Tag Archives: kingdom of God

What Happens When We Choose to Be Learners

Some of the most fascinating people are individuals who – long after graduation from degree programs – remain curious thinkers and eager learners. Others may never have pursued formal education, yet they exhibit a deep desire to learn about the world around them. People who have a thirst to learn somehow seem youthful whatever their actual age. 

Sometimes there is a temptation to value the role of teachers above the worth of being willing learners. Yet we are all called to be teachable. Jesus said we must become childlike – like little kids – to enter the kingdom of heaven. When we are teachable, we come with simple, trusting hearts, ready to gain insight from another. 

Yet beyond the value of having a teachable spirit is the honor we give other people when we demonstrate that we recognize they have something to teach us. Recently a colleague was speaking to a gentleman who is a youth pastor but who also provides powerful creative experiences in worship services. This man is someone who, because of his race, has not always encountered respect from other people. My colleague simply told him that he had a lot to teach, and that other people, including herself, had a lot to learn from him. His reaction was powerful; he was deeply moved. 

When we encounter people who have been disrespected, when we show ourselves quietly willing to learn from them, we honor their gifts, abilities, and calling, and we also humble ourselves by showing that we are glad to be led by them into deeper knowledge of the kingdom of God. You and I communicate by our posture that someone is a worthy leader from whom we happily gain wisdom. 

Our global family of faith is stronger and more flexible when we are willing to sit at each others’ feet. More importantly, it makes the heart of God smile. 

Shouldering Your Cross

God desires to be in relationship with you, a relationship that is more than a weekly ritual or something you do at a distance. God wants all of you. God wants the kind of commitment that compels you to be in the thick of things, to do whatever it takes in order that God might work in you and through you. That’s the kind of dedication that accepts no excuses—a whole-life commitment.  

The Via Dolorosa, which means “the way of the cross,” is in the old city of Jerusalem. It is basically unchanged since the day Jesus walked it, carrying his cross to the place of his execution. The Via Dolorosa is made up of winding narrow streets and is filled with vendors who hawk their wares just as they did in Jesus’ time.  

When I was thirteen, I visited Jerusalem, and we followed the Way of the Cross. It was a surreal experience for me. I noticed all the signs along the way proclaiming that this was the way that Jesus took to the cross; yet people were going about their business, carrying groceries, kids playing in the street. At the time of my visit, the execution site itself overlooked a bus station. It was loud and smelly. As I walked, I thought, Does anybody really get it? Does anyone really understand what it means to walk the way of the cross?” 

That question is as real for me now as it was thirty years ago, because that’s Jesus’ invitation to each of us. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). Following Jesus involves sacrifice; it can be painful, because the kingdom of Jesus is ruled not from a throne but from a cross. So many people hear this message, but so few act on it. Those who do act change the world.  

The apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:19). It’s not about following at a distance; it’s about a whole life commitment. Paul said, “I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  

I will do whatever it takes so that God can work in me and through me. I will do anything, even when there’s pain, even when it feels as though God is nowhere to be found, even when the diagnosis is not good, even when my spouse walks out, even when . . . I will walk side by side; I will give everything I have, because Jesus gave me everything he is. In his letter to the Roman church, Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Moving into the light takes passion. It’s about blood, sweat, and tears. The fire can be hot and the journey long. But it is the journey to which our Lord Jesus calls us; and it is a journey that provides immense rewards, both now and into eternity.  

I pray that you would continue to follow Jesus, up close and in the thick of thingsWill you single-mindedly give your all to God and experience the victory of God’s whole life commitment for you?  

In her famous play-cycle, The Man Born to Be King, written for the BBC, Dorothy Sayers wrote: 

[The disciples] had seen the strong hands of God twist the crown of thorns into a crown of glory, and in hands as strong as that they knew themselves safe. They had misunderstood practically everything Christ had ever said to them, but no matter: the thing made sense at last, and the meaning was far beyond anything they had dreamed. They had expected a walkover, and they beheld a victory; they had expected an earthly Messiah, and they beheld the Soul of Eternity (from The Man Born to Be King, in “The Triumph of Easter,” by Dorothy L. Sayers, as cited in Christianity Today, Vol. 41, No. 4). 

I pray that in following Jesus, you will come to know the joy of his victory; that in carrying your cross as he did, you will experience new life as he did; that in standing close, you will behold the Soul of Eternity. 

Becoming Kingdom People: The Shape of the Beatitudes

What do Kingdom people look like? Kingdom people come in different shapes and sizes, have different gifts and passions; they follow by leaving home and by staying put. But Kingdom people have several important things in common, and the Beatitudes offer several aspects of Kingdom people that are worth noting.  

Kingdom people seek to live their lives in sync with God and thus receive God’s blessing. They are poor in spirit, recognizing their intense need for God, understanding that they are not self-sufficient and therefore putting their whole trust in God. Kingdom people experience mourning, yet they are also blessed with Christ’s healing comfort and peace. They understand that the deeper the love, the deeper the loss—and in that same moment they recognize that it was with the deepest love of all that Jesus offered himself up for them. Kingdom people hunger and thirst for righteousness, working for the full realization of God’s kingdom in the world. They are merciful, extending forgiveness to others because they know forgiveness is crucial to God’s justice, and because they’re always aware of how much they’ve been forgiven. Kingdom people know that true children of God are peacemakers. They act as radical agents of love, which requires courage in a world whose foundation is force.  

When they are persecuted, Kingdom people continue to have hope, receiving God’s blessing, which provides them comfort in the midst of suffering. They understand that their lives are lived in God’s hand. They understand that God ultimately has won the victory, and they will share in God’s reward. Not all Kingdom people experience persecution, but they all align themselves with those who do, with those who suffer, and they work to alleviate that suffering and end that persecution.

Kingdom people are humble; they are meek and lowly and gentle. That’s a particularly difficult and challenging aspect of following in the Jesus way, and it is particularly significant in these times in which we find ourselves. The world doesn’t reward meekness; that isn’t an attribute that usually gets us to the top. Being gentle and lowly doesn’t usually get a person very much.

Jesus knew this when he talked about a particular experience he had at a dinner at which he was a guest. When Jesus arrived, he noticed that everyone was trying to get the best seat in the house. Everyone was intent on getting as close to the head of the table as possible. This observation prompted him to explain that we look at life backwards. We calculate that getting a better seat will aid us in advancing up the ladder of success—it will add to our honor. Jesus turns our assumptions around because he wants us to think as Kingdom people. He wants us to look at life from the perspective of the future of God’s kingdom back into the present. In talking about his dinner experience, he says, “If you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t always head for the best seat…Do this instead—sit at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place than this for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. “For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored” (Luke 14:8, 10-11, NLT). Jesus wants us to think about our place at the table in light of God’s will and purpose.

If we are Kingdom people, if we are following in the Jesus way, then we will think about what the Kingdom is going to be like—a place where those who have humbled themselves will be honored and those who have honored themselves in the kingdom of this world will be humbled. The idea of humbling ourselves now is a challenging notion, because we are often confused by our concept of self-esteem. We confuse humility, being humble or gentle or lowly, with low self-esteem. Humility is about accurate esteem, it is about Kingdom esteem. Humility involves understanding that our worth is not estimated by the world’s calculations—that is, where we sit at the table. God’s math is much fuzzier—our worth is calculated not from our place at the table but from our place in God’s heart.

We are God’s beloved creatures. We are made in God’s image, paid for with the very life of God. We are creatures of unimaginable value, not because of our own merits—where we sit at the table, what we’ve accomplished, or how successful we are—but because we belong to God. God loves us unconditionally and without end, and understanding that fact is what God-esteem—Kingdom-esteem—is all about.

Kingdom-esteem leads to humility, because it involves recognizing that it’s not about us, it’s about what God has done for us. Humility doesn’t simply involve what we think of ourselves. It is intimately connected to what we think about others, how we esteem them and relate to them, and how we show them hospitality. Hospitality in the Jesus way entails showing love to those who can’t give us anything in return. Jesus said the crucial issue is not that we open our hearts and lives to folks who can repay us (see Luke 14:12); anybody can do that (Luke 6:33). The crucial issue is how we behave toward those who can do nothing for us (Luke 6:35; 14:13).

Kingdom people, those who are following in the Jesus way, don’t just open their hearts to those who can later provide them with some sort of benefit. They do not focus only on those who can show hospitality in return. Kingdom people show hospitality to everyone, particularly those who can do nothing in return. If we are following Jesus side by side, we’ll be practicing fuzzy math rather than calculating things from the world’s perspective.

Kindness, love, hospitality toward those who can do something in return will certainly reap rewards right now. That kind of behavior will more than likely add up to our increased success. But love, concern, support, solidarity with those who can do nothing for us will reap even greater rewards for eternity. 

Following in the Jesus way involves humility—an accurate sense of our Kingdom-esteem. Joy can be ours when we place Christ at the center of our hearts and live as Kingdom people, following Jesus side by side, reversing the world’s take on happiness and experiencing the deep and everlasting blessing that the world can never give nor take away.

How might you be living out of the world’s understanding of blessedness, rather than Jesus’ understanding of blessedness? 

Our spirituality is “whatever we desire most.” How does that description fit your life? What have you ordered your life around so far—what do you desire most?

What might have to change in your life if you were to begin doing whatever is necessary to put God at the very center of your life, to put yourself at the very center of God’s will?  

How has your understanding of humility had an impact upon your behavior toward others? How might your behavior change?


Spirituality the Jesus Way

The Latin American Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino described spirituality as a profound motivation; he said that it’s about instincts, intuitions, longings and desires—both within nature and in our culture—that move us, inspire us and shape us, inform and fill our decisions and actions. That definition of spirituality—“profound motivation”—connects with Jesus’ words to us to seek the kingdom of God first, and everything else will be added (see Matthew 6:33).

Our spirituality is whatever we desire most. Whatever we strive for, whatever motivates us, drives us, moves us to select one thing over another; whatever primary shaping forces are in our life, that’s our spirituality.

Following in the Jesus way is about recognizing that Jesus calls us to a particular type of spirituality, a way of life that’s shaped by seeking and finding God’s presence in our life, doing whatever is necessary to put God at the very center of our lives, to put ourselves at the very center of God’s will. When we do that, we experience deep, abiding, life-changing, life-marking joy—not because we’ve earned it or achieved it, not because of chance or circumstance, but because it already exists. God’s blessedness is already there, and we experience it when we seek God’s kingdom. Jesus promised that when we seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first, everything else will be added. That adds up to a type of happiness the world can’t give or take away.

The biggest challenge for Christ followers who seek to follow Jesus side by side rather than at a distance is the implicit question of the Beatitudes: Will we yield ourselves totally to Jesus?  

Will we allow him to shape our lives and give us happiness, joy, and blessedness, or will we continue to seek happiness by following the direction of the world?

When we yield ourselves to Jesus, following in the Jesus way—up close, in the thick of things, not at a distance and in the shadows—we experience the deep joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. We become Kingdom people.  


The Surprise of the Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. / Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. / Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. / Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. / Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. / Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. / Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. / Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. / Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. / Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)

The Beatitudes are helpful to us because they highlight the contrast between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of our world. This contrast is crucial for our understanding because following Jesus side by side places us in sharp contrast with the world around us. As Peter was recognized to be a disciple of Jesus by the light of the fire, following in the Jesus way shines the light of blessedness on us, distinguishing us from our culture and making us recognizable as Christ followers.

The first thing to notice about the Beatitudes is that Jesus didn’t actually say them in the way we are used to hearing them. In the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, and the Greek in which Jesus’ words were written, the verb “are” is not present in the Beatitudes; that word was used to render his words into English.

Rather than statements— “Blessed are the poor in spirit”—Jesus gave us exclamations: “O the blessedness of the meek!”  

This is important, because the Beatitudes aren’t statements about what might be, or about what could be. They are exclamations about what is. Jesus is announcing the privilege that is ours, to share with God in joy, to share the very blessedness that fills God’s heart. The New Living Translation uses the action word “blesses” rather than the adjective “blessed,” which helps us understand the “is-ness”—the present tense action—of what Jesus is saying. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!  

The blessedness that God offers is ours now, not in some future time. Jesus is announcing the present reality of God’s blessing right now, in the present tense. (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, by William Barclay; The Westminster Press, 1975; pages 88–89). These blessings, available right now, are quite a surprise when we consider what the world tells us affords blessing.

The world would have us believe that righteous, merciful ways of living are weak. The world would have us believe that mourning leads to unhappiness. In contrast, Jesus proclaims that meekness, humility, and persecution, rather than being sources of unhappiness or misery, are actually sources of spiritual giftedness. That is the surprise of the Beatitudes—what appears to be a source of unhappiness, turns out to be a source of joy and blessedness. 

And Now We Begin

Now that we’ve celebrated God’s decision to put on flesh and bone and move into the neighborhood, we’re left with the question, what do we do now?

How do we follow this one who entered the suffering of humanity? How do we follow this one who proclaimed that the kingdom of God is at hand? E. Stanley Jones provides an excellent answer, especially in this season of New Year’s resolutions.

How do we begin and where?

We can’t wait till everyone is ready…we must begin with ourselves. “Religion that doesn’t begin with the individual doesn’t begin, but if it ends with the individual it ends.”

I suppose we must go out and begin to think and act as though the Kingdom were already here. And as far as we are concerned it will be already here. That means that if we are to think and act as though the Kingdom were already here, if we have said personally that Jesus is Lord and have made a personal surrender to him with all we know and all we don’t know, we belong… to the Unshakable Kingdom. Then I prayerfully consider how I can apply the Kingdom spirit and principles to all my relationships as far as it depends on me, to my personal thought, life, actions, and habits, to my family life, to my professional or business relationships, to my class and race relationships, and to my national and international relationships, to my recreational relationships, to my church relationships. I can’t change everybody but I can change me and my relationships as far as they depend on me. In each of these I can say: As far as I am concerned the Kingdom is already here.

In light of its being already here, how do I think and act? I am certain of one thing about that kingdom, that the Kingdom is the kingdom of love. So I will begin to love, if not by my love, then with his love – for everybody, everywhere, I am a disciple of the kingdom of God, under its tutelage and control and unfolding sovereignty. I may make blunders and fall, but if I fall I will fall on my knees, and if I stumble I will stumble into his arms. I have a destiny – I am a seed of the new order – “the good seed means the children of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38). I am sown in this particular place to be the interpretation and meaning and message of the new order. I know the seed and the soil are affinities, so that all the resources of the Kingdom are at my disposal. So “in Him who strengthens me, I am able for anything” Philippians 4:11, Moffatt).

I have a total Gospel, for humanity’s total need, for the total world. I ought to be happy – I am!

  1. Stanley Jones, The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person, Abingdon Press, 1972, p300-301