Archive for July, 2009

Jul
17

The Present Kingdom of God, Part 4

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In the previous posts, I discussed the work of the present Kingdom as a redemptive order and a missional community. We now turn our attention to the final aspect, which is transformation.

The present kingdom is a transformational order which results in Christians and the church who become redemptive realities within the kingdom. N.T. Wright says it this way, “It is the story of God’s Kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus’ followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. Atonement, redemption, and salvation are what happen on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers.” (Surprised by Hope, 204) Our work is Kingdom based and Kingdom focused, and is consumed with the business of transforming what is into what can be and should be.


Now for an aside, which will probably come across like a soap box. Christians and churches are in the Kingdom, but we cannot reduce the kingdom to Christians and churches and denominations.
Suppose there is a reality in the world that I’ll call “transportation.” In the realm of transportation there are several expressions: airplanes, boats, railroads, and automobiles. In the category of automobiles one will find several makes of automobiles produced by General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota, Saturn, etc. Of those auto manufacturers, let’s select Dodge. Dodge produces cars, and sells them through a number of local dealerships across America. Now, imagine you are looking for transportation, and you do the research and decide that you wish to purchase a Dodge car. You would go to the Dodge dealership, purchase the car, and become a Dodge owner. When you need your oil changed or tires rotated, you go to the Dodge dealership for service. In the unfortunate occurrence of a fender bender, you would go to the Dodge dealership for the repair. The point is this: Dodge owner and Dodge dealership are to the vast realm of transportation what Christian and local church are to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a big, big place. We cannot reduce our individual or congregational experiences of faith to the sum total of the size and scope of God’s Kingdom.

Some time ago, my cousin and her family hosted a foreign exchange student from Italy. In my one and only conversation with the young man, I asked him about what differences he noticed between his life in Italy and his brief experience in America. Without reservation, he remarked that he couldn’t believe American’s love affair with private transportation. In a five minute response, he detailed the excess and waste of American families “need” to have multiple cars, and contrasted that with the superiority of Italy’s public transportation system. Ironically, that’s the same way we view our personal Christian experience and congregational life with regards to the greater kingdom. Again, the Kingdom of God is a big, big place.

Our personal faith and broader congregational participation are part of a greater whole. We participate in the Kingdom. We have been changed by the Kingdom are being shaped by and for the Kingdom. We take on kingdom goals and aspirations. It is not merely a realm of influence, but a movement. When reduced to Christians in local churches, the metric is quantifiable. How many people? How large is the budget? How many baptisms? How many square feet of facility? In the Kingdom, the metric is different. The Kingdom metric is transformation, or “life change.”

My favorite writer is without question Dallas Willard. In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Willard writes, “The kingdom matters because of what Jesus brought and still brings to ordinary humans, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. Jesus promises wholeness for our lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity. The ordinary becomes a receptacle of the divine…a place where the life of God flows.” That descriptive passage is important, because it helps us understand what really counts in the Kingdom of God. Not everything you can count, counts. In the Kingdom what counts most is transformation.

Categories : Kingdom of God
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Jul
16

The Present Kingdom of God, Part 3

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Because the present Kingdom is a redemptive order, it logically follows that the present kingdom is a missional order. The Kingdom is concerned with God’s pursuit of his redemptive purposes in Christ. It is God’s primary mission and concern in the world today. As Jesus was sent into the world to accomplish the Father’s redemptive purposes, we in turn have been sent into the world to further his redemptive work (John 20:21).

As missional Christians in the present Kingdom, we present the whole gospel, which includes the message of the gospel and social action which meets the human need of those who are neglected and marginalized. On the far right of the religious landscape we find fundamentalists who are deeply committed to sharing the message of the gospel to the neglect of meeting human need. On the far left of the spectrum there are those who are deeply committed to meeting human need to the neglect of sharing the gospel message. As evangelicals we follow the balanced pattern of Jesus presented in the Gospels: sharing the message of the gospel and meeting human needs. Sharing the gospel and meeting human need are distinct functions of missional Christians that work hand in hand.

Missional Christians in the Kingdom also stand against evil and injustice. In Matthew 11:12, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it.” Jesus exorcism of demons was a demonstration of the present Kingdom’s opposition to evil in the world. Through those exorcisms, Jesus showed us that the evil that will be utterly conquered in the future Kingdom is being put down in the present.

Finally, the present Kingdom calls for our radical obedience. Jesus said things like…
“Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)
“Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22)
“No one who puts their hand to the plow is worthy of my Kingdom.” (Luke 9:62)
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter in law against her mother in law. Your enemies will be right in your own household. If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if your give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:24-29)
We cannot domesticate these challenges. The present Kingdom calls for our priority allegiance and devotion.

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Jul
15

The Present Kingdom of God, Part 2

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Yesterday I wrote a basic definition of the Kingdom of God present. Now I want to turn attention to the nature of the present Kingdom.

The present kingdom is a redemptive order, involving God’s once for all provision to save humanity from sin. Entrance to the kingdom comes by stepping out of our kingdoms where we rule and reign and stepping into God’s kingdom where he rules and reigns. This is made possible through the cross and resurrection event. The cross breaks the powers that bind us to our own kingdoms.

Here’s how it works. Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a hula hoop. Let’s say you represent the “king” of a kingdom, and the range of your influence is your kingdom represented by the hula hoop. Within your kingdom, what you want done is done. Your will and influence are perfectly conducted. On the surface, that sounds pretty appealing. Who doesn’t want to have a little part of the world where their will is perfectly done? The problem is that what we evaluate as freedom is really bondage. We are kings of our little kingdoms, yet we are stuck inside the hula hoop. Sin and self bind us to those little “kingdoms.”

Jesus has come to liberate us from the bondage of sin and self which bind us to those “hula hoops.” Through the power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, we are free to leave our kingdoms where we rule and reign and are able to step into the Kingdom of God where he rules and reigns. Jesus’ offer of grace and redemption is the foremost work of the present Kingdom.

Categories : Kingdom of God
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In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins compares and contrasts the Leadership-Team Dynamics of Teams “On the Way Down” versus Teams “On the Way Up.”

Teams On the Way Down are characterized as…

…Shielding those in power from the grim facts because of fear of penalty and criticism because they have shined the light on harsh realities;

…Having team members who assert strong opinions without supporting data or evidence;

…Having team leaders who avoid asking questions that seek honest opinion or critical input;

…Acquiescing to decisions that they are not supportive of, then undermining those same decisions;

…Seeking credit for themselves without enjoying the admiration or affirmation of their peers;

…Arguing to improve their individual personal interests rather than arguing for that which is best for the overall cause;

…Searching for reasons or people to blame rather than searching for wisdom; and

…Failing to deliver exceptional results while blaming other people or outside factors for mistakes, failures, and setbacks.

Teams On the Way Up, however, are characterized by…

…Having team members who have permission to bring forth unpleasant facts without fear of reprocussion;

…Delivering supporting data and evidence to accompany opinions;

…Having team leaders who are Socratic in leadership style and use penetrating questions to challenge the team to advance;

…Unifying behind decisions and working together to make the decision succeed, even if personally disagreeing with the decision;

…Crediting other people for success while enjoying the confidence and admiration of their peers;

…Arguing and debating to improve the organization rather than individual interests;

…Mining wisdom from painful experiences; and

…Delivering exceptional results while accepting responsibility for setbacks and mistakes.

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Jul
14

The Present Kingdom of God, Part 1

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The most important teaching of Jesus concerned the Kingdom of God. Anything that Jesus said about life in the gospel record is either directly or indirectly in reference to the Kingdom of God. Jesus first and ongoing message was Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 4:17). According to Jesus, the pursuit of the Kingdom of God is the priority of your life. Matthew 6:33 is not just lyrical content to an old song from youth camp. In the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, Seek first the kingdom… (Matthew 6:33). If the Kingdom is to be our priority, we need to understand what it’s all about.

It’s helpful to understand the Kingdom in two respects. First, the Kingdom is rule. It is the authority to rule, the sovereign right of a king to reign. Thus, the kingdom of God is his kingship, his rule, his authority.

The Kingdom is also a realm in which God’s reign is experienced. The Kingdom of God is the extent and range of his effective will. It is the place where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the actions of his will are the organizing principles of his kingdom. Everything that obeys those principles by nature or by choice is within his kingdom.

In Luke 17:20a, the Pharasees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” In this encounter, the Pharisees were inquiring about a future coming which would be obvious and unmistakable. They were seeking a geo-political kingdom that would resemble Israel and the throne of David from old. They were asking about the Kingdom of God, but in their minds they were thinking of the restoration of the Kingdom of David. They were looking for the wrong thing in the wrong way.

Jesus responded to their question in Luke 17:20b-21, The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you. Jesus said that the Kingdom they were seeking was already “among you.” Literally the text reads, it’s “in your midst.” (This is a better translation that the KJV or the NIV, which reads “within you.”) The Pharisees were looking for a Kingdom that was already standing before them. But they couldn’t see it and they didn’t get it.

The kingdom has come – the reign of Jesus is here. His presence represents its arrival. The Kingdom is an inward reality, not an outward institution. It cannot be brought about by human effort or initiative. The kingdom is active and operable even without our acknowledgement.

Therefore, when we pray Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are not asking for something future to take place. We are asking for our eyes to be opened to the reality of the reign of God right now.

Don’t get me wrong, the Kingdom of God has both present and future dimensions. There is certainly a tension between now and not yet. But my concern is that we’re written off too much of now into the not yet of the future kingdom and that like the Pharisees, are missing something under our very noses.

Next time I’ll unpack a little more about the nature of the present Kingdom.

Categories : Kingdom of God, Luke
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Jul
09

Praying Like Jesus Prayed

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We often refer to the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as the Model Prayer. It’s true that Jesus gave this to us as a blueprint for the prayers we offer to God. Another example of prayer is found in Jesus’ intercessory prayer in John 17:1-26. Within this prayer that Jesus offered on the night of his betrayal are four important requests that also serve as a pattern for prayer.

The first request is for the glory of God (John 17:1-5). This request was for the revealed presence of God that puts all things in perspective. Our first consideration when we come to God in prayer is God, not us or anything else. What does God will? What will honor God? What will make God’s name honored? It has been said that we have not really begun to pray until we have prayed for the glory of God.

Request number two is for followers of Christ to have a confident faith (John 17:6-12). Those disciples that followed Jesus would face incredible persecution during the passion of Christ and following his ascension. Confident faith comes through immersing ourselves in Scripture, through our relationship to God as his children, and through his name by which he grants to us his authority.

The next request is for holiness (John 17:13-19). Jesus prayed that his disciples would be set apart from the values of this world by his word for the sake of the world. Holiness that only focuses on separation usually defaults to legalism. Holiness is always purposeful. In our case, holiness is for the sake of the world in which we live. Like a great meal served on fine china, holiness is our presentation of the treasure of the gospel.

The final request Jesus made was for the unity of all believers (John 17:20-26). There’s a lot of talk about unity in religious circles. I’m not convinced that those who speak of unity are all speaking of the same thing. Unity is not uniformity which crushes diversity. Unity is not organizational, but organic. It’s not institutional, but is observable. It’s not reaching for the lowest common denominator. The problem with reaching unity through lowest common denominators is that lowest common denominators always elevate self. The highest common denominator, God and his glory, always diminishes self.

How do we achieve unity? How do we pray for unity? When we pray for unity, what are we praying for? We find unity in our common message of the gospel (17:20), in our common source for living in dependence upon God’s power (17:21), by striving for our common purpose as we humbly serve the marginalized and neglected (17:22), by sharing in the common spirit of love which becomes our chief tool of influence (17:23), and holding to the common goal of eternal glory in heaven wherein we recognize that all that we do here and now is for then and there (17:24).

Let me invite you to use these four requests in your prayer life this week. See how it shapes the requests that you offer to our God.

Categories : John 17, Prayer
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Jul
07

New Sermon Series

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This weekend I’ll begin a new series on the Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13. The series is titled “Right Now.” I’ll be blogging in the upcoming weeks about the series or you can listen to the podcasts online at http://ashworthroad.com.

Categories : Kingdom of God, Sermons
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Jul
07

The Freedom

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A couple of years ago I read David McCullough’s fine work 1776. McCullough chronicled the story of the American Colonies’ quest for freedom under the leadership of General George Washington. Beginning with January 1, 1776, he diaries the events of our nation’s revolution through December 31, 1776. At the close of the book, Washington is faced with the challenge of keeping his continental army intact. Many who had joined the cause were longing to return home to their families and their farms. The price of freedom was greater than they initially thought, and to some degree, must have wondered if the old life under the tyranny of England was really worth the effort.

The Galatian Christians had some similar challenges. They had been set free by Christ to a new life of freedom in grace. Yet there was a certain appeal to the old life under the law. The law was simpler, cleaner and neater. Paul helped to set the record straight in Galatians 5:1: “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up (literally, take up the yoke) again in slavery to the law.”

The slavery to the law Paul refers to is the bondage that comes when one is determined to live life in an economy of earning God’s favor rather than living in the economy of God’s grace. The specific issue he addressed was the issue of circumcision, but I suspect we have our own issues here in the 21st century. There is something seductive about trying to earn God’s favor. We’re masters of the “art of the deal,” and we endeavor to earn blessings and favor through our behaviors and bargaining. It’s wrong headed thinking.

Paul gives three reasons why earning leads to bondage. First, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2). In other words, earning favor renders the work of Christ on the cross null and void. The second thing Paul mentions is that earning obligates us to “obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses” (5:3). If one is determined to earn God’s favor, he or she cannot pick and choose which commands to keep. Earners are committed to keep every single rule. Third, if one chooses an economy of earning, they “have fallen away from God’s grace” (5:4). Earning is completely counterproductive to what Christ has purposed for our lives. God extends his grace to us through his son Jesus Christ, and we respond to that grace through faith. That’s how we have received eternal life, and that’s how we live in eternal life. We live it the same way we received it. Yet like the Galatians, we tend to be quick to run back to the law even after we’ve tasted grace.

Earning is binding because we are not free to live the way God has created us to live. In Galatians 5:6, Paul writes, “What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” That’s the main thing. But we are not free to live that principle if we are consumed with our own attempts to earn. Earning is about me and my efforts, self-righteousness and goodness. But grace is about God. And, in Paul’s thinking, it’s about you, too.

Categories : Earning, Galatians, Grace
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