The Kingdom of God Is Here (Matthew 10:5-15)

Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

“When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people and be content there until you leave.

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now. (The Message)

“People can’t observe the coming of God’s kingdom. They can’t say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ You see, God’s kingdom is within  you.” Jesus, from Luke 17:20-21, GW

When Jesus told his followers that the kingdom of God is here, he didn’t simply mean that it all of a sudden showed up. No, it’s already here. It always has been. We just haven’t paid attention. And we haven’t noticed because we keep looking for a location, somewhere outside of ourselves. But, as it turns out, we already have what we’ve been searching for.

Christianity, at its core, is about following Christ. And that journey with Jesus is first and foremost a journey into oneself. This is why the Lord tells the disciples not to go first to outsiders. There’ll be a time for that. But now, the journey to their fellow Jews was to be an internal walk into the very depths of their own souls and the soul of a nation.

The singular message of this particular mission was to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. It is here. In fact, it is so near and here that it is actually within you. But the disciples needed to discover this for themselves by going out and removing all obstacles to awareness of God’s light.

Jesus sent the disciples out and told them not to take anything with them because they already had what they needed. The kingdom of God is already within them.

A Byzantine fresco of Jesus sending the disciples, 12th century

So, they were to leave all their baggage and their stuff behind. The disciples were to be stripped of all their trusted outer resources so that they had the ability to see themselves, to others, and human need – and then to be moved in their hearts with compassion, just as Jesus is. 

Whenever we take all our pre-packaged stuff with us into relationships and the doing of Christ’s mission, we already assume we know what other people need. If we have nothing with us, then we are able to see people for who they actually are; we can genuinely listen to what they are saying. 

You have freely received compassion from God, so freely give it away. Not everyone will respond, but that’s not your business; they will have to deal with God on that later.

Compassion is to be our response to human need. Yet, we don’t always respond with compassion because of the obstacles within our own hearts and lives prevent us from seeing others and their needs.

The following are a few of obstructions which hinder us from compassion and perceiving the kingdom of God within us, and how to deal with them:

  1. Contempt. Contempt breeds contempt. Unacknowledged and unresolved anger produces bitterness. Hatred feeds more hatred. Our environment makes a difference. For example, if you find you have to check your heart at the workplace in order to do your job, then you need to either you quit your, or bring forth the kingdom of God by tirelessly advocating for compassionate treatment of people.
  2. Busyness. I’m referring to an unhealthy pace of life. Many of us work too much and do too many things. We cannot have compassionate hearts by moving so fast that we fail to see other people’s needs. Slow down. No one is going to come to the end of their life and wished they had been workaholics. Make a thoughtful plan to slow down enough so you can tune into the needs of others and have emotional energy for them.
  3. Resentment. It’s possible to become coldhearted by excessive and unrelenting caregiving. This is the same sort of problem as an unhealthy pace of life; you give so much that you actually begin to resent the people you care for. Caregiving has to be meticulously balanced with self-care. There’s a time for everything, including rest and recuperation.
  4. Inaction. Only receiving and not giving is what I call “spiritual constipation.” It’s when a person listens to hundreds and thousands of sermons and podcasts but doesn’t listen to their neighbor. They have no intention of putting anything they hear into practice.

However, with nothing restricting or obstructing God’s kingdom within us, we can see the divine image within each person and within ourselves. We can begin to radiate that divine presence and be transformed by it’s inner light.

Like Jesus, transfigured before the disciples on Mount Tabor, we too, become transfigured by God’s energy of love touching our hidden divine energy as image-bearers. That energy now comes forth because we have left everything behind to follow Christ and experience the generosity which, ironically, only comes from having nothing.

This is a spiritual walk we cannot take alone. The road we travel is the way of community. Just as God is community – Father, Son, and Spirit – always in a unity of love, so we, as God’s image-bearers with the divine light within us, must strip ourselves of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus and see him, the pioneer of our faith, the Light of the World, the Living Water, and Bread for the world, who endured all things for the redemption of humanity and all creation.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

Acts 5:17-26 – How to Handle Jealousy

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So, they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.

Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. (New International Version)

Celebration and success have their own challenges. Whenever things are going well, there are inevitably others who become jealous. And when jealousy takes root in a person or a group of people, it can result in harming and hurting others.

Indeed, persecution broke out against the apostles. Their ministry was flourishing. Thousands of people were being added to the Church. Miraculous healings abounded. And, standing in the shadows, were a group of jealous religious leaders. Since their power was diminishing, the ruling council had the apostles arrested – seeking to contain their influence and stop the spread of the Church.

Jealousy is one of the places we go whenever we play the comparison game with others. Whereas envy is wanting something that someone else has, jealousy is a deep-seated fear of losing someone or a group of people.

The reason jealousy can be so damaging and insidious is because of the anger and sadness behind it. In the case of the religious leaders, they saw the success of the apostles, the popularity of the burgeoning church, and the attention being diverted from themselves onto the apostles – and they were angry. The loss of religious power was just too much for them, so they became jealous.

Jealousy, much like anger, is neither good nor bad. It is an emotion. It’s what we do with the feeling that matters. In our anger we might turn it inward on ourselves, direct it onto another with verbal or even physical violence, or just get downright snarky and passive-aggressive. Also, with jealousy, it too often gets worked out on others by attacking them in some way.

God feels both anger and jealousy. Yet, those divine emotions are used to bring justice, establish what is right, and help the disadvantaged. God as a jealous God means that the Lord is saddened and hurt by people trying to find satisfaction in all the wrong places through idolatry.

Israel soon became fat and unruly;
    the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed!
Then they abandoned the God who had made them;
    they made light of the Rock of their salvation.
They stirred up his jealousy by worshiping foreign gods;
    they provoked his fury with detestable deeds.
They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God,
    to gods they had not known before,
to new gods only recently arrived,
    to gods their ancestors had never feared. (Deuteronomy 32:15-17, NLT)

God desires that people discover healthy ways of coping and acknowledge their jealous feelings. The Apostle Paul did just that:

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NIV)

The feeling of jealousy is meant to tell us something. Instead of pushing it aside, listen to what it has to say. Perhaps it is leading us to acknowledge our grief and lament our loss. It could be alerting us to our great loneliness or deep sadness.

For whatever reason the jealousy arises, stuffing it or pushing it aside may cause harm to ourselves or others. A profound lack of self-awareness will always come back to bite us in the behind.

So, how do I handle those feelings of jealousy when they come?

  • Seek to understand. Trace the feeling back to its true source. Whether the jealousy stems from insecurity, fear, or past relationship patterns, knowing more about the causes can help us figure out how to confront it and deal with it.

An understanding heart seeks knowledge; but fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:14, CEB)

  • Talk to someone. Give voice to your concern. Discuss the feelings of jealousy with a trusted friend, family member, or faith leader.

Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NET)

  • Express your grief. With jealousy there is a loss or a worry of losing someone or something. Prayer is a good idea when we are losing someone.

God, listen! Listen to my prayer, listen to the pain in my cries. (Psalm 102:1, MSG)

  • View another perspective. Try and take a big picture approach and consider other angles to the situation which is producing the jealousy.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. (Isaiah 55:8, NLT)

  • Practice gratitude. Be thankful for the people, circumstances, and things you have in your life right now. Thankfulness is often a powerful antidote to strong feelings of jealousy.

Tell the Lord how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful. (Psalm 118:29, CEV)

  • Explore underlying issues. Sometimes jealousy has to do with insecurity or low self-worth. Addressing your value as a person and the unique contribution to others you bring to the world has the effect of kicking jealousy to the curb.

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27, CEB)

  • Be patient. Give it time. Most people don’t get over their jealous feelings overnight. It’s a process. So be kind to yourself and stick with acknowledging and discovering what jealousy has to teach you.

Be patient when you have troubles. (Romans 12:12, ERV)

May you find satisfaction, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Acts 5:12-16 – Healing For All

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 

As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. (New International Version)

Healing is a universal longing.

To long for healing, of course, presupposes that something or someone is broken.

Those with bodily ills and infirmities; the ones carrying diseased and disordered minds; those with deep emotional wounds; and tortured souls with broken hearts and damaged spirits are all intimately familiar with pain – not to mention their friends and loved ones who observe their suffering day after day.

How will the healing ever come? When will it ever be realized? Dare I hope for a miracle?

There is a reason the ancient apostles were able to be agents of healing. There was something happening privately which worked itself out in miraculous public healing. Within the believing community, earnest prayers were being offered:

Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:30, NIV)

Just as all were healed when brought to Jesus, so the same happened with his followers.

The natural world, along with the most modern medical practices and interventions, has its limitations. Yet, the supernatural realm is unlimited in its power and scope to bring thorough and complete healing.

Prayer discerns and understands that humanity is limited in its abilities to transform and heal. There is no magical incantation to access such power. There isn’t any specific formula to achieve results. There is only the simple prayers and faithful ministry of believing persons who know that healing can come in many forms and in various ways.

In many cases, I have witnessed my hospital patients improve without any specific medical interventions – decades of intestinal issues gone; heart and brain function restored (which, biologically, doesn’t return when lost); and even the paralyzed walking again.

A miracle isn’t finding an open spot in a busy parking lot. Miracles don’t occur by sending in $19.95 to a “faith healer” who will pray and rid you of your gout.

Bona fide miracles have no natural, medical, or biological explanation. They aren’t tied to money. They only have divine explanations.

Prayers offered daily, and for years, are still effective prayers. That’s because the miraculous occurs irrespective of time.

There shall be healing. It just might not be today. We may have to wait.

Whenever God heals, there is complete healing. The physical trauma of an accident or disease isn’t confined to the body. It also traumatizes the person mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. This is why faithful believers who come out of a major surgery may feel estranged from God. It’s not that God is absent, or that the individual did something wrong. The spirit just needs to heal along with the body.

The Lord wants to heal the whole person. Whenever a person has been emotionally abused, that abuse is experienced throughout the entirety of personhood. It is common for such persons to have a bevy of physical health issues in their lives. As the individual is healed from their damaged emotions, the body follows.

In this era of religious, church, and clergy abuse, the broken spirits left in its wake need healing. Victims may find themselves with chronic depression, anxiety, or other mental and emotional disorders. The spiritual healing which the Lord carefully provides will also effect the mind and the feelings.

The deepest need of healing is holistic – to impact the breadth and depth of a person’s life. The myriad diseases, disorders, and depressions of humanity are devastating enough, in and of themselves. Yet, they also create social separation, economic challenges, emotional distress, spiritual wondering, relational disconnection, terrible grief, and grinding loneliness.

God seeks to restore a life, and not just a malady.

Restoration to a family, a community, a workplace, a position of respect and responsibility, and to God is the Lord’s goal for all humanity.

The Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4, NIV)

Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
    you who have done great things.
    Who is like you, God?
Though you have made me see troubles,
    many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
    and comfort me once more. (Psalm 71:19-21, NIV)

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11, NRSV)

Our simple prayers focused on the restorative healing of a person, are what God has chosen to use to mend the broken. Prayer is not a last resort; it is always the believer’s first order of business.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Acts 5:33-42 – Worthy to Suffer Disgrace

The Apostles by Russian artist Peter Gorban (1923-1995)

When the council members heard this [God raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree] they became furious and wanted to kill the apostles. One council member, a Pharisee and teacher of the Law named Gamaliel, well-respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be taken outside for a few moments. He said, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you intend to do to these people. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and some four hundred men joined him. After he was killed, all his followers scattered, and nothing came of that. Afterward, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and got some people to follow him in a revolt. He was killed too, and all his followers scattered far and wide. Here is my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you will not be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!” The council was convinced by his reasoning. After calling the apostles back, they had them beaten. They ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, then let them go. The apostles left the council rejoicing because they had been regarded as worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of the name. Every day they continued to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ, both in the temple and in houses. (CEB)

People talk about things which are important to them. Even quiet and introverted individuals will speak at length, barely taking a breath, if you get them on a topic for which they are passionate about. 

Today’s New Testament lesson has the Apostles speaking incessantly about someone they love to talk about.  In fact, the original disciples of Jesus chattered so much about who they loved, Jesus, that the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) wanted to shut them up by killing them. But a wise member of the council saw the foolishness of this approach and persuaded the Sanhedrin against it. Instead, the council gave the Apostles a thorough whipping, warned them to stop talking all the time about Jesus, and let them go.

There is a time to listen, and there is a time to speak.  The Apostles could not keep silent.  They considered their beating an act of solidarity with their Lord Jesus and went right on talking. Every day they spent time in the temple and in one home after another. They never stopped teaching and telling the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

The joy of knowing Jesus – crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again – is such a rich experience that one cannot help but be a chatterbox with joy about him. Even in the face of persecution, the ecstasy of knowing Christ transcends physical pain and suffering.

Today, there are places throughout the world where the scenario of continual discourse about Jesus is taking place with joy, despite the presence of persecution.  There are also places, mainly in America, where talking about Jesus does not even take place in the church building where believers gather to worship, let alone out in the public square.

One of the great tragedies of the contemporary Western church is that one can talk freely and openly about the weather, the latest sports, political happenings, and get away with never speaking or dialoging about Jesus.

The Apostle Peter, having learned the hard way, exhorted believers in his epistle that suffering is inevitable. So, the real issue is whether one suffers because of Christ or because of their own wrongheaded decisions. If others reject us, let it be for holiness, love, and hospitality – and not for babbling a bunch of unbiblical nonsense. Peter said:

Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude… Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice because you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 5:1, 12-16, NIV)

Today, allow two different emotions to arise and sway your prayers and speech.  First, allow the joy of the Lord Jesus to fill you and give you freedom to speak his Name and the grace he gives.  Second, allow a sorrowful lament to come forth from your heart, and speak it out loud before God concerning the great silence of the church in the West.

Loving Lord Jesus, you save completely those who come to you by faith.  Thank you for the work of forgiveness and healing that takes place in your Name everyday in the world.  Yet, I also lament the many confessing believers in your Name who never speak of the good news in their everyday conversations, even within the church.  Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy and grant us peace.  Amen.