Tag Archives: The Kingdom

Judging a tree

“No one is so deceived as the person who believes
he has everything figured out.”

“Every tree will be known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12:33). Recounting his personal journey towards the end of his life, the brilliant British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton told of strolling through London as a young man in the turbulent sixties, and stumbling into an angry mob of demonstrators: “I saw a group of radicals destroying and throwing stones at policemen, and I said ‘Whatever these people are for, I am against.” That inflection point set Scruton on the path towards becoming one of England’s premier thinkers and cultural influencers. Sir Roger looked at a “tree” and judged it by its fruit.

Those who are serious about apprenticeship to Jesus take truth seriously; we want to stand squarely on the side of integrity. So it follows that faithful disciples will always live welcome correction, repentance and the opportunity to change our minds when necessary. (No one is so dangerous or deceived as the person who believes he has everything figured out). But when we live in a culture of contradicting narratives, censorship, disinformation, and media-shaming, it can sometimes be difficult to know which narrative is “truly” true.

I believe one reliable indicator of truth is the fruit test: Does this group, this news organization, or this ideology promote peace and order, or violence and chaos? Does it build-up, or tear-down? Does it produce anger and bitterness, or gentleness and love? Can I see in these people a humble hope in God, or the pride of arrogance? Even a child can tell good fruit from rotten.

Undeniably, two worldviews are locked in a brutal competition for the future of the world. It’s a terrifying sight. But the disciples of Jesus will remember that we are called to be a “tree of righteousness”, a tree whose fruit will be given for the healing of the nations.

“… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” -Galatians 5:22-23

(A good introduction to Sir Roger Scruton is his timeless documentary, “Why Beauty Matters”)

Perfect Harmony

Back in 1971, the New Seekers recorded a commercial jingle for Coca Cola, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony. It became one of the most influential TV ads in history, and an expanded version, (dropping the Coke references), rose to the top of popular charts all over the world.  The tune was lilting, but it was the lyrics that captured the imagination of the young.

I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms, and keep it company.
I’d like to see the world for once, all standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills for peace throughout the land.

The song tapped into the heart of a troubled world and a generation at war with itself, giving voice to hopes and dreams programmed into our primordial DNA by the Creator Himself.  Without doubt, the entire human race is longing for a world in tune with itself; a world of perfect harmony. 

But perfect harmony doesn’t just happen; It takes the long, skillful work of composers, arrangers, conductors, musicians and instrument tuners.  And it’s the same in the Kingdom. Jesus gives us the master pitch, and brings us into tune with Himself: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus our Lord has done for us.”   (Romans 5;1) But that’s only the beginning, the tune-up note for the symphonic beauty which follows: “Peace on earth, goodwill towards all men.” 

As we step into 2020 we find ourselves in a discordant world of political bickering, divisive opinion, finger-pointing, and contempt. I pray that each of us would refocus our lives on the Prince of Peace, the Master of perfect harmony; learning his ways of honor, love, and respect. Disagreements are inevitable; ugliness is optional. May our discipleship lead us into that world we’re all dreaming of.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the sons of God.”
Matthew 5:9

Red pianos and the Kingdom

Fire-engine red pianos have popped up in airports and train stations in France.   Some visionary group must have imagined that placing them in bustling places would foster creativity, community, and glory.

So in the midst of an arduous journey I found myself in the subterranean train station beneath Charles DeGalle International Airport.  Hundreds of people crammed the complex until the only vacant seat in sight was the empty piano stool.  I sat quietly with my back to the instrument while a conversation with the Spirit unfolded in my heart:

“You know… you could turn around and play this piano.”  

(Me) “I know, except I don’t like to draw attention to myself,  and besides, I’m sure there are lots of people here who could, (shudder), play better than me.”  

“Yes… That would be terrible, wouldn’t it, if there was someone else here who could play better than you, and who is also NOT playing?   Son…  I know you’re tired, and I know your heart.  You don’t have to play, but if you don’t, you’ll miss a blessing.”

It doesn’t make me proud to admit it, but I did not turn around and play that morning, and so I’ll never know what God had in store for me or anyone else.   (For those of you who don’t understand this, we musicians can be notoriously insecure and laughably complex about these sorts of things.)

One week later, as I walked through the airport I passed not one, but two red pianos.  They were being played by professionals and amateurs alike: Chopsticks, faltering renditions of classical pieces half-learned, brilliant, LOUD progressive jazz, and all sorts of things that stressed and weary travelers don’t necessarily want to hear while they’re waiting to board an airplane.

I sat in quiet observation and listened to the familiar voice in my heart:

“You know, Son, you could play something very tender and restful.  These people are stressed.  Look at them.”

“I know”, I said.  “Maybe I will.  But that hipster couple sitting next to the piano look like they’ve heard more than enough.  And with their crazy hair and body markings, I don’t think they’re going to be into ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'”

“Son… what will happen if you don’t play?” 


“Exactly.”  He said.

I drifted across the concourse,  seated myself at the instrument, and with all the tenderness I could muster began the tinkling intro:  “Some day I’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me…”  I wandered quietly through Somewhere Over the Rainbow and glided into the gentle strains of “Leaning…. leaning, safe and secure from all alarms… Leaning, leaning, leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

It was painless.  I slipped from the stool, and glanced up at the hipster.  Our eyes met.  “Thank you.”  He silently mouthed the words, nodded his approval, and closed his eyes.

“And thank you, Son”, whispered the Spirit in my heart.

I don’t know what happened.  God knows.   I did my small part and felt refreshed.  But maybe there’s more to the story that I’ll get to hear some day when “clouds are far behind me.”    In the meantime… I think perfectly tuned acoustic pianos will be everywhere in the Kingdom!

Heavenly tourism or the Kingdom

Heaven dominated last year’s Christian bestseller list. There were at least three heavenly visitation books until one young author stepped forward to confess his whole account had been fabricated. Many were duped not just by an unscrupulous author, but by an unbiblical over-emphasis on a distant place we think of as “our heavenly home.”

The great tragedy, of course, is that Heaven continues to eclipse the Kingdom.  As real as it is, Jesus never once instructed us to seek Heaven above everything else.  Nor did he use heaven as a hook for evangelism. “Follow me, Peter, and you’ll go to heaven when you die.”  And neither did he teach us to pray, “May we come into Heaven where your will will be done…” No… His plan has always involved the heavenly-earthly Kingdom of God; the marriage of heaven and earth, and the very makeover of the world and everything in it.

The idea of spending eternity in Heaven often embraces the unbiblical notion of our disembodied spirits worshipping forever in that translucent realm.  We forget that the resurrection means these earthly bodies will live again in a made-over and improved form! Whatever the unfallen Adam was, we will be. Whatever the resurrected Jesus is, we will be!  God’s dream has never been to whisk us away to heaven, but to so transform His creation that “the glory of the Lord will once again cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) From the moment of Adam’s transgression, the Father, Son and Spirit has been at work undoing the catastrophic affects of the fall.

I was so encouraged last week to read that Lifeway Christian Bookstores have pulled all of the “Heavenly tourism” books from their inventory. This is a great step forward.   Now maybe we can get on undistracted with the work of seeing God’s Kingdom come “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Addendum:  Below is a Google “nGram” plotting the comparative  number of books published about various topics. The red line is Heaven, and the blue line is The Kingdom of God.  Note how thoroughly Heaven overshadows the Kingdom.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 5.48.41 PM

Flash crowds and the Kingdom

Only a few years ago most of us had never heard of, much less seen a “flash crowd”. These seemingly impromptu extravaganzas where singers, dancers, and musicians emerge from nowhere and thrill shoppers and travelers with their gifts have taken YouTube by storm. From the Hallelujah Chorus at Macy’s to Do-re-Mi in the Antwerp Train Station, it’s a wonderful new art form that infuses the ordinary with magic. And for those with holy vision, we must ask, “Why? What primal chord is being struck in our hearts by a flash crowd?”

As I watched a video recently the Spirit gave me a “flash-revelation”: We humans love these things because they’re a near perfect reflection of the Kingdom scripted into our hearts by the Creator. Here’s how:

  • Flash crowds inject order into chaos and wonder into the mundane. One moment you’re jostling with Christmas shoppers and the next you’re enveloped by an Opera Company singing Handel. That’s the Kingdom! The Messiah walks onto the scene and all our randomness is swallowed-up into meaning: the blind see, the lame leap for joy, relationships are restored, the hungry are fed, mourners rejoice, and the oppressed are set free.
  • Flash crowds begin small, (often with a single person), and pull others into a growing movement that changes everything: a giant choir, a full orchestra, a huge dance movement. How like the mustard-seed Kingdom which begins with the smallest of seeds, and overtakes the whole garden with living joy.
  • Flash crowds validate People. Each dancer, each part of the orchestra has a distinct and vital part to play. It’s the same in the Kingdom, where each one has a part, and every part becomes more truly himself as he discovers and fills his place in the Whole.
  • Flash crowds invite people in: If you know the song, then join us! Don’t know the words? Then hum along, tap your feet, or just revel in the camaraderie. The welcome is for everyone! Amateurs? Professionals? The simple? The seasoned? You have a place! You only need to lay down your own agenda and begin trusting and following the Conductor! Everyone together now: “Hal-le-lu-jah!”

PS: If you skip the ad, you can see what I mean right here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbJcQYVtZMo)