Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Anything But a Mustard-Seed-Sized God

The last of two posts on the Kingdom being "like a Mustard seed"...

Memory Verse
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”   He (Jesus) replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17:19-21 (NIV)

Is there any mountain bigger to move than extending the kingdom of heaven right here to earth?  How can something so big be achieved?

First, it takes God.  God can do so much more than we can think or imagine.  As we enter 2014 in just hours, let us resolve to spend much more time with Him in prayer and in His Word, listening for Him, learning His ways.  Then we will know what Jesus really wants us to do.

Second, it takes our little, insignificant acts.  That's the first reference we see Jesus making to mustard seeds, and it's what the last blog post covered.  Jesus made it painstakingly clear what it would take to extend the kingdom of heaven to earth.  It rarely required achieving some huge feat; it much more often required obeying the very simple things Jesus told us to do that we so often ignore or knowingly choose not to do.

Third, it takes faith.  Faith that when we choose to obey in what may seem like small (or not so small) things to us, that God will take our small acts of obedience and somehow use them to extend the kingdom.  We don't have to have it all figured out; most of us don't have anywhere near the mental capacity to figure it out.  We just have to know that God is ultimately in control, so we take everything Jesus tells us to do, big or small, and we do it.

May 2014 be a year in which we see MUCH more of the kingdom of heaven being extended to earth through our mustard seed acts, our mustard seed faith, and our anything-but-mustard-seed-sized God.

Questions to Consider
1. Why do you often not do even the mustard-seed-sized things that Jesus asks us to do to extend the kingdom of heaven to earth?  Is it because you are ignorant of what He is asking you to do?  Is it because you refuse to put His will before your own?  Or is it that you fail to appreciate just how much God could do if we would only obey Him in the small things?

2. How well do you know God?  Could it be that the more you get to know God, the less faith it would take to do what He says?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Read the Gospel of Matthew and look for three things Jesus asked you to do.  Ask God for strength to do them in 2014, even if they appear small to you, and pray for God to take your obedience and somehow use it to extend more of the kingdom of heaven to earth.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Very, Merry Mustard Seed

The first of two posts on the Kingdom being "like a Mustard seed"...

Memory Verse
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”  Matthew 13:31-32 (NIV)

As I think about it, it makes sense that Jesus would refer to a mustard seed when describing what the kingdom of heaven was like.  After all, the times I have most experienced the kingdom or perhaps been a means through which it has been extended to others are times when others or I have done something small and God has taken it and made it into something big.  It's very similar to that mustard seed.  Yes, I must plant it and perhaps occasionally water it, but God is the one who has put that special DNA into the seed such that, with the water and sunlight He also provides, it can grow to eventually provide shade for others.

On the eve of Christmas, it may never have been so clear how much the kingdom is like a mustard seed.  The Savior of the world, the King of kings entered our world not with a rolled out red carpet, fanfare, or a 21-gun salute.  He entered in the form of a baby, born to an exhausted couple whom most scorned in an occupied country.  Just think how the world was changed through this little. apparently insignificant birth.

The same is true of our little, insignificant acts.  If we will only obey ALL that He tells us to do, God can take our smallest of deeds and use them in great ways for extending more of the kingdom of heaven to earth.  The more secret the deeds, the better.  When we remain obedient, and others remain obedient, eventually we see our collective mustard seed acts move mountains.  More on that in the next post.

Questions to Consider
1. What little "mustard seed" deed have you done that God has taken and turned into a significant means for you or others to experience more of the kingdom of heaven on earth? 

2. When you consider how much God blessed the world through this baby Jesus, how much does God want to bless our current and future world through you if you will join Jesus in saying "not my will..." ?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Do at least one "mustard seed" act of kindness towards someone else and pray that God will take it and use it in significant ways in extending more of the kingdom of heaven to earth.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Come, Learn from Jesus

The last of two posts on the Kingdom being "for the Obedient"...

Memory Verse
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

What is the easiest and perhaps only way to consistently obey Jesus?  It is to come to Him, take on His yoke, and learn from Him.

We will never become truly obedient if we look at it as just a long list of "do"s and "don't"s.  That is a very heavy yoke, and Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The most effective means of becoming obedient is to build a very intimate relationship wih Jesus.  The writer of Hebrews told us to fix our eyes (Hebrews 12:2) and thoughts (Hebrews 3:1) on Jesus.  Try that some day - fixing your eyes and thoughts on Jesus throughout the day.  When you face struggles and temptations, you will see that He faced bigger struggles and temptations, and you can learn from Him how to handle them.  When you face people who don't like you, you will see that He faced people who didn't like Him, and you can learn from Him how to love them.  When you are quick to worry, you will be reminded of His words not to worry - He will give you gentle reminders like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  How does one develop a close, intimate relationship with Jesus?  Through prayer, reading His Word, and serving like Him.

Never forget that Jesus is inviting you to be yoked with Him.  Imagine walking that close to Jesus.  And in that yoke, He is leading you and gently teaching you.  Just being next to Him allows you to experience His kingdom.  He knows when you are exhausted and is very willing to pull your weight.  When you look over at Him, you see His smile, and it is all you need to keep going, and even experience true rest.  In such a state, you would never think of doing anything to dishonor Him, and you would always remain focused on how you can join Him in extending as much of His kingdom to earth, even and perhaps most especially when He leads you into very challenging places.

Do you want to be more obedient so that can you experience more of His kingdom?  Then be obedient in this one thing.  Come to Jesus.

Questions to Consider
1. Are you experiencing victory in being obedient - not just in avoiding "doing bad", but also in "doing good"?  When you are obedient, do you experience more of the kingdom of heaven right here on earth? 

2. What will it take for you to "come to Jesus"?  How can you intentionally fix your eyes and thoughts more on Him throughout your day so that you can learn from Him and experience rest for your soul?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Start each day this week praying that God will fill you with His Holy Spirit and allow you to keep your eyes and thoughts fixed on Jesus, experiencing not only obedience, but true rest for your soul.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Is Obedience Just Extra Credit?

The first of two posts on the Kingdom being "for the Obedient"...

Memory Verse
"Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."  Matthew 7:21 (NIV)

We have seen that verse before in this blog.  It states very clearly that the only ones who will enter the kingdom are those who do God's will.  And we know from a few posts ago that God's will is that the kingdom be extended from heaven to earth - "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

Now obedience makes a lot more sense to me.  When I used to limit "the kingdom" to just salvation, just me and others getting from earth to heaven, I would question why Jesus, Paul, and others would put so much importance on obedience.  After all, wasn't salvation just "pass/fail"?  And wouldn't that make obedience just extra credit?

Since I have come to appreciate that Jesus was much more concerned about extending the kingdom of heaven to earth than just extending my life from earth to heaven, I have come to appreciate how critical obedience is.  The kingdom of heaven is never going to be extended to earth unless you and I are obedient and do what the Father, the King, has told us to do, even (and perhaps especially) when the King asks us to do something that seems radical to us.

Then, when I am willing to be obedient, and do that radical thing or two or three, something pretty amazing happens - I experience MORE of the kingdom in my own life.  The more I am obedient in extending the kingdom, the more I experience the kingdom.

Now our Memory Verse makes a lot more sense.  I can enter (and experience and extend) the kingdom of heaven - not only after my last breath but here and now - as I faithfully do the will of my Father.  Yes, the kingdom is for the obedient.

Questions to Consider
1. Do you look at obedience as a drudgery or an opportunity to experience more of the kingdom of heaven on earth? 

2. What words of Jesus are the most difficult for you to be obedient in?  Could it be that obedience to those words would allow you to witness new breakthroughs in experiencing and extending more of the kingdom?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Identify an area in which you struggle to be obedient to the Father's will and ask the Holy Spirit to help you become obedient as a step towards experiencing more of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Left Everything. Receiving More.

The third of three posts on the Kingdom being "Difficult to enter"...

Memory Verse
"Truly I tell you," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age..."  Mark 10:29-30a (NIV)

"We have left everything to follow you!"  Peter sounded pretty upset.  Jesus had just told Peter and his fellow disciples that it would be easier to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom.  He had gone further to say that with man alone it was impossible; only God could make a way.

There's no doubt that entering, experiencing, and extending the kingdom of heaven to earth is difficult, especially for us today.  Why?  Because most of us have become so dependent on ourselves.  We treasure being self-reliant and independent.  In that sense, we have become very rich, and we know what Jesus said about the rich entering the kingdom.

God says that for us to enter, experience, and extend the kingdom of heaven to earth, we must be dependent on Him.  God knows our need for Him, and so He makes a way for us.  Entering the kingdom becomes possible only when we choose to be born anew by embracing Jesus as our King.  We freely give up our old sinful way of living because we have found a much better, more fulfilling, way.  Then God gives us the great gift of His Holy Spirit to live in us so that we can experience the kingdom of heaven every day.  And He allows that same Spirit to work through us so that we can be obedient to His high calling and extend the kingdom of heaven to others.

Acknowledging that it is God's work in us not only keeps us humble, but it helps us to become much more intentional and even bolder in being the means through which that kingdom of heaven can be extended to very difficult places.

Jesus knew Peter had given up everything.  He calls all of us His true disciples to do the same thing.  And then Jesus tells Peter and the other disciples the amazing truth we find in the memory verse above - we cannot outgive God.  When we give up everything, God gives us much more - not only in the life to come, but in the present life as well.

God calls us to do something we think may be impossible.  He does that so that we will embrace Him and not our own strength or the things of this world.  Once we become fully reliant on Him, we appreciate what the kingdom of heaven on earth really is - a place where we experience His amazing reign in our lives, and we cannot help but want to extend that kind of kingdom to others, no matter what the cost.

Difficult to enter?  Yes.  But once you experience it, much more difficult to imagine never having entered.

Questions to Consider
1. Do you find it easier to focus and rely on yourself, your own strength, and your own resources, despite the frustrations and limitations, rather than giving up all you have to embrace Jesus and His kingdom? 

2. What have you received "a hundreds times as much in this present age"?  If you struggle answering that question, could it be that you have not yet really let go of the things you are holding on to and thus not fully experiencing the kingdom of heaven on earth?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit to enable you to let go of something you are holding on to.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fitting Through the Eye of a Needle

The second of three posts on the Kingdom being "Difficult to enter"...

Memory Verse
"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."  Matthew 19:24 (NIV)

What if entering the kingdom of God is about where we spend eternity but also is about so much more?  What if going through the eye of a needle is also about what we experience here on earth?  Christ came and changed everything in a radical, transformative manner.  He taught ideas about the first being last, the least being elevated to greatness, and giving up everything you had in exchange for something greater.  And these teachings were not just about heaven, but also for our current lives on earth since Christ desires His kingdom to be here and present right now.

However, we often struggle to experience this much broader, more holistic idea of the kingdom because things such as our material possessions, our inability to embrace upside down thinking or our fear of releasing control to God prevent us from fitting through the eye of a needle.  The choice to follow Christ is perhaps equivalent to stepping through the door into the kingdom.  But when we embrace, maybe even crave, Christ's call for radical transformation in how we give, how we serve, how we love, right now, right here, today, we have the opportunity to run through the green meadows of Christ's kingdom.  And the reality is that by the standards of the world that permeate our existence, this transformation of how we live is not easy.  In fact it very well can be difficult. 

Questions to Consider
1. Can you think of a time when you pursued Christ's transformative and radical teaching?  What happened?

2. What in your life prevents you from more regularly experiencing the kingdom of God here on earth?  Is it a possession, a notion, or an ideal or some form of security?  What will you do to free yourself of this?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  What is something you can do this week that proclaims your citizenship in God’s kingdom here and present right now?

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Difficult Kingdom to Enter

The first of three posts on the Kingdom being "Difficult to enter"...

Memory Verse

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 7:21 (NIV)

Matthew 7:21 (see above) has bothered me since childhood.  Perhaps you are like me and thought, 'Hmmm.  I wonder if I am one of the ones Jesus is talking about here.'  If you have read that verse and never wondered that, it may be time to start doing so.

It would be one thing if this was just an outlier verse and we seemed to have caught Jesus on a bad day.  Hanging around with His motley crew of disciples, always having crowds follow Him, and having stayed up late praying the night before, you could kind of understand if that was the case.

But this verse is VERY consistent with EVERY time Jesus talked about entering the kingdom.  Take a couple minutes to go to Biblegateway.com or the like and do a search on verses that have both "enter" and "kingdom" in them.  When it was Jesus speaking, He consistently made it clear that entering this kingdom was actually quite difficult.  It wasn't just repeat after me prayers, raising a hand, or walking an aisle.  To enter the kingdom, He said our righteousness needed to surpass that of the Pharisees, that we needed to change and become like little children, that it would be difficult for the rich (note to self - that's you and me by Jesus's standards, not just Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey), and that tax collectors and prostitutes were ahead of us.  He said to "see" and "enter" the kingdom, we needed to be born anew or born again.  There were many times Jesus had large crowds around Him and He never hesitated to turn to them and give full disclosure of what it meant to become one of His followers.

So, back to Matthew 7:21.  What does it mean to "do the will of my Father who is in heaven"?  I believe Jesus answered this in this same Sermon on the Mount.  "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  That's it!  God's will was to see the kingdom of heaven extended to earth.  Not just my life extended from earth to heaven by what we might call "salvation", but the kingdom of heaven, in all of its richness, extended to earth.  WOW!

As a result of that rebirth, I can now commit my life to joining the Holy Spirit in the work of extending the kingdom of heaven to earth.  That's going to require me being not just a believer, but a true disciple.  That is fully worthy of me giving up everything to accomplish.  And that is what will help me accomplish the will of my Father in heaven.

Difficult?  Yes.  Until you start doing it, and then you find out it's much easier than you might have imagined.  More on that in our next post.

Questions to Consider
1.  Have you downsized the kingdom to mean just salvation to have made it easy to enter?
2.  Why do you think Jesus was so consistent in insisting that the kingdom was difficult to enter?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and take just one of Jesus' many commands that seems impossible to do, but ask the Holy Spirit to help you start doing it.  A couple of examples - Jesus said "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" and "do not worry".  Try it for a week.
2.  Think about what the kingdom of heaven must be like.  And then identify at least one way this week to extend a bit more of that kingdom into someone else's life.