Saturday, September 26, 2009

Coming Soon

Folks, I apologize for not getting today's post up. I've started it a number of times and not completed it, so I'm taking the rest of the day off to refresh my mind a bit. I'll be back with the post no later than early tomorrow morning.

Have a terrific weekend.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Training for Life

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

                        Proverbs 22.6

The Lowest Common Denominator

Much of life’s conflict results from unwillingness to find common denominators. It’s a tragedy. As long as we focus on higher-level differences, what’s best for you and best for me are far less likely to match. Surely we share enough in common to agree and work toward what’s best for us. Yet the minute I write this, I wonder, what could the lowest common denominator be? God does such a spectacular job of creating diversity that what distinguishes you from me becomes the first, sometimes the only, thing we see. If we distill our beings to their basics, we’re tempted to stop at “we are all His children.” Even that gives rise to debate, however, by presuming belief in God and not everyone believes. But it gets extremely close—within one filtration of our most common trait as sentient beings. We are all children, the offspring of human procreation.

Basing commonality on our inheritance as Adam’s descendants instead of our birthright as God’s children may disconcert some. Still, the Bible frequently cites human childhood as the prime indicator of equality. For example, the New Testament refers to Jesus as “the Son of man” 88 times to underscore Christ is as much like us as unlike us. He is Mary’s son the same way I’m Littia’s son and you’re your mother’s child. Before baptism confirms His divinity (Matthew 3.17), Jesus spends 30 years as a human son, 10 times longer than He’s known as God’s Son. Investing so much time to establish His identity as “the Son of man” reinforces why status as children is the one trait all people share.

The Road to Everything

This makes childhood much more than a “rite of passage.” It’s the road to everything—self-image, aspirations, fears, attitudes, and habits. For those blessed with children, setting their healthy, productive course is the most awesome responsibility ever assigned to humankind. Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs 22.6 transcends all parental advice: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Every word parents say, every attitude they exhibit defines their children’s direction. Parenting is training for life, a compilation of purposeful and accidental lessons that guide the child’s understanding of the world. And, true to Solomon’s prediction, as they mature, children invariably choose a path that responds directly to the map they were given. Some follow their parents’ guidance; others flee it at all costs.

In light of this, Solomon’s statement applies to parent and child alike. Whether or not we’re parents, we’re all children of parents—products of training that charts our lives. This calls for clear-eyed appraisal of training we received as children and how closely we follow it. It’s a painstaking, often painful process that starts with a blunt conclusion: every parent fails. Imperfect parents are really imperfectly trained children. From the most to least perfect, every parent falters, because parenting involves error. Parents hoping to avoid their parents’ mistakes err because they have no example to follow. Others who replicate their parents’ mistakes automatically err. Consequently, as children, we realize our maps are flawed in some places, true in others. Solomon’s advice to parents intrinsically asks a question all of us must answer: where is our training taking us?

The Way We Should Go

The pivotal phrase in Proverbs 22.6 is “the way he should go.” Difficulties finding and following the way we should go are largely affected by conflicts about the map we were given. In a lot of cases, parents guide us to follow the right path. Yet their response to directions our lives take—our sexual orientation or personal values, for example—contradict behaviors and beliefs they taught us to embrace. So we discard the map and lose our way. Others of us are so cruelly misguided as children we have no use for the map. Still others of us feel ambivalent about the map; we stick to its general route but stray when it’s convenient.

All of these responses are reasonable; none is relevant. Blaming faulty parenting for lack of personal and spiritual direction holds no credibility for one reason: there’s a flawless map within reach. In John 14.6, Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Of course, every parent should train his/her child to go this way. Yet, regardless how we’re trained, Christ provides all of us the perfect path to take. Following Him avoids mapping errors. It breaks cycles of parental neglect. It frees us of doubts about our direction. Some of us begin as young children led by godly parents. Others of us begin as grown children, determined to change the course our parents set for us. Young or old, we’re all children with ready access to Christ’s training for life. He leads us the way we should go.

Whether or not our parents guided us down right paths, Christ provides the perfect path for every child to follow.

(Tomorrow: Rushed Judgment)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Hope in Sight

Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

                        Romans 8.24-25

Needing a Peek

One evening before Christmas, when I was seven and my brother five, a pastoral emergency called our parents away. They wouldn’t be gone very long. So they left us alone, telling us to call our aunt down the street if we needed anything. “We’ll be good,” I promised. After they pulled off, I told Steve, “I know how to wrap presents. If we’re careful, we can open our gifts, wrap them back up, and Mom and Dad will never know we peeked.” Of course, I knew nothing of the sort. Our parents returned to a disheveled mess beneath the tree. They couldn’t help laughing—we looked so pathetic. Dad said, “Well, there’s no point waiting. You might as well take your gifts now.” Mom added, “Too bad you’re going to spend the next couple weeks hearing what your friends are hoping for while you already know.” Neither let on that bigger gifts—including new bikes—hadn’t made it to the living room. Until they showed up on Christmas Eve, we experienced what life without hope feels like a highly vivid way.

We never fully outgrow needing a peek, especially when it comes to faith in our Creator. We give Him detailed lists of hopes and like kids waiting for Christmas, we trust we’ll receive what we ask for. Yet the longer we wait, the tougher it gets without seeing something to confirm our faith will be rewarded. A tiny peek will do. If we allow the urge to know what’s “under the tree” to overwhelm us, however, we risk interfering with God’s plan. Worse than that, we rob ourselves of the joy in hope. “Hope that is seen is no hope at all,” Romans 8.24 says. “Who hopes for what he already has?” What’s more, as my brother and I learned, we may settle for less than we hope for, not knowing our requests will be fully met. Verse 25 encourages us to hang on until everything falls into place. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Moral of the story: we place no hope in sight.

Belief Beats Knowledge

Hebrews 11.1 defines belief: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If we’re confident our hopes will be realized, certainty cancels out the need to see. Faith is completely counterintuitive. It asks us to forego our compulsion to know so we can sustain hope in what we can’t possibly know. Thus, faith begins with a sobering confession: we don’t know, nor will we ever know, what God wants to do, can do, and will do for us. He takes mundane hopes and mortal crises and solves them on a scale beyond our comprehension. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8.28, we believe “all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.” Faith takes effect by permitting God to work things out per His plan. We concede our ideas to His infinite power and wisdom. He tells us in Isaiah 55.9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Seeing isn’t believing. It’s knowing. Believing is not seeing. Hope springs from resolute awareness we can never see, explain, or know the vast scope of God’s plan for our lives. Depending solely on what we can see restricts us to our capabilities, leaving us nothing to hope for and precious little to show for in our lives. There’s a lot more we’ll realize if we can overcome our inadequate ability to see and know. Paul says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2.9) For this reason, belief beats knowledge every time. Our drive to find out what’s happening may reveal a few things, but it ultimately impedes our faith and expectation for greater gifts God intends to give us. He wants to bless us in ways unlike any we’ve ever seen, heard, or experienced. Impatience to know cheats us by getting in His way. We place no hope in sight.

How We Lose Faith

Hope doesn’t look ahead; it looks beyond. Faith doesn’t rely on what happens; it happens by relying on hope. Neither seeks arbitrary proof or indicators. They operate entirely on what’s inside us—unyielding confidence in our Maker’s supremacy and love. Ephesians 3.20 offers the Bible’s superlative definition of Who God is and how He works: He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

How do we get faith? Where do we find hope? There’s no “getting” or “finding” them, because God’s already given them to us. Romans 12.3 charges us: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Insisting we see what we hope for, waiting to know before we believe, constitutes pure arrogance. It expects God to earn our trust. Who are we to challenge Him, when His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, we’re too limited to perceive His intentions, and our imaginations fall short of His abilities? We want Him to change others to love and accept us; He wants to change us to love and accept them. We want a promotion; He wants to open a more prosperous, fulfilling career. Without disciplining our impatience, we’ll never realize what’s possible by relying on the faith God gives each of us. Needing peeks and answers is how we lose faith, not find it. Faith is already there, hiding in the open to be found once we stop placing hope in sight.

We never fully outgrow the need peek. But seeing is not believing. Believing is NOT seeing. And without belief, we have no hope.

(Tomorrow: Training for Life)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dew Point

But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.

                        Isaiah 26.19 

Block That Metaphor!

New Yorker readers keep an eye out for tiny squibs tossed in to fill out column copy. Set in tiny type, they grab a sentence or two from another publication and with only a bold header, excoriate the lousy writing beneath it. My favorite is block that metaphor!, which fires darts at writers who hang so many bells and whistles on their prose it jangles like a cheap charm bracelet. (Case in point.) It takes no more than a quick glance at Isaiah 26 to envision chunks of it squeezed into the magazine’s tiny corners. Isaiah departs from his exquisite prophecy to try psalm writing and pours his all into the effort. Cities rise, gates open, cities topple, roads smooth, villains burn, history forgets, borders expand, false pregnancies occur, exiles return, casualties revive, dew falls, and wrath is unleashed. Block that metaphor indeed.

Fortunately, the message beneath the florid poetry pulses with faith in divine justice. The wannabe psalmist fails, but the prophet triumphs. As each fresh image piles on the clutter, a promise takes shape. By the time the “expanded border” metaphor hits, we see what the shouting is all about. People forced outside and kicked to the curb are coming home. God creates chaos to make room for them. He raises open cities, crushes closed ones, and ousts unjust oppressors. Verse 14 proclaims, “You punished them and brought them to ruin; you wiped out all memory of them.” The returning exiles’ number is so vast Israel’s borders are too narrow to contain them. According to verse 15, God redraws the map to include them for His glory. The loosely strung metaphors start hanging together. Then a new image breaks the chain.

Hysterical Pregnancy

Describing Israel’s disregard for those it lost, Isaiah writes in verses 16 and 17: “As a woman with child and about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, O LORD. We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world.” If a more powerful picture of religious rejection exists in Scripture, I’ve not found it. Essentially, Isaiah diagnoses Israel’s sin as hysterical pregnancy—a psychological illness that outwardly exhibits every symptom of childbearing while its sufferers are hollow inside. Before technology enabled physicians to detect it, hysterical pregnancy often went unconfirmed until false labor failed to end in live birth. Thus, while Israel’s lost children multiply in exile, the nation’s sterile hysteria decreases the populace inside its borders. From its contortions and screams, it looks and sounds like it’s bearing young. Actually, it only gives birth to wind, bringing neither salvation nor people to life. Does this have a familiar ring?

Our Dead, the Dust, and the Dew

Before we who struggle with religious alienation get cocky about Isaiah’s harsh portrait of insiders, his next verse hits us with a slap of reality: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.” The promise of resurrection can’t blind us to our dead—fellow exiles destroyed by ideas and influences that suffocated their faith with anger, cynicism, and self-indulgence. Nor can we continue deluding ourselves that life on the outside is the best we can find. We’ve settled for less than we deserve, far less than we were meant to have. We dwell in the dust when we should be living on the land God made for our sustenance and growth. Many of us have given up dreams of home and gone to sleep. “You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy,” verse 19 says. God is doing something amazing around us and in us. He’s using the chill of disillusionment and exclusion to revive our spirits and restore our joy.

We’re at the dew point, when His warm acceptance collides with cold rejection and condenses into life-giving love. “Your dew is like the dew of the morning,” Isaiah says. “The earth will give birth to her dead.” Dew is falling. Dust is turning to mud (God’s creative medium). Our dead are standing to their feet. From every direction, we’re heading home, shouting for joy, confident in God and filled with His creativity and power. The land we reenter won’t be the one we left. God has widened its borders to accommodate us for His glory. Still, Isaiah warns against being discouraged to find some of the hysteria that drove us away remains: “Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.” (v20) Per God’s intention, we arrive before He’s finished fixing the mess we left. The dew announces a new day. It falls early to bring us home in time to express God’s forgiving love to estranged brothers and sisters once He’s through dealing with them. Postponing our return until they clean up their act puts us there too late to teach them what we learned from the dew.

The dew that revives us announces a new day and gets us home in time to express God’s love and forgiveness to those who once forced us outside.

(Tomorrow: No Hope in Sight)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Asking Too Much

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

                        Mark 10.21-22

I Just Can’t

Some of life’s toughest moments come when someone we love or admire asks for something we’re terrified of. The request can seem minor to them, but it’s monumental to us—as my partner discovered our first time together at an amusement park. Right out of the turnstile, he headed for the biggest roller coaster, not knowing an awful experience as a boy ended my coaster career. He pleaded until I got in line with him. But with each step, I grew tenser and when our turn arrived, I couldn’t do it. Saying, “I just can’t do this” took all I had, making me feel miserable and small. When the request is major and beyond our ability—a request to borrow more than we can loan, for instance—the regret and sorrow are many times greater. Wishing we could but knowing we can’t puts us in an awful spot. How we’d love to say, “Yes, of course!” Having to say no humbles us, but it doesn’t help anyone, either the individual who asks or us.

Mark’s account of the rich young man captures this unfortunate mix of emotions. He publicly kneels before Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10.17) Jesus tells him, “You know the commandments: ‘Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, and respect your parents.” The wealthy man says he’s abided by them all of his life. At that, Mark tells us Jesus looks at him and loves him. The man’s sincerity moves Him. Yet it also quickens Jesus’s sensitivity to obstacles the young man will need to conquer to remain pure and sincere. So He asks him to do the one thing that terrifies him most: “Sell all your possessions and give the proceeds away. Then follow me.” Mark writes, “He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Thorny Patches

It’s easy to be troubled by this story. Watching it from the young rich man’s perspective, Jesus’s responses seem patently unfair. The man asks for what Jesus came to give—eternal life. Yet He assigns a price to it: obey the Law. This, too, strikes us as out of character, since He lists six of the Ten Commandments, rather than those He cites as the greatest ones: love God completely and your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22.37-40) When the young man says he’s complied with the Law his entire life, why does Jesus raise the ante? Despite what Mark says, this looks less like love than calculated rejection. Turning the telescope to see the story from Christ’s viewpoint, however, we gain an altogether different understanding of what’s going on.

Jesus knows He’s asking too much. That’s why He asks it. If the man can’t part with his riches now, he’ll never be free of them. Holding on to them will become a bigger hurdle the older he gets, causing his desire to please God to fade. In Matthew 13.22, Jesus explains this syndrome in His parable of a man sowing seed, some of which lands in thorny patches: “The seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” In telling the rich young man to sacrifice his wealth for the good of others, Jesus is really asking him to clear the thorny patch that will destroy his potential for spiritual productivity. The young man doesn’t get it, but if we extend our empathy beyond feeling sorry for his sadness, we understand he and Jesus aren’t on the same page from the start.

Asking What We Need

The rich young man asks to inherit eternal life. Either he’s too proud or self-sufficient to accept it as a gift. In a way, he wants to buy God’s favor with works the same way he buys earthly advantages with money. Jesus shrewdly adopts the man’s mindset and opens the bid at an affordable price. When the young man assumes it’s a done deal, Jesus raises the bid to include the one thing he lacks—spiritual foresight. He tells the man to stop looking at his bank balance here and invest his treasure in Heaven. This demand isn't unique to the rich young man; it's a recurrent theme in Christ's ministry. Very early in the Sermon on the Mount, He warns us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6.19-21)

Our hearts lay with our treasures. If what we value most is limited to this life, then we’re not free to follow Jesus as He commands. He asks we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, to love our neighbors with the same mercy and acceptance we ask for us. Anything that prevents us from honoring Christ’s principles—whether actual wealth or relationships, ambitions, attitudes, or habits—will eventually become too thorny for successful growth. It’s hard not to think the rich young man’s heart doesn’t realize Christ wants him to turn his worldview upside down. When we come to Christ, He requires no less of us. We lay our prized possessions before Him to offer Him our hearts. If, like the rich young man, we can’t raise our understanding of why we must do this, we’ll walk away sad. But if we truly desire to lead productive lives, we’ll follow Jesus’s direction. We’ll understand He’s not asking too much. He’s asking what we need.

If what we value most is limited to this life, then we’re not free to follow Jesus as He commands.

(Tomorrow: Dew Point)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Endless Conversation

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

                        1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 

A Call to Prayer

Prayer pops up everywhere I turn, in discussions and correspondence, in comments here, on other blogs I follow, and in several sermons of late. A call to prayer has regularly emerged in my daily meditation, turning my thoughts to 1 Thessalonians 5.17: “Pray continually.” As the world’s worst procrastinator, I set it aside until it wouldn’t be ignored. I knew this verse by heart from the King James Version: “Pray without ceasing.” There, it’s a single-line statement—one of 10 admonitions stacked atop each other. When I opened the New International Version, though, finding it nestled at the center of a tri-part sentence opened my eyes to see it in an entirely new way.

Paul’s call for continual prayer becomes the link connecting constant joy with total gratitude. He wraps them as all of a piece and attaches a lovely bow: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Remaining joyful, prayerful, and grateful are not expectations, which is how they come off in the KJV. They’re gifts—things God desires us to have as privileges of our life in Christ. And when we equate prayer with joy and gratitude, we approach it from an angle we may not have considered. The call to prayer becomes an invitation, not an obligation.

Redefining Prayer

Every blue moon I scoot by secular gay discussion boards that include religion/spirituality forums. The nature of their subscribers creates more confusion than clarity, as skeptical members pounce on every chance to belittle faith. I usually don’t comment, having learned the posts quickly ramp into shouting matches. A couple years ago, however, one post compelled me to speak up. A gay teenager wrote of struggling to believe God will hear and answer his prayers. A cynical lurker advised the kid to forget prayer, citing a quasi-scientific study that found prayer had no positive impact on cardiac patient survival. “Nobody can prove it works,” he said. After tracking down the study and checking its data—which shaded reports of answered prayer with random probability—I wrote, “Scientific inability to prove prayer’s effectiveness proves why it works. If we understood it, we wouldn’t need it. Prayer surpasses understanding to enter the realm of faith. It exchanges knowledge for belief.” The lurker replied, saying he understood what I meant but my logic was flawed.

I missed the mark by taking the bait. I should have led the teenager toward a broader awareness of what prayer is. Conceiving it as a sort of celestial help desk no doubt limited his prayers to questions, leaving him to feel stuck on hold, waiting for answers. Experiencing prayer’s power begins with redefining it. Prayer is more than an intervention line. It’s an ongoing dialogue with our Maker, an endless conversation with Someone always eager to hear what we think and feel. Because He knows more about us than we do, there’s nothing we can’t discuss with Him. Thus, prayer becomes a worry- and guilt-free outlet of expression. It’s where we articulate doubts and failures, frustrations and fears, and hopes and aspirations. Prayer becomes our platform to talk things through.

Expedited Answers

Honest, ongoing communication with God often results in expedited answers we won’t find if we reduce prayer to a Q&A session. When we talk to Him, as with anyone else, we’re aware of Who He is and what pleases Him. We hear Him by knowing Him. Just telling God we feel animosity toward someone who insults us opens our ears to His insistence we must forgive. Admitting impatience with Him brings reminders to trust His faithfulness and wisdom. After showing Him bruises of rejection, we listen to His healing words of acceptance. Frank, open-ended prayer strengthens the bond we share with God. It elevates our image of Him from Problem-solver to Companion. When our conversation with Him changes, our relationship develops into one of absolute love, trust, and pleasure.

This is why Paul places continual prayer between constant joy and total gratitude. Endless conversation with God lifts our spirits. It hones our desire to thank Him for every blessing in our lives. It eases our discomfort with negative emotions and circumstances by allowing us to discuss them without fear of being misunderstood or criticized. No better example of continual prayer exists than The Psalms—150 dialogues with God that cover the spectrum of life, from its most tormented and doubtful to its most enraptured and assured. Throughout, we read dozens of claims like David’s in Psalm 40.1: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.” By fostering joy and gratitude, continual prayer bolsters our ability to trust God for answers we don’t readily receive. Knowing He knows is all we need to know.

Limiting our concept of prayer to a sort of celestial help desk misses the joy and gratitude we gain from endless conversation with God.

(Tomorrow: Asking Too Much)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Look Inside

The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you.

                        Luke 17.20-21

All Along

Remember when you got too old for The Wizard of Oz? You followed the yellow-brick road the same as always. Then, when the Wizard told Dorothy she possessed the power to go home all along, you felt cheated. Now, do you also remember when you were old enough for The Wizard of Oz? This time you got it. If Dorothy had awakened sooner to who she was, she never would have wandered off, got caught in the storm, banged her head, traveled her bizarre path, jumped through the Wizard’s hoops, or been imprisoned by the Witch. She never would have feared the citation-toting Elvira Gulch. Although everyone else was afraid of her, had Dorothy seized the power of her integrity and innocence, Miss Gulch’s hollow threats wouldn’t have shaken her. How does the movie end? Dorothy and Toto survive the twister. Miss Gulch is nowhere to be found.

L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz not long after he broke with traditional Christianity to study Theosophy, a form of universal mysticism that caught on in the late 1800’s. Theosophists followed a road paved with bricks borrowed from other religions, which they laid as a route to achieve “divine consciousness”—in other words, the same path Dorothy takes in the novel. Yet Baum’s story resounds with Christians less for its path metaphor (although it also reflects Christ’s teaching) than its climactic revelation. The Wizard’s words to Dorothy echo Jesus’s words to us: “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17.21) At some point in our walk with Christ—often after hateful challenges and tumultuous storms—we awaken to know we’ve possessed the power to rise above small-mindedness and threats all along. The composer of an old spiritual realized this and framed it in these terms: “I’m on my way to Heaven and I’m so glad the world can’t do me no harm.” The sooner we accept who we are in Christ and the power we possess through Him, the gladder and safer we’ll be.

A New Order

In Luke 16.16, Jesus says, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John [the Baptist]. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” This dovetails perfectly with His response in Luke 17.20-21 when religious legalists ask Him to predict when the kingdom of God will come. Their question springs from old-school understanding of Messianic promises of a day when God will establish His kingdom on Earth. But Jesus tells His questioners, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come with your careful observation. People won’t say, ‘Here it is!’ The kingdom of God is within you.” The answer baffles those who missed His earlier statement. Since John the Baptist announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29), a New Order had taken effect. “The good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”

Forcing Our Way

This isn’t good news for legalists—the Elvira Gulches—of Jesus’s day or, for that matter, our day. Because they can’t see the kingdom of God, they can’t control it. That makes them crazy. But, bless their hearts, lack of insight won’t stop them from trying to secure the borders against anyone they deem unfit to enter the kingdom of God. They wave Old Testament citations to settle personal gripes, completely unaware of the New Order Jesus ushered in. The kingdom of God isn’t over here or over there. It’s everywhere, walking around inside everyone. And everyone is forcing his/her way into it. There aren’t enough Elvira Gulches in the world to keep anyone from realizing who he/she is in Christ. No one alive can stop any individual who takes Jesus at His word from possessing His power.

The kingdom of God is in us. Our Creator breathed it into us the moment He brought us to life. Forcing our way into the kingdom—getting past old-school traditions and thinkers—happens by knowing it’s there. The sooner we learn to look inside us, the quicker we’ll stop fearing what others say or think they can do to keep us out of the kingdom. Once we enter the kingdom of God, we take on the mind of Christ. Consciousness of His love and acceptance creates conscientiousness of our need to love and accept others, even those who defy our kingdom rights. Looking inside changes how everything outside looks.

The kingdom of God is in you. Force your way in.

(Tomorrow: Endless Conversation)