But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn,
a world God himself visited to redeem.
We receive his poured-out life and,
being allowed the high privilege of suffering with him,
may then pour ourselves out for others.
Jesus is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is Jesus. He brings it, he embodies it, he reveals it and shows us what it is. Jesus is the time and the place, he is the where and when God rules graciously in people’s lives. And as subjects in his Kingdom, we are called to be transformed into people who live completely under his lordship. We share his values, his vision, his mission.
But our view of Jesus’ agenda is sometimes obstructed by our own ideas. Centuries of church development and rule-making and decision-making cloud our vision. When we see the Kingdom as Church, we tend to focus only on the features and characteristics of the Church.
Jesus tells the religious leaders they are looking for the Kingdom in the wrong places:
“The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.” ~Luke 17:20
The Kingdom of God is an elusive, dynamic, spiritual thing that cannot be confined to any institution. It’s much bigger and much more powerful than that. The Kingdom of God is the person, the activity, the ministry, the power, and the eternal reign of the Lord!
Our challenge in our churches is to flex our autonomy enough to insure that our identifying characteristics genuinely correspond to those of the Kingdom Jesus is preaching and practicing. Maintaining our institutional status quo is not necessarily the same as being faithful to Jesus and his mission. Being a member in good standing or being a good middle-of-the-road church isn’t necessarily the same as living under the reign of God.
The true marks of the Kingdom have very little to do with what happens in between prayers and announcements in your worship center. The Kingdom of God is firmly grounded in and expressed through the weightier matters — those are Jesus’ terms — of justice and mercy and faithfulness. The requirements for us subjects of the King are not keeping the rules as much as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God.
The church in Rome was arguing and dividing, complaining and drawing lines in the sand over all kinds of issues: sacred food and sacred days, worship styles and traditions, praise teams and women’s roles, divorce and remarriage, alcohol and dancing, creeds and translations, politics and preachers, song leaders and small groups — they were splitting the church over these things. And Paul says plainly, “Knock it off! Cut it out! The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by all people” (Romans 14:17-18).
But what if we’re talking about a “salvation issue?”
Yeah, I can hear it now. We have to be clear on the “salvation issues.” We have to make sure we’re right on the “salvation issues.”
What is a “salvation issue?” Will somebody please tell me what a “salvation issue” is? We get into discussions about salvation issues and we start ranking things in order of importance to God. We argue in terms of what’s going to save us or condemn us. And we’ll vigorously debate baptism and church and the authority of Scripture and worship styles, we’ll argue about church services and church structures and church policies, but we never talk about feeding the poor or loving our enemies. We don’t mention love and grace and forgiveness and mercy. Scripture says those are the weightier matters, those are the salvation issues! Those are the things we’ve got to get straight! That is the Kingdom of God!
Building schools in Kenya and training preachers in Brazil and housing teenagers in Ukraine — that’s the Kingdom of God. Reading to a 3rd grader at Bivins Elementary and having dinner with a woman from Gratitude House — that’s the Kingdom of God. Serving food at The PARC and praying at Heal the City — that’s the Kingdom of God. Paying water bills for government workers and taking groceries to your grouchy neighbor and talking to the teenager who feels like she doesn’t belong and forgiving you dad and doing all these kinds of things for others in the name and manner of Jesus with the heart of Jesus who fulfills and embodies in every way the eternal blessings and promises of our eternal Father — that’s the Kingdom of God! Where these things prevail, where these things are obvious, that is where and when the Kingdom of God has come and is coming!
I long for the day when those are the only things God’s Church is passionate about. Don’t you?
Our King came into this world in order to serve and save. That’s the business of his subjects, too. May our Lord bless us as we love and serve, rescue and save, in his name and for the sake of his Kingdom.
The man comes up to Jesus and he’s covered with leprosy. He falls with his face to the ground and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus say, “If I’m willing?!? Of course, I’m willing!!! That’s why I’m here! Be clean!!” And he healed him immediately.
A widow is wailing over the death of her only Son. Jesus says to her, “Don’t cry.” He raises the young man from the dead and gives him back to his mother. All the crowd is filled with awe and they praise God saying, “God has come to help his people!”
Everywhere our Lord goes, everywhere he is, he shines the light of love and forgiveness, he brings the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, Jesus is love and mercy and truth. He brings it. He lives it. People are blessed and the world is changed.
And then on that last night, around the table with his followers, our Lord Jesus prays. He prays for all people “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). He tells the Father “they know I came from you, they believe you sent me” (John 17:8). He tells God “everybody knows you sent me” (John 17:25). And he prays for his disciples:
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” ~John 17:15-18
Then Jesus is arrested and crucified. Out of his deep love for us and his commitment to our forgiveness and righteousness and peace, he gives his life. On the third day, God’s Holy Spirit brings our Lord out of the grave. That evening the risen and reigning Jesus eats dinner with his followers and says:
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” ~John 20:21
When Jesus says we’re not of this world, that’s not a final destination or a future goal — it’s a starting point. By our baptisms and the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are members of the family of God, we are citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, like Jesus. And, like Jesus, being not of this world is so we can be sent into this world.
I’ve heard it said all my life — you and I have probably both said this many times: “We’re in this world but we’re not of this world.” The way we say it implies that being in the world is a temporary accident we have to endure or, at worst, a really bad circumstance we must fight. We’ve paraphrased Jesus’ words into an isolationists slogan. We make it sound like we’re above everything and we need to take care of ourselves first and be separate from the world.
No, we’ve got it backwards!
Jesus says we’re not of this world precisely so we can be sent into the world. In the world is intentional, it’s the very core of God’s eternal plans. The Church is not a community of cautious isolation, we’re a group committed to courageous transformation! We don’t run from the world or rail against the world; we are racing into the world with the amazing story of God’s love that has captured our hearts and commissioned our lives! God gathers us together in his Church so we can better be on point for his mission in the world!
We’ve got seven months to learn how to pronounce Tagovailoa.
Jalen Hurts and the Alabama kicker have six months to pick out a dorm room at Texas Tech.
John the Baptist is preparing the way for the Lord. He’s getting all the people ready to meet the coming Messiah. He’s baptizing in the desert, people are repenting, and their sins are being forgiven. John the Baptist is doing what needs to be done so people can see the Lord.
“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.
And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”
Our job as a church full of Christians is to make it easier for people to see God’s salvation. We are in the business of preparing the way, making it easier for people to see and experience what God is doing. And these are the questions we need to be asking: How do we level the mountains? How do we straighten out the crooked roads? What can we do to smooth out the rough places? How do we make it easier for more men and women to see and experience God’s salvation?
Well, John the Baptist tells us:
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” ~Luke 3:8
You’re repenting of your sins, John says. You’re being baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Now make sure your lives reflect that. Make sure you’re consistent with that.
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
Share your possessions with others. Pursue economic justice for others. Treat others fairly.
Being baptized means you’re all in. Your sins are forgiven, you’re cleansed; but that’s not all. You’re commissioned, you’re charged with ministry, with living your life in such a way that others can see and experience the salvation works of God. The same thing happened when Jesus was baptized. He didn’t need forgiveness; this was the commissioning point of his ministry. His ministry was launched in the waters of baptism.
“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized, too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased!'” ~Luke 3:21-22
God anoints his Son with his Holy Spirit. He’s consecrating Jesus, ordaining him for ministry. God makes a public declaration of his relationship to his Son and at that point, verse 23, Jesus begins his ministry. He is full of the Holy Spirit (4:1), led by the Holy Spirit (4:1), and empowered by the Holy Spirit (4:14).
Through the rest of the Gospel we watch as our Lord Jesus shines God’s salvation light into darkness. Jesus lays his hands on the crippled woman and heals her. He eats dinner at the Pharisee’s house. He interacts with and serves the Samaritan lepers. He stays with Zacchaeus and calls him a son. Jesus looks at the sinful woman at Simon’s house and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” He says “Let the little children come to me with all their sticky hands and runny noses.” He holds them, touches them, blesses them.
Everywhere our Lord goes, everywhere he is, he shines the light of love and forgiveness. He brings the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, our Lord Jesus is love and mercy and truth. He brings it. He lives it. And people are blessed and the world is changed.
And on that last night, around the table with his closest followers, he looks us in the eye and says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
By our baptisms and by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are to go into our communities and do the same things Jesus did in order that more men and women might see God’s salvation. All of us are called to seek and save, to heal and forgive, to love and reconcile — to bear baptism fruit.
Please see the previous post regarding the Hurricane Bucket Challenge. Central Church of Christ is the official drop-off location for the city of Amarillo and the entire Texas Panhandle. C-A and I have completed our buckets and will have them at Central first thing in the morning.
Why don’t you join us?
Central Church of Christ is the Hurricane Bucket Challenge drop-off site for the city of Amarillo and the entire Texas Panhandle. Churches of Christ all over the Southwest are cooperating with the Grace Crossing Community Church of Christ in Conroe, Texas to provide cleaning tools and supplies to help the thousands of displaced families in the Houston area get back into their homes.
To participate, fill a five-gallon bucket with the items on this list and bring the bucket to Central Church of Christ (1401 S. Monroe, Amarillo) any day beginning this Sunday September 3. We’ll collect the buckets and make sure they all get to the hurricane response staging site at Grace Crossing.
I don’t know yet if we’re going to load up a U-Haul and drive it down to Houston once a week for the next couple of months or if we’re going to need to rent a huge semi-tractor-trailer — I have no idea how many of these buckets are going to come in. I know the good families at Bivins Elementary are going to want to participate and some of our high school students at Central are already planning to get their schools involved.
All the details are on our church website here. You can view the Hurricane Bucket Challenge video here (my soul dies a little bit every time I see Doug Peters wearing an Astros cap). And you can share this information on Facebook or other social media by clicking here. If you’re reading this from outside the Panhandle, check the list of churches close to your area.
We’re getting our buckets today, one for each member of our family, and filling them up and bringing them to church tomorrow. Why don’t you do the same? And spread the word.
What a joy to share our resources with those in need! May our gifts bring glory to God and point to his Son, our Lord Jesus! And may God’s will be done in Houston just as it is in heaven!