Tag Archives: kingdom of God

How to Set Your Heart on Things Above

Craig Larson tells about driving to work in a suburb of Chicago and seeing an SUV with the words Texas Longhorns prominently displayed on the spare tire case. The trailer hitch was adorned with a steer-head. The license plate frame … Continue reading

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The Role of Witnesses: Revolutionary or Religionist?

Once the disciples had grasped the big picture – that the kingdom of God had broken into our world with Jesus’s resurrection – they began telling others. They started functioning, just as Jesus said they would, as witnesses to him and the resurrection.

We will go wrong if we think those early followers of Jesus thought they were spreading a new religion. Nothing could have been further from their minds or more repugnant to their hearts. They were Jewish people who worshiped the God of Abraham, who had acted through Jesus to bring the world under his rule and would take further action still.

The apostles didn’t think of themselves as starting a religion but as carrying on a revolution. They announced that Jesus, not Caesar nor anyone else, was the rightful ruler of the world. Continue reading

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The Role of Witnessing: Telling People What We’ve Seen

But they did understand that the people who killed Jesus might kill them too. The authorities had grilled Jesus about his followers before they executed him. That was ominous.

Jesus had been executed as a revolutionary, and the disciples knew how their Roman overlords treated revolutionaries. During the slave revolt, Rome brutally executed thousands of – not combatants but – POWs. The same general who conquered Jerusalem had once lined the Appian way from Rome to Capua with crucified POWS. Every 2/10ths of a mile for about a hundred miles, travelers on that road saw a different dead slave nailed to a cross – 6,000 in all.

The Empire thought of crucifixion as an attention-grabbing billboard that would leave everyone talking about what happens to people who challenge Rome. The apostles had seen smaller copies of that same billboard many times. Continue reading

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Getting into Heaven Is not the Point

Christian faith is often pictured, by Christian and non-Christian alike, as a kind of insurance policy that secures a person on Judgment Day from a guilty verdict and a sentence of eternal damnation. Some people choose to purchase the policy, some choose not to, and others ignore it altogether.

This picture misrepresents the story the Bible actually tells. It is a caricature, having less to do with what the Bible says than with the concerns we bring to it, chief of which is saving our own skin. Or, failing that, our own soul.

God wants to save our souls and our skin even more than we do, hence the importance of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection. But God has other concerns as well. Humanity is but one part, albeit an important part, of the larger creation which God, according to the biblical revelation, intends to save and restore.

If asked, many people – both those who attend church and those who don’t – would say the whole point of Christianity is to get into heaven. Death is looming, eternity awaits, heaven is the much-preferred destination, and Christianity offers an affordable plan for getting there.

Were someone to lay out this synopsis of the faith to St. Paul, he would not recognize it. If we told him we had come to this understanding through his letters, he would be appalled.
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Bullet Point Gospel

A few weeks ago we started on an exploration of the gospel and we are continuing our adventure today with a journey into First Corinthians. Someone might wonder why we are jumping from the Old Testament directly to the New Testament letters without stopping in the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Surely the Gospels are important. After all, they give us the word “gospel” more than twenty times, most frequently from the mouth of Jesus himself.

Nevertheless, there is good reason to go to 1 Corinthians next. The Gospels are the good news story full-blown. 1 Corinthians 15, on the other hand, is the gospel in brief, a summary that was well-known and oft recited by early Christians. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul bullet points the big story of the Gospels and gives us something we can get our arms around.

This is not the only gospel summary in the New Testament. You can find others in Romans 1 and 2 Timothy 2, but it is important to remember that these are summaries, not full accounts. They bring to mind the events recorded in the Gospels, like the Cliff Notes on Romeo and Juliet bring to mind the events in Shakespeare’s tragedy. They remind, they do not replace.

Sometimes people say that 1 Corinthians 15 is the gospel, but that is like saying the Cliff Notes are Romeo and Juliet or that the blurb in the TV Guide – American bar owner becomes embroiled in wartime intrigues in Morocco – is Casablanca.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul takes the big story of Jesus, bullet points it, and gives us something we can memorize and repeat. There are four points in this summary but that number could be expanded. That’s the problem with a summary: if you don’t stop somewhere, it ceases to be a summary and becomes a copy. Paul could have added, for example, the day of judgment, which he says in Romans 2:16 is part of the gospel. But he resisted the temptation to give us a longer summary and stuck to four points.
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More Than Colored Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies

The Easter circulars came out last week, and they were full of little girls’ dresses and little boys’ suits. Pastel colors were everywhere, dyed eggs and chocolate bunnies ubiquitous. Every kind of ham you can imagine, and some you’ve never … Continue reading

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The King of the Castle?

I just finished a short series titled, “The King of the Castle.” The king is not husband/dad but Jesus the Lord. How do we seek (and experience) the kingdom of God in our homes? The first message in the series … Continue reading

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Is There Still a Place for “Onward, Christian Soldiers” in the Hymnal?

Thirty years ago, there was a ruckus in the United Methodist Church over its hymnody. The hymnal revision committee had recommended the removal of two well-known gospel songs with militaristic overtones: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Onward, Christians … Continue reading

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Avoid a Bandwagon Brand of Politics

I was recently asked, point-blank, if I was a liberal or a conservative. No one has ever asked me that question before – at least not directly. There have been times, however, when people have told me what I am: … Continue reading

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Better Choose Plan-A When There Is no Plan-B

Christian theology teaches that the church was founded by Jesus and is the world’s most important institution. Perhaps institution is not the best word, since the church is not exactly institutional; it is a movement. But it might be better … Continue reading

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