Kingdom Citizens

Photo by Dylan de Jonge on Unsplash

 

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:1-14
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-23

No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are “in” Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life “in” Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.

The Law never succeeded in producing righteousness—the failure was always the weakness of human nature. But God has met this by sending his own Son Jesus Christ to live in that human nature which causes the troublePhillips

Paul, back in 5:12, began the discussion that culminates in chapter 8. He wrote, This, then, is what happened. Sin made its entry into the world through one man, and through sin, death. The entail of sin and death passed on to the whole human race, and no one could break it for no one was himself free from sinPhillips

Having presented Adam as the first to sin, Paul now turns to the solution to the problem—how to break the vicious circle of sin and death. The Bible includes stories of people who were Godly, even as they were flawed. God repeatedly made new covenants with people, but most people were unable to keep the terms of the covenants. Even the Godly people failed at times.

Enter the Son of God. But he enters as the son of Man. As Jesus, thousands of humans were able to see God. Jesus is the mold from which we are made. Humans are shaped in the image of Jesus, though we should not confuse that with carrying his genes. We are made with non-Godly materials. The genetic code for the body of Jesus was unique. He had no ancestors on earth and left no descendants. It would be accurate to say that Jesus was adopted by Mary and Joseph. Or we could say that Mary carried the Jesus fetus as a surrogate mother.

Christians often read, You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in youESV and puzzle over the meaning. If the Spirit lives in me, then why do I still sin and why will I die?

The answer is that we live in two worlds at the same time. Our bodies are physically present in the world of sin and our spirits are with Jesus. In the spirit we work to do what Jesus would do, but in our flesh, we often fall short of that glory. The Good News is that our sins are covered with the God sized bottle of White-out.

Jesus, in Matthew, explains the Parable of the Sower. When someone hears the Movement idea and doesn’t latch on to it, the evil one comes along and makes off with what was planted in his mind. This is the ‘path‘ seed. The ‘rocky places‘ seed is the one who listens to the idea and gets gung-ho about it, but having no inner depth he hangs on for a while until hardship and persecution for the cause come along, and then he washes out. The ‘seed in the weeds‘ is the one who hears the idea, but is overcome by the distractions of life and the love of money before it can bear fruit. The ‘good dirt‘ seed is the one who hears the idea and latches on to it, and it yields possibly a hundredfold, or sixty, or thirtyCotton Patch Version

Those of us who attend church fit into all 4 of these categories. It may not surprise you to realize that there are some church attenders who have never allowed the Good News to grow in their lives, yet they choose to attend for a variety of worldly reasons. We can hope that constant exposure will break down the thick hide and allow the seed to grow one day.

There are many attenders who fit the next two groups. You only have to attend church a few years to see one or more persons get fired up, try to do everything, only to fizzle out and disappear.

Perhaps the largest group is the weedy group. It is the most difficult to navigate. We all must eat, wear clothes, find shelter, etc. Even those who have the rich soil for the seed must struggle with the daily needs. That is why Jesus taught us, Give us this day our daily bread. The most mature Christians give little thought to daily needs knowing that God will provide. Even if they open an IRA or savings account, they then forget about it until it is needed. The weedy group can’t stop checking on the account and looking for one that pays 0.2% more.

The Holy Spirit is right next to you, me, and everyone. We need to be open to the support the Spirit can offer. We must be willing to forgo physical pleasures for the good of other people and the Kingdom of God. We cannot allow even the political chaos to distract us from the Kingdom work.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

My Yoke is Easy

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

 

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25
Matthew 11:16-30

Here are three renderings of verses 28-30 of the Matthew reading.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is lightNIV

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightlyMSG

Come to me, all of you who are frustrated and have had a bellyful, and I will give you zest. Get in the harness with me and let me teach you, for I am trained and have a cooperative spirit, and you will find zest for your lives. For my harness is practical, and my assignment is joyfulCotton Patch Version

I think it is important to look at how Matthew begins this section. Christians look at the Gospels and wonder why more people cannot see Jesus as the Son of God. Before creation when God, his Son, and the Holy Spirit were discussing the idea of the Son becoming a human so that sin could be defeated; I wonder if they hoped for a better response?

Anyway, here is the opening passage. How shall I describe this generation? They are like kids playing in the streets and shouting at each other, ‘We put on some rock-and-roll, but you wouldn’t dance; so we put on some funeral music, but you wouldn’t go into mourning.’ For John offered a harsh, rugged life, and people say, ‘The guy is nuts.’ I, the son of man, offered laughter and joy, and people say, ‘Look at that guy. He is a no-good bum who runs around with Communists and peaceniks!’ So, if intelligence can be judged by its fruits, well–! Cotton Patch Version I know, Communist and peaceniks are really dated, it was the sixties, but you get the idea.

Jesus says we are never satisfied. We either believe being a follower is too hard or too easy. John did not tell anyone to dress and eat as he did, but people were worried that it might be true. With Jesus, they were worried about the company he kept, and the fact that he attended parties.

The reason Jesus can say, my yoke is easy and my burden is light, is that life is easier when we are happy. It is hard to be happy while doing bad things. The Spirit has a way of nudging us so that we know it is wrong even as we try to convince ourselves it is right. Living the rich life on earth is not good for us. We need to be all about sharing. When everyone is rich, then we can live the rich life. For now, we who have a little extra need to share with those who need a little extra.

Notice that Jesus offers us both a yoke and a burden, easy and light, but still there. The yoke is to care about other people. The burden is to help them. As long as poverty exists; as long as racism exists; as long as people are wrongly arrested; as long as people die of starvation or even go to sleep hungry, we have a burden.

I cannot feed everyone, but all Christians together can. If all 167 million American Christians on average gave $100 per month for food, we would have $200,400,000,000 per year to buy food. That’s 200 billion. We 167 million Christians spend $5,748,765,000,000 to feed ourselves. That’s 5 trillion. With another $200 billion, we could feed most of the world as well.

Don’t bog down in the numbers. Yes, the world’s food budget is high and should be higher. What we need to focus on is, what can I do to help? I am not responsible for everyone else. I know there are Christians who do not give their share. That’s not my concern. Not my burden. My burden is what I can do.

Find a good charity that helps people you can care about. Check online to see if the charity uses at least 75% of the money helping people. One simple approach is to identify a missionary working in the US or another country with people you would like to help and sending money to them. Be sure to check your denominational system for donations. Generally, the IRS wants to see the money pass through a central office. But you can send money directly to anyone, you just may not get to write it off on your 1040.

The reason I like sending money to missionaries is that they live with the people in need and can spend the money where it is most beneficial.

But enough about money. Be kind to people. Treat people with respect. Do your best not to hurt people’s feelings. Actually live the Golden Rule. I don’t like Trump because he is mean spirited, despite what he claims. He stirs up hatred, not love and respect.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is loveMSG

When in doubt, error on the side of love, respect, forgiveness, and justice. There is no other way.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence