Monday, October 31, 2011

A kingdom in the world Matthew 23:34-46

I know I am posting backwards but hey it's a blog.

Christians believe that God's building a kingdom. It's already here and seen in the acts of mercy that God's people show to one another; but the second you think you can grab onto the kingdom and hold onto it it slips from your hands.

Many people today say they believe in the coming of God's kingdom and even that their lives are meant to be part of it; but today I'd encourage you to think in specific about where in your life the kingdom of God is breaking in. It's easy to give a vague answer to this question; but God's kingdom isn't growing in vague ways in our lives. God's kingdom is real, not imaginary. It grows as we start to wrestle with the biggest questions about what belongs to God and what belongs to us.

George Barna writes about the difference between vision and mission. All Christians have a vague place in the mission of God's kingdom; but there are specific places and times in our lives when we are meant to serve God. Barna explains,

Getting beyond mission to vision is where the rubber meets the road, and getting beyond vision to execution is where transformation becomes a reality.

Barna's a Christian and sociologist who studies how faith and religion take shape in people's lives. Over the years he's uncovered the challenges that face believers today and he's right: God given visions have power to move people for the sake of the Kingdom.

Knowing that we need grand visions and purposes that are close at hand, and knowing that often times we have to start small and close by before we really see the big “great and holy quest” it's really tough to watch people get stuck and sit doing nothing.

Some people get trapped in their quest for comforts and pleasures. The prophets named the lesser gods that so many people chase after first. Some who start to understand that the coming of the kingdom of God will move them to do new things get stuck in fear worried about what to do or what they’ll need. Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34named the fears and uncertainties that trap many and declared a promise that God will provide.

The key here is faith: both leading in faith and living in faith. Trouble is faith isn’t transferable; it’s a gift of God freely given at God’s choice through the work of the Holy Spirit. If church leaders could just give away faith it would be easy, but this isn’t something that humans can do alone. Hebrews 11 makes the case for what faith can do: the faith of Abraham stepping out on a Journey started a nation, the faith of Moses going back to Egypt saved a nation. A willingness to follow a vision starts with a step of faith in God.

Anyone who needs a broad mandate could read Matthew 22:34-40. Jesus says Agape love God and agape love your neighbors. Or Matthew 28:18-20 here is direction to go. These are the mandates, but not the specifics. Faith is the key to stepping out after God’s call. Some people are blessed to see it so clearly; to see the place that they are called to go and live out this mission; others are struggling searching to find their way to serve; and some are still lost in Babylon. The best response is to seek God’s advice in scripture and prayer. Discern God’s will, seek his counsel not vaguely but specifically looking for the great and noble cause that he is calling each person too.

May God give us clarity to see the place where we can serve for the sake of His coming kingdom.
Thanks for reading, Peace to you , John

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

you belong to... Matthew 22:15-22

I write today remembering my uncle, Ben Thoma. He died yesterday. Talking with my aunt today I'm reminded what a great life he had introducing modern people to the natural world as a biologist and naturalist. My cousin Ed wrote of him today. I have great memories sitting on the bench seat in the pick up bouncing along washboard quality dirt roads in Itasca State Park with Ben listening to his strong opinions and seeing the way life worked in the world.


There's a question in our gospel reading about what belongs to who and what doesn't belong. Earth bound people worry about earth bound stuff. And we wonder what really belongs to God and what really belongs to this earth. We make pictures for ourselves of God's Son Jesus as a loving and comforting man who helps us in this world of questions and uncertainty. There's truth to this image, Jesus loved and comforted sick and downtrodden people. Many in Israel loved him. Crowds hung on his words and sought him out to heal the sick. Clearly Jesus loved and comforted many. The popular picture's true, but incomplete. Jesus, healer and comforter engaged in a full on battle for His life; and in the fullness of time he was battling for the life of all who would come to faith in Him.

Powerful people conspired against him. And Jesus matched their doubting words with his own questions. The powerful came to test him seeking blasphemy against God or treachery against Rome in his words. Other powers in the universe were in on the conspiracy. The humans involved were unwitting co-conspiritorse. They just wanted Jesus silenced...

... the Pharisees met together to think of a way to trap Jesus into saying something for which they could accuse him. 16 They decided to send some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to ask him this question: “Teacher, we know how honest you are. You teach about the way of God regardless of the consequences. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. 17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to the Roman government or not?”

18 But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Whom are you trying to fool with your trick questions? 19 Here, show me the Roman coin used for the tax.” When they handed him the coin, 20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.” 22 His reply amazed them, and they went away. Matthew 22:15-22. NLT
A complete picture of Jesus shows He is comforter, healer, protector, and more. Jesus battled the devil not just the Chief Priest, Herodians, and Pharisees. He matched human words with his own. His earthly opponents needed one slip to trip him up and catch him. His earthly opponents saw a quick way to get rid of him finally turning the crowds against him. The devil wanted nothing less. The real battle was on. All the powers of darkness had to do was see it through, let Jesus die, be rid of him. Those in power on earth weren't even aware of who was doing what. The devil saw Jesus humanity and missed the divinity. Luther likened it to a fish that swallowed a hook.
For the hook, which is the divinity of Christ, was concealed under the earthworm. The devil swallowed it with his jaws when Christ died and was buried. But it ripped his belly so that he could not retain it but had to disgorge it.24 He ate death for himself. This affords us the greatest solace; for just as the devil could not hold Christ in death, so he cannot hold us who believe in Christ. Martin Luther, vol. 22, Luther's Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, page 24.
The earthly debate in Matthew 22:19-21 might have been about a coin and taxes; but the real battle was for souls and eternity. The Good News is that Christ won and by faith all who believe belong to him forever. AMEN.