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. 

The Rapture or the Kingdom?

As a newborn believer The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey was the first Christian book I ever read.  Bursting with images of growing darkness, the mark of the Beast, and a living hell under the wrath of the Antichrist, it scared the crap out of me.  No sooner had I received the glad news of salvation than I was body-slammed by terrifying projections of what was about to break loose on our doomed planet.

But the gospel of the Kingdom is “good news of great joy to all people“, and those who see the end times through the whole lens of scripture understand that the hope set before us isn’t terrifying at all; It is the expectancy of a Glorious Kingdom filling the earth in these last days. “For as surely as I live, says the Lord, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” (Habakkuk 2:-4)

Three weeks ago in Eastern Europe a student, (a pastor in a local church), raised his hand and asked, “How long has Youth With A Mission been teaching this new idea about the Kingdom?”  Do you see?  The Kingdom has become a suspicious “new” doctrine while the extra-Biblical idea of the “rapture” is embraced as the storyline of our future. Never mind that the Kingdom has been a Biblical promise passed down from the prophets to Jesus, the Apostles, Saint Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and the Reformers.

Rather, it’s the “rapture of the church” that’s a strange new doctrine.  Introduced in the 1830s by the Scottish Pastor John Nelson Darby, and adopted by C.I. Schofield in his famous Bible notes, this idea  has done unspeakable damage to the church, the world, and the lives of Christians worldwide.  From The Late Great Planet Earth to seventeen installments of Left Behind, the rapture has robbed us of our future, our relevance, and our witness.

Our fathers in the faith would never have recognized this nightmarish idea that re-energizes the Devil and steals the legacy of our children.  If the next event on God’s calendar is the “snatching away of the saints” and a world plundered by the Antichrist, then it becomes a fool’s errand to work for justice, reconciliation, and transformed cities and nations.

For years I had great “faith” for wars, destruction, and a coming hell on earth.  I wasted so much time worrying about the mark of the beast and the latest incarnation of the Antichrist.  How I wish someone would have sat me down as a young believer and said, “Don… this is not the good news of the Kingdom.  This is a Trojan horse that steals the beautiful hope of the gospel.”

The scriptures plainly teach that Jesus is returning for His Kingdom. But living in the expectancy of an earth overrun by darkness stands in direct contradiction to the Lord’s own promise of His glory filling the earth.  Today I am living in the hope of glory.

The compelling power of beauty

In my last post I wrote about the imperative of restoring beauty to the Christian Gospel. Common people flocked to hear Jesus not only because his words were beautiful: “Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile;” but even more so because his life was beautiful. God himself had stepped into human flesh and was living among us as a lover of outcasts, a healer of broken people, and a perfect reflection of His heavenly Father.

It’s impossible to read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman taken in adultery without feeling the awesome beauty of this sinful woman finding forgiveness before she even asked. That was Jesus – the Word become flesh. But the incarnation continues in his disciples, the word is still becoming flesh in us, or at least it ought to be. The true follower of Jesus will always be looking more like his master.

Has Jesus called us to change the world through politics? No! Has he commanded us to go into all nations pointing out sin? No! Has he commissioned us to argue the world into faith on Internet discussion boards? No! But this is our call: “…as He is, so also are we in this world.” (John 4:17) Our call is to be like Him; to be beautiful like Him.

“You are the light of the world! A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16). In a world as dark as ours, a beautiful shining city will draw multitudes into its gates.

A personal update

It occurs to me that some of my friends and readers may wonder from time to time what I’ve been up to.  Teaching in YWAM, (Youth With a Mission), is a joy that offers a nearly endless stream of new settings and delightful young students who are eager to change the world.   Making disciples is my call, and the Kingdom of God is my message.

Most recently I’ve been in Herrnhut Germany, Tyler Texas, and Hisar Bulgaria where I facilitated training for our national staff workers and then spoke at a conference organized by YWAM.   We had Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks, Norwegians, Swiss, Roma, and American missionaries, pastors and professionals in attendance; passionate servants who are embedded in the culture, loving, praying, training, and making disciples.  As I stood before that small conference crowd I had the distinct feeling that this Kingdom message would be like a mustard seed that would grow and spread change across the entire nation of Bulgaria.

Whenever I can, I take friends and former students along with me on these travels for the fellowship, the discipleship, and the intention of training them to carry the Kingdom message to places I’ll never see.   Their company is always a special treat.

But teaching is just a part of my schedule.  People around home,  (Maryland), have always known me as a musician, and in the past few months God has been opening many doors to bring musical programs, worship times, and gospel encouragement to a number of churches and nursing homes in the area around home.

With my own Mother in a care facility, I recognize the power of music to connect people with Jesus and to encourage their hearts.  Last weekend I led worship for a ladies retreat in South Carolina on Saturday, for my home church on Sunday, and then did a musical/inspirational program for a local retirement community on Sunday afternoon.  These musical programs offer a chance for me to put into practice the insights God is teaching me about beauty, and it’s honored place in the Kingdom.

Tonight I’m writing from Lebanon, PA, where I’m teaching in a small Discipleship Training School.  Next week I’ll be with YWAM Charlotte doing the same.  And between now and the first of the year my schedule will take me to New Jersey, Virginia, Kentucky, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Hawaii, and West Virginia.  It’s a very busy season, but I feel so blessed to have a small part in this Kingdom story God is writing among the nations.

You have a part of it too, and it’s almost certainly more important than what you think it is.

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