Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seek First His Kingdom

The Chronicles of Narnia are getting a lot of screen play. Now that the second movie Prince Caspian is out in theaters people are beginning to take notice of C. S. Lewis’ classic stories. The exciting thing to me is how the Christian message is being advanced “under the radar” as it were. In the first story, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe three children stumble into the magic land of Narnia. But all is not well. The true king is Aslan, the Lion—which is clearly a figure depicting Christ. Yet, something is wrong in Narnia. Instead of the land being ruled by Aslan—it is under the control of the White Witch. She has so cursed the land that it is nothing but bitter winter. As the inhabitants say, “Always winter, never Christmas.”

But something amazing begins to happen. Father Christmas appears in Narnia giving gifts! Christmas has arrived. Then slowly but surely plants begin to break through the ice and flowers appear. Father Christmas explains to the wondering inhabitants: "Aslan is on the move! The Witch’s magic is weakening!” It is a picture of the kingdom of God breaking into our world: eternity intersecting time! It was what Jesus preached in Mark 1, the good news of the Kingdom of God! The time is now! The Kingdom is here!

After mankind fell from God’s presence the world was filled with pain and misery. The dominant theme was alienation. We were separated from God, from creation, and from each other. We hurt each other we wound each other we treat each other terribly. But Jesus comes with good news: the kingdom of God is here!

The kingdom of God is not a location or even a group of people. The kingdom of God is anywhere the King’s will is being accomplished. Anywhere his justice lives and is accomplished. It is a picture of the age to come. It is all about wholeness—about reconciliation between man and God, man and creation, and reconciliation between people.

Jesus’ message was all about good news. As Father Christmas tells the children in Narnia, “Aslan is on the move! The witch’s magic is fading!” So we have a similar message: Jesus has come—he is on the move! Satan’s power is overcome! Suddenly God’s kingdom has broken through. The age to come isn’t here just yet, but it’s beginning to crop up. We begin to see evidence of it. The old age hasn’t been completely done away with—but the age to come has broken through. Eternity has intersected time.

So the question that comes to my mind is this: If the kingdom has broken into time, then what is my response supposed to be? Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first his kingdom and his justice…” This is the response we are to have toward the kingdom of God. Another way to say it is: look intently to find it, strive for it! But what does that mean? How do we strive for the kingdom?

Matthew 5-7 is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. It is Jesus’ description of the kind of people we are supposed to be if we are citizens of this kingdom of God. It is a description of how we are to strive for his kingdom. In that sermon there are four elements, four actions if you will about how we are to search intently for God’s kingdom.

This is not in sequential order—but one thing we must do is give our total allegiance to Jesus as our Lord. That sounds all well and good—and oh so religious. Think through this. In the first century the common slogan of the Roman world was: Caesar is Lord! He provided peace and economic well being. In such a world it is easy to fall into the trap of worshipping government and economic security. But Jesus points out in Matthew 6:24 that no one can serve two Lords, two masters. You can’t serve God and your economic prosperity. This is so hard for us—but it is truly Christ against culture. And culture is more than just bad movies, nasty songs, pornography, and violence. Culture involves greed, selfishness, comfort, and putting our own wants ahead of the needs of others. Such is the American way—and Jesus stands against it. If we are going to seek first the kingdom and his justice we must give our total allegiance to Jesus.

Secondly it involves living an integrated life. What do I mean by that? To integrate means to bring all the separate parts of our lives together. Too often we’ve divided our lives into pie wedges. We see God and the community as merely a piece of pie—one item in a list of priorities.

But in reality, the kingdom and God is not a wedge out of a pie, but the pie crust, the pie shell that pulls all of these slices together into a meaningful whole. This means everything we do and everything we are is to be wrapped up in God’s kingdom. There is no compartmentalization between “religious” and “secular.” And I don’t mean that occasionally during the week you have a devotional, or you have a Tuesday night Bible study, or that you’ll occasionally share your faith with a friend. It means everything you do is done for the express purpose of glorifying God. Everything you do is worship to God. If you are a welder, you weld for God. The work you produce is to be done as an act of worship specifically for him. If you teach, you teach with your greatest skill for the express purpose of worshipping God—your teaching is an act of worship. When you farm, you treat the earth as if it belongs to God and you use all of your skills to produce beautiful crops that glorify him. If you are a salesman, then you work to serve your clients the way Jesus would serve them. If you are an actor, an artist, or musician every creative work you do is to be done as an act of worship to God. Isn’t this what Paul meant when he said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…It is the Lord Christ you are serving” [Colossians 3:23, 24].

Seeking or striving for the kingdom of God means we will work with all of our energy to maintain our community in Jesus. The old age was marked by alienation. But the kingdom of God is marked by community, reconciliation, and the power of God. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls citizens of the kingdom to love their enemies. When he says
Anyone who is angry with his brother will subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Hell
what he means is—if you treat people in contemptible ways—if you treat them as completely worthless—then you've made yourself worthless--you’re destined for the trash heap outside of Jerusalem! He then says if you are in the middle of worship and you realize there is a problem between you and your brother—then leave the worship service: quit worshipping and go be reconciled to your brother! It’s that important! Later on in the same sermon he says, don’t always be looking for the faults of others, but be willing to examine your own faults first. Forgive others because if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven either!

I cannot stress enough how important this is to God’s kingdom! If it doesn’t work here—then it doesn’t work. Jesus died to bring people together. The kingdom is here and the dominant theme of kingdom is reconciliation and community. If there is no reconciliation, if people aren’t getting along— then kingdom hasn’t come here. God’s will in heaven is not being done on earth.

Finally, striving for the kingdom involves living out the mission of the kingdom. Jesus says strive for the kingdom and God’s justice (or righteousness). Our mission—and we know our mission, you can’t miss it if you read the Bible at all—is to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal people of their suffering both physical and emotional, to care for the creation, and to love people into God’s kingdom. It involves especially reaching out to the disenfranchised: those nobody wants. It involves putting aside our own comfort and wishes to care for those for whom no one cares. This is the call to make all people groups into followers of Jesus. Love them to Jesus.

Isn’t it time we gave up our own agendas and became kingdom people? The hope of Narnia is that Aslan is on the move, the winter is disappearing, spring is coming—the White Witch’s power if fading. The hope of the world is Jesus is on the move. He has come preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. His message still rings for us today: The time is now! The Kingdom of God is here! Repent and trust in the good news!

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