Thursday, April 25, 2013

Agape Now - The Gospel of Love

This week, I had lunch with an Asian-Indian friend, Ashish, and his wife Natalie. I just love meeting with diaspora peoples like Ashish to learn from them and hear their stories. Ashish, Natalie and their two children are sensing the call of God to go back to India and serve the Hindu people there. They have been accepted by an excellent agency and are preparing for life in India. You have to truly love a people to want to serve them, especially in such a hard place like India, which may be why so few heed the call to go. Please take a moment to pray for this precious family that God would use them to share his Gospel of Love throughout India. 

Over lunch, Ashish shared with me about his work and we discussed Hinduism. Ashish told me that in Hinduism only high caste Hindus can be "saved" (Moksha). The lower caste and Dalit (untouchables) have no opportunity, they have no hope of salvation. Their only hope is to be reincarnated in a higher caste but there is no way of knowing if they will. Is it any wonder, in such a hopeless existence, extreme poverty is the norm. Ashish also shared that because high caste Hindus believe they already have a path to salvation that is it difficult to reach them with the Gospel. On the one hand, you have people who think they have it made and on the other you have people who think they have no chance of making it. But Jesus came for both, sent on a mission of love to the Brahman and the Dalit.

Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's pure love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding. How could it be then that so many Hindus live without hope, outside of God's love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding but finding neither? I don't understand and don't have the answers to that question, if one exists. However would God's pure love and light not be available to even the "untouchables," if it was indeed pure love and light?

Jesus came because God so loved the world, every soul, every person, desiring none to perish apart from the knowledge of his great love for them (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus touched the "untouchables" because he loved them, he cared for them, he wanted the best for them, he wanted to restore them to wholeness. If we are to follow in the way of Jesus, how can we want less for people then for them to know they too are loved, genuinely, deeply, profoundly loved? It is a message unique to Christianity. It cost the Father, which is a term of endearment unknown to other religions, the life of his Son to express his love to mankind. It's been said that when Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross, what was unspoken was...

Also this week, I chatted with a dear brother and friend who I hadn't seen since moving to McKinney eight years ago. My friend told me that the Great Commandment to love God and love others was the law and that we have moved beyond the law. Our message is salvation, he said, and the Gospel is 1 Corinthian 15 - meaning the message Paul preached was Jesus, life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. My friend also told me that we don't need to befriend others for Christ, as our conversation was about Muslims in light of the Boston bombing. We only need to preach the Gospel to them. At least that was my understanding of what my friend was sharing. My heart sank and I was truly saddened by how my friend missed our "Mission of Love" (see previous post), especially given the fact that so many billion of people don't know God loves them, especially given the fact that 85% of Muslim who come to faith in Christ do so because of a love of Christian. But I want to extend my friend grace since I recall that it wasn't that long ago when I thought has he did. Tragically, that is a sentiment of way to many Christians today, perhaps unspoken in person but expressed on Facebook posts and blogs - which is often today the revealer of what is truly in our hearts. We focus so much on one element of the mystery of Christ, the salvation he provides through the cross, that we miss the overarching reason for the salvation He provides - God's great love and that calls us to a life of love.

The phrase "Gospel of Love" is not found in Scripture but then again neither is the word "Trinity."  Both are implicit throughout however. If our message to those who are so desperately lost and those who are so desperately hurting is salvation only, we may miss the very reason why Jesus came (John 3:16). We may miss what he told us about his ministry (John 5:19) and we may miss the reality of a God who is love and what that means for us (1 John 4:20). We may also miss the fact that love isn't optional but a necessity for those who claim to follow Christ (Matthew 22:38-39). And, I think we do often miss it, which may be why Christians, especially Evangelicals, are known more for what we stand against than what we stand for. What would change if we were known as a people who stood for love?

Yes, the Gospel is about salvation, that is central to understanding our faith. We desperately need to be saved, but all religions claim to have a path of salvation, at least for some like the Hindu high caste. The difference between the Christian faith and all others is that God says in his great love - "you're to die for." The grace poured out at the cross is an act of the greatest love ever expressed. Forgiveness is an act of love that says you are worthy of being restored to loving relationship. The Good News is a story of love that brings healing, wholeness and blessing. God's love is our motivation for mission (2 Corinthians 5:14) and must be our guide of how we relate to others. In a world of untouchables, of marginalized, of the "least of these," the Good News is that love is the greatest force in the universe (1 Cor 13:13).

How can we then dare say that the Gospel is only about salvation, as a ticket to heaven? Why would we ever reduce the pure love and light of God, displayed in Christ, to an act of accepting an idea about God? The Gospel in all it's fullness is grand and glorious beyond our understanding but it can be experienced more fully, just as God can be experienced relationally. While the phrase the "Gospel of Love" is not used in Scripture, the phrase most commonly used is "Gospel of God." Since God is love, therefore, the "Gospel of Love" is not only accurate but is its highest expression. The Bible also uses the phrase the "Gospel of your salvation" once (Ephesians 1:13). But salvation is an act of a loving God, who in his mercy and goodness, expressed his love in a mind bending, history altering, life changing way.

We who understand the love of God, or are beginning to, must live a life of love, at least as best we can. The Good News is also that in Christ, we have been given everything we need to do so (2 Peter 1:3 ). We're not called to simply accept or even simply to share the Gospel but to live it (Colossians 1:10), living what my friend Dr. Paul Louis Metzger calls an Relational-Incarnational apologetic. The Apostle Paul understood life is best lived as an expression of love, when he called us to a more excellent way. I'll explore some the life of a Gospel of Love in our next post in this series.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Agape Now: The Mission of Love

I'm starting a new series called Agape Now. In the New Testament, agape is the fatherly love of God for humans and their reciprocal love for God. The term also extends to the love of one's fellow humans. But the word agape also means "wide open" and so I want to live my life wide open to the love of God, to love God wide open to whatever he desire, and to be wide open to love others.

Jonathan Edwards said, "if you would be in the way to the world of love, see that you live a life of love — of love to God, and love to men." By the "world of love," Edwards was referring to heaven but telling us we shouldn't wait until we get there to live like it. That is our mission. To make know the wonders of God's love and so live a life of love that others would see and believe.

Paul addressed the church in Corinth that was consumed by what they thought they believed correctly and how they professed their faith. But Paul told them they were missing it big time. Paul basically told the Corinthians that all they were doing was meaningless (1 Cor 13:1-4) without a "life of love." They were being motivated by the wrong things, the wrong ideas, the wrong thinking. So then the question we need to ask is what motivates us for mission?

Great understanding of doctrine and the ability to communicate it well doesn't cut it (1 Cor 13:1). 

Great faith to move mountains, to heal the sick, deliver the captive, isn't sufficient (1 Cor 13:2). 

Great works of social justice, even to the point of death, won't do the job (1 Cor 13:3).

As The Message puts it, "no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love." What good is a "bankrupt" belief system? How can that motivate mission? That doesn't sound like a mission our loving God who wants to make his love known to all would give his people to live out, does it?

Rather, Paul told us to pursue the "more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31b), to "follow the way of love" (1 Cor 14:1) and "do everything in love." (1 Cor 16:14).  The Good News is that through Christ's resurrection "God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." (Romans 5:5). Yes, our sins are forgiven but that only frees us to love as we must. Our mission moves us beyond preaching repentance for sins now into a living a life of love - for God is love (1 John 4:8).  

Jesus prays before his death for us who believe, “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:25-26). In Christ, his love should be at work in us, if we say we know him for the Apostle John warns, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." Love is not optional but a requirement for every believer in the God who is love, works in love, sends in love, directs us in love and empowers in love.

What would change in our world if we who know the love of Christ lived a life of love? I don't know about you, but I'd like to find out. This isn't some sappy, romanticized emotion but rather the life-altering, culture penetrating, society transforming power of God. I pray to be found in the way to the world of love, as it is in heaven so now here on earth (Matthew 6:10). Making his love known is our mission.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"The Kingdom of Heaven is Like..." Part 3

Through the first two parables we have look at (see Part 1 and Part 2) we need to take note of two important ideas that are to define our call to the Kingdom life. First, the Kingdom must be our primary focus. There are other kingdoms at work  but they will come to nothing (Psalm 2). These other kingdoms do not require our attention, although they too often distract us. We can easily get lost in the "weeds" if we lose sight of the primacy of the Kingdom. Second, the Kingdom needs to be understood as having the potential to become very large but it needs to be "planted." Planting is not simply the act of dropping seed on the ground and hoping it grows. Rather "planting" requires intentionality, preparation, proper soil conditions, watering, and some waiting. But when planted properly the Kingdom will become very large as a place of refuge. With this understanding let's look at the next parable where Jesus says, "the Kingdom of heave in like..."

Parable of the Yeast
"He told them still another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.'” (Matthew 13:33)
From time to time I enjoy making homemade bread. The basic recipe calls for a couple of cups of flour, some wet ingredients (milk, oil, eggs) and an appropriate measure of yeast. If you know the baking process, you know that after all the ingredients are mixed together the clump of down needs to be kneaded. It is the kneading that works the yeast throughout the dough. It is then set aside and through the activation of the yeast the volume of dough increases  and continues to increase proportionate to the flour yeast ratio. A ball of dough will double or triple in size in a matter of hours. The end product is a light fluffy loaf of delicious bread that beats anything you can buy in the store.

In this parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom with yeast. This parable and the parable of the mustard seed tell us that Jesus knew the future growth and potential of the Kingdom to spread out. But what else was Jesus communicating in this parable?

Jesus refers to a quite large an specific amount of flour. What is the significance of this sixty pounds? Other translations use "three measures of flour" or a "bushel of flour." This  amount of flour was the prescribed measure for a thank offering to the Lord (see Genesis 18:6), Thank offerings were to be made with leavened bread (Leviticus 7:13). But the Lord had already told Israel that he was rejecting such offerings (Amos 5:22), because the peoples hearts were far from him. Jesus is using imagery that would have been familiar to his disciples but the implication would become clear only later. The Kingdom would be taken away from the Jews and given to another people (Matthew 21:43), those who would live according to the way of Jesus.

If our desire is the promised Kingdom life, it is important to ask "what is the way of Jesus?" What else can we know about yeast as a depictor of the Kingdom to help answer that question? Here are five things about yeast and how that characteristic can tell us something about what the Kingdom is like.

Yeast only requires a small amount to do its work. To much yeast produces a loaf with a porous texture and an unpleasant bitter flavor. Likewise, it was not Jesus intention that the present Kingdom dominate the world, at least not before “a new heaven and a new earth” are established. Instead the Kingdom is to have its affect throughout the whole, just as yeast does. When Christendom becomes dominate, faith has shown itself to become porous and what it produces often becomes unpleasant. An honest appraisal of Christian history will show this to be the case, even up to present day. Unpacking this is beyond the scope of this post but please get this - the U.S.A. is not the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God is much different than any earthly nation. To many today make the mistake of thinking that our nation must be a Christian nation, I did as well for many years. But what has become clear to me is that such thinking becomes syncretistic, blending proud nationalism and religion. We have to ask if we are putting anything before the Kingdom because we value our way of life more than the Kingdom. Do we not our citizenry in Christ's Kingdom is out of this world! (Philippians 3:20)

Yeast is always effective in the the right amount. The efficacy of yeast is a sure thing. Yeast will always do what yeast does. It cannot do other than be effective so long as it is activated in just the right measure, in just the right manner. Left out of the loaf, kept in a jar, yeast does nothing and will eventually expire. Not worked into the bread it produces little results. It needs to be kneaded. Likewise, the efficacy of the Kingdom is certain but it requires just the right kind of work (John 6:29). The assignment we have is just this - to tell the story of Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less. But how many are working that story? Do we believe it is effective? Or do we think in our Post-modern, post Christian, culture today the story, has lost its efficacy? I know a few who are truly activated for the Kingdom but I know too many who are kept in "jars." We need to take the lid off and get activated but when we do we need to consider this next point carefully. 

Yeast does its work silently. It makes no noise in accomplishing its task.It goes about its work without recognition until the results are seen. It accomplishes what it is purposed for. Likewise, the Kingdom is to spread peaceably (Matthew 5:9, James 3:8), with humility and love (Philippians 2:1-3) with only the pronouncement of the alternative offered to those who repent and seek it first (Matthew 6:33). The Kingdom doesn't stand opposed to anything but rather must be seen as standing for something very different. Then it will accomplish what it is purposed for. Recognition comes only by results, not by forceful declaration of rights nor for self-aggrandizement. It is all about the Kingdom and the King!  

Yeast converts at the cellular level.  Yeast turns carbohydrates into carbon dioxide changing the very nature of the the flour being interacted with. Yeast changes the nature of the whole batch as it is worked into the flour. Likewise, the very nature of life in the Kingdom is a process of conversion, not just for the individual but for whole communities (Acts 16:31). The Good News of the Kingdom is that now through Jesus Christ the way of conversion (Acts 3:19 KJV) and transformation of our thinking (Romans 12:2) all things will be made new - redeemed, restored, revitalized. The Kingdom changes what it comes in contact with, not just at the individual level but at the community level. Here is one example....

Yeast would rather keep warm. You don't take a fresh ball of yeast dough and stick it in the refrigerator, unless you want to slow the rise of the dough. Likewise, the Kingdom grows best where it is warmly welcomed, in hearts and among those who receive it with gladness. We should not try to press the Kingdom into places where it is coldly received. We don't force people to conform to the Kingdom. We offer an alternative that will attract those who welcome it. This was Jesus pattern when he sent his disciples out to to proclaim the Kingdom (Luke 9:1-6). Jesus never forced his Kingdom upon anyone but he did rebuke those who were leading people astray from the simple way (Matthew 23:13) of the Kingdom life he came to establish.

What can we learn and what may need to be changed in light of the first three parables we have looked at? What are some of the similarities we find at work? How might Jesus parables of the "weeds," of the "mustard seed," of the "yeast" be lived out as we quest for a Kingdom life? I think those are certainly interesting question to contemplate. Those are questions I want to explore for myself. Before that we need to complete the ten sayings of Jesus, "the Kingdom of heaven is like..." Next up -  Part 4 - “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field." (Matthew 13:44). 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"The Kingdom of Heaven is Like..." Part 2

In Christ, our focus is to be his Kingdom. In Part 1 we saw that Jesus is the sower and we are to tend to the harvest field as our primary concern. We are not called to worry about the "weeds." Much more could be said on that point but it comes down whether we believe Jesus words or our own ideas about the "weeds." Do we try to manage them in our own little way? Lord knows I have been guilty in the past of trying to manage the "weeds" but we are to be busy planting, watering, nurturing, and tending to the "wheat." That is the task of every Christ follower to serve the Kingdom as it spreads out. Let's look at the next instance where Jesus says, "the Kingdom of heaven is like..."

The Parables of the Mustard Seed

 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
What can we know about a mustard seed? Here are five things:

A mustard seed is organic. It was created by God for God's creation purposes. It is God's idea. Likewise, the Kingdom is organic. This idea will require a much longer explanation than space allows here but for now when you consider the parables used by Jesus to describe the Kingdom we see this to be true. The Kingdom is created and sustained by God for his creative purposes as a living, growing, entity. As the chart about shows the Kingdom is God's idea from the beginning of time.

A mustard seed contains new life. All seed contains the potential for life. When properly handled and tended to, a seed is designed by God to bring forth new life. Likewise, the Kingdom is a place where new life is to flourish.

A mustard seed begins small. It may not look like much at first as the "smallest of all seeds" but latent potential for growth is within that small little seed. Likewise, the Kingdom began small with just a handful of disciples in a remote outpost of the Roman empire 2000 years ago.. But it didn't stay that way as God gave the increase. 

A mustard seed possess the potential to become tremendous. From a small seed a large tree is rooted and established that gives shade and shelter. Likewise, the Kingdom has grown from a small band of Christ followers to a global community of over 2 billion people, becoming the largest faith movement in world history.

A mustard seed's potential is more mustard seed. Once the seed become a tree it produces many more seed that produces more seed that multiplies into a forest. Likewise, each Kingdom citizen has the potential to multiply many new Kingdom citizens, not just by themselves but through the exponential power contained within one small seed.

Here's a truth we need to understand. Not every seed germinates into a tree, many remain just seeds unless planted, watered, and properly cared for. In this parable, The potential is there, locked up into the seed to produce life. However there must be an  agency to release the exponential power endowed by God. in every living thing. There is something mysterious that catalyzes a mustard seed to become mustard tree, but the DNA of every seed is the same. Not that Jesus says the seed was "planted" it wasn't just left sitting a jar with other seeds. 

Latent within every Christ-follower is a divine power to multiply spiritual life.  The Holy Spirit's job is to release the exponential power bent up in each believer. But do we let him at his work or to we keep the seeds closed up in a jar? We have too many things that get in our way. Things we consider good - like church, like programs, like how we live our lives and what we think is important. But what could happen if our exponential power was released?

You have no doubt heard that if you double a penny and keep doubling within a month you would be a multimillionaire. That is exponential power but it's not going to happen if all you have is a few pennies to start with. The exponential power of the Kingdom is different. We have been given everything we need to start with. What we don't have is the understanding of this Kingdom principle at work today like Jesus intended But what could happen if we did? Watch this video and find out.

Next time we'll look at the Parable of the yeast to see another example of how the Kingdom is to grow. But today, my desire is to be used by God to ignite a movement just like this video shows. What about you?


Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like - Part 1

Read: Matthew 13:24-30

To say that the Kingdom is important to an understatement. The Kingdom is his core message. He speaks about it a lot in the Gospels, more than any other subject.

The Jews of that time were anticipating the renewal of their kingdom  through the coming Messiah. They rejected Jesus because his message wasn't what they expected, his Kingdom was not what they were anticipating. But many are falling back into a similar trap today, because of lack of knowledge of what the Kingdom is about. They don't necessarily reject Jesus but they are not living the Kingdom life we are called into because they don't understand the Kingdom Jesus taught.

John the Baptist understood, though not completely, that the coming Kingdom was close in the person of Jesus to fulfill the prophecy of the Scriptures (Matthew 3:1-3). After John baptized Jesus, the Lord began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matthew 4:17). We must realize that Jesus didn't come preaching salvation, good works, or a new religion. Jesus began to preach that is was necessary to radically change how we think because those who would follow Jesus would be citizens of his new Kingdom that was near and would spread out to fill the earth. Salvation, good works, and even elements of a new religion (John 4:2, 6:53) were simply part of this new radically different Kingdom being established.

My purpose here in these posts is to discuss how Jesus uses the phrase "The Kingdom of heaven is like..."  Let's establish up front that in using this phrase, 10 times in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus isn't it referring to some future hope, while it is that as well. Rather Jesus is referring to the here and now as he describes what the present Kingdom is like . There is a future Kingdom yet to come, but both John and Jesus understood the Kingdom has come "near." The Kingdom was to expand and fill the earth for that is God's cosmic plan for history (Habakkuk 2:14). 

The word "heaven" does to refer so much to a place separate from the world bur rather a reality where God reigns, be it in heaven or on earth.What is the Kingdom? The best definition of the Kingdom I have heard is simply this, "The Kingdom is where what God wants done is done." Maybe that is why the Kingdom parables are meant for those who follow Christ (see the explanation Jesus give in Matthew 13:13-15) because the unrepentant have no intention of doing what God wants done in their lives. But we need to make sure our thinking lines up with the Kingdom thinking Jesus taught or we too need to repent. 

The first time we read the phrase "The Kingdom is heave is like..." is in Matthew 13:24-26 which is the Parable of the Weeds." We read:
"Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared."
To start, we need to go back in Chapter 13. The "Parable of the Weeds" follows the "Parable of the Sower" or the "Four Soils" in Matthew 13:1-9. The "sower" and the "man who sowed good seed" are one and the same - Jesus. It is Christ who sows the good seeds in the "soil" of a person's heart but it is that person who is responsible for the condition of their soil and how they respond to the seed. 
We see this clearly in the explanation gives us in Matthew 13:18-23. Which is why Jesus calls us to repentance as the agency to prepare the soil. No repentance and the seed is easily snatched away (13:19). Little repentance and the seed is not able to root (13:21). Doubled-minded repentance and no fruit grows (13:22). Note that the seed is always good. It is the preparedness of the soil that makes the difference. Our job is to be soil preparers which takes us into the next part of the "Weeds" parable.

Continuing on, we read:
The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Good seed is being sown but everyone was sleeping so the enemy had opportunity to plant weeds. The weeds are the unrepentant, that much is clear from the context. The Sower had done his work and the enemy was hard at work as well.  Those who were called to cultivate the soil however were sleeping. Could it be that in their sleeping they are at least partially culpable in the enemies work? That seems implied from the context too. It also seems to be a chronic condition of the "soil preparers," which is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesian 5:14)

Now how are we to understand this parable with respect to the Kingdom? The Evangelical position historically is that Jesus is talking about the "weeds" and that they would be "burned up" at the harvest. This gave rise to the "hell and damnation" - "turn or burn" preaching still taught in many places today. But is that really the primary Kingdom principle Jesus is communicating? We know that the unrepentant will be judged, that those who reject the atoning work of Jesus will not enter the future Kingdom to come (Rev 20:15). But is there is something more Jesus is communicating for the present Kingdom? I think there is.

The parable tells us that those who reject Jesus, the "weeds," will live side by side with those who accept Jesus,  who are the"the wheat." Jesus is notably unconcerned by this cohabitation and he apparently doesn't want us, who are in the Kingdom, to be concerned with it either. Rather our concern must focus on how the "wheat" grows. The "wheat" are not only those who are in the Kingdom, Christians, but all those who are to come into the Kingdom, Pre-Christians. God knows who will be counted amongst the harvest. Our attention is to those who will be brought in which is why we are called to tend the fields, and that requires our proper attention to the task at hand.

Now here's an important point we must grasp. Jesus tells us that when we disturb the "weeds" we might also disturb the "wheat" uprooting what he has planted. Consider the Parable of the Sower and the four soils. The efficacy of the seed is dependent on the condition of the soil. If our focus is the "weeds" we aren't paying attention to our primary task. Jesus is concerned with the condition of the wheat and understood that the "weeds" pose no threat to his plans. To focus on the weeds could be detrimental to health of the "wheat."

How often though do we want to confront the "weeds" and pull them out, thinking that will improve the harvest. We fear what the weeds may do. Jesus tells us to leave them alone. But our pride gets in the way as we think we can't have these "weeds" among us and so we fight against them. That is because we do not understand the nature of the Kingdom we are called into.

A "culture war" rages today in ways that is doing more damage than good, as Christianity becomes increasingly irrelevant in our nation. We live in a post-Christian pluralistic society where our voice is only as important as the next, when it is considered at all. This past Easter, for the first time it was reported less than a majority of Americans were planning on going to Easter service. The question of the hour is: why is the Church in decline? Could it be our attitude toward the unrepentant, the "weeds," who we want to stand opposed to do? Are we paying more attention to the "weeds" than the "wheat," which is why reproducing discipleship is so lacking?

The Kingdom is an alternative reality, different from the world and distinct from it. Our attention is to be on tending to the harvest to add to the Kingdom, even as the weeds grow up. We aren't to make our message about pulling out the weeds, but nurturing the wheat. That requires we see the harvest as Jesus does and follow his directions on how to care for it. We don't spend ourselves pulling out the "weeds," that's not our task. Therefore, being a "culture warrior" is not a Kingdom assignment, although too many Christians make it one. The Kingdom principle here is our focus is to be on what Jesus tells us is of first importance. The "Land-owner will take care of everything else in due season.

As an example of what I am talking about, I recently received one of those emails. You know the kind - the alarm is going off, some "godless" agenda is being promoted, we must respond immediately, we must stand opposed to this, God wants you to forward this email to everyone you know, and if you don't you shouldn't expect God's blessing. I typically delete such emails but a statement in this one caught my attention that I found so sad. The email stated: "please don't complain when God does not have time for you because He is far busier than we are." The theologically unprincipled idea being expressed is that God is too busy for you if you can't take the time to help boycott what the writer was objecting to. My response in part was that, "God is never busy, he is never overworked, and he certainly does not need our defense, nor does he desire our fearful response to what non-believers do."

I can hear the objections, "but if we don't stand against this kind of thing, it will only get worse!" To which I respond, " do you know and so what ?" If Jesus is unconcerned with the "weeds" so should we be. We are not going to change the culture by pushing back against it, declaring "you are wrong!" We should understand that's not working because it is not a Kingdom principle. It is not our role in the Kingdom to change the culture by denouncing it. The Kingdom is to present a place and way to live that is radically different than the world. We don't change culture, as much as we create it. That is why Jesus calls us to focus on the "wheat" and to leave the "weeds" alone.

Many churches, ministries, and Christian stand opposed to the "world,"to our culture, but don't offer the reality of the Kingdom as an alternative - a realm of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). The Kingdom will spread out only as we understand what Jesus meant when he said, "the Kingdom of heaven is like..." Jesus is asking us to refocus on what is primary, what we are tasked to do. We must tend to the harvest field with single-minded purpose not get distracted by what the world does. It is often easier to react to the "weeds" but doing so will only impede the spread of the Kingdom and the health of the "wheat." And, get this, when we finish the task the "weeds" become a non-factor.

My desire is to see His "kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven."(Matthew 6:33) How about you? Then let's focus on the task we have been called to. If you're not sure what that is I would love to talk with you further. Or, for starters, I recommend downloading the 40 day prayer guide at Ethnic Embrace USA.

Next time we will consider the assurance we can have about how the Kingdom will grow by looking at the "Parable of the Mustard Seed" (Matthew 13:31). That should help us to refocus on our priority task. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Quest for a Kingdom Life

After Jesus rose from the dead he taught his disciples about the Kingdom of God over the next 40 days. The disciples then spent the following 10 days in daily prayer preparing for the Kingdom life they had been taught. We go from Resurrection Sunday to Pentecost Sunday, a period of seven weeks (50 days), but do we  spend much time on this all important subject of understanding the Kingdom life we're called to?

It wasn't just those 40 days however, Jesus also taught a lot about the Kingdom prior to his death. If it was a subject so important to our Lord should it not be equally important to us? In fact, Matthew records 10 teachings of Jesus saying, "the kingdom of heaven is like..." It's important we know what the "kingdom of heaven is like so we live in light of the Kingdom life we are called to, in the present proclaimed Kingdom as we look toward the perfected Kingdom. 

The graph below shows the developing Kingdom through the whole Biblical account. We should understand something of the unfolding nature of the Kingdom from the Old Testament that foresaw the coming Kingdom. And, we should set our hope on the future perfected Kingdom to come. But we must quest to live in light of the present Kingdom Jesus proclaimed and calls us to proclaim as well -until our task is finished. What task? Jesus tells us...

"this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:14
Over the coming days, I will be blogging through the 10 "the Kingdom is like" saying of Jesus. Hope you will be blessed by these posts and share them with others.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Missional Musing - The Resurrection Continues.

 Easter is over but the Resurrection continues...

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:19-21

Every one of the four Gospel has a commissioning of the disciples to the task of living sent. This is John's account of that commissioning. It begs the question what did Jesus mean by "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you?”

Jesus was sent on a mission by his Father to bring about the completion of God’s purposes on earth. He lived and gave his life for that mission, completing the assignment the Father had given him. He lived with exceeding joy for a single purpose that was set before him (Heb. 12:2).  After his resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples he is sending them in the same way he was sent. What does it mean  for us to live ‘sent’ today. At least several marvelous things. 

Jesus was sent on a mission of love and love must be our primary motivation for mission because it was his for coming (John 13:34). Jesus was sent on a mercy mission and sends us to be merciful (Luke 6:36 ). Sent as a sacrifice, he calls us to a life of sacrifice (Luke 14:27). He was sent as a servant and calls us to the life of a servant (Mark 9:35). Jesus was sent as a reconciler and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). He was sent with a sense of urgency for the least, last and lost (see the 3 parables of Luke 15) and so we are likewise ‘sent.’ 

Jesus was sent as the ‘Prince of Peace’ and sends us out in his “Peace.” His peace is not simply the cessation of hostility among peoples but a sense of wholeness for each person, what the Hebrews called shalom. His “Peace” is to be our message as well (Acts 10:36). He was also sent with a sense of anticipation for greater thing to come and we should be motivated by the greater glory still to be revealed (John 14:12). 

But only one thing gives us the ability to live sent.  Jesus was sent in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:1) and sends us out in his same power. The account in John continues, "And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22). It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit are we able to live as we are sent. The disciples did and changed the world. His resurrection  power is continues to us today. Paul put it like this 

 "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[a] his Spirit who lives in you." (Romans 8:11)

Let our prayer be, "Lord, fill me to overflowing with your rresurrection power so I can live sent today."