They call it a Perfect Storm. Perfect, not because it is good, but because all the necessary components are in place for an inevitable disaster. It refers to the potential of a complete ocean disaster in nautical terms. The perfect storm for sailors would consist of profound wind, rain, and waves, all driving at the same time and place. It’s just bad, and you truly don’t know if you will survive.
They call it a perfect storm. Those times in our lives when multiple pains and problems appear simultaneously at our doorstep. I suppose it was like that for the women in Matthew 28 that morning. Everything had fallen apart, and no hope was on the horizon. Jesus, the one they had hoped in, was dead. The leading Jews set themselves against Christ’s followers. Rome still ruled like an iron fist, and perhaps worst of all, it seemed God had forsaken them. But as with all else, things are not always as they seem with God.
Yes, they approached the tomb in the darkness that first Easter Sunday morning with no hope. Then, something happened. The historical narrative tells us that an angel appeared before them, rolled the stone away, terrified the Roman guards to the ground, and pronounced that Jesus had risen.
The angel invited the women to go in and see the evidence. But what if it was a myth? The following verses tell us that the Roman platoon went into the city and reported to the chief priests, who fabricated a story of the apostles stealing the body while they slept. The argument does not make sense right out of the shoot, as the guards could not have known who the thieves were if they were asleep. In addition, these were professional Roman soldiers with their lives in jeopardy if they failed to do their job right. But what if the women merely experienced a hallucination or that Jesus never actually died on the cross? These stories take more faith than the testimony of the resurrection itself. But what if the arguments are valid and the resurrection is a farce? Well, our lives will end with a perfect storm of no hope.
But what if the resurrection is true? What’s interesting about the women’s response in this historical narrative is how they left to share the news of Christ’s resurrection with the apostles. The text tells us that there were afraid yet filled with joy. Some form of fear may remain with us all our lives on this side of eternity. Yet for them, their faith rose above fear and changed them. Because of the resurrection, they knew Jesus was and is the divine son of God. They knew that God kept his word. They knew Christ had risen victoriously over sin and death and that there was hope.
That same transformation is available for all of us. In thinking of a perfect storm, I remember the change of the slave trader, John Newton. John lived in complete rejection of Jesus Christ. Then everything changed on the fateful night of March 21, 1748. Newton was at the helm of a ship in a literal perfect storm at sea on the verge of destruction and death. In those moments, his heart was drawn back to the truths his mother taught him as a child. In those moments, he entrusted himself to Christ and his resurrection. In those moments, he was transformed.
On March 21, 1805, shortly before his death, he recorded in his journal memories of the transformational night at sea: “Not well able to write; but I endeavor to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer, and praise . . . On that day, the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”
How could a man of such depravity, and that of his own admission, be so transformed? In his poetic form, Newton described it as, Amazing Grace, and thus wrote the words still sung today around the world in many languages.
Do you know this grace? I hope you will. Do you know friends who are removed from Christ? I hope you will be the one to share the Amazing Grace of Christ with them.
Moving into March always reminds me of St. Patrick’s Day, which I’m quite a fan of. You could say it’s because I like old Celtic music. March 17th is my birthday, which I always assumed excludes me from having to wear green. But the greater weight here is my love for the man the day is named after, the historical St. Patrick himself.
There are plenty of myths and folklore surrounding Patrick. However, we do know that around 400 AD, he was taken prisoner from Great Britton by Irish raiders and enslaved. Eventually, Patrick returned to Britton after experiencing a Christian awakening and later sensed a call to return to Ireland to share Christ with his captors in the 420s. History tells us that God powerfully used Patrick to lead countless Celts to the love of Christ. The picture we have of Patrick is a man who was profoundly committed to Christ and the people of Ireland. He loved God, and he loved the people.
The fruit of Patrick’s labor has more far-reaching ramifications than most people realize. Church historians note that Patrick ordained the monks who continued to spread the love of Christ, preserve scripture, write, and create monasteries even in Europe. This dedication to Christ held back some of the darkest days following the destruction of the Roman Empire. The historian Herbert Kane observed:
“What is the debt the world owes to primitive Celtic Christianity? The answer is that it produced the greatest missionary effort the world has ever seen; that when Europe was overrun by the barbarian hordes, these wandering Irish saints pushed their settlements right into the heart of European heathendom . . . and not only made possible the Christianization of barbarian Europe, but educated and supplied the greatest teachers down to the time of Charlemagne.” [i]
A hope-filled blessing came to the Western world because of Patrick. But the world and Ireland are different today. Probably around 1% of the Irish people would consider themselves evangelical Christians, and those who side with Catholicism know little more than tradition, even if they practice their faith at all. The Irish people today don’t know the authentic Christ. It saddens me. How can people celebrate a day named after a Saint and know so little of him? It saddens me to think of the people who know so little about the authentic Jesus Christ and all he offers for eternal life and peace.
But yet, Patrick reminds me that there is still hope for Ireland and the globe. St. Patrick’s Day reminds us that one man can make a difference. Patrick’s dedication to Christ and the people changed Ireland and maybe even the world. Patrick trusted Christ and sacrificed to see others come to know the savior who saved him. So, yes, this minor holiday on the calendar reminds me that there is hope.
In conclusion, I’ll leave you with a portion of one of Patrick’s most famous printed prayers. Enjoy and go and do!
“I bind unto myself the Name,
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.”
Kane, Herbert J. A Concise History of the Christian World Mission. Grand Rapids: Baker Bok House. 1982. Pg 38.
I’ve never been much of a high church guy. By High Church, I refer to Christian traditions which rely heavily on form, procedure, and religious rote for their corporate gathering and private lives of worship. We see this most clearly in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and some protestant traditions such as the Episcopalians. There is indeed an air of religious feel to the form, but in my arrogance, I have always assumed a void of life. The writing out of prayers and reading them to God felt like a suitor giving a formal and legal document to his sweetheart as a marriage proposal. No personal words or heart on fire. Just data. “Here is my proposition in detail; please sign on the bottom line if you agree to these terms.”
No, such a traditional experience was not for me, and I didn’t give the subject much thought. And then. Then? Then my wife, who is working through a hospital chaplain residency, told me that she was planning to observe the tradition of Lent with others at her hospital. This kicks off today with what is known as Ash Wednesday.
In short, Lent is from a Latin word meaning the 40 days before Easter when Christians observe special fasts and other rites. The significance of the 40 originates from the 40 days that Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness before launching into his public ministry. A solemn spirit of repentance also flows with directed fasting and prayer currents. The Ash traditionally is from the burning of palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Those most engaged celebrate by placing the form of a small cross, from the ash, on their forehead as a sign of their devotion and commitment to the process.
While I do not see myself ever diving fully into the deep end of this and similar traditions, it forces me to be quiet momentarily. In thinking practices, I am already engaged in some spiritual disciplines. For example, I am systematically reading my Bible and allocating time for prayer before I launch into anything else in my day. But in thinking about the principle of discipline in general, could more not hurt? The discipline of the musician and athlete distinguishes those who are serious from those just out for fun. The goal is for these rhythms to become second nature. While we want our inner lives to be passionate and constantly abiding with Christ, could more regular discipline help in this manner?
The reality is that while some have wrongly put their hope in the form instead of the Savior, to throw out all disciplines is a knee-jerk reaction on the other end of the pendulum swing. The improper use of something does not negate the proper use of it. I do not know the hearts and minds of others and their motives anyway. In truth, Jesus himself learned the Psalms of David and the words of the Pentateuch by rote as a child. So, there might be something here to take another look at.
Yes, my amazing Bride got me. Neither of us plans to convert to the High Church traditions. But what are we missing by snubbing something which does not fit into our paradigm, even if others may have abused the practice? Maybe there might also be some providence here when I consider that my heart has been circling the same half dozen verses over the past few weeks. Could this be a call of the Holy Spirit to slow down more and meditate on these texts at regular intervals of the day? Is formally setting aside specific times during the day a bad idea or something positive? Yes, probably the latter. So here we go. Lent of 2023 will no longer be a mere and mild passing joke about the lint found in the dryer but rather another pivotal moment drawing me closer to my Savior, which is where I want to be no matter how I get there.
What about you? Regarding Lent or any other practice that enlivens your walk with Jesus?
Typically the week between Christmas and New Year’s is quiet for me, and this year was no exception. This year I drank richly in the presence of all my family being together. In the last few days of the year, I usually begin to organize my receipts and records to compile on my schedule C for taxes and quietly take stock of the previous 12 months.
In this process, I will slowly read through my prayer journal from the last year and see prayers answered in amazing ways and lessons taught by God’s grace. Some I’m still chewing on. This year, I was able to recount a few truly miraculous answers from God’s loving providence. The landscape included such graces as the right medical provider coming on the scene at just the right time and family medical bills being forgiven.
Other touches from Heaven reminded me of God’s faithfulness and thus His calling us to rest in Him. As I reflected on these provisions this past week, I was reminded of God meeting the Hebrew’s daily needs in the history of Exodus as they wandered and waited upon Him in the wilderness.
Along with the events and answered prayers I recorded, it was interesting to review the scriptural passages that I had meditated on over the year. Some of these came to mind in prayer, daily life, or my yearly systematic reading of His word. Altogether, my quietness this past week reminded me of God’s faithfulness.
Below I’ve recorded a number of the verses that found their way into my prayer journal for 2022. Some of them were in application to something I was praying about at the time. Some caught me off guard and were out of nowhere. Some were not for me but an application for others, the church, and society. They are a reminder of God’s providence, Christ’s love, and the Spirit’s guidance. As we bring 2022 to a conclusion, they might be of encouragement to you as we move into 2023.
What about you? What are some lessons from the past year for you?
Some of the texts from my 2022 Prayer Journal.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Titus 1:8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, and who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
Philippians 4:6-8 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Psalm 31:14-15 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
Psalm 90:17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.
Isaiah 54:2 Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.
Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Isaiah 54:4 Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
Psalm 131 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. 3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Psalms 107:1-3 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel 11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
1 Chronicles 22:13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.
Revelation 2:17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.
Psalm 68:28 Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.
Did any of these speak to you? Are there Biblical passages that ministered to you this past year?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with the virgin birth as is recorded in the Bible. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a home with a Biblical worldview and have always had some experience with church and reverence for the Bible. I know others are skeptical, though. Sometimes the doubt of the virgin birth is slow and casual. For others, there is a harsh and blatant rejection. “It’s impossible and a stupid idea,” they say. Something akin to Greek mythology. For me, it’s simple. If there is a God, and most people believe in God in a general sense, then why would the Incarnation be an impossibility? I mean, God can do anything.
But I wonder if the wrong question is being asked. It’s not so much about the how as the why. Is the virgin birth of Jesus through Mary necessary? That depends on who we are and who God is. Often doubt of the Virgin birth is not as much about the physical but the spiritual. To accept the Virgin birth is to admit one’s need for the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is a theological term, taken from Latin, simply referring to God taking on flesh. The Incarnation is then a greater miracle than the virgin birth. The apostle John refers to this miraculous conception by noting, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Because the man, Jesus, was not the product of natural conception, he was not marred by the sinful nature passed on from Joseph all the way back to Adam. Jesus went on to live a perfect life which none of us has done. This brings power to his death, burial, and resurrection 33 years later. Because Jesus was and is divine, he was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because he rose from the dead on the third day, he proved his power and divinity. The resurrection of Jesus also confirmed that his sacrifice was sufficient for our sins.
Maybe that’s the real reason people reject virgin birth. To accept it leads to the conclusion that we need the Incarnation; we need God’s forgiveness. Admitting that need means we are not as good as we think we are. We have sinned against a Holy God, and it is only through the grace of His Son, Jesus, born of a virgin, that we can find peace through his sacrifice.
Christmas is many things. Ultimately it is a reminder of the power of the Incarnation. It is a reminder that God, because of his immense love, took on flesh to dwell among us and save us.
The warm Christmas plays and children’s toys are always a good thing. But the real power comes in the reality of God breaking into humanity to save me and all who would come to Him.
That is Christmas, and that is the most excellent news of all.
I’m not a huge baseball fan and was never very good at the sport when I was a kid. But when your home team is in the playoffs and World Series, you’ve got to root for them. So, yes, I was pleased with the Astros’ win over Philadelphia last night. A vital component of the contest was, mostly unheard of, Cristian Javier, from the Dominican Republic, who threw a perfect no-hitter game.
Even while watching the game, I could see how calm and collected Javier was. I also noted that there seemed to be some element of genuine faith in God in his life.
In addition to calmness under fire, much of the commentary about Javier has been about his parents. Apparently, on Tuesday, his mother told Javier that he would throw a no-hitter in the game last night, which is what happened. So the media has picked up on his family commitment. But what was even more impressive, which the media is a bit slow to address, is his devotion to God in his actions and words.
In response to his parent’s proclamation, Javier noted, “I kept my faith in God, and obviously, I knew I had a big commitment today being down 2-1 in the series. And obviously, with my parents being here, I just tried to give my best. Give my family the best that I could.” He also admitted, “It’s funny, my parents told me I was going to throw a no-hitter . . . and, thanks to God, I was able to accomplish that.”
His faith seems to be more than a publicity stunt in the World Series, but something that permeates his whole life. Over a year ago, he was sent back to a practice site, away from the significant action, and instead of complaining, he trusted God. He stated then, “In reality, I didn’t expect it. But I felt everything was normal. I put everything in God my Father’s hands.”
What do I find in the scriptures? That it is God who gives us our ability, whether people admit that or not. For Javier, this is central to who he is, and I hope we can learn something from that young man from the D.R.
Note the number of times Javier references his praise to God.
As I stink at football, I don’t have many temptations to be an armchair quarterback. But sometimes, with self-assurance, I read the Bible and say, “I’d never do that.” When you think about it, the scriptures are full of examples of people doing dumb things and making horrible choices. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge or simple rebellion. Others stumble because of weak faith in the face of tremendous pressure to reject God’s plan.
The other day I was thinking about Jeroboam, the first king of divided Israel after God split it away from Judah, which Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled. The inner cause of the kingdom’s breakup was the sin of Solomon in his later days of rule. So as God elevated Jeroboam to lead the northern kingdom of Israel, He made it clear that He would build an enduring dynasty for Jeroboam if he trusted and followed God.
Sounds excellent and straightforward. The problem arose when the king feared potential political ruin and attempted to fix things with his fleshly wisdom and strategy instead of trusting God.
The chronicler tells us that Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam, king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28). Rehoboam knew the promise of God, but when the pressure was on, he thought he could do a better job.
I want to think I would have acted differently than Jeroboam, that I would have trusted God and remained faithful. But I’m not so sure. The truth is that while I am often clear on God’s promises and the reality of His kingdom and will, my flesh sometimes panics under worldly pressure. Therefore, I must remind myself and listen to the reminding of others of what is true about God and his promises. If Jesus is preeminent above everything and his eternal kingdom, though not completely fulfilled yet, is expanding today, then I ought to be able to trust him and live differently than the world around me.
Instead of “thinking to myself” about ways to control and fix life, I will live in hopeful trust and obedience. Trust and faith affect how I deal with money, work, and relationships. Faith and trust will govern my emotions when doubt closes in on my soul like a San Francisco fog. By conviction and obedience, I will stand steadfast with hope, knowing that God is in control even if I can’t see it.
We can learn from Jeroboam, and I hope we will. We can encourage each other in our walk. We must encourage each other in the fight. We can get back up, repent, press into His grace, and then go forward when we doubt and fall.
Yes, if Jesus is preeminent and his promises are true, if this is so, then we can, and we must live differently. We must live as though this is all so. Though this may force us to make decisions that seem odd to the world around us, the life of trust will pay off, and God always keeps his word, even if not on our timetable.
So be encouraged, my friend; God is trustworthy. It is so!
Honestly, his casual comment annoyed me. I’d expect that sort of quip from an angry atheist or, at best, an honest skeptic who was open to investigation. As we talked about God, the Christian life, and the Church, the man who had just come into my office for some advice blurted out, “The Bible has been translated so many times that you can’t know what God said.” This man is highly educated and trained as an engineer who understands the principle of research before drawing conclusions. But this man is not an atheist. He is a proclaimed Christian, and thus something was off here.
I started to engage him about his statement but quickly assessed that his mind was made up and was not open to other options than the one where he had comfortably arrived. So, I just left him in his quiet rant, knowing I could do no more. But if we’re intellectually honest, we must offer the same rigorous study of Biblical evidence as we do for every other area of exploration. The claims are either true or not. We cannot simply chuck them away with flippancy and still call ourselves serious thinkers.
But the issue is more than the integrity of the Bible; it is also the purpose of the Bible. The eternal transformation, wisdom, and life application for today are in the Bible. For years I have taught about the integrity of the Bible and how it applies to life. But yet, many Christians who intellectually would say they trust the Bible do not read it, or at least with any regularity. In thus neglecting the Bible, they miss out on God’s wisdom. I’ve observed that many questions that people often bring to me are ones they could have answered themselves if they had just systematically read their Bibles. Instead, their Bible sits quitely until it’s needed to prove or disprove a point they’ve already arrived at. In living this way, they miss out.
But the Bible is trustworthy and is practical for today and eternity. Therefore we should be in a regular rhythm of reading and meditating on the Bible. Greater still, we must read it. While there are more, here are six quick reasons why.
Textual Integrity. As I have taught numerous times and written about in the blog, there are solid, scholarly reasons to trust the Bible. In fact, there is more evidence for the veracity of the Bible than any other ancient literature. So we can know that it is reliable. One such post is here.
Availability of the Bible. In short, we CAN read it. I still remember the morning James walked into my dorm room years ago and yelled at me because I had laid my Bible on the floor next to my bed when I went to sleep the previous night. It’s no big deal, I thought. But then it was clear. James came from Southeast Asia, where finding a Bible is rare. Think of all the places on the globe today, like China, Saudi Arabia, or Cuba, where it is almost impossible to find a Bible. You will be imprisoned in some of these places if found with one. So I wonder if we take our Bibles for granted.
Obligation to the Past. We owe it to those who gave all that we might have the text in our native tongue. The New Testament was written in koine Greek, and the Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew with a few portions in Aramaic. Serious translations are taken from the original languages and not the latest translation. The connection here is that over the ages, many highly intelligent scholars took the time to find the oldest manuscripts possible, do the hard work, and translate the ancient sacred text into the world’s mother tongues. Early translators often did this at their own risk, as the authorities wanted to control who had a Bible. One illustration is William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for his work in 1536. I wonder if we’ve taken our Bibles for granted in considering the costs others paid that we might have the text in our language.
Answers for the Questions. We will find answers to give to those who ask. I’ve often heard Christians speak of fearing to share their faith because they may be unable to answer the questions. I get that, and quite honestly, we will never have it all figured out. However, the more time we spend in the Bible, the more we will be able to retain the Bible and give its blessings to others with questions.
Divine Connection. We will come to know God more. It’s like any other relationship. The more we spend time with people, the more we know them. The most significant way to spend time with God is to read His Word.
Life Application and Spiritual Formation. Reading the Bible will change us. The author of Hebrews, writing under divine inspiration, noted that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Maybe the last one is why this man chooses not to put much stock in the Bible. Yes, while the Bible will lead us to God, comfort, and guide us, it will also convict us of sin. In those moments when our spirit and conscience are convicted, we have two options or responses. One is to bow under the conviction, acknowledge and repent of our sin, and follow Christ anew. The other option is to try to eradicate the conviction. Thus, if the Bible convicts us, the easiest option is to attack the credibility of the Bible, and then one can continue to live in rebellion, having thought to secure control and lordship of their life.
Maybe that was the issue for the highly educated man who entered my office looking for advice. The problem wasn’t so much his not knowing the credibility of the Bible but rather his unwillingness to humble himself under the Bible. What about you? If you have a Bible, have you examined the evidence for the sacred text, and are you reading it regularly? What have been some transformative times in your life in connection to the Bible?
I’m back. Recently I finished a Summer Social Media Sabbatical and am returning to the blog. So how was the break, Steve? Well, I’m glad you asked. The first few weeks were hard. However, the disconnect soon became a healthy flow of life. Now, as I’m back in the regular rhythms, I’m finding that my distractions, especially seasons of getting hot and bothered by politics, have simmered down quite a bit. It’s freeing. I can focus more easily.
I know some are called to the political arena. In the Bible, we see this of Joseph in Genesis and of Daniel, the prophet. But I don’t believe I’m either equipped or called personally to politics. More importantly, this unplugged season reminded me of what I know internally; the Kingdom of God rules above the realms of humanity, and there will indeed be a day of reckoning.
The Kingdom of God? It’s something quite mysterious and profound. Indeed, it’s more than casual Christianity. Clearly, it is beyond a religion of mere sin management. It is infinitely more. Jesus used this terminology as a central building block in his teaching. Yes, he came deliberately to give his life as a ransom for many. However, his preeminent proclamation is a wholly transformed reality.
In his first public teaching, Jesus declared with authority: “The time has come the kingdom of God is at hand, Repent and Believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15). The original grammar of that statement is in the perfect tense, implying something that has happened and is continuing to happen. The title, Kingdom of God, is used some 75 times in the New Testament with the highest concentration being in Luke, who wrote to Gentiles. The secondary term, the Kingdom of Heaven, is only used 34 times in the New Testament, with 31 of those occasions being in Matthew, who wrote to Hebrews, showing them that Jesus was the prophesized Messiah.
Is there more than a history lesson here? There is more than you can imagine. Yes, this mysterious Kingdom that Jesus spoke of is a present reality and a future hope. The Kingdom is not one of flesh and blood or the politics of Jerusalem. It is a current reality wherever his children work his will out today. In Luke 17:21, Jesus described it as being within you. There is also the reality of the future, fulfilled Kingdom of his second coming.
Beyond the reality of God’s will being executed by his people in the here and now, the Kingdom also demonstrates the truth that God is still moving in His sovereign providence above the affairs of humanity. Even this morning, in my regular Bible reading, I noted that “the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice” of the enemies of King David, and thus they failed to overthrow God’s plan. There is a mysterious ebb and flow of our free will and God’s providential path toward the fulfillment of everything. Daniel observes that God “deposes kings and raises up others” while Jesus confronted Pilate, who thought he had charge over him, that he “would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
There is hope because God is still on the throne today. Yes, on the one hand, I live as a responsible citizen, as Romans 13 teaches me. But, on the other, I know my higher allegiance is above, and it is from there that my ultimate redemption comes. This dual existence calls me to stand for Jesus regardless of what earthly and temporal authorities do. It also comforts me to know God will have the final say when the curtain of eternity falls upon all.
I am not the first in history to wrestle with this reality and often think of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was hung at Flossenbuerg concentration camp just a month before the conclusion of World War II in Europe. Scripture does teach us that we are to obey the laws of the land unless they specifically contradict God’s will. However, I am rarely forced to disobey God in the West and in America. While governance has and may oppose Christ, I am not prohibited from preaching Christ.
The answer is to remember what I say I believe. The call, above worldly citizenship, is living out the Kingdom of God in the here and now. While it’s easy to type this today, I know there will be occasions when I am tempted to lose focus. I may need the help and prayers of friends. I may need your help. But I know this Kingdom is true. That’s why I named this blog kingdomology back in 2009, and I hope this will be a challenge and encouragement to you as well.
That’s right! I’m heading into an extended summer media fast and thus will be taking a break from the blog. This time of stepping away is not a retreat in the woods, which would be nice, but rather one of setting aside and not engaging in the constant media drama of our day to let my head and heart rest. In addition, I plan to temporarily delete my Facebook app from my cell phone to eliminate any temptation to “check in on things.”
Throughout scripture, we see God’s people deliberately engaging in purposeful sabbath and rest, and Jesus commanded his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake for rest.
While I see social media as a fantastic tool for good, and I try to use it that way, it is clear that far too many of us pick up more stress than needed by worrying about the tensions of humanity rather than resting on the promises of God.
So, I plan to take this time away and use that time for more direct prayer and planning for the fall.
What about you? Where is your heart and head in the mix of our constant 24/7 media craze of the day? How will you respond?
Be blessed, everyone, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this hot summer.