Tag Archives: kingdom of God

Today’s Scripture – August 10, 2017

Luke 6:32-36 (NIV) “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The key to all of these kingdom expectations is that the character of those who belong to the kingdom will no longer be the character of the world, but that it will be transformed into the character of God Himself.

The people of the world show love to others when there is an expectation that they will be loved in return. And if their love is not returned, they are quick to turn away, to cut their losses and move on. But God shows love all day long to people who not only don’t return it, but who often throw it back in His face. And He keeps on showing that love for years, sometimes generations. God’s people, the people of His kingdom, are expected to show that same kind of self-sacrificial, other-focused, long-lasting love to others.

The people of the world do good to others as long as there is an adequate return. That return may be material, or just feeling good about trying to make a difference. But God does good to others who never acknowledge it, and when there is no “payback.” He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), even though the evil and the unrighteous never thank Him for this provision that makes food grow and makes life pleasant. God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are expected to continue to pour blessings into the lives of the people around them, even if that good is never acknowledged.

The people of the world lend to others expecting to make a profit on their investment. But God never “lends” to people at all. Everything that we receive from God is a gift of love. Some people do multiply what God gives them out of love and devotion to Him, but that is not a condition of His giving, and He freely gives a multitude of blessings to those who will not even acknowledge that those blessings come from Him, preferring to believe that they are the result of hard work, or “luck.” God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are not to lend to others with the expectation of gain, but are to lend freely, and even to give to those in need with no expectation of return.

Of course it takes more than a mere profession of faith to change the mindset and character of a person from the mindset of the world to a kingdom mindset. It takes transformation, a complete remaking of the mind that only comes to those who are willing to give themselves wholly to God, to make themselves a living sacrifice, holding nothing back (Romans 12:1-2). But to those willing to give themselves fully to God, He will give a new heart of flesh to take the place of their stony, worldly heart, and will move them with His Holy Spirit to be just like Him, and to do what He would do (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Father, to have such a kingdom mind and heart seems so far a stretch for many of us that it is hard for us to believe that we could ever think and behave in those ways. A big part of that is that we try to figure out how we can change our own minds and behaviors to be more like You, instead of simply devoting ourselves entirely to You and allowing You to do the more significant work of true inner transformation, remaking us into Your own image. Help me, Lord, to give up the “self-help” paradigm so common among Your people, and simply give myself to You to be completely transformed. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 9, 2017

Luke 6:27-31 (NIV) “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This section of Jesus’ teaching about how to deal in the way of the kingdom with those who use their power, authority, or strength to cause harm to us. And, before their lives were over, Jesus’ followers would have ample opportunity to put these principles into practice.

In most areas of the world resistance, even escalating to armed resistance, is the normal response to oppression. But when the people of the kingdom are oppressed or persecuted, the twin agendas of love and kingdom growth and expansion are to take priority over self-defense. Love is to be shown when hatred is evident; blessing is to be given for ever curse received; and passionate prayers are to be prayed for the forgiveness of those who mistreat us. (These were clearly demonstrated by Jesus on the cross – Luke 23:34.)

In addition, non-resistance is commanded toward those actively exercising authority against the cause of Christ, because resistance and fighting can never turn an enemy into a follower of Jesus. So if someone strikes us, the command is to keep showing love, and to turn the other cheek. If someone takes our clothes, we are not to resist, just love and pray for them. And if someone takes what belongs to us, we must remember that it actually belonged to God anyway, and not set up an adversarial relationship to get it back.

The cap to all of this is the so-called Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. In other words, even when wronged, we are to put ourselves into the other person’s shoes and ask ourselves, “If I was them, how would I want to be treated?” and then treat them that way. This applies whether the person is just someone we meet, or, as the context clearly indicates, someone who is actively persecuting us.

Many push back against this, figuring that it will only lead to our ruin and being continually being taken advantage of. But it is the same rule that Jesus Himself actively lived by, and his life was continually blessed! Admittedly, the way of the kingdom is radically different from the ways of the world. But, at the same time, the goals of the kingdom are radically different form the goals of the world.

Father, obviously Your ways are higher and better than the ways of this world. But they are so different that they do not come naturally to us. They seem too strange, almost too dangerous. Lord, if I am going to live effectively in Your ways, I need to be transformed in my mind and in my heart. Please work that complete transformation in me so that I can live every moment of my life in the ways of Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 7, 2017

Luke 6:17-19 (NIV) He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

When most people think of Jesus’ disciples, they picture the Twelve. But there were actually multitudes who followed Him as disciples. Jesus had selected the Twelve out of all of those who followed Him to be His inner circle and, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, to lead the work of continuing to grow the kingdom after His departure.

But in the meantime, ALL of His disciples needed to learn more about the kingdom, how it operated, and what the people of the kingdom were to be like. But before He taught them, He saw to the needs of those who had come from all around the area to be healed of their diseases or to be set free from evil spirits.

Notice that the healing of the people and setting them free from evil influences was not a separate thing from Jesus teaching them about the kingdom. The two went hand in glove. Jesus, the very embodiment of the kingdom, healed the people and set them free as a sign that God’s kingdom was becoming a reality right in front to them. Then He taught them what the kingdom was all about, and how to live in it.

Later, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, and after the Holy Spirit filled His followers on the day of Pentecost, the disciples often used the same process: they healed someone, or several people, and when a crowd had gathered, they used the miracle that had been done as a springboard to tell the people about Jesus and about the kingdom of God, and how to live in it. And, because of the power that was being demonstrated through the lives of these men, the people listened and believed, and great numbers flocked into the kingdom.

Father, thank You for this example from Jesus. Lord, we need that same power flowing through our lives today to help us to be powerful and effective witnesses of Your kingdom. Sadly, the lives of many people who go by the name of Christian are very little different than the lives of those we are trying to reach with the gospel; very little different in power, in purity, or in Your evident presence. So we are often seen as offering nothing to these people that they don’t already have. Those first disciples’ lives were of a completely different kind, a different quality than the lives of those around them due to the presence of Your Holy Spirit. And that difference was immediately apparent to everyone around them. Lord, unleash Your Holy Spirit in my life today, so that the whole world can see the difference, and hunger for You, the One who makes that difference. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 30, 2017

Luke 5:33-35 (NIV) They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

The most devout people of Jesus’ day fasted twice a week. Some of this was pro forma, done simply because it was a traditional fast day. Some of the fasting was done in remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the subsequent exile to Babylon. And some was done in legitimate repentance before God.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had watched Jesus and His followers closely for a while, and they had noticed that He did not instruct them to fast regularly like they did, or even like John had instructed his followers to. It seemed impious to them, especially in light of Jesus’ conspicuous eating and drinking with tax collectors and “sinners.”

But Jesus had taught His followers something that these religious leaders had not yet realized: in Jesus, God’s kingdom was becoming real! At long last, the Messiah had arrived, and was even then in the process of making all things new! That wasn’t cause for sorrow or fasting. It was cause for celebration and rejoicing!

But Jesus also knew that in just a couple of short years His follower would fast, when He was taken away from them, killed, and buried. Those three days would fill the hearts and minds of the disciples with such deep darkness as they could not now imagine, and in that time, they would indeed fast – there would be something worth fasting about.

But even then Jesus knew that that would be only a short season of sadness, replaced stunningly with a time of such joy as no one could imagine. That time of joy would usher in the expanding reality of the kingdom, of Jesus followers living constantly in God’s presence, and experiencing first-hand all of His glory and power. The time of fasting out of remembrance of past tragedy and God’s past judgment was drawing quickly to a close!

Father, thank You for this encouragement. Sometimes we see so clearly the problems around us that we forget that we are living in the days of the reality of your kingdom. The Savior has come, and has defeated death and sin, and we get to live in that reality, in Your presence and in Your power! Help that to be my theme today, and every day from now on. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 15, 2017

Mark 10:41-45 (NIV) When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The concept of “downward mobility” that Jesus taught and lived out is very difficult for the people of the world to grasp, let alone implement in their lives. That’s because it militates so strongly against everything that the world system tells us about how to be successful.

According to the ways of the world, the race goes to the swift and clever, and the victory to the strong and smart. So if you want to be successful, you have to ruthlessly seize every opportunity to get into the higher-up slots when they come into view. To be honest, the other ten disciples were indignant with James and John, not because they had done something morally wrong, but because they had beaten them to the punch. James and John had seen an opening and had taken it while the other ten were still waiting for the perfect opportunity.

But Jesus needed to show them that the whole paradigm that they were thinking in was in complete contrast to the ways of the kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom was not a kingdom of the world, to be run by the rules of the world. It was the kingdom of God, which operates on God’s priorities and principles, and is based on His character.

Instead of the leaders of God’s kingdom lording it over those beneath them in the hierarchy,, they live to serve others and help build those others up. Instead of exercising authority over those below them, they intentionally lower themselves to the position of slave, serving the needs of those others. Instead of building a fortune and a comfortable lifestyle for themselves, and looking to make their own lot more pleasant and secure, the leaders in God’s kingdom willing lay down their lives for those beneath them.

The model for this new paradigm was and is Jesus Himself. Jesus never laid aside any earthly treasure for Himself, but relied on God the Father to provide what was needed each day. He did not try to build an empire that would give Him power and authority over others, but lived each day to exalt the name of God by showing forth His glory in His every thought, word, and deed. In fact, Jesus’ focus was never for a moment on the things of this world and the things that people tend to rely on for security. His eyes were continually on eternity, and His every thought on how to draw as many people into that eternity as possible.

The reason that this paradigm shift was such a hard sell for His disciples was that they were still at this point creatures of the world. Their priorities, their worldview, and the way that they thought were all worldly, and kept them, at this stage of the game, from living out the ways of the kingdom. But Jesus patiently taught them, over and over again, realizing that in just a few weeks, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would transform their minds and change their hearts, and then they would be able to start living out the ways of the kingdom in their lives.

Father, it is still often difficult for us to think in the ways of the kingdom, to instinctively react in self-sacrificing kingdom ways. But every time we catch ourselves thinking like the world, or strategizing like the world, or jockeying for position like the world, we need to recognize that that is a symptom of a place in our heart that has not been fully transformed and recast into the image of Jesus. Help me, Lord, to see myself clearly, to evaluate myself honestly, and any time I find a worldly place in my heart or mind, help me to bring that part of myself to You to be transformed and filled to overflowing with Your Spirit. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 12, 2017

Luke 4:16-21 (NIV) He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus finally made it to His hometown. Word about Him had preceded Him, and all of the people were packed into the synagogue, waiting to hear what this hometown boy turned wonder worker had to say.

Jesus didn’t get to pick the scripture that He read that morning. The law and the prophets were set up on a regular cycle to be read in the synagogue services, which is why the Isaiah scroll was handed to Him. He unrolled it to the marker for that day, which “just so happened” to be right where He needed to read to bring God’s message to the people. (“Just so happened” is code for God working behind the scenes!)

In context, this passage from Isaiah is right in the middle of a section (Chapters 60-62) where the prophet is talking about the restoration of Israel, and the remaking of the people into a holy people of God. This process would begin with the appearance of the Messiah, and then continue until God’s people filled the whole earth, resulting in the wholesale transformation of people, governmental structures, and whole societies.

Chapter 61 is significant because it begins with signs that God’s kingdom is becoming a reality. First, the Messiah, filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, will arise, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God to the poor and disenfranchised. This Jesus was already doing (Matthew 4:17), and the poor and disenfranchised were believing and acting on this good news.

Next, the Spirit-anointed Messiah would proclaim freedom for the prisoners. This is a broad term that included releasing the sick, even the long-term sick, from their prison of disease and disability, as well as releasing those trapped in a cycle of sin, freeing them from their prison of helplessness and self-destruction, and inviting them out into the fresh air of forgiveness and spiritual freedom.

The Messiah would proclaim recovery of sight for the blind. This absolutely included those who were physically blind, even those blind from birth, who would be given their sight. But it also included those who were spiritually blind, whose eyes were closed to what God was doing due to the impact of sin in their hearts. Through faith in Jesus, these could be given spiritual eyes that could see the spiritual dimensions of life and the spiritual truths that could enable them to live lives of purpose and power.

The Messiah would also proclaim release for the oppressed. This was not referring primarily to physical oppression, but to spiritual oppression, brought about by demonic influences. When Jesus came, He found many people whose lives had been totally wrecked by demonic possession. But He released those people with a word that sent the demons running for cover.

Finally (in this shortened version, there is more in the original Isaiah passage), the Messiah would proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the message that God had not forgotten His people, but was in fact acting now to save them and reconstitute them as His people after a 400-year silence. Jesus actually embodied that message as He moved among the people., taught them in ways that no one else ever had, and doing amazing miracles.

When Jesus declared the words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” He was saying much more than simply claiming to be the Messiah (although that was definitely a key part of His message that morning). He was also telling all of those gathered there that in Him God was on the move to finally make real all of the promises He had made through Isaiah 700 years earlier. The Messiah was now here and, through Him, God was actively restoring His people and remaking them into the holy people of God, a process that would not stop until God’s people filled the whole earth.

Father, this prophecy is full of amazing promises that are for us as fully as for the people of Jesus’ day. I am struck by how far below our potential the average Christian seems to live. We tend to live lives that are little different from the average person, instead of living the life of the kingdom, a life that is characterized by real freedom, genuine spiritual awareness, power against the darkness, and joy inspired by knowing that You are on the move, transforming our world right now. Help me, Lord, to live that kind of life today and every day, a real AD kind of life, living consciously in the Year of the Lord, so that everyone can see the difference. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 11, 2017

Luke 4:14-15 (NIV) Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

Jesus had received the Holy Spirit at His baptism (Luke 3:22), but now that He had passed His time of testing and started on His public ministry, the power of the Spirit was fully turned loose in His life. He headed back north to the region of Galilee and began to teach in the synagogues, and to heal and cast out demons (Mark 1:21-34 in light of Luke 4:23).

Notice, though, that the power of the Holy Spirit was just as evident in His teachings as it was in His miracles. May people look to the Holy Spirit today for “signs and wonders,” and He definitely does enable those. But the Holy Spirit also bestowed on Jesus wisdom and spiritual depth of understanding, as well as a divine ability to communicate God’s truth to people in ways that powerfully impacted their souls. And the people were fascinated by the things that He was showing them.

Jesus would eventually head back to Nazareth, His hometown, and to the people among whom He had grown up. But the clock had already started ticking down the days to the cross, and there were so many people who needed the good news that He preached in synagogues all over, wherever He was, demonstrating the reality of God’s kingdom in towns and villages all over Galilee and beyond. And the people were eating it up!

Those who hung out with Jesus and followed Him soon realized that He was more focused and more driven than anyone they had ever met. He was focused on one thing: the kingdom of God. If you sat with Him, You would hear about God’s kingdom. If you walked with Him on the way, the topic of discussion would always be God’s kingdom. And even as he did mighty miracles, He continually pointed to those miracles as signs that God’s kingdom was even then bursting in on the world.

Father, I get so easily distracted. I am afraid that I am  not much like Jesus in His focus on the one vital thing: Your kingdom and what Jesus has done to not only make it a reality in the world today, to make a way into Your kingdom for every man, woman, and child in the world. How much different my life would be if I would simply stay focused on that one thing with every fiber of my being. How much different the whole world would be! Amen.

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