What we have come to

And what does all this mean? If we’ve been given a life in the Kingdom of Heaven, a life in the invisible realm of the eternal, where do we find ourselves?

The writer of Hebrews lays out this hope so beautifully.

When you come to the Kingdom of God, he writes,
you do not come to a life rooted in the earthly world,
to an unapproachable God,
or to a covenant relationship that cannot satisfy.

No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering.

You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven.

You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things.

You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect.

You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people,
and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance…
(Hebrews 12:22-24)

Can you gaze at this invisible kingdom, my brother or sister, and know that you are here, belonging to this Kingdom ?

Could there be a better place to find ourselves? Could there be better company? Could there be a better covenant between us and the Almighty?

It is the Kingdom complete, unshakable, eternal. The Kingdom of the Father who has given us this life.

And so, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. (12:28)

 

Amen.

 

Psalm Prayer:

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations.
(Psalm 145:13) 

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More to read: Exodus 19:3-6; Isaiah 8:11-14; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 5:1-12; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 8:1; Luke 17:20; John 15:18-21; John 16:33; John 17:13-19; John 18:36; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 5:5; Ephesians 6:12; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 1:13; Colossians 3:1-15; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 11:27; Hebrews 12:18-28; 1 Peter 1:17-18; 1 Peter 2:9.

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Extreme Promise

Jesus’ words must have been just as shocking and extreme to His original listeners as they are to us today. In every era that God’s children have lived on this earth as strangers and pilgrims, they have sought to understand and live the depth of these words. I believe we will never exhaust the limits of this promise, delivered in the words of Jesus:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33).

Jesus has just declared that we do not need to worry about food and clothes. What? These are basic necessities of life!

God knows everything you need, Jesus said, and He will provide it. Don’t worry about those things! Make your #1 goal seeking the Kingdom.

I have all kinds of questions for the Lord. But I trust His character. He knows everything about me, right down to a few strands of hair falling out, and I believe He keeps all His promises. He has, from the beginning of time, cared for His children like a shepherd protects and cares for His sheep. I claim Psalm 23 — I want for nothing in the care of my Shepherd Father.

I don’t doubt God — I doubt me.

How do I do this, Father? Yes, my faith is so little. Help my unbelief! I know you want all of me, body, soul, mind. And I want to give it all, yet I have such a battle trying to keep earthly things in their proper place and perspective. Help me grow into this, Lord Jesus. Help me.

A post I wrote several years ago about this has been one of the most popular on this site. Here it is, if you care to read it: Season of Lilies, Stretching of Faith (click on the title).

I’m asking the Spirit to show me today just one more thing that I can let go of worrying about … and one more way that I can be seeking the invisible Kingdom right now.

Amen.

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Psalm Prayer:

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations.
(Psalm 145:13) 

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

When the world hates us

It’s easy enough to write all this from the privacy and comfort of my living room couch. But our living in God’s Kingdom still takes place in the domain of God’s enemy, and every day we come into conflict with that world and all its forces.

“In this world, you will have trouble…” (John 16:33)

“And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.” (Luke 21:17)

“… when people mock you, lie about you, and say evil things about you because you are my followers…” (Matthew 5:11)

“The time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” (John 16:2)

Those are all words of Jesus, telling us what we’re facing.

Every day, we must make the choice of whose standards we’re going to live by, who we are going to bow to as ultimate authority. We’re meant to be God’s way of living, planted in and permeating a world of darkness. But every single one of those attitudes and actions that Jesus teaches comes into conflict with the values, the strategies, and the goals of the world.

And the kingdom of darkness brings everything in its war against God’s Kingdom:

* Family or friends who ridicule values

* Those who call us “haters” and “bigots” for proclaiming truth

* A coworker who lies to make me look bad, a friend angry when I refuse to go along with a questionable plan, a school or library trying to force us to expose our children to certain material, a fellow church member sowing discontent

* A government who passes laws that make our beliefs illegal

* People who want to kill us because we bear the name of Christ

The list could go on and on … you know where, today, the kingdom of Satan will come against you in attack because you belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

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Could there be a more formidable earthly opponent than the mighty pharaoh of Egypt? He was a ruler who considered himself a god, and he looked at a group of people in his country who were living in a choice part of the land, doing well, flourishing, and becoming quite prosperous and powerful. “Enough of this,” he thought, and with his political and social manipulation, suddenly Jacob’s descendants found their idyllic life in Egypt was over, they were slaves, with a king who was killing their babies and cutting off the hands of people who did not produce enough.

No wonder Moses needed more than a little convincing to go and face this opponent. Yet once he accepted the mission God sent him on he never stopped, no matter what Pharaoh threw at him.

It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:27)

Isn’t that an interesting combination of words? He kept his eyes (seeing) on the one who is invisible (something that can’t be seen).

Paul uses the same combination when he says we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

How do we fix our gaze on something that can’t be seen?

Apparently, there are two kinds of sight: Eyes that see things we touch and eat and feel and own. And eyes of faith, that see invisible things that last forever.

If you look at the context of these two verses, the writers are saying that this is how we will get through our troubles. This is how we cope with earthly life. This is what keeps us strong and keeps us going—keeping our eyes on the invisible.

This is the hope by which we keep right on going:

For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

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Jesus knows what every one of us faces. He knew it all long ago. He knew what people would say to and about us, He knew what they would do to us, He knew our need for bravery and courage and reassurance. He knew what attacks by evil forces would come against us.

Nothing that happens to me or you today will take Him by surprise. And nothing will happen that He will not use for our good and the mission of His Kingdom on earth.

He prayed for us. When agonizing over His own battle with evil and knowing He was going to die—He took the time to pray for every one of us who decides to follow Him! And He is still going to the Father on our behalf.

So we keep our eyes on the unseen, and we keep right on going …..

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Psalm Prayer:

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations.
(Psalm 145:13) 

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

The Kingdom on earth

Jesus’ announcement and message was that the Kingdom of Heaven was invading the earthly realm. Our lives on this earth have heavenly dimensions.

In her novel Remember Me, Penelope Wilcock writes about Christ’s Kingdom coming on earth:

Jesus comes into his kingdom wherever and whenever a human heart says he can—it’s as simple as that. We can’t finish the kingdom in what we choose and build and practice here—but we can surely begin it.

Wherever we choose to be honest with each other and allow our vulnerability to be seen, wherever we choose to be gentle when we could have been exacting, wherever we choose to forgive when we could have borne a grudge—the kingdom of Jesus grows, his reign extends, hope and life are raised up in us, and the grip of all that sours and diminishes us is weakened.

Jesus’ way is so different from the ways of this world. The “laws” of our new kingdom are so different from those of the world. In this heavenly realm:

God’s plans and power rule.
Weakness makes place for God’s strength,
the meek inherit the earth,
suffering produces good,
mercy replaces condemnation,
selfish ambition gives way to a life serving others,
giving up your life means you will find it,
and being last makes you great.

God asks the citizens of heaven to order their lives differently than the world would recommend:

Love Him above all else,
forgive,
pray for our enemies,
give up what the world considers our “rights,”
put others before ourselves,
make Kingdom matters more important than earthly matters,
depend on God to take care of us rather than relying on our own wits and power,
seek treasures in heaven instead of on earth.

The world will see this way of living as foolish, ridiculous, weak, or stupid. But the results and effects, blessings and rewards, of living under God’s rule are also quite different than the world would imagine or expect.

This is our hope, the thing we are basing our lives on: We do not belong to and are not limited by this world; we belong to Christ’s kingdom, where God’s righteousness rules and His plans will prevail.

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Psalm Prayer:

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations.
(Psalm 145:13) 

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

The living we’re called to

A man shoots ten young Amish girls. Five of the girls die. Amish and non-Amish alike, families of the children and families of the murderer, the entire community—all are ripped open by the killer’s brutal actions. The Amish say, “We will forgive.”

God says, “Do not repay evil for evil. Love those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who work against you. Offer the other cheek also.”

While I am asking God to show me what turning the other cheek means, a friend tells me her story. Her summer home is somewhat secluded, and while she was away, someone broke in and stole a number of things. She knew who had done it, yet she did not accuse; the young man already had a record, but she did not file a report with authorities. She saw the young man as Jesus saw him, loved him as Jesus loved him. The end of the story? She let him know he must return her things. Some did come back; he paid her for those he had already sold and could not retrieve. And, in an act unbelievable to some of her neighbors, she turned the other cheek—now, she asks that same young man to watch over her home while she is away.

“Turning the other cheek,” my friend says, “is seeing others as God sees them.”

What is going on here? How can people so wronged not want revenge? How can someone give the guilty a second and third and fourth chance to inflict harm?

They’re living in a realm other than this world. They’ve been called into a new kind of living.

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. (1 Peter 3:9)

Blessing for insult. Good for evil. Forgiveness and turning the other cheek. Jesus Christ blazed a new way of life for His followers. He preached and patterned a new way of living, one with standards dramatically contradictory to the attitudes and actions of his day—and to those of our day, too.

We are no longer a part of this world. We are citizens of a different kingdom. And in this kingdom, we’re shedding our old ways of thinking and acting and being, and we’re putting on the new.

Colossians 3 says that as God’s people we must

Clothe ourselves with
tenderhearted mercy,
kindness,
humility,
gentleness,
and patience.
Forgive others,
and — above all —
wrap it all in love.

Sometimes we say that when Jesus came along teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, He turned things upside down in His guidelines for thinking and acting. Isn’t it more accurate to say that His Kingdom turns things right side up again?

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Psalm Prayer:

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations.
(Psalm 145:13) 

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)