elements found in specific types, styles, and methods of Christian leadership from a distance then, we have discovered at least this one thing: Christian leadership from a distance always seeks to bridge distance and separation, uniting that which has been impacted by sin, and bringing all things to respond to His invitation and declaration that Jesus is now Lord of all. By our words and actions we declare that distance retains no power in the realities defined by Jesus.

“Christian leaders guide from a distance by reminding recipients in letters that God overcomes distance by being near to us no matter where we are, and by uniting believers who are distant with the same hope, same word, same Holy Spirit, same stories of deliverance, and same celebrations of festivals.” (D. Freemyer, personal communication, December 3, 2017) We are drawn together, united across time and space, and beyond any power of sin to hold us back. By the Holy Spirit of Jesus we have access to the throne of God, the Life of the Age to come, and are set free from the constraints and futures determined by the brokenness of sin. In Jesus, we are invited and empowered to exist and communicate as living declarations of a fully revealed future – “undistanced” from each other, from New Creation, and from God.

RESOURCES:

MacArthur, John. (2017). The Gospel According to Paul. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Press, A. (2003). New Interpreter’s Study Bible-NRSV. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Wright, N.T. (2017). The Day the Revolution Began. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne.