Category Archives: kingdom of God

Imitating Jesus: a look at Philippians 1:27-2:18

to live is Christ — Philippians 1:1-26

The Jesus Poem — the heart of Philippians

Zebras & Elephants

Zebras scatter and flee, leaving the weakest and most vulnerable as lions’ prey. Elephants group together and defend the entire herd. We are too often zebras rather than elephants.  

An accusation is made against clergy, politician, professor, author, journalist, coach, coworker, or colleague. Perhaps it is legitimate. Perhaps it was invented by a malcontent. Perhaps it was innocent. Perhaps not. We don’t know. We don’t care. 

We flee and leave the accused to the lions, lest somehow we be negatively impacted. We hear one side of the story. We never talk to the accused. Rumors are repeated until they enter the public consciousness as fact. If such accusations and innuendoes have been covered up in the past, all the more reason to jump to the opposite extreme. Guilty without evidence. Guilty without proof. Guilty without even the opportunity to defend oneself. 

False gods demand blood sacrifices. Person after person is sacrificed on the altar of accusation to preserve what really matters – the institution. Careers, families, and lives are destroyed. The roaring lions are satiated for only a very short time. 

What if, instead, we acted like elephants and supported one another? 

What if we carefully and fully investigated, heard all sides, and brought the parties together with the goal of reconciliation whenever possible? 

What if justice were tempered with mercy and wrongs righted with forgiveness? 

What if the innocents were exonerated and the guilty restored?

Wouldn’t that look a lot more like the Kingdom of God?

A Thistle in Eden

For us, one of life’s blessings is volunteering at a nature center dedicated to education. An expert in native and edible plants led a walk recently during which he taught me (among many other things) that thorny plants indicate land healing itself. Ohio, for example, was once 90% covered with old growth forests. By 1900, only 10% of the state was forested. Once cleared, some of the most productive farmland on earth was available to settlers.

Leave the cleared land alone and grasses will grow and meadows will soon fill with thorny plants of various kinds. Many have brightly colored berries that call to the birds, 

“Eat me, poop out the seeds and spread us around!” 

The thorns, on the other hand, broadcast a different message to animals: 

“Don’t walk here and don’t try to eat us. You’ll be sorry if you do.” 

Without animals chewing and trampling on things, box elder trees grow quickly, then give way to walnut trees, which give way to the mighty oaks of the mature forest. The land, once denuded, is healed and whole.

Native people inhabited this land for 10,000 years before any European set foot on it. 

One cannot exaggerate the arrogance of European explorers and settlers who “discovered” and “claimed” the lands, then proceeded with campaigns of genocide, all in the name of God. 

The native people knew the forests and managed the land with care. They understood the healing heralded by the thorns. 

Thankfully, there are many of us who are coming to understand our proper calling in God’s world – ours is a stewardship to protect and care for creation. We are beginning to grasp the reality that we are a part of nature, interconnected with all living things. We are learning to garden organically, eat locally sourced foods, compost vegetation, and recycle. We are seeing the absurdity of scraping off topsoil and laying down non-native sod, and of eradicating those thorny “weeds” with lymphoma-inducing herbicides. 

Many of us care about the air we breathe and the water we drink. We want our beaches to be free of oil. We want the nations of the world to transition quickly to sustainable energy so that millions won’t have to die in floods and fires. We are learning that the first task God gave humans in Genesis was to care for God’s garden.

As with nature, so with us. The interior person reflects the outer world with which she is systemically connected.

Some of my kin may have slashed and burned great forests to plant crops. 

I cannot judge them. 

I have slashed and burned relationships, opportunities, and talents.

 I am the wounded field.

Thorns appear. Yes, and some fruit as well. 

I tend to only see the thorns. 

Hunger drives the cougar to the hunt. 

The hot knife cauterizes the wound. 

Though I long to be a mighty oak in the divine forest, I am reminded that God calls 

the weak “strong,” 

the less “more,” 

the slave “master,”

and the poor “blessed.”

See us! Thorny weeds, one and all!

The Master is healing. 

How to Fight the Evil One and Win! A look at Ephesians 6:10-20

The Sky is Falling!

I keep reading about the crisis in the American church:

  • An estimated 1700 pastors leave the ministry every month.
  • Less than 50% of Americans identify as Christian.
  • Less than 25% ever attend a church.
  • People under 45 are leaving churches in droves.
  • Protestant, Catholic, and Evangelical churches are all shrinking
  • Mega-churches remain popular with boomers & Gen-X, but younger people eschew them

This is causing a great deal of consternation in congregations, denominations, and church-planting groups.

I think it’s a blessing.

The whole thing about building buildings and staffing programs is mostly a waste of resources. Home churches with bivocational leaders can meet people’s needs for worship, prayer, study, and growth and are best situated to reach friends and neighbors. Almost all the money they raise can be used for charity. And, they can always join forces, rent a space once in a while, and have a bigger meeting if need be. The American church is based on the same principles as American business. But even businesses are rethinking their investments in brick and mortar and the necessity of armies of middle managers. 

Besides, what makes a pastor or other church leader? We know the right answers – love, compassion, prayer, heart for Jesus, care for people, ability to teach scripture. In reality, however, that’s not who gets moved to the front of the queue. Instead, good looking, dynamic, outgoing, entrepreneurial men who are great speakers and skilled at church politics are the pick of the lot. They are CEOs. 

I’ve been a mega-church pastor. I’ve planted churches. I know how to study the demographics and design programs to meet felt needs. Instead, give me a home fellowship with a dozen people who love and care for each other and have hearts for the marginalized, victimized, and disenfranchised – people who love God, all others (no exceptions), creation, and themselves with Christlike cruciform love. 

No judgment. Just my opinion. 

Cultivating Healthy Relationships – 4 Keys from Ephesians 5

The Grand, Sweeping Narrative of Scripture

Ask the average Christian today why Jesus had to die on the cross and he will likely say something to the effect of “to pay for our sins.”

Had you asked the same question to any Christian during the first four centuries of Christianity, they would have replied, “to destroy the works of the devil.”

Both answers are biblical and correct, but the first is too narrow. It doesn’t go far enough. Yes, we are all sinners. True, our sins separate us from God. And, yes, Jesus paid for our sins on the cross so that now we can be completely forgiven and adopted into God’s forever family. Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!

But Jesus did more than that on the cross. He destroyed the works of evil. (1 John 3:8 ESV: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.)

No one knew it at the time, but on Good Friday, everything changed. Jesus absorbed into his sinless being all the evil in the universe. All that is wrong, hurtful, evil, unjust – all of the chaos in the cosmos – imploded. The forces of darkness are utterly defeated. As a result, God has begun God’s reign on the earth now. We as individuals get to participate in that reign as new creations. We are collectively invited to join God as God makes all things new. 

We join God as Jesus makes all things new by doing what Jesus said to do. We participate in the Kingdom of God by conforming our lives to the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)

We can’t do it alone. We need each other. We need the strength and guidance of others. Together, we seek to live with Jesus, learning from Jesus, how to be like Jesus. Together, we hold up a mirror to power and defend the poor, weak, displaced, marginalized, disenfranchised, and victimized. 

Ask the average Christian today what it means to follow Jesus, and they will likely give you a theological answer about atonement and immortality.

Ask the average non-Christian today what it means to follow Jesus, and almost invariably they will respond, “Love your enemies.” 

Why is it that many non-Christians get it and many church-goers do not?

a universe filled with JESUS! a look at Ephesians 4

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