Category Archives: The Love of God

Kingdom how-to, part 2

Last week we asked the question, “How does a person actually live the Kingdom?”   When it comes to being a Kingdom disciple there are many things to keep in mind.  This new life is, after all, in polar opposition to almost everything we’ve learned under the present world system. But possibly the most central characteristic of a Kingdom disciple is the childlike love relationship he enjoys with the King.

When God launched his epic plan to undo the destruction of sin, he did not send a book to be read, a legal code to be followed or a philosophy to study, but a man we could know.  “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”  (John 1:14 The Message) This invitation into love and  friendship with the King is the womb of all activity for the attentive disciple .

Kingdom citizens wake up in the morning knowing they’re loved, and having their ears pinned to the heart of Jesus.  They expect to hear his voice, and are eager to respond when he says, “Son, daughter… let’s do this today!”   Notice – He works with us!  He includes us!  He never sends us out to work alone because in God’s eyes every day is “Bring your kid to work day”.  We live, work, love, and create with Him, because partnering with us has been the intention of his kind heart from the beginning.

“The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children”     -Luke 18:16
The relationship between God and the Disciple of the Kingdom is a bit like the friendship between Calvin and Hobbs, who awaken each morning in the embrace of friendship, off on yet another new adventure. And best of all: they get to do it together!

Returning to grace

Freezing temperatures here in Maryland have nudged me into editing my old journals. With nearly forty year’s worth of writing, I’m hoping the weather breaks before I get through the whole lot of them.

Two streams have clearly marked off my days: law and grace. Or more accurately, there’s a stream, and a catchment pond of do-it-yourself religion, law-keeping, and failed attempts at being a better Christian.  Paul refers to the catchment pond as a “veil over the hearts of the people. “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But the moment anyone returns to the Lord, the veil is gone.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-16)

Forty years distilled into dead religion or life and freedom, and I’m betting I’m not alone in this.  Some of you – or maybe many of you – might even feel today like there’s a veil over your heart.  God seems distant, disengaged or disappointed with you.  I believe this can only mean one thing: we have returned to the law.

The stream of grace is the Spirit himself flooding our hearts with hope, encouragement, and a clear conscience towards God.  It’s unleashed not by religious activity, but by simple faith in the risen Christ.  So come with me, and let’s return to the God of grace, who offers all of Himself to unworthy sons and daughters who have nothing to give in return.  Lets believe again that Jesus has taken every possible obstacle out of the way, (especially sin and the law), and extended His love to us freely and without merit.

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Les Miserables and the Kingdom

Mugs B&W

After reading the book and enjoying the story in multiple releases and versions, I’ve come to think of Les Miserables as the iconic picture of grace.  But recently I noticed something I never saw before:  Victor Hugo’s classic actually presents three contrasting visions of the Kingdom of God.

First the vision of the law, represented by Inspector Javert.   The Law, of course, is good.  It maintains a semblance of order in a world of passion, crime, and greed.  “Those who falter, and those who fall must pay the price!”  The law is rigid and unbending in its demand for justice.  It bears authority to punish and even to kill those who stray from its path.   But in the end the law is powerless to change either man or society.  It leaves prisoners and jailers alike hardhearted and callous, which is hardly a picture of Paradise.

Likewise the revolutionaries championed a vision of opportunity, equality, and brotherhood that lay on the far side of violence.  “Red!  The blood of angry men!” … of men “who would not be slaves again”.   The thing that separated them from their dream was the power of government and wealth.  And the solution, of course, was revolution.   But a world established on revolution is no paradise, but a bloody wasteland of anger and death;  “Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me, what your sacrifice was for! Empty chairs at empty tables, where my friends will drink no more…”

Two centuries later we still cling to the bankrupt hopes of building a paradise through law on one side and revolutionary action on the other.  But neither law nor revolution addresses the real problem where it lives, in the human heart.

Bishop Bienvenu and Jean Valjean on the other hand, went about quietly transforming the world by the love of God.  Apart from judgment, sword or law, these two men lived lives of grace that left behind a trail of beauty and change to everything they touched, from beggars and workers to revolutionaries, and even Javert himself.   This is the Kingdom, the grace of Jesus poured out to men and women who in turn pour it out to others.  America, friends, Church…  we have a lesson to learn from this story.

Insiders and outsiders

I’ve been in Maryland since returning from my last teaching trip several weeks ago.  Home is always difficult for me.  I wrestle with issues here in my little home town that I seldom face elsewhere.  Like feeling included.  I haven’t sorted it all out yet, so I’m not sure what’s actually real, but the singers in my head locked arms this week and shouted like a Wagnarian chorus that I … just … don’t … belong.  It felt like there were walls to scale everywhere I turned.

We humans weren’t created for that.  We were made for community and designed for inclusion.  In fact, if I had to distill the Kingdom into one simple concept, I just might choose the word “relationship.”  Isn’t that what we see in Jesus?  The God-man invaded his world with arms wide open to publicans, pharisees, centurions, lepers, adulterers, drunks, and fishermen.  It’s a sad thing that we sons of Adam haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Several years ago I received a desperate Email from a young friend: “Help,” she said,  “I’m in my last year of Bible school, and I’ve suddenly realized I’ve got a serious problem.  See… I grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian high school, hung out with my youth group, and now I’m graduating with a missions degree from a Christian university.   And I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve never really had a non-Christian friend!”

Many of us have gone down that road.  It’s endemic in the church culture.  We divide people into two groups: believers and unbelievers.  And then we draw a circle around ourselves and make it our mission to draw the outsiders into our circle.  “Conversion”, we call it.  “Wouldn’t you like to be one of us?”  The problem with this model is that it doesn’t seem to fit the method of Jesus.   He simply included everybody, and invited those who would to believe and follow Him.   The traditional evangelical model looks like this:

Phil and Rachel are “in.”  Amer, Emily and Baxter are “out,”  and we find Annie troublesome since she “converted” last year, but hasn’t done anything with it.  So … is she in or out, because we really need to know.

I think Jesus did it more like this:

He includes everyone and invites those who will to follow him.  Notice Rachel, Baxter, and Annie are going their own way, and Phil isn’t moving at all.  And yet they’re loved and invited to the party nevertheless.  Jesus breaks down every wall and calls us into His presence and our neighbor’s presence as well.  Maybe we ought to organize our own chorus and sing an anthem of inclusion.  I’ll bet the angels would gladly join in.

The incarnation and today’s news

The incarnation means that the Father of Jesus refused to give up on us.  Today’s news is full of reports of an American Father, David Goldman being reunited with his son, Sean, who was kidnapped and held in Brazil for more than half of his life.  For this Father it was unthinkable to “move on;” unimaginable to forget about Sean and to turn his focus to other things.

But the problem is messy in two ways: legally and relationally.  Legally, David Goldman battled for years to establish his claim over Sean and to answer any argument that would say otherwise.  In the story of God, that battle took place on the cross when Jesus shattered every claim the Enemy had over our lives through sin.

But an equally difficult challenge, in the case of nine year old Sean, will be the reestablishing of a relationship with a Father who has been maligned by five years of indoctrination by his adulterous Mother and stepfather.  Last night’s news gave a name for it that made me sit up and say “That’s the problem of the human race!” Parental Alienation Syndrome is what happens when a child, separated from a parent, begins an unjustified campaign to vilify the parent.  It happens through indoctrination as well as in the imagination of the child himself.

What a perfect description of the human race, lost in a jungle of religion that slanders God and paints him in harsh, demanding terms.  As I write this David is sitting on an airplane trying to regain the trust and affection of a nine year old who has been programmed with alien ideas about his Dad.  I wish him well in what may be a long journey.  In the case of mankind, Father approached this tragedy by sending Jesus to mirror his staggering love and affection towards us, and then to declare “The person who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

This Christmas I rejoice in two great realities:  I am no longer alone, and Jesus has shown me the true face of my Father.  I pray that you will allow the God who has come near to put his arm around you and pull you close.

The keys to passion

After church this past Sunday an old friend visiting in the morning service, caught me with tears in her eyes and said, “I don’t know what it was, but something broke free inside of me this morning as I watched you playing the piano with such joy and and passion.” Passion connects.  God’s Spirit inhabits it and reminds us that we were born for passion. 

One delightful work of the Spirit in my heart these recent years could be described as a rebirth of passion. There was a deadening middle-period in my adult life when I trudged on for nearly a decade without ever shedding a tear. I remember when it was a regular thing to beg God for an unleashing of my emotions.  Now – they ambush me at the most random times. And along with tears has come a surprising ability to feel, move, shout, dance, cheer, and celebrate with an abandon I never could have imagined. 

It’s made me wonder about the change. How did I come to this point, and what brought me here? First off I no longer feel like an orphan before God. I’ve had a deep and lasting revelation of the outrageous love of the Father towards me. He not only loves me, but He likes me. And He has adopted me into the shared life of the Father Son and Spirit. Orphans, I understand have often bankrupted their emotions in the process of yearning for belonging, intimacy and family. But now that I know I belong, the wells of my passion have been restored.

The second thing, I believe, is that I’ve come to understand the Kingdom. And the Kingdom means everything matters. I no longer have to sort through my days wondering what components of my life interest my Father, and which ones go beyond his scope of caring. He fills it all and brings meaning to everything from playing music to making breakfast, from blogging to biking. I’m no longer enslaved to a tightfisted life of religion, but I’ve been emancipated to soar in a world bursting with the presence and passion of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

I posted this years ago, but it bears repeating.  George Target writes in regard to religion’s affect on the sons of Adam,

They don’t smoke, but neither do they breathe fresh air very deeply.

They don’t drink wine, but neither do they enjoy lemonade;

They don’t swear, but neither do they enjoy magnificent words;

Neither poetry nor prayer.

They don’t gamble, but neither do they take much chance on God;

They don’t look at women and girls with lust in their hearts,
But neither do they roll breathless with love and laughter,
Naked under the sun of high Summer.

It’s all rather pale and round-shouldered, The great Prince lying in prison.

If any of this sounds too familiar, I pray that you, too will experience a jaw-dropping sense of belonging to the Father, Son, and Spirit, and a staggering revelation of how the Kingdom brings meaning to even the mundane things of life.

Success in shiny eyes

Ben Zander, who conducts the Boston Philharmonic, authors books, and inspires countless people, says he measures success by how many shiny eyes he has around him.  If he could have seen my eyes yesterday afternoon after watching one of his lectures he would have felt very successful indeed.  I like Ben’s measure of success because it cuts to the quick of what’s important and reveals God’s fingerprint on human nature.

Shiny eyes happen when the beauty of the invisible God and his Kingdom breaks through into the natural world.   Whether it’s the harmony and passion of a Beethoven Symphony, the tender touch of a friend, or the wonder of a good story, those things are all – at the heart – mere visible reflections of the passion, tenderness and wonder of the invisible God.

Abba wired us for shiny eyes and for all the things that cause them to shine.  It’s one of His ways of courting us and inviting us into his Kingdom.   When a man discovers a treasure in a field or a pearl of great price, his eyes will shine like diamonds in the sun – so much so that the Son told us, “YOU are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matt. 5:14)

I’m living this month in a city, (Sarajevo), where masses of people live in a dim, colorless world.  Lets pray that the eyes of many will fall again upon the Pearl of Great Price, and will begin to shine with the wonder of the Kingdom.

“Your eye is a lamp, lighting up your whole body.  If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.” – Matt. 5:14