Bring your kid to work day

When God created Eden He filled it with beauty, order and abundance. Adam, in turn, committed treason and delivered the world into the hands of the enemy. From that instant everything began to disintegrate into chaos, ruin and scarcity until the glorious moment Jesus declared, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” In one grand sweep of genius love, God began the reconstruction plan of the ages. He would do the work that only He could do, redeeming the world from the powers of sin and death, and then he would bring us back into the act of restoring the earth to it’s original beauty, order and abundance.

(Photo by Sabine van Straaten).
God included man in His original purposes when he invited Adam to name the animals, fill the earth and subdue it. And now He has brought us back into His cosmic reconstruction crew. How does He accomplish it? By pouring His life into us, tasking us with various callings, and bringing us to work everyday. In the eyes of God, every day is “Bring your kid to work day.”

The great philosopher and scientist, Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some parts repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences.” It seems to me that God gives to each of us vocational callings that are meant to restore His beauty, order and abundance to the world. Musicians and artists are tasked with filling the world with beauty; farmers, businessmen and industrial workers are called to produce abundance, and policemen, politicians, and judges bring order. Still others, like teachers, builders, and sanitation workers bring some combination of the three.

Regardless of our vocation, work matters; it serves a greater purpose than we dared to think. And to those who have eyes to see the Kingdom, every day is “Bring your kid to work day.” What a joy to work beside Papa in the restoration of all things!

Stumbling disciple

Sleeplessness picked at my brain and tickled my body last night until I finally gave in and retreated to the recliner and my old journals. Stretching back over forty years, these journals have become my counsellors, my instructors and often my accusers. They remind me that an honest working title for my life thus far would be, “Stumbling Disciple.” I’ve vacillated from mountain heights of glory and inspiration, to lonely valleys of failure and despair; from exotic places and experiences of God’s faithfulness, right down into hopelessness and crushing doubt. I’m amazed at the glorious, giddy truths the Holy Spirit has given me, and appalled at the scope of what I’ve already forgotten. These writings keep my life in perspective.

Last night I noticed that under the steady passing of years, one cadence seems to drone like a soundtrack to my life: “Not enough!”: Not enough prayer; not enough worship; not enough accomplishment; not enough practicing, writing, compassion, exercise, serving, witnessing, faithfulness or creativity. The nagging voice of “not enough” seems to greet me in the morning and chatter on until I fall asleep at night.

Whether friend or foe I’m not certain, since it both condemns me and pushes me forward into action. But this I know: today my sufficiency is in Jesus alone. I am clearly and without question, inadequate without Him. I’m only a stumbling disciple trying to get it right.  Yet He has told me, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for (my) power is perfected in (your) weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Today I’m choosing to boast in God and to rest in the adequacy of His promise: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” And my soul says “Hallelujah!”

Misdiagnosis

Note: I know I’ve been AWOL from this blog for too long.  It’s not because I haven’t written, but rather because I worry that what I’ve written isn’t fresh enough or inspiring enough.  Nevertheless…  here goes another determined attempt to do better.


The great missionary and statesman, E. Stanley Jones said, “The Kingdom is God’s total answer to man’s total need.”  But tragically in Western Evangelicalism we have replaced the “Gospel of the Kingdom”, (which is what Jesus actually taught), with “The Gospel of God’s answer to guilt”, (which, although it’s implied, Jesus never actually taught).

A close examination of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation reveals that God’s salvation means a total healing of the wretched mess we’ve made of God’s creation since the fall of man. From the moment of Adam’s rebellion, nature became uncooperative and filled with “thorns”, brothers murdered brothers, violence marshaled armies and war machines, bodies and souls became diseased, and suspicion and alienation supplanted love and trust.  Sin is a cancer that ruins everything it touches, and a misdiagnoses will guarantee certain calamity.

Hosea the prophet saw with the eyes of God and pronounced a full, accurate diagnoses:

“… there is no faithfulness or kindness
Or knowledge of God in the land.
There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery.
They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
And everyone who lives in it languishes
Along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky,
And also the fish of the sea disappear.”
(Hosea 4:1-3)

Sounds like a pretty accurate assessment of our condition doesn’t it? Lack of kindness, adultery, deception, bloodshed, people languishing, fish dying, animal life being stressed; Seems like I just read about all this in the morning news.  THIS is our problem!  The cancer is much worse than we imagined: Sin has metastasized and poisoned the entirety of creation, and what we need is a radical cure that reaches into every part of creation with it’s healing balm.  The Kingdom is that cure: Jesus has redeemed all things beginning with the hearts and souls of people.  Coming to him in faith is the first life-changing step, but the full cure lies in carrying His healing into everything we touch until the world shines with glory and grace.

How do we do that?  By drinking deeply from the well of Christ and becoming purposeful, intentional disciples of Him.  Apart from these, we have little to offer our sick world.

The four relationships

At it’s core the Kingdom is relational.  Regardless of who we are, we each carry a degree of brokenness in our four primary relationships – with God, with others, with ourselves, and with the world.  But the good news of the Kingdom restores us in every way:

 

Relationship with God: (Theology)
We are born into confusion about God, steeped in misunderstanding  of His character, and drowning in anxiety about His posture towards us. Jesus steps into our darkness and gives us a clear picture of His Father, a God of love and sacrifice, a God who would go to any extreme to reclaim his children from alienation and death.  A God who carries on Himself the guilt that once blinded our eyes and clouded our relationship with Him.  “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)

Relationship with ourselves: (Psychology)
We are born into confusion about ourselves: our worth, our purpose, our motivations and our design.  The Kingdom was inaugurated when Jesus came to live among us and modeled human nature as it was intended.  He revealed human motives, asserted human worth, assuaged human fears, and set us back on the track of meaning and fulfillment. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture says, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:38)

Relationships with others: (Sociology)
We humans have a consistently horrible track record in our relationship with others: Wars, feuds, anger and broken relationships not only define our history but they stubbornly defy our most noble attempts to live at peace with others.  But the Kingdom lays animosity to rest:  “Love your enemies…”  (Matthew 5:44)  “…They will beat their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war.”  (Micah 4;3)

Relationship with the world: (Ecology)
We are universally broken in our relationship with the world: how do we enjoy a material world without becoming materialistic?  How do we enjoy the environment without trashing and abusing it?   How do we find fulfillment in our work without it becoming drudgery?   “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33)

 

These few examples only scratch the surface of the answers Abba offers to those who embrace His glorious Kingdom.

Keeping it simple

I’ve been thinking recently how the teachings of Jesus can be captured in a few simple ideas that even a child can understand:

“Believe in me”:
Throughout history God has spoken through prophets, angels, scriptures, stone tablets, and even a donkey.   But in his final attempt to reach our darkened hearts He sent His Son.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us”.  He loved us, taught us, and showed us the true face of His Father.  God did not reveal himself as a philosophy, a set of commands, a book, or a religion, because none of those means could accomplish the task of “making all things new.”  Only Jesus could could accomplish such a thing.  And so He presented Himself in evidence and issued a simple invitation: “Believe in me”.

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  John 7:37-38

“Seek first the Kingdom”: (Matthew 6:33) 
Jesus didn’t come to simply save us from our sins.  He came to remake the world; to offer the human race a “do-over”.  He is not merely the Savior of my soul or the centerpiece of the church;  He is the center of ALL things.  “[God] planned to bring all of history to its goal in Christ. Then Christ would be the head of everything in heaven and on earth.”  (Ephesians 1:10)  We modern believers are still weak on this concept, wanting to reduce the gospel to a personal experience and roadmap to a future in Heaven.  But that is not the Kingdom! The Kingdom is that universal dream for a perfect world that every person carries in his heart.  Newsflash!  God carries that same dream!

Love one another: (John 13:34)
Nothing could be more simple.  Jesus said the world would actually recognize us by our love.  So they do, right?  Not quite.  They sometimes recognize us by our judgments, boycotts, and religious pride. Other times they don’t recognize us at all.  If we were to actually demonstrate this one thing – loving others supremely – the world would virtually throw open it’s heart to the Gospel!

Make disciples:
And finally – after we’ve begun to master these first three commands, we are called to make disciples of others who will make disciple of still others in this rich and living way that puts the world back together again and fills everything with glory.

Peacemaking in an angry world

One of my prayers for 2017 is that I will grow in the area of discernment. All the “fake news” talk we’ve been hearing about lately isn’t really news for many of us. We’ve known about partisan sites, conspiracy sites, and sensationalist sites forever, but the problem lies in spotting them when they support the very same ideas that I hold so dear. So as one who deeply cares about Truth I’ve been asking God for the spiritual gift of discernment.  How amazing it would be to clearly hear the Spirit whisper, “No son… don’t fall for that. It’s a lie”.

I’m also learning that Truth seldom resides at the extremes. C.S. Lewis says, “The Devil sends lies into the world by pairs”, and of course he does it to divide people and communities. The “free will” versus “God’s sovereignty” debate has kept the church tied in knots for centuries.  But what about today’s “liberalism” versus “conservatism” debate?  Does the Truth reside at the extreme end of either of those worldviews?  Lewis suggests that the Truth often lies in the tension of the middle.  It’s not that God is mushy in regard to Truth, but he certainly is neither a political conservative nor a liberal.  He is the solid reality behind our foggy ideas.

A second prayer commanding my attention is that I will become a peacemaker. In a world so fractured by anger, accusations and finger-pointing we Believers are called to be agents of peace, looking for opportunities to bring healing and grace into each situation. Saint Francis captured it flawlessly in the prayer we’ve treasured for centuries:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Is the world really getting worse?

As a young boy my family would often walk the fifteen minutes to church on Sunday mornings, crossing a bridge that passed over the Potomac river from Maryland into West Virginia.  From the sidewalk we could look through the metal grating and see a river the color of gray paint with thick islands of toxic industrial foam inching by under our feet.  The thought of getting anywhere near that river was a horror to my young mind.  It was an unbelievably polluted and dangerous eyesore.  And yet today that same river hosts fishing rodeos and kayakers enjoying its clear water and gentle currents.   The Potomac has become for me an example of how the world is becoming a more glorious place.  It is a symbol of the progress of the Kingdom.

Concerning Jesus, Isaiah prophesied “… of the increase of His government, and of peace there will be no end.”  (Isaiah 9:7)  But we Believers often get stuck in a negative faith not focused on God’s growing government and peace, but expecting multiplied wars, increased suffering, and a freshly empowered Antichrist in the days ahead.

Is it possible we’ve gotten it wrong?  Did Jesus actually mean for His Kingdom to grow like a mustard seed until it fills the earth, or are we to expect darkness and unleashed chaos in the days ahead?   Consider these four concrete examples of a hope and optimism that just might reveal a growing Kingdom.   There are many others which could be included, (like the condition of our rivers, air quality, violent crimes, child welfare, and racial equality to name only a few).

Poverty:  Although we still have much work to do, world poverty levels have been falling steadily since 1820 when nearly 90% of the world was living in extreme poverty, (less than $1.90 per day adjusted).  Today, as seen in the chart below, that number has fallen to less than 10%!   world-poverty-since-1820This is AMAZING progress!


Life Expectancy: In 1900 the worldwide average life expectancy was a mere thirty-one years.  By 1950 it had risen to forty-eight years.  And by 2010 it had reached sixty-seven years.  And of course this is another wildly wonderful thing to celebrate! 

ourworldindata_wars-after-1946-state-based-battle-death-rate-by-typeWar: In spite of the endless media attention given to war and violence, we have actually seen a sharp decline in the casualties of war over the past seventy years.  Consider this chart from http://www.ourworldindata.org.

The Spread of Christianity: We Westerners tend to judge the health of the church by looking at the condition of our local congregations. But too often we overlook the rest of the world where the church is growing at astonishing rates.  The church in China, Asia, Africa, South America, and even in some Muslim countries is seeing phenomenal growth.

For a little perspective, consider that on the day of Pentecost about three thousand people came to faith in Jesus.  That was an unbelievable number of converts!  But today, according to James Rutz, author of Mega Shift: Igniting Spiritual Power, we are seeing – on a world scale – about 3,000 people coming to Christ every fifty-four minutes!  That’s about 80,000 new Believers every day!

As we face into 2017 lets take heart and believe God not for increasing darkness, wars, and multiplied human suffering.  Instead, may we hitch our confidence to the one who promised, “As surely as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord”  (Numbers 14:21).  Imagine what could happen if we really began to live and labor as if the mustard-seed kingdom was already well on it’s way. 

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