Tag Archives: kingdom of God

Today’s Scripture – January 17, 2018

Luke 14:7-11 (NIV) When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In every society, many desire to be close to the top, close to those in power, close to where the action is and where the perks originate. So there is usually a constant jockeying for position – a jockeying that becomes more apparent the higher you go in that society.

Even Jesus’ own disciples were not immune to this desire for position and prestige. They were constantly discussing which of them was the greatest of Jesus’ followers, and who would get the top spots in His administration once He took power. James and John even went so far as to directly petition Jesus to be given the two top spots in His kingdom (Mark 10:35-40), making the rest of the disciples indignant (mostly because they hadn’t thought of doing that themselves!).

But, as Jesus points out here, the ways of the kingdom are the polar opposite of the ways of the world. In the world, the tops spots are often given to the most assertive, although that assertiveness does come with some real risk. Whether it is choosing a choice seat at a banquet, or pushing ourselves forward for a position of greater responsibility, there is always the chance that we will be asked to move down to make room for the one chosen by management for that position. Then we will have to move down in front of everyone to a lower position. When James and John tried that kind of technique, Jesus answer was not congratulatory of their initiative. Instead, they were told that, ”these places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Translation: “Not you; move on down.”

Instead, the way of the kingdom is for all of us to realize that everyone in the kingdom is a servant of God, and, even though we might have different jobs in the body of Christ, and different responsibilities, we can’t actually place ourselves above another in the kingdom organization. No human will be able to improve on God’s agenda or His priorities. No human will be able to point out to God a detail that He overlooked, or remind Him of something that He has forgotten. And no human will be able to wow God with their creativity and potential that He hadn’t noticed. So instead of pushing for a higher position or greater recognition, the best way to operate in the kingdom is for each person to humbly do the job that God has given to each of us, to humbly fulfill that calling that He has placed on our lives, and leave it up to God to decide when more responsibility or greater recognition is appropriate. Then such additional responsibility and recognition won’t prove to be a corrupting influence, but will greatly enhance the success of the work of the kingdom in the world.

Father, we are so used to working in the ways of the world, blowing our own horn for fear that we and our accomplishments will be overlooked. But in Your kingdom, nothing is ever overlooked by You. You know precisely what we are fitted for and when we are able to handle additional responsibilities. Help us to be content with that, to humbly focus on doing what You have directed until new orders come from You, in Your perfect timing, or until we stand before Your throne to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 11, 2018

Luke 13:18-19 (NIV) Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”

Jesus’ likening of the kingdom of God to a mustard seed is very appropriate. In Jesus’ day, the kingdom of God was extremely small. In fact, it could reasonably be argued that God’s kingdom at that point in Jesus’ ministry consisted of Jesus alone, a single seed, with hundreds of wannabes hanging around, waiting to get in.

Once Jesus died, rose again, ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the kingdom grew in an instant to 120, then the same day to over 3,000! And it just kept growing from there until it filled the earth.

Some people believe that Jesus saying that the kingdom was like a mustard seed means that it will always be a small and insignificant portion of the world’s population. But that philosophy ignores the second half of Jesus’ parable. The small size of the mustard seed before it is planted fails to convey the explosive growth potential contained inside. The seed is designed to not stay small, but to grow into a plant almost infinitely greater than its original size, producing billions of additional seeds, and drawing birds from all over to nest in its branches.

Of course, to do the work of growing and multiplying that it was designed to do, the seed cannot simply sit there, taking pride in its smallness. Instead, like a grain of wheat, it must fall to the ground and die (John 12:24). Those who embody the kingdom must lay down their own lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2), take up the cause of the kingdom as their life’s focus, as Jesus did, and let God use them as He wishes to grow the kingdom in their area into a massive and very fruitful tree.

Father, we forget the old saying, “Good things come in small packages.” Looking at a mustard seed, we would never be able to envision the massive tree that can spring from it. And looking at the Church in North America today, it is difficult to see how it could ever become significant, and a powerful force in our nation again. But You have packed tremendous potential into Your people that, if we allow You to work in and through us, can result in not only explosive growth, but in a powerful impact in our communities and in our nation as well. Oh, Lord, make it so! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 6, 2018

Luke 12:54-56 (NIV) He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Jesus was extremely troubled by the attitudes of the crowds that were listening to Him. This stems clear back to the beginning of this discourse, when the man in the crowd asked Jesus to arbitrate a conflict with his brother over an inheritance. Even while they were listening to Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of heaven, many in the crowd were firmly focused on the things of the earth.

Jesus’ ministry was quickly nearing its close, and the people, even His own disciples, had no idea that not only the kingdom of God, but the Day of the Lord, was upon them. The time was quickly approaching when they would have to make decisions about allegiances that would affect their whole eternity.

Jesus’ point in this section is that the people were skilled at looking at what was happening with the weather right then, and being able to see what would happen based on what was happening now, to successfully extrapolate the current conditions into the future. But as far as spiritual things went, they were blind, unable both to see what was currently happening, and to extrapolate those events into the future.

This was made even more frustrating (and, on the part of the Jewish leadership, more tragic) because of the furious pace at which Jesus was fulfilling the Messianic prophecies. The people and the leaders had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries. But now that He was here, their viewpoint was so earthbound that they couldn’t even see what was actually happening.

Father, it is so easy for us to allow our perspective to become earthbound, and so miss what You are doing in the world around us. Lord, save us from this kind of spiritual blindness that leads to inactivity on our part, or, worse, resistance to what You are doing all around us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 1, 2018

Luke 12:32-34 (NIV) “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Remember that the context for these remarks continues to be the man who called upon Jesus to settle a dispute with his brother over an inheritance. Jesus refused to get involved, and instead redirected the discussion to the folly of trying to amass worldly wealth, and instead trying to find security in what we have been able to save up.

Jesus’ view on money was that, as God’s people, it is of minor concern and should never become the focus. Here he points out that the Christian can afford to be extremely generous with what God has given us, even to the point of selling our possessions and giving to the poor. It’s not that God wants His people to be poor. The point is that there is always more where that came from. God has access to all of the wealth in the universe and can easily provide for all of His people. In fact, as Jesus points out, He is in the process of giving to us a whole kingdom!

But to receive the kingdom and its more-than-adequate provision for every need, we as God’s people need to let go of the things of this world, to treat all earthly wealth lightly, as a tool to be used instead of as a possession to be amassed. The wealth of this world is too liable to loss, decay, and theft. The true wealth of the kingdom is eternal.

The even larger issue, the overarching concern for Jesus is in the last sentence: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If a person’s focus is on earthly wealth, that is where their heart is. If a person’s focus is on the kingdom of heaven, that is where their heart is. A person can’t be focused on amassing earthly wealth and have their heart in God’s kingdom. The heart is ultimately located where the focus of one’s life is.

And, by the way, this is a word not just for individuals. Whole congregations can fall into a focus on money, attaining it, or trying to keep it. And so there are strategy meetings, and planning sessions, and then God is asked to bless the plan or provide the funds, without ever being asked what He wants to do about the situation. This is a subtle trap, as a strong focus on money (or even the lack of it) can cause a whole congregation’s heart to relocate to the kingdom of the world, instead of being firmly in the kingdom of God.

Father, this is an important point. We easily apply this word to individuals without considering that the “you’s” in this passage are all plurals – they apply to the group as a whole as well as to individuals. How easy it is for us as a congregation to allow ourselves to become so fixated on the offerings (or lack thereof), and to decide what we can or can’t do on the basis of what’s in the bank instead of what’s on Your agenda. I can see how that can actually result in a not-so-subtle shift of focus away from You and Your kingdom, to us and our worldly security. Help us, Lord, to keep our hearts right where they belong – firmly embedded in Your kingdom, solidly trusting that You will be faithful in providing for all that You call us to do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 31, 2017

Luke 12:27-31 (NIV) “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Jesus gives another example of the worry-free kingdom life: wildflowers. Wildflowers are incredibly ephemeral things, here today and gone tomorrow, their dried remains used as fuel for fires. It would be perfectly understandable if God did not waste much time on making such temporary things beautiful. But they are!

Jesus’ point is that such beauty in the flowers doesn’t result from them fretting and stewing over what they will wear or where they will buy it. It comes from God’s gracious provision. In the same way, God promises to care for His people who simply obey His commands and trust in Him to provide what they need.

Jesus never fretted about what to eat or drink or wear, not even once. And, as a prime illustration of God’s kingdom provision and care, He was never without anything that He truly needed. And He never had to tow trailers full of weeks-worth of belongings and supplies, just in case God forgot about Him. God provided everything that He needed, as He had need of it, on time, and in exactly the right amount.

This is yet another way in which the people of God are to be different from those who are not God’s people. Our lives are to be characterized by trust, provision, and peace of mind. Those of the world have lives that are usually characterized by striving, grasping, and angst, even those with great worldly wealth worrying about how to hang onto it, or how to get still more.

God’s people are to have a single focus in their lives: His kingdom. And, as we live out that focus, God has promised to provide all that we truly need, always on time, and in exactly the right amount.

Father, I have lived on both sides of this issue, striving and worrying in my BC life, and trusting and being provided for in my AD life. And there really is no comparison between the two. Thank You for Your love, Your grace, and Your provision, and for always keeping Your promises. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 6, 2017

Luke 11:27-28 (NIV) As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

The crowds recognized that Jesus’ words were true and right, even though the Pharisees did not. The crowd recognized that Jesus’ power came from God, because they saw what He was doing without bias, even though the Pharisees saw everything that He did through lenses tinted by their biases against Him.

One of the women in the crowd shouted, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” She was not being impious in the least, nor was she attempting to instill worship of Mary, Jesus’ mother. She was simply stating that Jesus was such an amazing and exceptional person that His mother was blessed to have a son like Him, and even implying that a woman would have to be especially blessed by God to bear a son like Him.

This does not go against Scripture at all. In fact, Gabriel twice told Mary that she was highly favored by God (Luke 1:28, 30), Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, twice pronounce her especially blessed among women (Luke 1:42, 45), and Mary herself understood that she was especially blessed to be called upon to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:48).

Jesus could have taken this opportunity to double down on all of this and affirm the unique blessedness of His mother. But He didn’t. Instead, He turned the focus away from all of that, and toward the key to kingdom life: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” In other words, even though Mary had been blessed indeed to be used as a vessel for the birth of Jesus, God’s focus was forward, to the establishment and growth of His kingdom. The blessed ones were not those who had been selected in the past, but those who elected to live in the kingdom in the future.

The people of God’s kingdom, those who are blessed now, are those who both hear God’s word, and who obey it. Who not only know the righteous requirements of the law, but who obey them as well. This is the basis of James’ urging to not “merely listen to the word,” but to “do what it says.” (James 1:22)

In essence, God’s focus on blessedness is not on the saints and heroes of the faith in the past, but on the saints and heroes of the faith in the present. Those who obeyed in the past were blessed indeed. But there are great blessings reserved for those who live in His kingdom here and now.

Father, we do so often get caught up in elevating the so-called saints of the past without realizing that we are called to be saints today – bright lights in our sin-darkened world, beacons that lead the way for those lost and wandering in sin. Help us to live out that calling, not forgetting those who have gone before, but also not elevating them in our own minds above what You are able to do in and through us today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 5, 2017

Luke 11:24-26 (NIV) “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

The tragedy that Jesus is talking about here was experienced by many people in His day, and is still tragically experienced by many people today. Jesus cast out many demons during His earthly ministry, sometimes several from the same person. He did this not only to deliver those held captive, but to show forth the reality of the kingdom.

The tragedy came because some of these people simply returned to their old lives, their old ways of doing things that had opened them up to demonic influences in the first place. So they were easy targets to become “repossessed.” The same old demons that had been cast out returned to find the heart of their victim empty, and so simply moved back in, often with additional demons as well, making that person more wretched and miserable than they were before.

The same thing happens today in a subtly different manner. When someone decides to turn away from habits and activities that have them bound, to start going to church, maybe even to “accept Jesus,” but then go back to their old lives, their old ways of doing things that had opened them up to captivity in the first place, they become easy targets to be taken captive again. May quickly revert to their old habits, and often end up worse off than they were before.

The solution today is the same one that was necessary in Jesus’ day. That is, to realize that it is not enough to simply cast out the old evil spirits. The empty space then needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that when the old spirits return, they do not find an empty space simply waiting to be refilled. They will find a holy occupant filling every space in that person’s life, leaving no room at all for them. And they will go away, and not return as long as the Holy Spirit is in residence.

Father, this is an all-too-familiar story. We see it happen all the time that a person “gets saved,” but then turns away soon after, often falling deeper into captivity to sin than they were before. We write them off as “shallow soil,” but the reality may simply be that we stopped too soon, and did not ensure their stability and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts before we left them on their own. How many of those “relapses” could have been prevented with better, more intentional discipleship and mentoring? Help me, Lord, to walk more closely with those who are new to the faith, to ensure that they are well-discipled, well-rooted, well-established, before I move on. Amen.

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