Category Archives: The Kingdom

To love the Truth

I don’t know which gripped my heart first: a love for the Kingdom, or a love for Truth. There’s no difference, really, because the Kingdom is the totality of Truth, and Truth is the Kingdom. In fact, the King himself declared “I am the… Truth.”

One of the greatest grievances I carry in my soul is the abandonment of truth I see in today’s culture, (both Bosnian and American, I’m sad to say). Living here in Sarajevo has worked in me an utter detestation of lies: They kill. They destroy. They create wars, poverty, bondage, prejudice, broken relationships and emotional illness. I suppose its simpler to recognize it here because it’s always easier to see someone else’s lies than your own.

Several years back my friend Bill Burtness gave me a little formula for knowing truth:

  • We’ve gotta be honest. A dishonest person can never grasp truth because his very being rejects it.
  • We must know why we believe what we believe.
  • We must know why we don’t believe what we don’t believe.
  • We must be willing to change.

It’s all such hard work, really: thinking and honesty, and being willing to change. I have to say it’s a daily challenge for me to to sift through information and news and even the perceptions of my heart. But for all the annoyance, it’s worth it to occasionally find a little nugget of the Kingdom hidden under the rocks of illusion. It’s like discovering treasure in a field.

“The pursuit of truth shall set you free – even if you never catch up with it.”
– Clarence Darrow

Compatability issues

I arrived in Romania Sunday afternoon, and have a class of young people from seven different nations. Several are former students from past schools, so it’s a joy to reconnect and to hear the stories they’re living.

The forty hour trip from Albania was taxing to say the least: a non-air conditioned bus, upright, non-reclining seats, and passengers lighting up along the way! But even worse was the toll of Communism that unfolded in the passing scenery. For the first ninety minutes I counted military bunkers built by the Albania’s former dictator, Envir Hoxha.  Stopping at one hundred fifteen, (out of a purported seventy thousand!), I turned to writing in my journal:

“Run down properties, soupy, polluted streams and a littered roadside reel past my bus window. The cities are crowded with decaying Communist apartment blocks, discarded scrap, and half-finished projects. One ten mile stretch of oily, abandoned factories with their overgrown parking lots weighed especially heavy on my spirit.

‘You were never meant to live in such a place,’ the Spirit whispered. ‘This is the work of the enemy, whose purpose it is to destroy the bright, the beautiful, and the glorious. You were meant to live in a world of glory and gardens, beauty and brightness, purity and order. In the same way that glory feeds the human spirit, destruction and disarray burdens the soul and depresses the heart.’ ” Communism is incompatible with human life.

But when the church neglects the message of the kingdom, Marxist ideology surfaces as one of the few human ideas that actually talks about justice, equality, and a future. That’s why I’m here, to point to the real thing: the Kingdom of God.

From cabbages to kings

Driving rain has marooned me at La Hacienda with no chance of leaving. So it’s a great chance to shoot off a little update if I can draw some inspiration from the Holy Spirit, my own heart, and this vegetable Quesadilla in front of me.

“Nathaniel”, (who laughed and told me to use his real name – “Amer”), did a terriffic job telling his story to a packed house last night. He’s a gifted storyteller, so the audience sat in rapt attention to his tale of encountering Jesus in dreams and Coffee bar conversations.

I’ve been thinking about the church lately. I reckon for a missionary I don’t talk a much about the church. I love the church, believe in the church, support the church, and of course “attend” church. But it’s the Kingdom that captures my imagination. After all Jesus told us that we should seek first the Kingdom, and He would build the church. But somehow it feels like we’ve gotten it all backwards with disasterous results. (He mentioned the word “church” twice in the four gospels, and the kingdom over one hundred seventeen times!

Lots of Jews in Jesus’ day missed the kingdom because they confused it with the Jewish nation. “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6) You gotta understand this question came after the resurrection, and after three and a half years of preaching the “gospel of the kingdom.” Can you imagine that maybe the Lord might have felt like banging his head on the nearest brick wall?

As long as we equate the Kingdom with the church, or with heaven, we’ll never understand the Gospel as Jesus preached it. The Kingdom is the fullness of Christ filling ALL of creation, from “animals to atoms” and “cabbages to Kings.” (Eph. 9-10) I look forward to the day when the church awakens to the call of being God’s arrow pointing the way not to heaven, and not to itself, but to the Kingdom. That will be a fresh, new day in the history of the Church.

A King and a Kingdom

Yesterday I had a stunning opportunity to lay out the Gospel to a dear Bosnian friend. He just sat down and started asking questions; The sincere questions of a seeker, and not the type of questions we often hear from those who just want to debate the differences between Islam and Christianity. It would be sketchy of me to use his real name without permission. So I’ll just call him “Nathaniel” because he reminds me of Jesus’ disciple: “an honest man – a true son of Israel.” (John 1:47)

In the end I was struck by how lucid and straightforward the gospel of the Kingdom is when it’s presented as it was intended: Forget the Four Spiritual Laws. The Apostle Paul “told them about the KINGDOM of GOD and taught them about JESUS from the scriptures.” (Acts 28:23) Phillip did the same in Acts 8:12: “But now the people believed Phillip’s message concerning the KINGDOM of GOD and the NAME OF JESUS CHRIST.” Even at the end of Acts we find Paul under house arrest in Rome “welcoming all who visited him, proclaiming the KINGDOM of GOD and teaching them about the LORD JESUS CHRIST.”

Even a child can understand a King and a Kingdom: a servant king who sacrificed his life for the Kingdom. The two go together like peas and carrots. It’s just taken me awhile to discover it.

Truth and passion

There’s no internet access at Nazim’s place, where I’m staying. And that means I have to dash off these quick updates at La Hacienda, a smoky Mexican restaurant in the old quarter of Sarajevo. With distractions coming and going like television commercials, it’s not exactly the sort of place you’d choose to do some creative writing.

I was thinking the other day how truth gives birth to passion. Any non-musician will quickly tire of plunking around on an untuned piano. But tune the instrument and teach him a few laws of harmony and the passion of music will thrill him for a lifetime.

It’s the same with the Kingdom. For years my heart was dull and two-dimensional. The uninspiring fragments of life left me cold and listless until the curtains of the kingdom parted and Truth began to take root in my soul. From that moment on, nothing has been the same.

Pray that I’ll be able to point these dear people to the truth of the Kingdom. I’m convinced it is the only sure thing that can resurrect God-given passion and hope in the Balkan people.

Biblical monikers

With common names like James, John, and Joshua, people in Bible times were often distinguished by their Father, their passion, or a prominent character trait.   

  • Joshua, the “Son of Nun” 
  • Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement.”  (Imagine what a great friend this guy would be!) 
  • James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” (Drama, anyone?)
  • Judas, the “Son of Perdition.”  (Damnation)
  • Jesus, the Son of God.  (A definite conversation starter in first century Jerusalem.)
 
Then there were the “Sons of the Kingdom,” (Matthew 13:38).   Can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone referred to in such terms.  But I think I’d like that.  Maybe when people thought of us, they’d remember the kingdom, and think, “Ah yes… the kingdom!  What a sublime and glorious idea, and what a worthy and beautiful King.” 
 

The kingdom is a verb

The kingdom of God is more like a verb than a noun.  It says “Go!” “Preach!” “Heal!” “Pray!” “Love!”  The kingdom is not about real estate, but real life.   It’s proactive, creative, dynamic, and visionary, and the only way we’ll see it is by engaging in it.  The kingdom isn’t a rest home, but a revolution – a movement of love, heroism, service, and sacrifice.  “… from the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven has been forcing its way in, and men of force take it.  (Matt. 11:12)   

One of the great noble themes of the kingdom is that our lives DO matter.  While other kingdoms lull the children of Adam into fatalism, nirvana, and welfare wards, the kingdom thrusts us into significance, action and adventure. Nike’s “Just do it” rings true to the human heart because it’s an idea that belongs to the Kingdom.  “If you know these things, you’ll be blessed if you do them.”  (John 14:17) 

Fear of a kingdom lost…

Eighteen year old Micah asked to speak with me after lunch. “OK, here’s the thing: I want the kingdom. I don’t want to miss it like most people around me. I want it. But I’m afraid I’ll miss it. I’m afraid the weeds will crowd it out, or the cares of life will smother it. What do I need to do?”

What a great question. And what hope it gives me to see young people passionately seeking the kingdom. But how do we actually do it? Since the Kingdom is at its essence the most practical and real thing in the cosmos, there must be practical and real ways of seeking it.

These suggestions have helped me:

  • Pray for the kingdom. It is, after all, the first priority of the Lord’s prayer. “May Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Faith inevitably becomes sight, and as we pray for the Kingdom we will eventually see it all around.
  • Develop an ear to hear the King’s voice. As Jesus spoke to the twelve, He is still speaking. And if our ears are tuned, we’ll hear him saying, “Look here at this pearl, at this mustard seed, this party, this movie, this football game….” Pictures of the Kingdom are everywhere, and it’s the Father’s delight to point them out to us.
  • Ask for “Kingdom Eyes.” Like fine art, good wine, and beautiful music, it’s a cultivated taste. “This people will listen and listen, but not understand; they will look and look, but not see, because their minds are dull, and they have stopped up their ears and have closed their eyes.” We need the help of the Spirit to see the Kingdom.
  • Take your expectations out of the church building. The kingdom became flesh in Jesus, and it’s been invading the streets and the neighborhoods ever since. You’ll see it in a homeless person, in the widow next door, in the fatherless child across the street. “Sanctuary religion” tends to cloud our vision of a world full of beauty, grace, and human need.
  • Obey the small promptings of the King. Nothing opens the kingdom like walking the streets of human need with the King at our side.

“Don’t be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:32

Getting wrecked

Been vaguely aware for some time that when it comes to the Kingdom, I’m a whole lot handier at talking about it than I am at actually living it.  I try to ignore that awkward truth, but it’s becoming more of a burr in my backside while I go on talking. And talking.

This week I’ve been reading Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, a book that my friend Bryan says is “the most dangerous book I’ve ever read.”  Shane is a young man who’s actually putting feet to his words, living with the homeless, standing up against injustice, and caring for the poor.   He says he’s not interested “in a Christianity that offers these (poor families) only mansions and streets of Gold in heaven, when all they really want is a bed for their kids now.  And many Christians have an extra one.”   That, right there, is the kingdom.   And I really am wanting to find my place in it. But see? There I go with words again.   

“The matter is quite simple.  The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know the minute we understand, we’re obliged to act accordingly.  Take any of the words of the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly.  My God, you will say, if I do that, my whole life will be ruined.  How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship.  Christian scholarship is the church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to be sure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close … It is dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” – Soren Kierkegaard             

The unshakable kingdom

The kingdom is the only true reality. It is life as God intended it to be. The Kingdom is everything in the cosmos working as it was designed, from brain cells to business calls, from muscles to music. This is why Jesus said his yoke “is easy” and his burden “is light.” (Matt. 11:30) To live by truth is easy. Respect gravity. Expect to reap what you sow. Don’t step in front of a moving vehicle. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Treat others like you’d want to be treated. Pay your bills. But to resist reality is to ask for trouble.

Societies founded on falsehoods crumble and self-destruct. Communism, Materialism, and Postmodernism all fail because they haven’t the glue of truth to hold them together. No need for God to destroy those societies any more than for Him to have to destroy a person who’s trying to live on raw sewerage. The choice is the judgment. But the Kingdom! Ah! It is unshakable (Heb. 12:28). It is the house built upon a rock. Storms may rage against the Truth, but they cannot change it. And the Truth of the universe is the bedrock of the Kingdom.