Revelation 11:15 – He Will Reign Forever

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.” (New International Version)

I am so looking forward to that day!

As an ordained Minister, I have done my share of weddings over the years. Working with engaged couples anticipating marriage is both exciting and awkward. It is, in some ways, a difficult time for the betrothed because they are committed to one another in a manner different from just dating. But they are not yet in a marriage relationship. 

The same is true for the Church. She is betrothed to the Lord Jesus. They are both quite committed to each other. But the marriage hasn’t yet happened. There is still this engagement period. We’re ready for permanent unending marital bliss.

The kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but not yet consummated. That’s a fancy way of saying that God’s rule and reign has come to this earth, but its fulfillment has not yet occurred. 

This present time we are now experiencing between the two advents of Christ – his incarnation and his coming again – is a weird and awkward time of engagement. We’re trying to figure out how to live in the world but not of it. 

Yet, there is a time coming at the consummation of the ages, at the end of time, when Christ will return to take his bride. Then, the Church will celebrate in a great wedding feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. From then on, the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord, and he will reign forever and ever.

Just as marriage is designed for permanence, so our union with Jesus will last forever. His gracious and benevolent reign shall never end. Christ’s rule will be complete and extend over all the earth. 

Until then, however, believers must patiently persevere with fidelity to our Lord Jesus, who loved us and gave himself up for us.

Slow and steady is better than nothing at all.

We keep going, despite all obstacles, adversity, difficulty, and discouragement – without comparing ourselves to others or making everything a competition.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV)

Persevering to the end is the goal, not being perfect all the time. Perfection is the sure road to depression and feeling defeated. Endurance, however, is able to focus on the small efforts of each day to get where it wants to go.

Even though we anticipate our eternal life, that very life has already begun, right now. So, we can live with confidence, knowing the Lord is with us.

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, NRSV)

Perseverance can only happen with physical, mental, emotional, as well as spiritual health. We compromise our ability to keep going and remain encouraged with a lack of self-care.

We need to pay attention to our bodies because they are the vehicles by which we do the will of God.

We must attend to our minds because that is where we do battle with the enemy.

We have got to become comfortable with talking about feelings because we are emotional creatures, created by a God with deep feeling and emotion.

And we are to be disciplined with spiritual practices, just as we are with anything which requires our attention.

Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers. (1 Timothy 4:8-10, MSG)

In those times we are confused or just don’t know what the heck to do, we turn to the Lord.

With all your heart
you must trust the Lord
    and not your own judgment.
Always let him lead you,
and he will clear the road
    for you to follow. (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEV)

Keep moving. The Lord will direct you. The kingdom is coming in all its fullness.

Gracious heavenly Father, may we never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up in the far countries of the soul. May we never abandon the struggle, but endure to the end, and so be saved. May we never drop out of the race, but continually press forward to the goal of our high calling.

May we never choose the cheap and temporary things and let go the precious things that last forever. May we never take the easy way, and so leave the right way. May we never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown.

So, almighty and everlasting God, keep us and strengthen us by your grace so that no disobedience and no weakness and no failure may stop us from entering into the blessedness which awaits those who are faithful in all the changes and chances of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 12:4-12 – Dealing with Trouble

Jesus the Teacher by J. Kirk Richards

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (New International Version)

A new resurrected life is a beautiful thing. And it can be a hard thing, at the same time.

Decades ago, I once preached in a church for morning and evening worship services. As I entered the church building for the evening sermon, one of the deacons greeted me by saying, “Man, did you ever stir the pot this morning!”

It turns out, because I did not stay behind the pulpit when I preached, but freely roamed around the sanctuary, many parishioners believed I was not being under the authority of God’s Holy Word. They took my actions as subversive, even rebellious. Others defended the action. The entire church became divided over it.

What I found so interesting about the whole affair is that I was simply and genuinely being myself – and it caused trouble to the point of families dividing and imploding in on themselves.

Sometimes people lose sight of what’s really important, and the gospel of grace ends up bringing division. Jesus tended to cause trouble in his earthly ministry, just by being himself – and a lot of folks didn’t take kindly to him exercising authority like God does.

Trouble tends to follow Christian mission and service. That may seem odd. Yet, God’s kingdom is an upside-down one. The way of resurrection and new life comes through a cross and a death; the way to succeed is to fail; the one who loses their life will find it.

We ought to expect opposition and trouble from the world.

Fortunately, nobody ever accused me of being in cahoots with the devil. But that happened to Jesus, on more than one occasion. (Matthew 10:24-25)

Christians are not above their Master – they will be treated as he was. Jesus didn’t want his followers to be surprised whenever they face opposition.

We don’t need to be afraid of getting into trouble.

Fear has to do with the unknown and about what is going to happen to us. Since we know opposition and trouble is expected, we can avoid living in dread. Early on in the church, Christians actually rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus.

We are given a promise that we’ll receive special help in times of adversity. Believers possess the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our helper and advocate for such difficult situations.

God sees all things. The Lord isn’t surprised by your hardship and will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this old fallen world. The wrath of God is to be much more feared than the wrath of people.

God observes all the details of our lives. If God cares and is attentive to the least little things in my life, then how much more will the big issues in my life be handled!?

Blaspheming (saying hard things against) the Holy Spirit is nothing more nor less than attributing the work of Satan to God.

We aren’t doomed to hell if we are crushed under a heavy load of distress and pressure. God won’t strike us with lightning if we make mistakes, mess up, or fail to live as we ought. The Lord will likely be sad, but fire and brimstone will not be in the picture.

You might be wondering how I handled the hubbub with the church who fractured over my preaching apart from the pulpit. I came back in the evening and purposely caused trouble by preaching the Beatitudes of Jesus while walking up and down the aisle.

After all, when somebody is secure in Christ, why not say and do what needs to be said and done?

Gracious God, your love is sufficient for us. May your guidance and wisdom hold us tightly, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Guard the hearts and minds of believers in places of hardship, war, and persecution so that your church may stand strong in faith.

Although trouble may come, neither any person nor any power on this earth can take our souls from us. We belong to you. May your church stand strong in grace and love, being assured with the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

We pray for the day when we will all be together in worship and praise at the consummation of your benevolent kingdom. Until that day, may your love flow to all our persecuted brothers and sisters. May your blessed Holy Spirit strengthen and fill them with faith, hope, and love, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen

Luke 13:18-21 – What is the Kingdom of God Like?

A mustard seed

Jesus asked, “What is God’s kingdom like? What can I compare it to? It’s like a mustard seed that someone planted in a garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds nested in its branches.”

He asked again, “What can I compare God’s kingdom to? It’s like yeast that a woman mixed into a large amount of flour until the yeast worked its way through all the dough.” (God’s Word Translation)

I grew up on a rural Mid-West America farm. Working with seeds was our livelihood. And making bread was second nature to us. Even though my parents worried incessantly about the weather and the price of groceries, there were two things they were never anxious about: seeds and yeast.

My dad knew that when we planted seeds in the Spring, there would be a harvest in the Fall. That’s because he knew the seed already has within itself everything it needs to germinate, take root, grow, and produce a harvest. His role was simply to tend to it all by keeping the fields free of weeds, worms, and critters.

My mom knew that when she put the bread in the oven, it would bake and rise into a glorious loaf. That’s because she had full confidence that the little bit of yeast she worked into the dough would do it’s job. Her role was simply to ensure the proper amount of ingredients and oversee the time and temperature of baking.

Since I was the youngest, I typically got the grunt work of our massive garden. I was always excited when we planted things because I knew what was coming in a few months: some delicious veggies on my dinner plate which were fresh from the garden I tended. I never wondered whether there would be food on the table, or not.

Seeds are, of course, small. If you think about it, they appear quite unimpressive. Yet, we know better. We understand that when planted, watered, and cultivated, those seeds turn into amazing plants. 

But it takes time. Even as dumb little kid, I clearly knew that my planting seeds would not result in seeing anything above ground the next day. I understood it would take a few weeks before new growth would break the ground.

The kingdom of God, Jesus told us, is like a mustard seed – a very small seed which can grow into a tree big enough for birds to nest. Unlike the mighty Roman Empire, or contemporary powerful national governments, the kingdom of God had humble beginnings. It grows, over a long period of time, to become a force greater than anything the world can produce.

While our world races forcefully on with the speed of the hare, Jesus is carefully and patiently building his church at the pace of a tortoise. In the end, the kingdom of God will rule over all creation, while the kingdoms of this world shall no longer exist. 

Even though many of us now live in a society where the quick, the fast, and the strong dominate everything, still the best things in life come as a result of tedious perseverance over an extended period of time. 

We are in such a hurry to accomplish our goals, make as much money as we can, and keep constant vigilance over our work. And for what purpose?

“What an unspeakable comfort it is to know that in the midst of humanity’s mischief, in the midst of their scheming and bad speculations, their shaping and misshaping, their activism and their failures, there is still another stream of events flowing silently on, that God is letting divine seeds grow and achieving divine ends.” 

Helmut Theilicke

Quiet, humble submission to King Jesus is at the heart of the kingdom. God is working-out good purposes in and through us with all the care of the farmer expecting to eventually reap a harvest. To get ourselves into the groove of God’s unforced rhythms of grace, we must learn to slow down, so as to not miss Christ’s benevolent kingdom. So, how do we do that?

  • Listen to yourself. Our bodies send us signals all the time, telling us what we need. There is a time for work and a time for rest, a time to hurry and a time to slow down. If we continually stressed, it could be that we are trying to force God’s kingdom into our lives or the lives of others.

But if you listen to me,
you will be safe and secure
    without fear of disaster. (Proverbs 1:33, CEV)

  • Practice gratitude. Count your blessings. Keep things in proper perspective. Sit with joy and happiness. Whenever something really good happens, slow down and savor the moment – don’t just quickly move on to the next thing. The kingdom of heaven revolves on thankfulness, not criticism.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-3, NRSV)

  • Use breath prayers. Take some deep breaths. While inhaling, pray, “More of you, Lord.” And exhale saying, “Less of me.” Or inhale, praying, “Fill me with your Spirit,” then exhaling, “So that I may be a blessing.” Go ahead and develop your own prayers, as well.

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10, NRSV)

  • Say, “no.” If we are in the habit of helping others, it can be hard to say “no.” But if we are working to understand how to slow down, learning to say “no” is a skill we need to develop. We must set boundaries and manage our time responsibility. That means leaving plenty of time to slow down, rest, observe, and relax.

Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. (Matthew 5:37, MSG)

  • Walk outdoors. Nature walks are an opportunity to stroll through God’s creation and notice the wonder that is all around us.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world. (Psalm 19:1-4, NLT)

  • Ask for help. To ask for what we need and want is neither selfish nor a sign of weakness. Rather, piling on responsibilities only causes us to run ragged and never get around to slowing down. Asking for help requires humility, which is the very thing needed to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NIV)

Spiritual formation and development are dependent upon slow growth over a long period of time. Don’t short circuit the process through accumulating more and more responsibility and constant busyness. Let God’s grace do its work and sense the kingdom of God near you.

Lord God, everlasting Father, you have brought me to this point in time.  Preserve me according to your unassuming power so that I might not be seduced by worldly might, nor be overcome by the rantings of politicians, but in all things daily direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Luke 11:37-52 – Calling Them Out

Pharisees by German painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 1912

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so, he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”

One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So, you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore, this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

“Woe to you experts in the law because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (New International Version)

“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

Socrates

An outward showy spirituality means little to nothing – and it actually results in injustice and a lack of concern for others. Conversely, paying attention to the inner person has the effect of making our outer actions helpful and healing.

As you can tell from today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus had no use for the showy kind of spirituality. He was looking for a generous spirit of love and justice, willing to share with others from altruistic and benevolent motives. Instead, he got bupkis.

The woes Jesus pronounced on the showy spiritual charlatans were a kind of grieving and lamenting of how far astray the religious were from genuine heartfelt spirituality.

Unfortunately, there are pious people today who claim the name of Christ and slam the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of others by:

  • Saying God’s grace is for all, then turning around and avoiding certain people, calling them “sinners.”
  • Having explicit written statements or rules that exclude people from serving God.
  • Binding people to human traditions and practices instead of Holy Scripture. 
  • Declaring the seven deadly words of the Church: “We’ve never done it that way before.” 

Jesus called the religious leaders out. And rather than listening and changing, the leaders just felt insulted and offended. They refused to hear that their nit-picking religious obsessions and criticizing judgments of others kept people from accessing God’s love and justice.

The Lord’s words are pointed and hard. Jesus talked to them this way, it seems to me, because they probably wouldn’t have heard it any other way. In other words, Christ talked their language so they could hear him.

The Pharisees often get a bad rap. But they were faithful givers. They rightly and deservedly gave a tenth of everything they had. However, the problem was that they did it so they could feel really good about themselves, thereby feeling justified in neglecting the weightier matters of the law, the stuff they really didn’t want to do. 

This is the kind of mental gymnastics which is still done today, by saying, “Hey, man, I do my part. I give,” but all the while having no intention of focusing on weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. It is essentially using money and stuff to buy off God. It is focusing on the minutia of pennies and dimes, instead of saving lives.

The weighty matters of the Law were there in the Old Testament. They just got ignored….

“This is what the Lord All-Powerful said:
‘You must do what is right and fair.
    You must be kind and
    show mercy to each other.
Don’t hurt widows and orphans,
    strangers, or poor people.
Don’t even think of doing bad things to each other!’”

But they refused to listen
    and refused to do what he wanted.
They closed their ears so that they
    could not hear what God said.
They were very stubborn
    and would not obey the law.
The Lord All-Powerful used his Spirit
    and sent messages to his people through the prophets.
But the people would not listen,
    so the Lord All-Powerful became very angry. (Zechariah 7:9-12, ERV)

Righteousness is profoundly social. It has to do with pursuing right relationships with people, not just people I like or who I feel deserve it. Jesus mentioned justice and love because these terms really have to do with our neighbors, not only our buddies and cronies. 

Any evil person can love those who love him; but the one who loves Jesus, loves the people for whom no one else cares or loves.

As God’s people, we are meant by the Lord to be forthright, frank, genuine, honest, humble, open, real, truthful, authentic, just, righteous, sincere, and upright in all our relations with others. To do otherwise is to be hypocritical.

Hypocrisy does not practice what it preaches, keeps people out of God’s kingdom, focuses on externals, and majors on the minors. Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to call them out and call them back to the true worship of God.

Because anything less than a deep concern for all humanity is not true religion.

Blessed God and Father of the universe, I am not above you and I am not the master of all things. Instead, I am your servant and your child. Help me be quick to look at myself when I am prone to look over to others. Thank you that you have wild and abundant grace for me that will never end nor let me go. Teach me your ways and help me be receptive to them, so I will not fall. I submit to your rule and reign over all things, including all my thoughts, opinions, perceptions, decisions, beliefs, and actions, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.