Tag Archives: kingdom of god

ground rules

adorable-childhood-children-754769.jpg

So I know this may not come as much of a surprise, but I love having fun. I love playing games and being crazy. But one of the most important things you have to take into account when having fun is you have to make sure everyone understands the rules. As recently as this week, I was part of one such occurrence. This Monday was our annual Memorial Day picnic for our church. Since it was going to be roughly about 1,000 degrees outside, my wife and I decided to fill up water balloons to bring to the park for the kids. But before the battle could ensue, I had to make sure everyone understood the ground rules. No hitting anyone in the face. Little kids this is your bucket and big kids this is your bucket. Make sure you step five steps away before you begin to throw. And thanks to these simple ground rules, everyone had fun, no one got hurt and we all were able to cool off for a little bit.

I feel like lately though, we as adults have forgotten how to have fun and get along. Even in the church we have allowed ourselves to succumb to worldly division and talk that just doesn’t belong. Remember Paul said to the Philippians once upon a time regarding the world and the church that, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” – Philippians 3:19-20 So to help us on a little refresher course and make sure everyone gets along, I decided to help us out with a few ground rules today.

  • In the Kingdom of God, it is never okay to refer to other children of God as animals. Regardless of what someone has done, Jesus died to save us all. Sure in Scientific classification we are all animals, but this is the church and not science class. Therefore let’s all refer to each other as humans or even brother or sister.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to compare a person of color, particularly an African American, to a monkey or an ape. This is not only dehumanizing but historically very racist.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t fly or promote symbols that are linked to racism. And although you may claim the flag of the Confederate States of America is historical in nature, it was a history that fought to keep my son in chains and for the right to own people. Let’s keep it in the text books and out of our yards or off our clothing.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to refer to women as gals or chicks or anything that would make them feel less than the equally gifted and called children of God that they are. And let’s also stop blaming them for the violence, abuse and even rape that for centuries has gone unreported, even in the church.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t think less of anyone because of their country of origin or their international and/or undocumented status. We seek to be Christ to all because at some point someone was Christ to us.
  • In the Kingdom of God we seek to know a person’s name and award them their humanity regardless of their perceived status. A whole lot of misunderstanding and hurt will be avoided if we simply get to know each other.

I know sometimes that people think the world has become insane or difficult to manage, but these ground rules really aren’t that hard to follow. At the end of the day if we simply start treating other people as if we are all one, instead of us versus them, we would get a lot further. After all, Paul said in his letter to Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 And if you are still struggling as to how to implement these simple ground rules, maybe we can take it back to the words of Christ himself, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I hope this all helps. Now go out there and have fun and love people for the children of God they are.

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at hand

I’m not sure if your household works this way but for some reason ours always has. There are certain odd jobs or tasks that by default get assigned to someone. For instance, my wife is the comforter. If someone gets hurt or upset daddy just will not do. It’s up to mom to make the situation better…although it never stops me from trying. One of the default roles that has come to me is that of seeker. And although I am not chasing down a golden snitch, I am the one who finds lost things. If someone has misplaced something or lost a toy or can’t find their car keys (ahem, my wife), then it is up to the seeker to find them. And I am usually pretty good at my job…unless I misplace/lose something. You see, I am usually very systematic in the way I take care of my things. But a few weeks ago we couldn’t find one of our remote controls. And although we suspected our youngest, as he has a habit of carrying these around, we could not locate it. And then one day I walked into the bedroom and there it was…on my side of the bed. A place I was sure I looked many times.

And now we find ourselves in a New Year. I don’t know about you, but whenever I am faced with newness or unknown I get a little unsettled. What is tomorrow going to look like? What will next month look like? What is this New Year going to bring with it? As I reflect on looking ahead I hear the words of Christ come rushing in from the Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” – Matthew 6:33-34 And I often wonder what that means to ‘seek first His kingdom’. Is it something I have to go looking for? Is it something I have to find? In another passage in the gospels we read this, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” – Luke 17:20-21 Another translation says that the Kingdom of God is ‘within you’. But if it’s already here or in my midst or at hand then how do I access it, find it, seek it, participate in it?

Even though at times they may loose remotes, my kids often times help me see the Kingdom of God in ways I wouldn’t ordinarily see. I love to get their takes on church or relationships or events or even just sit down and watch a movie with them. They see Jesus in literally everything. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3 If the Kingdom of Heaven is all around us then maybe it just takes the eyes and faith of a child to enter into it. Maybe seeking after the kingdom has less to do with us searching and looking and more to do with us realizing we are already a part of it and living as if that were the case. I think children help us out here as well. If you’ve ever been part of imaginative play with children then you know what I am about to say is true. In imagination there is no other world outside of play. Maybe that is what it means to seek first His kingdom. There is no other reality but the Kingdom of God. All of the powers and systems and authorities  and politics and economies that vie for our attention aren’t the real. The real is what we are called to see not with our grown up eyes, but with our childlike faith. And maybe if we start to believe in that, we really will see the Kingdom of God at hand.


memory problem

So this recent phenomenon has occurred in our household. I was talking to my wife the other day about a movie she had just watched and she said, “Hang on a second, let me get my notes.” Notes? She explained that she has been having trouble remembering things lately and so if she is impacted by something or wants to retain it, she chooses to take notes. I think she has been worried about it being some sort of indicator of that which is to come, but I’m pretty sure it is a symptom of going from two to four kids and not really getting any sort of adjustment period. Or what the laypeople would refer to as ‘mommy brain’. She has even begun taking notes during my sermons, so now I know it’s serious. But I don’t think she is the only one lately who has been having a memory problem…I think it’s become an epidemic, at least in the church.

You see, everyday I am hearing about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that there is no hope and we need to boycott this and avoid that and not associate with them or vote for whoever and I think it all stems from a memory problem. We have forgotten to whom our true allegiance is due. We may be a part of this world physically, but this geographical location should not determine our values or dictate our mode of operation. At one point Jesus was asked about when the Kingdom of God would usher in and “fix everything” and he had a rather creative answer. “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” – Luke 17:20-21 Another way of saying it was that the kingdom of God is within you…in other words, it is already here.

When Jesus came, he didn’t just bring with Him the promise for the Kingdom to come. He brought with him the assurance and the example that the Kingdom is now. If we truly claim to be disciples of Christ we understand that reality as we see it, or as we allow others to dictate it for us, is not reality as it truly is. We are not forced to make decisions based on what the empire tells us. We are not forced to operate within the power structures that exist in society. Why? Because our Savior ushered in a new way of living. An example that embraces the leper, identifies with the unclean, lifts up the disenfranchised, turns the other cheek, loves our enemies, prays for our oppressors, and says in the face of evil, “Father forgive them”. And I think that we forget sometimes that we are called to live this out. Sometimes it’s easier to operate within the mode/structures of the systems and policies and parties around us. But I chalk it up as a memory problem. Let’s not forget who we are. People called to transcend the means and ways of this world and live out the Kingdom of God now. May you see that the Kingdom is within you and live out your true allegiance today.


come with me

The scene opens on every child’s dream; a chocolate waterfall, cream-filled cake mushrooms, candy-cane shrubs, gummy bear trees and edible candied grass. And then the strange man in tails and a top-hat begins to sing, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” This scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of my favorite scenes in all of movie history. In this brilliant little song/scene all of the magic of childhood seems to be encapsulated. Listen to some more of the lyrics, “If you want to view paradise simply look around and view it anything you want to, do it. Wanta change the world? There’s nothing to it.” Or “There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free if you truly wish to be.” And on top of all of these lyrics you have kids running around enjoying all there is to offer in the chocolate factory with pure abandon.

Recently I have been walking through The Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings with our congregation and I’ve begin to have a new outlook on it all. A lot of times Christians, disappointingly so, look at the Sermon on the Mount and see it as a bit of a pipe dream. ‘Sure these things were achievable for Jesus, but he doesn’t live in the world I live in’. Or, ‘Some of these things will work for radical Christians, but that’s just not me’. And I think it all stems from our lack of imagination in the church and in the world. Think about much of our Christian salvation theology for a minute. We are saved so that we can escape this world and hell. Is that really what it is all about? This to me doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is espousing in much of his teachings. In fact, in the same Sermon on the Mount he teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9-10. This seams to imply that Jesus very much cares not only about the world to come, but the world in which we live in now.

We refer to this trans-formative way of seeing the world as the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is both a present and soon-coming reality. The problem is that often we look around us and we don’t see the Kingdom of God. We see political upheaval, petty grievances, violence unchecked and a world that is basically broken. So why wouldn’t we want to escape? But we are not saved to escape. Rather we are saved to show the world that another reality is possible. We have the imagination to see that life can be lived without hate, retaliation, lustful coveting, grudges, pettiness, anxious worrying, and everything else that Christ preached against in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, much like the song aforementioned, we can look around us and see life and the world for what it can be and not for what it is. We can imagine the Kingdom of God into reality as we live into the trust placed in us when we are called The Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Will you ‘come with me’ today find yourself living in a world of imagination that brings forth the reality of the Kingdom of God.


hinder

Vacation Bible School…when I type these words I am sure a multitude of things enter into your brain. Whether it is flashbacks to watered down kool-aid and elbow macaroni crafts or more recent days where you find yourselves rushing to get the kids dressed into semi-appropriate, yet stain and water resistant clothes; these words usually mean something to us. Vacation Bible School for some of us may have even been the place where we first heard or really began to understand about what it means for Jesus to love us and for us to be able to follow after Him. Between crafts, games, stories, songs, offering contests (Side note: do you guys remember where it used to be a weight contest? And a roll of pennies used to be magical? Just me? Oh, ok) and the like, we somehow experienced something amazingly different that week. And I think I am just now beginning to put my finger on the pulse of what it might be.

You see in the gospels there is this story about Jesus (go figure) and some children. The writers speak about people bringing their young children to Jesus for Him to bless them and the disciples start to rebuke the parents. But Jesus response is simple and yet amazing, “He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:14-15 That phrase, “do not hinder” is probably what stands out the most to me. Jesus wants the disciples to drop all of their preconceived notions, agendas, issues, etc. and just let the kids see Him and subsequently Him the children. He goes on to say that God’s Kingdom, His Kingdom, could only be received like a child.

So let’s contextualize this a bit. During Vacation Bible School adults, teens, and all make-up of volunteers drop everything for a week. For a week they revel in Bible stories, kiddie songs, crafts (and I for one am not a crafty person), games, motions, laughing, singing, dancing, etc. And all of this is done why? To show Jesus to kids…or rather to bring kids to Jesus. And the part that always blows me away is that the kids do see Jesus. They know that behind all of the programming is the heart of God being lived out in these volunteers and they receive the love, attention, compassion, and care graciously because that is how the Kingdom of God is received. It really is magical, some might even say Divine.

Now think with me…what if VBS wasn’t just a week, but a platform, a paradigm for the way in which we conduct ourselves with the world around us? We drop our ideas, preconceived notions, agendas, programs, booklets, classes, etc. and we just showed people the way to Jesus. Maybe that is an oversimplification or maybe that is really what Jesus means when he says, “do not hinder”. I for one never want to be in the camp of people where my agendas, schedules, etc. get in the way of someone encountering Jesus and realizing how much He loves them. I just want to keep showing people the way to Him; I hope you do too.


today and tomorrow

To say that life for a youth pastor in the summer time is busy is a given. The in-continuity in the schedule, in family meal times, lack of sleep, and the other resultant issues can sometimes become overwhelming (If you don’t believe me look back at the inconsistency in my blog posting). Thinking back on the last few weeks is almost dizzying. And yet I now find myself getting stressed over the ensuing months and all they hold as well.

The problem for me, as I am sure it is for a lot of you, is that I allow routine and expectations to rule the day instead of being concerned with the important things. Instead of working so that I can live I find myself falling into the trap so that I am living to work. And it’s a difficult reality for me with my particular vocation/career because it usually escapes the normal definitions of work. A lot of people have trouble defining their life by their work but my life has to be defined by my work as my work is of a different calling (I am not saying this to invalidate other careers, but rather to articulate the feelings that many pastors probably have). I was recently reminded about the detriment to the souls of our families this prioritization can have with a recent conversation and from reading this recent little blog post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-macy-stafford/the-day-i-stopped-saying-hurry-up_b_3624798.html (The Day I Stopped Saying “Hurry Up”)

I have been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount lately and the one passage that always seems to stand out is Jesus’ treatment of our hurrying about. He says that it boils down to worry and chasing after the wrong things. He then concludes with the following, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:33-34 Jesus reminds us that in pursuing the Kingdom of God first that the cares and concerns of tomorrow can be overcome. And so it’s important that the Kingdom is not found in schedules, events, chaos and running about. Rather the Kingdom of God is like small moments (mustard seeds or yeast if you will) that take place and give birth to something beautiful and massive. It is fixed moments in time where we fully enjoy each others’ and God’s presence. It is shared laughter, provisions, possessions, community…it is life lived out for the other instead of pursuing for our own consumption.

And so I think about tomorrow; and whether or not I like it, tomorrow will consume some of today. But I strive for it not to rob me of today and those around me. I hope that at the end of each day I can look back and feel it well spent, for that is all I have been promised. It may require more compromise and change than what I am used to, but I think that could be okay. And maybe then I will understand a bit more of what it means to live out the kingdom of God.


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