Sent to Proclaim
When we go out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, we are sent to proclaim that we can know God. We can enter into the Reign of God. We can be reconciled to the King now. That is not something we have to put off until we die and leave this world for outer space, where many believe His Kingdom lies.
The Old Testament tells us we can know the Lord through the study of the Law. He has revealed His will for Judaism in particular, and humanity in general. The problem with the Old Testament is that the veil in the temple still hangs between the people of God and the holy of holies. We can know what He is like, and we can pray from a distance, but we cannot have the continuing intimate relationship with Him that will be the hallmark of the Kingdom.
The New Testament tells us we have been freed from the limitations of trying to know God through the Law. The Law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The veil in the temple has been rent in two from top to bottom. We are free to step into a new relationship with God. We are free to enter, with Jesus, into the throne room of God. We can know Him as a present living reality in our lives. We can seek Him, find Him, and be led by Him in this present time, on this present earth. We can know in our own experience that the promise at the close of Matthew's Gospel is true, "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.".
When we have sought His Kingdom and found the King, we know that the meaning of salvation is more than staying out of hell, or any place of eternal punishment. Indeed it is coming out of hell into the Kingdom where we are to live as children of the King. There is no other alternative that I can find. We live either under the Reign of God or under the reign of self. We either turn the control of our lives over to the one who knows all things, or we try to conduct our lives under the control of our finite mind in our human frailty.
PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM NOT HELL
When I was a young boy, there was one spot on Main Street, Kissimmee, Florida where they never cleaned up the sawdust. They just left it for the next tent that would bring along a new evangelist. As I recall my experience of slipping in the back and listening to them, it was something of the order of spooky fear that marked the horror movies of that day.
Doomsday was coming, and we had to be ready. We were either to repent or go to hell. The one thing I remember about what they said was God's wrath, and His coming to throw anyone He could catch into hell, where there was a burning lake of fire. The image of God they left me with was an old gray-haired man, sitting in a great chair with a large book, in which He was making bad check marks by my name.
I could almost see the glee with which He made the checks, as He anticipated getting hold of Sonny, and casting Him into hell, where the fire never goes out, and the worm never dies. I not only left me without hope, since I knew I was not good; it left me without any desire at all to get close to God. Given any alternative at all, who would want to spend eternity with a God like that.
The unfortunate truth is that is the God who is often preached as Good News. There is another part of the Gospel to be sure. Jesus loves us; but Jesus was just the Son. Father was greater than He, and Father was a God of Wrath. My vision of heaven then held that God was making bad check marks, and Jesus was erasing them as fast as He could. It also led me to believe that God was a schizophrenic. On one hand He wanted to punish me; and on the other, He wanted to save me. Such a God was not to be trusted, at least by me.
While that might be a humorous story about a young child who didn't know any better, it is not a rare story. I have heard about that God from many people as I travel around the church. I have heard about that God from even more who cannot accept that image, and have embraced atheism. One of them wrote to me, "If God is like that, I don't want to know Him."
We are sent to proclaim the Kingdom of God. We are not sent to proclaim hell. There is a real sense in which we can invite people to leave the hell in which they live at present, and enter the Kingdom. We may remain true to Scripture and see hell as something other than a place of fire and brimstone. For all practical purposes, hell is anything that is not the Kingdom God has prepared for us in the New Creation.
If we see hell as any condition outside that Kingdom, we may see it as any situation where we are separated from God by our Sin. We are born into hell. If we define hell in the Biblical terms of "outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth," there is a real sense in which we are born into the finite hell on earth that issues from that separation from God. If that is so, we must be delivered from hell into the Kingdom through the remission of Sin.
If we are oriented toward hell instead of the Kingdom of God, we have to decide if there is any leeway between the Kingdom and hell. If we are oriented toward the Kingdom of God, hell is all that falls outside the Kingdom. If the Kingdom is our goal, then anything else is hell. If we are willing to accept that reality, then we may keep our focus on the Kingdom of God and forget hell.
Any preoccupation we have with hell or with Satan tends to distract us from our focus on the King and His Kingdom. If I walk in the love that marks His presence in my life, then there is no room for fear, for perfect love casts out fear. While the fear of the Lord may be the beginning of wisdom, the end of wisdom is love. However we may define the "fear of the Lord," if it is to persist into the Kingdom, it must be some form of love that casts out fear.
Hell no longer holds any attraction or any threat. It is simply a condition that exists on our way to the Kingdom. I was once accused of being a universalist, because I am not prone to condemn people to hell. My response is that God is the Universalist. He wants all to become His children by adoption and grace. In order for His whole will to be done, we will all have to choose God, and yield to His purifying judgment. I don't see that happening. It is hard for me to believe that everyone will choose to enter the Kingdom of our God, on God's terms. I see too many who are not happy with God now, and I cannot see the Kingdom as being anything but more of God.
Once we have encountered that infinite and unconditional love of God, all else seems to pale in comparison. There is nothing so precious that we would let it stand between us and that love. If we have encountered only the threats of evangelists, we would seek to put everything we can find between us and the judgment they often proclaim. Sin is tolerable until we have met the Lord, face to face, and realize that sin is what stands between us and knowing Him intimately. For those who are bent on attaining that intimacy of the Kingdom, all else is intolerable. All else is hell.
One of the less popular doctrines of the Christian Church is that of Original Sin. It simply says that there is no way for us to be good without God's atoning gifts of grace through the Cross of Jesus Christ. We are born in gross inadequacy. Original Sin is not a result of behavior, it is the state of not knowing God. It is not the result of actions that incur guilt. It is the state that causes the actions that incur guilt. We are born as victims of Original Sin. We are incapable of righteousness.
Until I came to the full realization that we are all born as victims of Original Sin, I was bent on blaming my problems on others. I had to make the significant people in my life shape up so I could be free to become whole. I planted myself firmly in the middle of my kingdom of self, and demanded justice from everyone even close to me. I practiced justification by rationalization, or accusation, or explanation. I fell prey to the common belief that if I can just explain my actions, everything will be all right.
While I was right about the origin of my condition; I was not aware that it was a genetic flaw that has been with humans since the Fall. What I also found was that I was not able to change the people whom I blamed. I found myself in acute bondage to the world, until it dawned on me that my problems were mine, not theirs. I might be able to do something about my problems, with or without the cooperation of those significant others in my environment. I had become a victim of believing I was a victim.
Original Sin is not something I can overcome. I can labor with all of my heart and all of my soul and all of my mind and all of my strength, and I cannot overcome that state of Original Sin into which I was born. It is something that God must overcome in me, by virtue of the new creation He has begun in me. The answer is not to be found at the level of behavior. It is found at the level of our very being. God's intent is to change our very substance. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Sprit is spirit."
I was reared in the old Utopian philosophy that every day in every way we were getting better and better. If we tried hard enough we could perfect ourselves, and if we could educate the world, we could bring about an era of peace and prosperity for all. Humans were essentially good, and all they needed was to be set free from their ignorance. Once that was done, they would all choose the good in life and shun the evil. My own problem stemmed from the fact that I was not able to make myself good.
When I first heard about Original Sin, it was the first relief I found from having to be good, and not being able to be good. It was not a solution to my problems of morality, but it was something that told me that I was not going to find the solution through my own efforts. The harder I tried, the more frustrated I got. The revelation of Original Sin was both the release from my own efforts, and the occasion for turning to the One who could do something about my situation.
It says that we start out sick, and in need of healing. We begin in a state wherein we do not know God, we do not know ourselves, and we certainly do not know why we were created or how to become what we were created to be. If we believe we can make anything we choose out of the clay, or tell the potter what to make of it, we are kidding ourselves. Our hope lies in the reality that God has come with a revelation of Who He is. He has set me free from having to settle for what I deserve. He has come to give me His life, that I might have life and have it more abundantly.
There are many people who still believe that humans are essentially good. They are made in the image of God. They know good and evil, and given the right training, they will choose the good and leave the evil. Strangely enough, the greatest illustration of Original Sin lies in the divisions of the church herself. There are hundreds of Christian bodies in the world; and I have yet to see one of them founded by someone who decided to form a worse church that the one he left. They began with someone who believed that he knew good and evil better than anyone else. They were all founded to purify and improve the church. That pride is Original Sin in action.
Jesus, God Incarnate, has come as the Light of the World. He comes to show me who He is, and who I am, so that I might walk in the light as He is the Light. He comes to break the bondage in which I find myself. I am in bondage to the people in my life, to the things in my life, and to the emotions in my life. He has come to break through the bondage of addiction as well as any other idolatry that I may have embraced in an effort to find relief from the fears and anxieties with which I came into this life.
He has come to draw me into the Kingdom through the love that He has shown me from Abba. He has come to show me the difference between the kingdom of self and the Kingdom of God that I might choose God's Kingdom and relinquish my own. He has come to make His abode in me. He has come to put on my flesh, that I might be His presence in the world for which He died. He has come to bring me through death into life. He has come to create me as a new creation,
One aspect of my response is very difficult in the world today. I must recognize my need as something that is completely beyond my own reach. I will not find any help by blaming my current problems on my father or mother, or any other person I might have known in the past. I was born with the problems. "The sins of the parents are visited unto the children unto the third and fourth generation." While I can see the source of the problems, as being my parents; the problems I have are mine. I must own them, and seek the help I need from the Lord to deal with them.
Lest we lose the truth that the sins of the fathers are visited unto the children, we must affirm that does not mean that God punishes us for what our parents have done. We are in fact punished by a dysfunctional environment at home. It leads us to internalize and emulate the sins of our parents. We do not inherit the guilt, we inherit the Sin. The Sin leads us into sinful actions that yield all the guilt we need, and then some. We need not acquire any from our parents.
Jesus made a statement that is largely passed over in the Scriptures. "I come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The well have no need for a physician, but the sick." If we have no acknowledged need, He has nothing to give us.
To grasp what He is saying, we must remove ourselves from the mind set that believes that God is in business to punish sinners. If God were in business to punish sinners there would not have been a cross. He would have simply imposed a rightly deserved condemnation and punishment.
Paul writes, "God has consigned men to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all." Rm 11:32 God is in business to eliminate Sin as soon as we are willing to allow Him to clean us up through making us new. His one requirement is that we choose Him, and embrace His will for us.
God's intent is for us to become His children. In Romans 8:29 Paul writes, "Those whom God fore knew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be first-born of many brethren." Ephesians uses a bit different language; "..He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." Eph 1:4 I like to remind people that a predestination is not always the same as a destination. I recall getting on an airplane once whose predestination was Atlanta, Georgia. The actual destination was Augusta, Georgia. It took considerable more trouble to reach Atlanta than we first believed.
Perhaps our pilgrimage to the Kingdom is much the same. God's intent is that we choose the Kingdom. He will not compel us to come in. Had I refused to get back on the plane in Augusta, I would not have reached Atlanta, my predestination. I had to take the next step. I had to choose to pursue the journey, even though it was not what I had anticipated when I began. It is just so with God, and our entrance into the Kingdom.
WHY THE FALL?
It is unfortunate that we get so upset over the Fall. Many of my friends are still somewhat angry at Adam for letting Eve pick and give him the forbidden fruit to eat. They are, of course, men blaming the Fall on women. Other friends are somewhat angry at Adam for his part in the matter. All of them would like to get back into the Garden and live that idyllic life that we envision when we read the story of the creation. Few of them realize that would not leave us in the image of God. We would have no idea of good and evil. Instead of being like humans, we would be more like a dog or a horse, or some other sort of pet.
The truth is that the Fall was planned into the process of creating mankind in the Image of God. Prior to the Fall, it was impossible for us to make a moral decision. We had no knowledge of good and evil. That, in fact, was the temptation that Satan used to entice Eve to eat.
If we are critical of Eve, we need to ask ourselves a question. "Do I want to be like God, knowing good and evil?" I don't know about everyone, but most of the Christians that I know are seeking that very thing. We want to be what God created us to be in the image of Jesus. We want to know good and evil. Furthermore, we want to be able to discern one from the other. It is this moral capacity that sets us apart from the other animals.
It matters little whether you happen to be a creationist or an evolutionist. The creationist would have us fall from innocence. The evolutionist would have us fall up into moral capacity. God would have us receive the moral capacity that fits us to become His children. Both must accept the fact that the basic creation of man as from the dust in Genesis 2, or from some animal form in evolutionary theory was radically changed by the Fall. We have become the only animal to realize our nakedness and try to cover our shame.
The Fall brings us all into the same place in our imperfect humanity. We have a moral capacity to know there is a good and an evil; but we are not even close to agreement on what it is. The content must be supplied by God. That makes our relationship to God essential to our becoming morally whole creatures. It is our recognition of this reality that is prerequisite to our entering the Kingdom. It is into this moral environment that we are to proclaim, "The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news."
If we are to live in the Kingdom with God, we are to become like Jesus. We are to have a moral sense, and have the capacity to make moral choices. We are not to be brought into the Kingdom as household pets, but as children of the Kingdom. We are not to return to Eden, but move on into the Kingdom that has been opened for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The nature of life in the Kingdom is love. There is no Law or law enforcement. That is why there is no Satan. We are called to be perfect as our Father is perfect. That statement is both a demand and a promise. The Law is not diminished, it is fulfilled. That which has been a demand under the Law, has become a promise in the Spirit. The Law is no longer written on stone, but in our hearts. It is not something for which we strive, but something that is as natural as breathing.
That is not the present condition of most of us, but it is the future condition of all who elect to enter into their predestination. God calls, we choose to respond, God then gives us His Holy Spirit to make the necessary interior changes. When His work is complete, we are not only willing, but able to live in the Kingdom, freely obeying the King.
I am convinced the reason for the creation and the Fall is to place man in a situation where he must make a decision for God rather than just resist making the decision to disobey God. There is a difference between the justice that reigned in the Garden, and the love that reigns in the Kingdom. If we begin our sojourn in the Kingdom, there is no positive choice at all. Our choice is made by default. We can only choose to go into a far country. The only way we can choose to enter the Kingdom is coming back from the far country.
It is much the same as the Prodigal Son who took his inheritance and went into the far country and became such a big spender that he spent all that he had. When he came to the hog pen, he realized his mistake and decided to go home and get a job working for his father. He was not worthy to return as a son. He would settle for the lesser state. His older brother completely agreed with him about his evaluation of his character. The father did not. The father did not receive his son on the basis of his son's worth, but on the basis of his own love for his son. The prodigal, when he had been received, knew the love of his father. The older brother who had stayed at home did not.
In the Garden all things were as they should have been. God did what He was to do, and man did what he was supposed to do. There was no way in which man could see the love of God because there was no place in the relationship where justice was not fulfilled. The garden situation was much the same as with the prodigal's elder brother. It was not until after the Fall in which humanity fails to hold up its end of justice that love becomes the essential element in restoring us, not to what we deserve, but what God intends for us.
The Kingdom is proclaimed in these terms. It is proclaimed to people who are aware of the fact that they have a need they cannot meet. They do not just need a little help. They need an entirely new life. That life is available in the Kingdom which is at hand. It will require that they give up the one they have, for the one God is seeking to give them. He who keeps his life will lose it. He who loses his life for Jesus' sake will keep it eternally.
The message is not to change our life style to avoid going to hell. We are already in hell. We are already separated from God. We are already subject to Satan. He is the ruler of this age. He is the ruler of a transient creation that is passing away. There is no dualism between good and evil. There is only the evil which is passing away, and the good that is emerging as a new creation.
That is not a matter of the evolution of moral goodness in human nature. As I observe human evolution, it seems they evolve from a zygote to a corpse in the period of a lifetime. One has to take no more than a cursory look at history to see that the difference between men of this generation and those of ancient times, lies in their ability to kill one another more efficiently in this age. There is certainly no indication that the wars of the world are growing few in number, nor are the people growing more concerned for one another.
It is a matter of a radical change that takes place in the encounter with God. It is God alone who is able to make the essential changes in humans. He alone can make them into lovers of God, of themselves, and one another. That is not evolution. It is radical regeneration. It is not dependent on human values or human wisdom. It is dependent on the love and the wisdom of God.
The experience of hell with which I could best identify was the experience of isolation within myself. One of the major characteristics of my own personal hell was having to live with me. That is not a rare problem. I have talked and counseled with many who have had the same problem.
It dawned on me one day that there is only one person I have to live with through eternity, and that one is me. if I cannot live with myself, I cannot live with anybody else. If I can live with myself, then I can live with almost anyone else. It is neither my wife nor my children that cause the problems I face in my life. It is my own ego and my own condition.
When I was willing to give up my own kingdom and seek God's, He began His regenerative work, and I was enabled to live at a greater peace with myself and the other people around me. It was a matter of allowing Him to bring forgiveness into my guilt. It was a matter of bringing His love into our relationship in order that I might learn from Him to love myself.
We will find no entrance into the Kingdom without totally divesting ourselves of our earthly powers and possessions. The Kingdom is not a democracy. There are no voting booths. It is an absolute monarchy. There are no prisons for those who err. There is only expulsion from the Kingdom. It is not a matter of being thrown out. It is a matter of walking out. Abba does not compel us to come in nor stay in. There is no coercion. There is only love. There is only our choosing what He has already chosen for us. That is why the Fall was an essential element to the scenario of salvation. We had to find ourselves faced with our own inadequacy and isolation, so we might be free to choose God's love and His Kingdom.
THE HERESIES OF LOVE
Love is not something that we know without learning. One of the things that I learned from a psychologist friend of mine is that love is learned response. That is certainly so when we consider God's love. There was a time when I would preach God's love as, "giving to others what God has given to me."
The idea sounded rather grand until I began to think in terms of sex. What I was preaching would translate, sooner or later, into free love. I had an idea that there must be some sort of error in what I was saying, and so I followed the old axiom of going back to the manufacturer's handbook to see what it had to say.
As I read through the New Testament, I was struck that Jesus did not give the same thing to everybody. He did not treat all people the same way. He healed the eyes of the blind man, but the legs of the lame man. He met particular needs with particular gifts of grace. He did not ask everyone to do the same thing,
When the rich young man came asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, He told him to keep the commandments. He asked which ones, and when he was told, he allowed as how he had kept these from his youth up. Yet he still seemed to lack something. Mark says, "Jesus looking upon him, loved him." Jesus then told him something that He did not tell everyone else. He said, "Go sell what you have, and give to the poor... and come, follow me." Mk 10:22
The man went away very sorrowful because he had great possessions. We are not told what the man did or did not do. We are not told who he was, or what he actually did. We are told what love required of him. We are told that love is not some sort of generality. It is particular.
Contrast that story with another person whom Jesus loved. He went into the country of the Gerasenes. There he was confronted by a demon possessed man who lived among the tombs. When the encounter was over, there were about three thousand pigs at the bottom of the lake, and a calm individual sitting at the feet of Jesus in his right mind perhaps for the first time ever.
This man had nothing to sell, but he asked to become a follower of Jesus. He was told what love required of him also. "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you." Mk 5:19 It has always struck me as a reversal; but it is better seen as a particularity of God's love.
As I continued to read, I found that Jesus only did what Abba told Him to do. He spoke the words Abba gave Him to speak. God does not deal with us in generalities. He is always particular. His love is tailor-made for each of us in each of the situations in which we find ourselves. Abba, Who is Love, is the only one who can define love in any given situation.
That means that we cannot truly love one another as God has intends us to love, unless we are in touch with Abba, who must define love in each relationship. We might come close. Love is not without some enduring consistencies. Certainly love seeks the best for the beloved; but what is the best for the beloved? Certainly love sets us free to put others before ourselves, but there are some differences that are not so obvious when we begin to live sacrificially. We know there is a good and evil, but we are not quite sure what they are.
One of the great heresies of love is benevolence. When I was a young boy, my significant adults used to tell me, "Sonny, I'm only doing this for your own good." They were playing God and calling it love. I am not condemning this practice. It was the best they could do with the information they had. They were doing what they thought would be best for me.
It may be that they were also in touch with God, and He was defining the action, but I doubt it. We find a lot of that sort of love. It is the best a human can muster without knowing God, and His will for the particular circumstance. The redemption of benevolence comes from our practice of prayer through which we seek to walk in God's will in all of the circumstances of our life.
That does not mean that we are constantly asking God, "What now?" It means that we are in touch with Him, and open to His checking us when we begin to manipulate or coerce. We are available to Him while we seek to practice using the mind of Christ that Holy Spirit has begun to form within us.
Perhaps it is natural to assume that we know what is best for others. But the truth is, without the transforming power of God writing His will in our hearts, we are doomed to spend most of our lives living out a love in which we play God to other people. Benevolence is that heresy which finds us usurping the throne of God's judgment to make the world a better place for others to live.
Another great heresy of love is indulgence. Indulgence is the practice of trying to please people by giving them what they ask or demand. It is a heresy because it tends to consider the other person as God. The exception to that rule is self indulgence, in which we deem ourselves as God. Self indulgence often finds itself in league with benevolence to become tyranny.
When we are indulging someone, we make no bones about who is defining love. It is the sort of thing we find when doting parents are buying gifts for children. They will buy a doll or a wagon the child wants, "because they love them." The child learns to measure love in terms of gifts. When they get to be seventeen, they ask, "Where is my car?"
The parents respond, "What do you mean, where is your car? Buy your own car!" That translates to the previously indulged teenager that he is not loved any more. There are parents who have lived sacrificially for children for years, only to find that age turns them bitter, because they have indulged their children, and have not received what they had expected as a response.
These are the loves that are at the root of codependency. They are both forms of conditional love. C. S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, tells us that the forms of human love always have a hook. They are not unconditional. They promote what is called performance orientation. They always have an "I will as long as you will" quality. In benevolence it is, "I will stretch myself out for you, as long as you come up to my idea of what your life should be." In indulgence it is, "I will stretch myself out for you, as long as you come up with my idea of what your life should be."
The motivation is the same. The application is somewhat different. The result is the same. a codependent relationship with the beloved which can only be healed by real love. Real love says, "This is what I believe God intends me to give to you, or do with you, or for you." You may respond as you choose. I will leave the bottom line open for God to fill out.
When I first decided to try God's love in dealing with my children, it was with much trepidation. I had not trusted God very much with other people before. To trust Him with my children seemed like a real risk to me. Perhaps the error in my logic was that the children were mine, and not His. Perhaps it was the fact that I thought I could do a better job of rearing them than He could. We are subject to a great deal of pride that goes unnoticed under the heading of responsibility.
When I looked back at my own growing up and maturing, I found that Abba was the most permissive parent one could have. He let me do anything I wanted to do; and He loved me enough to allow me to face the consequences of my actions or words. He was not benevolent toward me. He has never imposed His will on me, to insist that I do things His way, even though at times, I have asked Him to do that. His concern that He communicated to me was He wanted me to learn to choose obedience, not be compelled to obey.
He certainly did not indulge me. He loved me as the father of the prodigal loved his son. He let me go into my far country, until I came to my hog pen. When I got to my hog pen, He did not come down and write me a check to bail me out. He waited until I made the decision to come home. When I decided to come home, He met me on the way to remind me that I was not to get what I deserved, but what He wanted me to have.
As I look back I have often thought that our birth into this world is much like being given our heritage and allowed to go into the far country, and waste our living on the pleasures of the world. It was in the realization that there was nothing in my life that was able to fill the void within me, that I decided there might be some hope in God. I don't deserve anything, but I think I will go and see what there is with Him. I have not had a single hog pen. I find one every so often in the things that I still try to control in my own life.
If benevolence issues from the lover acting as God, and indulgence issues from making the beloved God; then love is allowing God to be God. That is the way Jesus loved, and I have found no better way. It means that we must be attentive to Abba. We are to let Him define love because He is the only One who is able.
We do not question whether or not we are to love someone. Our question is, "Abba, how do I love this one? How do I express love in a positive way that is neither benevolence nor indulgence?" The question only finds its answer as we see that we are to grow in our thinking, as we put on the mind of Christ. That is what we are to practice in our quest for the Kingdom of God. We are to practice that prayer in which we seek the mind of Christ that our love might be from God, and not from the world.
Receiving and knowing the will of God is quite simple. We ask. We listen. We hear, and we obey. There is no other way to find and walk in His will. It is easy for us to say, "I am not able to do that. I think I'll just do the best I can, and leave the rest to Him." That is the best we can. We cannot learn how to do a task without practice. Even that which is very simple is difficult until we practice, and learn what it is we are to do, and how we are to do it. I have seen people spend endless hours trying to master a golf stroke, who will spend little time and effort learning to listen to God.
When I was growing up, I spent a great deal of time and effort learning to smoke and drink. I did not like either of them when I first tried them, but they seemed to be the things to do if I were going to be a grownup.. Later I came into bondage to both of them. If I had spent half the time and effort learning to pray that I spent learning to smoke and drink, I would have been a saint with the freedom that I truly seek today.
Where there is question about what we are to do or say, we are to ask the Lord, determine what we believe to be His will for us under the circumstances, and as Martin Luther said, "Sin bravely." When we seek to walk in His will, we leave the way open for Him to correct and direct our heading when we are underway, and to redeem the errors we make in our walk with Him, while we are still learning to walk with Him. In short, we learn to walk by walking.
PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM
When we can see the Kingdom, we can proclaim the Kingdom. We can share that Kingdom with those whom we meet daily in the world. It is not a matter of saving souls, or winning Christians. It is a matter of making God known to the people for whom Christ died. The foundation of salvation lies in knowing God. Eternal life is knowing God. The proclamation of the Kingdom is to enable people to know God.
My friends in AA have another cliché that is expressive of truth. You have to walk your talk if you are going to be heard. There is an old adage that says "Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying." When we walk in the Kingdom with God, our actions proclaim the Kingdom is at hand.
One of the few things I learned from my theology professor in seminary is that there is only one place in Scripture where we are told to proclaim Jesus Christ without words. That is when a wife is a believer and a husband is not. The rest of the situations call us to open our mouths that the Word might inhabit the words that we speak to others.
What do we say? My experience tells me that I encounter people everyday who are not doing well with their lives. I encounter people who are having trouble with everything from their family to their jobs to their health. When they complain to me, I can listen. We are to listen with love, but not with sympathy. Sympathy will not help anyone in need. Love will. They do not need sympathy, even though that is what most people want. They need grace.
Grace is a sign of the presence of the Kingdom of God. It is the one commodity of which the world has none. When that need has surfaced, we are in a position to talk about the Kingdom of God and the King. If you have had an experience of grace, then you have something to share. Then you are in a position to ask if the person would like to try God and submit the problem to Him in prayer.
If you are not comfortable praying where you are, tell them you will pray for them in your prayer time. Even pagans feel good about someone praying for them. To pray for someone is not to put them down as someone who cannot pray for themselves. It is putting them up as a person whom God loves, and some of that love He extends through us. To pray for another is to love them.
I recall the time in my life that I got very irritated by tracts that I found on the urinals in men's rooms. They invariably quoted Scripture about going to hell and tried to scare people into the Kingdom by threatening them with hell. In most of those tracts, God came across as an ogre. It dawned on me that the Scriptures meant nothing to those who did not already believe in Jesus Christ; and so I decided to write a tract that would not use Scripture, but would use scriptural truth.
I entitled my tract, If you've got it made, forget it! It begins with the question, "Is your life full, vibrant, without problems? Do you have it made? If so this tract has nothing for you, please give it to someone who has problems and wants answers,"
It continues with, "There is one person who can do something about your life now; but you have to ask. Jesus Christ does not go around sticking His nose where He is not wanted. He loves us enough to let us choose (even though we choose to stay away from God.)
The qualifications for applying for help are quite simple. All that is required is that you see your need, and be willing to ask. You don't have to "be good." You don't have to "know the right people." You don't have to "pay through the nose." You simply have to know you need help and ask.
Right now - where you are -you can ask. Lord Jesus reveal yourself to me now in this problem. I desire to follow you." Then listen and be open to follow His answer, because He always hears and always knows and always answers those who call. His wisdom might not agree with yours, but if you were already "RIGHT" you wouldn't need Him.
Try it, it doesn't cost a cent. What have you got to lose except the problems you have not been able to handle on your own?
The Kingdom of God is not a philosophical concept. It is a present reality that impacts the lives of those who are willing to try God. It is sometimes with fear and trembling that I suggest that exercise to people for whose problems I see no ready solution. I have found God to be faithful. There are times when He doesn't speak the way I expect; but there are no times when He does not get through to those who are ready and willing to ask.
I recall a man who came to me as an Episcopal atheist That meant he attended church from time to time with his wife, but didn't really believe in God. When they began to have problems with their marriage, he came in to talk with me. He was not willing to listen to my God talk, and so I told him very honestly that I had nothing for him.
I hastened to add that if he ever came to that point in his life where he realized that he could not handle his problems, he might try the little exercise I wrote in my tract. The occasion arose only too soon, when he had a little too much to drink, his wife left him alone and took off for a friend's house where she intended to stay until he got his act together.
He went out into the back yard and began to throw firewood around and curse until he decided that was not helping. He then decided to try what I had suggested. He said he asked Jesus to reveal Himself, and he looked up and saw a shooting star go across the heavens. One shooting star is not much where he lived; but then he saw another and then another. They had his attention. He said, "But then, someone I could not see walked over to me and put His hand on my head, and the peace of God flowed into me and through me, and I was different."
All of our experiences are not that dramatic. Generally they are more like an event that we could write off as coincidence if we chose to do so. A lot of grace gets labeled coincidence. William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury once said something like, when I pray, coincidences happen, and when I quit, they seem to quit also. Though I cannot know the cause and effect relationship, I shall continue to pray.
If the person desires to know about the Kingdom, he will find that a great deal of Jesus' teaching was about the Kingdom. That was His primary proclamation. Everything else issued from that one message. The Kingdom of God is like a treasure in a field, or a pearl of great price, which is worth everything we have on hand. The Kingdom of God is mixed in with the world, but it will be sorted out and the good kept, and the bad discarded. The Kingdom of God is a growing relationship like a seed planted by a farmer. In all of the teaching it is God who brings the Kingdom and the power that is manifested in the lives of those who enter.
Contact with the Kingdom is the first part of healing. It opens the way for the rest of the healing that we seek from God. It is our establishment of communication with Abba. It opens the way for us to see, to be set free from bondage and to become all that He intends for us to be in Christ Jesus.