Tag Archives: Kingdom

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 7: Blind

Read Luke 4:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus told him, ‘I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’” (John 9:39, NLT)

aa_keller_senses_2_eRecently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 6: Blind. Have you ever wondered what it must be like to not be able to see with your eyes? We rely on our eye sight so much. We rely on our eyes to show us the world around us, to spot danger, to view obstacles as we move from place to place. We utilize our eyes to enjoy the beauty of nature, to gaze at the beauty of the ones we love, to read the words of philosophers, novelists, poets and other authors. We use our eyes for just about every part of our lives. It is very hard, indeed, to imagine what life without our eyes must be like.

Yet, I think that, for those of us with our eyesight intact, we take that sense for granted. What’s more, when we try to imagine our world without our eyes, we are totally inept at doing so. Even more than that, we often perceive that persons without their eye sight, or those who are lacking any of the senses we come to rely on, are in a worse place than we are. We view their lot in life as being one of hardship and burden, and we often thank God for keeping us from having such a lot. Yet, is that truly so when we look at our lives from God’s perspective? Is our lot better? Are we truly able to see better than the blind?

Helen Keller was blind. She could not see and, what’s more, she could not hear either; however, it was in her blindness and deafness that she came up with an entire school for the blind and deaf. In doing so, she enabled countless children like herself a chance at higher quality of life than her surrounding world, and the “able-bodied” people who pittied them, would ever afford them to have. I think also to Ludwig Van Beethoven who had progressive hearing loss and eventually ended up deaf. Yet, in his utter deafness, this maestro composed perhaps the greatest and most well-known symphony of all time, which was his 9th Symphony and most known for it’s final movement, “An Ode to Joy”. The man who was pittied for his deafness, gave the world something it would love to hear centuries following his death.

The truth is, we who have our sense often fail to use them. We may be able to physically see, we may be able to physically hear, yet we find ourselves deaf and blind to the direction God is calling us in. Perhaps we are the blind or, if not us, perhaps there are those around us who are unable to see the presence of God in their lives. Perhaps there are people we know (ourselves included) who can not see the vision of the Kingdom that God is laying before us. Wherever the blindness is, whether it be pyhsical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual, Christ’s manifesto lays out the fact that our purpose is to eliminate blindness and to help restore sight to the blind.

This is no easy task, for sure. It is one that takes hope and faith. Do you have such faith? Do you believe that Christ came to restore sight to the blind? Do you believe that Christ has restored your sight to you? Do you believe that Christ has given you the power and the authority over the powers that take sight away from people? Do you believe that you are called to help make a difference in this world by giving sight back to a world that has gone blind by its hatred and its sinfulness? If so, then what are you waiting for? In the name of Jesus, carry on the restoration that Christ started all of those years ago.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” – John Newton
PRAYER
Lord, open my eyes that I may see and believe that you have come to give sight to those blind to your Kingdom. Amen.

Kingdom Building

Read Luke 16:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)

throwing-away-moneyWe are a people who thrive on success, particularly financial success. After all, it is money that makes our world go ’round, right? We are taught, from young ages, what it means to make money and to save up. We are taught the importance of investing our money and, hopefully, growing our stock portfolio. Capitalism thrives on successfully making and investing money. Wall Street is an entire capitalistic empire based on making and investing money, and people have shown that they will go to all ends in order to see that success through.

While this is normal for our government and businesses, which exsit to make money and to secure the financial interests of our nation; however, what is sad is that this has become the mentality of our churches as well. Often times, it is all about the bottom dollar. In my conversations over the years, I have heard people share that so-and-so is really working to bring “the church” down, or that so-and-so’s really doing something that should not be and, yet, the church is too afraid to hold so-and-so accountable because he or she is one of the larger tithers in the church and they might get offended and take their money elsewhere. No joke, this type of stuff happens in the church.

Of course, this doesn’t just happen in churches…it happens in every part of society. Money talks. Yet, the church is not supposed to be like the rest of society. It is set apart. It is to be holy…to represent God and the Economy of God’s Kingdom…not the economy of the almighty dollar. Yet, t o many in the church my words are nothing more than impractical and idealistic. What’s more, many in the church would find my words here to be a threat, because if one chases out the biggest givers, then one is ultimately chasing out any chance of the church being able to stay open.

I certainly understand the fear and the sentiment. My question is this, are we called to worry about the consequences of our decision to follow God. Yes, there are consequences to following God. People might get offended by being held accountable, church buildings might be forced to close if there aren’t enough funds coming in to support the operating expenses, etc. Those things could come to pass. With that said, there are consequences to not following God and there is something that will SURELY pass if we choose to go down that road: WE WILL CEASE TO BE THE TRUE REPRESENTATIVES OF GOD’S KINGDOM.

In God’s Kingdom, the first are last and the last are first. In God’s Kingdom those can see will be shown to be blind, while the blind will be the ones who see. In God’s Kingdom, the rich will inherit spiritual poverty and emptiness, while the poor will inherit the riches (e.g. fulfillment, joy, peace, love, hope, patience, gentleness, generosity, and self-control) of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God the masters will serve the servants and the servants will lead in their humility. Everything is flipped on its head in God’s Kingdom.

When God’s Kingdom arrives, there will no longer be a world where the few and the elite get everything while everyone else gets nothing. There will no longer be a world where the rich and the powerful get catered to at the expense of everyone else. Christ came to bring an end to such injustice, to such segregation, to such oppression. This is not to say that God scoffs at success or spurns the successful. Not at all; rather, God invites them to see their success as a gift to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth! But God also calls us to not cater to those with money over and above those who don’t. There is no room in Christ for that kind of garbage. If people get offended by that, then they are offended by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is nothing that we, the church, can do about that. All we can do is pray and keep on doing the work of Kingdom building that that God has called us to do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 9:25)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid being lured away from your Kingdom by the “riches” of this world. Help me to use what I have in a way that serves others. Amen.

Daniel’s Apocalypse

Read Daniel 7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13:37, NRSV)

daniel-10-vision-son-of-manThroughout the nearly twenty centuries in which Christianity has existed, many Christians have been raptured by the notion that the End Times are approaching, looking to the apocalyptic texts in the Bible to interpret the events happening in their world. Since the nineteenth century, there has been a renewed and somewhat reimagined End Times narrative that has since become the dominant perception in popular culture of what the Bible is saying in books such as Daniel, Ezekiel, 1 Thessalonians, and Revelation. This popular understanding has been propagated in Christian literature such as “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey and the Left Behind series. It has been found in the secular world as well in films such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and other such horror films.

The word “apocalypse” means “unveiling” and in apocalyptic writings, the authors have been given a “revelation” or an “unveiling” of the things that are currently happen and/or are soon to pass in the future. Daniel 7 is such an apocalyptic text, and in modern popular culture, it has been interpreted in light of other apocalyptic texts such as Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 4, and Revelation. The problem with this is that these interpretations often do not take the apocalyptic author’s own historical and religious context into account, which leaves us with a heavily skewed understanding of what those texts are stating.

Daniel 7 talks about the winds stirring the sea, four beasts rising up, and ten horns found on the fourth beast (three of which are removed and replaced by another smaller horn covered with eyes and a boasting mouth. The sea is always symbolizes the primordial chaos that surrounds God’s ordered and good creation. Water is both life and death, and the chaotic seas in the ancient world (as well as in ours) are always threatening to destroy us. The winds that are stirring them are the “angels” of heaven, implying that there is a spiritual warfare going on in the cosmos, mirroring the ancient Semitic myth of the storm god (Baal in Canaanite mythology and Marduk in the Babylonian mythology). In the ancient world, beasts always represented Empires and/or Kingdoms. Thus, in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, the first beast represented Babylon, the second represented the Medes, the third the Persians, and the fourth represented the Greek/Seleucid Empire.

It was under these Empires, one after the next, that the Hebrew people suffered great oppression under. But, in Daniel’s vision, these Empires wouldn’t have the final say. God was doing something significant, something that would overthrow the forces of evil in the world and would begin the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. He sees someone like the “Son of Man” coming on the clouds and ushering in that Kingdom. The apocalyptic author of Daniel was providing hope for people caught in what seemed like a hopeless situation. God would take authority away from the beast-like Kingdoms and return it to human-like Israel

It was this hope that, 160 years after the writing of this text, a Jewish prophet and teacher would proclaim he was the fulfillment of. That man, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth and he was claiming that he was that “Son of Man” and he proclaimed the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth. It was this “Son of Man” that was proclaiming a message that was counter to the powers of the world, one that preached of strength through humility, through meekness, through peace, through compassion, through self-sacrifice and through unconditional love. While Jesus does proclaim a post-ascension time when he would return, Daniel, according to Jesus, was not pointing to an event following the Christ; rather, Daniel was pointing to the Christ event itself. Let us who believe in Jesus as the Christ rejoice, for we have been chosen by him to continue the unveiling of the enduring Kingdom he ushered in! Our call is not to predict the future, but to serve God’s Kingdom today.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Matthew 19:21)

PRAYER Lord, thank you for revealing to me the Son of Man. Help me to do my part in serving your Kingdom on Earth. Amen.

Jesus Is For Real

Read Matthew 13:23-58

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But [Jesus] said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

heaven-is-for-realThis past Thursday, my wife, children and I went to the theater to see yet another faith-based film. It seems that 2014 is the year of faith-based films and, so long as they keep making them, my family and I will keep supporting them. The one we just saw was a film entitled, “Heaven Is For Real”, which is based on the bestselling book of the same name. The film chronicles a Wesleyan pastor, Rev. Todd Burpo, and his family through a tumultuous time.

According to the story, Todd’s son Colton ended up getting sick on a family trip to Denver. After bringing him home, his condition did not improve but got worse. It turned out that his appendix had ruptured and, close to death, Colton needed emergency surgery. During that surgery, he left his body and was able to see both his parents who were in separate places: his mom on the phone with family and his dad, who was in the chapel angrily praying and yelling at God.

Beyond that experience, Colton also experienced going to heaven where he met angels who sang to him and Jesus who came to him on a horse of many colors. Everyone in heaven, according to Colton, were young. While there he met his great-grandfather who he had never met in life, and he also met his unborn, older sister. At four years old, his son had never known his mom had a miscarriage and, to his mother’s surprise, he was suddenly aware that he had another “sister” who lived in heaven.

While the story is very moving, it is easy for us to get skeptical of such books and such accounts. Theologically speaking, when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven was he really referring to another place where he would be riding a rainbow colored horse? Was he referring to a place where we all look like we did when we were in our early twenties? Some have criticized the book for presenting an “extra-Biblical” picture of what heaven is. From a scientific perspective, how do we know that Colton wasn’t just imagining Jesus out of things he had seen and/or heard at home or at church. His father, after all, is the pastor of a Wesleyan Church. Secular critics have criticized the book for it’s lack of “reason.”

I must confess that I have never read the book, but when watching the film the details of the boy’s personal experiences of heaven became secondary to the overall point of the film. Pastor Burpo, in one scene, stands before his congregation asks, “If we truly believed that heaven is for real, how differently would be be living our lives?” That is a profoundly good and important question to ask. If we truly believe in heaven, if we truly see that heaven is FOR REAL, if we truly understood that heaven can be brought here on earth and that we are called to be a part of ushering it in, we will be living our lives differently.

I believe that the personal and, by nature, subjective experiences of a four year old boy cannot be proven or disproven. To be skeptical and critical of the fine details of his experience is to miss the bigger point that not only is heaven for real, but THE RISEN JESUS IS FOR REAL and he is calling to us in different ways. For some it is in a near death experience, for others it is in a Scripture verse we accidentally stumble upon. Still others witness the risen Christ in a person they are helping or in someone who is helping them. There are some who have visions and dreams that lead them to the RISEN CHRIST who is calling them into a deeper commitment. No matter how Christ is experienced…the fact remains that HE IS EXPERIENCED and he is calling us to be agents of his kingdom…the very real Kingdom of Heaven…so that the world may come to be as God first intended it to be: A WORLD OF TRUE LIFE AND LASTING PEACE. Experience that Jesus is for real, that heaven is for real, and that your call, no matter what it is or where it leads you, is for real.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 18:3, NRSV).

PRAYER
Lord, open my eyes that I may see and experience you. Change my heart that I may eagerly follow you. Amen.

A Modern Parable

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21-22)

say_hello_2_heavenHave you ever pondered about heaven and hell? Often times they both seem so distant, they both seem so very far away. We all hang on to life, thinking that the longer we live the longer we can put off having to find out what lies beyond the great divide. Yet are heaven and hell that far away?

One day, while pondering on the nature of heaven and hell, I pictured hearing what Jesus would say about the two if he were living on earth today. What sort of parable would he tell, what kind of illustration would he use to describe the reality of heaven and hell? We all know the imagery he used in the New Testament; however, if Jesus were living on earth today, what example would he provide us? And then I thought of an event that had happened a while back and decided to put the exercise on paper. It went like this:

One day a man came up to Jesus and questioned him, “Rabbi, teach us of hell.”

Jesus looked deeply into the man’s eyes and began to answer in parables.  “Hell is like a schoolhouse of Amish children.  One day a man entered into the schoolhouse, lined up all the girls along the wall, and bound their ankles and hands together.  He called his wife to say goodbye and then started shooting the girls in the back of the head, one by one.  Finally, the man took his own life, leaving several Amish parents without their children, leaving his own children without their father, leaving his wife without a husband, and leaving his parents without a son.

In reaction to the incident, people around the nation began judging the man and his family.  His face was shown all over the television with the words, ‘The Face of Evil‘ written underneath.  People judged him as an evil person and before long such judgments would justify their harassing the killer’s wife and children.”

The man looked back at Jesus in utter astonishment.  “What then of heaven, Rabbi,” he asked.

Jesus answered,  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the Amish parents who, after their children were mercilessly and brutally murdered by a gun man, met with the family of the murderer.  They brought food, tears, and prayers to the killer’s wife’s door, sat with the wife and kids, ate with them and prayed with them.  They said to the wife, ‘In our hearts we have already forgiven him.’  They also begged the wife, ‘Do not leave this area. Stay in your home here. We forgive this man.’”

While these words are obviously not the actual words of Jesus, I do believe that they are true insomuch as they shed light on the nature of heaven and hell.  The fact of the matter is that hell, often times, surrounds us; however, as followers of Christ, we are called to be ambassadors of heaven. The Amish in the parable above, pulled from a real life event, acted as heavenly ambassadors would. Though they were the grieving victims of a heinous, evil crime, they chose to act out of love and forgiveness, rather than out of vengeance and hate. It may be a tall order but, as the Amish proved, it is not an impossible one. May the love of Christ permeate you so that you can show it even to your enemies.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.” – William Blake

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to love, regardless of the cost. Just as I am forgiven, give me the humility and the strength to forgive. Amen.

Why Imagine?

Read Matthew 5:1-16; 6:7-15; 13:1-34; Mark 12:28-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'” (Matthew 10:7)

Why Imagine?I was just listening to the song “Imagine” by the late, great John Lennon. The song has long since been heralded as the global anthem of world peace and was Lennon’s best selling song of his entire solo career.  The song challenges the listener to imagine a world without possessions, without war, without greed and poverty.  John takes things that are commonly held to be the cause of war and suffering, and challenges the listener to imagine a world where those things didn’t exist, which John assumes would be a world where the “world would be as one.”

At the top of John Lennon’s list of things to imagine the world without, was the notion of heaven, and conversely, the idea of hell.  To the Christian, such lyrics should make us pause. Why would John Lennon want us to imagine a world without heaven?  What would such a world be like? John then takes it one step further and ends that verse with this, “Imagine all the people living for today.”  For John Lennon, the concept of heaven is one that is foreign to this earth. It is a place far, far away; it is a place that is someplace other than this earth.

Christianity has often taught that this world is something to be discarded, that we are to await “a place that is far better than this world.” Heaven has been taught, by Christians, to be the very antithesis of Earth. Yet, in the Bible we find a different understanding of heaven.  Jesus didn’t speak of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place that was far, far away; rather, for Jesus heaven was right here, right now. Jesus taught that not only could we see and experience heaven on earth, but that we could inherit it. All that we needed to do was open our hearts to God and see the world through God’s eyes.

For Jesus, heaven and hell were the opposite sides of the same coin. As he walked the streets of Galilee and Judea, he saw hell all around him. Starvation, extreme poverty, disease, neglect, abuse, and other terrible things are all examples of the hell Jesus witness all around him. His entire country was experiencing the hell of being occupied by the oppressive and tyrannical Roman Empire.

Yet, despite all of the hell Jesus saw, he also witnessed to the very real presence of heaven in the world. When he chose to heal instead of harm, when he chose to love instead of hate, when he chose to forgive instead of bear grudges, when he chose to stand up for right rather than sit down for the status quo, he was not only witnessing to the presence of heaven but he WAS THE PRESENCE OF HEAVEN…the very presence of God in this world.

And we can be the presence of heaven too. We just need to be willing to get a little dirty, to feel a little uncomfortable and to step outside of the boxes we put ourselves in. We need to be willing to reach out and be LOVE in the lives of those around us. We need to be willing to become vulnerable, just as Jesus became vulnerable, for the sake of those around us.  To do such things is to bear witness to the reality of heaven on earth.

While John Lennon is calling for us to imagine there to be no heaven out there in the sky, he is also calling us to imagine a world in which heaven exists here on Earth.  But he has missed an important truth that Jesus has been pointing us to all along: we don’t have to imagine heaven on earth…we only have to live it.  Pointing to others not living it is not proof that it doesn’t exist. It does exist if WE choose to LIVE it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Imagine what would happen if you stopped imagining and started living what you imagined.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for my imagination and for equipping to make what I imagine become a reality. Guide me to be your shining light, witnessing to the reality of heaven! Amen.

 

More than Wind Chasers

Read Ecclesiastes 1-2; Matthew 6:19-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

More than Wind ChasersThe past eight days have been some of the most awakening days of my life. Last Monday, October 29, Hurricane Sandy slammed into Southern New Jersey, and wreaked havoc for much of the Northeastern part of the United States. Since then, many have been without power. My church, parsonage and my entire town, for the most part, is still without power as we speak. In fact, I am sitting in a public library typing this devotional and trying to get at least some work done.

For those of my readers who do not live in the Northeastern region of the U.S., this time of year is typically not the warmest of times. Winter is fast approaching and, as of today, there is a possible nor’easter storm on the way. These storms can pack a wicked punch in terms of winds and precipitation (which usually is in the form of snow). Add that to no electricity and the people in my area, especially the ones who don’t have any generators and/or fireplaces, are facing a potentially dangerous situation. And my area of the state is mostly dealing with no electricity, unlike the Southern portion and the shoreline which has been utterly wiped out.

Over the past eight days, I have had quite a bit of time to reflect on how much we come to depend on technologies such as electricity, phones, cell phones, smart phones, electronic devices, computers, cars, and other such things that we normally take for granted. It is amazing to me how much stock I, and billions of other people, put into artificial and human-made technologies. When said technologies fail, we are left feeling completely alone, isolated, confused, lost, and utterly hopeless. Like the author of Ecclesiastes, we are left feeling like we have spent our time chasing after the wind. Indeed, we are left feeling like everything is meaningless.

Yet, thankfully,the story doesn’t end there. In this time of reflection, I have seen a power that far surpasses the artificial power provided by electricity. I have seen people reaching out to those in need. I have seen people invite neighbors, friends, family and even strangers into their homes in order to provide them with shelter. I have seen people from across the country and even from Canada, coming down to help with the relief efforts. I have seen people who have electricity sharing it with those who need to charge their phones. I have seen volunteer fire departments opening their buildings as places of shelter, providing food, entertainment, hot showers and places to sleep for people who are in need.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end with the grim assessment of Ecclesiastes. We are more than wind chasers. What I see, instead, is a grander story of hope, healing and wholeness unfolding in the midst of what initially seemed as a hopeless and devastating situation. In this, I see what Jesus meant when he taught us to not sweat the small stuff, but to seek first the Kingdom of God and trust that God will provide the rest . The proof is in the pudding. The small stuff has been literally washed away, yet God is providing through the love, compassion and generosity of millions of people. This IS what the Kingdom of God looks like.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The richest people in the world are those who have stock in relationships.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for being my provider. There is nothing I need that you haven’t supplied. Help me to fill the needs of others. Amen.