Kingdom Living Now: Imperishable and Immovable

CHRIST IS RISEN!

Oh, that we could celebrate together in the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection! Today is the defining day of our faith–the day Jesus stands victorious. The day He steps out of a tomb, awake and alive. The day He begins making His resurrected self known to the people who love Him best.

All that He said would happen has taken place–betrayal, arrest, beatings, death, burial, and three days in the tomb. Now, Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and King lives! And, He’s ready to do more Kingdom work.

When Jesus began His ministry, He brought the Kingdom of God to earth. He, the walking Tabernacle, lived among us and modeled for us this “already” component of kingdom life. But, there’s also a “not yet” element to His kingdom–the one we inherit upon death. For more details on this, we leap ahead into the New Testament and ask Paul to give the details. Take your time. Take it in:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?” 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.  

1 Corinthians 15:50-58, NRSV

Glowing Bodies

Paul says our bodies, as they are, cannot inherit the not-yet-kingdom. We’re simply too broken, too imperfect. To illustrate this idea of how our bodies and eternity interact, let’s look back at the time Adam and Eve sinned.

“At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.”

Genesis 3:7, NLT

An old belief, going back to the fourth century, states that the bodies Adam and Eve had before sin were not like the ones we have now; rather, they glowed with the glory of God. In other words, they “wore” garments of light, reflecting their perfection and oneness with God. But the light disappeared the instant they chose to go against God (christianity.stackexchange). This idea may be foreign to us today, but the bodily brilliance of Adam and Eve’s pre-fall bodies resembles other moments of holy-glowing humans like Moses (Exodus 34:35) and Jesus (Matthew 17:2). Then there are the prophecies that say the righteous will shine like the sun and stars (Matthew 13:43; Daniel 12:3). 

This Garden glory-glow theory says that the light goes out because these first humans lose their righteousness, their right standing with God. As a result, shame enters and humans no longer get to live with God. For our purposes, I think it’s good to consider this bodily transformation that occurred in the beginning because the reverse happens in the end.

And Jesus demonstrates this change for us. 

Photo by Manuel Rheinschmidt on Unsplash

Resurrected Bodies

If you imagine the resurrected Jesus as a vaporous ghost, flying through walls like Casper–as I once did–you would be incorrect. I’ll never forget that light-bulb-moment as I read these words, spoken by Jesus after His resurrection:

“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

Luke 24:39, NKJV

Resurrected Jesus is not a spirit. He’s flesh and blood. He walks and talks (Luke 24:13–30), breathes and eats (Acts 10:40-41), and can be touched (John 20:27). Yes, His body is new, different, and unique from our earthly bodies–mysteriously appearing in locked rooms (John 20:19), while suddenly disappearing from others (Luke 24:31). But, it’s a body. 

The New Testament gives us further distinctions about this resurrection transformation so that we get an idea of what our bodies will be like after we die and come alive in Christ. John tells us in his letter that “we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, NIV). We will be like Him. Our resurrected bodies will look and function just as His. Made new. Made whole. A glorified, fleshy body that will never fade or fail. 

And it’s in these resurrected, holy bodies that we will live out eternity. In our place of inheritance, our bodies will have become as imperishable as God’s Kingdom.

Not-So-Dead Bodies. 

Back to 1 Corinthians 15. After explaining this imperishable body quality, Paul’s address turns locker-room-victory-speech more quoted than anything Knute Rockne ever said: 

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 
“Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?” (v.54-55)

Sorry, Paul, but I’d always thought you were quoting David here. But it turns out that Paul takes a little of Isaiah (25:8) and a paraphrase of Hosea (13:14) to mold this beauty of an anthem. Poets and songwriters have had a field day with its victorious cry because it’s THE game-changing, life-transforming triumph of all time. 

Jesus. Defeats. Death.

The grave couldn’t contain Him. Death couldn’t hold Him. Satan thought he’d finally won, but death went down. Jesus’ resurrection is proof of His Sonship, His authority and power and glory. And we get to be part of it all. 

“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!!” (v.57)

devotableapp.com

Heavenly Bodies

Of course, there’s more to this story of our resurrected, imperishable selves. The prophets hint at it. Jesus spoke a little of it, but as John said, we just don’t know much about it (1 John 3:2). Though in his later revelation, we do get a little view of life in our eternal inheritance. It’s bright with light (Rev. 21:23). It flows with life-giving water (Rev. 22:1). It’s packed with plenty of fruit (Rev. 22:2). We’ll never thirst or hunger. There’s no more death. No more mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4). It’s heavenly!

Eden is restored. Once again humanity gets to live in the physical presence of our Creator and Savior. And, something tells me we’ll be glowing.

Victorious Bodies

Our Lenten journey through the Sermon on the Mount prepares us for kingdom life now, but it all stems from this place of victory. What looks like defeat on Good Friday turns into a beautiful fulfillment of the whole of Scripture on Sunday. Messiah conquers sin and death, once and for all, for every person of every nation!

So, for us to live in defeat–be it the defeat of fear or bad habits, of grief or poor choices–is to miss the power and purpose of the Resurrection. Today is the day we celebrate the greatest victory on record, and its power flows like the River of Life. From heaven’s throne room to earth today, its holy waters cascade down to bring us life–healed life, whole life, holy life. And, friends, this is how we can step out into the world as it is and live for God’s kingdom now. No matter what we feel or face, no matter what work Jesus calls us to, His death and resurrection are enough to help us press on and overcome (Romans 8:37). 

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58

Amen–let it be so!

  • I would so love to hear how this Lenten journey has impacted your life, your faith. Your comments encourage others!
  • Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Feast on the Word by picking up the habit of reading Scripture every single day – not for study but for soaking, that practice of allowing the Word to seep into your very being, transforming you from the inside-out. One way to do this is by reading smaller passages, which is the goal of Reading the Gospels in a Year at Read-Scripture.com. We’re in Matthew, so it’s a great time to jump in. 
  • I added one more song to our  Spotify Playlist. The “Death, where is your sting” lyrics demanded to be sung some more. Sing along with Shane & Shane, “O Praise the Name,” as LOUD AS YOU CAN.
  • This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.
  • We’ll pick up next week on a second series on Dwell. I can’t wait to enter into a season of dwelling, of abiding in Christ with you.

Featured photo from Godisreal.today.

Kingdom Living Now: Inseparable and Intentional

Hauling buckets of water and scooping mounds of sand, we worked hard to build a masterpiece. Our sandcastle had towers and bridges–even a moat that we could never keep filled. In all our efforts, however, we failed to notice that the tide edged closer by the minute. Till the one big wave came crashing in, leveling our castle. As the wave pulled back, the beach left no record of our endeavor. The sand had given way to the water’s power, leaving nothing behind but a blank slate.

Sand isn’t very strong on its own. Its tiny particles ebb and flow with the tide’s rise and fall, with each wave’s crash, all of which makes for a great beach, but it’s not so great as a foundation. And that is Jesus’ point in His conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.

Only Two Options

Americans love options–small, medium, or large. Sweet, unsweet, or half-and-half. Online, in-store, or curbside. But in Jesus’ kingdom there are only two options: His way or the world’s. The narrow gate or wide. True prophets and disciples or false. To illustrate this dichotomous truth, Jesus shares a parable of two men, one wise and one foolish. His point, in the end, is that each of us has only two options about how to live in this world. We’ll either be wise. Or we’ll be foolish. There is no in-between or hidden third way. There certainly aren’t multiple paths that lead to the Kingdom of God. Only one. So we either choose it, or we don’t. 

This parable explains that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock” (Matthew 7:24), and that “everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matthew 7:26). Two ways of hearing and doing. Two responses. Two results. 

On the Sand

One way to respond to the Word we hear is to choose to do nothing with it. I can’t help but think of Judas Iscariot. Here’s a man who walks and talks with Jesus for three years, who hears all the words of Jesus firsthand, but fails to do anything with them. Instead, he clings to his ideas and follows through with his agenda. His choice leads to death–Jesus’ and his own.

James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his letter that hearers of the Word–those who do not do what it says–let God’s truth go in one ear and out the other. By being hearers and not doers, they fail to know God fully (James 1:22-24). He ties together forever this idea of hearing and doing all that Jesus says, yet we resist. Something in us desires a different path.

Jesus addresses this flaw in our nature in Revelation:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16

Perhaps we avoid being ‘hot’ for Jesus because it takes effort or we think we don’t need Him. But we also don’t want to live ‘cold’ for Him because we know better. We’ve heard His teachings and to a certain degree believe they’re true. So, we try to hover between them–that lukewarm place that Jesus so despises. He says CHOOSE–you’re either for me or against me (Matthew 12:30). In our attempts to avoid making a choice, we actually make one. To remain lukewarm is to choose to build our house on a foundation of sand. 

Let’s illustrate this twenty-first century style. There’s a church-goer who calls herself a Jesus follower. She attends worship a time or two a month and joins the weekly Bible study every semester. Most weeks her homework is done, and she enjoys being with her friends–they’re warm and friendly and pray really well. She signs-up to cook meals for the women who have babies or surgeries and volunteers to answer phones at the church when there’s a need. She’s content, happy with her ordered life. Then one day she gets devastating news–the kind that pulls the rug right out from under you. Her life becomes a storm with wind and rain pounding her at every turn. As the storm barrels onward, the foundation she’s stood on washes away, leaving her swimming in the wild waves. As she treads water, gasping for breath, she realizes with a shock that her comfortable life had been void of God. It had been a lot of doing the busyness of life, but there had been no knowing of God, no truth soaked into her bones, no solid rock beneath her feet.

Friends, this sermon Jesus preaches is meant to wake us up to the lukewarm lives we tend to lead. From the outside looking in, many in the church appear the part, but their hearts lack the warmth of Jesus’ sanctifying love and truth and grace. They hear His words but never actually get around to doing them. Their foundation ends up being built on their own strength and smarts, which is a foundation that washes away with the first big wave.

Photo by Todd Turner on Unsplash

On the Rock

However, the opposite is true, too. Another woman chooses the narrow gate. She attends the same church and Bible study; she even volunteers for meals and in the church office, but her motive is pure–not for her glory but for the good of others. Every word spoken by her preacher soaks her mind with truth, and she lives it out. All the lessons from her time studying with other women are put into practice, allowing her pride to be turned to humility and her fear to be covered by Christ’s love. She is being transformed, and as such, His love flows out of her and onto everyone she meets. As she talks with Jesus throughout each day, the closeness she feels with Him intensifies and grows so that she begins praying with others, hoping they will find Jesus’ saving power, just as she has. The day arrives when her world comes crashing down around her, so she falls to her knees and cries to her Lord for help. She deeply laments all her losses yet calls to Jesus to carry her through the storm. And her foundation remains firm because she’s been building it on Jesus all along. Her faith remains intact, and with Jesus’s help she rides out the storm, beaten and bruised, but not defeated.

The wise way of building a holy life with Jesus is to hear His words and do them–His words and our actions inseparable.  

With Jesus

To live in the Kingdom now, we must live close to Jesus in our ordinary lives (Smith, 214). This living life close to Jesus embodies an abiding nature. The second woman in our example learned that putting Jesus’ words into action looks like drawing near to Him, to enter into His presence every day with the sole purpose of being with Him–no agenda, no worrying her prayers, no desire other than sitting at His feet. Yes, ask and seek and knock–but mostly, be

Jesus describes this way of living close to Him as being grafted like a vine into His branch (John 15). The branch of a grapevine stands sturdy and strong, roots anchored up to twenty feet in the soil. Picturing Jesus as the stalwart branch helps us see our need for Him–He feeds us, sustains us, holds us up when the winds blow, and fills us with life-giving water when life gets dry. 

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

As His vines, we surrender to His strength, allowing His love to flow through us and give us life. We submit to His pruning shears as they cut off the dead parts or even those stems that sap us of energy and life–because He knows what is best for us. Because we abide in Him, we trust Him. Even when the storms hit, we know He remains with us and in us and for us, and that truth carries us through in faith and with hope.

Passion Week

This is the week called Passion because it is so full of suffering, the Latin definition for ‘passion.’ Throughout this Lenten Season, we’ve been faithful to keep our eyes focused on our Savior, but this week is meant to take us deeper. We are to lean into the hard things–the heartache of betrayal and desertion, the pain of floggings, the humiliation of mockery, and the agony of crucifixion.

We can choose to draw closer to Jesus this week. Or not. 
We can choose to allow His pain to affect our hearts. Or not.
We can choose to enter into His suffering on our behalf. Or not.

Friends, this is a great week for us to examine the state of our relationship with the One who is the Way, the one and only Way. As we contemplate all He has done for us, we can choose to be hearers and doers of His Word. We can build our lives on the Rock–that Cornerstone the builders rejected–so that we’ll always have firm footing on this journey of life.

Living for the Kingdom of God now is an intentional mindset where we constantly choose to live for and abide in Jesus. But this abiding life requires help, the kind that can only come from the Helper, the Holy Spirit–in whom and through whom we have all we need to build this firm foundation in Christ, including the ability to embrace Him everyday. 

Two options. Let’s be wise.

  • Did you have any revelations last week as you feasted on Jesus’ call to quit judging others? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Jesus’ truth has been showing me how quickly I can shift from grace to blame, from good-heartedness to hard-hearted words–even if they’re in my mind. Lord Jesus, help us!
  • Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Fast what distracts. This week choose one thing in your life that keeps you from spending time in God’s presence – sleeping in, 24/7 news watching, social media scrolling, shopping, or whatever else distracts you from the better business of building a foundation on the rock of Jesus. Notice what happens when this distraction is removed – how do your heart and mind react? How can you continue to keep your focus on Christ?
  • Classics, like the hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock,” and modern worship songs, like “Build My Life,” capture the truth of Jesus’ concluding parable of the Sermon on the Mount beautifully. Enjoy them on our  Spotify Playlist!
  • This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.

Featured photo by Heather McKean on Unsplash
*I still pull from James Bryan Smith’s book, Good and Beautiful Life, which is a fruit of Dallas Willard’s teachings on the Sermon on the Mount.

Kingdom Living Now: Inhabit

King Jesus stands on the mountain for quite some time, preaching words meant to shape His listeners so they’ll be equipped to inhabit the kingdom He’s prepared for them. Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks words that differentiate true kingdom dwellers from those who are not:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”

Matthew 7:21, NLT

In other words, claiming to be a Christian or saying Jesus’ name aloud does not get someone in the Kingdom. Repeating Creeds, making professions of faith, and attending church every Sunday do not make people citizens and children of the King. When someone says, “Lord, Lord,” they might imply they’ve followed all the rules or have done loads of good works, yet none of these are proof of a dwelling in the “inward kingdom of heaven” (Wesley, 400). 

Nope. All our saying and doing and appearing will never be enough to enter the narrow gate (v.13). Instead, we must move from religion to a relationship, from lip-service to living out the law of Jesus’ holy and perfect love (Wesley, 402). 

But, let’s not be discouraged by these truths. Rather, let’s embody them so we can live like we belong to the Kingdom of God by:

  • Embracing the true faith Jesus describes in the Fifth Chapter–the inward religion John Wesley calls “those dispositions of soul which constitute real Christianity” (333). Like those the Beatitudes describe, such as poverty of spirit and a hunger for righteousness. 
  • Engaging in the practices of giving, praying, and fasting with right motive and holy love from the Sixth Chapter so that we keep our focus and treasures in heaven, never worrying about our needs here on earth.
  • Adhering to the warnings and exhortations Jesus gives us now in the Seventh so we can avoid the “hindrances to holiness” and enter into God’s Kingdom full of assurance that we are His and He is ours (Wesley, 333). 

Judging Others

While scrolling social media or flipping through news channels, it doesn’t take long to hear the sounds of judgment. Judgmental words and voices pummel our eyes, ears, and hearts everyday–whether they come from people we know or not. The minute we have an opinion, we launch viciously at those with a different view. When we think we’re right, we sling hatred and animosity at the ones we deem wrong.

I have witnessed and felt this firsthand as an Astros fan. The cruelty that has ensued since their cheating scandal (of which I do not approve, yet have forgiven) has been painful. The scorn of others has gone on for years with no grace in sight. And I’m reminded just how easy it is to judge others. 

It just is.

Jesus knows this about us. It’s much simpler to put the focus on someone else’s sin to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s easy to pile onto others the criticisms we have of them without taking the time to notice our own shortcomings. Maybe, sometimes, we even lay into someone with the hope of fixing them. But unless we come alongside them and help, our words become weapons because they deconstruct hearts and minds and lives. 

But Jesus wants us to get in the business of reconstruction. The idea is to deal with our own messiness first, then if we have some wisdom to offer, we speak up AND stand in solidarity with them (Smith, 187).

Photo by Zoe on Unsplash

Keeping It Golden

To live for God’s Kingdom now means doing life like our holy Jesus. Scripture shows us how, and the Holy Spirit makes it possible. So, in this chapter Jesus makes us aware of hindrances to a life of holiness. Hindrances like judging others and failing to ask God for help as we strive in our own strength. Hindrances like self-sufficiency, which keeps us from going to God for the wisdom and strength we need. But there is another way. John Wesley elaborates on the keys to holiness that Jesus gives us:

“Ask, that you may thoroughly experience and perfectly practice the whole of that religion which our Lord has here so beautifully described.”

“Seek, in the way he hath ordained, in searching the Scriptures, in hearing his word, in meditating thereon, in fasting, in partaking of the Supper of the Lord, and surely you shall find.”

“Knock; continue in prayer, and in every other way of the Lord. Be not weary or faint in your mind. Press on to the mark. …And the door of mercy, of holiness, of heaven shall be opened unto you.”

Wesley, 348-349

Friends, when hindrances to holiness are removed, we can live with “charity towards all” (Wesley, 350). We’ll see people as Jesus does and desire to live by that golden rule of treating others as we want to be treated (v.12). And as we do, our love for people deepens. Our relationships strengthen. Our hope in Jesus grows. Our purpose turns to passion, and we bring Christ’s holiness into the world. 

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

Living Aware and Alert

Few people choose the narrow way that Jesus calls us to walk–maybe because it comes with costs and demands obedience. But the blessings that come with this holy way of living far outweigh the costs, namely the blessings of Christ’s presence and all it promises. Like rest. And joy. And peace.

Even when we make our way to this narrow gate, the wiles of the world can pull us off course. But, the gate always stands open to us. It’s never too late to push through the crowd and make our way back to the road that not only leads to eternity but offers Jesus’ presence to us now.

As we journey through our time here on earth, endeavoring to walk the narrow path, Jesus warns of false prophets–those who try to look the part of a holy leader, who teach with fervor and come with an “appearance of love” yet are none of these things (Wesley, 381). The Holy One tells us the way to discern true teachers from false: look for their fruit (v.16). 

I’ve struggled with this notion of “fruit” because so many leaders in today’s churches have fallen so hard these past few years. By all counts, their ministries looked fruitful. But, as I’ve read John Wesley’s discourses on the subject, he’s helped me zoom out a bit and discover what kind of fruit to look for. Rather than merely focusing on huge congregations, beautiful campuses, and fat budgets, we need to look at hearts and lives.

Having served alongside two great leaders of a church in Oklahoma for lots of years, I can say leaders are human. They won’t get everything right all the time. And any judgment besides one of grace and holy love is not helpful. Rather, we need to get to know our leaders and pastors and love them. Not grovel. Not sneer. But build relationships with them–”as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18).

In the end, we need to be wise about what voices we listen to. Because if they aren’t truly following Jesus, we shouldn’t be following them. 

Inhabit the Kingdom

This brings us back to where we began–to those who say they know Jesus but don’t (v.21). When we pull all the threads of Jesus’ message in this portion of His sermon together, we realize that this last warning is less about us hunting down all the fake believers and more about making sure we don’t fall in that category ourselves. Remember that log in our own eyes (v.5)? 

So much has been woven across this chapter–all to the end of equipping us for life in God’s kingdom. Jesus doesn’t want us milling around with the hordes on the wide path, just waiting for eternity to happen to us. Instead, He desires us to go higher than that, deeper in His love and ways–for a better life full of freedom and peace, love and joy. For the good of others and for the benefit of His kingdom. Friends, Jesus has created a tapestry full of stark contrasts, latent with warnings and directives because He is ready for us to inhabit His kingdom–now!

  • Is there a log in your eye? Or a conviction in your spirit pointing out how you’re not living by the Golden Rule (v. 12)? Share below what the Spirit is speaking to you about this life in the kingdom we’re meant to be living now.
  • Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Feast on the Word by reading Matthew 7:1-6 every day. This lesson about not judging others is a timely lesson for us. These days everything has the potential to divide us from each other – from masks to worship music styles, from politics to people’s driving skills, from sport teams to spiritual practices, from denominational differences to discipleship definitions. You name it, we can choose sides on it. But that’s not the way of Jesus. So, as you read this particular passage each day, allow its truths to reveal ways in which you set yourself against another person/group, then invite its convictions to bring you to confession. Jesus is the center of us all, so may He be the One who unites us by His Spirit and grace.
  • I added another song to our Spotify Playlist because I found a great song that captures the truth of ASK, SEEK, KNOCK. I hope the power of it builds your faith and moves you to look to God for more spiritual wisdom, more physical help, and more holy interaction. The song is “Pour Your Spirit Out” by Thrive Worship.
  • This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.
  • I so appreciate having Seedbed’s book Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount, based on John Wesley’s sermons on these three chapters in Matthew. (My page references to Wesley are from the digital book). I also continue to pull from James Bryan Smith’s book, Good and Beautiful Life–James discipled under Dallas Willard of Divine Conspiracy fame.

Featured Photo by Dylan Freedom on Unsplash

Kingdom Living Now: Intimacy and Interaction

We flip the page to Chapter Six of Matthew’s Gospel, recalling that we’re still in Jesus’ great sermon. Staying grounded in our context helps us remember that Jesus is laying a foundation for our faith by teaching us what kingdom living looks like now.

Holy Practices

This part of the sermon hits on three important practices for all followers of Jesus: giving, praying, and fasting (v.1-18). For each, He offers an example of how not to do these practices, which helps us understand that these spiritual disciplines are not meant for show or for the applause of people. Rather, our financial gifts,  prayers, and fasts are meant to be done in secret so that the only approval we seek is the One who calls us to them. 

Jesus also calls us to secrecy because it’s in those quiet, secluded places with Him that we are most likely to surrender our desires for control and selfish motives to Him. When we give, pray, and fast, Jesus knows the state of our hearts. And if we do any of these for any other reason than to honor and glorify Him, then we are no different than the self-righteous Pharisees.

I recognize the temptation to do these for my own glory. As one who desires words of affirmation, it’s easy to slip into people pleasing instead of God pleasing. Jesus’ words here are not to become another form of legalism–like never pray out loud or fast with a group–but ways to keep our motives in check. Getting alone with God so we can pour out all our insecurities, fears, and temptations is a means of getting right with God. In other words, these practices, when done for the right reasons, become avenues that lead us into intimacy with our Savior. 

Holy Treasures

Next, Jesus warns us about treasures (v.19-24). As citizens of God’s kingdom who still live in the world, believers face financial and temporal temptations. Jesus knows the pull of possessions. He knows that whatever we value, that’s where our attention will go. It’s what we’ll want to do and look at and become.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Jesus drives home the point with a metaphor about ‘masters’ that is meant to shock us. The idea that we’ll be a slave to whatever we treasure most grabs our attention because we don’t like the idea of being mastered by anyone or anything. Yet, how easily we succumb to money’s allure. How quickly we give way to the world’s trappings. How imperceptibly our resolve for Jesus fades as our attention shifts from Him and onto the object, person, or value that has captured our hearts.

The warning has no exclusions. Every single human–rich or poor, man or woman, pastor or church member–can stumble into the pit of serving a master other than the King. It’s why the leaders we’ve put on a pedestal have fallen so hard and credit card debt is so high. It’s why parents make kids the center of the universe and people in the pews see themselves as an audience. Our focus misses the mark. Because we’ve not made Jesus our one and only master, we scrape our knees as we tumble from our high places or struggle to get free because we’ve entangled ourselves with the sins of pride and greed and lust…

The solution is simple. We make Jesus our singular treasure and Master. He is the Way to keep us anchored to His kingdom, which enables us to live in the world while not getting pulled away by it.

Holy Faith

Not only am I a people pleaser, but I’m also a worrier. As such, it’s easy to take Jesus’ teachings so personally that I feel worse about myself after reading this chapter. But, Jesus’ goal here isn’t to make us feel guilty. Rather, He is trying to warn us about all the snares of the world and our tendencies toward self-focus. So, as we read the list of all the “do not worries” in the final passage of Chapter Six (v.25-34), it helps us to remember Jesus’ heart–He wants us to succeed in living for His kingdom now.

Perhaps I’m a little slow to connect the dots, but only in the last few years have I understood that dread, worry, and anxiety all fall under fear’s umbrella. Once I grasped this, I began to feel the truth of it in my body–because fear has a way of causing physical issues. Like headaches or heartburn. Like knotted shoulders or sleepless nights. 

In this passage, Jesus addresses worry. Coming right out of His warnings about our focus on treasures, He exhorts us not to worry about the things we’ll need while living here on earth. In fact, if we make Jesus our focus and Master, then our trust should be in Him for all our needs. Hear how The Message words this:

“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.”

Matthew 6:25, MSG

I think for many in the Kingdom, this comes as a relief. Jesus provides!

For the rest of us, it’s a conviction. We spend way too much energy worrying about where we’ll eat and what we’ll wear–such distractions from kingdom living.

Those in the world who do not yet belong to the Kingdom fret and fume and fuss over food and clothing (v.32). There are so many things to worry about every single day that the only way to get through the days without succumbing to all the fear is looking to Jesus.

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

In fact, some have called verse 33 the thesis statement of the entire Sermon on the Mount:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Matthew 6:33, NLT

Jesus may have used food and clothes as examples, but in this statement He tells us we have no need to worry at all because we have Him. When we look to Him first and most, when we live like kingdom dwellers, He meets our needs. Maybe not in the way or the time we think best, but He always delivers on His promises.

Friends, we’re meant to have a holy faith in the One we call King. He’s told us point blank–when we seek Him, we’ll have all we need. Even when we mourn or are persecuted…

Intimacy and Interaction

Like any well-organized sermon, this one builds upon itself. Practices like prayer help us interact with Jesus, and they give us strength to bear up under our daily troubles. They arm and anchor us against the temptations that threaten to pull us under the world’s ways (Matthew Henry Commentary). The more we interact with and look to Jesus, the deeper our intimacy and trust will be, so we just don’t need to worry.

Trust me. I know it’s a lot easier said than done. But I have discovered that when I live seeking Jesus first and as rightly as possible, I worry a whole lot less. Jesus’ words help us navigate the world we live in. That’s why Angela Thomas says, “When I don’t know what to do, I lean into Matthew 6:33 and ask myself, ‘How can I seek the kingdom in this moment? How can I pursue righteousness?’” (Thomas, 85).* 

King Jesus calls us to a narrow way of living in this kingdom of His. But He doesn’t leave us on our own, to fend for ourselves. He’s given us solid teachings that equip us and the Holy Spirit to empower us for kingdom living now. So, don’t worry! Be happy (aka: blessed)!

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  • What new revelations did you have as you feasted on the salt and light passage from Matthew 5:13-16? I invite you to comment below so that we can grow with and learn from each other. I’ve heard from a few of you, so don’t be shy to share!
  • Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Fast some food. The lesson this week on fasting (Matthew 6:16-18) comes from the Pharisee’s practice of fasting food and drink as a result of being so focused on God and their own spiritual condition. These days, most Christians practice abstaining from food as a way to center hearts and mind and bodies on Christ. At least one day this week, skip a meal, and when you would normally sit down to eat, turn your mind to Jesus. Pray, journal, take a walk while listening to praise music, sit silently in His presence, or whatever helps you best focus on Him.
  • Sandra McCracken’s song “Lay My Worry Down” is a great song to sing along with–its catchy tune and lyrics that pull from our “do not worry” passages. So good. And, it’s on our Spotify Playlist!
  • This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.

Featured Photo by Jasmin Ne on Unsplash
*from Angela Thomas’ study Living Your Life as a Beautiful Offering

Kingdom Living Now: Inclusion

The Beatitudes not only give us a glimpse of what life looks like inside the Kingdom of God, but they also flip the world’s values upside-down. As Rev. Jay Smith says, the Beatitudes are a “radical reordering of our values.” That reordering helps us live rightly, but all this right living isn’t in an attempt to get into the kingdom. It’s how we live because we’re already in it!

Inhabitants of the Kingdom of God don’t hoard; they don’t live from scarcity but from abundance. Kingdom dwellers share the love and mercy they’ve been given–all the while, extending invitations for others to be included. To help us understand what that invitation looks like, Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light.

Be Salty
First Jesus exhorts us to be like salt:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

Matthew 5:13, NRSV

Salt has history–going back as far as 6050 BC when civilizations bartered with salt and offered it as part of their religious sacrifices. Even Old Testament passages capture the way God made ‘salt covenants’ with His priests (Numbers 18:19) and how priests used salt in sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13 and Ezekiel 43:23). Salt remained so highly valued that even by the first century (AD), the Romans often paid their soldiers with salt. Fun fact: this is where we get the term “salary.”

Salt has purpose–purifying and preserving, namely from decay. It has been used in tanning, dying, bleaching, and in making pottery and soap. And, of course, it adds flavor to food.

Salt has effects–particularly in bodies and soil. Too much salt in our bodies, and we retain water that makes our hearts work harder under the strain of higher blood volume. Too little salt in our bodies, and our fluid levels get out of balance, causing our blood pressure to drop. Similarly, plants suffer when soil is too salty but starve when there’s no salt.

So, as we look at this single verse, it’s easy to wonder if “salt of the earth” refers to salt in the soil. There is, after all, saline matter that fertilizes soil, making it ready for growth. In that sense, when we’re called to be the salt of the earth, we’re meant to sow into people’s hearts the truth and love of Jesus, enriching the world–like compost.

The very next phrase, however, makes reference to salt as a condiment, adding flavor to all it touches. In this way, salt makes food taste better. And the way we live our lives can do the same for the world. When we live with kindness and joy, mercy and humility, we bring out the fuller flavor of God and His ways. 

Photo by Luwadlin Bosman on Unsplash

It’s curious that in our current culture, nonbelievers assume a Christian’s life is bland. Boring. Maybe because for too long we’ve lived our lives as a demonstration of rules and limitations. When, in reality, life with Jesus–when lived in freedom and fullness of grace–is actually the richest, tastiest life possible on this planet. 

Just putting that into words is so convicting. How many times have I failed to live an appetizing life for Jesus? Rather than modeling a flavorful faith and a radical love for others, I’ve held back out of fear of offending someone. How many times have I not entered conversations, bursting with joy about Jesus, and instead withdrawn to the shadows out of a fear of being different? 

To be the salt in the earth we must first drink deeply from Jesus’ well. Filled with Him, we’ll better live out of His perfect love. Engaging with people with that love as we drive our cars or wait in lines exudes a unique flavor in our society. Praying with someone who is broken helps them taste and see the Lord is good. Speaking with a genuine smile of kindness to all who serve us–at restaurants, grocery stores, and dry cleaners–sprinkles that salt of Jesus all over the people we encounter. 

One of the sources I frequent in my writing is Strong’s Concordance. It compiles all the words in the Bible–their meanings and uses. In this particular sentence, the Greek word for salt in both instances is hálas, and it means salt. No surprise there, but Strong’s included this  figurative definition, as well: “God preserving and seasoning a believer as they grow, i.e. in loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, strength and in all their relationships.” 

I love that imagery of God preserving us–maintaining us in the state of holiness that is found only through Jesus. He keeps us from spoiling ourselves with sin because of Jesus’ sacrifice. God also seasons us, folding into us all the flavors of Himself, making Himself a tantalizing treat so that we’ll hunger for Him. And through us, others will also want more of Him because they’ve gotten a taste of Him by knowing us.

Shine Bright
In the next breath, Jesus tells us we need to shine bright for Him:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16

Light is powerful. In the beginning, God speaks a word, and light appears and pushes darkness back. As a child, I could open my bedroom door at night, and the light from the living room would pierce inward, overtaking the darkness. Never once did I open that door and darkness push outward. Light always swallows the shadows and the depths of darkness.

So when Jesus tells us that we are light, He wants us to go into the world as His beacons–vessels that carry what’s in us into cities and streets and homes and churches, so they can have His light, too. But,

  • When I talk myself out of calling a friend that I know is hurting because I don’t know what to say, I’m hiding Jesus’ light under the bushel.
  • When I choose not to listen to the Spirit’s nudging to give a hug or say a prayer because I’m worried about looking silly, I’m hiding Jesus’ light under the bushel.
  • When I stay in the house because I’m way too comfortable with my slower lifestyle and quiet practices rather than inviting a lonely neighbor for a walk, I’m hiding Jesus’ light under the bushel.

All we say, all we do is meant to be a reflection of the One we love and live for. We’re meant to let our little lights shine–however that looks. And it will look differently for each of us.

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

Chris Tomlin came out with an album right after our move to Texas–in the middle of the pandemic insanity when we were all stir crazy in our solitary states. I had that album on replay because it offered a lifeline to joy and hope. But one song, “Be the Moon,” grabbed my heart more than all the others.

“I wanna be the moon, up among the stars. 
Fly around the world, lighting up the dark. 
I’m nothing without the Son’s amazing grace on everything I do. 
If You’re shining on me, I’m shining right back for You.”

These lyrics give Jesus’ call to be the light another metaphor. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun onto the parts of the planet stuck in the darkness of night, we are meant to reflect the light of the Son onto all the people on the planet who don’t yet know His saving power.

Inclusion
When we live in the Kingdom of God, God is always near–we’re never alone and never need to be afraid (Smith, 77). Every citizen of the Kingdom plays for the same team, so there’s no competing or calling fouls. There’s only gobs of grace. Inside our inheritance, God is with us, protecting us and fighting for us (Smith, 76).*

But, for the people who aren’t part of the Kingdom, they’re feeling alone and scared. They’re on their own. No one stands up for them or lets them know they are unconditionally loved.

Friend, this is why after painting the beautiful picture of what kingdom living looks like, King Jesus tells us–His heirs–to share what we’ve been given. Because His is a kingdom of inclusion. All are welcome at His table, so we better start getting those invitations delivered! 

Be salty. And shine bright!

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  • How did your week go, fasting from one thing that you end up desiring more than God? Comment your experiences because it helps you get honest and encourages the rest of us. 🙂
    • I’m no morning person, so sleep ends up being one thing I want more than God–especially when the alarm goes off. This week I’ve been getting up earlier to have more time with God. Thursday was especially moving and meaningful, so I wonder why I have such a hard time doing that more consistently. A friend of mine would tell me that it’s the universal battle between flesh and spirit. And I know she’s right. Here’s to more spirit for all of us!
  • Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Feast on the Word by reading Matthew 5:13-16 each day. This is a passage we’ve heard for years at New Covenant, “be the salt and the light.” Reading something this familiar makes it hard to receive a fresh hearing, an inspired revelation because we think we already know all there is to know about the passage. Instead, ruminate on the words, allowing the truths to move in and out of your heart and mind. Perhaps reading it in a paraphrase version like The Message will help you hear Jesus’ teaching in a new way. Pay attention to how the Spirit speaks as your heart opens to His voice.
  • I’ve added “Be the Moon” to our Spotify Playlist. It comes right after Jami Smith’s “Salt and Light.” Both songs are so upbeat and life-giving! I hope they make you smile this week.
  • This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.

Featured Photo by Adam Gong on Unsplash
*I pulled a few ideas from James Bryan Smith in his book, Good and Beautiful Life.

Five Minute Friday — Easy

It’s so easy to look out the window at the red-headed House Finches fight for a place to eat at our feeder when I’m meant to be studying for my next project.

It’s so easy to watch the wind blow through our naked oak tree, hopeful for the buds to break out in green, when I’m supposed to be writing about ways to live in the world.

It’s so easy to take pictures of the purple flowers blooming on our porch rather than tackling the growing stack of dishes in my sink.

It’s so easy to meet a friend for a two-hour walk in the sunny park up the road instead of shopping for the groceries that seem to fly out of my pantry.

Spring makes it easy not to get anything done.

***This post is a free-write response to the Five Minute Friday prompt: easy.***

Kingdom Living Now: Inheritance

Just as Moses once stood on Mt. Sinai, Jesus stands on a mountain, delivering a message that describes kingdom living. Moses’ mountain, shrouded by the cloud of God’s presence, shook with thunder as he passed along God’s law–a prescriptive way to live as righteously as possible so that God would remain with them. Jesus’ mountain, however, blooms with beauty, inviting all to come near because He is Emmanuel–come to earth as the Kingdom in flesh. 

As different as Jesus’ delivery and message are from Moses’ Ten Commandments of old, the ways of God still stand in complete contrast to the world in which God’s people reside. In Moses’ day, God set out to teach His people how to live only for Him–the one true God–in the middle of cultures that worshiped numerous gods with horrific practices. At the time Jesus speaks this sermon, the very laws implemented to help the Jews live rightly with God have become the oppressors, keeping people bound to legalism rather than God’s heart. 

So, as we sit with Jesus to receive His message anew, we listen with softened hearts to take-in the Word He has for us, anticipating His lessons will contrast with the world and the way we’ve lived in it. We begin by looking at the Sermon on the Mount’s opening lines, a list of eight blessings known as the Beatitudes. Desiring to live for the kingdom now, we ready ourselves to hear descriptions of what it looks like to be heirs of God’s kingdom.

The First Four

First and foremost, kingdom dwellers live in a state of spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3). When we spend much time with the Lord, we become aware of our sin, our shortcomings, our state of lack. But it’s in that very posture of humble neediness for God that Jesus says we are blessed. Not because we’ve done anything good or right but because our surrendered awareness has enabled us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Kingdom living now requires us to live conscious of our constant need for God.

Photo by Alexei Scutari on Unsplash

Jesus continues His speech, looking upon the people gathered around Him, and has much compassion on them–for He knows their grief (v.4). Because He’s lived as a human and knows their pain, He desires to comfort them. To live in the already Kingdom of God is to know this healing love and that we are never alone in our pain and loss. 

We feel the ebb and flow of Jesus’ message because just as we’re feeling great about the perks of living in His kingdom, we hear Him say that people in His kingdom are blessed most when they are meek (v.5). Our minds immediately go to the guy in the movie who’s always beaten up and humiliated. But the better rendering of the Greek word here incorporates two ideas–that of gentleness and strength.* And the best example of a person who embodies this trait is the One teaching us that there’s blessing in meekness. The One who stands His ground with grace. The One who fights for the marginalized and invites His enemies to His table. The One lives out the perfect mix of godly power without harshness.* This is meekness–and it’s what He desires for us as we live in the world as His heirs.

Jesus effectively pulls the physical into the spiritual, helping us understand the kind of soul-craving He desires for us. We know hunger pains, so He tells us to crave righteousness in the same way (v.6). Longing to live full of integrity and correctness of thinking and feeling and acting* is to gain a spiritually filled life. When we deeply hunger for righteousness, we are desiring more and more of Jesus. After all, He is our Way to living rightly. 

However, Jesus’ promise in this blessing is not that when we get it all right, we’ll experience His presence. No, He says that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will get filled. So, if you have hunger pains these days, don’t give up. Keep seeking Him. And discover a filling that is like nothing on earth. If you don’t feel very hungry, I encourage you to start asking.

Lord, help us hunger for more of You!

The Final Four

Kingdom living now means being so filled with God that, as we live and move and breathe, we extend mercy to others–especially when they don’t deserve it (v.7). Part of the reason the Church observes liturgical seasons like Lent is because they give us space to intentionally look to Jesus–the One who willingly suffered and died to show us mercy. He who knew no sin bore our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, we don’t deserve it, and as we awaken to that truth, our poverty of spirit embraces the mercy we’ve been given, filling us so that we have mercy to offer others. And when we do, we look a lot like Jesus.

Photo from Pexels

It can’t be a coincidence that Jesus follows up His teaching on mercy with a call to be ‘pure in heart’–probably because He knows our hearts so well (v.8). He knows how easily we paste on a smile and show some kindness or ‘mercy’ but for all the wrong reasons. He knows our tendency to ‘do good’ with impure motives. Like the time I ‘helped’ a friend only because I needed hers. 

As much as we want to love purely, give without selfish motives, or help with the best of intentions, it seems impossible. And we’re right. It is, and that’s the point. The only way to live from an uncontaminated heart is with the Holy Spirit. He convicts, cleanses, and empowers us to live out of the purest of hearts. And, friends, each time we live like this, we see God.

As heirs to this Kingdom of God, it benefits us to see ourselves not only as His citizens but His children. These days we don’t have to look far to witness conflict and tension–in our homes, neighborhoods, churches, and cities. As God’s children, we have a responsibility to be His conduit of peace everywhere we are–in person, in our cars, and online (v.9).

The kicker, much like mercy, is that to be a peacemaker, we must first be a peace-possessor.* The peace of God that transcends all understanding, all circumstances, all pain and confusion and fear can be ours (Philippians 4:7). When we enter His presence through the reading of His Word, through worship and prayer, we receive His peace. Then. We can step into the world as peacemakers because we have His peace to give.

Sometimes we need that peace most when we find ourselves persecuted for our faith (v.10). It’s hard for most Americans to relate to the kind of persecution believers endure when they live somewhere that outlaws Christianity. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be feeling the ‘pain’ of living for God’s kingdom now. When we offer to pray with someone, share a truth from Scripture, or choose not to engage in the unholy, we open ourselves up to ridicule and social exile. 

I’ve had to come to terms with my own fear of persecution on social media. I’ve seen how mean the opposition can be–even those who call themselves Christian–and have had to acknowledge my own fear of man. When really the only one to ‘fear’ and revere is the King I serve. Having verses like Galatians 1:10 at the ready helps me lay down my fear and pick up the proverbial pen as one who belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven. It doesn’t mean I won’t be persecuted, but it does mean I can endure it because I am a daughter of the King–His peace and mercy will reign.

Jesus is clear–kingdom living comes with expectations. We’re meant to live differently than those who are not yet part of the kingdom. However, the picture Jesus paints is not one of oppressive ‘gotta-do’s’ in order to earn God’s grace. Rather, He’s offering a vision of what it’s like to live spiritually awake so that these eight Beatitudes become our ‘wanna-be’s.’* In other words, as we embrace our kingdom identity, relying on the Spirit’s power to engage in holy living, we change. We transform into people who grab hold of our inheritance–Christ Himself (Psalm 16:5)–and live fully sourced and led by Him. Because we want to. And as we do, we are assured of blessing.

  • I’d love to hear how reading and studying the Beatitudes is changing you. Commenting encourages the rest of us!
  • Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Fast the one thing that you tend to desire more than God – phone, cookies, Dr. Pepper, television, etc. And each time the urge arises to reach for that thing, turn the eyes of your heart to God – say a prayer, read a Scripture, sing with a worship song, journal your thoughts and feelings. Make God the thing you desire most!
  • One practice I’ve found especially helpful as I intentionally try to live for God’s Kingdom is listening to (and singing along with) songs packed full of God’s truths. So, I offer to you the Spotify Playlist for this specific Lenten journey of Kingdom Living Now. You don’t need an account to listen!
  • This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.

Featured Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash
*I just want to acknowledge that James Bryan Smith (in Good and Beautiful Life) and Angela Thomas (in Living Your Life as a Beautiful Offering) highly influenced my ideas of the Beatitudes–I’m so grateful! I always appreciate Strong’s Concordance for help on all things Greek and Hebrew. And, many thanks to my friend, Rev. Jay Smith, for the awesome comparison of Moses and Jesus on mountains!

Kingdom Living Now: An Interactive Life

We know Jesus by lots of names–like, Son of God and Prince of Peace. But there’s one that stands out and comes into focus as we venture into the realm of the Kingdom of God this Lent, and it’s King of Kings (Revelation 19:16). Most of us have only a faint understanding of how kings rule–they reign over nations, govern groups of people, create and enforce law, and expect their people to represent them in all they do. There’s no voting or debating or holding a king accountable.

Like most earthly kings, the King of Kings sits on a throne (Isaiah 9:7), is worshiped by His people (Revelation 22:3), executes justice (Jeremiah 23:5), and conquers enemies (Psalm 110).  He wears a crown, carries a scepter, and wears royal garments (Psalm 110). 

Unlike earthly kings, however, this King’s kingdom will never be destroyed, and His people will never lose their land or know another king (Daniel 2:44). All government rests on His shoulders, and He rules only and ever with true justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9:6-7). It is by His name alone that people are saved (Acts 4:12). And, His kingdom is not only eternal but forever includes all people, of all nations and tribes and tongues, because He has been given a kingdom of full dominion and glory (Daniel 7:13-14). 

This King rules all kings, which brings us much comfort in these days of watching a tyrannical leader wield his power with such evil intent. 

But, this King also rules His people–that’s you and me. And that might make us wiggle. Outwardly, we say we are His people. That we follow Him. But, the truth is that most of us are not used to the idea of being ruled, governed with no room for personal opinions and ‘rights.’ Yet, this Jesus we love is also who we must serve and surrender to because He. Is. Our. King. 

Sacre Coeur Basilica, Paris, France; Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

As King, Jesus rules a kingdom that exists in a mysterious place theologians call the already-and-not-yet. Most American Christians are well-acquainted with the Kingdom that is to come–the not yet Kingdom that brings with it a New Heaven and a New Earth. But what Jesus’ first arrival on earth ushers in is God’s kingdom now, which is why He says things like “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21). 

It’s also why He says, “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15); “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus uses much kingdom language in all of His teachings because He wants His people to recognize His new way to live with God while on earth (Hebrews 10:20). John calls it the abundant life (John 10:10), but it’s upside-down to what Jesus’ original audience, the Jews, had known about living for God. Their religion had become a legalistic way to ‘look the part.’

And for us today, Jesus’ kingdom still looks quite upside-down compared to the ways of the world–ways of living that get wrapped up in outer appearances and human approval. It’s why Jesus climbs that mountain and teaches and prays and preaches His most important sermon ever.

Pull all this together, and a picture forms, showing us that King Jesus extends an invitation to all people to live in the already-not-yet Kingdom of God. The eternal Kingdom is the one He died for so that death could be defeated and we’d have life forever with Him. It’s not earned but gifted to anyone who believes in Jesus by faith. Yet, there’s more. For today.

Kingdom living now is what Jesus longs for us. This is the place where we know freedom and peace and power and mercy, and it’s where we plant ourselves so that we can be His representatives in His kingdom–right here, right now. 

So, as we dive into the most all-encompassing lesson on what it looks like to live for Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll look at the three chapters in Matthew (5-7) with ears and eyes that seek to understand the ways Jesus calls us to live for His kingdom now. But, we aren’t called to live as distant, disconnected lords of the land. Rather, we’ll see that Jesus calls us into a relationship with Him–one that’s meant to be interactive. One that is filled with acknowledging our deep need for Him, of praying and fasting and storing up our greatest treasure: Him. Because His is a kingdom that requires us to come into His presence so that when we go out and serve others, we do so in His name.

Just as Jesus does that day on the mountain in Galilee with the crowd around Him, He calls us to come in close to Him. To hear His message. To feel His love. To receive His truth.

So, as we draw near, let us open our hearts to all He has for us, releasing what we think we know of the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe instead of seeing a list of behaviors that are expected of His people, we begin to awaken to His call of inner transformation. Because it’s when our hearts and minds and spirits are made new because of our relationship with Him that our behaviors begin to change. It’s when our focus is on Him–not on outward actions–that obedience to our King comes not from a desire to earn but from pure motive and deep love.

Friends, we are citizens of a kingdom built for our good and for the glory of our mighty, holy King. And, on this journey through Lent, Jesus invites us to hear Him as He speaks the truth of His kingdom into our everyday moments.* His words will sink into our hearts, and we’ll discover that right living comes from having a right heart–a heart that seeks Him first and most.

  • First, let me say WELCOME to my blog. I’m so honored to journey with you through the Sermon on the Mount as our Lent focus. I’m also excited to collaborate on this particular series with my friends at New Covenant UMC in Edmond, OK. Pastors Jay Smith and Cali Eck are preaching each Sunday of Lent on the Sermon of the Mount. It’s our hope that by partnering in this season we’ll better immerse ourselves and you in the lessons Jesus has for us.
    • We grow best as we learn in community, so please comment below with any questions or insights that might encourage the rest of us!
    • If you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.
  • Part of the Lenten experience includes embracing practices or refraining from something that will help us better focus on Jesus, so each week I’ll post in this spot a challenge for the week, alternating between fasts and feasts. So, here’s the LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Feast on the Word by reading the Beatitudes everyday this week. Try reading Matthew 5:1-12 in a variety of translations, making note of differences in word choices. Write down questions, thoughts, or new insights as you read.
  • Finally, as is my practice on this space, I invite you to include music throughout your days — music that uplifts the spirit, pours out truths, and offers Jesus’ joy. I know we all have a variety of music preferences, but somehow when God’s Word is put to a tune, the walls come down and we find ourselves encouraged. This is your invitation to tune in to our specially curated Spotify Playlist for this specific Lenten journey of Kingdom Living Now.

Featured photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
*quote paraphrased from Angela Thomas’ study, Living Your Life as a Beautiful Offering.

Inhabit: God Dwells In Us

I’m so curious to know how you’ve reacted to the idea of Jesus tabernacling among us. I’ve tried to imagine what it must have been like for Him to leave His heavenly place and power to take on a tent–human flesh–and live among us. And I can’t. The only way I can reconcile Jesus choosing this path is that He truly, truly loves us. Our Savior chose to live within the limitations of humanity and with the pain of torture and death because He could see the good, even the joy, of what would come of such a gift (Hebrews 12:2). 

For thirty-three years He lived among the brokenness–the putrid smells, the unfairness of illness, the cold of night, the betrayal of loved ones. He walked among the lonely, the liars, and the lepers. He knew the loss of a father and went about His Father’s business. He knew temptation’s pull yet never stepped into sin. 

For three years, He sat at tables with cheaters, beaters, and defeaters. He taught. He healed. He raised the dead to life. He changed water into wine and wasted women into walkers of The Way. The One who’d created the heavens and the earth stepped down from His throne to remake the ones who’d failed to care for His creation. The Rabbi of all rabbis led His flock then asked them to feed His sheep (John 21:17).

This Jesus, He defied the odds by fulfilling every prophecy and prediction ever made about the Messiah. Yet even the people closest to Him struggled to see Him as He was, rather than who they wanted Him to be. His parables perplexed them. His explanations of His coming death confused them. His promises puzzled them–though they yearned to understand such assurances:

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

John 14:16-17 NRSV

Just as He had said, He suffered. He died. He came back to life then walked among the living–still teaching, still encouraging, still passing along messages of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). When it came time to ascend to heaven–to return to the place from which He’d descended thirty-three years earlier–He implored His beloved disciples to do all He’d taught them with one caveat:

“While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. …You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.’”

Acts 1:4-5,8a NRSV

The disciples waited, just as they were told, and Jesus fulfilled every promise He had made:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:1-4a NRSV

Filled. With the promised Spirit. 

Fallen humanity now holds within them the holiness of God–the third Person of the Trinity. God’s Rescue Plan includes a flesh-dwelling-Messiah who sends a sacred-soul-filling-Spirit to live in His people. The Spirit of God inhabits humanity. And in the greatest turn of events that ever occurred, we–the fallen and broken–become the dwelling place of the Holiest of the Holies. We become the tabernacle (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Friends and fellow followers of this miraculous Messiah, this is us. You. Me. We. The moment we believe Jesus to be the One sent to earth to live and die and rise again as atonement for our sins, as saving grace for our abundant life now, as a means for our own defeat of death and life eternal, we are filled by the Holy Spirit. Just like the original disciples, we who live in a tent of flesh become the inhabiting place of God Himself. 

We’ve circled back to the beginning where we embraced the idea that we can step into God’s presence and encounter heaven here on earth. With the Holy Spirit IN US, we can cross the barriers–beyond the veil–and into the holy place once reserved only for high priests. 

“Jesus expands the thin places of life by saying: ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?’ Scholar N. T. Wright tells us, ‘Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.’” 

NT Wright

In God’s most generous, mysterious ways, He’s rescued us to Himself. Sending His Son to dwell among us, allowing His Beloved to carry our sins and to die for them, and raising Christ from the dead, God has done what no one else could ever hope to do–He has saved us from ourselves. He’s redeemed us back to Himself. 

As we move into the Lenten season this week, let’s keep these miraculous truths in the forefront of our minds–we were once kept from His presence; we were once lost to our sin and shame, but now we know salvation. Our restoration means power and freedom and grace and love–holy, unconditional love. 

We have become the Temple of God, the very place where the presence of the Holy One dwells. 

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:4-21 NLT).

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  • This ends the first series I plan to write on this idea of DWELL. We’ll pick up again after Easter on the idea of remaining. I have prayed Paul’s prayer (Ephesians 3, above) over you so many times this week. I pray that its truths take root in your souls and become your reality!
  • Next Sunday, we begin our Lent series called Kingdom Living Now. We’ll ask Jesus Himself to teach us what it looks like to live in His kingdom here on earth by unpacking lessons from His Sermon on the Mount. This will be a great opportunity for you to invite someone along!
    • This Lent series is for anyone who wants to root deeper in Jesus and flourish more fully for Him. The blogs will flow each Sunday as we’ve grown accustomed to.
    • It will also be a collaborative series in which I partner with my friends at New Covenant UMC in Edmond, Oklahoma. Pastors Jay Smith and Cali Eck will be preaching on the Sermon on the Mount there while I’m writing about it here. Won’t it be fun to see how the Spirit moves among us!?!
  • Our Dwell Playlist continues to grow. I found a few songs that capture where this series ended–Jesus dying for us, the Holy Spirit living in us. I’ve peppered them in, so have fun finding them!
  • Finally, I’m so honored to announce that I’ve contributed to a book that is now published and ready for purchase!! Reading Through Genesis with The Devoted Collective* can be purchased on Amazon, as can the companion journal.* We’ll be creating a forum/space for communities around the world to gather and discuss the daily readings and corresponding devotions, which will begin March 28th. I’ve linked the book(s), and if you are interested in being part of the community, let me know!!
Reading Through Genesis* — I have four devotions in this collection! So excited!

Featured Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash
*indicates an affiliate link, so with any purchases made, I earn a wee bit

Inhabit: God Dwells Among His People

Have you ever held so tightly to a belief that you refused to hear any other idea on the subject? I’ve personally dug my heels in a few times–like the years around age twenty when I thought I knew better than God on most things. I’d been taught the truth, but I no longer listened. Pridefully sure I knew what was best for me, I stuck to my plan. Until it became excruciating. 

Israel’s history is no different. In the years of King David, these wandering, homeless people finally know peace and have their own place. Because of their faithfulness to God and the covenant, He remains in their midst–His glory hovering in the Holy of Holies. 

With King Solomon, prosperity reigns, but the beginnings of unrest also awaken. So, under his son, Rehoboam, the united country splits and the covenant is forgotten. When the people stubbornly turn to other gods, they lose everything. No homes. No land. No presence of God.

And yet. God keeps His word. 

Promise Keeper

God first offers promises of truth and hope through prophets–like Isaiah and Ezekiel–to His broken, exiled people:

“Though your people be like the sand by the sea, Israel,
    only a remnant will return.”

Isaiah 10:22, NIV

“I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. …They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”

Ezekiel 37:21, 25b-27, NIV

The truth: seventy years after Babylon carries off Judah, God finds a remnant of faithful followers among all the scattered exiles and leads them home. 

The hope: for those who are faithful, there is a future where God will be among them forever. 

God’s promises endure. He still wants to be with His people. His plan doesn’t change because the people fail. He just implements the next step of the plan: Incarnation.

Here Comes the Messiah

You know the story. God sends an angel to a virgin in Nazareth and says, “‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33, NIV

The Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel
by Gaudenzio Ferrari as seen on The National Gallery website

The words of promise to God’s people in exile echo throughout this angelic revelation: God is coming to earth to live among humanity. And, this Son of God will reign forever.

So Many Years

This is a good place to pause and recognize how long it takes to get from the announcement of this plan to the execution of it. About 700 years.

The plan is first promised: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NIV).

Then the plan is enacted: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22-23, NIV).

Much happens to the Israelites during these 700 years, but for the final 400 years, God is silent. The prophet Malachi hears from God during the remnant’s return to Jerusalem, then there’s not one word from Him till the angels appear to Zechariah and Mary.

God’s silence could have been interpreted as absence or abandonment, but the faithful among the people of God do their best to follow the law and hope for the promised Messiah. For hundreds of years.

At the time of Jesus’ entry into the world, the Jews again live in the area once called the Promised Land. Herod has rebuilt the Temple, so they have a place to worship and sacrifice. Promises have been kept. 

But, poverty oppresses as much as the Romans, and corruption is rampant. 

It’s into this context that God sends the promised Messiah to live among His people–to walk the dusty roads, to experience emotion and temptation, to teach and heal and cast out demons. 

This is the Word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

Among Us

Let’s pull all this together by looking at a few words.

In Exodus 25:9 God says, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” And, for all our history lessons these last few weeks, we know this tabernacle: the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash, taken of The Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas, England

In Hebrew, the word for tabernacle is miskan (as in Exodus 25:9 above). Over one hundred times, Old Testament writers use miskan to identify this holy place where God inhabits earth.

Jump ahead to the New Testament and see a Greek word, skénoó, which means “to pitch or live in a tent, to dwell.” Skénoó is only used five times–all by John. Like when he says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). Most of the other New Testament writers use oikeo, one of its compounds, or meno to mean ‘dwell.’ Knowing this helps us see that John’s choice of word is intentional. Hear what he’s trying to say:

Jesus tabernacled among us! (maybe read that again and let it soak in)

Jesus’ inhabiting flesh carries with it the weight of Old Testament promises, and it echoes back to God’s tent-dwelling days. John connects the covenants. He demonstrates God’s purposefulness. And, he builds the case that Jesus’ dwelling among us is the only answer to the sin-separation issue. 

The beauty of it all runs very deep. Dr. Sandra Richter, of Epic of Eden renown, says, “We could not go to Him, so He has come to us. The holy place comes to us because Jesus resolves the problem of separation and cohabitation in His own flesh” (emphasis mine).

The original Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, is but a shadow of the holy place in heaven where God’s full presence dwells; therefore, neither the desert tent nor the Temple are enough to fully redeem humanity back to God. So, God sends the holy place to us.

And, this holy place is enough. Jesus is always enough.

Thirty-three Years

Jesus tabernacles on earth for thirty-three years. The last three of which He steps fully into the ministry of teaching the Kingdom of God. Jesus inhabits a human body so He can walk among His creation. No veil needed. No sacrifices required. Just Him and His followers, face-to-face everyday for three years. 

And I marvel. 

I’m grateful you’ve stuck with this historical, biblical journey of Inhabit. I could hardly wait to get to today’s lesson and shout the revelation that Jesus tabernacled among us!!! God’s Rescue Plan has so much intentionality. Despite the years and varying languages, writers of the Bible have given us a well-woven tapestry depicting God’s plan of redemption, illustrating how it has unfolded through each era of humanity. 

Friends, the world rejects the upside-down ways of Jesus now just as it always has. The stubborn desire to do life our way has yet to be fully worked out of us. But, the good news is that by faith we can live into this reality of Jesus dwelling among us more and more everyday. It starts with trusting the Word–the Word made flesh–in every moment and feeling and decision.

And the cool thing is–there’s more to the story, which I’ll save for next week. Till then, keep listening to the promises of God. Stick to them until they become part of you.

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  • What is your response to “Jesus tabernacled among us?” Journal your thoughts and reactions while capturing the ways John connects the old and the new and looking for ways God’s plan has unfolded throughout time.
  • Our Dwell Playlist continues to sustain, feed, and guide me through this ‘dwell’ journey. Is there a song that has particularly spoken to your spirit?
  • We have one more week till we move into our Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount. Can’t wait!

Featured photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash