Entries in Kingdom of God (19)
Just when we are tempted to think these times are unique, the Scriptures remind us that people of every generation, every race, and every society have had to cope with fear and uncertainty. That’s because these are the weapons of the god of this age.
The excellent news is we can receive the right relationships, deep peace and inner-spring of joy conferred upon subjects of the King by his Holy Spirit. These are gifts of the Kingdom, and they are more real than the fears and doubts sown into the everyday messages of this age. To live in these three realities is actually a signal to the Adversary his methods are passing away, and being replaced with a resurrected people living in the age to come even now: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel: in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” (Philippians 1:27-28)
The answer is always the same: there is a King in Heaven who will return to earth, and we can participate in His Kingdom right now, even before he returns. In the on-going mission of God’s people living in this present age, there is no such thing as a “non-combatant.” The only question is whether I’m aware of the conflict raging around me.
Meditate: Have I ever thought of my life as the battleground between two kingdoms?
Back in another life I was a salesman, and not a very good one at that. I was trained in techniques designed to close the sale quickly and effectively, and—if necessary—against the customer’s will. During these years I learned people don’t always reveal their true reasons for resisting your pitch. If they complained my product didn’t come in red, it meant they thought the price was too high, or they didn’t trust me. Red was simply a convenient excuse. The real issues were almost always price or trust.
Other than the benefit of nearly going bankrupt, my salesman days also taught me something about my walk with God. I discovered that I, too, deal in convenient excuses with the Master of the Universe. The convenient excuses are usually big picture things: "The church is full of hypocrites,” I protested. It allowed me to remain in isolation. When I declared, “The Bible is a flawed book,” it gave me an easy way out of navigating the tension between God’s ways and my ways. I was free to take my pick: “God hates women. Or gays. Or he’s too violent.”
And because I was educated beyond my intelligence, I loved to discuss the pressing social issues of the day in relation to Christianity. I’d take up the discussion with anyone who would listen. At the coffeehouse. On Facebook or Twitter. At some else’s blog, or at mine. They became my favorite hiding places from a daily, intimate walk with the Father. Discussing the failures of others or debating the current cause célèbre served me well. It became a game of hide-and-seek where I devoutly wished to be found by everyone except God. It’s much easier to talk about God than to walk with him. Should we be surprised we do not hear his voice when we are busy chattering away?
It turns out the Holy Spirit can play hide-and-seek pretty well, too. The Holy Spirit's favorite hiding place is inside a simple act of obedience. I can only seek him by being willing to do what he says. Understanding, insight, and revelation come from hearing his voice and doing his will. I can hold any traditional or progressive opinion and still hide from him. He does not come to talk about God’s Kingdom, but to establish it in my heart.
During my manipulative sales days, we had a method of cutting to the chase. When I prospect asked, “Does it come in red?” we would respond with, “If it comes in red, are you ready to buy it?” The crass, in-your-face approach had a way of separating the buyers from the browsers. Who knows? Perhaps the Spirit asks me the same question: “If Jesus agreed with all your social and political opinions, would you then be ready to kneel and obey?”
Important people lead busy, important lives. They sky in to NYC from LAX and put together banking mega-deals in a few days. They get it done and then take a charter to MIA to celebrate. The deal is their signature. They leave their mark. They do more in a weekend than I do all year. That’s the way of the world.
Jesus was one of the important people, too. He skied into Jerusalem: got himself killed and resurrected all in the next seven days. It’s his signature deal. He left his mark and headed off to Paradise to celebrate. But wait: there’s a problem with looking at Jesus the same way we look at other important people. If his atoning death was his signature deal, why should we bother with the other 33 years of his life? Or the other 2,000 years of his resurrected life?
I think we’ve been tempted to reduce the ministry and message of our Lord to that one busy weekend in Jerusalem. And I get it: it’s understandable. The death and resurrection of Jesus changed history forever. His death was the biggest bailout in history. His blood paid the debt of all humanity and there’s still money in the bank. No one else could do what he did, and the cross is the sign of his love.
But didn’t the birth of Jesus change history as well? Wasn’t the game changed forever when an unknown man from Nazareth began with the announcement: “The time is right. God’s Kingdom is within your reach. Think new thoughts and re-imagine your life.”
Jesus did more than sky into Jerusalem and put together the mega-deal of eternity. We cannot fully lay hold of his work if we minimize the importance of the 33 years that led to the cross. The cross was unique in all of human history. But so was in Incarnation. And the good news of the Kingdom of God. And the example of his human life lived in complete concert with the Father’s heart. To ignore any of these other vital factors is to fall short of the glory of God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Has our gratitude for one of his gracious gifts caused us to miss the other gifts he gave--and still offers? It’s a meditation worthy of this new week.
I hate bumper stickers, even when I agree with them. How can anything important be reduced to so few words? Our media soaked, marketing driven age has generated a sound-bite generation. We have been trained to reduce life and death thoughts into catch phrases and slogans.
It’s even true in the church, where for the last 60 years the most popular verse in the Bible has been John 3:16, “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.” It’s been the go-to verse for outreach because it speaks of God’s sacrificial love, our need for faith, and the promise of eternal life. I’m in favor of all those things--they are all true. Still, there is a danger in quoting John 3:16 apart from the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It reduces the good news to something Jesus never intended.
It’s time to stop using John 3:16 apart from the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
If Jesus commissioned us to announce the Kingdom and make disciples of the King, we should give people the full story. Anything less is dishonest. John 3:16 isn’t even the full story of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, why have we tried to shrink the Kingdom call into those 26 words?
Here are four drawbacks of shrinking the gospel into John 3:16:
Our use of John 3:16 means we have distorted God’s love, and his call for us to love in return. Make no mistake: God is love. Who could be against love--especially the perfect love of the Father? But the love of God goes beyond his sacrifice and empowers us to respond. His love teaches us to love. His love is modeled in the life of Jesus--not just his death. Most important, when we use John 3:16 for outreach we fail to communicate the first and greatest commandment, that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Our use of John 3:16 means we have distorted the life-changing responsibility of belief. Faith is vital to our entry into the Kingdom of God, but in our day “belief” has been reduced to “agreement.” True faith is a dangerous, life-changing force that causes us to die to ourselves and the old way of life. True faith causes us to count our lives as lost for the sake of gaining God’s Kingdom. The “faith” presented in the bumper-sticker application of John 3:16 asks simply for the nodding of our heads.
Our use of John 3:16 means we have traded the promise God’s vast Kingdom for simply living a long time. I’m so glad I will live forever. I’ve bet my eternal destiny on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet when we reduce the gospel to everlasting life, we have presented a false reward. Imagine someone who attained everlasting life apart from the love of God or transformation into Christlikeness--what would this do someone’s soul? What if we got to live forever but didn’t like the life we got to live? Jesus has a different definition of eternal life than simply beating death: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Eternal life is relationship with our Creator, knowing him and being known by him. To be present with God is to leave this life behind.
Finally, our use of John 3:16 means we have failed to make disciples. The Great Commission has become the Great Omission. We have taken the methods of salesmanship and used them for an evangelism that misrepresents the gospel Jesus announced. It is a bait-and-switch, without the call to switch. We should ask ourselves what kind of disciples have we made. For the last 60 years in North America the answer is that we have fallen short of the Lord’s commission to us. What if we chose Matthew 11:28-30 for their outreach verse instead of John 3:16? What kind of disciples could we make? Or Luke 9:57-62? Or the entire Sermon on the Mount? He calls us to come and follow.
It's not a drive-by gospel. The Kingdom of God doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.