In our younger years, I taught elementary school and loved it. Kids are amazing and so much fun to work with, and it is so inspiring to watch how just a little love, care, and positive attention can help them to bloom. However, the elementary school classroom is also a wonderful place to develop and maintain a firm understanding of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. Contrary to popular modern teaching and opinion, groups of people living and working together day after day in close proximity are not going to magically and organically treat one another with care and respect - in fact, left to their own devices, most school classrooms would quickly devolve into a Lord of the Flies situation.
Any serious study of the history of civilization will testify to the fact that without some sort of outside influence, chaos reigns. The problem is, of course, that just about all of the outside influences are little better than chaos themselves. Injustice is rampant, power is corruptive, and the strong devour the weak - every sort of kingdom that humans have managed to produce in our own strength are tainted by these truths.
This is why, when a truly unusual young man from a little town called Nazareth began teaching and preaching about a new kingdom over 2000 years ago, so many people had questions. The next time you read through the Gospels, notice two things - first, how many times Jesus mentions the Kingdom of God. The two are inseparable, Jesus and His Kingdom; you cannot have one without the other. Second, notice how many of the conversations recorded in the Gospels are of Jesus answering questions that people had about His Kingdom. What is it, where is it, why can't I see it, and how do you get into it? The more Jesus explained His Kingdom, the more questions His listeners had.
His hearers then were almost exclusively Jewish people. At that point in time, they alone had the revelation of who God really was; yet, when He came to them in the flesh, many could not recognize Him or His Kingdom. It is thought-provoking to note that the priests and the teachers of the law had taken the beautiful revelation of God and over the centuries created an elaborate system of rituals and of complex lists of do's and don'ts. Their system became more precious to them than their God - it lost the heart of God and became a new standard for righteousness: Self-righteousness.
When confronted with the real King and His Kingdom, many could not make things make sense. He did not do things the way they thought He should. Jesus was born in a stable, not a palace. He came from a backwater town and hung out with the lowest of the low, little kids loved Him and wanted to be around Him, and He made time for anyone - man or woman, rich or poor. He preached that if you want to be first, you have to be last; and that you cannot say you love God without also loving and forgiving your neighbor, and treating everyone else as you would like to be treated. He taught that people of His Kingdom would be known as meek, merciful peacemakers. He taught that if you want to save your life, you have to lose it. And instead of delivering with an army, He delivered by laying down His own life.
Since Jesus came and revealed to the whole world what HIs Kingdom was like, civilization has been radically changed. It is actually amazing and revolutionary that now there are entire nations in which slavery is illegal - that is because of Jesus and His people. It is also amazing that in many nations, women and children are treated with dignity and respect, and given every opportunity to have a full and purposeful life - that is because of Jesus and His people. In many nations touched and influenced by the teachings of Jesus, the poor are looked after and the downtrodden are lifted up. His Kingdom looks very different than anything humans could produce on our own - His Kingdom is entirely motivated by real love and selflessness.
This is why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was so insistent that we not miss the real King and be satisfied with our own systems of self-righteousness. See this strongly worded passage in Hebrews chapter 12...
See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire."
- Hebrews 12: 25-29
Everything that can be, will be shaken. If ever there was a time that this seems very likely, it is today in 2020! Nothing that humans have created outside of God and His Kingdom will remain - no structure, no system of governance, no religion, nothing.
Listen to the profound and prophetic words of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon preached in 1963. He was writing in a time and place when, for the first time, no one laughed at the idea of the earth being literally shaken and melted - it was the dawn of the Atomic Age and everyone was very aware of the power and fear that had been unleashed with nuclear weaponry, and this after a half century of brutal world warfare...
"In other words, we can put it like this: the uniqueness of this message lies in the fact that there has been One in this world who really did not belong to it. The world has thrown up its great men, its great philosophers, its great scientists, its great statesmen and great musicians and many other great men, but Jesus of Nazareth was not a great man, He was God-man!
This is the appaling thing, is it not, that two thousand years later, He is still being ignored. The world has always been a place of trouble and of pain, and the whole story of civilization is that of the human race trying to solve its own problems...trying to put an end to war, trying to make people live amicably together, trying to order life so that men and women might live as it should be lived and that they might enjoy it. But they failed yet the world is still trying, still turning to the same kind of idea...doing everything except listening to this one thing. This is why this writer puts it like this: "See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks."
Friends, we know that everything will be shaken, and that only God's Kingdom will remain. Do not allow the things that are happening now to discourage or frighten you - keep your eyes on Jesus! As one old preacher said, Jesus and His Kingdom are God's total answer for man's every need. By His grace and forgiveness can people learn to live peacefully together, now and forever.
This is our wonderful opportunity to share with all of our family, friends, and neighbors the Good News of Jesus, who alone can lift our burden of sin and bring real help to men and women. It is our honor to tell everyone how much God loves them and wants them to be a part of His great, unshakeable Kingdom.
2020 has been full of surprises, to say the least. It is really beginning to seem like God might be trying to get our attention. In His infinite wisdom and mercy, and in His perfect timing, He has seen fit to give us ears to hear what He can always hear- the terrible weeping and groaning against the injustices committed, in both attitude and action, by the peoples of the world. God hears the cry of every heart, in every street, in every land, and is deeply grieved. Injustice is not imagined nor is it a problem of the past; it is very real and terrible and painful, and very present in modern times in so many ways.
When we are forced to face this problem as we are right now, and not just ignore it or pretend it is not there as we so often do, it can seem overwhelming. What can any of us actually do? The problems of society here in America and across the world seem so immense and devasating that we can be tempted to freeze into inaction, or to play the blame game and shift the responsibility for help somewhere else.
As we find ourselves in a time of upheaval, we recognize that injustice is not limited to America, but is rampant throughout the world. Again, God really does hear the cry of every heart, in every street, in every land; He is moved with compassion and His unexpected answer is to send help through His people who respond to HIs call. The great love of Christ compels us - not just to hear the cry and to see the need, but to be like Him and do something about it. As followers of Jesus, we must live our lives in such a way that we bring not just empty words, but real solutions, and we know that the beginning of real change starts in the heart of every human. Jesus alone can bring healing and hope, restoration and reconcilliation; “He died for all, that those who live in Him should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor 5:15)
The problem is the human heart - filled with selfishness, sin, and pride.
The solution is a heart change - through Jesus, who alone can give us new hearts. He takes away our bondage to sin and selfishness and fills us with righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17)
Where do we start? Of course, we must all start with our own hearts. We must surrender our own wills to God, have our own burden of sin lifted, and receive forgiveness and a new heart. That is a good start, and probably everyone reading this has already done that. But then what?
Jesus told a great story about this…
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13: 3-9
This is a story about the Kingdom of God. When the good seed, which is the good news that Jesus has brought salvation, lands in good soil, it produces a beautiful, bountiful crop that has far-reaching impact. When Jesus changes one good-soiled heart, an entire family and community and even nation can be impacted. Sadly, when the seed falls on unprepared ground, it often just dies.
Here is the point - there’s nothing wrong with the seed, and we cannot believe that only the smallest minority of hearts will ever accept the truth. Someone just needs to take the time to prepare the soil.
It brings to my mind the myriad stone fences found in the part of New England in which I spent my childhood. Everywhere you look, there are miles of rugged old fences made of big stones, surrounding beautiful farmland. Someone, sometime had to dig up all of those rocks so that the land could produce fruit. This could not have been easy work; in fact, it probably included a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and time.
In agricultural terms, very few fields are ready to farm right away; rather, they need to be tilled and prepped and the trees, roots, stones, and thorns must be removed to ready the soil. In human terms, very few hearts are ready for the good news right away. The layers of hurt and bitterness and the carefully constructed walls around their hearts have to be broken through so that the seed can flourish.
How can we prepare hearts to hear the good news? In decades of university ministry, we have noticed that many hard hearts can be softened when we can show them real love and laughter - these two things can plow the hardest of hearts. Here are some thoughts along those lines:
May God help us today to renew our committment to Jesus and His Kingdom. May He grant us strength and wisdom and vision to stay the course and see hearts won for Jesus in the places He has sent us. May the Spirit of God fill us afresh and anew today with power to be His witnesses and with hope for the people we meet. May we boldly declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light, and may we have the patience to gently till the ground of hard hearts all around us so that the work of God can flourish in their lives.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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