Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seek first his Kingdom: What's a Kingdom?

A couple of months ago I watched Queen Elizabeth’s coronation which took place in 1953.  When she was crowned, they read off the names of the different commonwealths that were connected to England.  It was quite a formidable list stretching across many different continents:  India, South Africa, Australia, Canada, as well as many others. The reality was that at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, England ruled much of the known world.

When we think of the word "kingdom" our minds often go to the earthly kings and their rule. It’s easy to do; from Princess Diana to Kate and William, we are a curious people.  But, at the end of the day, they are just regular people like the rest of us.  The power that they rule with is an earthly power that has only limited authority.  There is still something so much bigger that can capture our attention and totally change our life if we pay attention.
That something bigger is the Kingdom of God.  When Jesus came to earth, he spent his first few weeks telling people, “The Kingdom of God is near.”  In fact, after his baptism and his time in the desert immediately following it, the next thing he did was go to his region of Galilee and begin to exclaim, “The time has come.  The Kingdom of God is near.” 

It was in that initial proclamation that he found his first four disciples; three of them becoming the key disciples that he drew nearest to himself:  Peter, John and James.  I guess my question is, “What was so compelling that they were willing to get up and walk away from their daily life to follow Jesus?”
Their following wasn’t a long drawn out discernment process, either.  Mark tells us that Peter and his brother Andrew left their nets “at once” and followed him.  He continues that John and James literally left their father and the hired men in the boat and followed Jesus. Can you just picture the scene?  They just got up and left. . ..leaving the people behind them scratching their head wondering what just happened.

Mark doesn’t make us wait long to find out what they were being called to discover.  The next part of the story involves Jesus taking his new friends to a synagogue in Capernaum where a demonic spirit confronted Jesus right in the middle of the church service.  Can’t you just see it?  He yells out, “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus tells him, “Be Quiet!” (after all don’t you know we are in the middle of the church service!) and Come out of him.  The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.  

Needless to say, that wasn’t any old church service.  It created quite a buzz and soon people all over the region had heard about this new person named Jesus.
Right after the rather exciting church service they went to Peter’s house where he was hosting a party for his friends to meet his new friend Jesus.  But, when they got there, it turned out that the cook of the party was sick with a very high fever.  So, Jesus took Peter and Andrew into her room and when he touched her, the fever left immediately.  She was well enough to get up and cook the dinner.

Within hours, the line of people to see Jesus was intense.  People came from all over to bring their sick and demon possessed family and friends to see Jesus. They had heard about his power to cast out demons and heal the sick, so they came running.
It’s at this point, that I want to stop and ask the question, “Is this our regular experience?” 

When we engage our life with Jesus, is it typical to see displays of God’s power taking place? 
Do we leave our experiences so breathless with wonder that we can’t but help tell those around us about it?

I can tell you that the times in my life that I have been most excited about sharing Jesus with others is when I saw the Kingdom of God at work.  Sometimes it revolves around healing, other times it is through times of worship where we sense that Jesus is literally right there, other times it comes through being part of something that is so beyond myself and those that I am with, that I know that God had to do it.
I love to remember the time that we were at Occidental Square hosting a party for the poor and disenfranchised that live in the area, or spend their time hanging out on the Square.  That morning when I was praying and asking the Lord how we were to prepare for the day, I sensed him tell me, “Go to the four corners and anoint them.  Declare that the Square is mine and remind the devil that he has not part in it.  It is my holy sanctuary.”

I took a couple of people with me to do just that when we arrived.  But, then things got busy and I basically forgot about what we had done.  Not too long after we started, my nephew and his wife came and told me that there was a Satan worshipper present and he told them that he was there to win souls for Satan.  They wanted to pray him off the property, but I suggested that we pray for his salvation instead.

They did it rather reluctantly and skeptically, but we prayed.  Amazingly, a Russian evangelist showed up and began to preach.  When he gave an invitation to meet Jesus, David the Satan Worshipper went forward.  He kept telling us that he was in shock.  He believed he would die for his choice, but not only didn’t he die but by the time we met him the next morning at 7 a.m., he had brought two people to meet Jesus.
He told us that morning, “The strangest thing happened when I walked on the Square. I didn’t have my powers.”

There is it: the Rule and Reign of the Kingdom of God in action.
When the Kingdom of God is present, all the earthly and demonic powers are bound and they have no room to work.  That which is heavenly comes to earth, very often with stunning displays of power.  Sometimes, however, it comes invisibly and affects an area almost by surprise.  We hardly know what is happening until one day we realize that change has come and the area is different; it is filled with life and health.

But, if it comes in great power or in silent ways, the reality is that it comes as we partner with God to see it come.  I wonder what would have happened that day at Occidental Square if I had ignored the Lord’s direction and not anointed the four corners and declared it was God’s territory.  Would David the Satan worshipper turned Jesus follower?
I wonder what would happen if we hadn’t established a healing prayer ministry where headaches, back problems, cancer and relational challenges get healed. 

I wonder if people would continue to get healing from their hurts, habits and hang-ups if we didn’t commit ourselves in Missio Lux to showing up weekly to host a recovery ministry? 
I wonder if the people in the nursing home and assisted living would sleep as well or be as healthy if we didn’t go there on a regular basis and provide worship experiences combined with prayer for healing. 

Here’s the important thing we need to remember. When Jesus began to display the Kingdom of God in action, he didn’t do it alone.  He didn’t do a single miracle or teach a single lesson until he had recruited at least four friends to do it with him.
It hasn’t changed.  Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God, but he came to do it in a partnership with his friends.  And, he tells us in John that “we are his friends if we do what he tells us.  And, since we are his friends, he tells us everything he learned from his father, and teaches us to do them too.” (John 15:14-16)

Seek first his kingdom.  That’s a core teaching of Jesus.  It helps us to set the priority to live life in the great adventure with him, both in the big displays of power and in the simple acts of life that impact the world with his rule.  And, when we do live from the kingdom first priority, we discover that everything else in our lives works, all the worries and cares of life fade into the background because suddenly we have a new, compelling priority from which to live.
So, how do we get started? 

Read the Gospels.  Start with Mark.  I love how many times he uses the word, “immediately,” there isn’t a lot of waiting around wondering what’s going to happen.
Come to the first Identity Seminar on October 8th where I will be teaching, leading experiences and praying for identity breakthroughs.

Continue to open your eyes and ask God to show you his kingdom at work.   Watch and listen attentively to where he may be asking you to be the one that he is calling you to partner with him to bring it forth.
Set your alarm to go off at 10:02* and pray with other kingdom minded people for God to raise up the harvesters to harvest the harvest!  Jesus tells us “Open up your eyes for the fields are ripe and ready.”

Oh, I need to go now, I see some fields that need some attention . . .

*Jesus’ call to pray:  Luke 10:02

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seeking the Treasure

Do you remember the epic movie “The Titanic?” It took the box office by storm; some people seeing it up to 9 to 10 times. Why? What was the attraction of that movie? First, it was a wonderful romantic story of the underdog winning the heart affection of the rich and beautiful woman. But, layered on top of that story is the current day story of the search for the treasure at the bottom of the sea.

Layered on top of the romance is the search of the Titanic, people investing millions of their own capital to find the Titanic that lies on the bottom of the ocean. Why? Because they know that a treasure awaited them. They were looking for the jewel that Cal gave to his finance, Rose. It was called the Heart of the Ocean. But, even more they were looking for the hidden stories of the ship: desiring to know that which was currently hidden from them. They realized down below was a treasure that they were willing to invest their life in discovering.

If Jesus was telling stories today, I believe he would also talk about the Titantic. He was a great teacher who knew how to take that which was culturally relevant to the people and make a spiritual concept simple yet profound. The culture was primarily agricultural so Jesus used a lot of farming illustrations in his teaching.

Matthew, one of his disciples, wrote down a lot of Jesus’ teachings and called them the Sermon on the Mount. He also dispersed teaching on the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) throughout his book. One of those teachings is this:

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field.” Matthew 13:44

Jesus first invitation to us is to “Seek first his Kingdom….” What does it mean to seek? As I’ve delved deeper into the meaning of the word, I’ve realized that it is just this story about the treasure in the field. To seek is to search with everything we have to find the treasure. To seek is to search relentlessly until we find it. To seek is to give our whole lives to find it. And, to seek is to know that when we’ve found it, we will continue to give everything we have to live enjoying the treasure.

This is the challenge I see in our ability to seek first God’s Kingdom. The world is structured in such a way to take us in the exact opposite of that pursuit. We become consumed with the last line of Matthew 6:33: “and all these things shall be added unto you.” If you look at the context of the sixth chapter of Matthew, we find that the “all things” are about our earthly needs: verse 25 says “Do not worry about your life what you will eat or drink.” Verse 28 speaks of our clothes, telling us not to worry about what we will wear.

Before the theme of not worrying comes up, Jesus tells us that no one can serve two masters: either we will store up treasures in heaven or we will store up treasures on earth. It seems that Jesus tells us that we can’t serve two masters: if we do, we are divided people that will continue to live a frustrated life.

I think I know what you are going to say now: Jesus just doesn’t know how your life is right now. It’s hard to navigate searching for the treasure of the kingdom when you have so many demands on your time between your spouse, your children, your employer, your venders….it goes on and on. Besides the fact that we are never really able to get away from the demands because our cell phones, emails, texts keep us connected 24/7.

But, in reality, in comes down to the choice. Our choice. What’s more important to us? Where do we put our belief system? Who really provides for us? Is it our employer or is it our Heavenly Father? Bill and I have had the reality check 7 times that our employer is a fickle boss: with one decision, a company can be sold and our lives and the lives of all the other employees instantly becomes different. It helps us to remember who provides for us when our earthly boss changes course so easily.

If we choose to believe that our Heavenly Father is our provider, it changes our perspective. Suddenly, we understand that he has a different priority for us than our employers. He wants to lead us to the life worth living, the abundant life that Jesus speaks of. And, as we establish his priorities first, then he provides for our physical and earthly needs.

It seems simple, but it takes an intentional decision to change our mind on who leads us. I think that most of us want to believe that we do follow our heavenly Father first, but if we dig deep, we find that our behavior speaks differently.

Take this simple test:

 1. When you prioritize your day, is there time for your own space to let down and time to give God     your full attention?

2. On your day off, if you are faced with an important email to write or spending time reading your Bible, which one do you choose?

3. If you get a text or a phone call during your time with the Lord, do you ignore it or do you check it and contact them back?

4. If your friend, neighbor, family member, calls or comes over unexpectantly and needs help, how do you respond?

I could write on and on, but you get the idea. Who’s got your attention?

Pay attention this week to your thought patterns, your choices and your behavior. Filter it through the lense of the “Seek” word that means “Search for it like a treasure buried in a field,” something worth giving everything we have to obtain.

And, then decide: what are you seeking? What are you giving the “everything you have to?” Is it worth it?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflections on the Kingdom of God: the Adventure Begins"

Over and over this summer, the Lord has brought me back to the invitation to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be given to me.”  Jesus taught this principle in the very famous Sermon on the Mount, which is found in the fifth through seventh chapter of Matthew.  This verse is found at the end of the sixth chapter, in the middle of the whole teaching (Matt 6:33).

In seminary they used to say, “You are reading someone else’s mail” when you read the Bible.  What they were describing is the necessity to understand the historical and cultural contexts of what we read to get the full picture of what is taking place.

Last night I found a letter written from Bill’s Mom to me.  As I read it, I looked for a date on it because I wanted to understand the context in which she was writing me.  Was it right after we were married, or was it several years later?  When I found the date, I knew, it was the first letter that she wrote me after we got married, and we were seeking to form a relationship for the first time.

This is also how we need to approach Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon of the Mount.  We can ask questions, such as:  Who was his audience? Where is it placed in Matthew’s Gospel?  Why is this placement important? 

Beginnings and endings are also important because they indicate a greater importance of attention.  When themes are repeated this should also cause us to give greater focus to it as it is there to emphasize the seriousness in which Jesus wants us to hear his thoughts.
If you remember, John the Baptist came before Jesus to prepare the way for Jesus.  He spent his life calling people to repentance through an act of baptism.  The regular Jewish people were responding, the soil of their inner lives were being prepared to receive Jesus and to hear what he had to say.  

So, my guess is that when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, he had a lot of seeking Jewish people in his audience.  (Most commentators believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a compilation of the teaching that Jesus often taught, it wasn’t a one time event).  He also had a number of the Jewish leaders:  the Pharisees and the Sadducees, in the audience.  Perhaps he even had a few Gentile seekers, although their numbers would be sparse because of the open hostilities between the two groups.

Matthew is very intentional for where he places the Sermon on the Mount in his writings.  The first four chapters involve a lot of action: they start with the geneology of Jesus’ family line, his prophesied birth and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the visit from the Wise Men, the family’s escape to Egypt and their eventual return to Nazareth.  The third chapter opens with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus’ coming by calling out, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  One day, John was visited by Jesus where he asked John to baptize him.  John was surprised by the request, but when he baptized Jesus, the heavens opened and the dove descended on Jesus while everyone heard the Father’s pronouncement: “This is my beloved son in whom I delight.”  Father, Son and Spirit all present at one time.

Immediately, Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days.   It is through Jesus spoken word of Scripture that he was able to defeat the enemy’s scheme to lead him into sin.  The Father was pleased and after the Devil’s final defeat, Jesus left and began to proclaim, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

This was the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus, their key idea that they continued to proclaim throughout their entire ministries.  The Sermon on the Mount is the teaching for how we are live out Jesus’ call to us, as his disciples, to
“seek his kingdom first!”

Since both Jesus’ and John the Baptist told the people to “repent, “ I think it’s important for us to be clear on what repentance is and how we walk it out.   Repenting is a process of turning around and going another direction with our lives:  to understand that God has a way that is best and to make the decision to live in alignment with his way.  Repentance involves first and foremost, a changing of our mind about how we live.  The more that we align our lives with God’s way, the more that we experience his kingdom operating through us.

So, what exactly is God’s kingdom?  Is it an actual place with a castle and a throne?  Not exactly, it is wherever God’s rule and reign operates:  so if we are living with God as our king and following his rule in us, the kingdom is present.  In a sense, it is the very thing that Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer:  “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as it already is in heaven.”  We have the opportunity to see heaven come to earth as we seek first God’s kingdom in our lives.”

I am going to spend the better part of this year exploring the theme of the kingdom of God and how we can follow Jesus’ invitation to “Seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and seeing all the other cares of life come into right alignment as a result.”

I look forward to the journey, I hope you will come along with me as together we discover the treasure of life in God’s kingdom!

Friday, September 2, 2011

“Walking through Disappointment and Uncertainty with Hope”

Have you ever encountered a situation where there doesn’t seem to be a good way through it?  Have you ever felt disoriented about a direction that life seems to be going that it causes you to feel like you are losing your solid footing?  Have you ever been disappointed about a relationship or a job or a dream that seemed to be leading one way but suddenly turned around and went the opposite direction?

I hope that you can answer yes to at least one of these questions, although I suspect that most of us can say yes to all three of them.  Many of us want to run from situations that cause these questions, but I am finding that if we can embrace the challenge, we are given the opportunity to know God’s heart for us.  We experience his faithfulness in the midst of confusion and the reality of miraculous breakthroughs that leave us in awe and wonder.
The Bible over and over tells us to walk in hope.  The love chapter 1st Corinthians 13 ends with this statement:  “Three things remain:  faith, hope and love.”  Romans 12:12 calls us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”   Romans 15:13 prays, “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.”

So, what is hope and how it is different than faith?

The definition of faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.

The definition of hope is to cherish a desire of anticipation and to desire with expectation of obtainment.  Hope is a continuing desire and expectation that God is trustworthy and he will bring forth the breakthrough of his purposes.

In a nutshell, faith leads us to belief in God and hope leads us to trust in God and his character!

We start with faith, a foundation of belief.  When times of uncertainty and disappointment come forth, this is the time to hold onto hope:  continuing to desire the breakthrough with an expectation that it will come in God’s perfect timing.

I have found two Scriptures to be helpful in the reality of walking out a life of hopefulness, despite the uncertainty of the circumstances surrounding me.  The first is from the Old Testament:  a Psalm written by David when he had been captured by the Philistines.  If anybody needed hope, David did in that moment.

This is what he wrote:  (Psalm 56)
2:  Oh Most High, when I am afraid, 3: I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can mere people do to me?
8: You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in a bottle.  Are they not in your record?
9: Then my enemies will retreat in the day that I call.  This I know that God is for me. 
10: In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise.
11: In God I trust; I am not afraid, what can mere people do to me?
12: My vows to you I must perform, Oh God, I will render thank offerings to you.
13: For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

The second passage is from the New Testament:  a letter written by the Apostle Paul, who knew much about hope.  He lived daily in hope, knowing that God had the ability and desire to fulfill his promises to Paul.
Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

These two Scriptures give us direction on how to maintain hope in the midst of uncertainty, suffering, and disappointment, as well as warfare:

1.     Call on God—put your attention on God and not the challenge before us
2.    Out of the discipline of your will, thank him for the challenge (this causes the enemy to run from us.  Psalm 56:9)
3.    Remember what he has done in the past and speak it out loud
4.    Praise God for his trustworthy character and his continual love for you (Romans 5:5 is a continual ongoing pouring of his love that never stops, even for a second)
5.    Speak out his promises from his Word
6.    Call out prophetic words and promises spoken over us
7.    Persevere in hope, keeping your focus on Jesus and his ability and desire to bring the breakthrough

If you look at these two Scriptures we realize that God is responsible for his part and we are responsible for our part.  God’s part is to bring forth the breakthrough, in David’s case, to break out from the Philistines, and in Paul’s case it is to save him as he is let down a wall through a basket to escape his enemies.  Our part is to take a posture of faith and hope, and to develop a mindset that is focused on God’s character and power to bring us through the fire.  We also have the invitation to experience God’s love through every trial we encounter.

So, take a moment and think about a challenge that you are walking through right now.  What are your thoughts surrounding it? Do you find yourself creating different scenarios of how it could play out, or are you focusing on God’s ability to bring the hopeful answer?  Your answer to this question will tell you much about where your trust lies:  is it in God or an earthly solution?

The thing is that we serve a God who is in the business of bringing heavenly solutions to earthly dilemmas.  The best way that we build our faith and hope muscles is to actually walk out challenges that are inevitable in life.

Here is a prayer that Paul wrote to the church of Ephesus.  Today it is my prayer for you:

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
20-21God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

When we choose to live a life of intentional faith and hope, we are given the prize:  the experience of the fullness of the Father’s love for his beloved children.  Can life be any better than that?

Three things remain:  faith, hope and love. But, the greatest of these is love!