Category Archives: Kingdom of Heaven

Stepping into Life

He knew he’d be arrested again, but that was what he wanted.  It was too too scary out here.  In prison he would be locked up, but at least he’d know what to expect.  He’d know the rules, know he would eat three times a day.  So when they let him out, he arranged to go right back.  For us on the outside, that doesn’t make much sense.  Sure, it’s more unpredictable out here in real life, but it’s also more free.  Without freedom it just isn’t living.  We understand that, but for some who have been locked up most of their lives, they can’t see it.

Like the people of Israel who suddenly found themselves released from slavery in Egypt following Moses out into the desert.  He thought they would relish the sweet aroma of freedom in their nostrils. But they didn’t get it.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:2-3

We read that and think, “How could anyone prefer to live in slavery?  How could they choose not to be free?  But slavery was all they knew.  They were more comfortable as slaves.  Stepping into real life was too scary.

If you are tracking with all that, consider these words of Jesus:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Jesus invites us to trust Him and follow Him.  But, having surrounded ourselves with things that make life seem predictable and secure, it may seem as though He invites us into a desert wilderness.  It may seem too scary.  But in reality, Jesus invites us to step into real life and real freedom.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

Words of Beauty

You can’t explain beauty.  You just see it, hear it, smell it or think it.  Dream it, maybe.  Sometimes beauty lies in the way words are used.  Like this:

Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.  (Genesis 25:8)

“Gathered to His people.”  Those words sing beauty.  Not lost, not buried, not laid to rest.  But gathered.  Wow!  I’ve been stopped in my tracks by those words, especially after the death of my wife.  I wonder how they came to be, who thought of them and what they meant to convey.  Certainly, the continuity of life after death and the reunion of special relationships.  But commentaries that seek to explain them obscure their beauty with academic huffing and puffing.  They don’t really know.  So, I will not add to that.   

Except to remind you that Jesus extended an invitation and promise to all who would trust Him. They would not perish, but enjoy everlasting life.  And be gathered.  To their people.

 

About Face

Self check-out stands in the grocery store have been designed to make me feel stupid.  It seems I wind up doing something wrong every time.  And then the machine calls the attendant over to help out the stupid guy.  Everybody else looks over to see the dunce, who pushed the wrong button and screwed up the process.  Last time, I got successfully all the way through and then put my card in backwards.  Red lights flashed as I waited for the teenaged clerk to show me what to do. It would be nicer if the machine quietly said, “Turn your card around and try again.”  

If you have been doing wrong thing and are stuck, it feels so good to find out what really works.  Remember that, the next time you pull when the door says push.  Remember this, too:  changing your course of action because you learn what works is basically what the word “repent” means.  Repent is a happy word.  “Repent” is how you find the solution to a puzzle, the correct turn when you are lost and the real way to approach God.  The way that works.

We hear “repent” angrily shouted by some red-faced, judgmental religious guy.  We hear the word, repent, and think we should cower in shame.  Nope.  Repent means to change your understanding and try something that works.  We humans have been stumbling, pell-mell, down the road of religion in the wrong direction.   When Jesus came, He knew that would never work.  The first word in His first message was repent.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   (Matthew 4:17)
To say it another way, “Hey guys, turn around; come this way!”  

What to Do

Yet another terrorist bomb.  More predictable responses from government and media.  Already, network art departments are designing background graphics to promote their newscasts and experts are deciding on a catchy name for the story.  Already, expressions of sorrow and determination have been issued, quoted and re-quoted.  Already, are first responders honored, makeshift memorials bedecked with flowers, funerals planned, security efforts tweaked.  It’s what we do.  The whole process has become stylized.  There is a ritual for it.  And people will become more accustomed to the tragedy, no longer able to fully feel the outrage and frustration.  We feel helpless to do anything that will truly make a difference.

Jesus told us what to expect and what to do.  Here’s what He said we could expect:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (Matthew 24:12)

Here’s what He taught us to do:

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:9-10)

Perhaps it seems strange to ask God, all sovereign and all powerful, to do what He has already willed to do.  I don’t know how prayer impacts the accomplishment of God’s will, only that Jesus taught us to do it.  So, let’s do.  Urgently – and paying full attention to the meaning of what we are asking.  Yearning for that day to come.

There was a church that broke ground for a new building with an old plow to which several hundred slender strings had been attached.  They invited everyone to take a string and, when the command was given, to pull.  No one of those people or strings would have been strong enough to move that plow.  But together, it jumped through the soil and chewed it up with ease.  When Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom to come, He handed each of us a string and gave us the command.

 

Junkyard Beauty

Next time you are at a craft fair, take a close and thoughtful look at the paintings done on old saw blades and other rusty pieces of junk.  The artist took something shabby and transformed it.  Reminds me of what Jesus did for the blind guy :

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3)

God used the canvas of that man’s disability to display His power and grace. As Jesus healed him, in his transformation, he glorified God.  That word, glorified, sounds a bit churchy but simply means demonstrating or calling attention to how wonderful someone else is.  A spotlight operator, shining his light on the star of the show, draws our eyes to that person and glorifies them.  When someone comes to faith in Jesus, the changes produced are evidence of God’s glory.  God uses those changes to attract others to Himself.

He doesn’t limit Himself to people with physical disabilities.  The town drunk becomes known for a complete 180 and becomes known for his works of charity.  The greedy miser becomes generous.  Even your seemingly ordinary circumstances and generally good reputation are a suitable canvases upon which God can paint beautiful images of His grace.  A simple change that allows one to live with joy and hope in the midst of all the sniping and complaining – it shows.  People notice.  They see glimpses of God, reflected on you.  That’s why Peter encouraged his fellow believers to:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:12)

What God did for the man who was physically blind, He does in an more significant and powerful way for those who are spiritually blind.  Like John Newton, whose song you know:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.