Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Choosing Last So Others Can Be First

The last of three posts on the Inverted Kingdom...

Memory Verse

"But many who are first will be last, and the last first."   Mark 10:31 (NIV)

Jesus, the "firstborn over all creation" (Colossians 1:15), the "head of the body" (Colossians 1:18), and the one who is to have supremacy in everything (Colossians 1:18), chose to become the servant of all.  He, the first, chose to become last, so that we, the last, could become first.  He calls us to join Him in choosing to become last so that others can become first.

Most of us reading this blog are the first in the eyes of the world.  We have our daily material needs and even many of our daily material wants met.  We kind of enjoy being first.  We know that in heaven the "last will become first", but while we would rarely admit to it, we kind of enjoy holding on to our first position while we can.

Remember - the kingdom doesn't have to wait for heaven.  Jesus wanted us to experience it here and now.  The Mark 10 passage that includes our memory verse was talking about the now on earth, not just the future in heaven.  A sign that the kingdom is truly among us is that, like the King of this kingdom, the first will willingly choose to become last, so that the last can become first.

What would lead to such extreme behavior?  Discovering the kingdom.  Consider Matthew 13:44-45.  When the man found the treasure hidden in the field, he went, in his joy, and sold all he had and bought the field.  When the merchant found a pearl of great value, he, too, sold everything he had and bought it.  If you have discovered and are experiencing the kingdom, your reaction will be the same.  Hebrews 10:34 reminds us of those who joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property, because they knew they had better and lasting possessions.

Note that I don't think we're talking wealth redistribution here.  If the rich were to give all they had to the poor, the rich would find a way to get it back the next day.  We are made in the image of our Creator, and so we are called to create.  To help the "last" create and provide for themselves while building their dignity, the "first" can choose to be very generous and invest in the lives of the "last".  This type of behavior would be noticed by the world around us - they would be able to see the kingdom of heaven among us, and want to be a part of it.

Are you willing, with joy, to become last so that the last can become first?  If so, you will not only be truly experiencing the kingdom, but surely extending it to many others.

Questions to Consider
1.  Does the decision to choose to become last so that the last can become first sound like a great opportunity or a threat?  If the latter, could it be that you are trying to love God and money while storing up for yourself treasures on earth?  (Read Matthew 6.)
2.  Is your theology salvation-centric or kingdom-centric?  Did Jesus refer to the "gospel" as the "gospel of salvation" or the "gospel of the kingdom"?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Read through the Book of Matthew (the first book in the New Testament) and note what people did in response to discovering the kingdom.
2.  Pray to identify at least one person who may be considered "last" in the eyes of the world and take the steps necessary, as huge as they may seem, to make that person "first".  (Note - you're not on your own!  We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us to go beyond ourselves.  We also have the gift of community to encourage each other to pursuing such things!)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Leaving Everything, Gaining More

The second of three posts on the Inverted Kingdom...

Memory Verse

Then Peter spoke up, "We have left everything to follow you!"  "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: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields - along with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life."   Mark 10:28-30 (NIV)

Have you ever left everything to do something?  I'm not sure I have, but I do know many people who have.

Some of them are immigrants to this country.  They left everything in their former country to come to America.  For virtually all of them it was a huge risk - they left everything they knew to come to a strange place where they didn't know the culture, perhaps even the language, and they very much missed home.  Yet, despite the tremendous struggle, for most of them there was ultimate reward for their families - if not in the first generation, at least by the second.

The same is true of many of the microentrepreneurs served by our microfinance partners.  They may not have much materially at risk, but they give up what they do have - their reputations, their hard work, and more - to take the tremendous risk of borrowing money so that they can forge a brighter future for their families and communities.  For most of them, the reward makes it all worth it.

Many of us live our lives trying to accumulate as much as we can, establishing a secure future, and keeping our dependence on God to a bare minimum and accessed only when necessary.  Yet, in Jesus' kingdom, He calls us to leave and give up everything.  He knew that we would not only be tempted to replace our dependence on Him with dependence on very unreliable "things", but we would be prone to miss out on all the rewards of having a close, intimate relationship with Him.  Those rewards include His provision of everything we need, far beyond what we could ever think or imagine.  And, like the immigrant or microentrepreneur, those rewards extend to our children and our children's children when we show them how to live depending on God.

I can relate to that.  Years ago I left a good-paying job in Corporate America to pursue what I knew God had called me to do.  Eight years later, I got my first pay check in that new full-time role.  God not only provided everyday during those eight years, but at times in very lavish ways.  Just one example - God moved in the heart of one person to make it possible for my family to be able to take a week-long vacation in Hawaii.  I never thought that would be possible when I said goodbye to the well-paying job, but a sister in Christ made it possible as she responded to God leading her to be extremely generous to us.

In this Inverted Kingdom, we are called to leave everything.  What we gain is so much more than we ever left behind.

Questions to Consider
1.  Have you left everything to follow Jesus?
2.  What have you already gained as a result of leaving things behind and following Jesus?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Identify at least one item or area in your life that you have not yet left behind to follow Jesus and give that up this week.
2.  Start writing in your journal the many different ways you are being blessed as you learn new ways to leave things and follow Jesus.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Do You Want to be First In?

The first of three posts on the Inverted Kingdom...

Memory Verse

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."   Mark 9:35 (NIV)

So what do you want to be first in?  If you could choose one thing in life to be first in, what would you want it to be?

That may be one of the most important questions you ever ask yourself because, like it or not, your REAL answer is what will shape your life.  By REAL answer, I don't mean the "right" answer.  I mean the answer others would give when they look at your life, see how you spend your time, see how you spend your money, and see what drives your passions.

If we look at our lives and how we spend our time and money, for most of us, the REAL answer would be that we want to be first in our careers, first in our lifestyles, and possibly first in our families.  We like being seen as first in the eyes of the world.  It's what we are striving for, even though we know it really isn't that satisfying or fulfilling and it is downright exhausting and debilitating.  We know the "right" answer to the question of what we should want to be first in, but we aren't ready to turn our lives upside down to experience or pursue that.

When Jesus spoke the words above, He was saying that if we want to be first in the kingdom (which, by the way, is the "right" answer), we must be the very last, the servant of all.  Wow - that goes pretty counter to our modern culture!  And so we are introduced to this "inverted kingdom"  where a child is the one given as an example of how we must enter it and the first becoming last and the last first is a sign that the kingdom is among us.

The Reformation Study Bible identifies self-abandonment or joining Jesus in being the servant of all as "the first and foremost role in the kingdom and provides the standard for Jesus' disciples in whatever secondary roles they might play in the kingdom of God."

The only way the inverted nature of this kingdom makes sense and is something worth embracing is if the king of this kingdom has our back.  We know from the posts below that Jesus is the king of this kingdom, and Jesus has our back!

Questions to Consider
1.  Is the kingdom you are experiencing "inverted" or pretty much in line with the pattern of this world?  (Be honest!)
2.  Are you ready and willing to embrace the inverted kingdom and become the servant of all?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Choose to do some act where you put yourself last and become the servant of all, and do it with great joy.
2.  Pray daily that you will come to a deeper appreciation that Jesus has your back and, as a result, you can embrace becoming the servant of all.

Friday, May 3, 2013

If Jesus is King - Part III

Some final thoughts on how we should live our lives if Jesus is King...

Memory Verse

 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things 
will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

It's quite a thought - to think that we are known by a king.  Even more - to think that this king has entrusted us with extending His kingdom, and that He has asked that we put seeking this kingdom first in our lives.

Now think about it - a king generally has access to a lot of resources.  So, if a king were to ask you to do something, chances are you would not question whether he has the resources to back up what he is asking you to do.  But silently or otherwise, we do question Jesus.  We wonder if Jesus would really have our back if we went and put His kingdom first instead of worrying to meet our own needs.  Jesus knew we wouldn't trust Him on this one, and that's why He goes out of His way to point to the flowers of the field and the birds of the air and assure us He has our back.  Given this, we should live in full trust of this king given His endless resources, not worrying about our own materials needs, and even responding generously to the needs of others.

One final thought regarding Jesus being king.  We read in the Bible that we are actually citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and that we are Christ's ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Thus, we should be living our lives not for ourselves, but as ambassadors of this king.  Just think of wherever God has you or wants to place you as a consulate for the kingdom.  Your primary purpose for being there is to represent the kingdom of heaven as an ambassador of that kingdom.  That's how we fulfill Jesus' vision statement captured in Matthew 6:10 of extending the kingdom of heaven to earth.

If we are going to experience the kingdom of heaven on earth, we have to start with the reality that Jesus is the king of this kingdom.  Starting with that opens up amazing possibilities, so amazing that this vision of extending the kingdom of heaven to earth may not have just been wishful thinking after all.

Questions to Consider
1.  Do you really think Jesus has the resources needed to allow you to put His kingdom first?
2.  How's your consulate?  Would anyone be able to identify the kingdom you represent?

Action Steps for the Week
1.  Take a very practical step this week to seek Jesus' kingdom and show that you do trust Him having the material resources to meet your needs.
2.  Take three steps this week to align your consulate more with that representing the kingdom of heaven.