Revolutionary Action!

November 21, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #10

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Contextually Paul wastes little time getting directly to the heart of the matter within the Roman churches—literally. It is the practical stage of the transformation. It is what the makeover really looks like. He is calling for revolutionary action—what living the revolution is all about.

Redirected Passion (12:8-16)

Or perhaps even better stated—redeemed passion. He begins with a makeover of what drives us—our passions—what we love and hate. Could it start otherwise? For things to change in Rome; for the Jew and Non-Jew alike to get on with the kingdom revolution; the “inward man” needed a makeover. Genuinely and transparently they needed to love each other. Unless and until they sincerely did no transformation could take place. Period.

Driving this change would be a decided distaste for anything evil coupled with an overarching desire for the good, holy and righteous. Don’t fail to make the connections Paul is working for here. Revolutions change everything remember? Change here involves a Jew and non-Jew seeing each other through the kingdom perspective. The layers involved in this include how good and evil are viewed. No longer would the Jew view the non-Jew through a hate/evil lens and visa-versa. Instead sincere love replaces hatred and racism. In Christ it is all good! Cling to that! Cling to your brothers. Christ’s values become preeminent in relationships, not worldly values.

Therefore be devoted to each other as family—regardless of race. Part of the revolution is creating a new family and a new identity in Christ that trumps all others. It is a family not based on heritage, but on “no condemnation” in Christ Jesus. The bloodline that we all have in common is what Christ shed on the cross. Love each other deeply, transparently and sincerely in this family—without reservation—even to the point of honoring the other above yourself. In Christ we are all elevated! Live that out. That is indeed a revolution—not seen nor heard anywhere else outside of the kingdom of God. Be passionate about that—not about hating. Frame it all in Christ. It all flows from serving him.

Redirect all that negative emotion; all that passion twisted by evil values and transform them to reflect the values of Christ. What a difference that would make! Transforming—not conforming. This is the way revolutions spread! It is not business as usual. It is the revolution of the kingdom of God. Wonderful. Amazing. Different. Redeeming. Beautiful. Welcoming. Eternal. Cling to this!

Never Be Lacking!

Allow this positive passion to go deep within to create the kind of hope that endures even when challenged. The kind of hope that can even find joy when the pushback comes—and rest assured it will come. All revolutions face resistance. Pushback comes from being different; from doing things differently (such as Jew sitting down to a meal with a non-Jew); so be ready. Never be lacking in the kind of zeal that enables hope and joy to reset the challenges (this is a common New Testament encouragement—Hebrews 12:2: James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6-9). No longer is the pushback—the persecution—crippling and disheartening. It can be processed as a “light and momentary” trouble. Our joy in Jesus outweighs it. Prayer is a significant part of this process too. It is how we express it all directly to God. It is the language of the revolution.

So much so that in the kingdom we can even redefine persecution itself. Incredibly it can be made over into an opportunity to bless the persecutors! (Notice the echoes of the Sermon on the Mount throughout Paul’s teaching here?) Talk about a revolutionary idea—this is it! Don’t speak curses back into the pushback—speak blessings! (How are we at this practice?) Find the losers around you—not the winners to identify with and associate with! Incredible! That is just not the American way (nor was it the first-century way), but it is the kingdom way. (If we have paid any attention to Christ, this should not be surprising however. It is exactly what he did—Matthew 11:4-6.) So the weak, the poor, the timid, the mournful, the outcast, the sick, the homeless, the meek, the hurting, the lost, the friendless, the sinner, those on the fringe—go bless them; go hang out with them. Intentionally befriend them. Do not care what anyone else thinks. Care what God thinks. Do it all together too—in harmony with one another and with the same goal in mind. Revolutionaries must be united in their pursuit of the revolution or it will not happen.

And for it to happen, Paul includes another bit of advice—get over yourself. He doubles back to verse 3 because he knew this needed to be reiterated. No one ever said revolutions were easy. As long as a Jew allowed any old prejudice to linger; who kept even a small portion of Jewish pride within; or the non-Jew hung on to similar attitudes—nothing would change. Not a chance any of this would happen. Therefore—let go of conceit. Forget who you once were. That was all meaningless and counterproductive to the kingdom. Transformation is transformation! The result is nothing looks like it once did and that includes the person looking back in the mirror.

God’s calls for revolutionary action! Action intentionally driven by the values of the kingdom of God. Action designed to further the kingdom. Action that is not unnoticed. Action that makes sense only through a kingdom perspective. Action that will continue to change the world. So, how about it? Are we up to it? Are we passionate about it? Are we a part of the revolution?

 

 

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Selfish Ambition

June 7, 2017

me

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Philippians 2:3

I suppose it would not be shocking to confess that over the course of my life and ministry that this verse (and its context) has haunted me.

I recently took the enneagram personality test and my number came up 8. A number 8 is identified as a “challenger.” Detailed this means, “The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational.” Notice that humility is not listed.

It is not just humility, but also the “selfish ambition” part. This can be nuanced. There is a line between ambition and selfish ambition I guess, but often that line blurs. I’ve asked myself many times—how much of my ministry has been motivated or at least partially shaped by personal ambition? Am I like Paul, who stated (twice) his desire to only “boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17) or does my boasting reflect something entirely different?

I have a vivid memory of a guest presenter who spent a weekend with my church leading a seminar on evangelism. He was a gifted speaker who motivated that church, so much so, that dozens responded to his call to recommit to evangelism on Sunday morning. It was a powerful and pivotal moment for that congregation. As the shepherds and I were busy assisting those who came with their prayer requests and statements—the speaker decided to use the time to promote himself as well as his books, urging everyone to stop by his table and purchase one or more. This bothered me (and being the challenger that I am, I told him so). To me it was totally inappropriate—not the time for self-promotion.

So is there ever a time?

I have certainly done it—to angle for a speaking gig or recognition or whatever. After all isn’t this the way to get ahead, to get noticed, to get likes and retweets and to succeed in your profession?

But it leads me directly back in conflict with Philippians 2:3 and all those pesky kingdom values. Vain conceit—ouch. Do nothing out of selfish ambition—how difficult is that! Actually consider others needs more than my own—is that even possible? Yet that is the “mind of Christ.” That is exactly what I am called upon to model.

I’ll be honest. For me this remains a work in progress. It is quite the challenge for the challenger. I always have to remember:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10

In the end this is the only ambition that matters.


The Least of These

May 18, 2017

Over the last few months I have been preaching from the kingdom parables in the gospel of Matthew. These stories along with Christ’s other teachings and personal ministry reveal the nature and values of “the kingdom of heaven.” To me as I read the entire story as it unfolds in Matthew, the kingdom was on the mind of Jesus from the very beginning of his teaching ministry (the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7) until his last public teaching before his arrest (chapters 24-25).

As I understand it, the kingdom of God has an “already here/but not yet” aspect to it. The kingdom is here Jesus taught—among us and in us, but not in it fullest state. We still get to anticipate, yearn for, and look forward to it. To me, the best way to understand the kingdom is like this:

  • It is where God is/rules. Wherever the reign of God can be seen, his kingdom is present.
  • It is within us. So Jesus stated in Luke 17:21. When God rules within us his kingdom then is evident in us.
  • It is from another place. So Jesus stated in John 18:36. This speaks to the values of the kingdom. This is what Jesus began sharing in the Sermon and throughout his ministry. These kingdom values are usually at odds with those of our world.
  • The kingdom focus is on the least of these. This was among what Matthew last recorded Jesus saying before his arrest in a section we know as “The Sheep and the Goats” or the great judgment scene. Found here is a major way that kingdom values differ from the world.

“THE LAST WILL BE FIRST”

As Matthew presents Jesus, we hear him say these words more than once and we witness him practice them. Sure there is the backstory of the Jewish establishment’s rejection of his Messiahship—the “first” in God’s story refusing to embrace God’s Son while reacting as the invitation goes out to the “last” folks they ever expected to be in a kingdom celebration (or wedding feast as Jesus imagines it in Matthew 22:1-14). But there is more to the story than just proving a point to hard hearted Jews.

The kingdom of God really is about the least of these. I love the way Jesus replied to some disciples of John the Baptist who came asking if Jesus was, in fact, the true Messiah  (Matthew 11:4). His answer was about the least of these. It was about how the lame could walk, the blind could see, the deaf could hear, lepers were healed, the poor hearing good news. Interesting.

You can see this all throughout Christ’s ministry—stopping to listen to blind Bartimaeus, healing lepers, feeding thousands, making time for little children, offering hope to an adulterous woman, casting out demons in people others had completely given up on. This was Jesus reaching out unashamedly to the forgotten, the devalued, the fringe, the ignored, the neglected, the last–and incredibly making them first on his mind, in his heart and in his kingdom.

Remember his disciples squabbling about who would be the greatest in his kingdom? This is so like most of us—seeking the edge, maneuvering for position, wanting to be number one—first! Matthew shared this unflattering episode in 20:20-28. Once more Jesus made it crystal clear that in his kingdom this type of ego stroking would not occur. It was about being last, he told them, not first. Or as he framed it in another conversation–giving up of ourselves; our self-will and ego in order to gain much more in him.

Do we get it? It is all about the least of these. Once Jesus said that if we harm or injure one of his little ones—specifically little children in the context of Matthew 18:1-15—that it would be better for us to have a millstone (read very heavy weight) strapped to our neck and cast into the sea. Not sure how much plainer it can get than that.

It is about justice, mercy, grace, empowerment, forgiveness, hope, compassion, healing and love—demonstrated to those who frequently do not receive much of it. This is what Jesus came to deliver. This is what his kingdom in its present form is to emphasize. And when the kingdom comes in its fullest—forgotten folks like poor, sick Lazarus will enjoy an eternal place at God’s table. The last will be first.

THIS HAS CHANGED ME

On a personal level this “least of these” emphasis has changed me. First, I can relate to it. Honestly, I often feel like one of the “least of these.” This has more to do with believing Satan’s lies than Christ’s teaching, but it is a real struggle for me at times. Quite often I assess my life and feel like a failure on different levels—wondering if my life has made any real, lasting difference; questioning if my attempts at preaching really matter in the big picture; wondering if I have helped or hurt my family; at times feeling lonely and afraid–just out on the fringe. I do realize and acknowledge that these thoughts come from my enemy who wants to “steal, kill and destroy” me, but they are honest emotions. And it is good to know that when I am thus struggling that Christ is there. This is the “when I am weak, he is strong” promise of 2 Corinthians 12:10–which is simply another way of restating his kingdom focus.

It has also changed me in how I look at others. How often have I brushed aside the Bartimeaus’s of the world in my rush to pursue my own ends—my own place at the chief seat in the kingdom? How often have I ignored the last? Had no time for the least of these? How many times have I been so focused on the winners, while denigrating the losers that I lost sight of the real purpose of my life within the kingdom of God?

God forgive me. I have come to realize that those I have called “the losers” are exactly who Christ valued–the least of these.

The evidence is just too overwhelming. Read again Matthew’s story of Jesus. It is right there—repeatedly. In God’s kingdom:

Whoever wants to become great among you must become your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. 

It really is about the least of these.


Ego: Preacher’s Secret Struggle

July 18, 2013

It is an understatement to say that the Corinthian church was a tangled mess of splits and splinters. As Paul details their struggle in the first chapter of the first letter, he reveals the part that had to do with preachers. Their preacher preference had become so pronounced that they were dividing their church over it. One of the preachers that some of them exalted to the point of division was Paul himself.

Paul’s reaction was to downplay his role; fail to remember exactly everyone he had personally baptized; and reject their notion of dividing over those who proclaim Christ. “Is Christ divided?” he would pointedly ask.

Unsurprisingly, Paul would have none of this.  He could have seized this moment to bask in the admiration of his following, but he was not about to go there. A few sentences later he would recall Jeremiah 9:24 and remark:

Therefore as it is written: Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.  (vs. 31)

He would reference Jeremiah again in 2 Corinthians 10:17 in the midst of a text in which he found qualified “boasting” necessary to defend himself against personal attacks and threats to this apostolic ministry and authority. Even then he thought the whole affair to be “foolishness” (11:1).

I have often wondered how I would have handled this Corinthian situation.  My tendency might well have been to compare myself to the other preachers in play, and decide that; yeah, I agree—I am the better preacher. Follow me.

Of course, I probably would not have admitted it.

I don’t think I am going out-on-a-limb to say that for many of us preacher-types, ego is a secret, hidden struggle. I am not speaking of the type of healthy ego we all need, but rather that driven by pride and/or insecurity, which needs to be fueled by recognition and reward.

Again let me qualify: Everyone needs encouragement; an occasional “atta-boy:” Every preacher needs to know his work is appreciated and find consistent support within his congregation. Preaching is not necessarily the best job in the world to boost self-esteem. So love, pray for, and encourage your preacher. He needs it.

The secret struggle I speak of goes beyond the natural human desire for affirmation, however. Perhaps it can be illustrated by John’s reference of Diotrephes in 3 John 9 as one who “loves to be first.” Granted this is extreme, but it gets to my point.

I can say this because I, as a preacher, have been on the front line of the secret struggle. Like James and John I have desired to sit in the chief seats (see Matthew 20). And I know I am not alone.

I have witnessed some really ugly expressions of hungry egos among my preaching brothers. But there is no place for arrogance or empire building in God’s kingdom. Whatever good may be accomplished through an ego-centered approach to ministry does not justify the means.

Back to Matthew 20: Jesus corrected the egocentric vision of James and John. He pointed out that this has no place in his kingdom. “The last will be first and the first will be last” is the kingdom ideal.

But almost everything that is within me does not want to be last. I want recognition. I want to be that keynote speaker. I want people boasting about my preaching. Herein is the hidden struggle.

I continue to learn from Paul, though. Here is what he told that Corinthian church about his preaching:

I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is, then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 MSG)

Now this is no diatribe against the most gifted among us, or those who bless us through their exceptional preaching ministry. I have been lifted up often through the eloquence and the plain and simple teaching of many preachers.

The key for me—and indeed for us all—is to keep “Jesus crucified” at the center of all we preach and do; and when we do have an occasion to boast, boast only in the Lord.

That need to fill up our ego? God’s got that.